No matter where Sound Transit points its trains, controversy seems to follow. I come to those discussions with the perspective of someone who was raised in Portland, where bellyaching about the mess caused by the latest MAX light rail project is a favorite pastime.
I grew up three blocks from the new North Portland line on Interstate Boulevard, which had become a sad strip of seedy motels and boarded-up stores by the time I moved away in the early 1990s. My mom still lives there and complained bitterly when she found out light rail was coming. But I think she’d admit that MAX has done more to clean up the neighborhood than anything else. Now, where an old Safeway building sat empty and decaying for years, there is a classy New Seasons Market. Old homes are being refurbished and derelict business districts are being reborn.
So you could say I view protests about light rail trains ruining communities with a skeptical eye. In researching today’s editorial about the fight over Sound Transit’s downtown Bellevue alignment, I came across this cautionary tale from the battle to build the first MAX line in Portland:
Despite strong support in Portland for the project, Gresham officials and businesses were cold to the proposal. A Gresham City Council vote to sign on to the project won by a single vote. Had this gone the other way, the line would have ended near Gresham’s city limits (at about 162nd Avenue).
Despite the approval, Gresham City Council pushed for (and got) light rail to veer away from the traditional downtown area of Gresham. Civic leaders and Businesses were fearful that the trains would bring more crime and the undesirable types associated with it. These fears proved to be unfounded as light rail brought attention and riders to areas around the Gresham alignment. Property values rose and none of the rampant crime that was expected materialized. Gresham has since relocated its city hall to near the MAX line, and retail and residential developments have followed.