Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Greening the Rails

Portland is well-known for having one of the best light-rail systems in the country. Through an efficient combination of train and streetcar - served by a great bus system, makes getting around the region sans car relatively pain free. A recent post from Inhabitat definitely struck home a point regarding a retrofit that could make this green transportation system even literally more green. As opposed to a car, rail only makes contact at two thin points along the track alignment. By looking at these corridors on which the trains run - which have interstitial areas that are typically paved with a variety of surfaces, there is an opportunity to create less impervious surfaces through the incorporation of greenery.

Could Portland's rails evolve from this...

:: image via IgoUgo something more like this?

It's not a surprise that this is a common practice in Europe, which is covered extensively in the Inhabitat post from around the continent. The images are self-explanatory and seem quite simple, and are summed up in the post: "...these swaths of green provide a host of benefits to any urban area, like reducing urban heat island effect, providing a permeable surface for storm water to infiltrate, and reducing pollution. And did we mention that it looks so much prettier than concrete or asphalt?" Agreed.

:: images via Inhabitat

There are obviously some maintenance issues with this type of installation - but with proper specification of plantings, the cost-benefit would seem to make a lot of sense to me. Plus, as we evolve to a more green-job centered economy, the additional dollars can be funneled towards maintenance of this and other green infrastructure facilities. And really, there's a natural entropic evolution of rail beds to deteriorate into a more verdant state, although perhaps not the type of vegetation one desires. By being purposeful in lower-maintenance planting in these spaces, there are miles of opportunity for greening the rails.

:: image via Space Invading


  1. We proposed a green MAX as part of a Boulevard treatment to Burnside at Rockwood in Gresham during our urban design charrette. We hoped to use the additional natural color and material to reinforce a strong image of positive change in an area that has suffered far too long from dis-investment/ under-investment.
    Hope to see something like this there – or elsewhere – in Portland soon.

  2. They tried this in Melbourne Australia, with subterrain irrigation. However it has been left go brown due to the high water required to maintain the green grass. These initiatives need to included Water retention systems from surrounding buildings and roads to be used for irrigation. Also a great initiative for places with high rainfall.

  3. following up on the previous comment, i agree that these should be thought of a bit more holistically and do not need to be really long lawns. not knowing much about vegetation, it would seem that there could be local flora that could do well in these locations or they could indeed be part of a bio-swale or rainwater collection system that extends to the streets and surrounding blocks.

  4. Thanks all for the comments... I am sure there's some technical issues - particularly those of irrigation, plant selection, and the like that were mentioned. I agree that lawn perhaps isn't the best solution, but some ecolawn mixes are relatively hardy, require little water and maintenance, and stay shorter so wouldn't need to be mowed as often. I do like the use of irrigation water (or gasp! gray water) to irrigation these linear corridors as well - some public-private investment.

    As Joseph mentioned, the benefits in terms of re-investment, particularly in areas where light rail is often routed, seems like it may be worth the tough work to figure out a solution. I for one am definitely interested in seeing the viability - even if for a pilot rehab project or such.

  5. They really should have done this along Interstate Ave instead of paving the entire thing. The pavement cannot be good for stormwater retention, thats for sure - and a grass greenway would really discourage people from mistakenly driving down the MAX tracks.

  6. And we're in the midst of construction on the Green line - so that ship has sailed, but design is beginning on the Orange Line (Portland to Milwaukie) - which probably have some more urban sections that this would be good candidates at least for a pilot section...


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