March 31, 2011
Sometimes as I'm browsing through the too many RSS feeds I subscribe to, I'm struck by an interesting intersection between two items from different sources.
That happened this weekend when I noted this comment (from regular commenter Dave H) on the open thread:
I'm not sure if anyone here is familiar with QR Codes, but I was wondering about the idea about posting them at TriMet stops as Smart Phone use increases.
The iPhone, Android, Symbian and Palm platforms all support it with free applications (Android has native compatibility, as far as I know), so I'm wondering is this maybe a way to directly link a user to Transit Tracker information for the stop they're at?
It's an open and free to use standard, and it would make things really easy for users if all you have to do is aim your phone at a Transit Tracker QR Code to figure out when the next bus shows up it seems like an easy way to gain some choice riders.
If we can be bothered to post route info at every stop, is this maybe an easy way to help make the Smart Phone more transit integrated? I'm sure with GPS you can do similar things for finding next trips, but it seems like a way to move Transit Tracker from display boards to the pocket at a minimal cost.
This struck me as interesting, because it could probably be easily accomplished as a community project - it would just take a good mail merge program to produce labels with QR codes from TriMet's GTFS files.
But could we do something beyond just Transit Tracker with it?
Then I came across this article (via @caseorganic) on the "City as Software" concept. It suggests that real objects in the urban environment should be "addressable and queryable".
QR codes would clearly provide one convenient form of addressability. But what about "queryability". What would we want to query from a transit stop beyond next arrivals?
March 30, 2011
I'm hopeful that a bi-partisan group of House members is asking smart questions about the Columbia River Crossing.
March 29, 2011
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Spring 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: George Beard, Portland State University
Topic: Electric Vehicles: Are We in The Driver's Seat?
When it comes to electric vehicles (EVs), Oregon has all the right ingredients: the Governor's support, the necessary infrastructure and investment by major manufacturers; but is that enough to ensure success? George Beard, Portland State University's conduit to Portland General Electric (PGE) and other EV partners, will provide a briefing on the status of EV deployment and adoption in Oregon. His talk will examine remaining barriers to EV adoption and the conditions in which key parties can overcome them. Can the professionals who are working on EVs, including planners and engineers, have any impact on the most important measure of success: consumer acceptance? Sit down, plug in, and find out!
When: Friday, April 1, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
March 28, 2011
Here is the final installment of our recent interview with Neil McFarlane, based on questions submitted by the readers of Portland Transport. Today's Part 4 talks about future projects and other miscellaneous questions.
Special thanks to multiple volunteers who have compiled transcripts of these videos. There is also an embedded closed-captioning track on the YouTube videos (Click the "CC" button on the video player to view).
A note from Portland's Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC):
Senate Bill 424 has a Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday March 29, 8:30 AM.
This is the Crosswalk Safety Bill (formerly known as the Hand Signal Bill) requested by the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition.
In past years, the PAC has encouraged and supported this legislation. This hearing is an opportunity to provide written or oral testimony.
Links to the Bill: http://www.leg.state.or.us/11reg/measpdf/sb0400.dir/sb0424.intro.pdf Link to track changes to the hearing agenda and find more info besides what I pasted below: http://www.leg.state.or.us/11reg/agenda/webagendas.htm
- SB 424 can help improve pedestrian safety while crossing roads and highways.
- It can help reduce confusion among drivers about whether or not a pedestrian is intending to cross the street and allow them more time to stop safely.
- It gives pedestrians a tool to clearly and safely communicate to drivers their intent to cross without needing to step or roll out into a busy roadway. They may safely remain on the edge of the sidewalk.
- It provides a good education tool, among other lessons, for teaching our children and adults how to safely cross the street without going out into the road.
Date: Tuesday-March 29
Time: 8:30 A.M.
**This meeting will begin at 8:30 am**
POSSIBLE MEASURE INTRODUCTION
Public Hearing and Possible Work Session
SB 39 Requires Department of Justice to establish restitution collection pilot program in geographically dispersed counties or regions and to make grants to enable district attorney's offices in participating counties or regions to employ one restitution clerk.
SB 415 Increases penalty for offense of violation driving while suspended or revoked if commission of offense contributed to serious physical injury or death of vulnerable user of public way.
SB 424 Clarifies that pedestrian is crossing roadway when any part or extension of pedestrian's body moves onto roadway with intent to proceed.
SB 495 Requires court or arbitrator to award reasonable attorney fees to prevailing plaintiff in action for fraud or based on untrue statement or omission of material fact in connection with sale or purchase of security.
SB 635 CARRIED OVER FROM 3/22/2011 AGENDA - Excepts from private security professional certification requirement person who provides security services as volunteer or for de minimis consideration other than money for event operated for benefit of nonprofit or federally tax exempt corporation.
SB 878 CARRIED OVER FROM 3/22/2011 AGENDA - Extends exception to private security professional licensing requirement to person employed for purpose of controlling access at entrance of premises by licensee of Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Staff respectfully requests that you submit 15 collated copies of written materials at the time of your testimony and, if possible, an electronic copy of materials provided to staff 24 hours prior to the meeting.
Persons making presentations including the use of video, DVD, PowerPoint or overhead projection equipment are asked to contact committee staff 24 hours prior to the meeting.
ADA accommodation requests should be directed to Karen Hupp, or Juliene Popinga, ADA Coordinators, at email@example.com or by telephone at 1-800-332-2313. Requests for accommodation should be made at least 72 hours in advance.
March 27, 2011
[updated with some additional info]
This morning's Oregonian has a front page article on the Lake Oswego transit project. The article mainly focuses on the funding and politics associated with the project:
- The article notes the presence of significant organized opposition from Dunthorpe residents, including former senator Bob Packwood, and Multnomah County commissioner Deborah Kafoury.
- The article discusses the price tag in detail. Project supporters may object to the article's headline ("Is $458 million streetcar worth it"); the article breaks down the costs and funding sources--including the Willamette Shoreline ROW and some other publicly-owned properties whose value will be considered for a federal match. Open questions include how much value the land will be appraised at for matching purposes (opponents of the project are hoping the federal match will be lower; in order to make the local contribution unaffordable), and whether a 60% match is likely. The project cost is well below the $1 billion cutoff for a 60% match (this is why Milwaukie MAX to only get 50%); and there's some concern that the federal New Starts program might not view a streetcar project as within its scope. (Metro expects a 60% match).
- The relationship between the project and developer Williams/Dame & White, who are developing the proposed Foothills project in Lake Oswego, which would anchor the line, are examined.
- Next steps in the project: The city of Lake Oswego will vote on the project on April 19, in what is expected to be a close vote; Portland will vote on it on the 20th, where it is expected to easily pass.
Also, the City of West Linn wants in on the project, citing concerns about the project affecting West Linn bus commuters on the 35 (who would be forced to transfer once the project is completed), and of potential future traffic impacts. The city of West Linn is not calling for the project to be shelved--one of their concerns is making sure that a future extension south is not foreclosed--but wants to have input on the project's development.
March 25, 2011
Here is the next installment of our recent interview with Neil McFarlane, based on questions submitted by the readers of Portland Transport. Today's Part 3 includes the separate topics of Emergency Preparedness and Bus Technology.
Special thanks to multiple volunteers who have compiled transcripts of these videos. There is also an embedded closed-captioning track on the YouTube videos (Click the "CC" button on the video player to view).
Very nice piece by Evan Manvel on mega-projects and the Columbia River Crossing over at Blue Oregon.
March 24, 2011
The House Transportation and Economic Development Committee will hold a hearing on Monday on a resolution urging Federal Funding for the Columbia River Crossing.
This is scheduled for 1pm in Hearing Room D at the Capitol in Salem. BikePortland has additional details and coverage.
This is a political lollipop. The Legislature can ask the Feds for funding without having to commit the $400M that will be Oregon's share.
But it is an opportunity to publicly ask some of those inconvenient questions about those pesky project assumptions that keep turning out to be wrong...
This entry contains the transcripts from our recent interview with TriMet's general manager, Neil McFarlane.
Please make your comments about the interview on the pages where the individual video chapters have been presented, so that the conversation is being carried on in one place. Here's links to the videos (more to come):
(Continued after the break...)
(NM = Neil McFarlane, TriMet, DH = Dave Hogan, Portland Transport)
Part 1 - Service and Finances
(Part 1 transcription courtesy of EngineerScotty)
DH: We're going to start off with finance and revenue-related questions... there have been a lot of concerns from the public concerning TriMet's finances, and in particular, concern around issues such as the unfunded pension obligations, the ongoing labor negotiations, the economy and long-term demographic shifts, coupled with the failure of the funding measure at the ballot, and the pledge of future operating revenue to help fund Milwaukie Light Rail, many in the community are concerned that more service cuts will be necessary. What does TriMet's future financial picture look like over the long term?
NM: Well, let me sort of take that question apart into a number of pieces, you may have to have to help me again as you go through some of the pieces, but the first thing that I would note is that I think, obviously, we're all beginning to see that the economy is improving. And TriMet is an agency funded, to a large extent, by the payroll tax, and we've seen some improvement in that payroll tax rate, coming back into growth.
That said, we know that this was an incredibly deep and steep recession, and so we expect that it will take some time for us to grow out of that. But, the good news is that revenue is starting to come back, jobs are starting to come back, and so we're looking at a much more positive outcome for the next year than frankly we have any of the last three years.
That said, there are some challenges on the horizon, and you mentioned some of them. First of all, I would say that one that you didn't mention that we're watching really closely right now is diesel fuel costs. That's not a small cost to TriMet; it's the state's largest diesel fuel user. For example, fifteen cents on the price of diesel is a million dollars a year for us.
Related to the union contract, I do want to perhaps light on that a little bit. The board, last May, before I was General Manager, actually adopted the policy that we're continuing to rely on as we talk to the leadership of the amalgamated transit workers' union, the ATU.
The first thing that I want to say is that I have the highest regard for our workforce. They have an incredibly tough job, the operators on the front line are second to none in the nation, and all you need to do is be from outside Portland, to come and use our bus service and recognize what a quality job at providing good customer service our operators do, in a very challenging environment.
Second, I just want to mention our maintenance workforce, which has been, again, above and beyond the call in terms of keeping our fleet at the ready and working well, and responding to things, such as the snow emergency that postponed the first time that we wanted to do this interview. So that said, high regard.
But the board policy is very clear; that what we need to do is make sure that our employee benefit costs rise no more than our revenues, so that there is balance, if you will, between the revenue growth that is exhibited by the payroll tax, and the growth in the cost of employment, and that would include wages as well as health benefits.
I think that there's no secret that the biggest issue is really health benefits in this conversation. And indeed, we have a very unsustainable health benefit plan in the ATU union agreement right now. It has $5 co-pays, it has no deductibles, it has no employee contributions for health insurance. Now obviously that has changed as of January 1st, when we implemented, for lack of a better term, a freeze, which basically said any new costs that occur because of health insurance would accrue to the employee, so there were some employee costs that have been imposed as of January 1.
That's a substitute for getting to a longer term agreement, and so we're working really hard, and trying every avenue we can, to move either to negotiations with the union, or to the last step in the process, an arbitration, where a third-party arbitrator actually decides the case.
I would love to be in that case of the arbitration today, I'd love to have it past us as soon as possible. Right now, the union leadership is continuing to use the procedural mechanisms available to it under what I have found to be sort of an arcane employment law world here in Oregon, that allows them to delay that, so we're working really hard on that.
Meanwhile, the freeze of wages and the freeze of cost into health insurance is helping us sustain the budget into the new year. So, my hope, while I can't say that there will be no service cuts, that would be really the last thing on the list right now, and we're going to be looking, I think, at a much more sustainable financial future, particularly if we're successful with the union contract over a period of time.
Final point that was in that question was about OPEB, or Other Post Employment Benefits, which is an interesting topic, and sometimes a topic only accountants can love, but its a very important one. First of all, just to note, that we began to calculate that number, which is a big number for TriMet, it's over $800 million, and what it is, is a projection of what the current value of all the medical benefits that would be promised retirees after employment, after retirement, would be, so if you try to take all those costs over the next thirty to forty years, and bring them back to the current dollar, that's what that is.
One has to recognize that that number will change, based on what the outcome of the union negotiations. Indeed we've changed it dramatically already for non-union employees at TriMet, by changing that plan dramatically, and by frankly reducing some of the benefits associated with, and the cost of some of the benefits associated with medical care.
TriMet's no different than anybody else in the universe right now, at least the country, in dealing with this increasing cost of medical care and medical insurance, and we're, like everybody else, looking for good solutions.
DH: So TriMet recently launched a dashboard feature on the web. Has TriMet considered an annual or quarterly "state of transit" presentation as a way to inform and interact with those who contribute to its services?
NM: We have considered that, and actually that is something that I would like to begin to add to our portfolio, if you will, of communication devices, whether its a report to the riders, or a report to the stakeholders, or whoever you might term that, I think we do have a good story to tell about our service and what we've been accomplishing over the last years. So, yes, we'd like to see that, and I would just also note on the dashboard, is that what you see right now, I think, is our first-blush attempt at putting out some good information, some transparent data.
We're going to expand that particularly in the area of safety, we're gonna put a lot more safety information out, and we're very open and amenable to changing that dashboard. For example, some people have suggested that in addition to just the stats, that we should have some better explanations of what they are and what they mean, and what the trends may means, so we may be adding some of that as well.
DH: Is there any plan to charge a fee, even a nominal one, at park-and-ride lots, as a source of revenue?
NM: There isn't right now. One of the things we're finding, still, is that park-and-ride continues to be a relatively modest mode of access to the TriMet system, if you compare, for example, TriMet total park-and-ride spaces to that, for example, in Denver, or some of our other peer cities, in comparison you find we have a pretty small number.
And indeed, if you look at the Green Line, even though we've met our ridership expectations for that line, the park and ride lots are still well under capacity. So we don't think that we're at the point, in the market, the development of the market for park-and-ride, where we can charge, and there are probably a couple cases where we're beginning, at Gateway and Sunset, where we are beginning to again, use meters to allow some short-term use of the park-and-ride in addition to the all-day use.
I think what you will see over a period of time, in the short term, is just the expansion of that, of that function.
DH: Some of our readers have a concern that the definition of "Frequent Service" has been watered-down during the recent cuts. Frequent hours have been cut back and some lines to not run at fifteen-minute or better frequencies. If service is not increased soon, is it better to retire the "Frequent Service" moniker rather than lowering it as a standard?
NM: Well, I think, first of all, the budget emergencies that we've been in because of this great recession, has required us to lower that standard in some cases, mostly during midday and shoulder periods. I would say that's a temporary lowering of standards.
Our objective is still to restore that back to the fifteen-minute level of frequency that was originally defined with Frequent Service. Indeed, my objective would be to begin to see the frequent service brand to grow, and spread across the region, in terms of some additional great lines that I think deserve that level of service, and would benefit by that level of service.
I would just also note that we have been, over this year, been able to add some service during peak hours to some of the crush-loaded lines, so that we are beginning to recognize that we've got some crowding problems, and we're beginning to respond to that. We did it on the 12, we did it on a couple other lines, and we believe that the budget next year will need to address that as well.
So while that doesn't address that midday fifteen-minute frequency issue, it does address the high level of service that we need during the peak hour, to address our growing demand.
DH: Ridership trends have been lackluster recently, with buses even losing mode share. To what extent is the economy, and to what extent is this a lack of speed or frequency in the current transit service?
NM: I think that there's a number of factors in play. First of all, recall, that we did do some fairly major changes to the system over the last year, and we're beginning now to be at a point where you can measure cleanly, more cleanly, the policy changes from Fareless Square, where it became Fareless Square to Free Rail Zone, and so that shifted some riders from bus to rail.
Clearly, the Green Line, over time, shifted some riders from bus to rail, so we're serving riders, still, but we're doing it more on the rail system. So, I think that was a factor. I think the other factor is the economy, which is that our ridership has traditionally always followed employment, and so when employment goes down, so does ridership. And so that is a factor, again, and indeed, some of the peak-hour crowding, we're beginning to see on the system, is a really positive sign that the economy is beginning to rebound some.
So I think, fundamentally, I think that those are the bigger drivers of the ridership change that you've seen. I would say, as a big picture, we have to be pretty pleased with where ridership is. We have reduced in the last couple of years, bus service by 13%, yet we're seeing ridership down 2-3% on a regular basis. We have, I think, that shows we did a pretty good job of using a really sharp scalpel in terms of the service reductions that he had to use over the last couple years.
DH: To follow up on that, to improve speed, has TriMet considered removing or consolidating some of the downtown MAX stations?
NM: You know, we have, at various points in time, looked at that. We haven't launched any really serious community conversation about it. One of the things that you get to is, the general response we get is, well, you can remove stations, but don't remove my station. And if everybody says, "don't remove my station", then you're not removing any station.
So, I'll give you a quick example, which is one of the stops that, you know, frankly we look at and say well, its pretty close to, if you look at Skidmore, its pretty close to the Old Town station, it's pretty close to the Oak Street, maybe we should re... well then, the University of Oregon put in a major investment, to a large extent, as did Mercy Corps, to a large extent, to respond and to use the station as a sort of a focal point for those developments. So you begin to build in this infrastructure that makes it a little harder to change.
That said, I think that there will be a point in time when we're going to go to want to have a broader community conversation about the sort-of realignment of stations along both First Avenue and along Morrison/Yamhill in particular. The model we do like is what's on the Portland Mall now, which is about every four blocks there's a station, which I think is providing a good service level with still, reasonable walk distances.
Part 2 - Service and Finances Continued
(Part 2 transcription courtesy of Ryan Porter)
DH: TriMet's fleet has many buses which are 18 years or older. TriMet's average fleet age is 12 years while the national average is considerably less. How soon can TriMet's fleet be modernized and what funding is available to accomplish this?
NM: Well, we absolutely have to begin to replace buses, and you'll see that as a priority in the next budget that I'll release to the board next month. We believe that in the next fiscal year we'll be budgeting for about 50, 51 new 40-foot buses. And then, for every year thereafter, our projections in our budget forecasts show about 40 buses a year.
What that will do is gradually bring the average age down to what we think is a reasonable level. We think buses should run pretty reasonably up to the about a 15-year mark. Getting them to 17, 18 even 20 years (as some of our current fleet) is way too old.
So, hope is on the way. We will use a series of grant funds in the next year that we have been able to piece together for those 51. After that, the 40-per-year will be debt-based funded. And, that's our financial plan and included in our financial plan forecast for the future
DH: So what's the future of the Free Rail Zone? The Portland Streetcar is considering decoupling from the Free Rail Zone so that its fares will be equitable throughout the loop when that project opens.
NM: Well, we're certainly in the midst of the very beginning of a process where we want to have a conversation with Portland Streetcar, with the City of Portland, and with all of the users of the system about that. We started that by actually hiring an independent third-party to collect a lot of data about who uses the system and how they pay for it now, so that we have a good database to start from.
Right now, we don't see any burdening need to change Free Rail Zone. But, there maybe some issues of sort of consistency--if you will--with the streetcar that we want to consider. So those--I think--are conversations for the future. I think we'd be very open to any comments and considerations people have on that.
DH: To follow that up, how seriously is TriMet looking at revamping the current fare system? The zone system creates a lot of problems with regards to consistency and equity. Is an electronic and/or distance-based fare system a realistic option in the near future?
NM: I think it's a realistic option and it's one that I would love to see us move to. I've never been a particular fan of the fare zone system that we've got right now. Just to give you examples of the cross-town service that runs for very long distances, that's all in one zone. And the fare zone system really worked for a radial system. And, our system has migrated well beyond that, so it serves multiple destinations: north, south, east and west.
One of the things we are really looking at is the technology. And whether or not we need to think about smart card technology in the future or whether we need to think about other RFIC-style technologies that are being now piloted in some of the larger properties like New York MTA and some places in Asia.
So there is--I think--some hope that we will have a really exciting technology that will allow us to do really sensitive, distance-based fares in the future. I would say that that's not a short-term option. I would say that's a mid- to longer-term option that we're looking at.
Part of the issue is that there's a big cost associated with implementing one of those systems. I think the estimate that I've seen is around $20, $25 million dollars for TriMet. So, we're not in a position that we can fund that now. I actually would think that even if we had the money, it wouldn't be the time to do it right now, because we need to see technology advance just a little bit more, so we can do those distance-based fares. And, as frankly... it's a little more challenging environment because we have this open system that doesn't have turnstiles and so we need to make sure the technology is available and working for that kind of a system.
DH: Recently, a think tank posted a database of TriMet salaries to the web. A small but significant number of bus drivers put in a lot of overtime and earned over $100,000. At what point does it make sense to hire more full-time drivers than to be paying so much in overtime?
NM: Well, there is a break-even point. And, I would say that when you get to the point of the $100,000 category, that is probably, first of all, not best practice in my view. It's a practice that's really controlled by current union contract; we're entering some conversations with the ATU leadership about that. And it's because it's now assigned seniority-based. So if a high-seniority person wants to work that much, it's their choice right now to do that. I think there should be some tamping down of that.
That said, the good news is that we're hiring our firs, and beginning to train our first class of new operators in really quite some time, so we are hiring new operators.
Largely that's taken place for two reasons: One is the safety initiative where we're actually taking more operators out of the seat for in-classroom training time and behind-the-wheel training time. So, as we begin the recertification program, we needed more operators, so we're doing that. The other thing is that we're actually, of course, retirements and other attrition is occurring so we'll be needing to replace that.
So, new drivers are coming. Hopefully we'll be in the position that we can... we will not need as much overtime.
DH: So what are TriMet's plans regarding bringing on more fare inspectors, and why does TriMet only hire fare inspectors who are already bus drivers? Does this need to be a supervisory role?
NM: Well, I agree that we need more fare inspection on the system and that we would benefit by that. I do think it needs to be a supervisory position because in addition to inspecting for fares, these positions also enforce the TriMet code overall. And, so it requires--I think--a really strong level of knowledge about the overall operation.
There's also a sort of the advantage of having a flexible resource out in the field that can really address a number of problems at times, so while they may be on a fare inspection mission, there could be another issue that could come up that requires knowledge and expertise and having those people in the field is very, very valuable.
One of the things I hear from our operators is that they really want to feel supported, and one of the ways that we support them is with the supervisory staff out in the field addressing problems as they occur. So I think for all those reasons it makes much more sense to keep them at a supervisory level. And, again, I hope that we can begin to expand those numbers over the next year.
DH: Why is rail considered to be such a good long-term investment? Why are we expanding rail at a time when there have been so many cuts to existing service?
NM: Well, I think... let me talk about, specifically, about the next rail investment, which is the Portland to Milwaukie project. I can talk about it in a number of different ways.
But first of all, I think it's a long-term investment for the transit system. It provides that regional spine for regional development and growth. And, that has been fundamental to the regional transportation plan--really--for decades here in Portland, and so building out that system continues to be important.
Number two, right now, we have the opportunity to leverage in $750 million of discretionary federal dollars. That's a very base economic improvement for the region. The project is projected to bring during the construction period 14,000 jobs. And as I've often said, that these are jobs to this region when we need them the most.
Finally, from a transportation perspective, it really does move the system to more efficiency. TriMet, as an agency, will be contributing something on the order of 5% of the capital costs of the overall project overall. But when we look at what it does for operation, the light rail operation will actually carry passengers--given that 5% investment and our additional operating costs for it--at about a $1.50 per passenger. So it's a very cost-effective way to carry people, so what is this is doing is moving our system to more efficiency over the long run.
I think our average cost-per-ride for light rail is on the order of $1.80. Many rail lines are $1.50 or less. Milwaukie's in that category, by the way, because it's a very efficient line that throws a relatively fast run from Portland State University down to Park Avenue... carries a lot of people, so the average cost per ride is really quite low.
So I think the other thing that it clearly does is provide development opportunities. One of the great, really exciting things about the Portland-Milwaukie project is that at the same time we're developing the light rail line, the Oregon university system is developing a new major facility down...right at the station, right at the corner of Moody and the alignment of Porter Street.
And, again the kind of economic development and growth we see around that is really important to the region and I think, again, it's another major reason to see light rail continue to be a part of the plan.
So, as we look ahead to other corridors... could Bus Rapid Transit be part of the solution? Absolutely. Could Rapid Streetcar be of the solution? Absolutely, as well as potential consideration of light rail.
So I think, again, what we've seen here in Portland is that... the other part of it is that we have developed a system that is attractive to choice riders. 81% of our riders are choice riders. That means they have a car at home; they have another way to get to their destination. And, by having such a broad base of ridership, including choice riders, I think we grow support overall for public transit, and I think that's good for everybody.
DH: So, could you speak a little further about the Milwaukie Light Rail and the gap for bonding future operational revenue?
NM: Let me talk a little about the finance plan in general. It's about a $1.49 billion project. The federal government would contribute 50% of that, or about $750 million. The rest of those funds are coming from one local source or another, and the local sources include the state, ODOT, the City of Portland, Clackamas County, the City of Milwaukie and TriMet.
All in all, as I mentioned earlier, the TriMet share of that overall project is about 5%. And for that we get some really great ridership benefits: We get a growth in ridership; we have very effective service; we have great development opportunities.
What I think is really important is that the only part of that financial plan that is at all fungible--if to use that word related to the overall TriMet budget and could be available for bus-related uses--would be that 5%. So, it's a relatively small number and the additional operating costs associated with it, which is also a relatively small number. So, if you add both our debt service and our operating costs together it would require about $9, $9.5 million addition to the TriMet budget in fiscal year '15 or '16. And, we think that that's a very small price to pay for the additional 20,000-some riders that we're going to see on that line.
The rest of that 95% is discretionary money being drawn to the region, being drawn to our public transit system because of the light rail project. So we're seeing a great investment in the region, a great investment in our overall transportation system, at very little cost and at very little trade-off in terms of additional operating costs.
The final point, which is actually, that many people don't realize, again, when we sought authorization from the Oregon legislature to increase the rate of the payroll tax, that increased revenue was for new service. And, all the costs of Milwaukie light rail--including operations and capital--are coming out of that rate increase, are coming out of what was to be dedicated for new service. And essentially, every major light rail expansion we've had, have brought new revenues to the table in the region for the public transit. And because of those projects we've seen resources from public transit grow over time.
So, A) we've grown the resources, B) we're operating more efficiently and carrying more passengers at lower costs. So those working together--I think--have helped actually improve bus service over time, if in terms of the resources that would be available for bus service.
I think we have to be careful not to--if you will--confuse the effects of this last recession with sort of the long-term trend. After all we are, according to U.S. News and World Report, the #1 city for public transit in the U.S. Sunset Magazine recently told us we're the best city in the West to ditch a car. We got there for a reason, and by making these smart investments over time, we've been able to build a strong transit system
Part 3 - Emergency Preparedness, Bus Technology
(Part 3 transcription courtesy of Bob Richardson)
DH: So in light of the recent events of Japan, if we were to experience a worst-case scenario incident within TriMet's emergency planning, how long would it take to get all services back online, and how would services be reallocated in the interim?
NM: Well, there's obviously a lot of, it depends on the event, and the response, but let me just address emergency preparedness. Certainly the events in Japan have really focused us all on our vulnerability here in the Pacific Northwest related to the same sort of major event.
The first thing I'd say is that TriMet is very tied-in to emergency planning activities around the region with all the counties and major cities. We have a full-time person dedicated to emergency management planning. We have our own emergency plans that we draw with all these agencies on an annual basis.
Our hope is that that ongoing communication and infrastructure planning and backup materials is really helpful in terms of responding to any event.
I would note that related to the light rail system, there would be inevitably be some period of shutdown, but I think the good news is that most of the light rail system and certainly everything we're building in the last few years and as we build ahead, is going to be built to very high seismic standards. So will there still will be a shutdown related to inspection and making sure things are right, perhaps if something may fall across the tracks that has to be dealt with, but our infrastructure will be pretty robust.
The best example of that will be the new Portland-Milwaukie river crossing bridge which will be, first of all a beautiful structure, but second of all, a very seismically safe structure.
There are some vulnerabilities in the system. One of the big ones is the Steel Bridge -- One of the oldest bridges in town, and it has some big seismic issues associated with it. So, I think one of the things that we as a region need to begin to think about is how do we begin to address some of these really critical constraints. That one has a particular problem associated with it and that is it's owned by the Union Pacific even though it's primarily used by the public. So there's some other sort of institutional issues that address that one.
Finally I'd say that one of the most flexible, important, features of the TriMet system of course is the buses. And, as everyone knows we often use buses to respond to emergencies, even small ones, around the region, where we provided warming services or a place to go or transportation if there's evacuation required. So, we would, I think, continue to see in the aftermath of any event, a large part of TriMet fleet used for those humanitarian purposes and then, second of all, we would begin to restore the service and we would obviously focus first on what we can do with the MAX lines after inspections and any work that's needed to repair, and then obviously our frequent-service lines come to mind first.
But all that said, I think all that depends largely on the circumstances of the event, and those are very hard to predict.
DH: Will TriMet consider articulated buses for high-capacity lines, is TriMet willing to look at double-decker buses like this in Vegas, or of course London, for long-haul limited-stop, maybe BRT-like service?
NM: You know, we have looked at this question, and there are a couple lines in the TriMet system that would really benefit by the added capacity of articulated buses, but there are also costs associated with it, because you're running a bigger vehicle during times of day, perhaps, that you don't need the capacity. And in addition there are issues, as some of our maintenance facilities actually don't fit the articulated buses. So, when we sort of put it all in balance, we would prefer right now, still, to just have a fleet of 40' buses. That said, I think there will be a time in the future where we want to begin to look at some articulated buses for some of the urban routes that we've got.
Related to double-decker, you're right that the only thing that they really work well on, in my view, is long-haul service. I know for example Community Transit in Everett, Washington is purchasing some, but they're long-haul Everett-to-Seattle routes.
They don't work for the kind of service that really is the hallmark of TriMet services, frequent, urban, many-stop service because, frankly the articulated buses are better because there are more doors and more access and more ability to get on and off, and the difficulty of climbing the stairs to the top level. So I really don't see the double-deckers in our future just because the practicalities and our services patterns. I do see articulated buses, not in the near-term, but perhaps in the mid-to-longer term.
DH: Do electric trolleybuses make sense to bring quieter, higher-quality service to corridors where light rail or streetcars won't fit?
NM: You know, I have always been a fan of electric trolleybuses. But, to be honest with you as I've sort of studied bus technology over the last year, become more familiar with some of the technology, there are some really advancing bus technologies - electric bus technologies - that I think we need to keep our eye on, and may be able to offer some of the advantages of the trolleybus without the capital expense of installing the overhead wire and the electrification systems.
An example of that, that I think is out in the industry, is the Protera electric bus, which has been used in down southern California, beginning to be manufactured in this country. It uses battery tech and capacitor technology, basically to charge for 10-minute quick charges at the beginning and the end of the line, and then run for some distance, simply on batteries.
Those are the kinds of technologies I think we really want to keep our eyes on. As a progressive region I think we'd really, frankly, accomplish a lot of what I think trolleybuses would hope to accomplish, but do it perhaps at a more reasonable cost.
I would say that we're keeping our eye on it because right now they are not a reasonable cost, the per-unit cost of those kinds of vehicles are very high, but as with electric cars we hope that over time battery technology will allow that cost to be reduced.
DH: The fact streetcars are now being constructed locally has generated a lot of news. Could TriMet start lobbying for the local development and manufacture of next-generation buses? Can policy-makers jumpstart bus production, both as a showcase, and a way to help operate our fleet?
NM: Well, I think that I would love see that, and I've actually wondered that about out loud to more than one person over time, and I think actually we should be beginning to look at that. It's a lot more complicated because bus manufacturers are pretty well-established, for example, Gillig down southern California, and many of the others, New Flyer for Minnesota, so there's sort of established bases.
One of the interesting pieces of that, though, is that of course we have the former Freightliner, now Daimler, truck manufacturing facilities. Many people know that Daimler is actually a major manufacturer of buses. And so, we've had some beginning conversations about that.
I think it's a big challenge to think about moving an industry here, it'd be better obviously if there were some increment of bus manufacturing capability in the region, there isn't right now, other than components. So I think it's something we should continue to look at and look for the opportunities to do.
I think one of the more positive things related that is that the Obama administration is really focused on making sure that the funding it produces is really producing American jobs, so there may be some opportunities that we can pay attention to in the future.
Part 4 - Future Projects and Misc.
(Part 4 transcription courtesy of Juke)
DH: The proposed Lake Oswego Transit Project would be the first application of so-called "rapid streetcar" in Portland. The existing Portland Streetcar services are essentially a local mixed-traffic circulator. A rapid streetcar is also discussed as a possibility for the Southwest Corridor project. Do you see TriMet operating streetcar-class vehicles on TriMet branded routes in the future and/or sharing alignments with MAX where it makes sense such as perhaps the Transit Mall beyond the planned Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge?
NM: Take that questions in some pieces... I think one of the things we've been very good at in Portland is trying to match the corridor and its requirements to the technology and so I think, for example, recommendations that have come out of the steering committee for the Portland-Lake Oswego Project make a lot of sense for that corridor. I do see sort of a continued partnership between the City of Portland, which is really the operator of the Portland Streetcar, and TriMet. And that partnership will continue to mold and grow over time as the different lines and the different characteristic come into play. But, it's not my decision alone, the board will obviously weigh into this, I would say that my sense of the Portland to Lake Oswego line is that it's a regional line serving regional travel movements and so therefore it should be supported largely by TriMet operating resources, when it's time to build it.
There are different kinds of streetcar lines, like lines between PSU and South Waterfront for example, which is maybe more of a development-focused line that serves the circulator function in the City of Portland; maybe that has a different mix of TriMet support versus local support. So I think that the streetcar system as it grows over time will have the mix of those kinds of different types of operating support formulas associated with it.
DH: Milwaukie MAX is often referred to as the Orange Line, though many have the opinion that it would be better suited as an extension of the Yellow or Green Lines. Has the color been determined yet and if so what color will it be?
NM: First of all, it will operate as an extension of the Yellow Line, so they are not separate train lines, they are actually through-service lines. Some of the Yellow Lines may turn around or some of the Milwaukie lines may turn around, so bottom line is it really is a through route of the Yellow Line in terms of the way it will operate.
In terms of the color, no, we haven't really decided. As we get closer to the opening, we do a whole series of outreach and service planning characteristics, and right now it just sort of helps us, I think, in terms of the description of talking about it as the Orange as opposed to Yellow which is a line in service, and so we get a little, you know, hopefully we clarify our terminology on that, but a lot more conversation to come on that.
DH: What will the procedure be for naming the new Light Rail bridge, assuming it isn't going to be called the Caruthers Bridge?
NM: Well, it will not called Caruthers Bridge because it actually isn't on Caruthers street. It actually connects between Porter on the West and Sherman, I think it is, on the East side, and so it will have a name and we will have a very public process about it. I can't say that we've designed that process yet. I know that what we'll do is, obviously, be soliciting as we always do, lots of input from the public on that, as well as from of the stakeholders of the project and we'll begin to, then, perhaps, put a panel together that would probably ultimately include an approval by the TriMet board. So, I don't know that I have a process to define, it feels a little early to do that still, but within a year or two we'll be in the midst of that.
DH: When will TriMet build an actual underground system for MAX service through the Downtown area?
NM: Well, I might change the question from "when" to "if." I think there are, first of all, there's philosophical questions to answer about that, and then there are practical ones about the cost and when is our system grown to the point, when does it grow to the point, that it is really justified. To the sort of philosophical point, I think one of the great things about the system is the way that it's integrated in the city streets and it is really an animation of the sidewalks and the city life. It reflects the city life it; it really is just an extension of the sidewalk. That's the way it was designed and I think there are great advantages to that.
There are some disadvantages in that it obviously moves a little slower, number one, and number two we're limited to two-car consists because of the block size in downtown Portland. So I think there still is a question about whether or not we should have a subway, and I think that's a very valid conversation to have over the long term, over the next few years, as the regional transportation plan for example is updated on a regular basis.
The practical side of it, is that it's obviously a very expensive project and right now we are beginning to look at a federal environment that is not, if you will, overflowing with funds, and so we're need to be very I think careful about projects that we put together for the future to make sure that they really are a very cost-effective solution.
To be a little bit more "nerdy" than sometimes I like to talk, one of the things that we try to do when we put together investments is look at the cost-effectiveness. From the FTA standpoint, they use that as a fairly significant measure about whether or not they're going to grant New Starts funds to a particular region, and the more people who are using the system, and who would use a potential subway, the greater cost effectiveness. So one of the things is fundamental is the system has to grow to a large, to some extent, in order to be in a position to justify that kind of big capital expense, which I have no idea but I know is multiple billions of dollars to [inaudible] a subway. So I don't see it any time in the future. I think there is still a fundamental question about whether or not it is the right direction for Portland.
DH: As somewhat of a follow-up, if we did build for underground trains, the downtown block size would no longer be a limit. Has TriMet looked at what it would take for stations outside of the downtown area to accommodate more than two-car train sets?
NM: We have looked at it over some time, some stations can accommodate it relatively easily, other stations it's very hard, and I'll give you a perfect example is the Washington Park Station, obviously that's one where it's very hard to see it grow to three-car trains.
I might also note that there is a trade-off between frequency and size of trains, and so one of the things that's... there may be a point where that is not as critical, but right now, I think, our thought is that we still get great operating efficiencies out of light rail even with the two-car trains, and so at a certain point in time we would rather improve the service with more frequency than have larger trains and we are still at that point, I think, in our system development and growth.
DH: This year MAX turns 25. The original Eastside line opened in 1986. What's planned?
NM: Well, I can't tell you the specific plans but we're definitely going to celebrate it. You've missed another milestone, by the way, which is last month I met my 20th year at TriMet...
NM: ...but it is a bit of a reflection about how long in the tooth I am and the fact that the Banfield line as it was originally is now 25 years old. That's really, pretty amazing, and you begin to think about the transformation in Portland since that first line was built. We've built a whole lot more lines, and transit has become now embedded in the lifestyle of this region, and it is a really important element of our mobility and our lifestyle. And that's all because of that initial investment and that initial change of beginning to build smart infrastructure and beginning to link land-use planning together with that infrastructure.
So that's the course that we've been on. That's why we're the 23rd largest city/region service area in the country but number 8 in per-capita ridership, so we've had some great successes. We'll find a great way to celebrate the birthday of 25 years - great milestone.
I might also note that we've continued to make some improvements in original infrastructure. We'll be opening this year a new station at the Rockwood area which will, I think, be a great enhancement to that community. We opened up the Gresham Civic station, a brand new station, serving the redeveloping Gresham Civic Neighborhood as well, so we're beginning to see improvements along that original investment as well.
TITLE CARD: When are you going to finish painting the light rail vehicles?
NM: (Gesturing off screen) That's a good question. So, you probably recognize that we now have sort of two brands out there - we have the old orange and red stripes and we have the blue and yellow swirls, if you will, and what we intend to do is as our fleet goes through midlife body overhauls, which we do something by the way very intelligent and best practice for light rail vehicles, which is something we call progressive rehabilitation. So we just replace parts as they age out. One of the things we do is in the midlife, we redo the body, we actually take it down to bare metal, re-putty it, and repaint it and that's when they'll be repainted to be the consistent new TriMet markings. So that will occur really over the next few years, as we get to what were originally the cars that were purchased for the Westside light rail project which were, remember, the first low-floor cars in North America
DH: The last one we've got here is: What do you invasion the TriMet system will look like at the end of your tenure? What kind of system and what type of governance would be your ideal?
NM: Well I think, I would love again to see this system to continue to grow and prosper, as I think it has over the long haul. We need to obviously grow out of the recession and that's going to take some time, so we're going to have some times where I think we're going to be challenged to meet the demands of our region just given the resources we've got.
Long term, I'm absolutely bullish on TriMet, the system in this region. I know that we're going to have a great system in the future. Let me think about few of those things we're planning right now. First of all is the restoration of some of the really important bus service that was reduced over the last two years. While we may not be able to get that restoration fully in the next year my hope that in the years ahead we'll begin to phase that back in.
Second of all, is we'll have this great Portland-Milwaukie project, and let me note again I think it's a right time to do that project. Fourteen thousand jobs during the construction period when we need them the most. We'll get good prices because of the way the economy is, and hunger in the contracting market. And I think it will provide great service to the Southeast Corridor.
The other thing that many people perhaps don't focus on is that it will also prove very valuable for the riders of some of our key Southeast Portland bus routes. It will provide express route across the bridge into Downtown Portland, and it will close the loop and actually make the Portland Streetcar loop a loop, so a lot of important functions are provided by that project. So I think that will be a very exciting thing to see.
I think we'll continue to see the growth of the streetcar system, and my hope is that what many of the advocates have called Development-Oriented Transit continues to prosper, continues to be tied to strong land use and economic development in the region. And the Lake Oswego Corridor may be a part of that as well, obviously that's amidst the decision process.
And I'd love to see the Columbia River Crossing with the great light, strong light rail connection developed. And I think that's really important. I am really pleased and excited by the leadership Governor Kitzhaber and Governor Gregoire are providing right now and I think that that is a really positive sign for moving ahead with that project in the long term, so that will be key component of, I think, the future.
And then we're beginning to work, just beginning to work, with Metro and many other jurisdictions on the Southwest Corridor. The Barbur-to-Tigard and beyond. And again, very major corridor, huge concentrated ridership in that corridor, and we need to look for more efficient ways to serve that corridor and good ways to make sure that we continue to build a strong land use pattern in that area that reflects the hopes of dreams of the neighborhoods.
So I think those are all, that means of a very full plate, but I wanted to emphasize my commitment first of all to make sure that the top of that list is restoring some of the key, important bus service that we've had, and again continue to grow our bus system, because that is the workhorse of the system, and I really do want to send a really strong message that I'm going to do everything I can, to make sure that we improve bus service over time.
March 23, 2011
Here's the first two parts of our latest interview with Neil McFarlane, based on questions submitted by the readers of Portland Transport. Parts 1 and 2 cover the broad topic areas of TriMet's financing and service levels, the economy, project funding, and labor contracts.
Special thanks to multiple volunteers who have compiled transcripts of these videos. There is also an embedded closed-captioning track on the YouTube videos (Click the "CC" button on the video player to view).
Sponsored by T4American and a broad range of organizations:
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To learn more about these issues and what we can do about it, we invite you to a box lunch event:
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A box-lunch event and conversation with:
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SEIU Local 49 Hall
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on bus lines 9 and 10
Wednesday, April 6
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Presentations will start promptly at 12:00 pm. Q&A with the panel will be from 1:00 pm to 1:45 pm.
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SEIU Local 49
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March 22, 2011
I'm still jazzed from Transportation Camp! I want to remind folks that open source in transit doesn't just mean Google Transit and smartphone apps for when the next bus is arriving. Here's a very nice piece on TriMet's use of open source throughout their enterprise.
March 21, 2011
I've just returned from a weekend in San Francisco at Transportation Camp West.
I went primarily to make contacts for our Transit Appliance project, and had a chance to give both a conference presentation on it and an Ignite talk (my first time in that format - 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds - you really have to hone your message).
Definitely a success for my key objective, but I also attended some interesting sessions and learned a few things:
- San Francisco is about to roll out the dynamic pricing pilot for parking - both on-street and in city-owned garages - that they've been working on for a couple of years. The idea is to keep at least 15% of on-street parking available by adjusting the pricing up and down based on demand. If parking gets too crowded the price goes up (and back down when spaces open up). An interesting by-product is that they will make the inventory of open spaces available in a real-time data feed, updated every 60 seconds. It will be interesting to see what developers do with it.
- San Francisco is also about to put out an RFP for a web site to map the location of available taxis in the city. Currently the industry dynamics cause cabs to cluster in downtown and at the airport. They hope better connecting taxis and customers on the web or on smart phone apps will improve availability of taxi service in the neighborhoods. The technology is already available for one taxi company in Oregon - click through the jump to see a map (no cabs are displaying as I write this, I hope some will show up during daylight hours).
- Lot's of discussion of peer-to-peer car sharing. California has had the enabling legislation (around insurance issues) for a few years - Oregon is considering it this legislative session - so it should be a preview for us. I'm told that both a Tesla and Ferrari are available for rent in SF!
- Perhaps the most surprising - I learned that there is a "driveway sharing" program coming together. You can rent out space in your driveway (via the web) on an hourly basis to someone who wants to park in your neighborhood. I'm suspicious that Portland's residential zoning would not allow this here (commercial parking is generally not allowed in residential zones).
An educational - if slightly tiring - weekend!
March 20, 2011
A common subject which appears in the comments here at Portland Transport is along the lines of the following:
"Why don't they build a subway downtown?"
Other questions and comments frequently get at the same point: Portland's transit system, particularly MAX, moves slowly through the downtown area. While MAX is frequently time-competitive with driving for trips involving downtown, especially when the alternative involves having to pay to park, a common criticism is that it is far less for competitive for crosstown or suburb-to-suburb trips.
Hence today's discussion.
Various solutions to this problem have been proposed and discussed, and the downtown subway is one that Metro has taken a good look at. The High Capacity Transit Plan (pdf here) is a long-range planning document for rapid transit, written in 2008 and incorprated into the Regioanl Transportaion Plan in 2010. The HCT plan focuses mainly on corridors within the Oregon side of the Portland metro area, but does take a look at two proposals for improving cross-town trip performance and/or system capacity. Starting from Page 44:
The public, jurisdictional staff and elected officials requested that the Regional HCT System Plan evaluate options for improving operating speed of MAX through downtown Portland. The plan conducted an analysis of two options for improving travel speeds through downtown:
The analysis concluded that construction of a downtown bypass or tunnel does improve travel speed but at the expense of superior access to employment and households in downtown provided by an at-grade, convenient alignment. This analysis also concluded that the operational need to meet projected demand can be met with the existing surface alignments on Southwest Morrison and Yamhill streets and on the Portland Mall. Downtown employment constitutes a high enough percentage of regional employment that diminished accessibility due to a single station is not outweighed by optimizing transit travel speed through the downtown. Direct service is measured by walk access of a half mile. The total estimated capital cost to construct the downtown tunnel as described is $2.2 billion in 2009 dollars. More stations could be built, but the travel time savings would be correspondingly less, diminishing returns for what would be one of the most expensive projects ever built in the region.
- An east-west tunnel from Lloyd Center/Northeast 11th Avenue station to Goose Hollow/Southwest Jefferson station with a single station located in the vicinity of Pioneer Courthouse Square. The tunnel would save approximately 12 minutes of travel time for passengers traveling from the Lloyd Center to Goose Hollow or beyond and allow for longer train sets not constrained by downtown block widths.
- An eastside bypass from the future OMSI station to Interstate Rose Quarter station. This bypass would save approximately 10 minutes for approximately 4 percent of passengers traveling north-south past the central city.
The section concludes:
Other surface running options for enhancing MAX travel speed through downtown will be considered by the City of Portland in the Central City Plan; these may prove to be the most cost-effective improvements and to best match regional land use and growth management goals. Simply eliminating one or two tightly spaced stations, providing bypass tracks for express trains on Southwest Morrison and Yamhill streets, or adding a separate express alignment on another couplet in downtown could all improve travel speed through the central city at a minimal cost when compared with tunneling.
In other words, the planning staff at Metro doesn't view such a project as worth it, either in the near term. One of the stated justifications for a tunnel--the two-car limit on MAX trains imposed by downtown city blocks--is not currently a system bottleneck, and the vast majority of the trips taken on MAX begin or end downtown--and thus might be inconvenienced by such an arrangement. The report does neglect to discuss what becomes of the existing tracks--whether they continue to operate (either as Streetcar lines, with transfers at Goose Hollow and Lloyd center, or as MAX lines with express and local branches diverging at these stations).
The Metro report does mention a few other possibilities, and there have been additional proposals from elsewhere.
- Removing stations. As noted below, there is an average of 1500 feet between stations in the stretch between Rose Quarter and Goose Hollow--that's a station every 6 blocks. There are several examples of adjacent stops even closer than that--the
PGE ParkJen-Weld Field and King Street stations are probably the most notorious examples; and station spacing is closer to 1000 feet between the stadium and Old Town. All stops, of course, have constituencies, and many of them were essentially political preconditions for getting the line built, but if the right arms could be twisted, there is opportunity for addition by subtraction.
- Limited grade separation. There's a few stretches where a limited amount of grade-separation of the current alignment, say a cheap viaduct or a cut-and-cover tunnel, could offer significant operational improvements; a common area where this is often proposed is the Yamhill/Morrison couplet between 3rd and 12th. (The skybridges and tunnels crossing Yamhill for Pioneer Place would be problematic, however). Separation of the line from the street would eliminate cross traffic and pedestrian hazard, and permit faster speeds; particularly if a few stops were removed. A bigger advantage to such a project would be the ability to avoid the at-grade crossings of the transit mall and the Streetcar line, which are notorious bottlenecks in the system and a frequent source of delay (and as discussed in another thread, a common reason why busses and trains downtown often don't wait for passengers).
- A separate express surface alignment. A good idea in theory; but one which founders on the rocks in practice when one asks the simple question "where"? I can't think of any downtown surface alignments which would be appropriate for such a thing; and to be honest, were it politically viable to repurpose a downtown street for transit, I'd rather build something like an east/west transit mall. Perhaps an elevated route over I-405 might make sense; though connecting such a thing to the Steel Bridge (or finding another way to cross the river) are left as exercises for the reader.
- A bypass route elsewhere. One of the more interesting corridor proposals in the HCT plan is a connection between Clackamas Town Center and Washington Square; were such a thing extended to Beaverton TC and implemented with light rail, it would provide an alternate route for east-west trains that avoids downtown. This sort of thing is decades off, however.
The bigger picture
Right now, the Blue Line takes about an hour and 45 minutes to travel from end-to-end (from Government Center in Hillsboro to Cleveland Avenue in Gresham). It's useful to break the line into segments--an arbitrary segmenting of the line (heading east) is the following:
- Hillsboro to Willow Creek/185th: 17 minutes by train, 16 minutes by car, ~6 miles, 8 station gaps, average .75 miles between stations
- Willow Creek to Beaverton TC: 11 minutes by train, 12 minutes by car, ~4 miles, 6 station gaps, average 0.67 miles between stations
- Beaverton TC to Goose Hollow: 14 minutes, 10 minutes by car, ~6.5 miles, 3 station gaps, average 2.1 miles between stations Goose Hollow to Rose Quarter: 16-20 minutes by train, 15 minutes by car, 2.8 miles, 10 station gaps, avg 0.3 miles (1500 feet) between stations.
- Rose Quarter to Gateway: 15 minutes by train, 9 minutes by car, ~6 miles, 7 station gaps, 0.84 miles between stations
- Gateway to Rockwood: 16 minutes by train, 13 minutes by car, 5 miles, 7 station gaps, 0.7 miles between stations
- Rockwood to Gresham: 9 minutes by train, 9 minutes by car, ~2.5 miles, 5 station gaps, 0.5 miles between stations.
MAX times are taken from the Blue Line weekday timetable and averaging; driving times taken from Google Maps' driving directions (which generally do not consider the effects of rush hour traffic). Distances are approximate, driving routes are chosen that most closely approximate MAX line (but which are reasonable).
The analysis shows a few interesting things:
- For short-to-medium length trips along much of the line, MAX offers similar times to driving--the exceptions being the freeway-running segments and downtown. It's hard for trains to compete with (uncongested) freeways; MAX does better against the freeways in rush hour. And in the downtown segments, where MAX runs at the same speed as cars and is generally stuck at the same lights (but stops on average every 4 blocks), driving is faster--assuming you can find a place to park. MAX actually does well west of Beaverton TC and east of Gateway, where it isn't having to compete directly with a freeway. (US26 and I-84 are parallel, but far enough away to be impractical for many trips).
- If you have to go the length of the line, however, it takes an hour to drive but 1:40 for the train. This is unsurprising, as longer trips can more easily leverage the freeway network. Likewise, it takes less than half the time to drive from Beaverton TC to Gateway than it takes the train--here, MAX is competing with a nearly-direct freeway route for the entire trip.
- Reducing the time for the downtown segment by half (about 12 minutes) would improve the crosstown trip times, but not enough to be competitive with driving except during rush hour. A further important factor to consider is the plethora of free parking available outside of downtown, a major factor in encouraging transit for downtown trips.
- Besides the downtown segment, the other "slow" segments of the line are at the ends, in downtown Hillsboro and Gresham. This is a common design practice, as it tends to reduce the number of empty seats at the ends of the line, while not inconveniencing as many passengers as a high stop density mid-line would.
Is it worth it?
Currently, planners answer this question in the negative--in the view of Metro, the region has far more important transit needs than speeding up trips through downtown. Were $2 billion to become available for capital transit projects, I can think of many things I'd rather spend it on than a downtown subway; some minor improvements might make sense.
But there are other barriers to transit being a popular mode for crosstown trips. Connecting transit is poor in many parts of the region, especially those places outside the city of Portland; driving is far more attractive when you do not have to pay to park, and for many trips there's a more direct route not through downtown. Many source/destination pairs are very difficult to do on transit; and speeding up MAX downtown won't solve this problem.
What do readers think about these questions? What are good ways to speed up transit through the city center, and should this be a priority? The floor is open.
March 18, 2011
From Mary Vogel, the PlanGreen and Advocacy and Alliances Chair for the Cascadia chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism:
With a theme of Placemaking's Role in Sustainability, the CNU Cascadia 2011 Summit will put a great deal of focus on the transit-oriented development along the currently operating Portland Streetcar. Expect some world-class critiques of streetscapes, structures and their intersection in various neighborhoods as participants strive to define great placemaking.
Kay Dannen of Portland Streetcar will be joining us for the SW Portland Streetcar tour. And I'm going to ask a few activist neighbors I know in my downtown neighborhood to be available to speak to us too. A representative from Gerding Edlen may join us for the Brewery Blocks portion of the NW tour--and maybe a NW activist or two as well.
Since it's inception, the Congress for the New Urbanism has created walkable neighborhoods with a strong sense of place. Since we see streets as the major part of the public realm, transportation is critical in New Urbanist design. We're excited to have one of our thought leaders, Steve Mouzon share his views along with authors Kingston Heath & Ross Chapin. All three will join us for discussion on the Placemaking theme as well. Mini-presentations by CNU members will focus on their recent work.
The first Streetcar tour starts outside the NW corner of Powell's at 5 PM, Friday, March 25. We'll re-group for a reception with Steve Mouzon at 7 PM at the AIA Center for Architecture at NW 11th and Flanders. Please join us as we are open to all disciplines dealing with transportation and the built environment--including community activists. The fee is only $35, complimentary to media.
March 17, 2011
Some great reporting by the Oregonian's Joe Rose on a "poll" showing support for the Columbia River Crossing (really just one question in another poll - want to bet they didn't ask if folks were OK with the Oregon Legislature appropriating the required $400M for our state's contribution?).
Joe also includes a link to the latest update to Spencer Boomhower's wonder video (embedded below) explaining what's really in this project.
March 15, 2011
We'll be showing it at Transportation Camp next weekend. But meanwhile you can get a sneak peak and a preview of my presentation at http://transitappliance.org/2011/03/12/getting-ready-for-transportation-camp/
And to whet your appetite, here's the Streetfilms video from Transportation Camp East:
March 14, 2011
A busy weekend:
- Ethan Seltzer says we're "Lost in the Weeds"
- Jeffrey Stuhr and Mark Masciarotte make the case for the Cable-Stayed design (perhaps they're coordinating with the Mayor?)
- Carrying on the Oregonian Editorial Board line, David Sarasohn implies we don't have time to consider anything except a truss bridge.
March 13, 2011
Our interview is currently scheduled for Tuesday, March 15th. If there's a question you'd like to ask but don't see something similar in the comments, now is your last chance... Please wrap up questions by early afternoon on Monday. Thanks!
Last July, we conducted an interview with TriMet's new General Manager, Neil McFarlane, shortly after he took over the position after working a number of years as TriMet's director of capital projects.
The interview featured questions posed by readers of PortlandTransport representing a variety of viewpoints, as well as a few questions from regular PortlandTransport contributors.
Neil has now been on the job for over six months, and Portland Transport has another opportunity to sit down for an interview coming up later this month.
So now's your chance for another round of questioning! Please share your questions or areas of interest in the comments, and like last time, we'll compile (and condense or combine as needed) what we believe to be a representative sample of those questions and ask them in the interview. Questions from all perspectives are welcome - as before, questions should be briefly stated, relevant to the topic of TriMet, and civil.
(Disclosure after the jump.)
Disclosure: It has recently come to my attention that a building my business leases space in may be affected by Milwaukie Light Rail construction. I have no idea at this time if there's any program (financial or otherwise) which applies to my business, but it is possible that construction may impact me financially, positively or negatively. Since MLR is likely to come up as a topic, I feel this little disclosure is appropriate and I pledge, just like last time, impartiality.
March 11, 2011
I haven't seen any kind of press release, but this letter to the Governor just popped up in the RSS feed for the Mayor's office (I think they have to upload attachments before they can create the parent post).
In addition to the Mayor pushing the cable-stayed option for the Columbia River Crossing, it also appears that whatever the bridge choice, we're going to need a Supplemental DEIS - a partial do-over. If that's true, why not take the time to seriously look at a supplemental bridge option?
March 10, 2011
I mentioned it in the open thread, but I will repeat it here. Before you go read the rest of this article, go read Michael Anderson's excellent report on fare enforcement on TriMet. Go read it now, and come back and click through when you are done.
As Michael notes, TriMet let go of nearly 3/4 of its fare enforcement staff last September. And as expected, fare evasion has shot up considerably. What the optimum number of fare inspectors is, I don't know--but as indicated in the report, TriMet has seven full-time inspectors covering 1500 miles of lines (bus and MAX; WES has onboard conductors so in theory does not need separate fare enforcement).
The need for fare inspectors on MAX, a service which openly operates on the proof-of-payment system, is obvious. But there's only 50-odd miles of MAX tracks, not 1500. So what gives?
Types of fare enforcement
Ignoring systems which don't have fares, there are essentially three types of fare enforcement systems:
- Secure platform: In a secure platform system, all places at which one can board a transit system are secured--entry into stations or platforms requires proof of payment of fare. Such systems are commonly referred to as "turnstiles" or "fare gates" in the trade, and many such systems also require proof of payment on exiting, to support enforcement of variable fare policies. There are a few MAX stations secured in this manner, but in general, TriMet doesn't operate on this principle. This is generally found with grade-separated metros where access to stations can be easily controlled; surface light rail and local bus service is incompatible with this.
- Secure vehicle: In a secure vehicle system, often called "pay the driver" or "pay as you board", proof of payment must be presented in order to board a vehicle. Generally, technical barriers like turnstiles are not possible on board, so enforcement is by humans--the driver or an onboard conductor.
- Neither. The third choice is to secure neither vehicles nor platforms. When doing this, either fare enforcement is not done ("the honor system") or random inspection of passengers is done, who must possess proof of payment and show it to inspectors on demand (thus, "proof of payment"). This is the least intrusive and most flexible system, as it permits things like all-door boarding, street-level boarding, and other niceties. The problem, though, is it is the easiest system for scofflaws to abuse.
MAX, as mentioned above, uses proof-of-payment, with a few secure platforms located in neighborhoods where fare-jumpers are known to originate. The Portland Streetcar uses proof-of-payment as well. WES, with onboard conductors, is essentially secure-vehicle.
But what about the busses?
The dirty little secret
A not-very-well-kept-secret about the busses is that they essentially operate on proof-of-payment as well. But many people think that busses operate on the pay-as-you-board principle.
And it sure looks like it.
When you step on a TriMet bus, the driver generally asks to see proof of payment--either a pass, or a valid transfer or rail ticket, or two-bucks-and-change dropped into the hopper. And you only get to board at the front door--the back door is for egress only. But a subtle thing happens if you pay cash, that ought to tip you off: the driver hands you a transfer slip, whether you ask or not.
Normally, transit agencies which operate on pay-the-driver only issue transfer slips to those passengers who request one--typically, those passengers who actually have to transfer to another vehicle to complete a journey. After all, transfer slips can be used by scofflaws to avoid fares on subsequent trips--even if drivers are thorough about ensuring they are unexpired, they can be passed from one passenger to another. And once a passenger has got past the driver, she's presumed to be on board lawfully, so no reason to hand her a piece of litter.
But on TriMet, everyone who doesn't already have a fare instrument in their possession when they hop on the bus, gets handed a transfer slip. And what's more, as Michael notes--passengers who refuse to either pay or show a valid pass, are still let on board--fare enforcement isn't really part of the driver's job. You're handed that transfer for a reason--a fare inspector just might ask to see it.
The worst of both worlds
What is the point of this bizarro fare enforcement policy? Were I to hazard a guess, it's that TriMet wants the flexibility of proof-of-payment without the enforcement cost. Proof-of-payment has numerous advantages over pay-as-you-board: Transfers are easier to deal with, it's easier to implement such things as zone-based systems and time-based ticketing, and fare enforcement is a pain for drivers--especially when it involves dealing with irate or uncooperative passengers. But for it to work, you need to have a corps of fare inspectors to keep things honest. TriMet has demonstrated that this is not a budget priority, even before the recent cutbacks--so many of the trappings of pay-as-you-board are in places, in order to convince the deadbeats out there that drivers were guarding their busses. It appears that the drivers are the gatekeepers to the busses, but in reality, that's not true. Fareless Square was a big gaping hole in this arrangement--people knew that they could board a bus downtown, say "fareless", and chances are nobody would bother them as they rode out to Gresham, which is one reason I suspect it was moved to rail-only--but the system is there nonetheless.
But it sounds like word may well be getting out (and I realize that this article may advance this knowledge--it's not my job to keep TriMet's secrets secret), that drivers don't enforce fares at all. And given the present labor dispute, it's unlikely this will change.
But here's the problem. This system gives us the worst of both worlds as far as the fare policies are concerned. Fare evasion is still a big problem. But the need to file past the driver increases dwell time at stops, especially for cash passengers trying to jam wrinkled bills into the bill-acceptor. And the driver still has to check passes and transfers, and issue transfers to cash passengers, many of who wonder why TriMet is wasting money handing them litter in a budget crisis.
So why not simply bite the bullet and switch to explicit proof of payment?
Staging the transition
The transition could be staged, of course--the lines on which proof of payment is most likely to be useful are the busiest and most frequent ones. The designated (and future) frequent service lines would be excellent places to start--on these lines, make it known to the public that boarding through any door is permitted (cash fares can still board at the front and receive a transfer), and that fares will be enforced by random inspection. The hard part, of course, is actually doing the enforcement--TriMet seems to have trouble policing the lines as it is; could it handle an open PoP strategy on a larger part of its network?
A second possibility would be to switch to real pay-the-driver on the less-used "social service" routes--the ones that frequently run empty and seldom run full, and which could be replaced with minibusses were TriMet to decide to do so. On a service with few passengers boarding, drivers could check for fares more reliably and without causing service delays--particularly for those routes that don't cross fare zone boundaries. Differences in nomenclature or livery could be used to tell the two types of busses apart if some bus lines are PoP and others are pay-the-driver. And of course, if a line has true pay-the-driver fare policy, it need not be subjected to random fare inspection--the inspectors could be sent to those parts of the system where they are really needed.
I don't know that it's going to inform the policy debate very much, but this video making the case for High Speed Rail is too funny to miss.
March 9, 2011
I had a blast at RailVolution! here in Portland this year. Next year it moves to our nation's capital and the call for speakers is now out:
We want the people who will lead the movement -- people who can best share the stories that will educate, provoke and inspire conference attendees through toolbox sessions, panel presentations, and workshops. We are calling on a wide range of speakers whose work supports and furthers our mission of building livable communities with transit.
The deadline is March 31st. More details at: http://www.railvolution.com
March 8, 2011
This website has long focused on transportation systems designed to move people: buses, trains, bicycles, sidewalks, and even the private automobile (although the latter is frequently held in low esteem 'round these parts). But transportation systems designed to move freight are often not given as much consideration by those of us in transit advocacy. Systems for freight movement are far less visible to the public, and are beyond the scope of agencies such as TriMet. (Many transit advocates also have similar objections to truck traffic as they do to automobile traffic). But efficient freight movement is equally important to the economy as movement of people, and ought to IMHO be a greater concern, particularly since the needs of freight is commonly sought as justification for building additional highway capacity, which is then consumed by single-occupant vehicles.
Log rapid transit
We'll start today's rant with a bit of history.
Many longtime Oregonians are familiar with the so-called "Molalla Forest Road". It was a two lane highway which ran from a log dump along the Willamette River west of Canby, up into Molalla and the lumber camps in the Cascade foothills. It mostly ran parallel to the Oregon Pacific ("Samtrak") rail line which ran to Molalla (and nowadays end in the town of Liberal, just north of Molalla). The right-of-way still mostly exists, and is used as a trail, though the pavement is long gone for much of the route. The most conspicuous remnant of the Molalla Forest Road is the big green viaduct crossing over Highway 99E as you enter Canby from the north, right above the wye where the OP joins with the UPRR mainline. (Here's a partial map of the route).
The MFR was a private road, closed to the public (although an exception apparently existed for those using it to look at property, a pretext my parents occasionally used to go exploring). One of its more interesting features, though, was signal priority for trucks at all grade crossings of regular streets--including at intersections with OR213 and OR211 near Molalla. Traffic on these two state highways was stopped by a traffic light whenever a log truck came barreling by. It was like Bus Rapid Transit--for timber. Why some may grouse at the inequity of giving commercial traffic priority over ordinary motorists, in some ways, it makes sense--log trucks (and other large vehicles) take a lot energy to accelerate from s stop, and keeping them moving is beneficial. (And this was the 1970s, after all--a time where energy shortages weren't uncommon). The route, which was privately owned, may have also been a way for timber companies to avoid paying weight-mile tax and/or having to comply with ODOT motor carrier regulations.
According to reports, there were similar "forest roads" elsewhere in the Metro area, including in SW Washington, though I've no personal knowledge of any of these. The MFR closed sometime in the early 1980s, as hard times hit the timber industry in Oregon.
The trouble with truck routes
Today, the concept of a road dedicated for trucking seems almost unheard of. There are many streets and roads designated as "truck routes", but the vast majority of these are of an entirely different character. Like the pullout bus stop (which "allows" a bus stopped to pick up passengers to not block traffic--cui bono?), most truck routes aren't there for the benefit of trucks, but for the benefit of cars and local residents who seek to avoid truck traffic. Truck routes generally don't designate exclusive routes for trucks, but the routes where trucking isn't forbidden. In many cases, the prohibition is more direct--signs saying "no trucks" (or "no through trucks" or "deliveries only") identify streets where trucks are not to go, or are only permitted if making a local stop.
While some truck routes exist for safety reasons (keeping large trucks off of streets with sharp curves, steep grades, or narrow lanes), most exist to keep through trucks from offending the neighbors or interfering with auto traffic. Motorists don't like mingling with Macks, and many residents don't enjoy the sound of air horns, air breaks, and fifteen speed transmissions. Or the smell of diesel fumes, for that matter--a complaint frequently made about busses as well. (And diesel fumes are known to have harmful health effects, so this isn't a trivial concern--grist for the bus/rail mill).
Trucking is treated as second-class in many other places, as well. On freeways wider than two lanes in each direction, trucks are generally barred from all but the outermost two lanes. In some cities, such as Washington DC, one finds numerous freeways labeled "parkways" on which truck traffic is banned altogether.
That said, there are good reasons to segregate trucking from other types of traffic (and from residential land uses). Trucks have fundamentally different acceleration and deceleration profiles than do automobiles, and the velocity of maximum fuel efficiency is far lower. Most modern cars are designed to have peak fuel economy at freeway speeds; and small trucks and SUVs are generally most fuel-efficient at 45MPH or so; large trucks experience peak fuel economy at around 35MPH. Trucks are generally driven by more-skilled operators, as commercial drivers' licenses are generally needed to operate them (with some exceptions for self-serve moving vans, church busses, and the like). And the vast differences in mass mean that a collision between a car and a truck is usually deadly for the motorist and his/her passengers. Trucks also need wider lanes, higher clearances, and larger turning radii than cars do. My objection is not to separate facilities, it is to the second class treatment that freight often receives.
Honest. It's for the trucks.
Civil libertarians have long observed, and lamented, a longstanding tendency for those supporting freedom-restricting legislation to defend it on the grounds of protecting children. "It's for the kids" is frequently the mantra of numerous attempts to regulate public morality or increase police/surveillance powers, even when the proposed solution is targeted at primarily adult activities that have little to do with minors. A similar principle applies to highway-building, which is often justified on the grounds that it is beneficial to shipping.
When it comes time to plan new road projects, or multi-modal projects with a road component--the needs of shippers are given the utmost prominence in planning documents. Industry and trade groups are given a seat at the table. The deplorable impact of congestion on freight movements is deplored--as it causes deliveries to be late, deadlines to be missed, and real money to be wasted when trucks are stuck in traffic. And when highways, especially freeways, are involved, freight is proclaimed to be the very lifeblood of the economy--if we don't build adequate freight infrastructure, civic leaders will loudly harrumph, industry may choose to locate somewhere else which does. (There's a reason, by the way, that the so-called "race to the bottom" isn't as fast as many would like to claim; many places at the bottom of the wage scale have environments unsuitable for business for other reasons, including undeveloped infrastructure).
Consider the CRC.
From the CRC purpose and need statement:
Impaired freight movement: I-5 is part of the National Truck Network, and the most important freight freeway on the West Coast linking international, national and regional markets in Canada, Mexico and the Pacific Rim with destinations throughout the western United States. In the center of the project area, I-5 intersects with the Columbia River's deep water shipping and barging as well as two river-level, transcontinental rail lines. The I-5 crossing provides direct and important highway connection to the Port of Vancouver and Port of Portland facilities located on the Columbia River as well as the majority of the area's freight consolidation facilities and distribution terminals. [Remember this sentence--ES] Freight volumes moved by truck to and from the area are projected to more than double over the next 25 years. Vehicle-hours of delay on truck routes in the Portland-Vancouver area are projected to increase by more than 90 percent over the next 20 years. Growing demand and congestion will result in increasing delay, costs and uncertainty for all businesses that rely on this corridor for freight movement.All true. The CRC project area includes numerous freight nodes--the river terminals run by the Ports of Portland and Vancouver, numerous industrial areas on both sides of the river, Swan Island, access to PDX, and several rail terminas. The DEIS adds:
- Supporting a sound regional economy and job growth.
- Enhancing the I-5 corridor as a global trade gateway by addressing the need to move freight efficiently and reliably through the I-5 bridge influence area, and allowing for river navigational needs.
The freight working group spent a lot of time and money developing various technical reports, including an Existing Conditions Technical Report. The FWG produced a list of several recommended strategies to benefit freight movements, including:
- Truck by-pass lanes
- Access ramps for trucks
- Enhanced design for truck mobility
So what happens? Were the FWG's suggestions, particularly the first two, heeded? Don't be silly. Instead, lots of general purpose lanes are built, justified by the needs of freight, but all of which are open to car traffic. Given the phenomenon of induced demand, wherein unused roadway capacity attracts additional users (and additional development), it likely won't be long before trucks are stuck in the same traffic as before.
A few important things to note as to why this state of affairs--this bait-and-switch--is so unfortunate.
- Demand for road use by commuters is far more elastic than is demand for the roads by freight, and also experiences high peak loads, during the morning and evening rush hours.
- Commuters have other choices--carpooling, transit, active transportation, or even time-shifting their commutes to the off-peak hours. The main option available to freight is time-shifting, which many freight operators already do. An 18-wheeler is transit as far as freight is concerned; the amount and types of freight which can be suitably delivered by rail or water (both of which are cheaper and more efficient than trucking when they are suitable) is limited.
- Facilities which must handle both trucks and cars have to be designed to accommodate both vehicles safely; meaning more stringent design standards (much of the expense of the CRC is addressing ramps which are too short or closely-spaced; a concern which is exacerbated by trucks. Separate facilities can be engineered according to the needs of the specific vehicle.
It is interesting, then, to note the inconsistency between how road agencies claim to treat trucking, and the inconsistency with how trucking is really treated. While it is the case that industry frequently gets a seat at the planning table, the politicians who ultimately make decisions are well aware of an important thing: Freight does not vote. Motorists do, and many motorists dislike the idea of dedicating road space to trucks, just as quite a few dislike bus lanes, bike lanes, and carpool lanes. And, in many cases, building segregated roadways makes projects more complex. But given the sheer importance of the I-5 corridor for freight movements, this is one place where it might make sense.
The resurrection of the truck-only lane?
In recent years, transportation authorities around the country have started to notice this phenomenon, and many proposals for so-called truck-only lanes have cropped up. A few such lanes already exist, mostly for safety reasons. But some projects have been suggested for building truck-only lanes for other reasons.
- CalTrans has studied the issue, in the Long Beach area.
- Addition of 2 truck-only lanes in each direction has been proposed for an 800-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in the Midwest.
- A proposal for a stretch of I-94 in Minnesota has been made.
However, such proposals frequently face two obstacles. One, they are often judged on their ability to reduce auto congestion--unsurprisingly, this seldom works, due to induced demand. Second, they are often expected to pay for themselves, or are proposed as "toll lanes" which truckers must pay extra to use.
White Paper Seven
In 2009, ODOT commissioned a series of white papers investigating the prospect of tolling on Oregon roads, and one paper in the series--White Paper Seven--looked at the practicality of "truck only toll lanes", which would be truck-only lanes that would be available to freight haulers for an additional fee. The paper's conclusion was not promising--from a summary document:
TOT lanes appear to have little utility in Oregon because Oregon already allows longer-combination vehicles (three trailer-trucks) on highways, so the ability to improve productivity is limited. In addition, limited urban right of way, high construction costs, environmental concerns associated with expanding highway capacity and insufficient demand would decrease the utility of TOT lanes.
- Long haul truckers with three trailers on their trucks already operate on Oregon highways and congestion is not high enough to warrant dedicated TOT lanes.
- Portland is part of the most congested urban area in Oregon, and conditions will continue to get worse as the region continues to grow. If TOT lanes were only available in Portland, or another urban center, it is likely they would not be able to provide their intended value:
- Truck demand remains level throughout the day but congestion typically occurs during peak hours. TOT lanes would only offer limited time saving during most days.
- Long haul truckers would not find enough value to their overall trip to pay a toll for a short distance TOT lane
- Improving truck access to ports is not a significant concern for the state.[emphasis added by me--does the CRC committee know about this?]
- Many toll roads are built with a combination of toll funds and government funds. Government officials would need to determine if subsidizing a TOT lane was the best use of public funds. Other options might be able to meet similar objectives and be more cost-effective.
While the entire white paper is worthwhile reading, and includes lots of details of the problem, the conclusions strike me as suspect due to several flawed premises:
- Any such project would have to be largely, or completely, financed by tolls. "Lexus lanes" are frequently a dubious proposition for auto traffic, and essentially the TOT facilities discussed are Lexus lanes for trucks.
- Any such facility is presumed to be new, and thus requiring new construction.
- The positively economic impacts of freer movement of freight, so proudly boasted of whenever a highway project is on the table, isn't mentioned at all.
In fairness, the white paper was part of a study on tolling, so its focus was there as well; it would be an error to construe the paper's conclusion as "truck only facilities are bad". But if truck-only facilities need to be entirely user-funded (through tolls or other surcharges on freight haulers), a condition not imposed on highway projects, the outlook appears to be bleak.
If the region were really serious about freight
If we were really serious about freight movements, we would design our highway system to reflect this fact--and give freight needs higher priority over auto traffic, particularly the SOV variety. Right now, much of our policy effectively does the reverse. We, as a region, are serious about transit and about active transportation (the latter has the nice property of being inexpensive), but freight is still forced to sit in mixed traffic.
If we were serious about freight movements, we would abandon the attitude portrayed in White Paper Seven--that if shippers want improvements to the infrastructure, they have to pay for it. We happily subsidize motorists, and we happily subsidize transit.
And if were really serious about freight--in certain corridors we might created dedicated freight lanes or freight routes the same way Paris installed bus lanes, almost overnight--by taking away lanes from cars. Right now, on northbound I-5, there is a HOV lane, and one proposed for the southbound lanes in the future--why not a truck lane instead? We have a transit mall, why not create a "trucking malls" on certain key corridors like Yeon, Going, Columbia, or Marine? Why not queue jump lanes and/or signal priority for big rigs, like we have for TriMet all over town?
If we went whole-hog, we might even entertain the sort of freight-focused, big ticket public works project that today isn't even on the radar, such as a bridge connecting Swan Island to the NW Industrial district, or a truck tunnel (parallel to the current rail tunnel) under N Portland, connecting Swan Island to Columbia Boulevard. Pie in the sky, I realize, but ideas don't cost anything.
And if we were serious about promoting Portland as a place to do business, imagine the potential advantages that would come about if the city had a reputation for first-class freight infrastructure, and not just quality public transit. In fact, the quality alternative systems for the movement of people gives us a leg up, as we as a region can afford to dedicate more of our roads and highway capacity to the movement of goods, just as we dedicate more of our streets to pedestrians and bicycles.
The choice is ours.
Some thoughts on my other blog about setting our sights higher on one of the next streetcar lines.
March 7, 2011
A very entertaining video from Detroit that advocates for what I would call the Light Rail pattern of transit versus the Streetcar pattern (at least as we express it here in Portland), although the video doesn't frame it that way. One of Portland's bike-on-rail hazard signs makes a cameo appearance :-)
Very creative advocacy...
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Kristie Gladhill, Transportation Modeler, Metro
Topic: Modeling Safety and Urban Form
When: Friday, March 11, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
March 4, 2011
An excellent op-ed that the Oregonian only posted online. A mega-bridge project was unpacked and only the key component moved forward.
Unfortunately, the transit component was lost in the process...
March 3, 2011
Passed on by car-sharing maven Dave Brooks:
I'm sure you are familiar with the concept of car-sharing--a convenient, affordable and sustainable alternative to car ownership. This legislative session, a bill has been introduced to spur what I call "car-sharing 2.0" --car-sharing of private vehicles. Also known as "peer-to-peer car-sharing," "personal vehicle car-sharing," Personal Vehicle Carsharing allows private car owners to turn their cars into revenue producers by renting their vehicles through a car-sharing service and earning a percentage of the rental revenue.
Several start-up companies are leading the peer-to-peer car-sharing market and will be primed to do so in Oregon once some legal issues are clarified. To that end, Representative Ben Cannon and Senator Jackie Dingfelder have introduced legislation to establish standards for personal vehicle car-sharing.
The House Transportation and Economic Development Committee has scheduled a hearing on this legislation, House Bill 3149, is scheduled for this Friday, March 4, 1-3 pm in room D of the Capitol. Among other things, the legislation requires a personal vehicle car-sharing program to provide motor vehicle liability insurance when the vehicle is in use in the program and prohibits insurers from canceling a person's personal auto insurance if their vehicle is used in a personal vehicle car-sharing program. Text of HB 3149 (some amendments are in the works): http://www.leg.state.or.us/11reg/measpdf/hb3100.dir/hb3149.intro.pdf
Updated information about the progress of P2P carsharing in Oregon can be found at
which also provides links to peer-to-peer car-sharing firms and other useful information.
The sponsors hope you'll express your support for the bill by contacting members of the committee.
Rep. Cliff Bentz, Co-Chair: email@example.com
Rep. Tobias Read, Co-Chair: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Terry Beyer, Co-Vice Chair: email@example.com
Rep. Patrick Sheehan, Co-Vice Chair: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Shawn Lindsay: email@example.com
Rep. Nancy Nathanson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Jefferson Smith: email@example.com
Rep. Jim Weidner: firstname.lastname@example.org
An update from Kris, the bill will get a hearing:
Great news: HB 3178 will be heard Fri., 1-3, in the Trans. & Econ. Dev. Comm., HR D. Also possible work session (vote). We'd suggest sending a letter of support to Co-chair Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario: email@example.com, and Vice Co-chair Patrick Sheehan, R-Clackamas: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original Post: 2/21/11
Kris Nelson, principal of Geonomics Consulting and an adjunct faculty in Marylhurst University's Sustainable MBA program, consults and researches on incentive taxation, renewable energy and policy, and sustainable business development. He's co-authored several studies, articles, and policy proposals on land value taxation and value capture finance with Tom Gihring, Ph.D., of International Planning Consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Oregon has become internationally recognized for its quality urban transit service and planning for development near rail transit stops. However the government-funded subsidies and incentives that have been available to developers for transit oriented development (TOD) are not inexhaustible, and cannot be relied upon to keep up with expanding rail systems and the corresponding interest in transit communities.
What is needed now is a new source of funding to support TOD that is targeted specifically for this purpose, yet will not impose a burden on local general taxpayers. Oregon could pioneer the next generation of walkable, attractive transit station communities if a market-based mechanism were available to finance the public infrastructure needed to support their development.
An innovative version of a special assessment district is currently being offered in the state legislature, termed a Transit Benefit District (TBD). This is a form of 'value capture', whereby the uplift in land values within a district circumscribing a rail station that is caused by the presence of rail transit access becomes a levy base. Proceeds from the captured share of land value gains are used by local jurisdictions to finance public works supportive of transit oriented development (TOD).
Place-making public improvements include right-of-way improvements, the enhancement of street connectivity and feeder transit connections, bicycle & pedestrian amenities, public art, parks and plazas. Revenue may also be used for gap financing of replacement or additional below-market rate housing.
Recovering land value increments attributed to public investments has dual purposes: (1) to finance public place-making capital improvements that support successful TOD; and (2) to spur highest and best land use supported by market demand, and inhibit the holding of idle sites in station areas.
A multitude of empirical studies have shown that as soon as station areas within a new rail corridor are announced, land values begin to rise, sometimes rapidly; then, when re-zoning to a higher density follows, the increased building capacity translates to a second, often dramatic increase in land values.
A TBD is similar to a local improvement district (LID), whereby a contiguous group of property owners share in the cost of installing new infrastructure (ORS, Chap. 223). But there are important differences: The LID is cost-driven; property owners pay a portion of the project costs. The TBD levy base is limited to annual land value increments - that is, community-created value "given" to property owners. This is the fairest form of taxation because it captures no value that owners themselves create through capital investment in building improvements. It is market-based because the levy amount is determined solely by the market response to a given transit station. If demand for TOD does not immediately manifest in higher land values, then district property owners will not be liable for any assessments on their land.
Oregon communities need this self-financing option as they struggle to recover from the economic slump and improve employment levels.
[Ed. note - this legislative concept is now embodied in HB3178.]
The City of Portland has announced the Sunday Parkway dates for 2011:
- May 22 - East Portland
- June 26 - North Portland
- July 24 - Northwest/Downtown Portland
- August 28 - Southeast Portland
- September 25 - Northeast Portland
See you out there!
March 2, 2011
And minorities. And suburbanites. And people without college degrees.
To join the Opt-In Panel, a voluntary group which gets periodically polled on issues facing Metro. The agency wants 10,000 local participants, and has 2,000. Unfortunately, the participants on the panel so far are not a representative sample of the region: According to a report,
Ninety-five percent of the participants are white. Seventy percent are Democrats, six percent Republican. Eighty-six percent have a college degree, and less than one percent say they never attended any college. Only 23 percent hail from Clackamas or Washington counties, which collectively have 56 percent of Metro's constituency.I've joined the panel myself, both to exert whatever influence I can (how much weight community input will be given in decision-making remains to be seen), and to get a better handle on what's up. I mostly fit the profile (I'm white, independent but progressive, hold an advanced degree, but live in Washington County).
People who join by March 15 might win a $50 gift card, good anywhere.
So if you hate public transit, or think that the region is spending too much money building trains and should build more bus service, or have any other opinions you think are not adequately represented in the planning process, consider joining.
Disclosure: Nobody at Metro or any other agency asked me to write this, nor do either I or Portland Transport derive any benefit whatsoever from people joining in response to this article.
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.4MB)
Over at Human Transit, transit planner Jarrett Walker did an article on the proper role of the transit planner: Is (s)he a dispassionate expert, much like an engineer is expected to be? Or should planners and other professionals serve a more activist role--essentially serving as advocates of the transit-riding public, and defending their interests? Jarrett, who has made numerous remarks about the limits of mixed-traffic streetcar (and has been accused, unfairly in my opinion, of being a "bus fanatic"), noted that his job has elements of both: He does prefer to optimize for mobility outcomes, and streetcar frequently fares poorly as a mobility measure; but when he takes on a project he needs to live within the project's constraints: If a project which hires Jarrett as a consultant is chartered with building streetcars, then he will help the agency design the best streetcar network that they can afford.
But then, an obnoxious commentor (OK, yours truly) threw a wrench into the gears. While I phrased it more politely over there, I asked the essential question: What if the project requirements are nonsensical to begin with? Jarrett's answer focused on the role of transit planners in addressing all of this; and I defer to his expertise on such matters. Instead, this article looks at the more fundamental problem: projects with fundamentally conflicting, and often capricious, requirements.
Too many cooks
Many public works projects, especially those in a multi-layer democracy like the United States, have many, many stakeholders. And not all of those stakeholders have the interest of the general public at heart, let's be honest. Politicians love to show up at ribbon-cuttings, and may have ideological axes to grind. Agencies frequently seek to expand their scope, power, and influence. Developers, vendors, unions, and other parties often want to cash in, and frequently aren't shy at trying to influence decision-makers (often in ways which are perfectly legal). NIMBYs who want it somewhere else.
Even among those stakeholders who are legitimately concerned about a project's goals, one can frequently find many demands on a project. Institutions who fall into the "golden hammer" trap, where their job involves swinging hammers and thus view every problem looks as a nail. Professional societies frequently have standards and practices which they view as sacrosanct. Diverse communities of users may impose conflicting requirements. If grants are part of the funding package, the granting agency will often impose conditions of their own. And spools of bureaucratic red tape will surround the project, particularly if Uncle Sam is involved.
All to often, public works projects collect so many differing requirements and constraints, both legitimate and not, that running the project is like squaring the circle. (For the non-mathematically inclined, constructing a square with the same area as a given circle using only straightedge and compass, was proven impossible in the 19th century). And this is without taking into account financial and schedule constraints.
Yet projects which attempt to square the circle--which attempt to satisfy simultaneously many conflicting requirements, often dictated by stakeholders with de facto veto power over the project--still happen way too often, often times with disappointing results. At least two prominent projects in the metro area--one primarily highway, one exclusively transit, exhibit signs of being over-constrained--or at least they do in this blogger's opinion (an opinion that might not be shared, in its entirety, by the other hosts here).
(To address a likely comment in rebuttal: Milwaukie MAX does not suffer from being over-constrained, at least on the requirements side--the project stakeholders largely agree on the project requirements and design, and the selection of the LPA and route proceeded in a mostly-orderly fashion. There are, of course, legitimate concerns about the cost and financing of the project, and some objections to the project's existence, but the sort of acrimony over project fundamentals like are found in the CRC case, simply do not exist with MLR).
The Swiss Army Bridge
I'll start with the CRC, as that project has been a gigantic clusterfudge from the beginning.
The fundamental goal of the project, ought to be conceptually simple. Modernize (structurally and functionally) the primary crossing of the Columbia, providing multi-modal crossing support, while eliminating the draw span. Straightening out the shipping channel on the river is a bonus. But what has actually happened has been a mess.
The first problem is governance. Given that it's a bi-state effort, there isn't any single entity which is an obvious candidate to run the project--thus management was given jointly to the state DsOT, with the other interested governments (the cities of Portland and Vancouver, the counties of Clark and Multnomah, Metro, the SW Washington Regional Transportation Council, TriMet, and C-Tran) having seats at the table. ODOT and WSDOT, being agencies fundamentally charged with building and maintaining highways (they do other things, but highways are their primary concern), drafted purpose-and-need statements that pretty much excluded any solution other than a New Freeway Bridge. Throw in a pile of rules from various highway manuals (some of which, I suspect, aren't as ironclad as frequently claimed), and poof--rather than simply buildling a bridge, the project now involves rebuilding about five miles of I-5, and a Hayden Island cross section comparable to a football field. But its got to have light rail and other "green" features to satisfy Portland--not to mention an Iconic Design™. Cost? Nearly $4 billion, which means tolling. The folks in Vancouver, who would bear the brunt of tolls, naturally objected. And so on. The result, at this stage, seems to be a design that nobody really likes, that has a murky funding picture, that has cost eight figures to produce nothing but paper so far, and which has no end date in sight.
Did it have to be this way? That's a hard question. One fundamental issue is that the City of Portland objects to a key design goal of the highway departments on both sides of the river--"modernization" of the freeway (a catchall term which includes widening, ramp reconfiguration, and all sorts of other stuff designed to reduce congestion). While some of Portland's objections spring from ideological concerns that other stakeholders don't share ("who cares about the environment", and/or a belief that the alleged impacts of automobile pollution are overblown, are still popular attitudes in some quarters), Portland has a very legitimate concern that redesigning the bridge simply will move the bottleneck south. Portland has its own pro-transit agenda; which ODOT seems more than willing to hold hostage (an ODOT staffer once reportedly suggested that the agency would block any attempt to extend MAX across the Columbia, unless part of a project to widen I-5). And Vancouver doesn't want to be stuck with an ever-escalating bill.
Part of the present dynamic seems to involve both sides wishing that someone (Governor Kitzhaber, the feds) would "see the light" and kick the other side to the curb.
The Lake Oswego Quit Calling It Streetcar (At Least For Now) Project
Compared to the CRC, the Lake Oswego project is a model of piece and harmony. The "what" of the project was largely fixed: a streetcar line, running from the current end of the Portland Streetcar in SoWa, along the old Jefferson Branch line to Lake Oswego. The project goals make sense: Use an existing asset (the rail right-of-way) to leverage federal funds, and build a transit service running in exclusive right-of-way which ought to be faster than local bus service on Highway 43. Demonstrate the potential of "rapid streetcar" as a budget alternative to light rail for shorter corridors. A no-brainer, right? Unlike the CRC, where leadership was distributed among a handful of agencies with contrary goals and a decided lack of trust, the involved government agencies (TriMet, Metro, and the cities of Portland and Lake Oswego) aren't fighting over the project requirements.
But the devil, as is often the case, is in the details.
The most fundamental issue is that the project is promoted as rapid transit--as an upgrade over the existing bus service--a premise which has been undermined by the proposed implementation. The need to be an extension of the existing local-service Streetcar system, which offers local-stop service along the entire route, and which bypasses the main transit corridor downtown (the mall). The plan to use existing Portland Streetcar rolling stock, which are optimized for mixed-traffic application. The desire to provide front-door service to John's Landing merchants, and not upset local condo owners who don't want trains (Never mind that the rail line has been there far longer than the condos) whizzing past their front door; both of which require a detour onto OR43--the same highway which is predicted to turn into a parking lot in the near future, justifying the mobility need for the project in the first place.
Unlike the new MAX line directly across the river, which is designed to function well as rapid transit until hitting downtown, the streetcar is not so designed--and actually offers a performance decrease over the #35 bus between Lake Oswego and downtown, and that's without considering the need to transfer (Bus service will be curtailed at Lake Oswego to provide operating funds for the streetcar line). The streetcar does offer modest capacity improvements over the bus, and has the cachet of being rail (a phenomenon which is oft-debated in transit circles, both as to accuracy and relevance, but will likely have an impact given the demographics along the line). But the mobility improvements of the project are close to nil; and for longer-distance commuters on the 35 and 36, probably a net negative.
(Perhaps land-use improvements alleged to flow from the project will be worth the local investment, though much of the area along the line is already developed or not suitable for development. Perhaps the ability to get a big check from Uncle Sam for a minimal local cash contribution--given that the Feds are willing to consider the value of the right-of-way in calculating their match--makes the project worth doing. This is a difficult case to make, however, to the transit-riding public, who tend to care more about headways and trip times than they do about property values).
Signs of an over-constrained project
Back at HT, another commenter posed an interesting question: How do you know if a project has requirements or constraints that make it difficult to do a good job? The question was posed in the context of bad-faith requirements (such as developers engaging in rent-seeking), but the answers also apply to good faith attempts to square the circle. My response to her is here; the answers are also reproduced below, edited for brevity. (In particular, observations about the CRC and LOTP which are redundant with the criticisms above are excised; if you want to see the original answers, click the link).
- Overly constrained initial project requirements. It's useful to distinguish here bona-fide requirements from design/implementation details, the latter of which ought to flow from the former. But sometimes, elements which ought to be details are set forth in the requirements without adequate explanation of why this should be so. Sometimes these requirements aren't stated explicitly, but still are constrained enough that only the solution preferred by the powerbroker can meet them. [CRC used as example]
- Bizarre decision criteria which may not match the stated goals of the project. For example, publicly identifying a project as "rapid transit", then de-emphasizing performance criteria, or basing decisions on highly speculative future estimates. [LOTP used as example]
- Thee presence of strawman alternatives in the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) or equivalent planning/analysis document. By "strawman alternatives", I mean proposed alternatives which are obviously bad, and included only to satisfy process requirements that multiple alternatives be studied in depth. [LOTC "enhanced bus" used as example; though in fairness, NEPA did require a bus option beyond no-build be studied. That said, a more robust BRT solution was excluded from analysis early in the project..which lead us to the next item...]
- Viable project alternatives rejected early in the planning phase, often due to being "out of scope" (see the first item concerning overly restrictive requirements), or on the basis of vague or overly-picky technical factors. Look for signs that point to "this would work, but we really don't want to (or can't) consider it, so we'll dispose of it as quickly as we can". [Many have alleged that the proposed "supplemental bridge" alternative to the CRC is another example].
- Projects that appear "out of the blue", rather than the result of organic planning activities, or which are done "out of sequence" compared to their apparent priority. May represent a unique opportunity (such a project eligible for funding that isn't available for other projects)--or someone with his thumb on the scale.
- "Economic development" being touted as an advantage is a frequent red flag. It is always touted, of course, as politicians love to boast of bringing home the bacon, but if "economic development" is the main reason for doing a project--and especially if the "development" in question refers mainly to the project's construction effort itself and not to post-project activities the work will enable--a good response is to ask if there are any places to deploy the "economic development" that will have better post-project outcomes. Spending money on projects and employing hardhats is often a good thing (especially if the money comes from outside the region), but it's nice if the labor and materials go to something that's useful. Paying someone to dig ditches and refill them can be considered "economic development" but doesn't produce something useful; better to pay people to build useful things.
- And one other, not in the HT article: The use of unproven or untested designs or methodologies in the project, or anything dubbed "experimental". WES was experimental in many respects, and until recently, the CRC was considering an experimental bridge design, until cooler heads prevailed.
Of course, not all over-constrained projects are failures. Westside MAX had some annoying constraints placed on it (the King Street station comes to mind), but is overall a successful project. OTOH, had ten extraneous stops been sprinkled along the line between Portland and Hillsboro, would the line be as successful?
Dealing with over-constrained projects
What to do about all of this? The hard-and unfortunate--part of the overconstrained project is that often, we have to live with them. It's easy to fantasize about driving bad actors out of the process, and about having strong visionary leaders who have the foresight and the clout to sweep conflicting requirements out of the way, without losing support for the project--but such individuals are rare, and quite a few of 'em use their political talents for less honorable purposes. But a few suggestions come to mind:
- Governance matters. It's hard with multiple stakeholders, but having someone competent in charge does help. In the case of the CRC, it seems to me that the first step to fixing the project is for the stakeholders to jointly hire an outside project leader; one who has no particular ties to either Oregon or Washington, or to the various modal factions, to lead the project. Of course, for such a leader to be effective, the various agencies will need to cede a fair bit of authority to said leader; I'm not sure any of them are willing to do so at this point
- Sunlight is the best disinfectant. A transparent process, one where decisions can be easily traced to inputs and planning work products are available for inspection, may help cut down on--or at least expose--some of the pettier forms of backroom dealing. Many bad actors don't like being subject to public scrutiny. Transparency also helps good-faith projects avoid accusations of backroom dealing; virtually every large capital project gets accused of being done in order to grease someone's palm; an accusation which is frequently not true.
- Be prepared to say no. The City of Portland has won some concessions on the CRC with this tactic--but if a project is really going of the rails, cancellation should always be an option.
- Bifurcation and phasing may work. A controversial and difficult project can sometimes be split up into two separate projects. I'm not sure this would work for the CRC, given the lack of trust, but the idea that the LO Streetcar should have two separate lines (a local service to Macadam, and a limited-stop service to Lake Oswego) has some merit.
- Better advocacy for users. One of the unfortunate parts of transit advocacy in the Portland area is a lack of effective organization of transit users. Freight users of the highway system are well-organized, and often asking government for better freight mobility. The auto lobby is likewise strong and forceful. Even the cycling community in town has levels of organization. Transit users do have some organized advocates, such as OPAL, but many of these activists represent subset of the overall transit community, not transit users as a whole. (Depending on TriMet to adequately represent the interests of its riders is, unfortunately, not a wise thing to do).
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Peter Koonce, Division Manager for the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation's Signals, Street Lighting, & ITS Division
Topic: Transforming Traffic Signals to Support Sustainability: Applications, Ideas, and Research Needs
Abstract: Today, most streets are designed and managed to meet mobility standards that focus on the movement of motor vehicles, failing to adequately accommodate and prioritize transit, walking, and biking. A new culture of innovation is needed in transportation as traditional solutions alone will not suffice. By 2035, the Portland Plan envisions transportation facilities that are designed and managed to prioritize travel investments that improve walking, biking, and universal accessibility as the first priority.
In support of this vision, Peter Koonce, Manager of the City's Signals, Street Lighting, & ITS Division will discuss how he's looking to make the City's traffic signals consistent with these goals resulting in more effective integration of land use, transit, cycling, and walking. The discussion will be centered around research that is needed to improve our understanding of best practices from the U.S. and Europe for application in Portland.
When: Friday, March 4, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
March 1, 2011
Time for a fresh open thread. This month, (on the Ides of March, no less), Portland Transport gets to conduct a second interview with TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane. Construction proceeds on the Streetcar Loop, final design and prep work on Milwaukie MAX, the LPA selection for the Lake Oswego Streetcar project continues, and early planning continues on the Southwest Corridor. And chaos continues on the Columbia River Crossing.
Have at it!
One of the several advisory groups I sit on is the Mayor's Transportation Cabinet, which met last week.
The Columbia River Crossing was the major agenda item, and it's taken me a few days to recover enough from my deep depression over the conversation to write about it.
It's like some kind of reality warp has overcome our political leadership around this project. Cases in point from the discussion:
- A report on the Bridge Review Panel recommendations, which essentially said throw away the current design, was positively positioned as setting direction for selection of a design type move forward with.
- An ODOT official indicated that the deck truss alternative would preserve the plan for Hayden Island that had support from the community. This was immediately contradicted by a Metro official who pointed out that part of the Bridge Review Panel report was a recommendation to revisit the idea of replacing the Harbor Bridge, which potentially throws the Hayden Island plan into doubt.
- The importance of being ready to seize Federal funding opportunities was emphasized. However the City of Portland lobbyist in Salem made it clear that no state funding would be forthcoming in this legislative session and ODOT characterized the state funding as a "multi-session process".
Through all this the Mayor maintained a very positive demeanor about the project moving forward.
It makes me crazy.
To his credit, the Mayor does continue to allow us skeptics a full opportunity to voice our concerns, but it as far as I can tell it has little impact. And I don't mean to fault the Mayor specifically for falling into the reality-distortion field, as far as I can tell it has captured all state and local officials in Oregon and Washington.
Meanwhile, here are two cautionary tales for projects like this:
- The proposed 520 bridge in Seattle may significantly increase congestion on I-5 (watch out Rose Quarter).
- An expensive new (tolled) traffic tunnel in Queensland is generating about 1/3 of the forecasted traffic, causing bondholders to sell off their toll bonds for pennies on the dollar (anyone seen those investment-grade forecasts for toll revenue for the CRC yet?).