Please visit our new blog - The Union News.

"Vote early and vote often." - Al Capone (1899-1947)

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Does Portland always know best?

The advertorial cheerleaders known as "management" at The Oregonian strike a pose that government in Oregon - and Portland in particular - sets a progressive standard that the nation ought to follow. Folks in progressive Madison, Wisconsin, are among those paying attention to our Pill Hill Aerial Rapid Transit System (PHARTS).

Let's leave the tram in Portland

Listening this week to a new song devoted to public transportation in Portland has led me to conclude that Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz needs to expand his vision of how Portland's futuristic ideas can be transferred to Madison.

I am not sure why Mayor Dave, who suffers from a strange affliction that might be identified as Portland-envy, has not, as far as I know, mentioned the Oregon city's most ambitious public transportation project.

Actually, though I am not sure why, I do have a pretty good idea, and will present it momentarily. I will also present a bit of the new song about the project, written by a Portland resident and embraced by a couple of reporters from the Portland Oregonian.

Many Madisonians will remember the trip to Portland that Mayor Dave made in June 2004. Upon his return, the mayor rhapsodized about the electric streetcar system in downtown Portland. During a slide show to members of Downtown Madison Inc. in July 2004, Cieslewicz spoke of his vision of a similar system in Madison.

"We need to develop a market and culture in Madison of people who will live car-free," Cieslewicz said. A short time later, Cieslewicz announced he was using a $300,000 planning grant to create a Streetcar Feasibility Study Committee. This occasioned a memorable headline from my Cap Times colleague Ron McCrea: "A Desire Named Streetcar."

It also brought the mayor criticism from people who like to drive their cars and are leery of another expensive move into mass transit. More surprisingly, there was criticism on the left as well, from those like County Exec Kathleen Falk who envision a grander, countywide train system.

Cieslewicz was undaunted, and in May 2005 the streetcar committee met for the first time. "I hope in years to come this will be thought of as an historic night," the mayor said. "It's a good night to be a Madisonian." The streetcar committee has yet to issue its feasibility report, which means there is still time to pursue our channeling of Portland's public transport to the next level.

In the past few years, Portland considered, debated, and began construction of an aerial tram. The tram, scheduled to open next year, will carry passengers 500 feet above ground and cover the half-mile distance between Portland's South Waterfront district and the Oregon Health & Science University in about three minutes.

It will also cost a ton of money.

In January 2003, when design bids for the project were submitted, the estimated cost of the tram was $15.5 million. As seemingly always happens, it didn't take long for that figure to rise. By April 2004 the estimated cost had grown to $28.5 million; a year later, it was $40 million; in August 2005, when construction began, the projected cost was $45 million; and now, with the tram set to open next year, the final cost has been reported to be around $55 million. (Though a Tacoma newspaper, the News Tribune, last month put the final estimate at $57.6 million. And a Portland alderman told the paper that the aerial tram project manager "no longer works here.")

A recent editorial in the Portland Oregonian put the blame for the skyrocketing cost on "a dramatic upsurge in steel prices" and a desire on Portland's part to build something that would be "a shining model for cities everywhere."

There is a contest to name the tram cars in Portland, but a resident, Richard Bruno, who lives under the tram route, has already nailed it. He calls them Twinkies and wrote a song about them posted by Oregonian reporters that goes, in part:

"Well the St. Louis arch got one hell of a view/But you can have good arches with orthopedic shoes/Jump on the Twinkie/Won't get no tickets, won't use no more gas/Just pay a daily fee/Or get a pass/Well the Golden Gate Bridge got one hell of a view/But Portland's got like 10 of them, all lined up for you/So ride the Twinkie/C'mon ride the Twinkie."

The question for Madison is: Where can we build a tram? The obvious answer is Bascom Hill. They are knocking down the Humanities Building anyway, so we could put the station there and run it up Bascom all the way to Bascom Hall. The tram could serve as a shining example of town and gown cooperation. It would be a selling point to prospective students, who would never again have to walk up Bascom against a January wind while nursing a hangover.

We could build it there. Or we could consider the possibility that Portland doesn't always know best.

The Capital Times - Wisconsin's Progressive Newspaper, Nov. 30, By Doug Moe

1 comment:

Single said...

Oh please DON'T emulate Portland, it pretty much sucks to live here, unless you over indulge on the kool-aid. Portland has turned itself into a 'kool' town to visit, but you probably wouldn't want to live here. Everything has a price and the price in Portland is taxes, taxes and more taxes. However, if you head tilts strongly to the left and you thought communism is a good form of government, then this just might be the place for you.

As for the tram, a couple other items, the tram doesn't have windows that open, nor does it have heating or cooling capabilities; and it has a metal skin. So when it's cold or hot outside (and in January and February it's not unusual to find days when it doesn't get above 35 degrees and in August we can top 105 degrees) you can imagine what the ride in the tram will feel like - all that for over $57 million dollars.

The tram goes to OHSU hospital on the hill, the hill has always been known as 'pill hill' - so the suggestion has been made (but not taken up by city council) that we call the system - Pill Hill Aerial Rapid Transit or PHART. A name many of us agree with.

Label Cloud