Rethinking I-205 MAX service

An occasional Portland Transport commenter and longtime reader, Nick Schillaci is a world traveler, who has been a foreigner on transit on every continent. He holds a humble BS in Planning and Public Policy from a little-known University of Oregon program, and has been a TriMet rider for decades.

I greatly enjoy both Red and Green lines, and I don’t think we need any radical Green or Red line changes. I would never propose something as radical as to operate both Red and Green trains as the same line all the time. But could service be boosted from blending the Red and Green line trains? There is a lot of color-changing between Red, Blue, and Green lines in the evening, so simplification, frequency, cost savings, consistency, and mobility all come in to play.

Each weekday, between 8pm and midnight, there are 29 trains between Gateway TC and downtown (Blue, Red, and Green). This means there are about 6-7 trains per hour, or an average of about every 8-10 minutes. The Blue line alone operates at frequent service intervals until past 9pm, while the Red and Green lines operate less frequently. The Red line, in fact, ends service among the earliest of all MAX lines, with its last departure from PDX at just around 11:45pm when there are still about 15-20 arrivals at PDX (I’m counting some close calls, so maybe you need 45 -60 minutes to get off the plane, grab bags, and catch the last train comfortably, if it’s on time).

graph2

Extremely high inbound late night frequency aside, notice the redundancy and gaps. Trains at 10:23, 10:30, and 10:33, and then no trains until 10:58. Three trains in ten minutes, then none for 25 minutes.

Blue lines continue just about every thirty minutes through the end of their service, and Green lines, on the other hand, stutter to a halt (most continue east as Blue lines and terminate at Ruby Junction). Green line trains also stop operating relatively early. The Yellow line, for example, has a PSU departure an hour later than the last Green line. So given that very little service would be lost along Green and Red lines due to redundancy and service span of interlining routes, here’s what I’m getting at: evening-only service between PDX and CTCTC. The switches appear to all be there at Gateway for the trains to do such a thing. If you’d like to call it something more unique, why not call it the Purple line.

picture12

Because travel time between Gateway and Beaverton on the Red line takes a whopping 47 minutes (thank you downtown Portland) and travel time on the Green line between Gateway and PSU takes 25 minutes, over an hour and ten minutes is saved for each pair Red and Green lines that don’t continue past Gateway. Of course, this number doubles when they don’t return for a savings of 140 minutes (not counting layovers).

This all matters, because trains operating from Gateway to Downtown and beyond are all redundant service over the Blue and Yellow lines (and eventually Orange). How many riders would be turned off from a possible transfer to downtown? Some riders from the airport already may have to transfer (to go east or south from Gateway, East to Gresham, or beyond Beaverton).

With the time saved, a couple more Blue lines could be added at night to make up for the lack of Red lines continuing (especially since the Red departs Gateway later than the last Blue currently). This plan could also effectively boost Red and Green line service later in the night, with more frequency (a round trip between Clackamas and Airport would take about one hour). With the addition of the Orange line operating as a redundant Portland Mall line, no service needs to be lost through downtown either.

 

31 Comments

Making BRT faster

No, I’m not talking about travel speeds.  As Portland currently has no BRT, there’s nothing to make faster (other than existing local bus service, over which any decent BRT would be an improvement).

Instead, I’m talking about rolling out BRT faster.

Right now, Portland has two BRT (or potential BRT) projects that have advanced passed the line-on-a-map-in-a-planning-document phase:  The Southwest Corridor, and the Powell/Division project.  (There’s also the Fourth Plain BRT in Vancouver, being planned and built by C-TRAN).

A few other ideas have been discussed in significant detail; probably the most prominent of these a proposed BRT line along TV Highway between Beaverton and Forest Grove (or at least Hillsboro).  TV Highway has been the subject of a corridor study  which included BRT as a recommendation (and it’s been on numerous planning maps since), but there is no project to actually build out BRT in the 57 corridor.

Powell/Division’s project timeline calls for it to begin service in 2020.  A firm timeline for the SWC doesn’t exist yet–the start of the DEIS phase has been delayed–but given the scope of the project, we’re looking probably at a decade or more before service opens.  Major capital projects, particularly those that seek Federal funding, simply have long lead times.

But Portland transit riders can benefit from improved bus service today.  (Improved rail service as well, but this article is focused on the bus system).

There’s probably not much to be done about big capital projects–the politics and red tape involved is not likely to go away.  But are there ways to bring BRT on board without large capital outlays?

Some thoughts, after the jump.

Continue Reading →

16 Comments

Mission and Devolution of Transit

The most recent episode of the Strong Towns podcast is particularly thought-provoking. It presents a panel discussion held off-site during the recent Railvolution conference. The panel includes some well-know transportation bloggers: Jeff Wood (The Overhead Wire) and Jonah Freemark (The Transport Politic).

The topics are wide-ranging and challenge some sacred cows. Two themes I found interesting:

  1. What’s the mission of transit:
    • Providing urban mobility, primarily for low-income or minority populations?
    • Moving commuters to the central city to ameliorate (or avoid) auto congestion?
    • A catalyst for development?
    • Some rational combination of all of the above (but we may lack a framework for rationalization)?
  2. The devolution of transit:
    • When we couldn’t afford Subways, we turned to Light Rail
    • When we couldn’t afford Light Rail, we turned to Streetcars
    • When we couldn’t afford Streetcars, we turned to BRT
    • When we couldn’t afford BRT, we turned to Rapid Bus
    • When…

Whatever your own perspective it’s an intelligent and stimulating listen…

1 Comment

Frequent Services on 122nd Needs an $8M Ante from the City of Portland

An interesting sidebar in today’s Council work session on the street fee: TriMet could justify (and pay for the service hours) upgrading 122nd Avenue to Frequent Service if a series of safety and access improvement were made by the City to help draw ridership from the surrounding area. The cost of those improves is about $8M according to Commissioner Novick.

27 Comments

Requiem for a Greenway

It was after 6:30, so the bulk of the evening rush had come and gone. Clinton Street would be quiet, relaxing, exhilarating…like the olden days. Or so I thought.

Before I’d even ridden a block, I got the all-too familiar “Clinton Street Salute:” a car zipping around me too quickly and too closely. It presaged a glut of traffic the whole way, and along with it the nerve-racking claustrophobia that’s kept me away from Clinton since a group jaunt back in August.

Just a few years ago, the thought of going two whole months without setting tire upon Clinton Street would have been unfathomable to me. One of the best things about my job is that I get to travel throughout the city to look at roads and intersections, and Clinton has long been my superhighway to all points southeast. If you got there early enough, you could often go from Seven Corners all the way to Southeast 26th without seeing a single car. On my many ambles through the corridor I discovered the best cup of coffee in Southeast, the best corn muffins in the city, and the best hot buttered rum anywhere. I realize now that I developed something of a sentimental attachment to the street while riding eastbound all those mornings, mesmerized by constant stream of people cycling past me on their way downtown. Those sign-toppers really meant something back then.

Neighborhood Greenways, née Bicycle Boulevards, are among the most innovative of Portland’s contributions to bike infrastructure. Because Portland’s density is relatively low, and our city blocks are relatively small, we’ve got a decent number of streets that are naturally low-volume. By identifying some of those streets and making a few modest improvements to them, the city created a fairly robust network of comfortable bikeways, quickly and cheaply. Quintessential “low-hanging fruit.” These would never cut mustard as a substitute for high-quality bikeways along our busiest and best streets, but they could be an excellent complement to them. Certainly, they’d suffice in the interim while we built out all of that truly nice stuff.

While I savored those early morning rides along sleepy Clinton, change was happening quickly a block to the north on Division Street. As the recession eased and development picked up, Southeast Division began to densify as fast as any street in the City. Many hands were wrung regarding where everybody would park, but we forgot to think about where everybody would bike. All the while, car traffic on Clinton crept upward. When the Division Streetscape project hit, it was over. Though the project improved Division Street by adding curb extensions at the expense of automotive capacity, we forgot to plan for the impact to bicycling even though it was easy to see this coming. In the course of detouring cars around the construction, we introduced them to a route that they seem to be sticking with in lieu of a slower, narrow Division. The transformation of Clinton Street from a low-stress bikeway to a vehicular cycling boot camp is now complete.

When your bike plan consists of leveraging your low density and your growth plan is to densify, you run the risk of moving backward by standing still. We’ve seen that happen in real-time over the last few years on Clinton Street, and we’re starting to see it more and more clearly in the lagging indicators. The good news—in the case of Clinton, at least—is that the solution is easy and obvious: diverters. The traffic study to determine what to do and where to do it would be a cakewalk, and the cost of installing a few planters to do the trick would be minimal.

So what’s stopping us? My fear is that, with the 2030 bike plan now clearly relegated to “pipe dream” status, Portland lacks a vision for our identity as a bicycle city and how to move forward as such with determination. Bringing bicycling to the best streets is not happening nearly so quickly as we had hoped, which makes it that much more urgent to do what’s necessary to keep the greenways as a workable alternative in the interim. We must defend the fruits that we picked when they were low. We must, at the very least, not move backward.

A few planters could speak volumes. They’d definitely reduce them.

34 Comments