The Future of Light Rail

In Sunday’s Oregonian, Jim Mayer has a provocative article about the future of Light Rail. There’s also an accompanying diagram (PDF, 1.4M) of potential future rail expansion opportunities. The article recounts the system’s successes, including carrying 25% of east/west commuters to and from downtown and the impact on compact development.

The real success story has been along the westside Blue Line. Sunset Magazine this year called the 260-acre Orenco Station neighborhood built around MAX the nation’s “best new ‘burb.’ ”

But the article goes on to cover the challenges of a capital intensive mode in the context of declining Federal participation.

So this may be an opportune time to examine strategic approaches to increasing transit use in the region. As a starting point for discussion, let me throw out a few generic strategies:

  • Stay the course: MAX is our high-capacity backbone and we need to keep creatively finding the dollars to build out the network.
  • Maximize the financial leverage: put our scarce dollars into bus service to bring transit to more destinations and in more corridors.
  • Think local: Streetcar has proven to be effective at fostering compact development (at 1/3 the cost per mile of MAX). Let’s build more Streetcar lines to capture local trips with less emphasis on commuting into and out of downtown.

What’s your strategy?

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