News: Getting on Portland's Groovy Train

For someone looking to experience Portland's MAX, the nationally recognized, 33-mile light rail system, a trip from the Portland International Airport to downtown begins in a slightly disappointing

For someone looking to experience Portland's MAX, the nationally recognized, 33-mile light rail system, a trip from the Portland International Airport to downtown begins in a slightly disappointing fashion.

Adjacent to the airport's steel and glass terminal, only three people are waiting on a recent weekday afternoon for Tri-Met Bus #12 Sandy Blvd. The $1.50 fare will get a rider to Pioneer Square downtown in 45 minutes, with all the stops and delays of a typical Queen City Metro bus route.

But the airport bus stop offers a view of a brighter future with the nearby rail terminal currently under construction. Portland's MAX Light Rail System opens its Airport MAX link in September. At that time, MAX riders will be able to head to the airport with all the comfort and quick convenience they currently enjoy traveling between Portland's east-side and west-side neighborhoods.

For Cincinnatians who think mass transit is simply about poor people riding noisy city buses, a trip on Portland's MAX is an eye-opening experience.

Along with other passengers on Tri-Met Bus #12, I transfer to light rail at the Hollywood East-side MAX station. Adjacent to a retail district similar to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton, the Hollywood station is a transfer stop for six Tri-Met buses as well as the MAX.

A walkway takes Tri-Met riders past automatic ticket machines and to the MAX station that sits in the center of the expressway. There are no turnstiles or conductors checking tickets.

The MAX functions on the honor system.

The trains themselves are quiet, clean and roomy. Many passengers travel with bicycles. The riders are racially and economically diverse. It's evident that MAX is used by everyone.

From the MAX station across the street from the Portland Convention Center, it's a quick 10 minutes to Pioneer Square downtown. MAX trains hug the downtown sidewalks, allowing riders a close-up perspective of Pioneer Square's stores and restaurants.

Downtown stops are a fare-less zone. And it's clear that Portlanders don't need to be persuaded to ride the MAX. Still, while paying for a purchase at the downtown Nordstrom, a clerk offers me a MAX ticket with my receipt.

A quick ride on the west-side MAX takes riders away from Pioneer Square, past the Central Library, around Civic Stadium and into the hillside tunnel beneath Washington Park. It's here that one can hike through a dense forest preserve, visit Portland attractions like the zoo and forestry museum, and finish the afternoon with a visit to the city's famous Japanese Gardens.

For Cincinnati cynics who believe the Queen City's hills aren't conducive to a light rail system, the hilltop views from the Japanese Gardens confirm that another medium-sized city — with larger hills — is making light rail into a grand success.©