October 31, 2005
After being dazzled by the prevalence of bicycles here, once my head stopped spinning, I couldn't help but wonder "how did this come to be?"
We got some of the answers yesterday with presentations from Amsterdam's bicycle coordinator and a representative of an NGO whose mission is to help other countries adapt the Netherland's learnings to their own situations.
So where did they start? In 1950, following WWII, the Netherlands had 3.5 million bikes and 90,000 cars. As cars began to proliferate, there was an attitude that "the bikes are in the way of the cars" and an effort began to construct some 1,400 kilometers (km) of segregated bike paths.
At that time, most home-to-work trips were within cycling distance.
During the period from 1950-1975, auto trips expanded from 4.5 billion annually to 89 billion, while cycling stayed about level. However, while km cycled stayed level, fatalities while cycling tripled as auto-bike conflicts increased, in part where segregated bike paths crossed roads.
In the 70's, the Dutch had a sort of awakening, driven by the oil crisis, rising environmental awareness and predictions of the costs of building roads to accommodate rising auto use.
From 1975-1985 km cycled went from 9.5 billion annually to 12.5 billion, driven by the build out of the segregated paths, addition of bike parking in city centers and rail stations and limitations imposed on auto parking in major cities.
The Dutch began to think that perhaps the cars were in the way of the bikes!
This transit was facilitated by several factors:
1) The national government provided 80% subsidy on bike facility capital projects.
2) Bicycle coordinators were appointed in each city and formed a network, eventually producing a handbook standardizing bike facility design.
In the 90's the approach evolved again. With the recognition that intersections between segregated bike paths and and roads were a major source of conflict and safety, a movement to integrate bikes back into roadways began, resulting in the urban fabric we see today with bike facilities on almost every street. The learning has been that as drivers become aware of bikes, safety increases. As km cycled increased, overall accidents go DOWN. We are seeing an echo of this in Portland where as bike miles go up, accidents have stayed relatively constant.
Indeed watching a street operate here in Amsterdam is a bit like watching a ballet - all the dancers, cars and bikes, know they roles and weave together very skillfully and very safely, despite very close proximity. I almost wonder if someday they will reach the point of cultural integration of cars, trams (streetcars) and bikes where physical delineations will no longer be necessary and they will operate seamlessly on a web of nothing more than social understandings.
As one of our cab drivers said about the prevalence of bikes, "it's just a matter of getting used to it."
One of the Dutch innovations talked about much in America is the Woonerf, an extremely "traffic calmed" street that favors bikes and peds. I was very surprised to hear one of our hosts say they they are no longer constructed. The Woonerf was a phase, a way of raising consciousness of the interaction between peds, bikes and cars. Once the awareness had been created, the physical tools were no longer needed!
So how can we apply these lessons in Portland? We don't start from the same base of cycling that the Dutch did, but we have made some of the same decisions (e.g., to not build the Mt. Hood freeway and invest in transit instead).
What are the transformations of awareness that we need to create to move Portland (without a lot of support from the national government) to the next level of cultural integration of our modes? What physical infrastructure can help lead to these mental changes?
We spent yesterday getting a series of presentations on the development of the bicycle networks in Amsterdam and the Netherlands (40% bike mode split in Amsterdam, 27% nationally!).
While I compose a longer post on the topic, here's a little teaser. What is the purpose of the clear plastic panel that extends from the fender on this bike?
October 30, 2005
The Portland delegation is trickling into Amsterdam, with most of the group at an arrival dinner tonight, and the rest arriving tomorrow.
Here's a typical streetcar street in a shopping district. There are other configurations on different street types that I'll try to get examples of later in the week. Note that the purpose of this street is much more about access to the local uses than it is to moving people between parts of the city. It might be comparable to say 11th Ave in the Pearl District.
Here are some differences from what we do in Portland:
1) Streetcars operate in one direction and only have doors on one side.
2) Streetcars have up to five articulated sections compared to three in Portland.
3) Streetcars have a conductor who sells tickets.
4) There is a single track for travel in both directions, except at stops where it splits to two tracks.
5) Streetcars, autos and bikes (carefully) share the center of the street. Pedestrians rule most of the street and rather freely invade the center travel lane.
We start our meetings with local experts tomorrow and I'll be sharing the learnings here.
October 29, 2005
Just getting ready to leave Prague for Amsterdam, and wanted share these photos or repair work on the cobbled sidewalks. The willingness to dedicate labor costs - it's all hand work - to the public realm is very impressive.
October 27, 2005
Here are photos from our visit to the plant in Ostrava where the next three Portland Streetcars, of the new Trio design, are under construction.
We saw two end sections and a center section at the framing stage. We also saw several cars of a very similar design being built for Washington D.C. at later stages of construction.
A particular treat was the opportunity to ride one of the new Trio cars (of the flavor used on the Ostrava transit system). After riding the car on the streets of Ostrava, we came back to the test track and a number of the members of the delegation had the opportunity to drive the car, including this blogger.
Bonus photo sets:
|Josef Hušek (center), founder and chairman of Inekon Group|
So why are we in the Czech Republic anyway? How did Portland come to source its streetcars here?
A little Cold War history is required. Under Comecon – the economic compact among the Warsaw Pact nations - different countries were assigned responsibility for manufactured goods. What was then Czechoslovakia was responsible for manufacturing streetcars for the whole Soviet block. “Under socialism” (as our host – a decidedly free marketeer – describes it) about 1,000 streetcar vehicles were produced per year, over 24,000 in total. This produced what in the U.S. we would call an industry cluster.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, taking the Warsaw Pact with it, this “guaranteed market” went away. At the same time, Czechoslovakia (which a few years later became the Czech Republic and Slovakia) started the transition to free market capitalism. With the captive market gone, entrepreneurs shifted their gaze west.
Which brings us to the first of the companies we are profiling. Inekon Group was started by and is essentially owned by Josef Hušek, a career foreign service officer under the communist regime. Starting with a $3,000 investment, Josef has built Inekon into a business valued at 194M Czech Crowns, or about $8M. Inekon focuses on exporting Czech engineering and industrial expertise, building streetcars, locomotives, power plants, cement plants and water treatment plants around the world.
An early Inekon partnership was with Skoda, a large Czech industrial firm that made streetcars among many other products (it is also a major auto producer in Eastern Europe). Inekon marketed Skoda’s streetcar expertise to the West (marketing was an unknown discipline in the communist planned economy). Portland’s first seven streetcars were all manufactured by Skoda under this partnership.
Since then, Skoda has been sold to a large multinational corporation and Inekon and Skoda have dissolved their relationship. Inekon is now in partnership with the transit agency in Ostrava, Dopravní Podnik Ostrava (literal translation Transportation Enterprise Ostrava) to build a streetcar vehicle with a similar design to the Skoda car. The new car is called the Trio car and represents an improvement on the Skoda vehicle based on Ostrava’s experience operating the vehicle on their streets (and like Prague, streetcars are everywhere in Ostrava).
Both Portland and Washington D.C. have Trio cars under construction. We learned this week that Inekon has bought out Ostrava’s share of the joint venture and it will now operate it under the name Inekom Tram. The new company will continue to lease space and employees from the transit agency to build the vehicles.
The next chapter in this story shifts to Oregon. As cities around the U.S. (including Portland) begin to apply for Federal transit dollars to help build streetcars, it will be necessary to meet “Buy America” requirements to qualify for this assistance. Under “Buy America”, 60% of the dollar value of the vehicles must be American, or from components that also qualify under the program. Inekon knows that it must have a U.S. partner to exploit the potentially large future U.S. market for streetcars (some 35 U.S. cities now have a streetcar project in some phase of planning or construction).
In the recently passed Federal Transportation bill, Congressman Defazio secured $4.5M of funding to build a prototype U.S. manufactured streetcar vehicle. This funding was partially in response to discussions between Portland Streetcar and Oregon Iron Works (located in Clackamas) about the possibility of local manufacture of streetcar vehicles.
The hoped for result is a partnership between Inekon and Oregon Iron Works, new jobs in the Portland regional economy and a domestic source for future Streetcar vehicle purchases.
October 26, 2005
One of the implications of the ubiquity of streetcars here in the Czech Republic is that they are more casual about their platforms.
In the first photo you can a large group crowding on what is about a four-foot strip of pavement next to the center-running streetcar rails. I believe the shift was just getting off at a nearby factory. There appear to be police present to help with crossing of what is a fairly busy arterial street.
In the second photo there isn't even a platform. There is simply a zone striped yellow with the word "TRAM" in the travel lane. When the vehicle shows up, riders cross the street to board it. I assume that regulations require car drivers to keep clear of this zone when a streetcar is present.
A far cry from all the design standards for MAX stations and Streetcar platforms in Portland!
Rob Zako passes this along. Perhaps we can organize a carpool from Portland to Salem.
Please join us on Tuesday, November 15, for a presentation on transportation-efficient development by Tom Hylton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Save Our Land, Save Our Towns. Hylton will discuss land use and urban design techniques for reducing traffic congestion, expanding transportation choices, and revitalizing communities. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer discussion. This event is being co-sponsored by the Oregon Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Program, the Department of Land Conservation and Development, and the Oregon Department of Transportation's Sustainability Program.
Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Time: 1:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Place: Room 122, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), 355 Capitol St., N.E., in Salem (next to the Capitol Building)
Since seating is limited, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Today was our first full day in the Czech Republic and perhaps this is a good time to review the purpose of our trip. We (a delegation from Portland Streetcar, Inc - of which I am a board member) are here to inspect three new cars under construction. They will be used to expand Portland's fleet to 10 cars when the new extension to Gibbs St. opens in 2006. Currently we have a fleet of 7 and run up to 5 at a time to RiverPlace. With Gibbs we will need 7 cars running at peak times (8 if we can find operating funding to get headways down to 10 minutes, or if we are successful in funding a further extension to Lowell St.).
The delegation consists of Commissioner Sam Adams (shown here at the Prague Central railway station); his chief of staff, Tom Miller; Rick Gustafson, Executive Director of Portland Streetcar, Inc. (show below to the right of Josef Hušek, chairman of the Inekon Group (more about them in another post); Carter McNichol, construction manager for Portland Streetcar (to the left of Josef); Gary Cooper, a City of Portland employee who acts as maintenance supervisor for the Streetcar; Denny Porter of LTK, vehicle consultant to Portland Streetcar; and yours truly.
BTW - that's a casino behind Josef and Rick at the railway station.
The group took a train this morning to Ostrava, where the vehicles are actually being manufactured. More on this tomorrow, when I'll post about the plant visit. We were briefed on the progress against the schedule. The most significant issue is that this is a new Streetcar design, slightly different than the cars running on Portland's streets right now (another post coming on that topic too). The new design was to have its qualification testing on a vehicle order for Washington, D.C., but D.C. has had delays in obtaining the right of way for its streetcar project and has delayed their vehicle order.
Nonetheless, Inekon tells us they will still meet our scheduled delivery. And the Portland Streetcar team tells me that starting operations on schedule in September '06 is not in jeopardy.
A little bit on Ostrava. It's the 3rd largest city in the Czech Republic, and about a 4-hour train ride from Prague, near the Polish boarder. It's an industrial city with a focus on metallurgy and coal mining. There are also a number of nuclear plants in the area (our hotel is called the Hotel Atom)!
I couldn't resist posting this. It's a sidewalk just outside our hotel in Prague. The care to make a border around a water meter lid shows a regard for the public realm that we just don't find in the United States. I can only dream that we could have sidewalks with this much love in their design and execution.
A side effect of the cobbled sidewalks is that baby strollers have very large rubber wheels!
October 25, 2005
This week's episode (MP3, 14MB) of Smart City includes a discussion with Bob New of the City Repair project about their work at intersections in Portland (and other projects). It starts about 28:20 minutes:seconds into the show.
There's also a rebuttal of Randall O'Toole's transit nay saying at about 24:38 minutes:seconds into the show. It's based on a report from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (PDF, 431KB).
Regular readers will know that I have a bit of a thing about our crosswalks (or lack thereof) in Portland and like to bring back examples from other cities that take them seriously.
So here are two examples from Prague. The first is a run-of-the-mill crosswalk found at most corners - not radically different in concept from what we do in Portland.
But the 2nd, shown from the viewpoint of both the motorist and the pedestrian is something else entirely. There are actually two steps in the street that the car has to go over!
From the driver's point of view, this definitely looks like a barrier. From the pedestrian's point of view, it's very inviting!
Come on PDOT, let's get some of these out there on Portland's streets.
Just checked in to the hotel in Prague, and trying to stay awake until dinner so I can get myself adjusted to the time zone. A few semi-random impressions from the journey:
- It really is critical to our region's economy to have the direct Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. It makes getting to destinations in Europe much easier (11 hours to Prague - very convenient).
- We are spoiled in American airports. The picture here from Frankfurt Main is of the bus from the gate to the plane. Jetways are for wimps, and less common here in Europe.
- T-mobile proudly proclaims in ads all over the place (in English) that they are the largest cell phone carrier in the Czech Republic (the company is German). Nonetheless, my T-Mobile cell phone doesn't work here. But I'm clueless why there was a T-Mobile jet at the airport...
- There are Streetcars EVERYWHERE in Prague. More photos later in the week. One key difference from Portland - here they are all center running, sometimes with dedicated right of way, sometimes in the auto lane. Platforms are about a 4 foot strip of concrete.
[A note about our use of Flickr to share the photos. The images to the right are a Flickr 'badge' and represent a thumbnail sample from a larger set. You can follow the link to Flickr to see the full set and in larger sizes.]
More later. Tomorrow morning we're off to Ostrava, where the next three cars for Portland are being manufactured.
October 24, 2005
This morning the NY Times editorialized in favor of higher federal gas taxes "to connect our crises and our consumption in a coherent way."
I attended the Columbia River Crossing open house on Saturday (Oct 22, 2005). For those who may be interested, there are two more open houses scheduled on October 25th and 27th (details).
My first impression was that the sign you first encounter framed the question as one of congestion ("What's Your Opinion of I-5 Congestion") and that I had never seen congestion celebrated with balloons before!
With that framing, it seems pretty hard to get to a conclusion other than "let's widen the I-5 bridge." This is classic "predict and provide" thinking.
If we started with "what's the best way to move people and goods across the river?" I wonder if we might get to a different answer?
I arrived about an hour after the event started, and it appeared that the rail advocates may have been there in numbers before I got there based on the comment charts. Lots of references to MAX and commuter rail.
Staffers from WDOT, ODOT and their consultants were out in force with very smart matching polo shirts (it was a little Stepfordish actually).
The project is now entering the Environment Impact Statement (EIS) phase, which is the planning effort required to select a "locally preferred alternative" prior to applying for federal funds.
My personally preferred alternative is not on the main list of options being studied. I'd like consideration of an arterial bridge with light rail, rather than an expansion of the freeway. This would help move people and goods and services, but not necessarily a lot more passenger cars.
Just as the Willamette has 2 freeway bridges and several arterial bridges (Broadway, Morrison, Hawthorne, Ross Island), isn't it time the Columbia got an arterial bridge designed to move traffic between the districts immediately on each side of the river? Why do we force relatively short trips onto the freeway?
You can follow the project at its official web site http://columbiarivercrossing.org/.
This recently came in over the transom. We were happy to note that there is an option to get the report on CD to avoid consuming a tree to get the 400+ pages...
I-5: DELTA PARK (VICTORY BOULEVARD TO LOMBARD SECTION)
KEY NO. 12076
The Environmental Assessment for the I-5 Delta Park (Victory Boulevard to Lombard Section) project will be completed and distributed soon.
What Is This?
This environmental assessment contains the descriptions, maps, tables, figures and analyses of four alternatives designed to relieve congestion on I-5 between Delta Park and Lombard Avenue. It also contains mitigation measures for impacts to the environment that would result if the project is built. The project’s citizen advisory committees have recommended two of the Alternatives: Alternative 2, Argyle on the Hill and Alternative 4, Columbia Connector.
Do You Want A Copy?
You can request a copy of the Environmental Assessment by going to the following website http://surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=252601444030 Your response is needed by November 11, 2005. The document will be mailed to you as soon as it is available. You’ll have a 45-day period for reviewing this document and sending your comments to Oregon Department of Transportation. When you receive the Environmental Assessment we will also notify you of when the comment period ends, when and where the public hearing will be held, and options for making comments electronically.
If you have further questions, please contact Kate Deane, the environmental project manager on this project, at 503-731-8245.
ODOT Region 1
Environmental Services Manager
123 NW Flanders
Portland, OR 97209
Note that the "environmental assessment" (sort of an environmental impact statement lite) is the last planning step before a federal funding agreement.
October 23, 2005
The Business Journal is running an online poll about the Burnside couplet proposal.
No secret how we voted.
October 22, 2005
We're leaving for Prague on Monday afternoon. Due to travel and time zones, our usual habit of having a new post for you to read each weekday morning may be a little hard to keep, but count on a regular stream of posts from Europe, even if the timing is more ragged!
I had occasion to go out to the Columbia River Crossing project open house today (look for a full post shortly). It was held at Jantzen Beach and I opted to use my bike, assisted by the Yellow Line.
After reaching the Expo Center I was absolutely dumbfounded as to how to get from there to the bike lane over the Columbia Slough bridge. Fortunately another cyclist was able to point me in the right direction, but even then I made a wrong turn and had to retrace my steps.
This is clearly an area that could benefit from much better signage!
October 21, 2005
|Commissioner Adams listens to Joe Zehnder|
from the Bureau of Planning
Last night Commissioner Sam Adams hosted a town hall meeting on the Burnside Transportation and Urban Design Plan. Perhaps the first thing of note was the meeting and Sam's style of running it. I don't think either of the two previous Commissioners of Transportation would have personally MC'ed an event like this. His "call me Sam" casualness and seemingly boundless energy made sure the evening was lively, even if advocates on both sides of the issue would have preferred that he was clearer about his own position.
Battle lines drawn
About 125 people participated in the town hall and the group seemed about evenly split between advocates for the project and opponents.
The advocates included many stakeholder committee representatives (including your correspondent) and members of the organizations they represent.
The opponents consisted of Gerding/Edlen (the Brewery Blocks developers) and "residents of buildings on Couch". While buildings were seldom mentioned by name, one observer described it as "a condo association meeting for the Henry". A more cynical observed noted some of the Henry's residents
- The City's ombudsman
- The mother of the Planning Director
- A past chair of the Housing Authority
- The most recent City lobbyist
[For my own part I know some of these individuals and believe them to be people acting in good faith - but the concentration of clout in that building is nonetheless remarkable.]
The format of the meeting was to first gather questions from the audience, then have an 'expert' panel describe the project and attempt to answer the questions, then allow the audience to state their opinions.
The panel consisted of Bill Hoffman, PDOT project manager for the project; Lloyd Lindley, the urban designer on the project; Lew Bowsers from PDC dealing with questions of redevelopment opportunities created by the project; Joe Zehnder presenting the Planning Bureau's view (they have a review study of the project under way, due out on October 31st) and Doug McCollum, the project traffic engineer.
The questions were varied, but the main points of contention were:
1) Is there really a problem that needs to be solved?
2) What will the impact be on Couch?
The star witness for the opposition was a traffic engineer from Kittelson, who had been hired by Gerding/Edlen to do a study of current conditions at and around the Brewery Blocks and to assess the impact on Couch (I apologize that I did not get his name).
His conclusion was that traffic at the PM peak period would go from a few hundred cars per hour to 1200 or 1300, a four- or five-fold increase. Interestingly, Kittelson's recommendation for the area is to create a North/South couplet on 12th and 13th and to make Couch one-way from 10th to I-405, so the traffic pattern (if not volumes) would be very similar to what is proposed for the Burnside/Couch project.
Project team members did not dispute the change in traffic volumes on Couch but did counter that the traffic would be much calmer than the current traffic on Burnside and would still be safe for pedestrians. In my own admittedly biased opinion, the panel also made a very clear case both for the reality of the problems the project is designed to solve and the thoroughness and grounding in the community of the process that designed the project.
Part of the Kittelson report was a list of streets that have a similar cross-section to Couch and a similar traffic volume to what is projected. These include Alder from 3rd to 5th and Washington at 2nd (slightly different because it has 3 lanes).
Backs to Burnside
A representative from Unico, the owners of the U.S. Bank Tower (where the meeting was hosted) made the point that many buildings have turned their backs to Burnside, closing doors that face the street. He said that their tenants do not go to Burnside at lunch for example, and that none of the tenants complain that the doors on the Burnside side of the building are locked. As you might guess, Unico is a strong supporter of the project.
In contrast, Mark Edlen conceded that Whole Foods had closed their door facing Burnside, but attributed this to crime on the street - not traffic. He did not make the connection to an earlier comment from a project team member that more pedestrian activity provides 'eyes on the street' and reduces crime.
10 Foot Lanes
There was also a side dispute about the stretch of Burnside from NW 15th to 23rd where the plan calls for narrowing the travel lanes to provide for wider sidewalks. Representatives of the Freight Committee opposed this plan, while neighborhood representatives (including your correspondent) supported it.
One piece of news revealed in the discussion concerns the proposed bicycle and pedestrian facility on Flanders, paralleling the project (since despite considerable effort, no way could be found to accomodate bikes on Burnside).
Bill Hoffman indicated that a private engineering study had found that the central span of the Sauvie Island Bridge, which is being replaced with a new bridge, appears to fit well to bridge the I-405 freeway at Flanders, giving that element of the project a big boost.
Even speaking as an advocate for the project, I can say it is very clear that the couplet plan would diminish what is an absolutely fabulous pedestrian environment on Couch near the Brewery Blocks. The question is whether the greater good to the environment on Burnside from 2nd to 15th offsets that loss. To this advocate the answer is a very clear YES. The question now is whether the political clout centered at 11th and Couch can override the community's assessment of that trade-off.
The League of American Bicyclists selected the top 25 people (PDF, 1M) who have "indelibly changed the face" of U.S. Cycling. Our own Earl Blumenauer is #22.
October 20, 2005
A great friend of cycling died today.
Don Stathos (that is Don standing behind Tom McCall, signing the Oregon Bicycle Bill), author of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Bill, tireless member of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (over 30 years), shepherd of Oregon's groundbreaking Bicycle lifestyle, lifelong Republican who believed in American values like taking care of each other and building strong communities, and, my personal friend.
Full of humor, wit and love. Oregon lost a true son.
Last Saturday's Wall Street Journal (yes, the Journal now publishes on Saturdays) contained an article about congestion on bike paths. Unfortunately the online article requires a subscription, so I can't link to it.
The main theme of the article was about the popularity of off-street trails and the resulting congestion and conflicts between types of users: pedestrians, slow recreational cyclists and faster commuting cyclists.
The article went on to suggest segregated facilities for peds and bikes as one possible solution, but mentioned that federal funding guidelines generally required that trails be 'multi-use' precluding this approach. It also talked about widening trails to allow less conflict between users and discussed the differing requirements driving the width of trails, including issues like bikes with trailers needing a wider turning radius.
In light of the BTA's recently released blueprint and Portland Transport's imminent departure to tour bike facilities in Amsterdam, what would you suggest our region needs in the way bike facilities?
October 19, 2005
[photos removed per agreement]
That's right, we're headed oversees.
Your correspondent is headed to Prague at the end of the month to join the Portland Streetcar delegation going to inspect the next three cars now under construction in the Czech Republic.
The next stop on the trip is Amsterdam, where I'll join Commissioner Sam Adams, PDOT's bicycle coordinator and a crew from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (some of whom are also Portland Transport contributors) to help understand what makes Amsterdam one of the great biking cities of the world. We'll be bringing back ideas to help get Portland to Platinum status.
Readers can look forward to a steady stream of blog posts and photos during the trip!
We're also accepting suggestions for what we should be looking out for. Let us know your thoughts.
We'll be using Flckr to host our trip photos. Here is our first attempt at integrating it into a Portland Transport post. Thanks to Todd Boulanger (the venerable bike advocate from Vancouver USA) for providing us with some Amsterdam preview photos.
October 18, 2005
Over at commissionersam.com the Commish is blogging about controversy over the Burnside Couplet plan. I urge readers to attend the Town Hall mentioned to learn more about the project and put your views on record.
As neighborhood transportation chair in Northwest Portland I had the opportunity to participate in two year-plus-long planning processes around the Burnside corridor and I still represent my neighborhood on the stakeholder committee for this project. The project will be truly transformative for the central city and I want to take some space here to explain why.
The Problem with Burnside
Burnside is the street that provides the dividing line between North and South in our city and the street is also very much a physical divider. Different sections of the street provide different challenges such as narrow sidewalks and extraordinarily difficult intersections (for both cars and pedestrians). But the common feature of Burnside everywhere is four lanes of very fast traffic creating a huge impediment for pedestrians.
The speed comes from the signalization strategy - turn all the lights green and get as many cars through as possible before you have to stop traffic to let cross-traffic through. A driver has a built-in incentive to race down the street.
Burnside is also an access barrier for drivers. The need to propel so many cars through the corridor has led to the elimination of left turn movements. If you need to make a left off of Burnside, count on making a complicated right-hand jug-handle move instead.
What the Plan Does
The Burnside Transportation and Urban Design Plan has a number of elements that tackle the challenges of the street, starting on the eastside at 12th/Sandy/Burnside and crossing to the west side all the way to 23rd and Burnside.
- Squares off the 12th/Sandy/Burnside intersection (making sort of a rectangular traffic circle) providing more understandable traffic flow and multiple safe pedestrian crossings.
- Creates a couplet on the eastside from 12th to about MLK (the exact return street will depend on the Burnside Bridgehead final design) putting two lanes of eastbound traffic on Burnside and two westbound lanes on Couch. This means pedestrians only need to cross two - not four - lanes of traffic at once. Each intersection will also be signalized, creating a signal timing progression that move traffic along at safer speeds (and mean less time waiting at red lights) and creating signalized pedestrian crossing opportunities.
- Creates another couplet with Couch from 2nd to 15th on the west side with similar characteristics and benefits.
- The couplet between W 2nd and the Park Blocks also frees up a tremendous amount of right of way which will be reused flexibly as parking, a sidewalk promenade, festival space and potentially opportunities for building development.
- A highlighted treatment (perhaps including a water feature) at the Park Blocks will help connect the North Park Blocks with Park Avenue area that will bridge to the South Park Blocks.
- From 15th to 23rd, sidewalk widening and the 'squaring off' of the triangular intersections, along with more signalized crossing, will greatly improve the pedestrian environment
- A parallel bicycle facility on Flanders, including a bike/ped bridge over the freeway, will provide important east/west connectivity through Northwest, the Pearl and Chinatown/Old Town.
- Additional benefits of the couplets on both sides of the river are adding back parking on Burnside and allowing left turns again! Both of the these are crucial to facilitating the development of retail on a corridor where the possibility of drop-in retail has been virtually destroyed by the high-speed traffic and lack of parking.
This plan knits back together the neighborhoods that have long been divided by the street. It creates a much safer environment for all modes of travel and provides the necessary transportation prerequisites for the revitalization of Burnside on both sides of the river.
For all these reasons the plan has been endorsed by all the neighborhoods it touches:
- Old Town/China Town
- Downtown Community Association
- The Pearl District
- Goose Hollow
- Northwest District Association
Of course, none of this comes cheap and the question of whether this is the best use of capital dollars at this time will be an important part of the public debate. Congressman Blumenaur has already secured some federal funding to help start the engineering on the eastside (Congressman Wu - are you listening?). And other parts must be rebuilt on the City's maintenance schedule in any event (the portion near NW 23rd is literally falling apart).
About the Opposition
Opposition to this project is relatively recent and seems to be coming from property (condo) owners in the Brewery Blocks. The opposition has been characterized as asking whether it is in the best interests of Couch to 'activate' the street?
In my view, the street is already very activated near the Brewery Blocks (the congestion at 11th/Couch/Burnside is a good indication). Indeed, the improved circulation and signalization offered by the couplet might well ease some of the issues now seen in that area.
I suspect the concern about traffic volume is really a fear about traffic speeds. Speeds on a progressively signalized Couch will resemble those seen on Washington St. downtown today. Not a suburban cul-de-sac certainly, but a far cry from what pedestrians on Burnside most cope with now. And anyone who lives on Couch must encounter Burnside on a daily basis. The vast improvements on Burnside will more than make up for the increased traffic volumes on Couch. Residents of the Brewery Blocks will enjoy a much more vital and pedestrian friendly neighborhood when this project is completed!
Please excuse the length of this post, but I think the topic more than merits it!
October 17, 2005
Jerry passes along the following:
On August 22, the City of Austin launched its "Plug-In Austin" campaign, a community-wide push to promote mass production of plug-in hybrid vehicles that combine the gas-electric hybrid technology with a larger battery that can be recharged through a standard wall socket. Alliance Associate Austin Energy has donated $1 million to help purchase the first round of plug-ins. The vehicles could reduce annual gasoline consumption by up to 70 percent, and be more cost-effective than hybrid or conventional vehicles. More information or to sign petition in support: http://www.pluginaustin.org
I would like to explore to issues related to cost of building freeway lanes, the benefits to the transportation system, and who pays.
1) The incremental costs of building out of congestion is inefficient and serves only a small number of people, making the cost per user extremely high.
2) Personally, I rarely sit in traffic and do not need increased freeway capacity. Therefore my payments, including licensing, registration, and gas taxes will go towards building freeway lanes and road capacity that do not serve me. In fact I am subsidizing suburban development.
Too many people driving during a peak time is the reason for traffic congestion. A new freeway lane would only add real capacity during two or three hours per day. How many users is that?
A typical freeway lane will carry approximately 2,100 cars per hour. And since the average vehicle occupancy is 1.2, we’re talking 2,520 people per hour per lane., or approximately 6,000 users. If freeway lanes cost up to $25 million per mile, the incremental cost per user is $4,167 per mile.
At the same time, I rarely sit in traffic congestion. Well sure, I bicycle to work most days, however I do drive, I drive to Salem as a lobbyist, to meetings, conferences, to visit the Oregon Coast, and even sometimes for shopping. However I almost never sit in traffic congestion because of my trip-types. For me, I don’t need the freeways expanded.
Others however do sit in traffic. One solution is to build more roads. However economists using their math realize that existing capacity is being used inefficiently and developed the concept of “congestion pricing.” Pricing is a tool to that puts a premium cost on a limited roadway supply in order to reduced demand in order to alleviate congestion and increase overall efficiency. The pricing would put the expansion costs squarely on all users, but especially these 6,000.
So, is it efficient to build more freeways?
Are urban core folks subsidizing suburban folks?
How does freight play into this picture?
Who can answer my questions?
October 16, 2005
Commissioner Sam Adams, just back from Melbourne, talks about their 300 miles of tram tracks (compared to our soon-to-be 8 miles of Streetcar tracks here) over at this blog.
[Post comments over there, not here.]
October 14, 2005
TriMet's board has adopted a corrective action plan to deal with increased diesel fuel costs (about $5M over budget for the year). In addition to conservation measures, the plan includes a 15 cent fare increase...
On a more hopeful note, in conjunction with the Bonneville Power Administration, TriMet has installed a fuel cell at its Powell Garage, testing it as a clean alternative to a diesel generator.
The release doesn't specify whether the fuel cell is being powered directly with pure hydrogen or with methane.
October 13, 2005
Yesterday's Oregonian included an article by James Mayer (unfortunately it does not appear to be online) indicating that ODOT has selected an Australian company as a preferred partner for toll roads, possibly including the Newberg-Dundee bypass and an added lane on the southern end of I-205.
Today the Oregonian's "question of the week" is also about toll roads. Here are the reader responses.
I won't go so far as to say this is a "drumbeat", but does anyone else see a trend developing here?
October 12, 2005
I don't think of myself as a transit rider, although I certainly ride transit frequently.
I don't even think of myself primarily as a bicycle rider, although when I go to the office, it's most often on my bike.
My primary identification is as a pedestrian. Most of my travel around the city is on my own two feet. Walking is my major form of exercise (I wear a pedometer and try to get 15,000 steps every day). And as a fellow neighborhood transportation activist reminded me recently, let's not forget the benefit of all those unplanned social interactions that happen on the sidewalk (and on transit).
But my feet can't get me everywhere. That's where the idea of being 'transit-assisted' comes in. I think of transit (often the Streetcar) as being an 'assist' to my walking (or to my biking). Transit doesn't substitute for those other modes but rather extends my range.
Many days I need to get from Northwest to downtown. How I get there depends on how much time I have. If I have 45 minutes or more, I can simply walk. If I have less time, I walk along the Streetcar alignment and hop on when it catches up to me (and I don't worry about it passing me between stops, because I monitor how fast it's catching up to me via the Nextbus displays).
Depending again on how much time I have, I decide how soon to get off the Streetcar, finishing up my trip again on foot. Part of the benefit of the real-time displays is that I'm never waiting around at a stop for more than a minute or two. If I have longer, I'm walking to the next stop!
It's harder to do this with a bus, because there are no displays at the stops (or only at a very few). It turns out that you can monitor some of this information via cell phone (either by voice or if it's web-enabled). But the interfaces are still challenging to navigate. Here at Portland Transport we have some ideas to improve these interfaces. Watch this space to see these ideas develop!
Of course, almost every transit rider uses their feet for part of their trip. How do you conceptualize the transition between being a pedestrian and being a transit user?
October 11, 2005
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita highlighted the vulnerability of the world's oil supply to disruptions and the resulting price shocks.
Matthew Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, writes in the Time Magazine Bonus Section October 2005 on Global Business about "The Real Oil Shock."
Simmons concludes: "The bottom line: the global oil supply has probably peaked. While the world expects to consume 120 million [barrels of oil] a day two decades from now, actual supply may be half that rate. This conclusion aptly portrays the potential magnitude of the energy ditch we are now in. It is impossible to calculate the odds of this supply-demand imbalance happening, but prudent planning argues that the world should assume the bleaker scenario. Then it follows that a global plan to use oil more rationally must be urgently developed and implemented."
Simmons recommends: "Because 70% of the world's oil is used as transportation fuel, that would be the place to start. We need to create new forms of transportation fuels as well as reduce the quantity of goods and people moved by cars and large trucks. If a high percentage of products now transported by large trucks were shifted to the global rail system, an efficiency savings of three- to tenfold could be realized. If those goods could be shipped over water rather than rail, even greater efficiencies would be realized. While such changes will take time, they have to succeed."
Simmons also recommends: "A second change would come through embracing 'distributed work.' Most commercial businesses still operate on a concept that all employees need to work in the same office building to communicate. That was a necessity 20 to 40 years ago, but now faxes, e-mail, telephones and video conferencing allow people to work where they live, eliminating several hours of daily commuting time. And we need to manufacture more products and grow more food close to markets where they will be consumed."
In closing Simmons says: "If a master plan is quickly adopted on a global scale, the world can safely cope with a peak in oil production and create a more sustainable and enjoyable economy at the same time. If we ignore these changes and peak oil does occur, the unforeseen consequences could create a far darker world."
But other oil experts question Simmons' dire predictions.
Daniel Yergin, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning book Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, recently wrote in The Washington Post an article titled "It's Not the End Of the Oil Age: Technology and Higher Prices Drive a Supply Buildup."
Yergin asserts: "We're not running out of oil. Not yet."
Nonetheless, Yergin concludes: "The growing supply of energy should not lead us to underestimate the longer-term challenge of providing energy for a growing world economy. At this point, even with greater efficiency, it looks as though the world could be using 50 percent more oil 25 years from now. That is a very big challenge. But at least for the next several years, the growing production capacity will take the air out of the fear of imminent shortage. And that in turn will provide us the breathing space to address the investment needs and the full panoply of technologies and approaches -- from development to conservation -- that will be required to fuel a growing world economy, ensure energy security and meet the needs of what is becoming the global middle class."
The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy features a year-old article titled "Long-Term World Oil Supply Scenarios: The Future Is Neither as Bleak or Rosy as Some Assert."
The authors John H. Wood, Gary R. Long and David F. Morehouse conclude: "Will the world ever physically run out of crude oil? No, but only because it will eventually become very expensive in absence of lower-cost alternatives. When will worldwide production of conventionally reservoired crude oil peak? That will in part depend on the rate of demand growth, which is subject to reduction via both technological advancements in petroleum product usage such as hybrid-powered automobiles and the substitution of new energy source technologies such as hydrogen-fed fuel cells where the hydrogen is obtained, for example, from natural gas, other hydrogen-rich organic compounds, or electrolysis of water. It will also depend in part on the rate at which technological advancement, operating in concert with world oil market economics, accelerates large-scale development of unconventional sources of crude such as tar sands and very heavy oils. Production from some of the Canadian tar sands and Venezuelan heavy oil deposits is already economic and growing. In any event, the world production peak for conventionally reservoired crude is unlikely to be 'right around the corner' as so many other estimators have been predicting. Our analysis shows that it will be closer to the middle of the 21st century than to its beginning."
While Wood, Long and Morehouse doubt Peak Oil is just around the corner, they nevertheless call for action sooner rather than later: "Given the long lead times required for significant mass-market penetration of new energy technologies, this result in no way justifies complacency about both supply-side and demand-side research and development."
Thinking globally and acting locally, key questions are: What can the Portland metropolitan area do to plan prudently for a potential worldwide shortage of oil? Are current efforts to promote transit and bicycling sufficient, or should more be done?
Looking to the state, are the efforts proposed in the draft update to the Oregon Transportation Plan enough? Are the measures called for in the plan likely to be implemented?
- Rex Burkholder recently posted an entry here about "Population Growth and Regional Traffic."
- James Mayer recently wrote in The Oregonian about "Think the commute's bad now? More jobs may mean more jams."
- Rob Zako previously posted an entry here on "The Breaking Point for the Supply of Oil?"
- Matthew Simmons is featured in a recent New York Times story on "The Breaking Point."
October 10, 2005
Last week I received an announcement for the Cascade Policy Institute's Wheels to Wealth conference, subtitled "the role of auto ownership in reducing poverty". My immediate reaction was that owning a car might be more of a financial burden than a benefit for a low income person, but I also thought about my own situation. I've eschewed using a car in my daily routine, mostly as a statement of my own beliefs about mobility, but also as a way of reducing expenses.
But there's no question that a car offers choices.
And I can't kid myself that I'm without choices. I went mostly car-free to avoid adding a third car to our household when our teen got his license. If I really need a car, there's one available. Worst case I just rent one from Flexcar.
What would it be like to not have access to a car at all? While I'm proud that our transit system is not just the 'last resort' that it is for the carless in many cities (we have a good share of 'choice riders') how good a job have we done in making sure our investments are balanced to serve the needs of lower income individuals? Does the hub-and-spoke nature of our system focused on downtown disadvantage someone who needs to get from suburb to suburb for a job? Do we have social justice metrics to assess these kinds of issues (I don't think I've ever seen anything like that in two+ years of TPAC meetings)?
Serendipitiously I got another notice, this one for a seminar at PSU next week (Oct 14) titled "A Social Justice Perspective on Transportation Policies: Comparing Distributions of Welfare". Unfortunately I have a conflict that day, but I plan to watch the archive of the webcast.
What do other people think? Do our transportation system design choices distribute benefits justly? How could we measure? How could we do better?
October 7, 2005
On October 6, 2005, the BTA released our Blueprint for Better Biking: 40 Ways to Get There. The report provides a strategy and roadmap to increase bicycling in the Portland metro area. The report provides 40 essential projects, programs, and policies that are critical to bringing the region to the next level, and a "Top 10" list of the highest priorities on the list.
The BTA selected projects and developed Blueprint “themes” through an extensive two-year process that included a survey of over 900 bicyclists, meetings with technical experts, and meetings with bicycle advisory committees. The BTA found four primary themes among Portland area residents that must be addressed in order to increase cycling. These include:
- Cycling in Traffic
- Complete Routes
- Motorist behavior
- Quality of the Facility and Experience
The BTA’s Blueprint focuses on low-traffic facilities including trails and bicycle boulevards, leveraging a large bang on the limited public buck, and identifying achievable fixes to problems that would increase bicycling among a large group of cyclists don’t feel the roadway is safe. These strategies will also make existing cyclists’ experiences more pleasant.
View the report and full 40 project list (PDF 2.5M).
BTA Top Ten projects are:
- Sellwood Bridge
- Central City Bicycle Plan improvements
- East-west bikeways in North/Northeast Portland
- Highway 43 and the Willamette Shoreline Trail, connecting Lake Oswego, West Linn, and Portland
- Tonquin Trail, connecting Wilsonville, Tualatin, and Sherwood
- Low-traffic Suburban Routes
- Fanno Creek Trail, connecting Portland, Beaverton, and Tigard
- Expanded Low-Speed, Low-Volume Bikeways
- Enforcement campaigns against dangerous road users
- Safe Routes to School programs
October 6, 2005
Strip malls are a dying breed.
That was the starting point for a discussion of corridor planning at yesterday's Metro "Get Centered" brown-bag event.
The market for retail is now reorganizing to favor interchanges and crossroads. Long corridors of strip malls are out. The prototypical example held out from our region is Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.
The market analysis suggests that there is demand for about 1.2M square feet of retail in that corridor. The problem - there's already 1.6M square feet of retail space there. The result - disinvestment, i.e., properties remain vacant, get rented to tenants who can only pay low rents (think strip clubs) and generally are not kept up.
Our 2040 regional plan would suggest that retail (and other uses) should cluster at the Beaverton Regional Center, at the western end of this corridor. So in this case the retail marketplace and regional planning are actually in alignment (how cool is that)!
So what's the risk, and what's the opportunity?
The risk is that disinvestment in the corridor leads to further degradation and, dare I say it, blight.
The opportunity is to change the investment pattern. What would now appear to be the highest and best use of land along Beaverton-Hillsdale? Medium-to-high density residential.
This is not without some challenges. The building types need to be scaled appropriately to the width of the street (i.e., we're not talking single family here). But it's not unreasonable. The residential could cluster around some of the 'neighborhood center' (e.g., Albertsons) retail areas on the corridor, keeping them viable.
So where's the transportation hook for this, you ask? Capacity! As you close all the curb cuts for that empty retail space, and in their place build a network of streets to serve the new residential, you create capacity in the corridor and help reduce congestion.
How's this for a virtuous cycle:
- Retail reorganizes into denser configurations supporting regional centers
- Corridors convert to denser housing areas, creating infill and reducing UGB expansion pressures
- Traffic on the revitalized corridors flows better
Someone pinch me and tell me I'm not dreaming.
October 5, 2005
Listen to the show (mp3, 11.6M)
Forrest Burris talks about the Ghost Bike project, memorializing cyclists killed by autos by erecting white bicycles at the crash sites.
The Walk + Bike to School program is also discussed.
I'm a subscriber to the 'carfree network' listserv. These folks are a little out there, even for this alternative mode activist. But every once in a while there's a real gem, like this link to an article suggesting that last year more bikes than cars were sold in the U.S.
The article attributes this to rising gas prices and notes that the last time so many bikes were sold was in the 1973!
October 4, 2005
The City Club's Growth Management and Environment Issue Committee meets this Thursday, October 6th from 12- 1:30pm at the City Club Commons (901 SW Washington). The free program will feature Metro Councilor Robert Liberty who will address "big box" store issues facing our region. The discussion will explore impacts of these developments on our region's growth as well as policy solutions that best address the impacts. Join us for this free discussion that will explore reasonable policies and approaches for our metro region.
For more information on the Growth Management and Environment Committee, please contact Growth Management & Environment Issue Committee co-chairs: Lucy Brehm, 503-916-1552, email@example.com ; Greg Raisman, 503-823-1052, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Portland Office of Transportation held a Safety Summit yesterday, involving members of the community and officials from various bureaus and agencies responsible for transportation and safety.
The headline was that our streets are getting safer. Crash injury rates for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are all on a downward trend. Nonetheless Commissioner Adams and the organizers asked the assembled participants to help find ways (preferably without spending a lot more money) to continue to improve safety.
I attended two breakout sessions. The first on safety on Main Streets hit one of my favorite topics, crosswalk markings. Commissioner Adams asked if perhaps we should mark fewer crosswalks, but much more visibly, concentrating our resources.
The second breakout I attended focused on freight safety. A lot of the issues revolved around truck and passenger car interactions, with a general view that drivers are not educated sufficiently about interacting with trucks (stopping distance, mirror visibility, etc.) and therefore often do things near trucks that are unsafe.
I saw many Portland Transport contributors and regular commenters at the summit. What were your impressions? What great suggestions came out of your breakouts?
October 3, 2005
Yesterday's Oregonian had a good front page story on traffic, capturing the essence of the issues facing this region and others: roads filling up as population and rates of car ownership increase along with the decline of major national investment in new transportation infrastructure.
Whether you think these trends are "good" or "bad" the key to smart, sustainable decisions is recognizing that this is the new reality. People will continue to move to large urban areas, mostly on the two coasts (the southern coast shouldn't be so attractive one hopes after two devastating hurricanes). Most transportation tax revenues will go to maintaining an aging system rather than building new.
As Mr. Dylan said, "The times they are a'changing." Our responsibility is to see these changes clearly and be willing to decide to do things differently in response. The goals remain the same: getting people, jobs and stuff together efficiently and safely--its the means that must change.
Currently, work is underway to update the Oregon Transportation Plan, being led by Oregon Transportation Commission member, Gail Achterman. A broad steering committee, with support from an array of technical experts, has been working for over a year transforming what is mainly a departmental workplan into a strategic plan for the state, laying out threats and opportunities for enhancing the economy and protecting our quality of life focusing on the issue of transportation. The full Commission will hear and refer the draft OTP out to the public for comment in November.
A key conclusion of this work is that we need to pay much more attention to how our transportation system, especially roads, is used to maximize our huge investment. A main promoter of this idea is Duncan Wyse, representing the Oregon Business Council.
In a refreshing change from the common theme of government failure coming from many in the business community, Mr. Wyse has pushed the very business-like idea of wringing more out of what we already have before buying more, very expensive facilities. In a strange confluence of interests, we have libertarians like John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, business interests and environmentalists calling for tolling roads as a way to increase efficiency and save money.
Are we at that tipping point? Will $3 a gallon gas, anti-tax and anti-sprawl attitudes and good business sense combine to give us a new paradigm for transportation? Stay tuned.