Livability to the MAX

In the mid 1950s, we stacked our streetcars like cordwood and burned them in a giant wall of flame. They were unwanted relics of what had been — just a dozen years earlier — a 1,000- streetcar fleet serving the Portland area.

Portland had become one of many cities with privately owned transit companies giving up on street railways as freeway planners plotted a new future for the region.

Key message from the transportation sector: We want to be modern. We want convenience. We want to drive on freeways to our homes in the suburbs.

Thirty years later, in September 1986, Portland became only the third city since before World War II to open a new mass transit light rail system. In a remarkable show of public pride, 100,000 Portlanders stood hours in near 100-degree heat to climb aboard over-crowded MAX cars during a weekend of free rides.

Key message from the planning community: We think you will love this, but it will require a major public investment and years of patience before the benefits are fully experienced.

A simple key message

When public officials gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the MAX Blue Line, I sat almost in the front row wearing my “I Was There” sticker. Briefly, I relived my time in the 1980s spent as public information manager at TriMet as the transit district built what was then known as the Banfield Light Rail Project.

The anniversary speakers proudly hit the expected themes: Portland had become a transit Mecca. Jobs had been created and more are on the way as construction starts on the Milwaukie extension. And the region had experienced millions of dollars in economic returns as the system grew from the first 15 miles to today’s 52-mile network.

Actually, the key message could have been summarized in one simple phrase: Our transit investments have improved our quality of life and the livability of the region.