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4 things TriMet got right in 2010

IMG_1225 Willamette Week says TriMet and its union, ATU 757, are Portland’s “Rogues of the Year” for 2010.

Weirdly, the paper can’t bring itself to identify any actual mistakes, let alone rogueishness, by either the union or the agency. That’s a shame! It feeds the lazy mentality that nobody’s to blame and nothing’s to be done about TriMet’s problems.

(TriMet’s broken promise to fire operators who use cell phones while driving comes to mind; so do the ever-growing cuts to future TriMet service in order to build a new MAX line, despite the apparently ridiculous assumptions behind the budget projections.)

But here’s WW’s point: TriMet and its riders have had a really depressing year. So (just this once) let’s cut the agency a break: Here are four ways that, even in 2010, our beleaguered transit agency did things exactly right.

TriMet has totally embraced the bicycle.

Despite an inevitably rocky relationship with bike riders, TriMet proved beyond doubt this year that it understands bikes. It’s financing the testing of a whole new type of three-bike bus rack. It’s leading an international effort to build an open trip planner that will let you combine transit and bike plans. It’s sacrificing car parking spaces to put secured bike cages at park-and-rides. The RailVolution conference TriMet hosted in October even included a neat session on bike-oriented development along Williams Avenue.

Bikes are the perfect way to get from your home to the nearest MAX or frequent service bus line. TriMet’s leaders get that.

TriMet cares about you after you leave the platform.

For some transit agencies, you’re out of mind as soon as you step off the vehicle. TriMet is not only talking about gathering data from bus-pedestrian trouble spots and eliminating the inaccurate word “accident” from its crash reports. The agency also helped the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition build its landmark Getting Around on Foot plan and even helped one of its harshest critics, the OPAL bus organizing group, win a grant to find the city’s worst bus stops.

Marketing has always been TriMet’s core strength. Its enlightened attitude about pedestrian safety is just an extension of that.

TriMet plays well with others.

In retrospect, it looks like Neil McFarlane won $20 million from Sam Adams for the southeast Portland rail line by promising to sell out future riders. Even so, that’s $20 million that would otherwise have gone to a bridge that mostly serves suburban car drivers. You’ve got to respect a transit agency that can slip its pet projects onto the top of the regional priority list.

TriMet isn’t afraid to ask taxpayers for money when it’s important.

Payroll taxes. Property taxes. Even automobile taxes. They may not succeed, but at least TriMet’s asking.

Tax hikes shouldn’t be any government’s first option. But other governments I could name seem petrified of asking voters to pay for good ideas. TriMet leaders proved this year that they’re willing to ask for money on riders’ behalf – and there’s nothing roguish about that.

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