Jasmine Block Update

9-9-2014 Streetcar Construction

9-9-2014 Streetcar Construction

Work continues on the Jasmine Block double track work. This week, crews have completed the saw cut in 4th Avenue and yesterday, track was being positioned for tie down.

Streetcar service continues uninterrupted at this point however, there will be a shut down coming next week while track tie in and electrical work is brought up to par.

8-24-2014 Streetcar Construction

8-24-2014 Streetcar Construction

Crews have come a long way in a few weeks. Note the picture above from 9-9-2014 and the same view from 8-24-2014. Stay tuned, this will wrap up quickly.

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KBOO Bike Show: Biking Past 50

 Listen to the show (mp3, 26.9MB)

Alon and Christopher talk with Ann Morrow, Jerry Smith and S. Brian Willson about the joys and challenges of riding past age fifty. Ann is the president of the Portland Wheelman Touring Club and is host of the cable TV show Cycology Today (viewed on NWbicyclesafetycouncil.org.) Jerry is also an active member of the touring club and for the past twenty years has joined them on many rides in the Pacific NW, as well as riding solo, and sometimes with his daughter, in Ireland Cuba, Puerto Rico, Greece, the Czech Republic, France and New Zealand. Vietnam veteran, author and peace activist S. Brian Willson has journeyed over 70,000 miles using a handcycle, including during his book tour along the West Coast. (http://www.brianwillson.com/)

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New Trimet Rail Map

Trimet Rail Map 8-24-2014

Trimet Rail Map 8-24-2014

I was out walking downtown this weekend when I noticed that Trimet has updated the rail system map to include the pending Orange Line route. I snapped a photo with my camera and while the news is nothing worth getting excited over, it does provide some changes to the existing map that make different regions a bit more clear.

Included on the map is also the closed loop of the Portland Streetcar Central Loop. Both routes are shown as “future service” and while the CL line future service is not in doubt, the new map answers no questions about future Orange & Yellow line service. Where will the Orange Line end on the north end of the route? Will the Yellow Line extend further south as some of the new platforms indicate?

The new maps provide no answers to these questions and frankly, I wonder why Trimet even went to the trouble of producing new maps that will be obsolete a year from now.

Orange Line Testing (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Orange Line Testing (image credit: Curt Ailes)

The appearance of the new map coincides with this morning’s first test of the Orange Line though which, when taken together, represent some visible forward momentum in the downtown area where the Orange Line is concerned.

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California’s New Performance Metrics & Getting What You Measure

The way we quantify how well our roads are (or aren’t) working isn’t something that tends to get a whole lot of play outside of the transportation wonkery, but it has a drastic effect on policies and livability. The most commonly used metrics to describe our system, including the infamous level-of-service metric, are drawn from something called the Highway Capacity Manual. See how the name of the manual doesn’t really imply that it’d be terribly useful for designing safe, welcoming local streets? Most jurisdictions don’t, and that is one of the main reasons why too many urban streets have become de facto highways.

Over the last several years, traffic engineers have increasingly been letting go of their long-held fondness for LOS and other traditional performance metrics, and in many cases are even leading the charge against them. The inadequacy of LOS as a primary measure of performance is perhaps most clear in California, where the state’s all-powerful Environmental Quality Act buttressed the importance of the metric by (ironically) requiring that environmental analyses consider LOS when evaluating the impacts of a project. So perhaps it’s not surprising that California has struck the most major blow to date to LOS, with new guidelines that evaluate projects based not on how much they will increase auto delay but instead on how much vehicular traffic they induce.

It’s hard to overstate how radically that this departs from the status quo. For many jurisdictions, an over-reliance on capacity-based metrics have produced policies that favor anything capable of moving one more car. California’s new standards appear to turn this idea on its head, favoring policies and land uses that create one fewer trip (or one fewer vehicular mile traveled). Thus, it would appear that analyzing a particular idea with California’s VMT-based methodology—whether to widen an intersection approach to include a turning lane, for example—might lead to the opposite conclusion as analyzing it with traditional metrics. Though the turning lane would certainly reduce delays and thus improve LOS, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it would also induce new traffic and thus be undesirable (or impermissible, even?) based on the VMT-based metric. That’s huge!

The VMT-based metric is neither perfect nor wholly complete. Success of the methodology relies heavily upon our ability to estimate the number of trips a project may generate which, as I described here, is something of an inexact science. The need to include trip length in these projections serves to widen the gulf between the data that’s needed and the data that’s available. And the state’s guidance [pdf] for utilizing the new methodologies do not appear to significantly improve upon the half-hearted methodologies engineers currently employ to evaluate safety ramifications of a given project. Finally, a scathing white paper [pdf] from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs suggests that the VMT-based methodology may not even be all that great at its purported goal of teasing out the environmental impacts of a project, although I’d hasten to challenge some of the assumptions their analysis is based upon.

Despite its shortcomings, the new VMT-based methodologies represent a big step forward and I’ll be curious to see how they’re applied by colleagues in California. Those of us who favor a multi-modal and safety-oriented approach are regularly stymied by traditional metrics that concern themselves with only capacity and delay, only as they pertain to autos, and only during the busiest 1% of the day. Though it leaves important considerations unaddressed, California’s new methodologies offer a way to overcome these hurdles. Time will tell what effects this will have, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism.

So what does this mean for Portland? That’s a good question. It’s now been two years since the city launched a project to update our performance standards, but sadly this effort seems to have disappeared into the same memory hole as bike share. Keeping with a storyline that’s becoming too familiar, others innovate while Portland waits.

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