In our everyday lives we get hung up on our normal habits. Whether you ride a bike, drive a car,ride the bus or simply walk to where you need to go, our daily habits become so ingrained in our daily habits that we don’t often think about how other communities are living. It was with this attitude that I drug my family off to Portland, OR last week to experience the city while I attended the Railvolution conference. What we experienced, was a city that in many ways resembles our hometown of Indianapolis in appearance but differs greatly in form when examined further.
The first notion that things were going to be different, was when we left the airport terminal and boarded the local light rail, MAX. That’s right folks, located right at the airport. Past all the parking garage doors and the car rentals the signs kept directing us to “Light Rail MAX”. We walked, bought our tickets and boarded the train; with no effort involved I might add in getting my 6 month old stroller bound son onto said train. This began a common theme for our transportation around the region for the week. “Go By Train” (as many signs around town tell passers-by). And by train we did.
Be it Light Rail or the ever touted Streetcar we were able to travel everywhere we wanted all week, without a car. We visited the zoo. We visited the suburbs. We even used the bus system which was the only unfortunate part of travelling the region; because they were so packed, it was difficult to use the stroller on them. But we made it.
Cyclists were on every street and with what seemed like every street corner as well with accomodations made for them to either park their bikes, or have priority over automobile traffic.
Pedestrians though, are at the roots of all planning it seems, when something is built in Portland. Sidewalks downtown are wide, clean, unbroken and are lined with all manner of commercial store-front whether it be the strereotypical coffee shop (it seemed literaly like there was a Starbucks on every corner) or microbrewery or pizza joint. They weren’t all your top of the line clean floors with mirror polished windows. Some were in ill repair yet still seemed to be moving people in and out quite frequently. Also lining many city sidewalks were public art. Seemed like there was something cool all over the place. For you Indy folks, you know how often we tend to laugh at the Carmel Arts District statues on Main Street? Guess what, they have them smack dab in the middle of Portland.
Oh yeah, Railvolution. The reason I was there. I spent 4 days tackling mobile workshops and in house workshops. I got to travel to United Streetcar who is located in an eastern suburb and whom is manufacturing new modern streetcars for Portland, and for Tuscon, AZ. I attended 3-5 workshops a day at the hotel. Took over 30 pages of hand written notes, 250+ photos, an hour or so of video and listened intently to the people who are out there doing, what we here at Urban Indy advocate on a daily basis.
Even in the suburbs they seem to get it part of the time. I visited one stop along the westside MAX Blue Line where a TOD has been developing for years and in which dense housing is mixed with good commercial and seems to be thriving.
Sure they have downfalls. I saw streets that could walk hand in hand down the poor design aisle with Keystone Ave. But at least there, officials recognize this, and are doing things about it.
This post represents my first step into talking about the week I spent there. So stay tuned and watch for photos and additional details as I decompress from a simply AWESOME week spent in Portland, OR. This all wouldn’t have been possible without a scholarship from Railvolution for which I am truly grateful, as well as the support from local’s People for Urban Progress, Steve Devoe (of Downtown Indianapolis Streetcar), Jill Ditmire of Mass Ave Wine Shoppe, Richard Vonnegut & Hoosier Rails to Trails.