It’s that time of year again. Time to start thinking about classes – finding them, surviving them, paying for them, and provided you don’t live on campus, getting to them. With gas prices heading north of $3 per gallon and no sign of relief at the pump, this may be the year I finally stop rolling down to class in my Escalade.
Okay, okay. I don’t really have an Escalade. I did drive to campus my first term at PSU – of course, back then gas was something like $1.25 per gallon.
So what’s a starving student to do? School is expensive enough without having to pay for gas and parking. Luckily, Portland’s founders designed the city with the urban commuter in mind. In fact, it is well-known local lore that part of Portland’s national reputation as a "green" city is due to an emphasis on a public-transit-oriented growth plan, as well as a stringent Urban Growth Boundary and investment of metro tax dollars in multiple public transit methods.
What does this mean for us as PSU students? Options, baby. Options.
Let’s start with the linchpin of the system, the MAX (Metro Area Express), also known as "light rail." Portland has always been strong in electric rail transportation. We had San Francisco-style cable cars at the turn of the century and were the first metro area in the nation to have interurban electric rail service. The MAX, which operates three lines along 44 miles of track through 64 stations, is everywhere you want to be whether it’s out to the airport, over to Gresham, or out to Hillsboro or Beaverton. It also connects the Convention Center to the heart of downtown.
From PSU, the most convenient places to catch the MAX are near PGE Park and Goose Hollow, at Southwest Eighteenth and Jefferson or downtown at Pioneer Square.
Downtown is, in many ways, a public transit hub, not only because of the massive MAX presence dominating the Square, but because it is also home to the Portland Transit Mall which runs up and down Fifth and Sixth Avenues from I-405 to the south to Burnside Street to the north. Almost all of the nearly 100 bus lines for the Portland Metro area make a stop at the mall at one point or another, and the mall itself is ensconced in the college students’ transit haven known as "Fareless Square."
The Square runs from the river up to northwest Irving Street and 1-405 in the north and south and is seen as a good thing by most people with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security. According to a recent issue of Portland Monthly the government agency has recently voiced concern about the possibility of the college students’ transit haven becoming a terrorist’s transit haven and alter or remove the Fareless Square altogether.
So if you don’t want to take the MAX and you’re an aspiring terrorist afraid of getting arrested, what’s left? Well, how do you feel about bikes? It’s true that Portland is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation so much so that it has twice been rated as "best bicycling city in the United States" by Bicycling Magazine, as mentioned just last month in this very paper. But wait, bring a bike on campus and it might get stolen! Damn, back to square one.
Square one, in this case, happens to be the latest addition to TriMet’s arsenal of inexpensive metro-area public transportation options: the Portland Streetcar. Running a five-mile loop from PSU up past Powell’s Books and to Northwest Twenty-third and back, the streetcar services some of the most popular destinations for PSU students and has recently been extended down to the waterfront at River Place. The Portland Streetcar is brightly colored, quiet, clean, efficient, and I can beat it by walking.
Admittedly, I am a fast walker. I’ve been cursed with long legs and plenty of energy. I routinely piss girls off by leaving them in the dust when we’re out around town. And, I’ll be honest, I like the streetcar. I think it’s cute. In fact, I think it’s wonderful that a city the size of Portland has a streetcar that harkens back to our own turn-of-the-century roots.
As a practical matter, often times you will wait for the streetcar so long that you could have gotten there faster by walking. In all fairness, this can also be true of busses. It’s a matter of knowing the schedules, traffic patterns and where you’re going.
In the final analysis, the method of transportation you will want to take to school will depend on where you’re coming from. From far out (Gresham, Hillsboro, Beaverton) the MAX is probably your ticket. Slightly closer in (Southeast, Barbur Boulevard) the busses will suffice. Close-in (twenty-third, waterfront, etc.) you can probably get away with the streetcar or biking.
And, if you live close enough and don’t get pissed off easily, you can always walk behind me.