Wow, Portland Kicking Seattle’s Ass might be a Problem?

Warning, this is about transit, but a lot of other rocking Portland topics also.  After writing the recent article about Portland kicking other city’s asses I realized, that this is in fact a problem for other cities!  Shock took hold of me, except not really.  I already knew this, it is why I’ve moved to this city twice, over 1800 miles the first time to get here and 2400 miles to get here the second time!  That is no small accomplishment but stands as evidence of Portland’s rocking, kicking, kewlness.  The reason I noticed this though is because I started reading a number of articles where where interesting:

Those two where fun.  I knew our design, our residents, and our communities rock here.  People here really reach out to each other and work together (even when we don’t, we do more than other cities).  Alberta is a great example of what regular citizens can do when they put their minds to it.  As for the food, yeah, Portland has become a serious foodie mecca.  So no doubt there either, but New York, that’s pretty serious.

Another article even delineated the 5 reasons Portland beats LA.  This I had no problem grasping either.  LA, doesn’t really do anything except vacuous movie stars well, and it has been short of those for ages – at least producing them home grown.

However the one that really brought it all home was this article, written by the Seattle Mag titled “Seattle vs. Portland, which city reigns supreme”.  Well first off, the fact that our biggest city in the north west feels the need to pit itself against us is, well, rather hilarious.  Simple though, is the fact that Seattle is not human scale, a sprawling monstrosity by Portland comparison consuming way more than 2x the space for just 2x the people – which is a massive problem Seattle doesn’t have under control.

…and this is where I get back to the transit topic again, which the last article didn’t lead off with – shock!

Seattle’s transit, albeit a decent bus system downtown, sucks.  Their online usability breaks almost every UX design standard, and basis of common sense for usability.  Everything is multiple clicks past TriMet’s site.  This might seem like nothing, but it means there are thousands that don’t use the site because its such a flippin’ mess.  The other problem, which is also a kind of plus too, is that they have several major transit agencies in the area which have various conflicts of interest.  In turn they did create Sound Transit which is a great agency, yet it makes TriMet’s goof ups like the WES look like massive successes.  The money they’ve managed to spend on things with minimal return will take 2-4x longer to get any ROI than Portland’s efforts.  Don’t get me wrong, their commuter rail is awesome and massive, but because of bad zoning and sprawl, is the only reason they need something like that and can make use of it anyway.  Don’t even get me started on the billions of dollars they’ve sunk into the commuter rail and light rail, which isn’t even completely done.  They’ve been short changed (Seattle Citizens) on their transit infrastructure and their leaders have waited so long to get started its taking vast amounts of money beyond what Portland spent to get ours up and running.

So when it comes to transit, Seattle is desperately trying to play catch up.  But hey, I aint complaining, I’m glad they’re working on catching up.  Both cities could learn from each other.

What all this boils down to is that about 95% of Portland is about 20-30 minutes at most from downtown.  About 15% of Seattle is about 20-30 minutes from their downtown.  This bodes a problem.

Neighborhoods are another thing.  Seattle has some great neighborhoods, if you make the money to live in em’, otherwise you’ll be damned to living in suburbia.  So go ahead, go enjoy that, 45 minutes from downtown Seattle.  Same thing in Portland will put you 15-20 minutes from downtown, with far more options.

What’s the biggest transit reason Portland kicks Seattle’s buttocks?  Simple.

Try going car free in Seattle, then try going car free in Portland.  In Portland it is highly unlikely that after 3-6 months you’d even miss your car, in Seattle you’ll be having a number of issues.

So back to this article though, let me hit on their topics, since they felt the need to write an article on throw down the ole’ competitive forum of online debate.

  • It’s way too far away from Vancouver, B.C. When things get really nasty in the U.S., Seattleites can take comfort in the knowledge that the border—and sweet Canuck-style freedom—is just 2.5 hours away.”  We in Portland tend to prefer fixing our problems and not running away to Canada.  Plus, we in Portland have Portland, why would we want to leave?  One thing Seattle has on Portland, is that it is only 2.5 hours away from Vancouver, but better yet is it is only a 3 hr train trip away from Portland!  Yeah, that’s the ticket!
  • Too many beards. Seattle hipsters may be caught sporting and ironic mustache now and again, but Portlanders never met a furry face they didn't like. We're all for recycling up here, too, except when it comes to food bits stuck in fuzzy facial hair.”  Really?  You’re bringing up beards?  Portland was a logging city, I guess it just runs in our blood.  Irony?  Maybe.
  • Don’t forget the gas stations—what’s more awkward than having someone rush out to pump gas into your car? As if we can’t do it ourselves! Where’s that Northwest independent spirit, Rose City? Sheesh.”  Hahahaa, I’ll be the first to fuss about the stupidity of our gas pumping laws.  But wait a second, we pay how much for gas?  Seattle pays how much for gas?  Oh wait, its rarely a few pennies off, but usually more expensive in Seattle?  No way, really?  That’s impossible.  Yeah, read it and weep.  We get it pumped for us AND it isn’t any more expensive than other places on the west coast.  Besides, why do we give a two hoots about who is pumping our gas, cuz ya see, in Portland we only need to fill er’ up about once every month or two.  I can see why that is a concern for Seattle because you have to fill up EVERY SINGLE FREAKING WEEK!  Oh dear, the humanit!  😦  Not cool Seattle, not cool.
  • Did someone say mountains? Well, they sure grow ’em short down by Portland. Mount Hood rises to a measly 11,245 feet (paltry compared to Rainier’s 14,410 feet). It’s awfully pointy, too. Couldn’t they smooth it out a bit with an exciting eruption?”  The mountains has zero to do with the city.  It’s a flippin’ mountain and they’re WAY outside of the city, for Seattle&
    nbsp; and Portland.  Aside from that, I suppose if you really like skiing you can go to either mountain, depending on your location.  As for eruptions, hey, what can I say, a little exitement is kind of cool.  At least a vast segment of our metropolitcan area isn’t within the doomsday area of our active mountain though. (re: Tacoma is gone if the mountain ever erupts there – That’s a couple hundred thousand people gone – vamoosh)  Which would also spell trouble for Seattle because it is losing the largest port in the north west title to, Tacoma.  Ok, so enough mountain talk, back to the city maybe?
  • “The Portland waterfront. I mean, come on! It’s on a river instead of a sound, there’s no view of the Olympic Mountains, no sculpture park, no aquarium and no thrill of wondering whether it’ll collapse before the seawall is reinforced.”  Uh.  Yeah, whatever, I’m not even going to respond to that.  I don’t need to say anymore than “Alaskan Viaduct Highway Monstrosity”.  Done.

But I must confess, the writer of said article did confess Portland has some untouchable strengths which I thought where absolutely awesome!  Jamie Galvin writes, and writes these well;

  1. Mass transit. It exists. Portland eases the burden with frequent and mostly clean mass transit. MeAs I said, amen!  🙂
  2. Our beans are supreme. We grew Stumptown. ’Nuff said. Me Ditto, ‘Nuff said.
  3. We’re tougher. You can see four volcanoes from downtown Portland, each of which could erupt at any second. Me I suppose, they’re really far away.  They’re actually less scary than the fact the entire city is on a fault line.
  4. We don’t have to try. Did we ask the New York Times to crown us the new “sixth borough”?  Me As listed above, we also have Alberta Street (and Hawthorne, and Belmont, and Division, and… the list goes on, but I’m not giving away anymore)  But yeah, when New York concedes to ya, that’s pwnage!
  5. What’s a sales tax? All we have to do is whip out our Oregon driver’s licenses and—poof—instant 6.5 percent discount.  Me Ok, I’ll trade ya for your sales tax actually, our net economic loss from this… argh whatever, it is pretty sweet.  🙂

So yeah, that’s the massive summary of why Portland kicks your city’s ass.  Without the self censorship of the past entries.  😀

Even amid all my Transit Sleuth watch dogging and complaining about WES or whatever, Portland still totally rox – fini.

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4 Comments

  1. "Simple though, is the fact that Seattle is not human scale, a sprawling monstrosity by Portland comparison consuming way more than 2x the space for just 2x the people – which is a massive problem Seattle doesn’t have under control."

    Are you counting Lake Washington and Puget Sound in your calculations?

    Seattle is also home to quite the number of very large industrial complexes that take up huge amount of land…but are quite productive land (if not for housing). Many parts of Seattle are as dense if not denser than Portland. Between Tacoma and Tukwila on the train you can see farms (while still in the "metro"), large complexes like the GSA, Safeway…and don’t forget McChord AFB and Fort Lewis…and THREE major airports (Sea-Tac, Payne Field/Snohomish County, and Boeing Field/King County).

    "Seattle’s transit, albeit a decent bus system downtown, sucks. Their online usability"

    It’s apples and oranges to compare a transit system simply on their website.

    Yes, King County Metro’s website sucks for basic information, and yes TriMet has an awesome rider-focused website. Doesn’t make the transit system better or worse, though…kind of like judging a book by its cover.

    "The other problem, which is also a kind of plus too, is that they have several major transit agencies in the area which have various conflicts of interest. In turn they did create Sound Transit which is a great agency, yet it makes TriMet’s goof ups like the WES look like massive successes. The money they’ve managed to spend on things with minimal return will take 2-4x longer to get any ROI than Portland’s efforts. Don’t get me wrong, their commuter rail is awesome and massive, but because of bad zoning and sprawl, is the only reason they need something like that and can make use of it anyway."

    Hardly a "conflict of interest". A "Conflict of Interest" exists when transit experts here in Portland are too cozy with developers and force developer-oriented transit, instead of people-oriented transit. The fact that Sound Transit exists is actually a model for governance – each region within Sound Transit is guaranteed a ROI; whereas TriMet legally can spend 100% of its capital spending just in Portland and there is absolutely NOTHING anyone can do to stop TriMet. (And since three of the five board members are "from" Portland…the Board is worthless for oversight.)

    I’m not sure exactly what the "goof-ups" Sound Transit is involved in…I’ve heard of a few things here and there…

    Bad zoning and sprawl…it’s no different than Portland. The only difference is that Seattle had to go long (Everett-Tacoma) because you’ve got a big body of water to the west, and big mountains to the east. Seattle is linear; Portland is more of a blob. It should be noted that Seattle literally has five "downtowns" – Downtown Seattle, Downtown Tacoma, Downtown Everett, Downtown Redmond, and Downtown Bellevue.

    Does Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tigard, Tualatin, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Gresham or Vancouver compare with Tacoma, Everett, etc.?

    "About 15% of Seattle is about 20-30 minutes from their downtown. This bodes a problem."

    Not really…not everyone desires or needs to go "downtown". Same with Portland.

    "Try going car free in Seattle, then try going car free in Portland. In Portland it is highly unlikely that after 3-6 months you’d even miss your car, in Seattle you’ll be having a number of issues."

    Done it, no problems. There’s a very well known transit rider/blogger in Seattle who is car-free and lives in the "burbs"…(in fact you have a link to her blog!)

    "But I must confess, the writer of said article did confess Portland has some untouchable strengths which I thought where absolutely awesome!"…

    "Mass transit. It exists" Clearly he doesn’t use TriMet on a daily basis.

    "We’re tougher." Wait until an earthquake.

    "We don’t have to try." I think Portland toots its horn way too much. Seattle doesn’t have to try…Seattle’s energy production is 95% hydroelectric. Portland claims that we’re green…yet over 50% of our power is from coal and natural gas!!! Seattle has one of the largest clean bus fleets (between hybrid-electric and trolleybus) in the nation. Seattle has an extensive HOV system (Portland has exactly one HOV lane, and it’s northbound OUT of downtown!) And Seattle has the largest vanpool network in the nation. (Portland? Vanpool? What the F*** is a vanpool?)

    "What’s a sales tax?" Whoop-di-do. On April 15th, Seattleites have half the tax paperwork that Oregonians have…and we pay higher taxes (their sales tax isn’t assessed on a number of things like food and medicine…Oregon’s income tax exemptions/deductions cover about four trips to the grocery store for me out of the year) and get far, far fewer government services for the buck.

    Reply

  2. "It’s apples and oranges to compare a transit system simply on their website."

    That isn’t apples and oranges, that is an apples to apples comparison. Their website versus our website. How is comparing websites that are supposed to offer the same bits of information, functionality, and rider enablement end up being apples to oranges?

    …per the website, "Doesn’t make the transit system better or worse, though…kind of like judging a book by its cover."

    Actually when you’re talking about two cities where the vast majority of people use the Internet daily, and hundreds of thousands do so to check arrival times etc, yes, it absolutely does make a transit system better or worse. 30 minute frequencies become usable, hour frequencies even become usable, with an appropriately monitored system (via transit tracker) and a fairly reliable schedule. Something that is difficult at best to find on Seattle’s Website(s). Newark, New Jersey does a vastly superior job with this information, and I’d go on to say their transit system is superior even to Seattle’s. So a good website, with a rider focus, with good reliable information, absolutely makes or breaks a transit system for a large percentage of preferred riders.

    "I think Portland toots its horn way too much. Seattle doesn’t have to try…"

    The point is Portland generally doesn’t, we just get great write ups etc, because people love this city. So much that we end up in newspapers the world over. We have advice asked of the city from the US and other nations. If we are tooting or not, the din of others tooting it for us overwhelms anything we say here. Portland’s reputation generally exceeds Seattles several times over when it comes to many of the things that you point out. Sure Seattle has a bunch of hydro, etc, but perception is unfortunately far more important.

    "The fact that Sound Transit exists is actually a model for governance – each region within Sound Transit is guaranteed a ROI; whereas TriMet legally can spend 100% of its capital spending just in Portland and there is absolutely NOTHING anyone can do to stop TriMet."

    Portland is what, 90%+ of the ridership? Seems fairly well spent to me. If we went by money we should decrease service on the west side and increase it on the east? They do ok. Either way I am working on a dollar split per area, per taxpayer, per etc., etc… just to see how all that pans out.

    Meanwhile Sound Transit is focused along particular corridors to Redmond and Tacoma. With completely erroneously routed commuter rail and other sundry. They’ve payed 2-3x per rider for their commuter rail that we did for our WES, meanwhile they have a streetcar that connects pretty much a mall to a lake, and ours actually connects several major points and has a vastly higher ridership, again decreasing our cost per rider. I’m not sure the bus statistics yet but our reliableness seems to exceed Seattle too. We fared MUCH better during the snow, mainly because of the streetcar, MAX, and some of the primary bus routes did ok. Seattle all but shut down its transit system.

    On another Sound Transit note, there are as many or more complaints about Sound Transit in the Seattle area, mostly about vast expenditures of money and not doing what they say they’re going to do, than there are here against TriMet.

    Either way, people continue to flow to Portland instead of Seattle when they’ve visited both cities and have to choose. Some for the transit, some for other things, but above all they move here not because of Metro, the "City of Portland", or TriMet, but because of the communities and neighborhoods, that exist in spite of all the urban planning absurdities. Alberta as pointed out is good solid Portland, The Pearl continues to be a an escape faucet for California.

    Also, if you really dislike all this and think Seattle does a better job, we aren’t a Communist state, you don’t have to ask permission to move. 😉 So in turn, you DID choose to live in Portland Erik. :p

    Reply

  3. When I moved from Cali, the choices were Seattle and Portland.
    After checking out Seattle it was no contest.
    Seattle is actually a BIG METROPOLIS, Portland is not, although that is rapidly changing.

    Reply

  4. That is exactly what I hear over and over and over again. Almost every time I ask someone that had the choice between the two, they hands down choose Portland. Maybe 5% of people I talk to disagree and choose Seattle.

    Reply

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