PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Four minutes may not sound like a lot of time to save on a daily commute. But TriMet has already endured months of criticism for proposing to close four downtown MAX stations to save riders two minutes each direction of their round trips.
Although the agency’s Board of Directors took one of the closures off the table at its June 26 meeting, the controversy will continue until at least next month’s meeting over the other three. Most board members agreed that light rail travel times through downtown are too slow, however.
The agency has argued the four stations were unwisely built too close to others ones, which riders could easily use instead. Business organizations in Portland and Washington County supported the proposed closures to reduce travel times through downtown, if only slightly. Many others opposed them, however.
The most controversy concerned the Skidmore Fountain Station, which is near Portland Saturday Market, the University of Oregon, Mercy Corps and social service agencies. Their supporters blasted TriMet for even considering the closure. The board agreed to keep it open for three more years, but reconsider it for closure then.
The regional transit agency was also criticized for proposing to close the Kings Hill/SW Salmon St Station near Lincoln High School, the Multnomah Athletic Club and Providence Park, home to the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns soccer teams. Some club employees and students argued it was not safe to walk to the next-nearest stations. The board took testimony and scheduled a vote for its July 24 meeting.
There was not as much opposition to closing the Mall/SW 4th Ave and Mall/SW 5th Ave stations. They are just a couple blocks east of the Pioneer Courthouse Square transit center. Closure votes were also scheduled for July 24.
The three remaining proposed closures are projected to save three minutes of travel time. Although that is not much, TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey said the goal is important.
“They are part of a comprehensive strategy to speed up our transit service,” Kelsey told the board.
According to TriMet, more and more riders are traveling through downtown. Gentrification has pushed populations out of close-in neighborhoods to East Portland and other outlying areas. At the same time, key employment centers have developed outside of downtown, in suburban corridors, most significantly in Washington County.
“Cross town trips are an important commute pattern,” said Kelsey. “Communities of color and those who are financially disadvantaged now have longer and less predictable commutes to access job centers. Providing faster travel for people to access those jobs has become critical and will continue to grow in importance over time as these trends continue.”
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