Tuesday morning several hundred extra special politicians, journalists, transit nerds and TriMet staffers got a sneak peek at a transit project thirty years in the making: finally, finally, the MAX made its first trip out to the deep southeast nether regions of Lents and Clackamas.
The shiny new train rolled up to the still unfinished station at NW 6th and Davis yesterday morning only 14 minutes behind schedule, interrupting Representative Brent Barton and Bicycle Transportation Alliance Director Scott Bricker's conversation about what sort of Bianchi Barton should buy now that the legislative session is over and he has time to breathe. They boarded the elite first car of the new train but there was no room for my bike up with the VIPS so I wound up in the second car, packed in with a full load of TriMet staff.
I learned a thing or two riding the light rail all the way out to Clackamas shoulder to shoulder with the people who designed and built the tracks. Here are six things to expect from the city's newest light rail line when it opens for public use in September.
1. Train envy. The old MAX trains look boxy and retro compared to the slope-nosed, sleek Green Line trains. Not only do the new trains (built in Sacramento, FYI) have more seats and more standing room, they have huge windows and a horseshoe of seats at the front that provide a sort of panoramic view. Their seriously market-tested yellow and blue color scheme is one that, according to TriMet marketing director Carolyn Young, riders chose as the most "warm, friendly and modern."
2. Backslapping all around. "Having a new MAX line open is something everyone dreams of in this town," said U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer after the train pulled into its last station at Clackamas Town Center. "This is such a significant accomplishment that you need to celebrate it several times." Then everyone munched on strawberries and a confetti cannon explosion erupted from the roof of a parking garage! The Green Line's $575 million pricetag came out of a lot of pockets — 60 percent from federal sources and the 40 percent from the City of Portland, Clackamas County, the Oregon Department of Transportation and a slew of other local partners. Perhaps most important negotiators were local politicians back in the 70s who insisted that construction of the I-205 include a lane set aside for mass transit. Only thirty long years later and the land ODOT set aside is actually being put to its full use!
3. More commuters, fewer cars. The Green Line has eight new stops across Southeast Portland and more than 2,300 new parking spaces meant to suck suburban commuters who usually drive into downtown Portland onto light rail instead. Blumenauer noted that the new line will hopefully decrease car miles traveled in the region, though he says Portland families already save an average of $2,000 a year because they are “trapped in their cars less frequently.”
4. Politicians showing up to congratulate Portland and pontificate on sustainability. Rep Blumenauer rubbed shoulders on the Clackamas Town Center platform with Senator Jeff Merkley, Oregon State Reps Jules Kopel-Bailey and Brent Barton, Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette and several other local officials. "This has a wonderful, wonderful green impact on our communities," said Merkley, calling out Portland as the nation's green leader.
5. More shopping sprees at the Clackamas Town Center. There is something bizarrely exhilarating about soaring high above the Home Depot and car-clogged highways on the new trains. Everyone felt the excitement — an entire family in swimsuits whose house borders the mall parking lots waved to the passing MAX. At the end of the line, coming to rest outside the vast parking sea of CTC, the car of TriMet staffers and engineers whooped and applauded.
6. Giant public art installations. 1.5 percent of the project funding went to art at the stations. Some are subtle pieces, like metallic tiles covering station platform signs. Others are more, uh, “public arty” — I glimpsed what resembled an aluminum pine tree dangling with ornaments at one station and tall poles spinning with bright metal sails at another.