“How am I going to do this today?”
Each weekday, Manuela Martinez Espinoza steps out of her apartment in Tigard at around 5:15 a.m. to catch her first bus to go to work at a restaurant in Beaverton.
Often, it’s still dark outside when she starts her commute.
Martinez Espinoza wears a vest with reflective stripes and carries a flashlight in her hand during her 25-minute walk to the bus stop. Portions of her walk have sidewalks; others don’t. It’s a lonely walk, except when cars swoosh past her, or she runs into her neighbor on his morning stroll.
Across town in Beaverton, her boyfriend, Humberto Rodriguez hops on the bus around 5:30 a.m. to go to his construction job in Portland. Sometimes Rodriguez gets assigned jobs in other parts of the region.
As people who depend on transit, they are both excited about a proposal to extend the MAX system through the Southwest Corridor, from downtown Portland to the Bridgeport Village mall in Tualatin. Other parts of the Southwest Corridor Plan include trails, sidewalks, new bus lines and road improvements.
“I move around by taking the MAX and the bus a lot,” he said. “This new line would be good, very good. I live in Beaverton, but I’m thinking about moving to Tigard.”
“In the area where I live the rent is cheap, but there aren’t a lot of buses,” Martinez Espinoza said. “There’s one that runs every hour, but… when you need it, it’s not there.”
That’s recently changed. As part of its Southwest Service Enhancement Plan, TriMet added a new 42 - Denney/Hall bus line that runs through her neighborhood. Martinez Espinoza finds herself using it, which cuts down some of the walking she has to do during the weekdays. She still has to walk a lot on Saturdays, another workday for her.
Her commutes take a while. But she makes it work by using all travel options available, including the Westside Express Service. Recently Martinez Espinoza booked medical appointments in downtown Portland and Tualatin. “I made it to each of my appointments on time,” she said.
“For me traveling on the WES from Beaverton to Tigard takes me 15 or 10 minutes,” Martinez Espinoza said. “When I’m in a hurry, that’s my option.”
Being transit-dependent means that Martinez Espinoza always has to plan ahead to get where she needs to be, “I’m always thinking, ‘How am I going to do this today?’” she said.
Rodriguez and Martinez Espinoza would like to live together near downtown Tigard, where they would be closer to more bus lines and, potentially, a new light rail in the future.
“It got to the point where I just had to drive.”
Erik Halstead sits in the middle of his home office in Tigard surrounded by toy models of different transportation vehicles: buses, trains and airplanes. His bookshelf is full of books about railroad history, including one about Oregon’s Southern Pacific Railroad.
Halstead thinks that would surprise people who may think he’s anti-light rail. A longtime critic of Metro and TriMet, Halstead is a vocal opponent of the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail. Even though he no longer uses transit, he attends community meetings about it whenever he can.
Halstead used to work at a call center near downtown Portland. “For many years I relied on TriMet,” he said. “But over the years as the buses just became less and less reliable for various reasons, it got to the point where I just had to drive."
Driving offers the flexibility to change routes if and when he gets stuck in traffic.
"For the most part for where I travel, it would not serve my needs," Halstead said about the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail line. He no longer works in Portland and commutes toward the Beaverton-Hillsboro area. Halstead is a student at the Rock Creek Portland Community College campus, where he's studying to be an airplane mechanic.
He would rather see more investments on bus rapid transit before any investments on expanding the light rail system.
Halstead thinks the rail line's proposed route won't help as much as it could, because it skips two major employment centers: Kruse Way in Lake Oswego, and Washington Square near Tigard.
“Those are two of the largest employment centers in our area," he said.
Halstead is also a proponent of strengthening suburban bus connections.
"Every year it gets better."
Johnnie Shepherd came to Oregon in the early 1970s for a new opportunity: a job at Timber Lake in Estacada through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Corps program.
“It was a logging time back then, and they accepted me,” he said, noting a stark difference to how he was treated as a young, black man in his home state. “I could go to downtown. It was totally different from the South, right? Totally different.”
Born and raised in Alabama during the Jim Crow era was traumatic for Shepherd. “I wasn't free to go in certain areas,” he said. “It was closed off to us at that particular time. It was a lot of racism at that time.”
He said he left Alabama with “a negative view of the world.” That view started to change when he moved to Los Angeles, where he went to high school and lived with an aunt.
“From California I come to Oregon and Washington – all over the West Coast,” Shepherd said. “So my travels with people really changed my views about the country and people.” He befriended people of different races and ethnicities. And so did his children.
“My children … married people that don't look like them, right?” he said. “And it made a better person out of me… And so, I'm glad I was born at the time I was born. And I'm glad that [through] my experience traveling through this country, I seen a lot of beautiful things.”
Shepherd said Oregon, with its natural beauty and welcoming people, kept calling him back.
He has settled in Southwest Portland in an apartment building that’s operated by Central City Concern. Having his own apartment brings him great joy – after “couch-surfing” for 20 years. And so does his neighborhood, which he describes as “centrally-located.”
He’s close to bus lines, the MAX, Portland Streetcar, businesses and restaurants.
He remembers how long his commutes would take when he lived in West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tualatin.
“I rode the buses from the 80s and 90s and 2000s,” he said. “It then got better. Every year, it gets better – to me. It's easier. I've lived back East. I know how congested [it is]. I think we got the best transit system.”
Shepherd thinks plans to bring a new MAX line to the Southwest Corridor will benefit people like him, who rely only on transit to connect to jobs.
He believes light rail will create many opportunities for the area, from new jobs constructing the project to new connections for existing businesses.
“It creates more business for people; it gets easier for them to get customers,” he said. And “it's easy for the customers to get to the particular business, restaurants or whatever. I think it's just a good thing in general.”
How we get to where we live is an individual journey. Listen to how Johnnie Shepherd, and Linda and Richard Edwards came to live in Southwest Portland.
Linda and Richard Edwards (narrated)
“It would be nice to… get to your destination within 30 minutes to an hour.”
Linda and Richard Edwards became totally dependent on transit after a series of major obstacles.
The house they were renting in Portland went into foreclosure not long after they moved to Oregon from Arkansas in 2011. With little notice, they scrambled to find a place to live with their two young children, who were about 5 and 7 years old at the time. It wasn’t easy to find a new place they could afford.
They tried to stay together as a family, but on occasion they’d send their kids to stay with one of Richard’s older sons in Gresham. For about six months, the Edwardses stayed in hotels, tried to set up camp in the city, or slept in their car.
Such an upheaval is difficult for any family. It was even more challenging for the Edwards family because of Linda’s health.
Linda was born with a bone disease, hypophosphatasia, which affects her ability to move. She has to use a wheelchair to get around. Richard quit his job, so that he could care for Linda while they looked for shelter during that period.
“I couldn’t leave her in a car,” Richard said. “She had no way to get from here to here.”
The Edwardses eventually found apartments to rent, including their current home in Southwest Portland, with help from the nonprofit JOIN. They live in a regulated apartment building, where rent is capped according to people’s incomes.
After struggling to keep up with expenses, Richard gave up his car and started riding the bus with Linda.
The Edwardses enjoy the experience of riding on a MAX train better than a bus for several reasons. It’s easier for Linda to get on and off the train. And the family doesn’t have to separate. When the buses are crowded, the kids sit where they can while Richard stays close to Linda.
The Edwardses are excited by the prospect of a new light rail line in the Southwest Corridor. They would still have to take a bus from their apartment to a MAX station, but they anticipate riding the train would cut their travel time by at least half an hour.
Edwards Family from oregonmetro on Vimeo.
“It would be nice to hop on a bus ride for ten minutes, get on a MAX [in the Southwest Corridor], and be able to get to your destination within 30 minutes to an hour,” Linda said.
They plan to stay put in Southwest Portland. They love their neighborhood and apartment, which is regulated and protected from rent increases they cannot afford.
The Edwardses look forward to the day when they can ride a MAX train along the Southwest Corridor. With fewer transfers and easier access, Linda said she would even venture to ride the train by herself.
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