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May 27th, 2009 Shawn O'bryant | News Stories
 

Mall Aboard

The buses return to their downtown home. So do the street people.

     
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BACK TO THE FUTURE: TriMet buses aren’t all that’s returning to 5th and 6th avenues downtown.
IMAGE: Shawn O'Bryant

After 2 1/2 years of upsetting construction and commuter displacement, Portland’s buses have returned from Southwest 3rd and 4th avenues to their longtime home on Southwest 5th and 6th avenues.

TriMet celebrated May 22 with a party that featured a slow procession of buses inching along the newly completed Portland Bus Mall to Portland State University’s Urban Plaza, TriMet’s single largest pick-up point.

The 30-year-old bus mall has been closed since Jan. 17, 2007, for $220 million worth of renovations and construction that will include the opening of the new MAX Green Line and extension of the Yellow Line this September.

For most people, the return of the buses is a welcome shift back to Portland’s main transit artery.

But some are still adjusting, like an under-informed commuter waiting at Southwest 2nd Avenue and Alder Street for the No. 14 bus, which will no longer stop there, and the panhandlers redividing their turf on the bus mall.

Shawn Reep has been “spanging” on the bus mall since last September, despite the lack of bus traffic. Now that the buses are back, other groups of panhandlers have pushed him out of his usual spot.

“That’s where we used to be,” Reep said the first day after the actual rejigger took place on Sunday, May 24. He pointed to a crowd of old-school panhandlers kitty-corner to where he was set up. “We used to sit right on those benches,” Reep said, ‘‘but now we have to stand here.” Despite the increase of commuters, he added, there has not yet been a big increase in spare change.

For others, the reopening of the mall equals much more than a shift in their commuter habits or spanging grounds; it represents their livelihoods.

Sahira Jabbary, owner of Michelle’s on 5th, has operated her small convenience store on Southwest 5th Avenue and Yamhill Street for 13 years. When the bus mall moved away for construction, she saw a drop in business that was nearly crippling.

“We have been waiting for a long time for them to come back,” says Jabbary, who had to close the store on Sundays due to lack of business. Now that the buses are back, she has returned to normal hours and “for this Sunday my sales have already gone up 50 percent,” she says.

“Working” Kirk Reese is a street performer known for his white tuxedo and Mickey Mouse hat. He used to work on 5th and 6th avenues before construction began but was forced out by the noise.

“Every street performer has places they like or places they don’t like,” Reese says, standing on a corner near Pioneer Square. “And I’ll probably come back here.”

See a slide show of the buses’ return.

 
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