Light Rail Lies

Light Rail Lies
..or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Getting Hit With a Bat

Proponents of Light Rail (MAX) are having a really bad month. They’ve spent the last 20 years and $1.6 billion in metro area transportation funds building fixed rail lines, claiming it would reduce congestion and enhance Portland’s image.

Livability is the code word today. Light Rail and Livability, they told us, are Progressive twins.
A few weeks back the growing crime problem along MAX lines, which has existed for years, finally got the attention of Portland’s media elites. As with most liberal lies it took someone dying (or in this case being beaten within inches of death) to force the Certified Smart People to admit the truth. It seems MAX can be quite an unlivable experience. As one local resident said:

Except during the peak rush hours, MAX is little more than a way for the criminal element to move from one crime scene to another… I used to say MAX was one of the best things for maintaining the environment, but it has been circling the drain for years…

Even though the people running TriMet know that criminals (especially juveniles) use their system to travel around the city terrorizing local residents, they have steadfastly refused to take the one action that would have the most dramatic positive effect on crime–namely, forcing riders to actually buy a ticket instead of riding for free.

The reason TriMet doesn’t check tickets is because this would drive their annual ridership numbers down. TriMet will do anything to boost ridership numbers in order to justify the multi-billion dollar system they forced us to build. If that means innocent Portlanders end up the victims of violent crime, well, as Lenin famously said, “sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”

But then the roof fell in when someone forgot to tell the Liberal editors of the Seattle Times that it’s verboten to tell the truth about Light Rail. The editors wrote the following about a proposition in their city to build fixed rail:

Seattle may deny this, but the surest way to reduce congestion on roads is to build more lanes. So says a report issued by State Auditor Brian Sonntag last week, and so says human experience. New roads help…

Buses also reduce congestion if people will ride them. Much more could be done with bus service, particularly if high-occupancy lanes are kept flowing by the smart use of tolls. Light rail replaces buses, and at a much higher cost per rider. Rail soaks up money buses might have used. Rail funnels transit. Buses extend it. And most rail riders will be people who were already riding the bus….

Throw these arguments at the Proposition 1 defenders and the ones thinking about the short term say, yes, we could reduce congestion with roads, tolls and buses, but voters aren’t ready to buy that: They believe in light rail, so give the public that. The farsighted ones say light rail is about changing the way we live. It is about increasing density, levering us into apartments around rail stations. If we live next to rail, we will drive less and help save the Earth. It is a fetching, utopian vision, but it is not so easy to change the way Americans live.

Consider Portland. That city opened its first light-rail line two decades ago, and has built several of them, all of which replaced bus lines. Overall, Greater Portland is no less car-dependent than Seattle. Its congestion has gotten worse, just as it has here. Many Portlanders are proud of light rail, but the last three times new light-rail plans have been on the ballot in the Portland area, the people rejected them.

Maybe they learned something.

Dear Seattle Times Editors: We’re Learning the hard way. Thanks for the beacon of truth in a sea of insanity. –MW

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Posted by at 05:43 | Posted in Measure 37 | 26 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    Amen! I would add that the problem with local government in Portland is it has too much tax money feeding the all powerful city hall. The city can drop $60,000 toasting each other in the city of Chicago, but one of its councilors says it doesn’t have $40,000 for a bike safety measure. They are lavished with hundreds of millions of dollars in state lottery and federal government dollars but don’t have enough to keep roads maintained or Max secure. Everbody: Write in Dave Lister for PDX mayor, and vote for Matt Wingard if you are in his district.


    Hey, the easiest way to reduce crime on the MAX and city wide is to send all illegals home after that is done we’ll have a clearer vision on our own predatory criminals.

    If Lister runs I’ll vote for him. He needs to declare now, not pull a Fred Thompson.

  • Jerry

    Light rail is a joke, it has always been a joke, and it will continue to be a very, very expensive joke.

  • Ted kennedy’s Liver

    I believe the figure is closer to $3 bn wasted on light rail.

  • devietro

    Light rail is not a laughing matter it might be a joke but its a joke that is driving our city into the ground. As a member of the private security industry I would love to say that light rail is job security but I dont think Tri-Met will ever spend the money on security it needs.

    • dean

      Data from the Texas Transportation institute’s Urban Mobility Study (Texas A & M) on street and freeway congestion in the 50 largest US cities:

      Cleveland Ohio is the least congested (maybe because they have negative growth)
      Portland ranks 23rd.
      Phoenix (a freeway city) is 30th
      Houston (even more freeways) is 44th
      Atlanta (freeways) is 45th.
      LA is of course 50th.

      In air quality (EPA data) Portland ranks 2nd, behind only Honolulu.
      Pheonix is 43rd, Houston 40th, Atlanta 39th, and LA 49th.

      Maybe light rail is not such a joke?


    Statistics are the most easily manipulated for of math………that’s why Algore can stammer about global warming while I have tomatoes still on my plants a month and a half later than they normally are.

    Should we accept my postions on the stats or someone elses? A liberal colleges study is hardly something to hang your hat on unless you’re looking for that place to hang it.

    That study seems was like a result looking for a study to prove it and they found it at A & M. Lousy football team nowadays too!

    • dean

      But wait…wouldn’t tomatoes in November in Oregon back up Al’s thesis?

      The thing is…facts are facts. Yes, they can be put forth selectively or badly interpreted, but as long as whatever is measured is done so accurately and apples are compared to apples (i.e. air pollutants,) it is not intellectual weakness to accept them for what they are.

      So I don’t know what you mean about “your position on the stats.” (Texas A&M is not Harvard by the way). And researchers there have to follow accepted methodologies and pass peer review. That is the seal of approval you should look for.

      The rankings should not be that surprising really. Car oriented cities do tend to be more congested and have higher levels of air pollution. It only makes sense.

      • CRAWDUDE

        I agree with you on the air pollution, we should all try to lessen the amount of pollution and waste we produce, just because that makes since.

        You must not have a garden Dean ( not being condescending by the way) , my house had one when I bought it 7 years ago so I’ve had to learn how to grow stuff. The reason the tomatoes aren’t ripening is because we didn’t have a warm enough summer, had the global warming theory been correct they would have been ripe in the middle to end of Sept. at the latest. As a footnote, every year but this one they’ve been ripe by the middle of October at the latest.

        Another thing comes to mind while we’re at it. Most of my roses are losing their leaves and that doesn’t normally happen until January when it gets really cold, a cold that came uniquely early this year.

        Now , if someone came out with a global cooling theory I may be open to believing it………..ah, but that was the 80’s doom and gloom theory……..we still have 3 years of the global warming thing to go before we have a new decade menace theory.

  • Anonymous


    Air pollution in Portland did not improve because of Light Rail. Portland was never high on the pollution list among other American cities. There is no more transit ridership today (as a percentage) than there was 30 years ago.

    In fact there are more cars driving around Portland today than there were 30 years ago and yet the air quality has improved (significantly). This is about technological improvements, not Light Rail.

    • dean

      Anon…you are right. In fact I conveniently left out an important statistic from the same “liberal” Texan A&M study: Portland ranks 20th out of 50 in transit use. Some bus dependent cities do better; LA is 8th, Atlanta is 10th, Seattle 11th, Houston 12th, and Dallas 15th. Portland’s high air quality is partly due to anti-pollution regulations that forced car makers to build more efficient vehicles, but probably more so has to do with our naturally good air flow, thanks to the Columbia Gorge (Eugene, trapped at teh south end of the Valley, has much worse air).

      So light rail opponents have a good point to make. The system is not yet extensive enough to significantly increase transit ridership. Still, calling it a waste is an overstatement. Expensive yes.

      Crawdude, I live on a farm, and heirloom tomatoes are one of our cash crops. In spite of a relatively cool, rainy late summer we did pretty well this year (we sell to Food Front in NW Portland). IF yours are still green, you may have gotten them in too late. Dig them up and hang them in your basement and they may still ripen.

      But don’t confuse “weather” with “climate.” Al Gore is not just making shit up. His data is from the International Panel on Climate Change, and like it or not this group is the gold standard for climate analysis (with due respect to George Taylor). They review ALL peer reviewed and published data on climate and then come to their conclusions. Al exagerated some of their findings in his film, particularly how fast sea levels might rise. But interestingly, just yesterday the IPCC released its final synthesis report and new data suggests that Al might not have over exagerated by all that much. This is not good news by the way. But we should deal with the reality and not try to wish it away.

      • Jerry

        Oh Dean, what are we going to do??? The earth is on fire!!! Light rail will save us, though, so now I am happy! And to think, I never knew that light rail has helped so much in the fight against man-made global warming. I guess fewer and fewer Oregonians are driving now and many of them are taking light rail everywhere they go! How wonderful. Thanks to everyone who helped make light rail possible. I am so happy and so very, very proud.
        Now, if can just get the people who don’t ride light rail to get SMART cars, we here in Portland can save the rest of the planet.

        • dean


          Did i say the earth is on fire? Did I say light rail will save us? Did I say anything about smart cars?

          The earth is warming. One cause is fossil fuel burning. Light rail allows a lot of people to get around without burning much fossil fuel. Smart cars get good gas mileage. I’ll leave it at that.

      • jim karlock

        Actually the IPCC is a POLITICAL organization. Its political hacks write the, widely quoted, summary for policy makers.

        Its science is so bad it even fell for the fradualent “hockey stick” temperature chart used by Gore and his Zombies.

        Try some real science at:


        • dean

          Jim, you can believe whatever you want to. Its a free country. But the IPCC is composed of the leading climate SCIENTISTS in the world. Gore used the IPCC analyses, not the other way around.

          My sense is that you and many others still don’t accept the global warming hypothesis because it challenges things we all hold dear. I used to feel the same way, but have become convinced over time that the issue is real and we need to start making some changes.

          You can always find contrary voices. People still dispute evolution long after the science has been settled.

          • Jerry

            I am not so sure it is a free country. People of your ilk want to control how I live my life.
            I drive a massive Yukon with an equally massive V-8 mill and I don’t ride light rail.
            Does that upset you and make you want to change those conditions?
            I think perhaps so.

          • Anonymous
          • carol

            heh heh heh

  • rural resident

    Rail transit works in “hub and spoke” configurations, where the people live in areas surrounding a central city (hub), commuting in to work in the morning and taking mass transit back out in the evening. (Or vice versa, though it would be unusual to have residents in the city and jobs in the suburbs/exurbs.) That’s the way people and jobs were arranged many decades ago, before people became wealthier and used to suburban and rural living. A good-sized home was 1,000 square feet and had one bathroom.

    Unfortunately for the planner class, we don’t live in that era anymore and Metro Portland’s employment isn’t conveniently compressed into downtown Portland. Big employers are found in Beaverton, Wilsonville, Oregon City. People live all around and commute all around the area. Even if you could build a mass transit system that would get people to within a short walk of most of the employers and the popular shopping areas (a fabulously expensive and disruptive undertaking), people would still need cars for a variety of other tasks.

    I grew up riding on commuter trains, not to mention some that went longer distances. I think rail is fun, when it gets me somewhere fast and I don’t want to go anywhere that it doesn’t go. But you can’t build a system that accounts for the diversity in people’s lives now that didn’t exist six or seven decades ago.

    The fundamental problem with Oregon’s approach to TOD, density, infill, etc., is that it doesn’t account for human nature, nor does it account for technological change. It’s the planners arrogantly telling average citizens, “This is the way we think you should live. If you don’t like it, live somewhere else.” It’s the opposite of being market-driven. If there were a huge constituency for TOD, the market would find a way to accommodate it. People would stop driving and road congestion would cease.

    People aren’t being irrational when the select cars over light rail. Cars transportation is flexible and convenient. It will be more so when planners stop treating drivers like recalcitrant children who need to be shown the proper way to act, and realize that additional highway lanes — even entirely new roads — are sensible solutions that meet consumers’ needs.

    I’m not suggesting that we plow up the MAX lines or even not extend them where it makes sense. However, we need to realize that cramming more than a million Metro area citizens into rail cars, 95-story apartment buildings, and tiny neighborhood stores to the exclusion of all else will result in not only more congestion but also a level of anger and frustration that politicians would do well to avoid.

    • dean

      You make all good points. The car is here to stay, though smaller, more fuel efficient, and maybe solar electric someday.

      A limited light rail system, if it connects the right dots along the right corridors is nice to have as part of our options (though expensive to build, it is cheap to operate). In “the planners” defense, the present efforts to densify corridors is an option that was put before the community and was preferred by a solid majority. That doesn’t mean the same majority wants to live on these corridors, but perhaps they want newcomers to live there.

      Urban scale, walkable neighborhoods with moderate density (like the older ones in Portland and the older suburban cores) are inexpensive, not overly crowded, and allow people to get around without a car if they choose. These neighborhoods are doing very well free market-wise. A 1500 square foot home in Sellwood or the Hawthorne area is as valuable as a home twice the size on an acre in the eastern burbs. Not to mention the Pearl and NW Portland.

      • rural resident

        *”That doesn’t mean the same majority wants to live on these corridors, but perhaps they want newcomers to live there.”*

        You’re helping make my point about the extent of the market for TOD. I’m not sure how solid the economic foundation is for something that people only want OTHERS to do. Much of the “support” for light rail comes from people who want others to ride mass transit so that there will be more space on the road, allowing the “supporters” to have more space on the road and get somewhere more quickly.

        The newcomers shouldn’t be forced into a substandard quality of life. And they won’t be. Markets aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty good at sorting out demands for various types of lifestyles. My objection to this specific approach, and Oregon’s land use regulations in general, is that planners replace individual market responses with their own judgment — a judgment that is clouded by the filter through which they see the world.

        Your point about the value of housing in downtown Portland versus the ‘burbs is a good one. Again, supply and demand for housing in those neighborhoods are the key factors. There will always be a market for downtown living. Young singles/childless couples, elderly people, workaholic professionals working downtown, etc. add up to sizeable numbers of people wanting a more compact lifestyle. If downtowns are safe, attractive, and functional, there will be demand for housing there.

        I’m fine with government playing a role in making this happen. I’m not fine with government excluding the other lifestyle options by forcing people to live in ways they don’t want to live. That’s what Oregon does. Our planning regulations make it clear that the city/state isn’t secure in the belief that, given the option, people will choose to live in a compact, dense, TOD environment. Oregon mandates a reduction in the supply of alternative lifestyle opportunities.

        Mangling the market by limiting other options because planners think those lifestyles are wasteful leads to the problems we’re seeing now, even in rural areas — artificially high housing prices making housing unaffordable, negative perceptions of Oregon as a place to do business, leading to higher unemployment, a lack of funds for education and other public services. Again, I’m not suggesting that we cut off all investment in mass transit. But let’s lighten up on the ability of people to cast their dollar ballots for lifestyles that give them more room and more freedom.

        • dean

          I’m part way there with you. Our present land use structure, M37 and M49 aside, does limit new housing options, particularly in the portland metro area, which is the only part of the state with specific density requirements. The main effect has been on the burbs, though it also has allowed Portland to have a strong market for infill housing.

          I’m not all the way with you for a few reasons. “Planners” do not make decisions in a vacuum. Every sizeable community in the US has planners, plans, zoning, etc (Houston partly excepted). Planners can’t “force” communities to do something they don’t want to do. Maybe they could for a while, but politics would catch up, as it did with M37 in Oregon.

          The big planning choices made over the past 30 years: Oregon’s land use program, opting for light rail over a new freeway, holding tight to urban growth boundaries and favoring infill and higher density, and development of an open space acquisition program, were all well vetted and had super majority political support in the region.

          Maybe this set of choices is now being reconsidered. Maybe it has bumped up against some limits (transportation financing problems, increased congestion, inflated land prices, too many oversized & ugly houses crammed onto urban scale lots, changes in the farm economy that favor smaller operations). Personally, having been at ground zero (Damascus) over the past decade, where I experience the shortcomings directly and have advised Metro and other planners of what I think needs to change.

          I don’t think we can or should go back to a free market land use system. The results from other communities; Vegas, Phoenix,
          Atlanta, Houston, etc. who have stuck with this over the years are not pretty to look at or live in. More people means more crowding no matter how you slice it, and you can either crowd inward (higher density) or you can crowd outward (loss of open space, forests, and farms).

          I don’t agree with you that government as “excluded” certain lifestyle options or that it has “forced” anyone to live a certain way. I do think it has devalued large lot suburban living, as well as small acreage rural living. People can still choose these. Local governments can still zone for large lots, but they have to balance that with higher densities elsewhere. Small acreage homes and sites are available to buy throughout the W Valley, and more are now on the way due to 39/47.

          If we eliminated the UGB and re-opened rural areas near Portland to low infrastructure, large lot development, prices might come down and many families would buy bigger over closer. But that market depends on many other public choices on transportation financing. It is not truly a ‘free market” no matter how you slice it.

          • rural resident

            Any time government places artificial limitations on development it excludes lifestyle options for a certain number of people. It opts to have more of some types of lifestyles (in Portland’s case, compact housing oriented toward mass transit) and less of others. This means that certain lifestyles (somewhat larger lots, with more room for bigger homes and places for kids to play in the yard) are less available — either because of higher cost and/or not enough of the desired kinds of property.

            Getting back to the original post, safety is paramount if TOD is going to flourish. If people perceive that the areas around the light rail lines aren’t safe, one of the foundations upon which TOD rests will crumble. Values will fall and support will dwindle. It’s one thing for Portland Metro governments to subsidize this lifestyle choice to provide another option. However, they will have to devote substantial resources to ensure safety or all the subsidies in the world won’t be enough to entice people into the market.

            I also completely disagree with a couple of your presumptions. First, I doubt that there will be a dozen additional homes in the Portland area due to M49. People are about to find out just how duplicitous the pro-M49 campaign was when they try to work through the morass of regulations awaiting people who enter the so-called “express lane.” The fact that any idiot in the country can file a lawsuit against a claimant and the claimant is likely to have to pay both sides’ legal fees will be enough to stop virtually any claims.

            It makes little sense to compare Portland to places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Atlanta. These places are so different, its apples and oranges. The main difference isn’t the land use laws; it’s geography, culture, etc. Superimposing land use laws aimed at “protecting” farmland and forestland wouldn’t make any sense in Phoenix or Vegas; they’re deserts. As with the Portland area, there are pockets that are ugly and some that are very attractive. The overall geography of the entire region isn’t as pretty and green as around here because the weather isn’t conducive to it. Besides, if their vibrant economies, low unemployment, and low housing prices are the result of their free market approach (which, incidentally, isn’t as free-wheeling as you think), maybe we should consider instituting it in central/eastern Oregon, where we have lots of desert land. It might be interesting to see what the effect would be.

            You note the huge support for TOD, infill, etc., in the Portland metro area. I don’t have as much of a problem with instituting these kinds of restrictions in places that really want it, even though I think it causes plenty of unintended consequences. My objection is to the many parts of the state that DON’T want heavy-handed and, in many cases, completely inappropriate land use restrictions.

            You state that planners can’t force communities to do things they don’t want to do. Yes, in Oregon they can. And they do. When our small town last updated its Comp Plan, the citizens made it abundantly clear that they wanted development: more places to work, shop, play, and gather. They said so in votes. In community surveys. In testimony on proposed developments. In public meetings (almost 200 people participated in the meeting approving the economic development piece, and the pro-development parts were approved by more than two-thirds of the participants).

            None of that input, that public involvement, was factored into the final plan. DLCD told the community that our thousands of hours of participation were wasted. It told us what their vision was for our town and forced us to use Comp Plan language implementing their vision and values by refusing to accept our decisions. So much for “local control”! This is when it became crystal clear to me — and many others around here — that something went very wrong with our land use system. SB 100 would never have been approved back in 1973 had people been able to foresee how little “local control” there would be in the future. The rural representatives, who had more control over things back then, would never have gone along.

          • dean

            I stand corrected. Metro planners can override local planners in the Portland area, and State planners can override anyone. In those cases, politics still matter but it takes a bigger effort. Local control was superceded by the state back in the 70s in Oregon. That is good news and bad news.

            Local public involvement is procedural only. Actual aspirations have no force. I would not say Metro and LCDC are completely inflexible, but they do have the last word.

            I think the M49 claims for 1-3 homes will move forward. But time will tell.

            On transit and safety, my sense is the issue has been blown out of proportion. The crime statistics are not alarming, but a few well publicized incidents are. And there is a high concentration of poor people on and near Max, which can and does lead to problems. Tri Met needs to respond better than they have so far.

          • idfdlvsn

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    • carol


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