The Catastrophe of Wal-Mart or Interstates or Zoning

I got to thinking, with all the heaping of hatred on Wal-Mart about destroying small towns and encouraging sprawl, what really played the largest part of encouraging sprawl?

Wal-Mart, Interstates, or Zoning?

I kind of see the joint catastrophe of zoning changes the Government made to enable sprawling housing, that then needed an enabler which was provided by the auto industry, which then was further enabled by pouring Government expenditures into Interstates & highways, which then landed us with Interstates.  This exacerbated the situation.

With a growing demand for ever cheaper stuff and the change in zoning and lifestyle changes based on the automobile larger and larger consumption volume was met with larger and larger stores.  In turn we finally got the mediocrity that is Wal-Mart.

It appears, that it be a downward spiral to lower and lower standards.  The majority, and key actions that kicked off the spiral I still stand by, where primarily Government actions to “engineer” a new lifestyle and to mitigate many of the problems post-WWII.  Such as what to do with a market that had nothing for the 10,000,000 soldiers coming back from war, the plunging of the economy back into the depression which wasn’t truly finished before the war, and other issues.

Agree?  Disagree?  How did we really end up in this mess?  Did people really choose cars & sprawling mess because of choice or where there other key motivators?  Any other key indicators that lit of this ongoing catastrophe?  How did we lose our transit, really?  I still contend strongly, that the Government and NOT the market got us into transit unfriendly, pedestrian unfriendly, non-human, auto oriented lifestyle.  What are your thoughts on that notion?

Images From the WES Commuting Voyage #1 (and commentary)

This first shot I got of my trip out to Wilsonville was classic.  Click on it and look at that speedometer!  Yeah, I was rolling!  The next shot just tells the future ever so brashly.

The WES silently slipping by while I'm in traffic...  moving oh so fast.  In the rear view mirror you can see the rest stacked up waiting behind me.  In the near future, as traffic gets worse along Highway 217 the WES becomes more and more viable as the real alternative to commuting along the corridor.

Conductor walking the platform before departure.Yeah.  Passed up with not a sound.  The WES flew right by me while I rolled a double digit 20 or so MPH.  Behind me in the rear view mirror you can see the traffic stacked up.  This was at 6:07pm.  I ended up in scheduling and alarm clock debacle after debacle.  I ended up driving out Monday which really sucked, I could have been on that ride instead I was stuck in traffic in the ole’ Zed (350Z for those non-Nissan peepz).  Real good use of a sports car, NOT.

The next day I grabbed a few good shots.


Here I grabbed a shot of the conductor walking the station before departure.  I think the sign embodies the ideal of the system from the perspective of Wilsonville & Beaverton.  Because really, out of all the riders, all but about 5 total people went into downtown Portland.  Everyone riding the WES went somewhere within the corridor or transferred to a bus or MAX heading westward.

Transit Violence

Over at The Light Rail Blogger, a Pheonix Resident who has gone car free, has a story about domestic violence.  Ok, this story really doesn’t entail violence at a transit stop, but near it.  Commonly people here in Portland also write or talk about various acts of violence at light rail or other transit stations.  There are a few things that really bother me.  I’m going to elaborate those real quick.

  • Domestic violence?  WTF is this?  Violence is violence.  I don’t want to see someone beating a dog, another human, a woman beating a guy, a guy hitting a woman, or anything of that sort.  I don’t even like to hear the ghetto kids (or whatever they refer to themselves as) acting all tough and making what amounts to idle threats.  Be proud, be strong, watch out for each other, and stand up for those people that are threatened.  Do everything you can like “The Light Rail Blogger” did.  Call 911, step up, do something do anything.  Don’t let that type of behavior go unstopped and uncontested.  If you don’t act, you are AS MUCH part of the problem as those committing the violence.  Sure, it takes courage to do something, but nobody loves, needs, or wants anymore cowards around than we already have.  So don’t be another one.
  • Transit is something more and more of us ride with each other to and from work, to and from our daily errands, and just around via transit to enjoy a Sunday ride.  Something all of us will notice as we actually encounter our fellow citizens and general human beings out there, is that some of us humans aren’t all there.  Suburbanites just ignore these differences, bypass them, and don’t act to remedy or resolve issues with these people with problems and problem people.  But us urbanites are in touch with these individuals and it is up to us to maintain our lifestyles.  This means we have to become accustomed, but also learn how to enable and assist each other.  As Christian has written over on TriMetiquette before We’re in this togetherI reiterate, we ALL ARE IN THIS TOGETHER!
  • Those out there that say it is more violent on transit or that transit brings violence to areas and the stories go on and on and on.  Seriously, go study statistics, correlation, and history.  Go read up on how and where violence and crime occurs in a city.  Transit isn’t anymore of an enabler than the automobile, and probably is at least a safer enabler than an automobile.  So give it a rest.  It is ridiculous to say transit causes the violence or crime.  People cause the crime, environment is only part of the picture, but the crime starts and stops with the individual perpetrators of said crimes.  Don’t blame inanimate objects, that’s – well – asinine.

Friday Finally, End Analysis

After the week, or pseudo week of commuting I’m glad to be out of the suburbs and back downtown.  Every trip has turned into a 10 minute bus trip, with super frequent service, or a short walk between 5-20 minutes.  No necessity for a car, no necessity to visit a gas station, no necessity for dealing with traffic.

The WES is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I’m glad to be back downtown where everything is within a stone’s throw.

First, the absolute negatives.

  • TriMet got ripped off by Colorado Railcar.
  • TriMet paid WAY too much for equipment that is not standard and should have gone with traditional equipment.
  • TriMet hasn’t aligned the transfers and other parts of the WES appropriately.
  • TriMet does NOT have a green vehicle unless they remedy their lack of ridership.
  • The politicians won’t be harmed enough by the overruns, and will take too much credit for the positives.

Now the positives.

  • Portland & Western is doing an amazing job running the WES.  Words like flawless, impressive, relaxed, and endearing come to mind when riding the system.
  • Portland & Western has a great mechanism for spreading the word about passenger rail and provides a good example (amid the negatives) of how to setup and operate on local carrier lines with good cooperation.
  • The WES, because of the new tracks, definitely helps out rail traffic in the corridor and extends the freight capability of rail.  This is by FAR a good thing, probably in some ways more important than the WES passenger runs.
  • The county gains a competitive advantage because of this rail line upgrade.
  • The WES is without doubt more comfortable, more up scale, more reliable, and internet ready than any other thing in the TriMet Fleet.
  • The politicians now have a tool to provide an example of partnerships between public and private entities to further desires and requests of the public.  This is a mix of positives and negatives, but mainly is positive.

Ridership:  The peak I saw was 40+ for one single trip.  This is acceptable from an environmental point of view, but still far too low from an economic and budget point of view.  The City of Portland, Metro, and TriMet can’t keep making decisions that build out infrastructure and such at such high prices for such minimal return.  They HAVE to meet more of the existing demand and stop running off on their fantasy trips to commuter rail land.  They HAVE to make sure ridership demand actually exists before doing these things.  I’m glad they built the WES, I think it can serve a good purpose, and it can provide a great example of what to do and not to  do, but overall should they have built it? No.  Should they have upgraded the tracks, or at least provided cheap, tax free, loans and such to get the tracks upgraded?  Yes.

If anything commuter rail could be setup in areas around Portland that could and would be far more utilized.  Salem to downtown Portland, Eugene to Portland, there are a host of places.  Hopefully, the next option is to get service to Salem, somehow or in some way.  Hopefully they can do it without too much cost or unnecessary shutdown of companies.

My best wishes go out to the awesome Portland & Western Crews running the WES, and to TriMet, I hope you guys get some serious ridership increases so they system can prove viable!  Keep rolling, and I’m sure I’ll be out to ride again some day.  Until then, I’m back to 100% urbanite lifestyles.

One Last Trip of the Day

6:33pm Departure.  I finished the other entry, totally forgetting I had another leg of my day’s journey’s to complete still.  As I sat waiting for departure, for the first time I heard it called via dispatch, “High ball!”  One has to love that.  🙂

We headed out into the street running segment of the trip with barely any traffic in Beaverton now.  The jams of the 4 and 5 o’clock hour where gone.

As we pulled through the crossroads and onto the mainline I noticed that some idiot had smashed into the east bound crossing gate.  I tell ya, people in cars, they’re special kind of idiots.  It really, honestly, sincerely doesn’t take that much more effort to pay attention.  The inherent problem is a lack of wrote training and such.  People just don’t watch what they’re doing when driving.  I ponder, if people had a short little 20 hours worth of training what our fatality and accident rate with cars would drop to?  It’s low already, but would probably be safer than air travel in a short period of time.  But oh well, I don’t much care as I just try to stay off the road and away from the American Car Driving Louse.

With 18 people aboard we arrived at Hall/Nimbus.  2 left us and we gained none.  The conductor did walk over to someone buying a ticket on a bike, but the cyclist was just getting a ticket for later or something.  The conductor turned and stepped aboard as the doors began to shut.  We were off again en route to Tigard now.

In Tigard we gave up 2 more riders.  We now had…  …7 people.  ?  😐   Argh!  I sure hope ridership picks up.  It is about what TriMet expected though.  We met the double train here and as always, the conductors exchanged their data bits about the trips and I’m sure a bit of friendly chat.

We rolled through the yard south of Tigard and I noticed the engine I saw previously in the day, dubbed Willamina by Portland & Western, sat there idly.  I dig that they name their engines, it adds an element of the going theme this week of pride.

The other thing I noted was that in Tigard the north bound train had easily 30 people aboard, more than 2x what our single DMU had.  I get the notion that most of the north bound trips are going to have more riders than the south bound trips.  However that is working it appears to be true so far this week.  Maybe people go north but then end up heading back south via some other means.  Maybe it is just an oddity for this week?  I’m not particularly sure but it is what I’ve observed.

As we pulled into Tualatin the skaters where at the skate part hard at work shredding away.  Traffic here had died down to tolerable levels also.  The town center next to the station opposite of the Haggen Grocery Store seemed not to stir at all.  I’m tempted to go wonder around in the area sometime, but the draw just isn’t quit there.

We left Tualatin with about 4 people, including myself and excluding the conductor and engineer (I always exclude them).

At this point, that gives us a whopping 3.x MPG per passenger.  Roughness.  😦

Ok, this is the last one of the day.  I’m done with the ole’ blog for tonight.