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As metropolitan-area residents will be aware, the May 1st opening of the TriMet-MAX Yellow Line to North Portland went ahead as planned: the light-rail extension’s arrival was greeted in the various neighborhoods it serves with festivities of various kinds, bands and community fairs. But in terms of the line’s impact upon civic life, those inclined to think upon the design of this system from the perspective of urban planning are encouraged by this writer to discard a quantum of conventional wisdom regarding light rail, its relative cost-ineffectiveness, and consider the Yellow Line in terms of its cumulative effect upon TriMet’s North Portland service. Traditionally, North Portland has had one of the heaviest riderships of any section of the metropolitan area, but the willingness of area residents to make public transit a primary means of daily travel was hobbled by the relatively long transit times involved: a bus trip to the city center from St. Johns took roughly as long as bus travel from Hillsboro (causing carless area residents a certain degree of disorientation as regards their image of the city).

Travel along the entire line takes roughly 20 minutes; but as many will notice, the economy in transit times due to the introduction of Yellow Line service is not primarily due to train speed. TriMet has systematically redesigned its North Portland service along the lines of 82nd Ave, with its multiple lines served by improved bus shelters — compared to the hub-and-spoke system implemented in Clackamas and Washington counties, the new matrix system for North Portland is a veritable boon on account of its articulation of non-automotive transit in a manner which does not infringe upon already-existing habits of daily life. But such improvements are not without their cost, and those mindful of the open design of the Interstate stations might do well to consider the Yellow Line as autonomic: that is, selecting its own best conditions of operation for its given ridership. The difference in ridership mores already manifested as compared to orbital bus lines suggests that, in fact, the Yellow Line is not a white elephant as light-rail is commonly reputed to be: but further consideration of the Yellow Line’s strengths and weaknesses should turn on its efficacy as an aid to high-wage employment, a practical means of transportation and guarantee of a sufficiently mobile workforce.

Having recently been over the grounds for May Day (the world’s most popular worker’s holiday) in another forum, I am today inclined to reexamine its causes. Namely, the prospects of those residents of the United States without urbanity in its classic sense of majority, the liberty enjoyed by those persons recognized as part of civic life. Too late for health, wealth and even an early bed, suchpeople have always still been integral parts of various plans for economic advancement; but as lumpenproletariat, they present both an appealing prospect and a fearsome threat, one realized in the series of events leading up to May Day but more often than not remaining completely without evidence. What I mean here is that the historical sequence resulting in economic immiseration is most always so occluded that the grounds for mass worker action are unreconstructable, the circumstance not even featuring a question of economic rationality as backdrop to the omnipresent sea of human suffering. As a consequence, great moments from labor history rarely serve as useful aids to reflection for the super-exploited: those who require immediate and thoroughgoing reform of their living conditions must make do with alternatives to chapter and verse as regards arguments for militancy with respect to the realities of working life. In the United States, May Day is not an official holiday: but at times when some people are working and some people aren’t, you can see who has certain responsibilities and who couldn’t care less about the tenor of public life. For a change, that fellow who would like to help you with small-cap investments isn’t the problem with your surroundings: it’s the amount of distance such a division causes between people who formerly had similar (if distinct) interests, and the difficulties inherent in distinguishing between various parts of popular sentiment for the purpose of evaluating such projects. And in such moods, it’s important to remember that a certain amount of external influence is actually required for the purpose of evaluating one’s own situation: whether May 1 was a special day for you or not the American workforce has more than the mission statement in common with its international colleagues and might do well to consider its fortunes in light of the experience of foreign workers refracted through the memory of that one Chicago spring.