Episode 9: Portland TriMet

My mother moved from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon this year. She made up her mind to do it during the transit strike in Minneapolis in March. She lives in Portland now and rarely uses her car. She likes that.

My sister moved to Portland with her family three years ago. They wanted to live in either Portland or Minneapolis but chose Portland because of the public transit system.

Portland opened its first light rail line in 1986. Since then, it has expanded its system three times. Two more extensions are planned. Three years ago, Portland also started running a downtown streetcar. Portland also has a fifteen-minute frequency guarantee seven days a week for many of its routes in the central city.

I went to Portland in October to visit my mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew. I also thought I'd try to shoot some video of the transit system for my public access show.

I had lined up in advance an interview with the Communications Director of TriMet, Mary Fetsch. I was to meet her the morning of my first full day in town. First, I was fairly amazed that she even consented to meet me for an interview. Second, I was even more amazed when she agreed to meet me at a station, because, as I explained to her, I like to shoot my show on transit vehicles running their regular routes.

I thought maybe she'd give me half an hour of her time, at most. Maybe even I told her I would only need half an hour. But we rode the trains and talked for nearly two hours, and I got as full an account of transit in Portland as I could even expect to get in my wildest dreams. She even did this before her first morning cup of coffee!

The next day I went riding trains to get lots of video of TriMet trains in action. My mom rode along, to see more of her new city. When we were out on the last stop of the new Yellow Line, we ran into a group of bicyclists, and one bicyclist who seemed to be explaining to the others how to put your bike on the train. I talked to him and found out that he was Todd Boulanger, Senior Transportation Planner for the City of Vancouver, Washington. He was leading a monthly tour of bicyclists, showing them how to cross the Columbia River and ride the new yellow line train into the center of Portland. I asked him for an interview and he graciously consented.

On my last day in Portland I also interview Tim Burkhardt, a former Minneapolis resident who now lives in Portland. He is also a transportation planner by profession. We rode the trains near his workplace and he gave me some nice perspective on the differences between transit in Portland in Minneapolis.

Out of about six hours of video, a little more than two hours of interview and four hours riding trains, I whittled down the half-hour show, episode #9, Portland TriMet. This is the first of two episodes I'll make out of this Portland visit. The other one will concentrate on the Portland Streetcar, as well as heritage streetcars in Portland and Seattle. More about that later.

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