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February 28 Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back in February and March I spent several days taking photos on the MAX trains in Portland—getting to know the area, watching for something to happen, basically just being out there with a camera.

Portland's public transit system (TriMet) is extensive and popular. More than 95 million riders logged over 400 million passenger miles in 2005. And the system is growing: on Friday, the streetcar route (which runs from north of me to the southern end of downtown) will be extended to the South Waterfront development to meet up with the forthcoming aerial tram. That extension will become a loop by next fall. The controversial tram project (which is being completed at more than triple the original budget and significantly behind schedule) will connect the streetcar with Oregon Health & Sciences University. There are also plans to build streetcar lines on the east side of the Willamette river.

Meanwhile, over the next two years a new MAX (light rail) line will be built from Portland State University through downtown and out to the southeast part of the city. Future developments include lines from Beaverton south to Tigard and Wilsonville on the west side of the river, and another line from downtown south to Milwaukie on the east side.

These public transit lines are justified in part as an environmentally-friendly alternative to driving, and to reduce/eliminate the need to build or expand the limited number of freeways in Portland. Ironically, in a recently-released study, Portland was among the lowest-ranked cities in the U.S. in terms of disaster preparedness because the freeways lack the capacity needed to evacuate the city in case of emergency.