We have a problem with the bus mall, er, I mean “transit mall”

The Portland Transit Mall is the new name for the Bus Mall. Before 2008, the major bus routes ran through downtown North/South along the Bus Mall, which took up SW 5th & SW 6th avenues. The Red, Yellow and Blue lines all ran East/West through the downtown area, so the buses and the trains crossed. The Bus Mall was easy to navigate. The city was divided into four regions, each designated by an icon, and each block had a stop for two regions. This was quite handy in two ways. First of all, you could access all the buses that ran though the bus mall in the length of two-blocks. Secondly, if you lived in an area that was served by more than one bus, as I did when I lived close-in on Barbur Boulevard, you could stand at the bus stop serving your area and grab the first bus that came by.

The transit mall has changed all that. Because the Yellow and Green Max lines now run on the former “bus mall”–as do cars, which I really hate, but that is another post–Trimet has changed the “area” plan. The icons are gone, instead replaced by letters. I can never remember what letter I’m supposed to stand at. The stops are much, much further apart and it is harder now to catch multiple buses that go to one place. But the biggest problem of the new Transit mall? Shelter.

If you have heard of Portland, you might know that it rains a lot here. Sometimes, in the dead of winter, I think of Forrest Gump talking about the many different kinds of rain in Vietnam. It’s a bit like that here, just minus the tropical setting. We have beautiful summers (July, August and September) but most of the year it’s raining very hard, raining a little, or looking like it is going to rain. So when waiting for our famous public transit, it is very good to be out of the rain.

Here is a picture of the shelters that used to be along the bus mall. Notice the huge, overhanging lip. That’s to keep the rain off. This is because the rain rarely falls straight down here, unless there is a downpour. Notice also the wooden bands around the outside and inside of the shelter. Those give someone something to lean on. When it is really rainy and the weather is blowing everywhere, there is also shelter inside. This inside shelter provided a place where you could stand, lean, and watch for your bus all at once. There were also a few seats to sit in, too. There were two of these per block, so everyone waiting for a bus had the option of shelter.

photo from: http://www.bobrichardson.com/transitmallfeedback.html

Here’s the block downtown in the new Transit Mall where I wait for my train. Do you see any shelter here? There actually is one, and you will see it a few photos from now, but it is so insubstantial as to not show up in this photo. The Max trains are one city block in length. In November 2009, Max had an average weekday boarding of 117,300 people. That’s a large city getting on the Max every day. This stop is one of six northbound stops for the yellow and green lines. It’s also right in between the east/west Red and Blue lines. A lot of people stand here waiting for a max train. Some of them are tired after a long day. Where are they supposed to sit? What can they lean against? Notice that gray building on the right? That’s Pioneer Courthouse. It is a working federal courthouse.
Here’s the sign on the fence around Pioneer Courthouse. The sign tells people not to sit on the historic stone wall. Yet this is also a place to wait for Max with little seating or places to lean. Guess what happens?
Here’s a view from halfway down the block. Due to the lack of seating or sheltered leaning space, someone has taken respite on the ground. You can barely see the shelter in the background.
So here’s what happens. That shelter–that would be the flat, glassed roofed thing on the left, has two seats and very few places to lean. So people sit on the stone wall.
A close up view of shelter. When the wind blows, where does the rain fly? Right into the “shelter.” Because there is only one of these per Max stop, an entire city block worth of people have to take shelter in this tiny space. This is ridiculous, and not workable on a commuting day when it is raining.

In addition, the two (TWO!) seats provided are at an odd height. When I sit in them, my feet don’t touch the ground unless I slump over as the woman in this picture is doing.
Many of the shelters have a vertical wall of glass on one side of them. But there is a gap between the top of the glass and the flat top of the roof. The rain and wind fly right in and there is nothing to lean against, except the glass itself. Who designed these? Did they have any knowledge of Portland weather patterns? Did they take into account any commuter preferences?

When the old shelters (one has been preserved and will be turned into a coffee shop) were pulled down to make way for the bus mall there was a lot of talk about the drug dealing that took place inside them. I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for buses in those shelters. I never once saw a drug deal. You know what I did have? A clear view of the bus, with places to sit and lean and protection from the rain. The current shelters say, “we have to give you something for protection from the weather, but we don’t want you to be comfortable. We don’t want to spend very much money on it, either.”

Thanks Transit Mall. So far I don’t like the “improvements” at all.

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