October 30, 2010
Earlier this week, my neighborhood association (Rose City Park) held its candidates fair. A number of candidates were present, as were presenters representing various ballot measures.
Of particular relevance to PortlandTransport readers are the two candidates for Metro President.
Here are videos of their presentations and Q&A sessions, presented in order of appearance and without commentary. (The non-profit, non-partisan nature of this blog prohibits candidate endorsements.)
RCPNA Candidates Fair, Tom Hughes Presentation, 2010-10-26
RCPNA Candidates Fair, Bob Stacey Presentation, 2010-10-26
October 29, 2010
Councilor Liberty's report of the Oregon LCDC affirming all Metro urban/rural reserves designations was in error. Today, the LCDC issued their recommendations, and many environmentalists are happy--whereas the mayors of Cornelius and Forest Grove, both of which were looking to add industrial tracts within their respective city limits, are not. The Council Creek parcel--a 624-acre plot north of Cornelius was rejected outright, and a plot north of Forest Grove was remanded for further consideration. The list of rural reserves was also remanded for further investigation, with metro permitted to add these plots to rural reserves if it deems appropriate, and find other parcels (including those currently designated as rural, but less suitable for agriculture) to add to urban reserves instead.
The remainder of the Metro's recommendations, including all designations in Multnomah and Clackamas Counties, were accepted.
Due to the delays involved in the partial remand of the designations, Metro stated that it was unlikely any UGB expansions would occur until next year.
(The remainder of the post below the line is the original content, which is preserved--but is now largely superseded.)
While it isn't official, the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Condition is set to issue a ruling accepting all of Metro's recent designations of urban and rural reserves, without amendment, according to Metro councilor Robert Liberty. The decision, which was set to be announced last Friday and delayed, is expected this Friday (the 29th). Quite a few objections and amendments were raised to the LCDC, which rejected the lot of them. The LCDC only has authority to rule on legal objections, not technical objections.
While the LCDC is expected to approve the designations, it did have a few sharp words for the process--suggesting that Senate Bill 1011, the 2007 legislation which created the urban/rural reserves designations, results in a more politicized process than the prior method. This claim drew a rebuke from Mr. Liberty, who articulated the opposite opinion--that the UR/RR process involves more technical analysis, and less horsetrading, then before.
One example of that, of course, is the Stafford Basin. The basin, an area which is surrounded by urbanization on three sides, bisected by I-205, and is too hilly to be useful for agriculture, had nonetheless resisted any urban designations for years--unsurprising given that its full of wealthy homeowners living on large lots. The three cities bordering the basin--West Linn, Lake Oswego, and Tualatin, all oppose its inclusion, and were busy trying to convince the LCDC to overrule Metro on its inclusion.
Other parties bound to be disappointed by the upcoming ruling include 1000 Friends of Oregon, who were hoping that LDCD would overturn the inclusion of Washington County farmland in the Cornelius area into the urban reserves. It would be interesting to see how Bob Stacey, should he win next Tuesday, goes about implementing a decision he disagrees with.
From our good friends at the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates:
AORTA 2010 Annual Membership Meeting and Luncheon
Saturday, November 6
Doors open 11:30 AM
Luncheon Served 12:15 PM
Note: Advance payment by mail is necessary to reserve your
space. Please see instructions below.
Jake's Grill at the Governor Hotel
611 SW 10th Avenue
The 2010 AORTA Annual Meeting and Luncheon will be held on
Saturday, November 6 in the Tom Hardy private dining room of
Jake's Grill at the Governor Hotel in Portland.
Coming just a few days after the General Elections, this meeting
will allow rail supporters to determine the best path ahead for
the coming year.
Our principal guest speaker will be Martin Callery, Chief
Commercial Officer, Oregon International Port of Coos Bay, who
will tell a true success story achieved through Connect Oregon
III funding. In addition, we will have an update from Chris
Rall, Oregon Coordinator, Transportation For America, a broad
coalition of which AORTA is now an affiliate. This year our
luncheon will be in the ground floor Tom Hardy private dining
room, filled with local art, and with large windows providing a
view of streetcars operating on SW 10th Avenue. The Governor
Hotel was opened in 1909, is listed on the National Register of
Historic Places, is central to Portland's shopping and cultural
attractions, and offers free wireless internet service. The
schedule allows easy arrival and departure by Amtrak and TriMet
light rail or streetcar. Registration and luncheon price this
year will be less than in 2009: $28 per person, and all
registrations received by October 29 qualify for a $3 discount,
making the cost just $25.
Grilled Wild Sockeye Salmon, with basil pesto and rice pilaf
Jake's Grill Classic Pot Roast, with slow-roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes
Vegetarian Entree, a bistro specialty of Jake's Grill
Menu choice must be specified in advance. To register, please
send your check with the entree selection for each attendee to:
AORTA Annual Meeting
PO Box 2772
Portland, OR 97208-2772
Registrations cannot be accepted after Tuesday, November 2, due to
Also plan to attend the All Aboard Washington Annual Meeting the
following Saturday, November 13.
The site appears to be a bit constipated this morning--we've had issues with server errors, and some have made repeat posts. There are presently entries in the comment queue which TypePad thinks are published, but which don't appear to be visible on the web.
If you see "Server Error", chances are your post will show up sooner or later. If it doesn't, feel free to ask. I can be reached at gmail (my name @gmail.com).
And yesterday it got some love on the PDXCommute blog.
I also had a chance to show it off at GOSCON (Government Open Source conference) with a unit on the OpenPlans exhibit table (thanks, Michael and Nick) and a brief overview during the TriMet open data presentation.
Time to get a few more out in the field for testing and generate an architecture for a scalable rollout. I'm hoping to engage the local open source developer community to build many of the pieces we'll need to take this mainstream.
It's also been suggested that we need a better name than 'Transit Appliance'. Perhaps we should just use "Transit Board™" which is the name for the web application we're running (which we've had since about 2007).
Or maybe we need something more original - I'm open to suggestions (all ideas become the property of Portland Transport - you've been warned)!
Back in May I complained that TriMet was getting ready to borrow $39M to fund the new Milwaukie line. This borrowing would be paid back with future payroll tax revenues - funds that could otherwise be spent actually providing service hours.
Now Portland Afoot is reporting that TriMet may consider raising this amount to $60M to get the project done.
There has to be a better way.
October 28, 2010
Originally, Part 3 on this series was going to be all about TriMet's finances--but that subject will now appear in Part 4, which won't likely appear until after the election. As Chris notes, today TriMet held an informal planning session, at which point it was announced that in order to fund MLR, an additional $20 million of operating revenue may be needed to build Milwaukie MAX, as reported by Michael at PortlandAfoot.org. A key word is "may".
Comments on the merits of this particular decision should go on Chris's thread. This column address a broader issue; that of TriMet's role in planning.
In short: Is the tail wagging the dog?
Planning and policy
There are many facets of planning; some of which are clearly within TriMet's scope and area of expertise:
- Tactical and operations planning. Things like making preparing detailed schedules, for both regular operations and special events.
- Detailed design input. Assisting policymakers with the technical details necessary to make informed decisions on strategy.
- Infrastructure planning. Budgeting, financing, route-planning, and design of major new infrastructure projects, including (but not limited to) transit lines.
- Service allocation. Determining, in a limited-revenue environment, where and how to allocate resources.
Of course, TriMet doesn't do these things all alone, and as Lenny Anderson noted in an earlier thread, TriMet gets blamed for a lot of decisions which are made by Metro or by JPACT (the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation). However, today's meeting didn't involve Metro or city or county leaders--it was the TriMet board and staff. And the decision as to whether or not this money should be diverted from transit operations to the capital budget is a decision which ought to, in my mind, be made by policymakers; not TriMet.
In short, elected officials in Metro and the city and county governments are the ones who ought to be making this decision. It's a, after all, a policy decision. (And perhaps the relevant policy decision has already been made, and the directions issued to TriMet are that MLR takes priority over everything else).
But either way, the decision ought to be owned by all the region's leaders--who ought to take responsibility for it. If the City of Portland, Metro, the counties, and the other players in the region can't publicly endorse the tradeoff of service cuts for MAX construction, then they ought to find a plan that they can endorse and implement.
Who should run the projects?
A related issue is that of project management. Clearly-defined roles and responsibilities are important, as is having project leadership that is competent to the task at hand. If you don't have this, you have chaos--the Columbia River Crossing is a fine example.
When the first MAX line was being planned, one big question facing leaders was: who would build and run it? TriMet, which had only existed for a decade or so at the time, was generally regarded as a bus company and nothing more--an organization which was good at driving, maintaining, and dispatching busses, but which had little experience with capital projects, and none with rail. Yet the decision was made for TriMet to own the line; and nowadays the agency has extensive experience in capital project management and rail operations. As such, its role has grown.
Projects (successful ones) go through several phases--planning, design, construction, and operations. MLR is nearly exiting the design phase; the first shovel of dirt is scheduled to be turned next year. Metro generally oversees planning activities, but for transit projects, TriMet essentially "takes over" when the design phase starts. And in some ways, this makes sense--the agency is the repository of Portland's experience in running these projects.
But there is one caveat. In the design phase, many policy-based decisions must be made. This is the phase where funding is secured, NEPA documents (DEIS, EIS) are prepared and reviewed, the necessary research is done, and the project engineering commences. In this phase, things like budget and scope are still very much in flux, and as we all have found out (and TriMet should have known better), things happen to affect what can be delivered. Managing issues at this point still requires a great deal of policy decisions to be made. While TriMet staff are the best qualified to carry out the design activities (those that aren't contracted out to other design professionals), a good argument can be made that at this point in the project, Metro might be a better agency to act as overseer.
In particular, Metro is better situated--and has the better policy perspective--to arrange for funding.
What do PT readers think? Should TriMet's role in strategic and policy matters be reduced, allowing the agency to focus on operations? Is the present arrangement satisfactory? Or--to play devil's advocate--should TriMet's role in transit planning increase (and Metro's role reduced to long-range strategy and inter-modal decisions)? Where should the line be drawn--what level of service change ought to require consideration by agencies other than TriMet? Would your opinion change if TriMet's board was locally elected, rather than appointed by the Governor?
This was a phrase I heard a lot at RailVolution last week. It came up on several panels and was an interesting contrast: we heard it mostly from folks in the East/Midwest operating long-established rail systems. We didn't hear it from the West Coast cities where rail transit is still running on pretty new infrastructure.
The Secretary of Transportation for Massachusetts described a fire on the Red Line in Boston that was caused by nothing other than aging catenary wires.
Fundamentally there is not enough money to maintain all our infrastructure to a "state of good repair". While this may not be an issue for TriMet (yet) it's not new in Oregon, our highway system is in exactly this state of affairs.
And the East/West contrast among stakeholders is echoed locally between Portland and the outer suburbs. Washington and Clackamas counties are struggling to build infrastructure to keep up with growth, while Portland struggles to maintain its arterial streets. This makes assembling a regional funding package a challenge, because a package needs to be crafted to meet both of these very different needs.
But to plan for the future, how do we make sure that our region's rail transit will also have sufficient maintenance funds to be in a "state of good repair" in the future. Are we building reserves now? (That's a rhetorical question - we are not to a sufficient level). How can we?
October 27, 2010
The Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (or MTIP) is the basic spending plan for transportation in our region.
Most of the funds involved are programed quite proscriptively, but in each two-year cycle there are several tens of millions of dollars that are truly flexible, we can spend them as we choose. The result is intense competition for these funds.
When I served on TPAC, I got to see a couple of rounds of this process. It was a combination of merit and politics. Projects in each modal category were scored on the basis of policy criteria established by JPACT and the Metro Council. But the allocation of money between modes was more subjective and in the end another filter of "geographic equity" was also applied.
"Geographic equity" was a code word for making sure each JPACT member got to bring home the bacon.
In recent years, this shifted somewhat and JPACT and Metro Council have given advanced guidance on the modal split. This has largely been to the benefit of active transportation projects, although this year freight interests played the jobs card and attempted to grab a significant share of the funds, losing narrowly on a split vote at JPACT.
Now we have a new wrinkle: as reported on Bike Portland, a committee is being appointed to recommend which projects to fund (as I understand it, within the modal split that has already been established).
I'm not sure if this is an improvement - will it diminish the 'bring home the bacon' factor and fund the most impactful projects, or is it just a different way to balance the political interests? Time will tell.
October 26, 2010
Do we need a national Transit Wiki? An ambitious, but intriguing project. How could the Portland region contribute?
October 25, 2010
$4 million to renovate Union Station, $5 million to study/plan the Oregon section of the "Cascadia Corridor".
Happily, compared to hotel WiFi setups, Bailey's was a snap, with a simple passphrase entry.
But each installation comes with new discoveries. At this location near the transit mall there are simply too many arrivals to display on one screen! We may need to look at a paging scenario (but that contradicts the 'glanceable' use case we've been trying to support). So for now we're focusing on displaying the arrivals for the two nearest MAX stations. We make tweak that based on requests from Bailey's customers.
So please go check it out and have a beer by way of a thank you to owner Geoff Phillips for being our first guinea pig.
I hope to be showing another unit at GOSCON (Government Open Source) this week (another hotel WiFi scheme to navigate).
After that I hope to find an eastside coffee house location for our next alpha test!
Now playing at Bailey's:
There are many issues on next Tuesday's ballot which will or may impact transit in the Portland area. All Oregon citizens will be voting for a state representative, and half of us will be voting for a state Senator. All of us will will likewise have a pair of Congressional races to consider. And, there are numerous ballot measures to consider, and more than a handful of local officials to select as well.
There are three races which are of particular importance, and which aren't limited to a particular part of the Portland area. One of them, the race for Metro President, was covered by PortlandTransport back in February (prior to the primary election), which you can read here, here, here, here, and here. More recently, we have covered Ballot Measure 26-119, the TriMet-sponsored proposal to renew the expiring Westside MAX levy for the purposes of various capital upgrades to the bus system, here and here.
Today we turn to a race in which transit politics have not played a big part in the campaign, but may have a big impact on TriMet and its future plans: the Oregon gubernatorial race, between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley.
Given that PortlandTransport is a 501(c) organization, the following rules apply:
There are some special rules for comments on these posts. As a 501(c)(3), Portland Transport cannot and does not endorse candidates. So please no comments of the form "you should vote for _______ because he said...". Feel free to comment on the policies, their implications and your feelings about them, but refrain from turning that into encouraging votes in a particular direction.
Why is this race important?
Why is this race important? Oregon's system of government does limit somewhat the executive ability of the governor--many executive functions are overseen by elected officials who don't report to him or her, such as the secretary of state and the attorney general. Likewise, the gov has limited ability to intervene in local political matters. However, one interesting state of affairs is that despite being only serving the Portland metropolitan area, TriMet's board is appointed by the governor. Board members, once appointed, ordinarily serve up to two four-year terms (and must be confirmed by the state Senate); but the Governor can fire and replace board members at any time.
Governors in Oregon have not often exercised their authority to replace TriMet board members out of cycle. In 1986, Vic Atiyeh replaced the entire board in one go; I don't believe that it has happened since. But 2010 may be an unusual situation, given the economy, the general political instability in the country, and a rising lack of confidence in TriMet management in some quarters. There have been more than a few commentators on Portland politics, including longtime TriMet critic Jack Bogdanski, who seems to be leaning towards Dudley in the hopes that he would (among other things) do exactly that.
The two major party candidates are, of course, John Kitzhaber, a former ER physician who served as the state's Governor from 1995 through 2003, and as president of the Oregon Senate prior to that; and Chris Dudley, a former professional basketball player (who played two separate stints for the Trail Blazers) who nowadays works as a financial adviser. Kitzhaber is FTMP a known quantity, given his prior service in the position; during his tenure TriMet built Westside MAX and the Red Line. Transit wasn't Kitzhaber's first priority as governor (his pet project was the Oregon Health Plan), but he was supportive of it. His prior career as an emergency room doctor did lead him to long oppose increasing the state's speed limit, after the US Government repealed the 65MPH limit back in the 1990s; and he also has a credible record with environmentalists. In a statement to PortlandAfoot.com, a Kitzhaber spokesperson gave conditional support to Milwaukie MAX, stating:
John Kitzhaber respects the legislature and governor's prior commitment to light rail, and he sees the benefit of jobs as an important reason to continue to support the project. Should new information arise that requires he and the legislature revisit this project, he will certainly do so, but until that time, he supports this important capital investment in Oregon's future.
Much less is known about Dudley's positions on transit. PortlandAfoot.com asked his campaign several pointed questions on the issues, including both MLR and whether Dudley might consider wholesale board replacements, and got non-answers. One of Dudley's primary opponents, Allen Alley, came out against MLR during the primary season; and Dudley did not stake out a position in response. This can be seen as an improvement over gubernatorial candidates in other states, such as Ohio's John Kasich and Wisconsin's Scott Walker, both of whom are campaigning on pro-automobile, anti-transit (and anti-high-speed-rail) platforms. New Jersey governor Chris Christie has made quite a bit of news for his position on the ARC tunnel project. On the other hand, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Dudley a well-known entertainment personality who made the jump into politics under somewhat similar circumstances, has not been a hindrance to transit expansion in California's metropoli. The focus of Dudley's campaign has been fiscal issues: lower taxes and reduced state spending (in particular, reductions in wages and benefits for public employees), though he hasn't given much indication of what would be cut--whether spending reductions would be across the board, or only targeted mainly to programs disliked by conservatives.
What could happen?
At the present time, the race appears to be a dead heat. Kitzhaber was generally popular during his first stint as Governor, and was free of major scandal; but spent eight years playing defense against a hostile legislature, and famously suggested that the state was "ungovernable" near the end of his second term, a remark which has haunted him somewhat in the second act of his political career. (Dudley was primarily known as a defensive player in the NBA--an observation offered only here for the sake of levity). Dudley is probably the first GOP gubernatorial candidate in quite a while not pushing a social conservative agenda--he's generally avoided social issues, in contrast to many prominent Republican candidates elsewhere in the country. These factors, and the overall poor electoral environment for Democrats in general, suggest that this is in fact anybody's race.
And whoever the next governor is, will have Portland-area transit issues on the agenda.
Last year, the Oregon Legislature granted the TriMet board the authority to increase the agency's payroll tax, which TriMet has indicated it will do in 2014, prior to the planned opening of Milwaukie MAX. (The increase assumed in the financials section of the EIS). The authority is contingent on the Board finding that the state of Oregon no longer is in a state of recession. But 2014 will be near the end of the next governor's term; and if the governor takes a more hostile position to transit (or to taxes in general), things could get interesting. The governor could, once again, replace the TriMet board en masse, nominating members who decline to do so. (As MLR would be nearly complete by that point, and cancelling it not a viable option; this would result in service cuts elsewhere on the system). Of course, Metro could respond to that by taking over TriMet, as it has the right to do under ORS 267.020.
Unlike Governor Christie in New Jersey, there is probably not much that an Oregon governor could do on his own to cancel MLR, even if he were to be opposed to the project. State funding has already been appropriated. The Legislature working with the governor would be another matter--it wouldn't be difficult for a motivated legislature to withdraw the appropriation and scuttle the project. There isn't much polling on the Oregon legislative races, though--I expect the GOP to pick up a few seats, but I would be astonished were the GOP to take control of both houses of the Legislative Assembly.
Like it says up at the top, this blog is a non-profit corporation, and cannot explicitly endorse either candidate. However, we can--and I do--encourage all of you to vote, regardless of who you are voting for. It is, after all, the ultimate expression of the public's will; and even though we often love to gripe about the government; we ultimately get the government that we select--and deserve.
So if you haven't done so, mail in those ballots.
I've been trying to get this post done for a while, but RailVolution and working on the Transit Appliance have kept me a bit busy.
I've also been musing over a couple of very interesting posts from Jarrett Walker at Human Transit that talk about the interaction between transit and density and the difference between average density and clusters of density ("the perils of average density" and "can we make density make sense?").
This thought process just confirms to me the need to move our analysis down to the Block Group level. So that's priority # 1.
I'm also very interested in finding a way to visualize the affect on transit score of MAX lines, frequent service lines and local service. I think that's a great heatmap application, but I think the data need to be more fine-grained than the point spacing I used to score census tracts, so I'll probably generate a new data set - one that also doesn't worry about boundaries of census tracts, but stays closer to a true grid. I'm thinking about using the Hollywood district as the example for this, but I'm open to suggestions about other areas that might have all three types of service to serve as examples.
Meanwhile, I did manage to compile one other data set, which is a set of transit scores for all the transit stops in the TriMet system (it's the GTFS stop file enhanced with the three result fields from Transit Score). If someone has the time or interest to do a visualization, I suspect that would be very interesting.
Finally I've been thinking about other "physical" data sets that I'd be interested in correlating with Transit Score:
- Distance to the "center" of the transit system
- Distance to a Regional Center
- Distance to the nearest High Capacity Transit stop (MAX, WES)
- Intersection Density
The first three can be calculated from data I already have, I'm hoping I may be able to get the intersection data as a by-product of work already being done on the Portland Plan by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. If so, I'll encourage them to add it to the Civic Apps open data sets.
So please be patient, I suspect it will be a number of weeks before I can assemble enough time to get the Block Group data set done...
Scotty has already reported on the release of the TriMet Safety Task Force report.
I'd like to highlight one of the recommendations that has not gotten a lot of coverage:
4. Community advisory committeeTriMet cannot achieve the highest levels of safety performance without engaging the entire community. The task force heard from operators that the rules of the road and the physical environment in which they operate don't always accommodate a conflict-free environment.
Members of the public have described their need for more collaboration between TriMet and its customers and partners both in decision-making processes and in response to identified issues.
Community conversations will be required to harness the knowledge of all constituents and thereby improve the safety of the region's public transportation for everyone. TriMet should consider a community advisory committee that would allow TriMet's customers and partner stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in as TriMet makes decisions. It would also provide an opportunity for customer engagement on the agency level beyond the limitations of current public testimony to the board. Engagement with the community should also include an improved process for collecting and responding to safety issues that are identified by the public.
I've always found it odd that TriMet had no general purpose citizen or riders advisory committee (they do have a Committee on Accessible Transportation and a Budget Advisory Committee). I hope the recommendation will be followed and some kind of CAC will be created. I think it would help on a number of fronts, not just safety. If nothing else, some of the more tone-deaf things that TriMet has managed to do in recent years might get headed off with some honest CAC feedback.
October 23, 2010
Equity has been on my mind quite a bit. The Portland Plan is making equal distribution of the benefits and burdens of public services and infrastructure a major focus.
And of course, our equity analysis project is intended to be a deep dive on how equitably transit service is distributed around the region.
Now T4America is forming a National Equity Caucus. Seems like the timing is right!
October 22, 2010
"Feds have approved enviro impact statement for MAX line to OMSI, Sellwood, @trimet GM Neil McFarlane says. Will be published Friday."
And here it is! Happy reading!
The TriMet Safety and Service Excellence Task Force, formed after the April crash where a bus struck a group of pedestrians, killing two of them, has released its report.
Coverage of the report and its findings by the Oregonian's Joseph Rose is here.
The key finding of the report is that the agency has an inadequate "culture of safety"; and recommends several steps to address this issue.
October 21, 2010
Tuesday morning's article, Under New Management: TriMet and the Trust Gap, sparked a lot of discussion--so much so that a followup article is in order. While it would be foolish to pretend that portlandtransport.com's readers are representative sample of the wider community--the contributors here are self-selected for an interest in transit, whether pro or con--quite a few topics came to the fore.
Transparency, and how the "trust gap" is a two-way street.
One of the most important observation in the discussion, I think came from Michael at PortlandAfoot.com, who stated the following:
TriMet's ballot issue strikes me an example of an institutional mistrust of the public.
Now, the agency's policies could certainly be worse, and I know some are trying to make them better.
But after several months of covering TriMet, I've found it unpleasantly reminds me of the public housing agencies I've covered: A group of well-meaning public servants who are certain that voters, in their hearts, do not approve of their work.
Public servants who therefore conclude that voters must often be kept in the dark, for their own good.
This attitude does not tend to win voters' trust.
While my direct dealing with TriMet are far more limited than Michael's, what I have observed tends to corroborate his experiences. There has been much criticism of TriMet's public participation initiatives from many quarters--a common complaint is that public input is ignored. Michael's own website documents complaints of this nature--such as the practice of only allowing testimony at board meetins after other business (including voting) is complete. While it would be unusual for public testimony to reverse the outcome of a vote (if TriMet's done their diligence, then none of the testimony should be surprising); I could see cases where it might delay one while new information is considered. Holding the vote before the testimony Looks Bad.
The agency is a leader in open-sourcing its operations data, enabling applications like TransitTracker and the transit appliance that Chris and others have been working on. Many other agencies regard even this sort of information as top-secret. But it would be nice if TriMet were more transparent about its planning work-product as well (this goes for Metro and JPACT as well) and its performance data--there's a whole bunch of data which is in the category of if-you-ask-nicely-we-may-give-it-to-you, but which is not available online.
One likely reason for not making this available is a fear that transit opponents would take advantage of this data and use it to throw sand in the gears. Certainly, that is a possibility. But this is a transit-friendly town; and there are a whole lot of activists out there who stand ready to refudiate any such FUD, if only we had the data.
As the cliche goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
And, if that argument doesn't win the day, it is perhaps useful to remind TriMet's management and board (and every other public servant at all levels of government) of one important fact: You work for us (meaning the entire community). It's far more important for us to trust you than the opposite.
Governance, and the NCLB theory of public administration
Most of you have probably heard of the No Children Left Behind Act, or NCLB. Those of you who (like me) have school-aged children almost certainly have. NCLB has been highly controversial in the education community, and while discussion of it is off-topic here, there's one bit that is relevant to the present discussions of TriMet: NCLB's enforcement mechanism. Schools which fail to meet the prescribed standards risk losing federal funding. Likewise, many opponents of 26-119 have asserted that TriMet management needs to be "taught a lesson", and that withdrawal of funding is the best way about instituting reform.
In the private sector, where you typically have competing companies providing the same product or service in the marketplace, and a liquid equity market, this works, sometimes. Poorly-performing companies go out of business, or have their management sacked and replaced--assuming that there is in fact effective competition. Success and failure are easily measured--in dollars--and the actual product or service is (in modern Western capitalism) typically a means to the end of making money for investors. (No matter how much a business's advertising may assert otherwise; the boss almost always gets the first slice from the pie).
What about public agencies? It is highly questionable as to whether this form of correction works in the public sector, where the goods and services provided are far less fungible, and are often unprofitable. Transit agencies (and public schools) don't exist to make money for taxpayers (on the contrary, they require a tax subsidy), they exist to provide a specific service--public transportation, in the case of TriMet. Ignoring various types of privatization (which is a topic all on its own), there isn't any way to switch to a different transit agency if one thinks TriMet is under performing in some fashion. Nor is the withdrawal of funds (either by defeat of a tax levy, or by loss of riders) likely to "punish" Neil McFarlane or the board--they'll just cut back service or delay new bus purchases in response. Public sector administrators, by design, have a far smaller personal stake in their agencies than do private executives; thus it's not clear that attempts to "teach them a lesson" result in the desired lesson being learned. (Often, the lesson learned instead is that the public is fickle and untrustworthy, leading to the problems discussed in the prior section).
In many cases, though, the public has an alternative for dealing with recalcitrant public officials--voting them (or their bosses) out of office. TriMet, whose board is presently appointed by the Governor, is a bit more isolated from the public, but the governance of TriMet is an issue. Metro has the right under TriMet's charter to "take" the agency from Mahonia Hall--a right it so far has not exercised; though the latter agency was thoroughly annoyed by the opaque process by which McFarlane was hired. Isolating the agency from politics was probably a wise idea in the 1970s, when it was a bus company and little else; but given its elevated role in planning, a good argument can be made that it should be more directly answerable to metro-area voters.
And one other wrinkle to consider: What might happen if a certain former basketball player were to win the governor's race on November 2? While Chris Dudley hasn't commented much on public transit (unlike his primary opponent), his party has long been less friendly to transit than that of John Kitzhaber.
Missions, and what ought to be accomplished?
One of the other take-aways from the debate is that there's a fundamental disagreement among many of us (and probably in the wider community) as to what TriMet's mission ought to be; a fact which colors our respective views of the agency. Some may think that the current goals of TriMet are correct (even as they debate the merits of the execution); others believe that the agency's overall mission is wrong, and it needs to be focusing on something else. Some would prefer to see the agency's role (and budget) greatly expanded, including the substantial reallocation of resources currently dedicated to road construction. And there are more than a few who oppose public transit altogether and would prefer to simply shut TriMet down.
Yesterday's Oregonian contained a most curious editorial--curious, considering the fact that the same editorial board expressed opposition to 26-119 (and had some unkind things to say about TriMet management) only a week before. The editorial, timed to coincide with the RailVolution conference recently concluded, praised TriMet's expansion of the MAX system, and explicitly endorsed the Milwaukie line. (The article took a bit more conciliatory line to management in general, laying blame for the agency's woes on the transit union). I was a bit surprised, and I suspect the juxtaposition of the two editorials may be astonishing to a few others.
But it might be explained by the paper's view on what TriMet ought to be trying to accomplish. Just what the paper's overall view on this subject is, I'm not sure--some of the "obvious" explanations aren't terribly charitable to the O. But it's clear that the editorial staff has a different vision of what TriMet ought to be accomplishing than, say, OPAL or Cascade Policy Institute, or AORTA. And the same is true for many of the readers here.
I don't expect calls for greater transparency to be controversial, though if anyone disagrees, feel free to say so. But the other two broad topics should stimulate some interesting debate.
What should Tri-Met's governance structure look like? As-is? Organized under Metro? A board who is elected by the public? And what should it's role be in the planning process, compared to other agencies (ODOT, Metro, and the various cities and counties)?
What should the over-arching mission of TriMet be? The primary means of personal transportation within the metro area? What it is now? More focus on the poor? A minimal "system of last resort"?
And a third question, to tie it altogether: How can the public ensure that the agency is striving to meet the goals that the community asks of it?
Opportunistically, I brought a couple of our "Transit Appliances" (which previously had not been tested anywhere other than my home office) to RailVolution with me.
TriMet was very gracious and allowed me to display one on their hospitality table. And I was fortunate enough to catch the attention of Clarence Eckerson of Streetfilms, leading to the national announcement of our little prototype:
I did learn a couple of lessons:
1) Public WiFi systems are complicated. The hotel had several routers with apparently differing login schemes. The appliance that easily handled my home network was almost stymied by the post-connection HTML login pages in the hotel. I had to run out and buy a keyboard to get it up for most of Wednesday, but was unable to duplicate my success on Thursday.
2) Understand your audience! I had initially intended to demo the system using the bus stops closest to the hotel (downtown Hilton), but the demand for information (which TriMet had be providing with a laptop) was clearly for MAX to the airport. I was able to quickly reconfigure the appliance to serve this need.
A number of folks from TriMet (including General Manager Neil McFarlane) were able to get a peek and were enthusiastic. Time to start thinking about a beta rollout. Anyone know some transit-friendly coffee shop owners who might be candidates?
October 20, 2010
At the Social Media panel today at RailVolution, it was emphasized that video is a great way to visualize and explain transportation ideas and issues that are otherwise difficult to communicate.
We have no better example in our region than this video by Spencer Boomhower, laying out with stark clarity the issues around the Columbia River Crossing in a quick 11 minutes.
* A project to rehabilitate the Coos Bay Rail Link, which closed in 2007 due to lack of maintenance (and an attempted shakedown of the state by CORP, the shortline that operates the tracks); $13.5 million
* A project to alleviate rail traffic congestion at the Port of Vancouver, $10 million
* A project to add 42 fast charging stations along the I-5 corridor to support electric cars, $2 million.
* A study project to study the building of liveable communities in the Aloha/Reedville area, $1.5 million. (Say hello to Harvey while you're there!)
This diagram was developed out of a stakeholder interview for the sustainable freight task force I just served on. It's illustrative that even if you get the last mile to be very sustainable, there's a lot of complexity in moving even a very simple commodity.
October 19, 2010
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2010 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Brendon Haggerty, Program Coordinator, Planning Active Walkable Neighborhoods, Clark County Public Health
Topic: Applying Health Impact Assessment to Bicycle and Pedestrian
Abstract: As part of Clark County Public Health's Planning Active
Walkable Neighborhoods project, a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) was
conducted on the county's Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. A rapid
HIA was completed to provide input on the draft plan, and a subsequent
comprehensive HIA was designed to evaluate the impacts of final
proposals. This presentation will provide an overview of the process and
results of the HIA, examine lessons learned, and discuss transferability
to other jurisdictions or projects.
When: Friday, October 22, 2010, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
Apologies in advance. This article is probably too long by far; and reflects lots of thoughts over the past week or so.
Last week, the Oregonian recommended a no vote on Measure 26-119, which would provide TriMet with $125 million to "improve transit services and access for elderly riders and people with disabilities". PT covered the recommendation here. But given the libertarian bent the paper has taken in the past year or so, that they would oppose 26-119 isn't terribly surprising.
What ought to be of far greater concern to TriMet's riders and supporters was Friday's front page article by Joseph Rose, who covers the transportation beat for the paper. The title says it all: Will TriMet bond measure get the support of those who actually ride TriMet? In the article, Rose (who is quite knowledgeable on the subject) interviews several regular TriMet riders who have expressed ambivalence or opposition to 26-119--despite the fact that a cursory analysis suggests that it would be beneficial to transit riders, particularly bus passengers. The measure's title refers to the elderly and disabled, but a key part of the measure's purpose is to permit the agency to retire more and more of its aging fleet of high-floor busses. All bus patrons, not just the disabled, benefit from the more modern rolling stock--everybody wins when (un)loading wheelchairs and walkers doesn't require use of a mechanical lift to get up/down stairs. (And any new bus purchases would assuredly come with air conditioning--many of TriMet's older vehicles lack this basic amenity).
So what is going on here? Why is an apparently significant group of TriMet patrons so apparently unenthusiastic about supporting the agency on which they depend?
A lot of it appears to have to do with trust. Many TriMet riders have seen their service degrade over the years, despite billions of dollars being spent on new investments. And there seems to be a fear that this will continue.
The bus/rail divide
Much has been written about the so-called "bus/rail divide"--a viewpoint which holds that busses and trains are in competition with each other for resources; rather than complementary parts of an integrated system. This writer thinks such a viewpoint is fundamentally wrongheaded. I care about transit, not about busses or trains, as do many others. When interviewed by Rose, TriMet GM Neil McFarlane noted that "this isn't about one mode competing with another. It's a system and we're trying to optimize the efficiency of the system for the future". But this article isn't about what I think, or about what Neil thinks--it's about what an apparently large (and vocal) number of transit users think.
In the public debate over the initiative, the bus/rail question is rearing its head. One cluster of opinions seems to be that the sort of things to be funded out of this measure are things that TriMet should have been funding in the ordinary course of business--and that funding for major new capital projects (such as rail projects) are what ought to be sent to the voters for approval or rejection. (I'm not entirely unsympathetic to that argument, though there's something to be said for leveraging federal grants...) There's also an expressed fear in some quarters that this measure itself is really about rail--that TriMet would make these purchases anyway using other sources (and that passage of the bond measure would free up funds for further MAX expansion), or that the wording of the ballot text is so loose that TriMet might simply renege on its promise to spend the proceeds on new busses and bus stops, and spend it on rail instead. Neil McFarlane indicated that the first theory at least is false in an interview with Rose; wherein he was clear that the bulk of the proposed bus stop improvements and new purchases would not happen were 26-119 to fail.
Listening to customers
There's a well-known saying in the restaurant business: The Customer Is Always Right.
The saying doesn't mean that customers necessarily know more than the kitchen staff about cooking--in most cases, they don't. It means, instead, that in service industries--and transit is a service--one must pay attention to one's customers, and address their issues. Simply aiming for the "sweet spot" of the market--a strategy which often works when peddling consumer goods--is inadequate when proving services, where winning repeat business is a must. Transit differs from restaurants in that switching to a competitor is harder and more expensive--but the same is true in the other direction. And many customers are telling the agency loud and clear, that like Michael Keaton trying to change a diaper in the movie--you're doing it wrong.
And for many of the agency's inner city patrons, "wrong" refers to the relentless expansion of rail transit. MAX. WES. Even the Portland Streetcar (many patrons, I suspect, don't know or care about the difference between TriMet and Portland Streetcar, Inc). The merits to rail over local bus service are many (higher passenger volumes, greater operational efficiency, attractiveness to certain bus-phobic demographics, electric traction, better reliability†), but none of these things matter if the trains don't run where you live. And they matter even less for passengers who see their service being cut, while ribbon-cuttings are taking place in other parts of town.
(†Many of the listed rail advantages are also shared by Bus Rapid Transit, which is not discussed in this post.)
But is new MAX service the "cause" of the recent service cuts? Or is it, as TriMet insists, the economy? It is apparent that new service openings are separate "events" from recent service cuts--reductions to bus service in Beaverton weren't part of the financing plan for the Green Line, for instance. It stands to reason that had the economy not hit the skids during the latter part of the aughts, most of the service cuts would not have happened (or might be less severe--given that rising benefit costs are also a big part of the story). TriMet vows to restore services if and when the economy recovers--but that may be a big "if"; a significant number of commentators think that the present economic malaise may be a long-term condition.
For many riders, though, it simply doesn't matter. Most riders don't follow transit politics; they just use the service. And when they see fares going up, service hours being cut, and look! A new MAX line to Clackamas, and there's Earl in a Hawaiian shirt!--it's easy to assume that the two events are related; that their bus no longer runs on Sundays because of the Green Line. And many longstanding passengers, it seems, subscribe to a "seniority" model of service planning: only add service when it is certain that existing services won't be impacted (even if there is a downturn); and the most recent services added should be the first ones to be reduced. Even prior to the Green Line's completion, there were quite a few calls among riders to delay its opening and divert the operational funds to lessen service cuts elsewhere.
Some of TriMet's other recent decisions, while technically defensible, likewise, have terrible optics--the decision to make Fareless Square rail-only was, in retrospect, incredibly tone-deaf and ham-handed. There's a good reason it was done--free fare zones don't mix well with pay-as-you-board fare collection. It's too easy to cheat, and bus drivers have enough to worry about without remembering who in the back of their bus paid what. But it's easy to come to the conclusion that TriMet views busses as second-class.
But the bus/rail divide is about more than the simple question of "how good is my service?". There's also the fundamental question of the direction of the agency, and what values it has. Over at the other blog, I've beaten an entire stable of dead horses on the subject of transit values; and a fundamental principle that undergirds much of this debate: Arguments about mode choice are really arguments about values. And for many inner-city transit users, who more and more are seeing train tracks extending out into the suburbs (and through the toniest parts of downtown), there is this primal fear that the agency no longer cares about them--that TriMet's values are changing.
Getting back to the restaurant analogy: We all probably have a story about a favorite restaurant that "went upscale"--that transformed from a local neighborhood hangout that provided great food at low prices, to one that markets itself to an upper-class clientele (and is noticeably more expensive). For me, that restaurant is probably Pho Van, which once (and still does) served some of the best Vietnamese noodle soup in town out of a small storefront on 82nd. Back in the day, it was a popular hangout for my friends and I. When you went inside, many of the patrons were Vietnamese, and the furnishings wouldn't look out of place in a fast-food joint. Then it moved to a newer, larger location down the street. And then it opened a new restaurant in the Pearl, and added "Bistro" to the name. (Today the Pearl District location is called "Silk"). Then it opened other restaurants throughout the metro area--and it seemed the pho became more and more of an afterthought--instead there was a greater focus on the entrees and on the wine cellar. Often times nowadays, the only people heard speaking Vietnamese are the staff. Pho Van is still a fine restaurant, and I still eat there (there's one out here in Beaverton), but it's... changed. It's values are different. It's not the same place I loved to hang out in while in college. It now markets itself to a wealthier clientele, many of whom wouldn't be caught dead in the original hole-in-the-wall location out on 82nd.
And for many people, that sort of change is terrifying.
Such it is with many riders' view of TriMet. Many voices are echoing the same point--that TriMet's values are changing. That it cares more about suburban commuters (and trying to draw them out of their cars), and the "bohemian bourgeois" who inhabit places like the Pearl, than it does about the people who already use the system, who depend on it, and have done so for years. That it focuses too much on "being green", that it forgets that the most important part of being green for a transit agency is getting people to use it in the first place. That the agency is more interested in placemaking than in providing transportation--and that rather than providing service to where people live, it is now trying to get people to live where it can efficiently provide service. That it's captive to developer interests and politicians looking to pad their resumes. These views may well be unfounded or unfair, but they exist nonetheless--and they represent a fundamental challenge to the agency.
Under new management
If there is one bit of good news for TriMet in all of this, it's that the recent departure of Fred Hansen gives the agency an opportunity to reconnect with the ridership from which it has alienated itself. Neil McFarlane, so far, has IMHO done a reasonable job in the 3 1/2 months he's been on the job; his management style strikes me as quite a bit more open-minded than that of Hansen.
But--this is the last restaurant analogy, I promise--simply hanging a sign which says "under new management" isn't good enough. We've all seen such signs hanging on the doors of local greasy spoons, trying to lure former customers back with the promise that "we've changed!" (It's especially amusing to see these signs on chain restaurants). But people don't choose restaurants due to the boss; they choose due to the quality of the food and the service. And if the food is still lousy and the service still slow, new management won't help.
Apologies, again, for the long rambling article. At this time, the floor is open for discussion on how TriMet can improve customer relations, and whether it needs to or not. If you think it's hopeless, say so--and if you think that this whole debate is a tempest in a teapot, say so as well. If you think that MLR ought to be scrapped (quite a few readers here hold that opinion), say that; and if you think that certain patrons of the service are simply whining about changes to their line, say that (but do it politely). But I'm also hoping for some creative ideas, ones that haven't been hashed out in the media and blogopshere already. One other thing: I'd rather not bog this discussion down with more detailed debate on TriMet's finances--while it's an important issue, the existing thread on 26-119 is a good place for that.
October 18, 2010
Things got busy, so it took me until this weekend to download demographic data to go with our Transit Scores for census tracts. Before we go any further, I want to make some caveats VERY clear:
- The demographics are ten years old (2000 census)
- The scale is coarse, we probably ultimately want block group level data
- The large areas outside the service district probably skew the results (another problem that block groups will help with
- I don't at the moment have any way to put margins of error on the correlations
With that out of the way, let's start with the data. Using the very helpful American FactFinder tool. I selected all the census tracts in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, then grabbed one data set for geographic data (land area) and population (including race) and another for median income:
I then matched these to our transit scores by census tract and removed the tracts that were completely outside the service district (and therefore had no scores).
I then did some VERY simple analysis using Excel, specifically the CORREL function and some scatter charts. But I did establish some simple correlation coefficients:
- Transit Score/Density: 0.67 (1.00 would be perfect correlation)
- Transit Score/Percent non-white: 0.40
- Transit Score/Median 1999 Household Income: -0.52
The magnitude of the coefficients represents how well correlated (and correlation DOES NOT imply causation) the two quantities are. The sign indicates whether they are correlated in the same same direction. So the negative coefficient for income indicates that as median income goes up, Transit Score goes down.
The spreadsheet is here, I welcome anyone with more statistics than I have to improve on the analysis or interpretation!
Here are the corresponding scatter charts:
So what does this mean? At this coarse level, this would seem to confirm the reaction of one TriMet planner when briefed about our intended efforts here. I'll paraphrase: "Lower income people use transit more often, and we plan service to meet ridership demand.", essentially expecting that we would see a negative correlation between income and service quality.
Obviously it's also no surprise that density is the mostly strongly correlated factor.
But keep in mind the limitations of our approach here: these numbers don't tell you if buses are passing by riders because they are full, they don't tell you whether there's a shelter at a stop, they don't tell you if there are sidewalks to get to the stop... You get the idea.
And they don't yet tell you if recent service changes have made the correlations weaker or stronger (which I think might ultimately be the greatest utility for this analysis). For that we're going to have to wait until we accumulate some history.
Thoughts about where we go next coming up in a few days (I'm going to be busy at RailVolution this week!).
October 14, 2010
On Tuesday, the Metro council--which earlier in the year finalized the area's selection of urban and rural reserves--had a work session to discuss future expansions to the Urban Growth Boundary. The councilors expressed a need for about 15,000 housing units to meet future housing needs in the region, and one parcel which was discussed in some detail is the 1,000 acre South Hillsboro parcel located directly south of TV Highway and Cornelius Pass Road, and between SW 209th and 229th... here:
No votes were taken, no decisions were made--but a lot of questions came up in the discussion, and I have a few more here.
First, the location. It's probably a reasonable choice, given that it's a greenfield surrounded on 3 sides by existing industrial, commercial, residential, or recreational uses: Intel's Aloha campus is to the northeast; there's an existing retail complex to the northwest, and subdivisions to the west and north. To the southwest is a golf course. While the soil quality and topography is reportedly good for agriculture, it's cut off from other agricultural uses by pre-existing development.
However, not all agreed on its use for residential purposes. Clackamas County commissioner Charlotte Lehan suggested it might be put to better use as an industrial parcel, in order to limit the need to consume prime farmland around Cornelius for industrial purposes. Others questioned whether or not this would cause unacceptable amounts of industrial traffic to clog Hillsboro streets.
The question of residential density came up as well. The City of Hillsboro has planned for an average density of 12 housing units per acre; and city officials balked somewhat at Metro's discussion of a 15 unit/acre density--a figure which would include substantial amounts of multistory apartments as well as some single family homes. The discussion also calls for significant retail and commercial development within the parcel as well, which is good to hear.
For me, though, the biggest and most important question is "when"? It's unclear that the metro area needs additional housing stock at the present time--there is an abundant supply of homes available on the market. Councilor Rex Burkholder noted that the primary issue right now in the housing market is not availability of property, but availability of financing--building new homes won't make loans easier to come by, and may make the problem worse, by putting downward pressure on housing prices (and reducing the equity on existing financing). If these discussions are merely planning for the future--assuming the economy rebounds and there aren't a glut of foreclosures on the market--fine; but I have serious reservations about any residential UGB expansions in the near future.
My other concern--especially for an industrial development--is the effect on the transportation infrastructure. I find it interesting how city officials react with horror at the prospect of a few dozen additional 18-wheelers on the roads per day, but don't seem as concerned with the prospect of 30,000+ additional auto trips per day. TV Highway can't handle this amount of additional traffic in its current configuration, and even often-discussed proposals to widen it to six lanes would simply move the problem into Beaverton--where it becomes much less tractable (widening Canyon Road east of Hocken Street simply ain't going to fly). The #57 serves the property, and MAX is a few miles to the north, but a development of this scale needs to seriously consider transport issues (including a substantial amount of transit) before proceeding.
The annual presentation by Vancouver B.C.'s Gordon Price to the PSU/PBOT Traffic and Transportation class is a must-see. Gordon has new perspectives every year:
What: Gordon Price Presentation
When: Thursday 10/21, 6:40 - 8:40 p.m.
Where: Portland Building, 1120 SW 5th Ave, 2nd Floor Auditorium
Cost: Free and Open to the Public
October 13, 2010
Before we get to the meat of the post, a brief introduction. I've been a long-time commenter and kibitzer here at portlandtransport.com, and Bob and Chris have kindly asked me to become a contributor. I'll also be joining the board of the nonprofit corporation that owns portlandtransport.com. I also operate a couple blogs of my own, most notably the Dead Horse Times, although I must admit I've been out to lunch for most of September. :) I'm a professional SW engineer and amateur transport nerd, and live out in Beaverton (mainly because I work there).
Onto the meat of the post. In this morning's Oregonian, the editorial board came out against Measure 26-119, the TriMet sponsored bond measure which would continue the soon-to-expire Westside MAX bonds, in order to pay for numerous enhancements to the bus system, particularly to help out the disabled. Previously, the Oregonian had written that it would take a wait-and-see attitude on the matter--questioning the use of revenue bonds to buy short-term capital equipment such as busses. While not speaking for the paper, metro columnist Steve Duin had a scathing column of his own last week, suggesting that TriMet can have either this measure or Milwaukie MAX, but not both--and predicting which one the agency will choose.
Some of the claims made in the O's most recent editorial have come under attack--blogger Alex Craghead wrote a blistering defense of TriMet's rail focus, blasting the paper for its position. And some of the claims of the paper seem silly--it seems to act as though the very concept of debt financing is outrageous (as opposed to questioning the specific proposal on the table). And, as Alex also points out, passage of the measure wouldn't raise anyone's taxes, as it continues an existing levy--though on the other side of that coin, defeat of the measure would cause a small tax decrease for metro-area property owners. Craghead also criticizes the apparent "alliance" between libertarian critics of TriMet, many of whom would like to spend as little as possible on public transit, and some of the agency's detractors on the left.
Plaid Panty owner Chris Girard (who appeared at this summer's community alternatives panel) engaged Joe Cortright to produce an analysis of the fiscal risks of the Columbia River Crossing.
It's sobering reading (PDF, 1.9M).
October 12, 2010
Zero Traffic Deaths...
Portland State University Center for Transportation Studies Fall 2010 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Peter Jacobsen, P.E., Public Health Consultant
Topic: Vision Zero: Towards Zero Deaths
When: Friday, October 15, 2010, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
*Speaker sponsored by Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium Visiting Scholar Program
October 11, 2010
The East Burnside/Couch couplet has been in operation (and refinement) for a couple of months now, but the official ribbon cutting will be Tuesday at 9AM.
In terms of real change on the transportation system, I hope the new signaling system for bikes as they cross the freeway entrance at Williams on NE Broadway (installed as part of the Streetcar project) will be a big safety improvement. This is one of the scariest conflict points in the City. The exact start of operation is not determined (weather dependent), but it should be this week.
Patience, there's going to be a little bit of detail here...
We have completed our first full (and raw and tentative) data set for the equity project. We have accumulated transit scores for over 12,000 points in the three-county area.
I decided for the sake of completeness to include all census tracts that include some portion of the TriMet service district. This is includes a tract that has a few bus stops in Estacada and a whole bunch of the Mt. Hood National Forest. There are several of these large, mostly outside, tracts, so in fact about a quarter of the sampled points have a zero transit score.
This should get sorted out when we shift to block group level data.
But we now have a complete map (yes, there is indeed a donut hole in the service district near Happy Valley):
A more useful map is this browsable one (I'm learning about the ways to load KML, but don't understand them all yet!). If you click on a tract, you'll get a bubble with the tract ID and the score. Click on the tract ID and you'll launch a new map with just that tract and our sample points for the tract. You can click on those to get the scores at those points.
So that you can fully look over our shoulder, all the data for this data set (I'm calling it our October 2010 set) can be found here:
In addition to the Census shapefiles we used, you'll also find these items:
- CSV (comma-separated value - easy to open in Excel) file with all the scored points
- CSV with all the tract scores
- The KML (Keyhole Markup Language - used by Google Maps and Google Earth) mapping the tracts, coloring them by their score
Tomorrow In a few days we'll start looking at matching this up with some demographics.
October 10, 2010
Tonight the first 15 minutes of All Things Considered was about our crumbling infrastructure, our unwillingness to pay for fixing/expanding it and the economic absurdity of this choice.
I sort of feel like our society maxed out its credit cards for a week in Cancun, is now back home and hung over and has decided that since we've learned that borrowing is bad for us, we shouldn't apply for student loans and will skip college instead...
Listen to the first two stories...
Sadistic equine necrophilia-free and ready for your dictates.
The original thread remains open (for punishment gluttons everywhere) -- please keep topics already brought up in the original over there.
October 9, 2010
According to the work for our Transit Equity project, SW 10th and Yamhill is the winner with a 93 Transit Score.
I couldn't find any points on the Transit Mall higher than 92. My guess is that the access to the additional destinations reached by Streetcar provides a slight edge.
Of course our process just does sampling. There could be a 94 lurking out there somewhere...
This is just a teaser. You'll have a full report on the status of our efforts on Monday.
October 8, 2010
This summer I enthused about a presentation by Dr. Eric France, a preventative medicine specialist from Kaiser in Denver who was visiting our region to learning about cycling here.
Dr. France is back home and is about to give the presentation as a webinar on Monday from 11am-noon (that's 12-1 Mountain Time). If you didn't catch him in Portland, you shouldn't miss this.
October 7, 2010
I'm serving on a small working group that is trying to develop some high-level ideas for how the City of Portland could encourage more sustainable freight.
It's a little bit of a mind-bender, because all of my urban design sensibilities push for smaller vehicles.
But in fact from a fuel efficiency perspective, there is a very strong inducement toward larger trucks and keeping them full. Fuel per pound of cargo goes down as trucks get bigger (regardless of what vehicle technology improvements you make like electric or biodiesel).
The other half of the question is reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Obviously from this point of view it's better to send out a full truck and let it deliver until it's empty.
The problem is, many customers want their deliveries at the same time (7-10am is typical). This can result in running many partially empty trucks at the same time, because you can only fill the truck with what it can deliver during that window.
Some of the keys to making this more efficient would include:
- Getting customers (with some kind of financial inducement?) to accept night-time deliveries or deliveries over a wider time span during the day
- Getting customers to hold more inventory so they get larger, less frequent deliveries (doesn't work for perishable goods)
It's a very interesting set of tradeoffs.
October 6, 2010
As reported by the Mercury, Sam will apparently settle for a share of savings generated by value engineering.
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.1MB)
Hosts Lindsay and Tori talk with the BTA's new executive director, Rob Sadowsky. Tune-in to hear Rob's vision for improving conditions for bicycling in Oregon and how he likes his new role after a few months on the job.
The first pass of scoring is complete, sort of. The map of all the selected tracts is below, and it's apparent that the strategy of selecting just those tracts that have bus stops is insufficient, there are a number of census tracts inside the TriMet service boundary that have no bus stops. So I need to do a bit more work on that.
But I'm more interested in the fact that the map is pretty "flat". There aren't a lot of variations from tract to tract (there is of course the expected increase in scores as you move toward the center of the region). I'm wondering if a census tract is too large a unit, if it "evens out" differences in service levels across too big a geographic area.
One commenter suggested using census block groups, the next smaller unit (about 3 or 4 per tract). I'm going to look at that because the ACS data will have some information at that level.
So look for another map, hopefully by next week. I'd welcome other thoughts or suggestions. And I'll get a tabular data set of points up once I've filled in the holes in my map.
October 5, 2010
An opening in the group in the Portland Bureau of Transportation that assists and encourages folks to learn about and try new modes of transportation. If this is your dream job, don't delay in submitting an application:
Transportation Demand Management Specialist I (Limited Term) http://www.portlandonline.com/bhr/jobs/index.cfm?&action=DisplayPosting&posting_id=134
From the City of Portland:
Pedestrian Advisory Committee seeks new members
The Portland Bureau of Transportation announced that it is seeking new members for the Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC). The PAC advises the City of Portland - particularly the Bureau of Transportation - on matters that encourage and enhance walking as a means of transportation, recreation, wellness and environmental enhancement. The PAC is a 9- to 13-person committee that represents a cross-section of Portlanders, including walking and mobility advocates, neighborhood activists, environmental design professionals and citizens-at-large.
The PAC meets the third Tuesday evening each month. Members are appointed to a 4-year term. PAC member activities include, but are not limited to, reviewing and making recommendations on:
* planning documents affecting pedestrians
* pedestrian projects
* projects with pedestrian facilities
* funding priorities for pedestrian-related projects
* activities of other jurisdictions that affect pedestrians in Portland
* maintaining and periodically updating the Portland Pedestrian Design Guide and Pedestrian Master Plan
Qualified individuals must:
* be a resident of or own a business in the City of Portland
* have an interest in promoting the use of walking for transportation and recreation
* commit to attend monthly meetings and participate in the work of the committee
The application is due by Monday, November 15. Please visit this link for the application or see attached: www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=34964&a=212891
Send completed applications to:
1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Room 800
Portland, OR 97204
503-823-6177 fax: 503-823-7609
More information here: www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=34964
October 4, 2010
I am seriously bummed that I have a conflict. I will catch the video for sure:
Portland State University Center for Transportation Studies Fall 2010 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Nathan McNeil, MURP graduate and Research Associate in the Center for Transportation Studies, Portland State University
Topic: Bikeability and the Twenty-Minute Neighborhood: Exploring How Infrastructure and Destinations Influence Bicycle Accessibility
When: Friday, October 8, 2010, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
October 3, 2010
Have at it!
Rob Sadowski, the new executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, is interviewed.
11AM-Noon, Wednesday, October 6th
KBOO FM 90.7
Streamed live at KBOO.fm
Podcast here later that day
October 1, 2010
Local economist Joe Cortright is all over the transportation blogosphere this week. He just produced a report for CEOs for Cities entitled "Driven Apart" that takes apart the Travel Time Index, the most widely published measure of congestion in major U.S. cities.
Cortright systematically shows how the index overestimates congestion in cities with compact land use patterns like Portland. Streetsblog has a full write-up, but among Joe's points, the index:
- overestimates free-flowing freeway volumes
- fails to account for land use patterns with shorter commute distances
- mis-estimates fuel consumption
I'm glad Joe's on our side.