EDITOR: 'Inexpensive improvements' announced by TriMet
Effective September 5, TriMet made some "service improvements" to various bus lines around the city. The agency said, "Despite current and projected drops in fare revenue and payroll tax revenue, we have identified opportunities to make improvements that come with little to no added cost. These changes take effect in September 2021, and Spring/Summer 2022."We have examined these changes, and found that only one of them appears to affect Inner Southeast Portland south of Powell Boulevard. It involves Bus 19, which provides service downtown to and from Brentwood-Darlington, Woodstock, Eastmoreland, Sellwood, Westmoreland, and Brooklyn. (The 2022 changes for Southeast Portland seem almost entirely devoted to the outcome of the "Division Transit Project" along S.E. Division Street, north of Powell.)
Quoting TriMet again:
"The schedule for Line 19 will be adjusted to speed up buses for riders, and match service with demand. Line 19 will [now] serve Westmoreland Union Manor [only] between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. (all days), and [now] serve S.E. 28th, S.E. Rex, and S.E. 32nd [only] with morning trips to Downtown Portland and afternoon trips from Downtown Portland (weekdays). Weekend service for the S.E. 28th/Rex/32nd loop will be discontinued."
See the accompanying illustration from TriMet to clarify these Bus 19 changes, which only affect Eastmoreland, and one stop in Westmoreland. These service reductions are intended to speed up Line 19 â€“ which for the Inner Southeast area served is, in most cases, the only bus downtown and back â€“ with, it is hoped, minimal inconvenience to those regularly using Bus 19.
We have heard from Bus 19 riders for years, complaining that Bus 19 is very slow going to and from downtown in commuting hours because it is forced to use the Ross Island Bridge at the times that the bridge is most crowded with commuters in cars. They point out they could get to and from jobs downtown significantly faster â€“ if only Bus 19 were to use the new Transit Bridge, as other buses can. That is the improvement they feel would best speed up Line 19.
But TriMet says that cannot be done, because this bus must serve bus stops at and near the west end of the Ross Island Bridge. It is a shame some other bus could not be found to service those few bus stops; but that would probably increase costs for the agency by having to add a new bus line or detour an existing one.
The elephant in the room, really, is a decision made by TriMet during the construction of the Orange MAX light rail line. Although it appears in retrospect that there might indeed have been the funds to build it, it was thought at the time that the federal funding would not be enough to add the "Harold Street Station" to the MAX line (which would really have been accessed from Reedway Street), to provide a MAX station for north Westmoreland.
So, when the line finally opened, those in north Westmoreland had to find their way across six lanes of McLoughlin Boulevard and four lanes at Holgate â€“ a sometimes-scary trip approaching a mile in length for some â€“ to catch MAX at Holgate and 17th. Or, hike over a half mile south to Bybee Boulevard, to catch the train from the top of the Bybee Bridge.
In practical terms, the gap between Holgate and Bybee on the Orange Line is the longest distance between two stations at any point on the Orange line in Mulnomah County!
So, MAX is not currently a convenient commuter option to and from downtown for those in north Westmoreland. But the real blow to that part of Inner Southeast was that there were three bus lines servicing this part of the neighborhood that DID go to and from downtown â€“ Buses 31, 32, and 33, all of which stopped at both Harold and at 17th â€“ but all three were discontinued north of the City of Milwaukie on the very day the MAX Orange Line opened.
We're going back a quarter century for a minute, now: TriMet says it does not remember having asked this, but it did; in the mid 1990's TriMet representatives came to a meeting of the SMILE Board â€“ SMILE is the "Sellwood Moreland Improvement League", the neighborhood association â€“ and asked for the support of SMILE in asking the city to increase zoning for housing density north of Harold Street in Westmoreland to encourage the building of apartment houses â€“ because the many residents moving in could go to and from downtown on their planned new light rail line. SMILE agreed, and you can see the result all over the north end of Westmoreland. The apartments are there now, but transit options for those new residents have actually declined considerably from what they were a quarter of a century ago. All those new apartment residents in north Westmoreland that TriMet's initiative in the 1990s made possible now have very little public transit options to get them where they need to go.But TriMet seems to have forgotten having made that request, and having brought about the upzoning that has certainly impacted north Westmoreland. This is apparently because of the public funding vote for Southeast light rail subsequently having failed at the ballot box â€“ although it certainly passed in Southeast Portland. But it failed because other areas which by that time had voted for and gotten their own light rail line, no longer were interested in helping fund one for other areas. A past Chair at Metro once publicly called this the "IGMNGL Syndrome": "I got mine, now get lost." Case closed. And when the case was eventually reopened, TriMet seems to have retained no memory of that long-ago goal.
The case reopened only after years of TriMet open houses followed, seeking acceptable alternatives which the Inner Southeast community desired instead of light rail. But it eventually became clear that people here would not be satisfied with any other transit option but its own promised light rail service â€“ so TriMet finally revived plans to build it.
The local neighborhood associations, THE BEE, and Metro Counselor Robert Liberty all were instrumental in persuading TriMet to put the promised north Westmoreland MAX station back on the proposed light rail service map as part of those plans.But TriMet always added an asterisk to it; and so now here we are: We're down three downtown buses; we now have only one that goes there, and it's slow, and there is no MAX station anywhere near Harold Street.TriMet told SMILE, after the new Orange Line opened, that they had not constructed the rails at Harold (or Reedway) in a way as to accommodate any future station. But when SMILE and other neighborhoods expressed dismay â€“ the agency hastily corrected itself and said it actually could do that after all. But TriMet, and all the other parties, are in agreement on one thing â€“ that what would be needed to justify building the station would be providing access to the station from the east, via an overcrossing of the Union Pacific rails. That would open the new MAX station to Reed College students, and residents of north Eastmoreland as well as the southern part of the Reed neighborhood. And TriMet says it cannot afford to build that pedestrian/bike bridge â€“ even though they have subsequently built one in Brooklyn and another one in Hosford-Abernethy. However, it should be noted that TriMet still does officially list the Harold Street Station as a possible future project (tinyurl.com/Reedway).SMILE, the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association, the Reed Neighborhood Association, and Reed College are all on record as requesting that station and that bridge; and an active effort continues by residents and bicyclists in Southeast Portland to persuade the City of Portland to build such a bridge. In addition to MAX access, it would give Reed students access to Westmoreland…Westmoreland residents access to Reed College cultural events…and even a pathway to walk or bike between Westmoreland and Woodstock. And it also, very notably, would provide the only bicycle access across the Union Pacific tracks between Bybee and Holgate Boulevards, which is a hefty stretch of close to two miles.
Both the city and TriMet say they have no money for such an overcrossing, but the effort continues, in the hopes that someday the money will be there (and, federal money to bridge a major railroad line for pedestrians and bicyclists, is a possibility as well).
So here is the big unanswered question: If the bridge were eventually to be built, THEN would TriMet build the missing MAX station, and restore modern public transit availability there?
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