Why the major disconnect? Read articles about Portland from around the web, and the cities’ light rail system will almost certainly be mentioned as a major virtue of the Rose City. Residents of Portland love the system, it seems to work well and has been a boon to the communities and neighborhoods it serves. Why wouldn’t people want rail in their neck of the woods?
One answer, as near as I can tell, is politics. Specifically, the insane brand of divisive nonsense that has taken over our national discourse has crept into Portland, as well. People who oppose light rail almost always also use terms like “progressives” or “liberals” as pejoratives for those who support public transit. Somehow, light rail is now seen as a “liberal” thing, something conservatives should put up a knee-jerk response, too. Without carefully considering the pros and cons, these people are throwing out every idea, good or bad, and proclaiming themselves to be the good citizens for doing so. For example, here’s a quote from the (aptly named) CRAZYTRAIN on KATU.com:
Now if the Milwaukie voters can stop the 6.2 mile $2 billion dollar fiasco it’ll stop the Portland progressives in their tracks! Someday the voters of Portland will realize how bad the progressives have damaged their city and the damage Urban Renewal is doing to the parts of the city not under them. Someday maybe we’ll have a new slogan ” Make Portland Successful instead of keeping it weird”.
The other answer, somewhat related, is simply fear. There seems to a widespread belief that light rail and/or the streetcar brings crime from the “inner-city” to the suburbs. Another commenter named whitebreadkills on KATU explains his or her position thusly:
They don’t want Portland pimps, prostitutes, druggies and gangs in their local community. We don’t want them in Vancouver either but aren’t being given the opportunity to vote NO on the new bridge. They’ve got things sewed up tighter over here. That’s probably because the voters aren’t rich and powerful as they are in Lake Oswego.
So, what is Tri-met to do? They have a mandate from the city of Portland to expand streetcar and light rail service, and the most important areas to reach are the outlying suburbs. While those who live there may think they can continue to gas up and cruise down the highway, those days are rapidly coming to an end. The price of gas will continue to rise, and all those vehicles (including buses) are filling up streets and roadways with little room for expansion. They need rail, whether they know it or not…but their pride might not let them acknowledge that sometimes Portland does know what it is doing.