Maybe it all goes back to an admonition from my late father to his teenage son when the latter asked for the car keys way back in the ‘60s: “What’s wrong with public transportation!”
That was not a question! As kids we rode the Blue bus into Portland from Multnomah, but it did not get you to many other places in Southwest at the time. We had our bikes for that and later the use of the family car, despite the admonition.
Why public transit? It’s where we can be a part of the “polis,” (Greek for “city”) and experience our community at its most diverse and stimulating…
Getting out of Portland really showed me what public transportation or transit can do. A spring and summer in Athens, Greece, after high school introduced me to “big city” transit: the trolley bus to the beaches south of Athens or the old subway to Pireaus where you caught the ferry to Agina or Hydra for a day’s swimming.
And then Paris… where the Metro is part of what makes Paris Paris!
Followed by college in Chicago where we used the “L” and the “IC” to get to the Loop, and finally when I got to the Bay Area, it was the SF Muni (N Judah streetcar to the beach!) and the brand new BART system under the Bay.
Later, travels in South America and Europe where a lot was to be seen from transit: the “Mann” express bus to Mira Flores in Lima; the “Bongee” (streetcar) to Santa Teresa and the 554 bus in Rio; Frankfurt’s S-Bahns, U-Bahns and Strassenbahns to name a few.
Then a return to Portland in the mid 1980s just as the first MAX line opened… Riding it was just like the Strassenbahn in Frankfurt where my wife and I were married in 1985.
But it was the first Gulf War that finally got me out of my little BMW 1602 and onto the TriMet buses to my job on Swan Island from NW PDX. I was boycotting Big Oil! But three buses?? And it took me three times as long than the drive, until I recalculated my morning routine.
Drive: coffee, read the paper, 10 minute walk, then 12 minute drive for a total of at least 45 minutes.
Bus: Walk to the bus stop, read the paper, bus to Rose Quarter Transit Center, practicing German with a fellow rider, read the paper some more, then the bus north and a walk down the hill or a wait for that 3rd bus to Swan Island for a total of 50 minutes! A wash.
And then letters to TriMet and finally five minutes of face time with then General Manager Tom Walsh. I said: “10,000 people working on Swan Island, 10 minutes from MAX! Why no direct bus service?” And a couple of years later, TriMet proposed a new line, the 85-Swan Island, running nonstop from MAX to the Island! Yes!
In ‘98 we got C-TRAN to run an express bus to Swan Island, the “191,” but that’s another story.
Then came the Swan Island Evening Shuttle in 2000 and Interstate MAX and all day 85 service in 2004. And the Swan Island TMA (Transportation Management Association) was off and running.
Why public transit? It’s where we can be a part of the “polis,” (Greek for “city”) and experience our community at its most diverse and stimulating… All colors, all ages and a lot of different languages. We can “bathe in the masses,” have a random conversation with a fellow rider, and feel a part of the larger community that is really what makes this a great place!
And as more of the world discovers our little secret, public transit brings the world to us as we ride.
Northeast Portland resident Lenny Anderson is retiring this month from his post as the executive director of the Swan Island Business Association. He’s a long-time advocate for transit in the region.