America trip #1 Portland

Portland (Oregon) rightly has a reputation for innovative transport policies. It has an extensive tram system which is being expanded and encourages bicycle use. The airport is actually connected to the tram system with the tracks being right up against the far end of the terminal, but this was not well advertised inside. There were no big signs saying – hey it is only $2 50 to get downtown. So there was the usual melee of cars and cabs outside the terminal when, probaly, with better information about the system and its good value, useage would be greater. Interesting that there was no ‘airport premium’ favoured by so many airport links created by private interests, often the airport owners.

As a result were only half a dozen people on the tram when it left the airport but quite a lot more – including people with bicycles which could be hung up on special space saving hooks – got on during the 30 min journey. Must have been at least 15 miles, so it really is a cheap fare.

It was noticeable that some of the trams leaving town at 9pm were quite full, even with standing room only, so clearly the system is popular especially with the young. There is a good bus network apparently, too, which I will be testing later on when I give my talk in an outlying area of the city.

There are plans to extend the tram system and the downtown is relatively car free already, but whether that is the result of the policies or simply because it is a relatively small town is unclear. Either way, this is a liveable city which has made strenuous efforts to reduce car use and has a pleasant atmosphere. The problem is that the grid system by which every town in the US had to be built – as a result of a federal law passed in the 19th century – makes it very difficult for cities to have the compactness and intimacy of their European counterparts. But Portland gets A for effort.

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