January 31, 2011
Here is your open thread for February, 2011. Initial preparatory work on the new bridge for MLR gets underway on Wednesday, resulting in a temporary detour for Esplanade users. Legend has it, if the groundhog sees his shadow, we'll have six more lines of light rail built in the city.
And the city of Beaverton is promoting a draft of its proposed civic plan, designed to tame (among other things) the infamous sprawlevard that is Canyon Road. Not muich for transit in the plan, other than improved pedestrian access to the Beaverton TC and Beaverton Central MAX stations, but lots of goodies for bicyclists and walkers in the plan. (I, for one, was kinda of hoping for at least a few exclusive bus lanes in the vicinity of Beaverton TC).
With that, the open thread is now..... open.
The Mayor's office has been releasing statistics in advance of the annual Safety Summit.
Here's one that we should be proud of!
But let's not take our eye off the ball. Last year had a surge in pedestrian deaths. We still have to make the system a lot safer.
January 27, 2011
One of the criticisms of Walkscore has been that it used "as-the-crow-flies" distance calculations to amenities, so addresses got credit for access to amenities that might not actually be accessible by foot (on the other side of a freeway for example).
Well, that's changing. There's now a beta of a version that calculates actual walking routes to destinations. Very cool to see the results plotted out.
Happy to see my house still scores a 96 :-)
January 26, 2011
I heard third hand today that Metro and TriMet made a pitch to the Oregon Transportation Commission today to make a multi-year commitment of flexible funds (Federal I assume) to help close the funding gap on the Portland-to-Milwaukie LRT project.
Anyone have first hand details?
January 25, 2011
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Colin Maher, TriMet
Topic: Beyond the Bike Hook: Linking Bicycles and Transit
Abstract: While TriMet and other transit agencies serve many commuters by having racks for bikes on trains and buses, large bike parking facilities in global capitals of urban bicycling provide the key link between bikes and transit. Following the lead of European and Asian cities, the Portland region is starting to develop a network of bike-transit facilities; TriMet is piloting smart bike parking technology in the form of electronic bike lockers and "Bike & Rides". This presentation discusses the background and planning for bike-transit integration in the region and shares insights into bike-transit travel patterns, habits, and market segmentation gained from recent rider surveys.
When: Friday, January 28, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
January 24, 2011
Chris Smith will present on his work developing real-time bus arrival
displays. You can find out more about Chris's background on his
January 21, 2011
As part of the "CC2035" component of the Portland Plan, I'll be participating (wearing my Planning and Sustainability Commission hat) in a symposium on mobility in the Central Central.
Come out and join the fun. The BTA blog has all the details.
January 20, 2011
BikePortland has a report on efforts by the City of Portland to gain local control over setting speed limits on some local streets.
This is one of the most important things we can do for safety. I'm wishing this effort much success.
That seems to be the message from co-Speaker Bruce Hanna as reported in the Trib:
Don't count on getting state matching money this legislative session to build a new bridge to Vancouver, two lawmakers told Portland business leaders Wednesday.
January 19, 2011
Incoming Metro president Tom Hughes posts his inaugural address.
January 18, 2011
I can't really quite tell what the subject means, but it sounds interesting:
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Jenny Liu, Economics, Portland State University
Topic: Household Vehicle Choice from an Adoption Perspective
When: Friday, January 21, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
January 17, 2011
I am mortified. In the comments, Michael has identified a methodological error in the way I analyzed proximity to a regional center (downtown is after all, also a regional center). But in the process of re-computing those numbers, I discovered a computation error in my calculations for the system center, so both new correlation coefficients were incorrect, and my conclusion about poly-centrism unsupported...
Mea culpa... corrections below.
As promised, I'm continuing to add data to our transit equity data set. The latest addition is distance based - how far are you from a center.
The concept behind the Region 2040 plan is that we are going to become a poly-centric region. Portland's central city will remain the center of the region, but we then also have 7 regional centers and a number of town centers. Housing, employment and services should cluster around each of these centers, reducing the need to travel long distances on a daily basis.
So today's question is how strong is the effect of these centers on transit service? To figure this out, I calculated two distances for each block group:
1) The center of the block group to the 'transit system center' (I used SW 5th and Yamhill where all four LRT lines meet as my 'system center').
2) The center of the block group to the nearest regional center (I used the transit center in each regional center as that point, pulled from a TriMet data set on the CivicApps site).
Those columns have been added to our correlation data set spreadsheet.
The correlation results (negative because service decreases as you get further from a center):
- Distance to system center:
- Distance to nearest regional center:
By comparison, our correlation coefficient for density is 0.53, so distance from the system center is even more predictive of service level than density (although they certainly vary together to a strong degree - the correlation coefficient between density and distance from the center is 0.53).
The more significant finding is that the correlation for distance to a regional center is weak, our transit system is NOT very poly-centric yet. That shouldn't surprise anyone, but it's interesting to put a number on it. Unsupported by the revised data... In fact, the correlation with distance to a regional center rivals density as a reasonably strong correlation.
January 16, 2011
Portland is often feted as a successful example of a quality transit system. And for a mid-sized North American city, such praise is well deserved--even if that qualifier is tantamount to grading on the curve. But many transit advocates from the "real" transit cities are fond of pointing out that our little burg is nothing compared to the large cities of the world--or, perhaps more importantly, to midsize of cities of similar size in Europe. (Or even in Canada--the city of Calgary, which has only slightly more than half the population of metro Portland boasts a light rail system with over twice the ridership. And greater Vancouver BC, slightly larger than the Portland/Couv metropolitan area, blows Portland away in transit metrics).
And such criticisms are, in many ways, entirely correct. Outside the "core" (which I define here as the West Hills to I-205, and Columbia Boulevard to Johnson Creek), and a few dedicated corridors in the suburbs (such as the Baseline/185th/Cornell corridor in Washington County), the metro area consists mainly of auto-centric suburban sprawl--not the sort of land use which is conducive to quality transit. By numerous metrics (such as cost/passenger and passengers/route-km), Portland's transit is less effective than many of its international peers. The major contributing factor to this is land use, in particular, a lack of density--any efficiency parameter that has distance in the denominator is going to suffer if a longer route is needed to serve a critical mass of customers--as lower density means a lower number of passengers in a given route or stop's catchment area.
One on hand, it can be argued that comparing Portland to, say, New York (or even a small European city such as Strasbourg, France) is unfair and pointless. Transit is not fungible; we can't solve mobility problems in Portland by building transit in Manhattan--we need to serve the city in which we live. But if you want transit (and other forms of urban infrastructure such as utilities) which are really cost-effective, the density question is one of fundamental importance. And while we can't serve the Portland area by building transit elsewhere, we can serve it better by encouraging higher density and more efficient forms of land use.
A common criticism of Portland's transit plans is that we don't currently have the necessary density to support a Really Good System, especially in corridors not already established--so why bother? An oft-proposed alternative is to focus on roads for the masses--build more (and wider) freeways instead for the bulk of suburban commuters to use, and keep just enough bus service so those who can't drive can still get around; and to concentrate transit where it already makes sense, and generally, already exists in a reasonable form. To limit infrastructure enhancements to support transit to the core city, and provide ample park-and-rides to make crossing between "autopia" and "transitworld" less painful.
The issues with this approach (and the motivating factors of this blog) are as follows.
- When engaging in planning, especially of long-term infrastructure, it's wise to plan for what conditions are expected to be over time, not just what they are today. Building out MAX throughout the region might not be a wise investment were the energy, pollution, and storage problems associated with automobiles to suddenly go away, but if one predicts a world with increasingly expensive gasoline and increased concerns about pollution, then it makes perfect sense.
- The problem with a Portland-centric approach is that TriMet is a regionally-funded and chartered agency; for TriMet to only focus on Portland is not politically viable.
- "Social service" transit is extremely inefficient, especially if it tries to be comprehensive--and services mainly used by the poor are increasingly viewed as a form of welfare--which can result a loss of political support and funding for the service, resulting in it becoming even more a service-of-last-resort, resulting in a greater stigma and even more withdrawal of public support, ad infinitum.
However, if we assume that Peak Oil is coming or already here, and given that we're increasingly turning to more expensive forms of oil production such as shale oil extraction and deepwater drilling, it's a good bet to make--then driving is going to get more expensive. Higher fuel costs will make comprehensive transit will become more and more of a necessity. (The tipping point currently seems to be somewhere between $3 and $4 a gallon; last I looked regular gas was $3.199 per gallon at a random gas station in Beaverton). Increasing service to suburbia will need to be part of equation. And to make the needed transit cost-effective, it helps to increase density. As venture capitalist Peter Christensen wrote:
Basically, any city that's building a light rail or subway line and not dramatically increasing the zoning around it is throwing money away. Without the proper land use, there's not enough population to drive demand, without demand there's not enough incentive to provide good levels of service, and without good levels of service people will find it faster to drive.
In addition to increasing transit service (and connections for human-powered mobility as well), it also helps to obviate the need for longer trips in order to reduce total person-miles traveled. One way to do this is to encourage more mixed-use development. Many suburban neighborhoods are residential-only; buying a gallon of milk requires getting in the car (though biking will work for the sufficiently motivated). In theory, usage patterns and density are orthogonal; in practice, though, higher density areas tend to segregate different uses less.
But increasing density, and changing established usage patterns, are hard--especially in a democratic society, where the government cannot simply order this outcome by fiat. (The fact that we live in a democratic society is something I regard as an unqualified good thing, BTW...) One of the main reasons that it's hard is because often times, the people who live in established lower density areas simply happen to like it that way. Not all do--many people who aren't wealthy live where they can afford to, not where they would necessarily like to, and it's been often argued that established land-use regulations have produced a surplus of sprawl. But many suburban dwellers dislike what they perceive as negative externalities (some of which stand up to scrutiny and some of which don't) of high-density living, and thus choose to live where they can avoid these costs (not all of which are financial).
A few other points ought to be made up front:
- Experience teaches that high density requires that at least one of the things be true: Geographic limitations, strong land use controls, or high land prices. If land on the perimeter of a region is both cheap and available, then it's more rational (from a short-term economic perspective) to consume it for development, rather than conserve it.
- Any attempt at growing density is almost assuredly fruitless without a growing population. The reason for this is that while populations grow and shrink over time, as people move in, move out, are born, and die; the urban footprint of an area generally only trends in one direction--it continues to grow. Large-scale abandonment of urban areas generally only occurs due to catastrophic events. As a result, if we assume that the denominator of the density fraction never shrinks, it follows that the numerator must increase for the ratio to rise.
- A region that has a shrinking population (current examples in the US include Buffalo and Detroit) has far more serious problems to consider; for much of the same reason.
Portland's population trend remains upwards, however, even if there is evidence that the growth rate is slowing down. With that in mind, here are the different ways to accommodate the housing needs of a rising population without paving over farmland and expanding the urban footprint.
The really easy way: reducing vacancy
Much of this post discusses ways of increasing the supply of housing stock within a region, without expanding its perimeter. But before we go there, it's worth stating the obvious: Building more housing is generally not a wise idea from a density-improving point of view, if there is a significant amount of existing vacant housing. Lots of vacancies may indicate a downward population trend, which is frequently a Bad Thing. It may also indicate one of several other things which are easier to deal with.
- Housing mismatched to the demographics of a region--such as lots of larger homes in an area dominated with retired couples; or a surplus of houses for sale when the market is demanding rentals.
- An oversupply due to a recent housing bubble. Characteristics of this include sellers frequently demanding more than buyers are willing to pay (often to a desire to minimize losses or to avoid going underwater on a mortgage), lots of inventory which is bank-owned or short sale, and tight credit. This all should sound familiar to any of you who've checked out the real estate market in Portland, recently.
- The housing stock is excessively dilapidated or otherwise viewed as unsuitable
- The housing stock is concentrated in areas considered undesirable or blighted. (If the entire area is considered undesirable, this is a serious problem; the existence of blighted areas within a larger community, far less so.
The large number of vacancies in Portland at the present time seems to be tied to the bursting of the housing bubble. Prior to the bubble bursting, Portland was definitely a sellers' market; and in such conditions, adding new housing stock made more sense. With that in mind, we now turn to ways to increase the supply of housing stock while maintaining the perimeter; focusing on particular on ways to do so that optimized land use for transit.
The Pearl District viewed from the US Bancorp Tower. Image courtesy Wikipedia
One of the easiest ways to increase density--and the one which produces much lower levels of resistance from existing residents (because there aren't any), is to build new high-density (and mixed use) developments on greenfields or brownfields. Such things are commonly called "transit oriented development", especially when done in cooperation with a transit agency or project, or which boast efficient transit access as a feature. Such developments avoid the NIMBY problem almost completely, as the land is generally unoccupied beforehand. (Here, I'm assuming that large tracts are developed, not the occasional vacant lot; for the latter, see the next section).
The problems with TOD and other forms of greenfield/brownfield development are as follows:
- When done in cooperation with a transit agency (and especially if developer-financed funding schemes are employed), such developments raise issues of excessive entanglement between the transit agency and the developer(s); and in some cases lead to charges of corruption or of "developer-oriented transit" (Portland Streetcar actually uses the term "development-oriented transit" in one of their online brochures).
- When new development is done in conjunction with new infrastructure, it raises the question as to whether the agency is neglecting existing riders and communities in favor of new neighborhoods, especially if the development isn't on the way to somewhere else where large numbers of people already work or live.
- New developments require the availability of greenfields or brownfields to develop on. Greenfield development on the periphery of a region is generally available, but using such land increases the overall urban footprint--which is what we call "sprawl". Greenfields in the interior of a region are often hard to find. Brownfields are often more readily available, but brownfield development is expensive, as the prior use has to be cleaned up and removed. Conversion of land from industrial or commercial use to residential use also raises economic questions--a city needs someindustry to survive, after all.
- Some transit projects, particularly those intended as "trunk" routes or located adjacent to freeways, aren't as conducive to TOD. This is a common criticism of both the Green Line along I-205, and MLR along OR 99E--the highway (and the UPRR tracks in the case of Milwaukie MAX) make redevelopment along the line more difficult, and/or potential developments less attractive.
- Some transit projects which don't suffer from being adjacent to highways, still haven't seen as much redevelopment as might be ideal. There have been pockets of redevelopment along the Blue Line in Rockwood and Beaverton, but many tracts remain unchanged, and there are a few noted failures such as The Round.
Infill development in the UK. Image copyright Nigel Chadwick, courtesy Wikipedia
Many critics of opening up new tracts of land for residential development, whether green/brownfields internal to a region, or new tracts of land on the perimeter, point out the obvious: There's room to grow within the existing urban footprint. Most neighborhoods have vacant lots (parcels zoned for residential use, but without any building), oversized lots which could be subdivided, and other properties which could be used to add housing units. In addition, there's always the potential for redevlopment--removing existing housing stock to replace it with new, higher-density housing stock. Here's where things really start getting controversial.
Many people like living in large lots. My personal opinion is that if you have one, more power to you--I don't support coercive land-use policies of the sort that force people to subdivide, or the condemnation of housing stock to build other housing stock. (More on this topic below). On the other hand, many people who like living in large lots (and thus who do so) also like to insist that their neighbors should live in large lots as well--and therein lies the rub. There are several different ways that such preferences get enforced; the two most common in the US being covenants and zoning. While some places (famously Texas) lack zoning laws and land-use policy is done entirely through covenants, zoning is the most common way communities determine land-use policies.
Zoning has many purposes, for better or worse. Among the purposes of various zoning designations--explicitly stated or otherwise--include segregation of incompatible uses (nobody wants a hog farm or oil refinery next door); preservation of neighborhood "character", preventing the overuse of infrastructure such as roads or sewerage, exclusion of poverty, and safety. Among the more controversial types of zoning, especially in the land-use field, are those which impose density maximums not justified by safety or infrastructure concerns. Many people view upzoning (increasing the maximum permitted density in an area) as an infringement on their rights, particularly if doing so adversely affects property values or requires new infrastructure be constructed (such as sewer conversions). A good way of mitigating some of these concerns is ensuring that developers who increase the need for infrastructure in a community bear the brunt of the costs (the same applies to new development); rather than externalizing the cost.
Opposition to upzoning can be particularly fierce when multifamily housing, particularly rental apartments, become part of the mix. (Similar issues apply to developments such as trailer parks). Many homeowners associate such housing with poverty, and the numerous social pathologies that poverty can bring, and are terrified by the prospect of a "project" moving in next door. (Country/western signer Tom T. Hall once penned a song about the perceived evils of upzoning, famously complaining that "they put in a trailer park before I could move"). Of course, adding in apartments is as an easy way to increase density of an existing community, and inexpensive to boot.
Infill has one other difficulty: Developers don't like it as much. While homebuilders are generally happy for any opportunity to make money, the biggest moneymaking opportunities are found in subdivision development: when an entire parcel is subdivided, built up, and marketed as part of a development project. This gives the developer economies of scale that simply aren't present with one-off construction, and in new developments, the developer frequently gets to set the rules, rather than having to abide by existing covenants and regulations. Infill which involves tearing down existing structures (particularly ones which still have value) is even more expensive--buying a perfectly good building only to bulldoze it costs money--all else being equal, developers would rather buy vacant lots.
The poverty issue is a tough one. The social pathologies associated with it (crime, addition, dysfunctional family arrangements) are real, and can impose negative externalities on the surrounding community. However, the negative externalities of poverty are exacerbated when the poor are herded into ghettos or slums, rather than distributed throughout the larger population--this is one reason that subsidized housing sprinkled through "nice" neighborhoods is actually an effective measure, as the problems don't compound anywhere near as much when the poor aren't concentrated. On the other hand, many view the segregation and concentration of the poor into slums to be a good thing--as it keeps the pathologies and negative externalities away from their own homes and families; this attitude seems to be frequently common among those who view the poor as the architects of their own misery, and thus not a problem which society at large has a moral obligation to deal with. Physical isolation of the poor also permits political arrangements by which impoverished neighborhoods aren't subsidized by weathier neighboring communities--a longstanding cause of capital flight to the suburbs in this country is the ability of separate municipalities to keep their tax dollars to themselves. Portland is fortunate, to be sure, that it doesn't have any truly awful slums--there is nothing in our city that remotely compares to places like Camden or East St. Louis.Downtown Portland, middle 20th century. Harbor Drive occupies west bank of the Willamette River, I-5 and I-84 are under construction on east bank in background, and many blocks of South Portland have been cleared for redevelopment. Click on picture for larger image. (Photo courtesy of Portland Development Commission)
And now we get to the really controversial part--forced redevelopment. This refers to various schemes where the the occupant of a property (or a larger tract) is forced out, the properties are redeveloped, and then made available for re-occupation in a new form. Occupants can include both owners (who are forced out by eminent domain) and renters (who are evicted from a property, either as a result of a condemnation or a voluntary decision to sell by the landlord). Renters frequently suffering particularly adverse effects--their only reward is frequently higher rents, if they come back at all; unlike owners, they don't enjoy any of the windfalls of redevelopment such as increased property values or condemnation awards.
Often times, though not always, forced redevelopment schemes are done under the aegis of urban renewal. Many African-American (in particular) communities around the country suffered the bulldozer as part of grand schemes to clean up "blighted" areas--in some cases, the targeting of black neighborhoods was intentional. The history of urban renewal in Portland is littered with examples of abuse and error--schemes which seemed like good ideas to the powerbrokers that planned them, but today are regarded with regret. Much of Portland's Albina neighborhood was destroyed to make room for the Memorial Coliseum, Emanuel Hospital, and the Minnesota Street Freeway (now Interstate 5); likewise the South Portland neighborhood was ripped apart to make way for highways and the high-rise developments to the east of Portland State University. Lest anyone think that this is a phenomenon of the past, consider the current brouhaha around the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, a development which included a controversial Supreme Court case, where the Court refused to consider a lower court's ruling upholding the power of the government to exercise eminent domain on behalf of a private developer.
But government powers like eminent domain and urban renewal are not necessary for disruptive redevelopment. Many powerbrokers in Beaverton are promoting the planned Murray Village development, a mixed-use development set to break ground next spring near the corner of Murray and Jenkins, across the street from both Nike and Tektronix/Maxim. This project has been lauded as an example of redevelopment that does not depend on urban renewal, and has even been praised by the proponents of the anti-urban-renewal petition drive in Clackamas County. What many who promote this project gloss over is that several years ago, there was an active community on the grounds (a trailer park), whose residents were kicked out several years ago when the landlord decided upscale real estate was a better market to be in. (And I'm quite certain that both the city and county were more than happy to see the trailer park closed down and the poor residents therein dispersed). As a result, the northeast corner of Murray and Jenkins has been vacant for over three years now.
A major difficulty for large redevelopment projects is that they frequently require large tracts of land; which often must be aggregated from separate lots owned by separate individuals--many of whom may not be interested in the project. Thus getting anything done often requires some sort of coercive method (eminent domain, or mass evictions); with the result that the beneficiaries (and residents) of the new development are seldom the old residents. (And even when people aren't kicked out, redevelopment often leads to gentrification--residents can no longer afford rents and taxes, and are force to move anyway). Such wholesale disruptions of neighborhoods, for whatever reason, frequently damage communities far beyond the properties directly affected.
Regardless of the merits of an urban renewal project, and regardless of the demands and goals of regional planning bodies such as Metro, there is a dirty little secret, however: These sorts of redevelopment simply don't happen without the cooperation of municipal government--either county commissioners for unincorporated areas, or City Hall for cities. Metro can prevent a city from expanding beyond an already established urban growth boundary, but it cannot force a city to upzone. A decade ago, many thought Damascus would be the next community to urbanize in the Portland area, and many current infrastructure plans assume a significant increase in the area's population. But Damascus incorporated, taking control of land use planning from the county board of commissioners, putting the brakes on such plans. Damascus may still densify, but it will be on terms much more favorable to exisitng residents. Following the example of Damascus, the communities of Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge, also considered for major changes by Clackamas County government, are also considering incorporation.Abandoned neighborhood in Detroit, MI; so-called "urban prairie". Image copyright JT Michcock, courtesy Wikipedia
Earlier, it was noted that the urban footprint of a city grows monotonically, barring catastrophe. "Catastrophe" can take many forms, including natural disasters which destroy cities or neighborhoods; but it can also take the form of economic disasters. The West is littered with numerous examples of "ghost towns"--settlements which were abandoned when they lost their economic vitality; on which stand the ruins of what used to be a thriving community. In many cities and towns, one can find plenty of examples of neighborhoods which are full of boarded-up buildings, neglect, and disrepair--in some cases, inhabited by the poor and desperate, in other cases not inhabited at all.
And then there's Detroit. The Motor City, a place which once was one of America's economic and cultural crown jewels, has been buffeted by widespread political corruption (a former mayor was sent to jail last year), devastation of the US automobile industry, decades of "white flight" to the suburbs, and the foolish decision to draft Joey Harrington (seeing if anyone's still paying attention--both Bob and I went to Oregon State :). As a result of this, Detroit's population has been shrinking, and those that are left are increasingly those who cannot afford to get out. At a time when demand for urban services (the cost of which are highly dependent on land area) is steady, and pension costs are escalating, the city's tax base has been plummeting.
As a result, the city is considering taking the unprecedented step of abandoning some of its neighborhoods: Enticing residents to move out (and relocate closer to the city center), and stopping all urban services to the abandoned neighborhoods. Essentially, the city is trying to shrink in a controlled fashion; to become more smaller and compact--to become more dense--as a smaller urban footprint will be easier for the city to serve on a limited budget.
Unfortunately, the abandoned properties don't magically revert back to productive agricultural land. At least not overnight. Many such properties will house vagrants and squatters, and a few leftover residents who simply can't afford to move, and will for a long time. Many of the properties being abandoned are industrial sites; full of the waste products of heavy industry. But some of them are slowly being reclaimed by nature, as buildings are overgrown and unmaintained pavement is undermined and cracked by new plant growth and washed away by the wind and weather. The phenomenon known as "urban prairie" has arisen in other blighted areas where people gave up and left, and now it's happening on a large scale in the Motor City.
There's no evidence at this point, of course, that any such fate awaits Portland. The metro area has experienced economic stagnation, but the main industries here in the area are not in the same sorry shape as the domestic auto industry. (Indeed, the state of Oregon has managed to withstand an economic catastrophe similar in scope to that which bedevils Detroit; namely the demise of the timber industry in the 1980s). Our politics aren't anywhere near as corrupt, and the urban growth boundary, in addition to other beneficial effects, limits the ability of capital to flee the city for the suburbs, leaving behind the poor to fend for themselves.
Some final thoughts
This article is a lot longer than I initially planned it to be; those who are still reading this far should give themselves a pat on the back. :) But transit and land use planning go hand-in-hand, and in many cases, the transit part is the easy part of the equation. If newcomers come to the city, it's cheaper (in the long run) to find places for them to live within the existing urbanized areas, rather than building new homes on the perimeter. But in the short run, the reverse is often true--and many people jealously guard the existing conditions of where they live; it's home, after all. Which makes accommodating new arrivals in a way which we won't regret in a future world where gas costs $8 a gallon, a hard problem to solve.
Preparing for that day, with appropriate infrastructure and land use for a world without cheap gas, is difficult and expensive.
But failing to do so, will be worse.
January 13, 2011
Many of you read the excellent transit blog Human Transit, hosted by Australia-based transit planner (and native Portlander) Jarrett Walker. If you don't read it, I encourage all of you to check it out--it's a very well-written blog, written from the perspective of a professional in the field, and one that attracts knowledgeable commenters from all over the world.
This past week, Human Transit has been covering the severe flooding in Australia, in particular the impact in Brisbane. Today's post, written as the floodwaters start to recede, looks at the damage to the city's transit system. While the busses and trains are back in service (and the tunnels under the Brisbane River appear to have survived the flood), the city's extensive ferry system (a series of ferries crossing the river) has been severely damaged. While the boats were moved out to sea prior to the floodwaters arriving and thus are unharmed; the riverside terminals were all destroyed; authorities suspect that it will be weeks or months before the system is back online.
In his post, Jarrett noted many similarities between Brisbane and Portland--both are similar-sized cities bisected by a major waterway. But one difference, which I noted at Jarrett's blog--is that Portland has utterly no river transport, whereas as riverboats are a key part of urban transit in the capital of Queensland.
The lack of river transport in Portland
Many boats ply the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, which are navigable throughout the region (though many larger craft have issues going south of Ross Island). Yet other than dinner cruises like the Portland Spirit, none of them offer passenger service--and the cruises generally only provide round trips up and down the river. The closest thing to river transit in the region is the Canby Ferry, a low-capacity cable ferry which hauls a cars across the river south of Stafford. There are many historic ferries--Stark Street, Boones, Taylors, Scholls, which once served the region. All of them suffered the same fate: construction of a bridge which made them obsolete. Many of these long-vanished ferries still have streets named after them; but that's one of the few signs of what once was.
The lack of river transit is not for a lack of trying, however. The City of Portland and Metro have both studied the issue (the former study as part of the River Renaissance project, the latter as part of the South Corridor project), and the operators of the Portland Spirit and several other riverboat cruises have also promoted the issue. Both Metro and the city came up with the same conclusion, however--it's not cost effective. The city presently considers river transit a low priority compared to other potential improvements.
Why is Brisbane different?
What, then, is the difference? One thing that both cities have in common is a heavy concentration of bridges in the downtown area, and few other crossings besides, either upstream or downstream. Some differences might include geography (the Willamette lies in a narrow gorge between the West Hills on one side, and various other landforms such as the Oatfield Ridge on the other; and on the resulting land-use patterns--much of the uses along the river are either industrial, or high-end residential. The communities along the river outside of downtown (St. Johns, Milwaukie, Lake Oswego, Gladstone, West Linn, and Oregon City) provide surprisingly little access to it--many of the populated areas are located on bluffs at some distance from the shore, rather than right on the river. Concerns about flooding (ironically) may play a part in this--one historic settlement that was built along the river was Linn City, which only lasted for two decades before being destroyed by flood. (The modern city of West Linn lies west of historic Linn City, up the hill and out of the river's reach). Portland experienced a 100-year flood back in 1996, and while it did a great deal of damage, the severity of the catastrophe was nothing compared to what Brisbane (and many other places in Australia) have faced this week.
Greater Brisbane simply has more people living in proximity to the river.
But there are a few other key differences as well. Look at the following map of Brisbane's transit system (shamelessly cribbed from Jarrett, who in turn swiped it from the local transit authority--click on the picture to make it bigger).
A few things jump out. There are two lines running "vertically" along the river--a downtown ferry that snakes through the city center, a distance of about 4km (2.5 miles) between its endpoints, and a longer line (the "CityCat") that runs about 16km (10 miles), and several "horizontal" routes which provide crossings of the river--connecting two ports on the opposite shore. The ferries used are high-speed (25 knots) catamarans.
The services considered by the Portland study--a line running from Oregon City to Portland, and a "circulator" connecting various destinations in downtown Portland (service to St. Johns and Vancouver was eliminated as impractical), are all "vertical" services, essentially. Performance was adequate--a line running from Oregon City to Salmon Street, stopping in Milwaukie, would take about 48 minutes for the trip; similar to the parallel bus routes. However, cost was a significant issue.
My suspicion, though, is that Portland-focused service is the wrong service to provide.
When do ferries work best?
Ferries work best, when they can outperform overland routes (including bridge crossing). The best chance of this occurs when a ferry crosses a waterway a short distance, in a location where there is no bridge nearby. Many of the Brisbane routes meet this criteria; as do other ferry services closer to home (such as the SeaBus in Vancouver, BC; and the Washington State Ferries connecting Seattle with Vashon Island and the Olympic Peninsula). Ferry services which run lengthwise along a river generally get outperformed by land-based transportation. And the routes which were considered by the City of Portland either are "vertical" services, for which competing local bus service offers similar performance while serving more useful destinations, or the downtown circulator--which has tons of competition from the city's plethora of bridges and excellent downtown transit.
What of horizontal routes that don't have competition from bridges (or at least bridges useful for a given mode?)
There are several places for that which come to mind.
- Between Milwaukie and Lake Oswego. Ignoring the UPRR rail bridge, the nearest river crossings are the Sellwood Bridge to the north, and the Abernathy (I-205) Bridge to the south. A Lake Oswego/Oak Grove connection might work as well. A good question exists as to whether or not there would be sufficient usage to make this worthwhile, obviously, but I'll get to that.Depending on what happens with the CRC; between Hayden Island and Vancouver. Obviously, there is an existing bridge here (the Interstate Bridge), but this bridge is frequently congested--and more importantly, is nearly useless for pedestrians and bikes. (There is a sidewalk, but it's reported to be a terrifying experience). If the Yellow Line were extended across the south channel to Hayden Island, a ferry connection could take passengers across the rest of the river into downtown Vancouver. Were the CRC built, a ferry in this location would no longer be viable, but as an alternative, there might be potential.
- Washougal to Fairview. The closest drive is west to I-205, across the Glenn Jackson Bridge, and back east. This is probably the least likely idea discussed here, given the small sizes of the communities involved, but there it is.
A good objection to all of these proposed routes is a lack of "critical mass" involved. The City of Portland plan attempts to build a more comprehensive system, necessary for increased ridership. But what if the routes, rather than being viewed as shore-to-shore connections, were built to bridge (heh) the gaps in the existing transit systems? I've assumed that transit service would be provided to the terminals; but what if it were taken a step further? What if ferry service and connecting bus/MAX service were integrated together? What if riders could travel from Tigard to Lake Oswego, transfer to a waiting ferry, cross to Milwaukie and then transfer again to a waiting bus, all on the same ticket? (And what if the service was presented as a contiguous line, that just happens to have a ferry section in the middle?) Could such a thing work?
Offhand, I don't know. It may well be that the City and surrounding areas simply lacks the needed critical mass of people along the rivers to make any such projects worthwhile; and it may be that crosstown bus riders might object to a ferry hop (and the need for essentially two transfers), even if the services were timed so that there was no waiting.
But still--as the waters recede in Brisbane, and the city prepares to rebuild its waterborne transit system, it's useful to explore the possibilities of transit on the river here in Portland. There are significant gaps in the region's bridge network, and in some cases, boats might be a good way to fill them.
January 12, 2011
An exciting development for those of us who occupy the intersection between open government technology and transportation: OpenPlans, the folks who bring you Streetsblog and a variety of open source projects (including a trip planner they are building with a set of partners that includes TriMet) are convening two TransportationCamp events in New York City and San Francisco in March:TransportationCamp is an unconference about transportation and technology.
Register now for TranspoCamp East (3/5-6 in NYC) and TranspoCamp West (3/19-20 in SF).
I plan to attend the SF event to talk about our work on measuring transit equity and creating an ecosystem for low-cost transit appliances.
I hope to see you there!
January 11, 2011
The hint of a Costco in Rose Quarter had alternative transportation activists up in arms last week. Perhaps the sentiment was best expressed by this tweet:Or, as my husband put it this morning, "once you've bought a gallon jar of mayonnaise, you don't walk it home." [from @jessicaroberts]
I honestly don't know if this proposal is serious or even viable on a number of fronts, and since it could conceivably result in a zoning question coming before the Planning and Sustainability Commission I serve on, it would not be appropriate for me to render a judgment. But it once again calls the question of big box retail in the central city, and I think that merits some reflection.
I'm going to start by relating a story. A few years ago I replaced a vintage 1970's light fixture in my upstairs hallway. Being energy conscious I installed a fluorescent light. On the evening of December 30th, it went dark.
So on New Year's Eve day, I opened it up, removed the rather uniquely shaped bulb and trooped down to the local hardware store, which did not stock that bulb. I'm fortunate that my neighborhood also sports a specialty lighting supplier (Globe Lighting) and I headed down there to find that they had closed 10 minutes earlier for the holiday.
Since the fixture lights the stairway, it was a safety issue to get it working again, so on New Year's Day I made a purpose-specific auto trip to Home Depot, only to find that they did not stock it either.
On Monday (after having strung a utility light in my hallway) I walked back to Globe Lighting. They did not have the bulb either, but referred me to sunlan Lighting, a wonderful shop on N. Mississippi that appears to have every lightbulb known to man, and a resource I won't forget! I purchased two bulbs (so I would have one on hand the next time it burned out).
For the record, my trip to Mississippi was a transit trip-chain that included a visit to Kaiser on Interstate for a blood test.
As I was buying the bulbs, the proprietor suggested "keep the packaging in case it's the ballast, not the bulb." This was prophetic, and today I took another purpose-specific auto trip to Home Depot to buy another fixture (which will use CFL bulbs that I can purchase at my local grocery store).
So what's the lesson here? Resolving this took six trips, four of which were accomplished or could have been accomplished by transit, walking or biking. But despite my preference for local shopping there were two auto trips to a big box store. Why? One was the only opportunity on a holiday, the other was for selection (my local hardware store had maybe 3 fixtures, Home Depot had 20+ in the category I was looking at). So my VMT and carbon emissions would clearly have been reduced if there were a Home Depot in the central city. And all the items I was considering purchasing could have been transported via a bike, walking or transit trip.
So is big box appropriate for the central city? At various times I have heard arguments against it ranging from the local businesses it would displace (a principal argument against a Home Depot at the Burnside Bridgehead), to induced auto travel, to opposition to a business because of its labor and other business practices (Walmart).
But on the other side of the argument, a lot of people in our society (including yours truly - we won't talk about my relationship with Fry's - the local Radio Shack will never come close) shop at these establishments occasionally or more frequently. How much VMT is being created by trips from inner Portland to Hayden Island, east county or Washington County?
That's certainly something I'd want modeled if we were considering a serious proposal for a big box site in the central city...
January 10, 2011
The intertubes lit up with the news on Friday that Mayor Adams' chief of staff, Tom Miller, would be the new director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. And it was the topic of gossip in at least one transportation meeting I attended.
My immediate reaction was in two parts:
1) Cool - somebody with very similar policy views to mine is going to be running the agency!
2) Interesting - Tom's a smart guy, but he has no experience running a large organization - how is he going to managing a 750-person enterprise?
I'm not going to speculate on #2 other than to wish Tom much success and suggest that he makes sure that on his staff he does have someone who is a consummate bureaucrat (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) to keep the wheels turning. Hopefully he'll take advice on that from the departing Sue Keil who is a premier example of an outstanding agency director. She brought much-appreciated management discipline to PBOT during her six-year tenure.
But I am going to throw out a challenge for Mr. Miller. PBOT exerts influence in a lot of ways (including a major seat at the regional planning table), but I'm going to focus on how it spends GTR - General Transportation Revenue - the funding the City gets from state gas taxes and parking revenues - the discretionary part of PBOT's budget.
The major focus for this revenue is maintaining arterial streets in the City - and this is a theme the Mayor expounded in his Safe, Sound and Green initiative. But I'm going to challenge Tom to see if he can bring a 'least cost' paradigm shift to this process.
There's no question that we need to keep our major streets in order. If we allow pavement condition to deteriorate too far, costs go up by several multiples to rebuild rather than resurface streets.
But... the lowest cost way to move people around the City is on bicycles. If we can continue to build out our bicycle infrastructure, we'll be rewarded with lower maintenance costs in the long run, because bikes cause much less wear and tear than other vehicles. And we'll realize other economic benefits like improved health (and decreased health care costs) from a more physically active population.
So here's your challenge, Tom - spend JUST BARELY ENOUGH to keep arterials from deteriorating to the point where it costs more to rebuild them, and funnel every other available penny into bike facilities, sidewalks and safety improvements.
That's the formula for getting the maximum return on every transportation dollar.
Sharpen that pencil, my friend!
(And don't forget to develop some new revenue sources as well.)
January 9, 2011
In light of the terrible news out of Tuscon, Arizona this weekend, and in the interest of furthering civil debate here in this forum--we have made a few modifications to the site rules. Most commenters will be utterly unaffected by these.
The additions are:
3. Hyperbole can help make a point, but carried too far detracts from the conversation, specfically:
- Anything proposing, suggesting, or even hinting at violence is out of bounds.
- Use of inflammatory words or comparisons ("tyranny", "fascism", "communist", "genocide", "Hitler", "un-American") in the context of discussing transportation or land-use issues, is out of bounds.
The first item should be uncontroversial, and requires little explanation. I do not recall any past violations of that principle here--it is merely added for completeness. In national politics, though, there have been several examples of political campaigns which crossed this line, including a few notorious ads directed at one of the victims of Saturday's shooting.
The second items might be a bit more controversial, and does merit some further explanation.
Portland Transport is not a blog about political theory or history, and in particular does not cover countries such as Germany or the former Soviet Union, where totalitarian regimes have in fact arisen. As such, discussion of Nazis, communists, and similar subjects is not a legitimate primary topic of this site. This blog is about transportation (particularly public transit) and land-use planning, with a geographic focus on the Portland, OR metropolitan area. And in that context, you'll find utterly nobody who is a significant player in the debate advocating any such ideologies, or who can be reasonably called an adherent of them. As a result of these two facts, any invocation of terms such as "Nazi" is either likely to be off-topic, or excessively polemic rather than informative. In the context of the vast majority of political debate in the US at this time, these words only function as terms of abuse--when used in the context of (small-d) democratic politics, they are almost always intended to demean or delegitimize something or someone, and as Andrew Sullivan notes, suggests they are "beyond the pale", and thus outside the norms of normal democratic debate. These terms generally not used to shed light on a topic. There are some cases where uses of these terms might be appropriate in a domestic public transit context (the LA Bus Riders' Union has some noticeable Marxist leanings, for example), but the vast majority of public transit supporters in town with any influence aren't Marxists or Nazis, and neither are their opponents.
It is permissible to focus on aspects of public transit or SOV-use which one finds distasteful--if a commenter believes that public subsidy of transit with general-fund taxes is undesirable, he or she is welcome to say so. But calling the practice "socialist" or "communist" is needlessly pejorative, and incorrect to boot--modern capitalist societies have been providing public transit to their citizens for decades, without embracing Marxism. Likewise, it's acceptable to point out that excessive use of single-occupancy vehicles increases dependence on foreign oil and increases pollution; it's not acceptable, however, to accuse auto commuters of "genocide" due to the unsavory nature and practices of some of the petroleum-exporting states in the world.
Feel free to discuss or ask questions.
January 8, 2011
Last week I helped facilitate a meeting between Portland Streetcar, the City of Portland and a group of bicycle advocates about issues around the new Loop line (including construction issues). One result was this matrix of contact information - who to contact about what.
Use it in good health!
January 7, 2011As somebody who thinks the best way to solve problems is with eyeballs, TriMet's defensiveness sometimes drives me crazy. So I was really pleased to learn the agency has just introduced a new website, which it calls a "performance dashboard," to clearly display basic trends and statistics about the agency: ridership, on-time performance, operating cost per ride.
Among the other improvements are better communication of board meeting agendas. TriMet is also soliciting ideas as to what other things it should make public. Michael gives a good list in the comments at PortlandAfoot--go read his entire article. To Michael's list, which mainly focuses on operational performance stats...I would add one biggie: Detailed (long-term) budget assumptions, showing assumptions and projections of revenues, ridership, fuel prices, labor expenses, capital projects, grants, etc--one of the biggest concerns many have is the agency is building infrastructure that it cannot afford to maintain. Showing us the numbers may help alleviate those concerns.
And to answer Michael's question: Yes. :)
From my friend Karen Frost who is retiring as Executive Directory of the Westside Transportation Alliance (a Transportation Management Association):Title: Executive Director
Status: Full time exempt
Salary range: Low $50's, depending on experience, plus benefits
The mission of the Westside Transportation Alliance, located in Beaverton, Oregon, is to provide programs and services to Westside employers that reduce single-occupant-vehicle trips, reduce green house gas emissions, foster economic vitality and improve health. We do this by offering workplace services and programs that help employees commute to work by transit, carpool, vanpool, walking and biking.
WTA is a Transportation Management Association founded in 1997 and supported by business and public agency membership, event sponsorship and Metro funding. We are supported by a dedicated working board that is active in pursuing the vision of WTA.
The Executive Director of the Westside Transportation Alliance will join a thriving organization that has made great progress toward reducing automobile trips in Washington County. We are looking for a self-starter, an energized leader to bring the highest level of service, a partnership builder, and a skilled fundraiser to implement a vision of future growth and sustainability. The next Executive Director of WTA will have:
Application Packets must include:
- The leadership, unbridled enthusiasm for our mission, and partnership building skills to expand sustainable transportation options in Washington County.
- Knowledge of the issues and passion for supporting transportation alternatives, which lead to cleaner air, healthier citizens and a stronger economy.
- Proven organizational leadership experience to grow the capacity of the WTA to meet its mission.
- Comparable success working in a small organization and the talent to marshal the skills, talents and efforts of a committed Board of Directors.
- Charisma and networking talents to build relationships with businesses, the community and potential funders.
- Proven ability to be the public face and chief spokesperson for WTA.
- Superior writing skills, especially grant writing skills to work effectively and persuasively with a wide diversity of people.
- Management experience to oversee financial and accounting activities, including budget creation, compliance, and expenses.
- Experience and proficiency in advocating for a cause in which she/he believes.
- A complete chronological resume, including dates of employment.
- The names and contact information for four references.
- A cover letter with answers to the following questions:
- What is your vision for what the Westside Transportation Alliance can do in the next five years to significantly impact transportation issues in Washington County, and why are you the person to lead the WTA?
- How did you hear about this position?
To apply, submit the above information to: firstname.lastname@example.org with "WTA" in the title by Friday, February 4th, 2011 at 5:00pm.
For further information visit our website: www.wta-tma.org
January 6, 2011
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Åsa Bergman, Portland State University
Topic: Modeling Access Mode Choice for Westside Express Service Commuter Rail
Abstract: How do commuter rail riders choose access modes? This presentation discusses the results of an analysis of access mode choice by riders of one of the first U.S. suburb-to-suburb commuter railroads, the Westside Express Service (WES) in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. The study uses on-board survey data collected by the region's transit agency, Tri-Met, during WES's first year of operation. The data include observed access mode choices, historical mode usage, and subjective assessment of WES attributes. A hierarchical choice model was estimated, using attributes of the access trip and station areas as well as rider characteristics. The estimation results showed evidence of pre-WES mode inertia effects in choosing drive access, pro-sustainability attitudes in choosing bike access, the importance of comfort for light rail and auto access modes, as well as strong positive station-area effects of connecting bus lines and parking space provision. The hierarchical choice model revealed significant substitution effects between drive and light rail modes and between bike and walk modes. This study provides potentially valuable insights to agencies for the purposes of station-area planning and targeted marketing efforts.
When: Friday, January 7, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
January 5, 2011
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.6MB)
Traffic engineers Rob Burchfield and Peter Koonce from the City of Portland and Jim Peters from DKS Associates visit with Tori and Michelle to discuss how our streets are being designed for bikes. Do you know what the
January 4, 2011
Today we are proud to feature a guest column by longtime portlandtransport.com contributor Ron Swaren, who writes on the subject of using double-decker busses for express and high-capacity routes, especially as a substitute for articulated busses. --EngineerScotty
London is famous for its intra-city double decker buses. They have not really been used for long distance, express route to suburban destinations yet are popular with visitors to London proper. It's a bit hard to use surface transport for suburban routes in London, anyway, since the city measures 50 miles from west end to east end. Many of the bright-red Routemaster buses have also been sold around the world, showing up often as tour buses with the top removed.
The iconic Routemaster bus was introduced in the early 1950's, but various concerns have finally led to its replacement with updated technology. Several new models have been recently introduced. According to blogger Bridgette Meinhold:Transport for London has been working on a new, more efficient, double-decker bus for London to replace the classic Routemaster. Today, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Transport for London officially unveiled the new bus co-designed by The Wright Group and Thomas Heatherwick. The new design uses the latest in green hybrid technology and will be 15% more fuel efficient than existing hybrid buses, 40% more efficient than conventional diesel double decks, and much quieter on the streets.
Another new model in London is the Volvo B5L (Wikipedia) According to inhabit.com, these busses "feature a parallel hybrid I-SAM (Integrated Starter, Alternator, Motor) system, which uses an electric motor and a hybrid engine to power the vehicle. The buses can go up to 12mph in electric mode, after which, the diesel engines steps in. The speed of 12mph might not sound like much, but it is quite perfect for most bus routes." (Image courtesy of Volvo).
In the Pacific Northwest, British Columbian cities, Kelowna and Victoria, are both using Alexander Dennis Enviro500 models, as is Everett Washington, which has ordered 23 vehicles. Toronto, Canada has 22 in use. The Enviro 500 are also seeing use in Las Vegas and in two communities in Southern California. In Asia there are probably hundreds, if not a few thousand of this model in use. Hong Kong has a total of over 4000 double-decker buses in its fleet.
Another popular DD model, often used in a touring configuration, is the Van Hool TD925. One of these was at the Oregon Convention Center a couple of years ago as part of a nationwide tour. New York City has tested them out but not committed to their use. A video of one of these in action can be seen here:
But what about express use on US freeways? Well, take a look at Commmunity Transit (Everett. WA) which will place 23 "DoubleTall" busses into use this year, commuting from Everett to Seattle via I-5. These are rated at 73 seated passengers, or 90 total. Community Transit also claims 11 percent less fuel usage and 26 percent less maintenance than an articulated bus. I have seen the passenger rating for similar buses in Berlin as up to 128 persons. Here is how Community Transit sums up the features:Twice as Smart: The double decker can seat 73 and accommodate 90 passengers total in the same footprint as a 40-passenger bus. This means it will take less fuel to transport more passengers while taking up less space on the road... an important advantage given the ever-increasing traffic in the region.
Yesterday I noted that the ACS 5-year/Census block group demographic correlations were significantly lower than the 2000 Census tract correlations.
So let's look at the differences:
- Different (newer) data
- Different areas - we included all Census tracts that touched any part of the service district, while we only used block groups that were substantially inside the service district
- Finer-grained data (about 3 block groups for every tract)
So to start peeling it back, let's isolate some of those differences. First let's recall the 2000 Census tract correlations.
- 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
So for apples/apples, let's take ACS 2009 data for the same census tracts and correlate (spreadsheet here):
- Transit Score/Density: 0.67
- Transit Score/Percent non-white: 0.28
- Transit Score/Median Household Income: -0.50
That's a lot closer! What I think we see is that over the last decade, we've become more racially diverse and the population groups of color have dispersed through more of the region.
So next let's deal with the fringes of the region. If we drop the tracts largely outside the service district here's what we get (spreadsheet):
- Transit Score/Density: 0.62
- Transit Score/Percent non-white: 0.28
- Transit Score/Median Household Income: -0.50
So the density correlation drops, because we just dropped out some tracts with low density and effectively no transit service.
But the big jump comes when we move to block groups (spreadsheet):
- Transit Score/Density: 0.53
- Transit Score/Percent non-white: 0.23
- Transit Score/Median Household Income: -0.39
So the big learning for me is that scale matters - looking at a census tract level averages things out too much, and we're likely to have more insights analyzing block groups.
[As always, better statisticians are welcome to correct me.]
What's next - we'll accumulate some more metrics for possible correlation, then we'll start to look at outliers (things that don't have service levels the correlations would predict) and hopefully we'll recruit a real statistician who can help us do some multivariate correlations.
January 3, 2011
Early in the morning of Boxing Day, ATU Local 757 president Jonathan Hunt was arrested by the Gresham Police Department on a charge of driving under the influence of intoxicants. He was found by a Gresham police officer, asleep at the wheel of a union-registered automobile, blocking traffic; a field sobriety test allegedly revealed a blood-alcohol level of .14, nearly twice the legal limit in Oregon. No accident occurred and nobody was injured, fortunately; and Mr. Hunt was released on his own recognizance. Hunt told The Oregonian that he "blames no one but myself. I've pledged to continue to work hard for this great union." He declined further comment.
At least one union member who operates a blog has called for Hunt's resignation as union president. So far there has been no comment from the union concerning Hunt's future there. There has been speculation that a conviction or guilty plea to the count of driving under the influence (a class A misdemeanor) might cost him his job and thus his union role (union officers are required to be members in good standing); however he is currently employed as a mechanic with TriMet. It is unknown to me if he still maintains a commercial drivers license (which would be suspended upon a DUI conviction, and apparently the "first time offender" provision in the law does not apply to CDL holders), and/or if a CDL is required for his present job with the agency. (Were he a bus driver to be convicted of DUI, it is almost certain he would lose both his license and his job).
Since somebody mentioned EmX (Emerald Express, the BRT line operated by Lane Transit District which serves the Eugene/Springfield area) in the comments, it is worth mentioning that this Sunday, January 9, the Gateway extension to the line will be opening. The line, connecting downtown Springfield with the Gateway Mall and North Springfield areas (map) will be an extension of the existing line which connects downtown Springfield, downtown Eugene, and the University of Oregon. Service on EmX will be free all of next week.
The line runs at 10 minute headways during weekdays, at 15 minute headways evenings and weekends.
A third extension of the system, to West Eugene, is in the works. (The proposed line has drawn criticism from local business owners, convinced that any reduction of auto capacity in the area will harm their business, while doubting that the transit line will make up the difference).
Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, a leading critic of the current plan for the Columbia River Crossing, has announced that he is resigning mid-month to become the first director of the University of Oregon's new Sustainable Cities Initiative.
Recent Metro President candidate Bob Stacey is a resident of Liberty's district, and has announced that he will seek appointment to the seat (open seats with less than one half term remaining are filled by Council appointment rather than special election).
This article conjectures that we may be...
You'll recall that back in October we did our first correlation between Transit Score and several demographic factors, based on the 2000 Census. We came up with the following 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
Based on that, we set two key goals for our next steps:
- Get newer data!
- Look at finer-grained information, specifically at the Census "block group" level rather than the Census tracts we had used for our first analysis
We went on to compute Transit Scores at the block group level in November.
On December 14th, while we were busy getting ready for the holidays (and playing with Transit Appliances) the Census released the first set of American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year data.
ACS is important because it is updated continuously (not just every 10 years) and because it contains much more demographic information than collected in the Census. But it is a sampling process, not a census, so the data is an estimate.
The 5-year data represents an average of ACS data collected between 2005 and 2009, and is the first data set that gives results down to the block group level. So over the break between Christmas and New Years I grabbed the data and matched it up with our Transit Scores. You can find the correlated spreadsheet here (MS Excel). And here are the correlation coefficients:
- Transit Score/Density: 0.53
- Transit Score/Percent non-white: 0.23
- Transit Score/Median Household Income: -0.39
Obviously the first take is that the correlations are weaker than they were for the prior data set. But the reasons need a little bit of looking into. Tomorrow we'll explore some of the possible factors...
January 1, 2011
Happy New Year, everybody! 2011 is already shaping up to be an interesting year for transit and mobility in the Portland area. Among the highlights (and lowlights) in the upcoming year:
- The Milwaukie MAX project breaks ground.
- The Streetcar Loop (minus the OMSI-South Waterfront segment, which will require the new bridge) opens.
- Selection of the Locally Preferred Alternative for the Lake Oswego Streetcar project.
- Resolution of the labor dispute(s) between TriMet and ATU Local 757
- Several political actions in Clackamas County with transit and land-use impacts, including the referendum on the Sellwood Bridge fee, the proposed referendum on Urban Renewal, discussions in Boring about withdrawing from TriMet, and consideration of incorporating the Oak Grove/Jennings Lodge area.
- A new governor (John Kitzhaber--OK, a new old governor) and a new Metro President (Tom Hughes) take office.
But of course, the open thread is open to any topics or observations which are relevant for this blog.