This morning, Portland mayor Charlie Hales announced that the City, in cooperation with the Buckman, Hosford-Abernathy, Richmond, Sunnyside, and Mt. Tabor neighborhood associations, is forming a new quasi-public entity known as Portland Hayride, Inc. (PHI), chartered to provide horse-drawn public transit along SE Hawthorne. The proposed line, which will run between the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge to SE Powell and 50th, may open as early as 2017 if all regulatory and financial hurdles are cleared. “This is an exciting day for the city of Portland”, said the mayor at a public ceremony at City Hall. “Once again, we are demonstrating visionary leadership in urban development to the country and the world. The new Portland Hayride will truly be a transportation project for the 21st century!”
The proposed route would start one block east of the Hawthorne Bridge (and the Portland Streetcar CL Line), head east on Hawthorne to SE 50th, south to Division, east two blocks to SE 52nd, then south to Powell, then west to 50th, north to Hawthorne, west to SE 12th, north to Madison, and west to SE 6th; with layover points at 6th and Powell. Eventually, planners intend for the line to reach Lents and the Green Line, but limited funding permits only construction of a first phase out to Powell. A westward extension into downtown Portland is considered unlikely, as draft animals cannot cross the steel grating on the Hawthorne Bridge’s lift span. “To a horse or an ox, the Hawthorne Bridge looks like one big cattle guard”, stated a project engineer.
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A special guidance technology known as RUTS (rapid ungulate tracking system), consisting of carefully-designed channels embedded in the pavement, will be installed along the route and make it difficult for the horses to guide the wagons off course, while not interfering with the operation of other vehicles. In addition, the Portland Water Bureau has announced that bioswales planted with alfalfa will be installed in sidewalk strips along the route, permitting the city to both feed the animals and collect rainwater at the same time.
The service will use specialized, Czech-made low-floor hay wagons. Unlike domestic hay-wagons, which are high-platform vehicles that are difficult for even able-bodied individuals to board, the selected vehicles will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The vehicles feature side low-platform boarding, bicycle racks, spaces for wheelchairs and other mobility devices, on-board ticketing, and free wi-fi. Also unlike traditional hay-wagons, such as can be found at pumpkin patches and other agricultural festivities in rural areas, the Portland Hayride vehicles will have modern suspensions, in order to permit a smoother ride. Rather than real hay, which is notoriously flammable (and under some conditions, explosive), prone to decomposition when exposed to moisture, and likely to be removed from its bales by riders, the Hayride will use synthetic grasses made out of a special composite polymer mesh for seating. “Those concerned about losing that traditional hayride feel, need not worry”, stated Hales. “While use of synthetic hay may seem disturbing to some, I can reassure the public that it will provide that same uncomfortable, butt-scratching feeling as the real stuff”.
In addition, the vehicles will be optionally configurable with a special cloth canopy, to protect passengers from the elements during inclement weather. The canopy will be capable of being removed on sunny days, giving passengers a unique transit experience.
Power and traction
In order to reduce vehicle emissions and help the region meet environmental goals concerning air quality, draft animals shall be used to pull the Hayride, instead of tractors or other mechanized vehicles. While technical staff had recommended oxen for the Hayride, as cattle are less skittish than horses, and more suited to long-distance hauling, neighborhood focus groups overwhelmingly preferred horses. In addition, many developers adjacent to the line indicated that lenders were reluctant to finance projects that would be served by ox-drawn transit. An anonymous staffer was quoted as saying, “nobody wants to ride to their favorite bistro on a wagon pulled by an [expletive] cow. Oxen simply don’t have that je ne sais quoi that horses do.” But OPAL director Jonathan Ostar disputed this, noting that use of horses instead of cattle was yet another instance of sacrificing the needs of riders, for the benefit of developers. “It wasn’t horses pulling the wagons over the Oregon Trail, it was cattle. Portland needs a strong system of frequent and reliable oxen more than it needs another expensive pony ride. Oxen, and not horsies, are the workhorses of a quality transit system”.
Use of donkeys was discarded for the Hawthorne line, owing to the generally flat topography of the route; but leaders indicated they may be used for a proposed replacement for the frequent bus lines serving Marquam Hill.
The immediate advantage of draft animals is that they do not burn fossil fuels, resulting in vastly lower emissions (and nearly no emissions if a proper diet is maintained by keepers). In addition, the use of draft animals will allow the service to survive a collapse of civilization–even if the electrical grid and the petroleum distribution network were to fail, shutting down Portland’s busses and trains, the Hayride may continue to operate. A longstanding objection to draft animals in an urban environment, however, is the waste products produced. However, the Portland Hayride vehicles will also include especially-designed fuel cells that collect droppings from the animals, and use them to provide electric power to the on-board amenities. “Residents need not worry about horse manure along Hawthorne Boulevard”, remarked Mayor Hales. “There’s enough of that near the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge; we wouldn’t want to inflict it on the east end as well”.
Reaction to the project has been mixed. Urban Studies researcher and writer Richard Florida commented that “once again, Portland has hit it out of the park. After the success of the original Portland Streetcar, every city started building them, and Portland needed to step up its game. The new Portland Hayride should continue to attract the creative class to a place with great food, great beer, great skiing, great bud, and no jobs. I salute the City for its continued leadership”.
New Geography‘s Joel Kotkin disagreed, stating that “the fact that Portland–the mecca of Starbucks urbanism and all that other yuppie frou-frou, is planning to use farm animals to operate part of its transit system, is proof that the cities are dead.”
Closer to home, Bike Portland’s Jonathan Maus was skeptical of the project; of particular concern was a worry that the RUTS channels would be even a bigger hazard to bicyclists than are streetcar tracks. “What Hawthorne needs is a road diet and proper bike lanes, not a new type of public transit that will need an orange triangle on the back”. And while TriMet officials refused to comment on the project, deferring questions about the Hayride to the City of Portland, one agency employee speaking off the record expressed concern that this would damage the 14 bus route, requiring either redundant service along the Hayride route, or a forced transfer at 50th and Powell.