WESTBROOK – Transit experts who have worked on projects throughout the country spoke Thursday evening about new ways of moving people around Greater Portland.

The presentation, hosted by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, was the first in a series of workshops on the area’s transportation problems and potential solutions to them.

“Transit is going to be key for economic development and cultural development to this entire state,” said Rep. Ann Peoples, D-Westbrook, a member of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, who introduced the speakers at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center.

Commuter rail, higher frequency light rail, bus rapid transit and streetcars were discussed. Portland, Ore., has all of them, said Thomas Brennan, a principal with Nelson/Nygaard, a transportation consulting firm that’s based in that city.

The development of the transit system in Portland, Ore., began about 30 years ago, Brennan said, when plans were in the works to tear down old neighborhoods where streetcars had run and build a highway through them. The city decided to take a different direction and built light rail instead.

Since then, he said, 56 miles of rail have been built throughout the region.

David Taylor, senior vice president of international architecture for the engineering firm HDR, listed Charlotte, N.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Salt Lake City as other cities that have been “changed by vision and transit.”

This Portland, however, is a smaller, slower growing place, noted City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who was among about 100 people who attended the event.

Brennan offered a more relevant example of a successful transit system about 100 miles south of Oregon’s largest city.

The neighboring cities of Eugene and Springfield have a combined population of about 250,000 and are home to a university and a community college, he said. A $25 million bus system there introduced sleeker vehicles and bus-only lanes. That project increased ridership by 50 percent, said Brennan.

In Boulder, Colo., a city of about 100,000 people, residents were surveyed about improvements they wanted to see in their bus system, he said. They asked for smaller vehicles with friendly drivers and music. Those changes were made, Brennan said, and now a quarter of the residents ride the bus every day.

For Greater Portland to build a successful transit system, he said, planners should ask residents what they want, determine their goals and look at the development as a change in culture, not just a project.

PACTS’s second workshop is scheduled for 9 a.m. today at Disability RMS in Westbrook. Sessions also will be held in Portland, at 6:30 p.m. on April 7 and 8:30 a.m. on April 8 in the Merrill Auditorium rehearsal hall.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]