Improving transit speed downtown

A discussion of ways to improve the speed of transit downtown–and a discussion as to whether that should be a priority.

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.
Metro’s take
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 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.

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).

Other alternatives

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.

190 responses to “Improving transit speed downtown”

  1. I still don’t understand why trains need to be “constrained to block lengths”? Trains come what every 3 minutes? Why can’t we have a train that is 2X as long during rush hour. Yes it will block a street for the length of the stop, but that has to be less than 20% of the time and could double the capacity of the trains during rush hour. If we are serious about mass transit we will prioritize it slightly more than we do now. It doesn’t necessarily increase the speed that much but it does double the capacity at basically no cost.

  2. EngineerScotty: Do you know why the tunnel would be so expensive? That’s 12 times the cost of the Robertson Tunnel for something that’s only 2/3 the length and nowhere near as deep? Water-table issues, maybe?

    Also the Goose Hollow – Rose Quarter segment only takes 10 minutes if you follow the most efficient driving route (which a driver would do).

    To answer your main question, faster downtown service would be nice, but I am more interested in improving speed outside of downtown. People aren’t going to switch to transit if it takes them an hour to get somewhere they could drive in 30 minutes.

    Bjorn: Two problems I can see with your approach. One is that trains stopped in intersections wouldn’t have a platform, preventing people with mobility issues from disembarking. The second is that a stopped train would also cause delays for passing buses.

  3. Limited tunnel — Morrison Street from 1st to 18th, coming to the surface at PGE Park. One or two stations along the way.

    My problem is this: if we aren’t going to double the length of the trains, I don’t think a tunnel is worth doing at all. The few minutes saved won’t be worth the hundreds of millions spent on even a short tunnel. So we’d realistically need to look at the cost of doubling the length of all other station platforms on the line (which means removing a few). That’ll cost serious money at Washington Park and Sunset TC. And I can see problems with getting four-car trains across the MLK-Grand couplet without blocking traffic.

    The second problem: we still have the Steel Bridge bottleneck. Of course, if the Blue and Red line were able to run four car trains, that might become a bit less of a problem in the future, since those lines could carry twice the ridership on the same frequency.

    As for the surface track on Morrison and Yamhill, use it for future streetcar service from the Hawthorne Bridge to Northwest Portland.

  4. I don’t know where the project price tag comes from. In the case of the West Hills tunnel, there weren’t utilities and other such things to deal with; depending on how deep a downtown tunnel goes, there may be lots of utility work to do. And I’ve no idea about the geology.

    Increasing train length probably requires bypassing the entire downtown section–though Metro notes that line capacity is not the limiting factor at the current time.

    One good thing about the Lloyd Center/Goose Hollow tunnel is that it provides an alternate crossing of the Willamette, relieving the Steel Bridge, for what that’s worth.

  5. “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.”

    BS BS BS BS BS BS. It saves more time than the report shows. A flawed “study” to the core unless I am reading it wrong. If I am, then my apologies.

    Current time from Goose Hollow to Lloyd Center via MAX: 25 minutes or about 6.7 mph (~2.8 miles in length).

    Deduct 12 minutes saved for underground alignment = 13 minutes total travel time according to report

    (Speed = Distance / Time)

    Alignment shown on page 45 shows Goose Hollow, to Pioneer, to Lloyd which is about 2.1 miles in total length.

    Alleged speed of underground tunnel:

    S = 2.1 miles / .21 hr (13 mins)
    S = 9.7 mph

    So a tunnel would make the average speed of MAX go 9.7 mph!?

    Wrong. An underground tunnel could easily be faster than driving through downtown. Easily. But why would we want to build a system that competes with cars, is fast and frequent? /Sarcasm.

    Oh and BS to the cost of the tunnel. Portland’s Big Pipe costs 1.4 billion…for over 20 years:

    And we are paying upwards of 40 million dollars just to realign a track of streetcar in the SoWA district. All of a sudden Tri-Met and Metro are worried about costs when it comes to actually building a fast and frequent system. Wow.

    EngineerScotty:“downtown provided by an at-grade, convenient alignment”

    There’s nothing convenient about sluggishly moving through downtown on slow transit. Nobody in DC complains about their underground “inconvenient” transit system. I’ll put this into the BS category too.

    If going down stairs, an escalator, or elevator is “inconvenient”, then the Sunset Transit Center needs to be redesigned.

    Looks like more slow transit according to this report. Guess I’ll just drive and Tri-Met’s modal split will stay as mediocre as ever compared to any other city in the US.

    Except we pay more our mediocre system. We should feel so blessed.

  6. Increasing train length probably requires bypassing the entire downtown section

    Actually, it doesn’t, but it does require stop consolidation (which the report seems to suggest we look at anyway) and street/sidewalk grade adjustments.

    For example, Old Town/Chinatown could be consolidated into the current Skidmore Fountain station… there is plenty of room to run up to 4-car trains from Couch to the south. The only problem is sidewalk/platform heights, but that’s cheaper to fix than tunneling.

    For everything east of Galleria, there’s room to move things around to make it work with minimal street closures.

    In any case, I think we need a new river crossing. In our interview with Neil McFarlane (to be published this week), he doesn’t put a high priority on it but he does mention that there are problems with the Steel Bridge.

    Once you get into building a new river crossing to carry the majority of MAX trains, the issues of alignment, capacity, and speed all come into play.

    I have a problem with the Metro HCT study. They focused on maximum trip time improvement by having a long underground portion and only one downtown stop.

    It may be fine to examine just “how fast can we go?”, but that inherently drives up the cost and reduces all other measured benefits other than trip time (as the report shows, after all). Instead of eliminating all but one downtown station, once you are in a tunnel and don’t have to stop for traffic, you could have two or maybe three, positioned just right to capture the most destinations while still significantly improving travel speeds over the surface alignment.

    (And, lest I be misunderstood, I don’t think the surface alignment should go away. An underground “express” route should be an enhancement to service, not a replacement.)

    The idea of express/bypass tracks on the Morrison/Yamhill (or nearby) couplet is fascinating… but it would have to be combined with signal priority, otherwise these “express trains” wouldn’t move much faster than the current trains, minus the station dwell times, and that would disrupt the flow of the downtown grid for most users (including N-S transit).

  7. Line capacity isn’t the limiting factor now, but it soon will be. Once the Steele Bridge reaches capacity, and simultaneously the crossing at Pioneer Courthouse, the only options will be…

    A) Another surface alignment (that doesn’t use the Steele Bridge or cross the other lines at a traffic light, or

    B) A tunnel.

    The ridiculous example put forth by Metro of a downtown tunnel with only ONE station was completely unrealistic. Three or four stations would be necessary to serve downtown effectively and they know that. And the eastside bypass doesn’t serve downtown at all. These are false choices that Metro is using to avoid the real problem of limited capacity.

    I understand the strategy of developing the radial lines and access to MAX to all parts of the region first. But once all of the corridors are built (Milwaukie/Oregon City, Tigard/Sherwood, Vancouver, Powell), ridership will increase exponentially and capacity downtown WILL be the limiting factor. A subway tunnel needs to be included in Metro’s long-term vision. Adding more MAX lines to increase ridership and access outside of downtown becomes pointless if they don’t also increase the capacity to AND through downtown.

  8. Just to clarify, I don’t endorse all the conclusions in the Metro report–and would agree with the following objections from ws:

    * 12 minutes from Goose Hollow to Lloyd Center seems awfully slow for an underground line with only one intermediate stop.

    * If we were to do a tunnel, more stops would make sense. I’d do stops at Lloyd, Rose Quarter, somewhere in Old Town, Pioneer Square, and PSU, with a branch to the westside between PSU and Pioneer Square, and branches to the new bridge and the SW Corridor (assuming its light rail) south of PSU; but that’s just a back-of-the-envelope wouldn’t-it-be-nice thought with no substance behind it.

    That said, one drawback with such a proposal is that one of the most expensive parts of a subway is stations. Digging tunnels with a boring machine and laying tracks (or pipe) therein is cheap compared to excavating and fortifying larger underground caverns.

    WS seems to imply that Metro planners don’t really WANT to do a downtown tunnel (and put a thumb on the scale in their analysis to make it look like an unattractive alternative), perhaps out of a preference for surface-running transit springing from new-urbanist dogma. While I have no idea if that’s true or not, it does seem that many at Metro value access more than the designers of many traditional metros.

    And with regards to the deep stations on the DC metros–they often can be a problem, especially when the escalators are out of commission (which they often are–teenage vandals love to “jam” them and engage the automatic shutoffs; and walking up the equivalent of 10 flights of stairs in business attire during a hot DC summer is Not Fun). The stations on the Metro have elevators for the disabled; but they’re included only as an accessibility feature, and don’t have sufficient capacity to handle large passenger volumes.

  9. “Just to clarify, I don’t endorse all the conclusions in the Metro report–and would agree with the following objections from ws:”

    I was aware, to clarify as well ;) Just venting at the blatant bias in this report.

    My vote is to bypass the Goose Hollow stop completely and make Jeld-Wen Stadium stop the first out of the original tunnel for MAX.

    Put more bus transfers along that stop too. There would already be a nice transit plaza for this to occur. Route impact appears to be minimal too, the buses could still go to the round-a-about area currently at Goose Hollow.

    3-4 stops between Goose and Lloyd sounds good to me, as you have proposed.

    On a less expensive note, what about a raised route alongside I-405 on NW 15th ave towards Freemont Bridge / Legacy / N. Interstate LR?

    Minimal impact as those buildings are already in the freeway’s shadows and a good North/South connection.

    It’s a start, I guess.

  10. Has anybody mentioned a skip-stop setup? It wouldn’t require any new infrastructure, but it reduce frequency at stops and would be more confusing to new riders.

  11. To play devil’s advocate, do we need to go faster through downtown?

    While I’ll admit that I would like to go faster through downtown, I fear that increasing speeds through the city center may provide justification for expanding MAX beyond its current endpoints. Is there any policy that stops this from happening? I would hate to see MAX turn into a sprawl inducing mechanism like Denver’s light rail system.

  12. i’m in full agreement with those that have pointed out the preposterous Metro study.

    according to Google Maps,
    a central city subway, starting at Goose Hollow and ending just past Lloyd Center, with stops at Pioneer Square, W Burnside, Rose Quarter and Llloyd, would traverse the 2.35 miles in about five minutes plus stop times at the four stops, which are what? 30 seconds each?
    So that’s about 7 minutes, maybe 8 minutes?

    So we have four stops that serve basically every station that currently exists. But it only takes 7 minutes instead of 25. And they say that it’s not much time savings? it’s outrageous, frankly.

    additionally, the expense of 2 Billies + looks flawed. Seriously, a Billie per mile for a subway with only 1 station? Do they think we’re all retards?

    i seriously doubt a subway with 4 stations goes over 2 billies.

    plus, they’re going to have to build a new MAX crossing at some point anyways… that’s gonna cost a few hundred million, so you can subtract that and a couple hundred more millions to somehow correct the at grade bottleneck between the Transit Mall and the current eastwest alignment.

  13. additionally, the expense of 2 Billies + looks flawed. Seriously, a Billie per mile for a subway with only 1 station? Do they think we’re all retards?

    ~~~>Actually the power brokers don’t care what we think at all, almost like we don’t exist.

  14. Neil Young:“additionally, the expense of 2 Billies + looks flawed. Seriously, a Billie per mile for a subway with only 1 station? Do they think we’re all retards?”

    It would be a billion per mile…if the stations were lined in gold.

    Sometimes I wonder how stupid they do think we are. Metro is best at parks and UGB issues. Keep doing that but they need to stay out of transit.

    Clueless as all hell.

    Daniel Ronan:“To play devil’s advocate, do we need to go faster through downtown?”

    The net effect is it will speed up and improve the entire system.

    The MAX during rush hour with its dozens of stops is slow and actually dangerous.

    Ironically, the safest part of MAX is when it is going full speed.

    I have almost fallen multiple times while it slugs through downtown’s curves due to the stop and go. I wonder how many people have fallen and sued Tri-Met for hurting themselves?

  15. I have almost fallen multiple times while it slugs through downtown’s curves due to the stop and go. I wonder how many people have fallen and sued Tri-Met for hurting themselves?

    Speaking of falling on the transit system, I have always wondered why an operator of a light rail vehicle is never at fault when a passenger falls on the train but when a passenger falls on a bus, the operators is almost always at fault?

    One of the many inconsistencies in the way things are handled at Trimet.

  16. Well, I suppose the fact that a MAX operator is somewhat disconnected from what is happening in the cabin might have something to do with it.

  17. Of course the system isn’t at capacity. Its slow as hell through downtown! if we actually had a tunnel, Folks that live in NE might actually commute to Hillsboro on the MAX instead of driving every day. Its not rocket science. Almost no-one who currently has cross-town commutes and cares about their time can use the current system. After the MLR, I think this should be our top priority. perhaps long term we need 2 tunnels (East-West and North-South) but for now we definitely need to be looking at tunneling the Red/Blue lines.

  18. Well, I suppose the fact that a MAX operator is somewhat disconnected from what is happening in the cabin might have something to do with it.

    ~~~>While that is true obviously, the “damage” theoretically is equal. I’m looking at the issue from a company standpoint. Person A is injured on transit light rail, do they have a claim for negligence against the operator for bruise to the right leg lets say? Person B has the exact same injury on a bus, they have a valid claim against the system?

    The point I am trying to make is:

    Why would passengers be more responsible for themselves on a light rail vehicle than a bus?

    The injuries are handled differently, one absolves the operator the other condemns the operator.

    Obviously bus operators are not responsible for the behavior of the people inside the vehicle, but they generally are charged with some sort of misconduct should something happen when the bus is moving.

    You can’t watch the inside of the bus and the outside of the bus at the same time ya know, it could be (drum roll please) UNSAFE!

    Just wondering, that’s all.

  19. “Almost no-one who currently has cross-town commutes and cares about their time can use the current system.”

    Well add that to the many other negatives and it’s madness to build the MLR, CRC w/MAX, Barbur-99 MAX or any other light rail extension.

    “After the MLR, I think this should be our top priority.”

    You may think that but Light Rail to Vancouver, Streetcar to Lake Oswego and more light rail exansion is planned.

    Tunneling will never happen. The cost is prohibitive by several magnitudes. There is no source of funding, period.

    Simply look at the MLR financing package and know that the funding for it comes from the reckless pilfering of current revenue streams.

    That model is a crisis in the making.
    But that’s what things have become with this push for rail transit.

  20. Oh and I keep forgetting, bu since I am in a constant state of paranoia as an “employee” of the local transit district I am required to state the following….PLEASE MAKE NOTE OF IT FOR FUTURE REFERENCE.

    The blogger known as “Al M” does not now, nor has he ever, represented Trimet, Trimet bus drivers, or ATU 757.
    The thoughts, opinions, ideas, and body odor are of myself; they does not reflect the thoughts, opinions, ideas, and/or body odor of my company, my friends, my neighbors, my fish, my roses, my dog, or my trash. All rights reserved, all lefts reserved.

  21. Not downtown, but every time I ride along it I think that the speed limit for the MAX along Interstate Ave. is a little lower than necessary and could use a bump in certain sections.

  22. Is there any benefit to be gained from signal priority? It seems as though yellow/green have it better than blue/red. It’s probably only a few seconds but it’s pretty frustrating to be at a stop light on MAX or the streetcar.

  23. @al m – Yeah, but to put it bluntly, it’s a lot easier to blame bus operators (OMG that bus driver pulled out while the old woman was clearly right behind him) than MAX operators (OMG that operator didn’t telekinetically sense that people were still standing up the the trailing car). Not that you don’t have a legitimate gripe, but part of liability is determining what ability the defendant had in preventing the accident.

  24. The economics of a cross-town tunnel just aren’t there and probably won’t be for some time. 50+ years…maybe, but I think there are some fixes Metro can implement in the near-term.

    Trains really don’t need to travel at a faster velocity through downtown, but they need to make fewer stops. On the Red/Blue, the Yamhill/Morrison stretch between 1st and 18th has too many stations; two of them need to go. One station on 1st Ave could get the ax and Jeld-Wen/King’s Hollow need to be consolidated. I think the Green-Yellow line is an excellent model of station spacing. We don’t need complicated solutions like tunneling, grade separations, express surface alignments or longer trains.

    A bypass route is interesting not only because it avoid downtown, but because it can connect more of Southeast with MAX. I would be interested in a Lents-OMSI-Beaverton alignment or something similar. I would also be interested in separating the Blue line from the I-84 corridor: keep it along Burnside through downtown and Southeast to free up Steel and connect more people/bussiness directly to MAX.

    Outside the transit design realm, Metro really needs to facilitate TOD where best suited. Start making OD pairs near stations.

    Lastly, a lot of factors deal with policy. Cheap fuel. Abundant and often free parking (at least in the suburbs). Auto-centric city design. Zoning. The list goes on. One really can’t look at the tree of MAX travel times while ignoring the forest of societal/cultural factors.

  25. If we’re just looking at consolidating MAX stations, why not get rid of Holladay Park/Lloyd Center? You can get to Lloyd Center almost as easily from 7th Avenue.

    Also, why not make Rose Quarter the Convention Center station?

    The Old Town/Chinatown station and the Skidmore Fountain station are so close together they’re redundant.

    Do we really need stations at BOTH Pioneer Square and Pioneer Place?

    And the Kings Hill station has been something of a joke since it opened.

    I can see dropping at least five stations between Lloyd Center and Goose Hollow.

  26. My wife takes MAX from our home in Hollywood to school in Hillsboro, mainly because she has a subsidized transit pass and can study on the train. MAX is painfully slow through downtown, making this type of trip impractical except during rush hour.

    While I love the concept of a tunnel, I don’t think it will be possible in the near future. Two car trains work for now, and can actually be nice, due to the increased frequency. A tunnel done properly (3-4 stops) will probably be $1.5-$2 billion, but I believe that money would be better spent on the Powell or Barbur lines.

    So, for the near term, let’s close the following stations: NE 7th, Convention Center, Skidmore Fountain, Mall, Pioneer Square, Goose Hollow. This should reduce travel times by 5-7 minutes downtown, while actually decreasing operating costs for Trimet. No maintenance at these former stations, lower trip times which means each Blue and Red train can do more runs every day. They could keep the same frequencies on MAX with fewer operators.

    I can’t imagine that this would reduce the number potential riders. At most, riders will be walking two extra blocks to catch a train. Ridership should increase slightly, due to reduced travel times.

  27. So, for the near term, let’s close the following stations: NE 7th, Convention Center, Skidmore Fountain, Mall, Pioneer Square, Goose Hollow.

    Many of those stations are important transfer points. I see a real inconvenience to riders being forced to walk two or three blocks to transfer.

  28. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d do the following… These are a bit out of order so as to better explain my reasons:

    Keep Lloyd Center … it’s one of the busiest stops in the system and there’s plenty of room at the platforms (even room for longer trains in the future with minimal upgrades).

    Consolidate Convention Center with the existing Rose Quarter station. Rename it “Rose Quarter / Convention Center”. Add a canopy over the sidewalk between the N. entrance of the Convention Center leading people toward the Rose Quarter station. The distance from the platform end to the N. entrance is actually very similar.

    This way, the Convention Center constituency doesn’t lose an important, named stop.

    Shift 7th Ave. a block or two to the west. The old, eliminated Convention Center stop, despite being somewhat underutilized, did serve as a transfer point for buses (and future streetcars) on MLK and Grand. By shifting 7th, you can still fulfill that role (on the Grand side rather than the MLK side, but same overall distance), and you even out the stop spacing. If you shift it only 1 block, it still touches “7th” and you don’t have to rename it.

    Eliminate “Old Town / Chinatown” and rename Skidmore Fountain to “Old Town / Chinatown / Skidmore Fountain”. Why not the other way around? Skidmore Fountain has an open plaza area, could accommodate longer trains in the future with modest upgrades, and weekday uses are (finally, at last?) starting to form around this station, and it still has very high weekend utilization due to the Saturday Market. Much of Old Town is now served by the new Green Line and Yellow Line stations on 5th/6th, so it is not much of an inconvenience to eliminate the current “Old Town” station.

    I don’t think much can be done between Oak and 10th. Oak is a reasonable distance from Skidmore Fountain, and all the Morrison/Yamhill stops have high utilization.

    Finally, I would eliminate “Kings Hill / Salmon”. If you look at a map, there are very few destinations that wouldn’t have a similar walk to either “Jeld-Wen (PGE Park)” or Goose Hollow, and I’d keep Goose Hollow because it’s a transfer point.

    So, to summarize, from east to west:

    Shift 7th westward.
    Consolidate Convention Center into Rose Quarter.
    Consolidate Old Town into Skidmore Fountain.
    Remove Kings Hill / Salmon.

    The new series of stations would be:

    Lloyd Center
    7th Ave.
    Convention Center / Rose Quarter
    Old Town / Chinatown / Skidmore Fountain
    Oak St.
    Pioneer Courthouse Square
    Galleria [*]
    Jeld-Wen Stadium
    Goose Hollow

    Now, I know that this proposal doesn’t go as far as what some others have proposed. It only really eliminates 3 stations (and relocates one for better spacing and transfers).

    But I do think it is actually politically practical (moreso, at least, than some other stations) and has minimal impacts on current riders (who are also a constituency!). For minimal expense and hassle, you could zap a few minutes from the crosstown journey.

    [*Moderator – Updating my own comment to include the accidentally-omitted Galleria station… thanks for the catch, Grant.]

  29. I’ll add that one could conceivably combine the westbound stations at 3rd and 5th into a new station at 4th… this would improve stop spacing on Morrison and eliminate one more stop from the total. But this might not please the Pioneer Place folks… although they do have a building that fronts 4th as well. So I’ll add that into the mix as an option.

  30. I agree with Bob R.’s solution, except I would eliminate NE 7th, not move it, and I would eliminate the “Mall” stations. TriMet could implement this without spending a penny–I will volunteer to put trash bags over the signs at the shuttered stations.

    TriMet should implement something like this on a trial basis. If it improves rider experience, any backlash from Pioneer Place, etc. will be drowned out.

  31. My wishlist has been almost exactly as Bob R describes. However, I would make one more consolidation and one more shift:

    I would combine the Mall stations and the Pioneer Square stations onto the Courthouse block.

    I would also shift the library/galleria stations one block West and consolidate street car stations. around this same block.

    With regard to shifting NE 7th one block west, this would situate the MAX directly inbetween the new Streetcar line. Additionally, once the new streetcar line is open, TriMet is likely to reopen the discussion of consolidating lines 6 and 70. Depending on the new route that would likely not involve MLK, this would lessen the need for the existing Convention Center stop.

    This combination of stop movements and closures would generally mean no more than 1-2 blocks additional walk. It would remove 4 stations in each direction from the total. It would actually improve connections/transfer points at NE 7th, Pioneer, and Galleria.

    My version of Bob R.’s summary:

    So, to summarize, from east to west:

    Shift 7th westward.
    Consolidate Convention Center into Rose Quarter.
    Consolidate Old Town into Skidmore Fountain.
    Consolidate the Mall and Pioneer Square stations into a Courthouse station
    Shift Galleria/Library one block West. and consolidate streetcar stops.
    Remove Kings Hill / Salmon.

    The new series of stations would be:

    Lloyd Center
    7th Ave.
    Convention Center / Rose Quarter
    Old Town / Chinatown / Skidmore Fountain
    Oak St.
    Pioneer Courthouse
    Galleria/Library (Bob, did you accidentally leave this out?)
    Jeld-Wen Stadium
    Goose Hollow

  32. How much would it cost to “shift” a station? I agree with Grant’s idea. That would probably be the best balance of time savings and convenience reduction, but what about the cost? It isn’t just a matter of moving the shelters and machines, they would need to install warning strips, and their must be train signaling changes as well?

    I can imagine the headlines: “Trimet spends $10,000 to move a MAX station one block” Ya, that will go over well. Is one block worth it? I think the only people complaining would be the ones that use an elevator to go up one story.

  33. Grant, yes I did accidentally leave out Galleria/Library… oops.

    I too have thought about the consolidations you suggest (the courthouse block, shifting Galleria 1 block west). That would offer big advantages for transfers (minimizes or eliminates street crossings) at both stations. However, there is also significantly less available sidewalk/waiting/shelter area, and combining stations means more people waiting. The feds also have restrictions on shelters around the courthouse for (supposed) security reasons.

    It is for the reason of lack of space/shelter compared to the current arrangement that I’ve left those consolidations off of my list.

    Nonetheless, I would combine the two streetcar stops to the north and south of Morrison/Yamhill on 11th into the mid-block section of the MAX turnaround, where there is already ample room and an existing area with seating where a shelter could go. This reduces 1 street crossing needed for transfers to southbound streetcars.

    I wouldn’t do this for northbound streetcars on 10th because I think traffic from the parking garage would create conflicts with the streetcar and vice versa.

  34. That is a very good question, one to which I don’t have an answer.

    How does someone organize a constituency of transit riders (and not fall into bus-vs-rail traps), and what friends would we have (inside TriMet, Metro, local property owners and developers, politicians) who for various reasons also want to see modest improvements in transit speed downtown?

    Are there businesses that don’t have a vested interest in a current stop location who would assist in lobbying to make this happen? How would we get this on the radar?

  35. Chris,

    You are better at doing the math than I. Time is money. If the consolidations/shifts could result in reduced travel time, I wonder if it could be as great as one train per day or more from each line? I wonder how long it would take the recoup the costs through more efficient service. Probably too long, but it might lessen the blow. It’s the ultimate service cut… one that actually improves service and (ignoring capital costs) saves TriMet money.

  36. The cost of moving a station 1 block will be higher than $10K, I’m afraid. A number of elements might be reusable (lights, shelters, benches, ticket machines), but electrical, communications and other utilities will need work, and the platform height will need to be graded to line up properly with the low-floor cars and ramps, and the platform edge will need the tile treatment, etc.

    So such a move would be in the multi-$100K range easily, and perhaps even into the $1M range. TriMet spent $3M on the recently-opened Civic Drive station in Gresham, although that included a lot of new elements rather than relocated ones.

  37. Hey Bob and others,

    I appreciate your nice attempts at compromise by suggesting Trimet remove redundant stations to improve travel times.

    However, that’s gonna cost a lot of money. The way things are going these days, I bet it ends up being something like 30 million to close a few stations (crazy huh?).

    Add to that the fact that there will be a HUGE brouhaha and political bickering in the local media, I just don’t see how a piecemeal, compromise-first approach is going to work for this.
    Especially considering that this approach is not going to save all that much time.

    The real solution here, and one i think some Trimet planners probably secretly harbor as a possibility in the future, is an underground eastwest alignment.

    This is the only thing that makes sense. But of course, they want to finish the Spokes first, in order to create enough demand for a metro-capacity system.

    A subway alignment gives us stops at GOOSE HOLLOW, PGE PARK, SW 12/10 and PIONEER SQUARE, SKIDMORE, ROSE QUARTER and Lloyd.

    The beauty here is, with metro portals, you can have a “stop” at SW 12th for the streetcar, and SW 10th for the Galleria or whatever, and it’s the same stop.
    So, the Pioneer Mall folks don’t have much to complain about, because there will be PORTALS leading to the Pioneer Square stop.

    What we should focus on as a constituency is a long term plan that makes sense. A design that’s gonna work in 10 years, but also in 50 years.
    This isn’t five decades away, as someone said. It’s one or two decades away, because there are real issues with capacity coming up.

    Even if this system does cost 2 Billion Dollores, you can bet your butt that that’s better then spending 300 million on a Steel Bridge chokepoint fix, and 50 million on stop removal, and then realizing we still have a crappy system that doesn’t work like metro’s that exist in every other city of significance outside of the home states of the Empire.

  38. Another problem with consolidating Pioneer Place and Pioneer Square stations is the courthouse driveway. We’ve got three federal appellate judges there who demanded, and received, on-site parking for them and their staffs. It might be possible to move the driveway mid-block so it will line up between the first and second cars. But there might be regulations against a driveway in the middle of a light-rail platform.

    Probably better to just consolidate the Pioneer Square and 2nd Avenue stations between 3rd and 4th.

    In terms of making it happen, I think there would need to be at least one member of Portland City Council talking about it publicly. Maybe Congressman Blumenauer could offer support. Before it happens, it needs to be talked about much more publicly — speed up MAX by consolidating downtown stations.

    I remember reading (years ago, and I can’t find the source) that a Tri-Met surface platform cost about $100,000 to build — raising the sidewalk, installing shelters and ticket machines. I’m guessing if that figure was accurate, it probably costs a lot more now. I think it’s reasonable to assume $250,000 for each new platform built — that might even be at the high end, but I’m ballparking here.

    However, to simply decommission a station probably would be in the $10,000 range, since all that’s required is to remove shelters, signs, ticket machines, and so forth.

    So if 7th Avenue and Galleria/Library are moved one block, that’s probably a $1 million project (2 new stations, 2 platforms each). Add another $500,000 to shift the Pioneer Square platforms one block east to 3rd/4th. Then close Convention Center, Old Town/Chinatown, the platforms at 2nd Avenue, King’s Hill, and the old platforms at 7th, 1st and Yamhill, 3rd and Morrison, Pioneer Square and Library/Galleria … maybe another $150,000 there.

    My guess is this entire project to increase MAX’s speed through downtown could be brought in for $2 million of so. The City of Portland could easily pay half of it with parking revenue, with Tri-Met picking up the other half. This may be a case where the public process costs more than the project itself.

  39. Douglas –

    To avoid confusion, by “Pioneer Square” in most of your comment do you mean “Pioneer Place Mall” and not “Pioneer Courthouse Square”, right?

  40. What TriMet needs to do in the interim is test an Express line for the Blue line for the viability of this.

    As Juke mentioned, “skip stop”.

    Imagine the train only stopping and picking up people along major bus transfer and/or park and ride lots for MAX?

    Consolidate stops + have an express line option for rush hour commuters. It would save a good deal of time (at least 10 minutes).

    This would be a great test and I’d put money that it would be successful. The demand is there. People aren’t attached to their cars. This is a myth. Nobody likes sitting in traffic. Nobody likes being tied down to their automobile.

    People are simply victims to their environment. We build the auto landscape and build slow transit — of course people are going to drive. Even 15 minutes more taking transit vs. a car is a lot to people with limited time, especially after a long day of work.

    Neil Young:“Even if this system does cost 2 Billion Dollores, you can bet your butt that that’s better then spending 300 million on a Steel Bridge chokepoint fix, and 50 million on stop removal”

    And this is why I get so fired up about Streetcar spending. Sorry to beat a dead horse. We have all of this money poured into marginal mobility when that could have been a nice down payment on a real underground system.

    What’s the total since 2000 we have spent on streetcars? We’re probably in the 500 million range. Someone feel free to fact check me. Who knows the cost with the LO line now too.

    I can’t deny that the streetcar hasn’t spurred construction and private investment, but I think that an underground system would spur exponentially more investment than a simple streetcar line.

    Think about it. A transit line that gets you to/from the city in less time than a car? A transit system that gets you across town to catch a flight without needing to pay for parking or bugging someone to give you a ride?

    No truly urban city in the industrialized world is without an underground system.

    Wake up, Portland. Our transit system is blatantly mediocre and over-hyped.

  41. “We’re probably in the 500 million range. Someone feel free to fact check me.”

    Not to venture too far off of what has been a very interesting discussion on how to speed up MAX downtown, here’s an answer on the streetcar:

    Entire current line including extension to South Waterfront, $103.15 million, mostly local/regional funds.


    The Streetcar Loop project now under construction is budgeted at $148.27M, over $75M of which is Federal funds.


    The $148.27 does not include future proposals such as “close the loop” (which would provide the needed infrastructure for the streetcar to join the new bridge that will be built if Milwaukie MAX proceeds), and I don’t recall off-hand if it includes the funds for the realigning/raising of Moody Ave.

    In my personal opinion, the original streetcar that we now know was a bargain considering all that it has fostered and just how well-utilized it has been. The Eastside Loop is more ambitious but may take longer to see visible investments along the line, but I still think it’s worth it especially once it operates as a true central city loop. (Lake Oswego’s utility as it’s now shaping up is another big topic entirely which I won’t go into at length here.)

  42. You’re right, Bob. I meant “Pioneer Place.” The platforms would work just as well between 3rd and 4th as between 4th and 5th … including access to Pioneer Place itself.

    If the 1st and Yamhill stop was removed, the two blocks of Yamhill between 1st and 3rd could be transformed into a nice urban plaza, albeit one with MAX running through every six minutes or so. Call it a design challenge — how to transform a commercial dead zone into a vibrant urban plaza. “Outdoor dining” and food carts spring to mind.

  43. Here are the latest weekday passenger census [fall 2010] numbers for eastbound Blue:

    Sunset TC———1,143—–474
    Washington Park—-261—–160
    Goose Hollow——-256—1,027
    Kings Hill————256—–320
    PGE Park————890—–550
    Pioneer Square—1,524—2,812
    Mall/SW 4th——1,162—1,045
    Yamhill District—–910—–687
    Skidmore Fountain-442—–481
    Old Town————602—–421
    Rose Quarter—–1,207—1,035
    Convention Ctr.—–433—–595
    NE 7th—————396—–764
    Lloyd Center——1,000—1,830

    There are probably some who don’t think we get our money’s worth on the hugely expensive Washington Park station, but it is far from everything else.

    So, based on the numbers, maybe we should take a long and hard look at Kings Hill, PGE Park, Oak, Skidmore Fountain, Convention Center, and NE 7th. Old Town isn’t on this list because it’s so far from Yamhill District and Rose Quarter. Similar story with Goose Hollow. I think it would be a mistake to close Library, Pioneer Square, or Mall/SW 4th because they’re major transfer points. (There have been more than a few times when my wife and/or I had to run luggage-laden to barely catch a late evening 35 [with its one-hour headway] coming off a westbound Red.)

  44. I don’t want to make this about streetcars either.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s federal funds or not. An underground system could qualify for those as well.

    I’m not sure why you’re complicating things by excluding the Eastside numbers.

    Streetcar Costs:

    Original (2001): 57 million
    Extension: 18.1 million
    Moody Ave Realignment: ?? million (Probably in the 15-20 million range considering it moves existing tracks and installs new ones).
    Eastside: 147 million

    LO: 380-450 million

    The 3+ mile long Robertson Tunnel cost 184 million in 1996.

    Adjusted for inflation, that’s about 250 million in today’s dollar. Goose to Lloyd is about half that distance of the Robertson Tunnel.

  45. @Douglas K: I don’t think Yamhill District would work as a public square. For one, it doesn’t get much sunlight, and MAX operators have enough problems with people walking in the ROW as it is.

    And, I’m doubt this would be feasibly politically, I’m not sure I’d support it, but there is always the option of elevating the ROW. As Jarrett Walker points out, viaducts don’t have to be ugly.

  46. It seems to me the easiest way to fund and get this kind of stuff in would be to have it be part of a new line opening. Too bad MLR is on the north/south section which is mostly fine, and whatever’s next is a long ways away.

    I don’t like how once things are built around here they tend to stay so static. I wish maybe there was some kind of yearly improvement fund allocated to each project after it is completed or something so they could easily continually tweak and polish things, the way I imagine things might happen if this were a for-profit company truly focused on brining in and pleasing customers, or something.

  47. I’m not sure why you’re complicating things by excluding the Eastside numbers.

    ??? I included the eastside numbers and included a link to the document I used as a source.

  48. I feel that elevated rail lines get too much criticism from their ugly cousin named Elevated Urban Freeway.

    They aren’t that bad.



    We could easily “green up” the facades of any raised rail line.

  49. I was thinking an el would work well on Powell. If it was done in the design of the Vanport Bridge with the supports resting in the middle lane, it wouldn’t be very intrusive, and Powell is already a busy street.

    I’m not sure I’d want a el like the one you linked to, ws, but I agree, viaducts don’t have to be ugly, and the benefits would be huge: much lower risk of disruption and the trains could run at full speed (55mph), though it would obviously be less if the stations were closer. And being visible has one distinct upside: it makes it easier to find.

  50. How much did that Vanport structure cost per mile? It seems like there should be some way to have mostly prefabricated steel or concrete sections doable on the cheep. It’s the future, right?

  51. Re: Eastside… Perhaps the confusion is because I referred to it as the “Streetcar Loop” project which is it’s formal name. I was referring to the “Eastside” streetcar now under construction.

    In any case, _current_ streetcar projects including what’s under construction are well under $300M over 10+ years, not $500M+.

    Re: Vanport structure… If you get up close to the Vanport structure you’ll see that it’s pretty massive. It may need to be, being fairly tall and built on a floodplain. However, I agree that in the right environment (wide, major arterials such as Powell), an elevated line is not out of the question. Look to Seattle, which as major chunks of its new line elevated, much of which with an architecture which seems more slender, less intrusive than the Vanport structure.

  52. Well, the entire Yellow Line cost $350 million, according to TriMet. I’m guessing the Vanport bridge was the most expensive part of that project, since the rest of the project is at grade. However, there aren’t any stops on the bridge, which would be the case on Powell or Downtown, which would raise costs as well as being more visually obtrusive.

  53. R A,

    We should also be looking at weekend numbers, since Saturday actually has the highest overall ridership. Wash. Park station would look better on Sat/Sun.

    Also, I love the idea of those Berlin Viaduct / commercial spaces on Powell. Inner Powell would probably need aerials in the middle like the Vanport bridge, but the outer section (east of Foster) would be transformed with that kind of development. The south side of Powell has a lot of empty parking lots (I think this was to be space for the Mt. Hood Freeway). Does the City own this land? It could be a fantastic opportunity for a Public/Private Partnership, where the existing businesses are removed, and aerial MAX is put in with commercial space on the street level.

  54. Chris I,

    Weekend numbers would be helpful but I don’t have current reports. I have to bug TriMet managers and analysts for these and try very hard to keep said bugging to a minimum.

    Here’s Fall ’09 Washington Park Blue eastbound:

  55. Bob R:“In any case, _current_ streetcar projects including what’s under construction are well under $300M over 10+ years, not $500M+.”

    The point I am driving at is what would riders rather have?:

    A streetcar system which adds nothing to mobility over a bus or a subway line that actually improves mobility?

    It literally is the same scenario:

    We can quibble over 500 million or 300 million or 200 million — the 3 mile Robertson Tunnel was built for less than what has been spent on Streetcars to date.

  56. Sorry, WS, I disagree. The current streetcar provides excellent mobility for the purpose for which it was designed. It’s role is as a circulator, and it supplements and works with other transit. The proof is in the high utilization, and the utilization pattern: The streetcar’s peak is basically all day, but after the morning rush … many people who are in the central city via other means use it as a way of getting around.

    Yes, it’s also a development tool and is often promoted as “development-oriented-transit”. But that role wouldn’t work at all if the streetcar didn’t actually provide a useful service. The approx. 11K rides served every weekday are primarily to locals, not tourists.

    (The Lake Oswego project has very different, and hotly-debated parameters, but I’m talking about what’s been spent so far, which is your original point.)

    Comparing the streetcar system to the Robertson tunnel is very apples-to-oranges. The tunnel costs do not include vehicles, etc. For the streetcar costs, we have a number of vehicles, a maintenance yard (and expansion), dozens of stations and shelters, a real-time arrival system, sidewalk and streetscape improvements, etc.

    Just how did this go, anyway, from being a “let’s find ways to speed up transit downtown” to a streetcar-bashing thread?

  57. WS,

    The article at Human Transit you link to discusses a proposal from a group of urbanists to cancel a planned extension of SkyTrain (from East Vancouver, where the Millenium Line currently terminates, along the busy Broadway corridor, ending at the UBC campus at the end of Point Grey), and instead build a network of mixed-traffic streetcars through the city of Vancouver using the same funds. There, it really is about trading off mobility for access and development potential (though the latter seems questionable to me, given that the neighborhoods along the proposed streetcar lines are already quite dense and developed).

    Portland Streetcar has never positioned itself as an alternative to MAX or other rapid transit, but as a complementary system. LO Streetcar is a different beast, being (allegedly) a use of streetcar technology in a rapid transit role (my criticisms of the project are well-stated and I won’t repeat them here). But nobody at Portland Streetcar has suggested, for instance, that we cancel MLR or the Southwest Corridor, and use the money to build out the city’s streetcar plan.

    Obviously some funds are fungible and can’t go to both simultaneously, and this fact of life tends to inspire arguments like “we’re building too much X at the expense of Y” when in fact X and Y are considered independent concerns, but the streetcar’s supporters aren’t suggesting (to my knowledge) that we shouldn’t do MAX. (The folks in town who have been opposing MAX extensions generally have an even lower opinion of Streetcar, it seems… but that doesn’t stop folks in other cities from learning the wrong lessons from Portland).

    Should the City of Portland have spent its money on a downtown tunnel for MAX instead (ignoring that the total Streetcar budget is only a fraction of the cost of a tunnel project–even if you think the Metro cited figure is high?) You could make that argument–but if the primary advantage of the tunnel is it makes MAX more attractive for Beaverton commuters who want to reach Gresham, why would the city of Portland want to fund that over something that benefits City residents? Regional mobility projects should, generally, come from regional pots of money; local service improvements from local pots, and so far MAX and streetcar have been financed appropriately.

  58. ES:

    A downtown tunnel is not about suburban commuters anymore than intra city Portland commuters. I would argue it would benefit Portland people and residents the most.

    The advantage is for both parties. It very much is a regional project.

  59. I agree, it would be a regional project. The Streetcar was largely financed by the city in various forms. But the benefit would be mainly for those seeking to get through Portland, not to it.

  60. As someone who lives close enough to downtown that it’s annoying to take the 15 to the MAX. Taking 30 minutes just to get out of downtown seems a little excessive.

    As it is, it’s often faster to take the 77 to the Rose Quarter if I have to go to the East Side than to transfer to the MAX on the west edge of downtown, which would be way more convenient for me.

  61. I have to believe that staffers at TriMet and Metro have been instructed to downplay any talk of a central subway until they finish the “spokes” of the system. They want to get Milwaukie, Vancouver, Tigard and Powell built (or at least funding secured) first so as not to freak people out about the cost of a subway.

    A couple of people have commented that we simply don’t have the money to build a subway. Well, we don’t have the money to build ANYTHING until it’s been planned for and made a priority. Once Metro and TriMet planners make it a priority (and they will), THEN they’ll find the funds to make it happen. That’s been the process for every rail line that’s been built so far.

    In the meantime, since a subway is at least 20 years out, it makes perfect sense to eliminate or consolidate at least 4 stops between Lloyd Center and Goose Hollow. The minimal cost to do this would be more than offset by the increased speed, ridership and efficiency of the overall system. It should be a very easy sell, Trimet just needs to commit to it.

  62. This discussion is part of the early phase of a public debate I’ve suggested will develop over the next 20-30 years.

    The decision makers will gradually rue the day the decision was made in the 70s to invest in, and build a rapid transit system at-grade with vehicles of city-street-block length.

    We want to perceive ourselves as the hip European-like city of America. But, we’re growing to be the hip, big American city and metro area.

    Like other major metropolis’ on the east coast, BART & Vancouver, BC, it should’ve been:

    -Subterranean in the urban core
    -Elevated through the dense suburbs
    -At-grade in the low-density ‘burbs and interurban.

  63. TM, i disagree with your doomage.

    I think the system works quite well for its price. And it has room to grow and expand.

    Just think, with the relatively simple addition of a downtown tunnel or two, Portland will have a great metro system that will get you all over the metro region.

    Yeah, that’s a lot of work, but we’ll see more commuter lines, more MAX lines and more streetcar lines, increasing mobility all over the region.

    Eventually, i’d like to see multiple regional train services to places like the gorge, mt hood, the yamhill area, etc.


    You and i are on the same page.

    unless the Trimet planners are morons, i’d bet they’ve already got legit preliminary plans for a subway.

    but again, we’ve both said it, they’re gonna need to finish the spokes first. and that really just means powell, milaukie and barbur. those will, god willing, be done in the next decade. so by 2020 i think we’ll be looking at starting the buildout for the subway.

  64. One way to do a subway is by making it part of a larger “Blue Line Extension” project. Basically, extend the Blue Line to Forest Grove on the west, and to Mt. Hood Community College or Troutdale to the east. Build out every station on the line to a four car platform. And transform the entire Gateway to Beaverton segment into a fully grade-separated alignment, including a tunnel from Washington Park to Lloyd Center with only three or four stations in the core. It’ll be an expensive project, to be sure, but it would result in a 42 mile transit line with very high capacity and improved travel times … burying the cost of the subway in a much lower “per mile” cost for the whole line.

    And it would leave a central MAX line from Goose Hollow to Lloyd Center that provides streetcar-like service … probably a single 200/300 car, except during major sporting events.

  65. There are awesome comments! I regret I have been away and haven’t seen this thread until now. I agree with what people are saying. I should volunteer to be free TriMet intern and stand there and ask people if they could handle walking an extra block from (former) PGE Park to Kins Hill/Salmon. I would wager many people would be excited about getting pushed through downtown a little faster.

    As far as skip-stop, this idea would actually be relatively easy. Because blue and red lines both serve the east-west route, why not just have blue be the “local” trains and red be the “limited” trains? Signal priorities would be a hassle, since MAX stops at so many red lights. The entire downtown system needs to be re-evaluated. That means looking at the big picture and doing all or many of these: Consolidating stops, limited stop trains, a new crossing in the future (I hope I’m not on the Steel Bridge during an earthquake), better signal priority, and more. And what about even an express bus that goes from Sunset TC to Hollywood TC? Of course, money money money.

    Agree that the Metro report is biased, I’ve read it previously. But this would hugely benefit everyone. It is just so nerve wracking to sit on a train and stop every two blocks. Especially when train dwell times because of red lights are 1-2 minutes.

    I’m not expecting transit to ever be faster than driving. That’s not why I take it. I take it because my annual pass is subsidized by my employer – There is no way in a million years I would pay to travel through downtown on MAX otherwise. This is something that needs to happen.

    Thanks for the great thread!!

  66. Depends on where the station is… In the downtown grid, traffic signal timing is about 1 minute as I recall. Trains normally proceed with the timing of the grid, so if they stop at a station, it means they “miss” a cycle, so about 1 minute.

    Perhaps a MAX operator can enlighten us, but I believe for the Kings Hill / Salmon station, the train operator can “call” the traffic lights in advance of proceeding, so it may be less dwell time there… just long enough to stop, open the doors for the minimum time, close them and move on.

    So anything eliminated/combined outside of the downtown timed grid may be slightly less of a time savings than those in the downtown grid.

  67. Dwell times on MAX are generally around 20 seconds.

    Of course, when running downtown, stopped trains often have to wait for the signals to change. On Yamhill/Morrison, trains travel parallel to traffic, but are given a short separate phase where cars in both directions are shown a red, and the train gets a white bar; the white bar phase occurs after the cross traffic gets a red and before the parallel traffic gets a green.

    MAX is limited to 15MPH downtown as well.

    Here is an interesting document on TriMet’s rail signalling, and MAX FAQs is a good resource for this sort of thing as well.

  68. Thanks, Bob. So, modifying the figure in the original post, eliminating King’s Hill, one of the downtown Morrison/Yamill Stations, and one station along Oak Street would potentially result in:

    Goose Hollow to Rose Quarter: 13-17 minutes by train, 15 minutes by car, 2.8 miles, 7 station gaps, avg 0.4 miles (2100 feet) between stations.

    Making that segment roughly competitive with the private car in terms of speed.

  69. I sense some “subway envy” in this string, and not much consideration of ridership data. For instance, what is the percentage of Red & Blue trips to central city stations? Those riders experience only a portion of the full 22 minute trip from Goose Hollow to Lloyd Center and get excellent access to their destinations. How many potential “thru riders are there?…a look at UrbanTrans vanpool study for Metro that mapped origin and destination for employees in 16 major employment areas might help. (its 2000 census data; 2010 should be available in the coming year). Making a huge investment for potential thru riders at the expense of existing ones with central city destinations may not be the best use of limited resources.
    My guess is that even a E/W subway would have at least 7 stations, half of what we have now, so maybe the trip time could be cut in half. Does saving 10 minutes justify the expense? Then there are the “quality issues,” i.e. MAX riders underground while others enjoy what little sun we get here. And security or perceived security…who wants to wait for a late train alone in even the swankiest underground station?
    Portland (unlike Seattle…our “big city” to the north) opted for the Transit Mall as opposed to the Transit Tunnel. There is appeal in getting off a train or bus and walking an easy block to two to your destination. Hey, we are the “world’s biggest small town.”
    That said, it often appears to me that MAX on both the Mall and cross-Mall routes is at the mercy of the signal sequence that defaults to PBOT’s first priority…”Keep traffic moving.” Something could be done to move the trains along a bit better at the expense of motor vehicle traffic if the City were willing. Re closing stations, it may be a needed conversation, but will not be an easy one…no current rider wants to lose easy access to good transit for the benefit of some possible rider from the outer suburbs.

  70. Lenny-

    We agree about the uncertainty and significance of the relative percentages of through v. central city destination riders. Another factor is the proportion of FRZ only riders. The passenger census data doesn’t identify which riders get off where. However, we get a bit of a break with Green & Yellow which both terminate at PSU. I haven’t run the numbers for a while, but IIRC about 35% to 40% of all of those two lines’ rides were solely within the FRZ.

  71. My guess is that even a E/W subway would have at least 7 stations, half of what we have now, so maybe the trip time could be cut in half. Does saving 10 minutes justify the expense?

    No, saving ten or fifteen minutes doesn’t justify the expense of a subway (although I’d be surprised if there were more than four or five stations — they’re EXPENSIVE). The only justification I can see for any subway of any length is to allow four-car trains on the Blue Line … and we won’t need that capacity for years yet.

    Finding ways to trim four to six minutes off the Lloyd Center to Goose Hollow travel time is definitely worth looking at, as long as the solutions are inexpensive. Which means better work with signaling, maybe finding ways to speed up the Steel Bridge crossing, and closing/consolidating redundant stations.

    Speaking of … why not move the Old Town/Chinatown station one block south, between Couch and Davis, and eliminate the Skidmore Fountain station? That would have some impact on traffic patterns, but still wouldn’t cost much money. Bus riders could still have a fairly easy transfer to/from the #12, 19 and 20 from Burnside, and everyone in the neighborhood would still have light rail within a block or two of their front door.

  72. @Nick S: As far as skip-stop, this idea would actually be relatively easy. Because blue and red lines both serve the east-west route, why not just have blue be the “local” trains and red be the “limited” trains?

    Skip-stop doesn’t work that way. Trains serve alternating stops: ‘A’ trains serve ‘A’ stops and ‘B’ trains serve ‘B’ stops. In that sense they are both “limited.” The primary advantage of this system is that it requires no additional trackage: the trains never actually pass each other.

    Douglas K.: Speaking of … why not move the Old Town/Chinatown station one block south, between Couch and Davis, and eliminate the Skidmore Fountain station?

    One nice thing about Skidmore Fountain is that’s it’s under the bridge. Much more sheltered. But I wouldn’t worry about closing Old Town Chinatown: it’s pretty close both to Skidmore and Union Station MAX.

  73. I think a pedestrian / bike “subway” linking Pioneer Square to somewhere right across Burnside would help things out a lot. That would also be nice when it’s really rainy and you don’t want to get wet and just need to walk 20 blocks or less. I would also propose where the MAXes intersect at pioneer square go under or over each other (probably be easier to do the Red/Blue one than the Green/Yellow).

  74. Just one more comment, why is Portland downtown STILL in this day and age the central hub of everything? Is seems like a really poor design to practically force everything through a small corridor. What would happen if there was some huge disaster and people needed a way to get from, say, Beaverton to Clackamas?

  75. Lenny,

    The primary reason for a subway isn’t in saving 10 minutes, and it isn’t to have 4 car trainsets.
    Those could be big advancements for MAX, but they are not the main reason to build a subway.

    They will build a subway because it’s going to be the only feasible option.

    In 2050, Beaverton is going to be a mega-suburb, Lloyd will be a second downtown and the Rose Quarter will host hotels, entertainment and transportation. We’ll probably have a major regional rail station around Lloyd as well.
    Northwest and the Pearl will be fully built out with high density residential, and we’ll see probably 200,000 or more new residents in the central city neighborhoods (like MLK/Grand, NW, Pearl, River etc.)

    In 2050, the current original MAX route downtown is going to be outdated and ridiculous.

    They built the thing in 1985 when it was the only line in town and before Portland began growing by double digit percentages.

    We’ve now got the streetcar lines in addition to the increasing number of MAX lines. Is there any doubt that the steel bridge should not be the only route over the river for all the lines?

  76. A subway line would save more time than 15 minutes. It takes 25 minutes to get from Goose to Lloyd Center. It would save more like 18 minutes, imo. HUGE difference.

    It takes a car driver 22 minutes to get from the edge of the UGB in Beaverton to Pioneer Courthouse Square in a car:

    UGB to Center

    It takes less time to drive 14 miles than it does to go 2 miles on MAX. Yeah, time does matter.

    A subway system will induce demand. People say the demand is not there, but that’s linear thinking. There is demand; people don’t ride it to its fullest because it’s slow.

    If people subscribe to induced demand from freeways, they need to at least believe in induced demand for transit.

    Also, if Portland is looking to add residential and employment density at its core (which is desperately lacking), wouldn’t it make sense to build an actual transit system that could accommodate that?

    The anti-subway people on here need to pull their heads out of the sand and face reality here.

    Tell someone 15 minutes does not matter when their so called “frequent bus” stops coming every 15 minutes decides it will come every 30 minutes.

  77. WS, i agree.

    I think that Portlanders that have lived in major cities can attest to the value of a fast, convenient transport system.

    In the coming decades, Portland and its suburbs will probably grow to include 3-4 million people.

    How will all those people get around? We’re not building new freeways. They’ll get around by rail.

    A subway is part of that. Commuter rail services, to Yamhill county, Damscus, the Gorge, Washington County and Salem, as well as the suburban MAX lines, will feed a growing central city complex of rail lines. Streetcar lines through urban neighborhoods, Barbur, Poweell, and Milwakie MAX lines, and a downtown subway will allow people to make trips to and from work/play/shopping all day long.

    A subway line through the Central City will bolster capacity so that we can accomadate commercial and residential growth in those areas. There will be hundreds of thousands more people working and living in the central city in a few decades.
    We aren’t going to satisfy that kind of demand with four or five MAX lines waiting to cross each other at the Steel bridge and at Pioneer Square.

  78. Juke: my fault, you are right. As much as I would love a subway, I can’t see TriMet building one any time soon. So yes, skip stop alternating stations on red and blue would be a free and quick solution to the slow train problem. I suppose we could shave off a few minutes, right? No one loses their precious station. If you don’t want to walk an extra block, wait for the next train.Rebuttal anyone? Is this a good and attainable short term solution?

  79. Nick S:
    No, that’s not feasible because if you’re going from a “Red” stop (say NE 60th) to a “Blue” stop (say Hollywood), you can’t take either train. You’d have to walk instead. And if you’re skip-stopping downtown, wouldn’t it be better to just consolidate several stops instead of trying to figure out which train stops at which station?

    Regarding the subway, no, it’s not gonna happen anytime soon…. 20 years at the earliest. But it will happen once we have 8 to 10 spokes in all directions. There are several different ways to tie the lines together underground and I look forward to exploring the options. However, in the meantime, we can’t wait 20 years to speed up downtown MAX. 25 minutes from Lloyd Center to Goose Hollow is unacceptable now and it will only get worse. MAX is supposed to be regional rail, not a downtown circulator. It’s the function of the buses and streetcars to circulate people once they’re downtown.

  80. Aaron: I was only thinking of using Skip-stop downtown, where the stops are pretty close together.

    The primary inconvenience I can see would be to riders leaving Portland to stations between Beaverton TC and Gateway. These people don’t care whether the train is Red or Blue, so they would effectively see their frequency halved.

  81. I agree with Aaron — consolidation is preferable to skip-stopping, particularly when the stations are only two blocks apart. Kings Hill + PGE Park, the four Morrison/Yamhill Stations downtown, Old Town/Chinatown + Skidmore Fountain, and the four stations along Holladay are all so close together it would be easy to either eliminate the lesser-used stations or spend some money to combine some of them into new stations.

    It would also be a lot easier for new riders to understand than figuring out skip-stops.

  82. If they don’t figure out how to get more service on the work horse of the Max, BLUE LINE, nobody will take it unless they are in a situation which forces them to take it.

    I’m not taking it in its current configuration and I want to take it! It doesn’t run late enough west to east and it does not connect to the 15 bus. (15 leaves 2 mins before max arrives)

    These are the stops they need in downtown;

    goose hollow
    1 stop in pioneer square
    1 stop at transit mall
    oak and 1st
    old town

    all the other stops should be eliminated.

    The red line should originate from Gateway and run more frequently and later.

    The green line should run as an express from gateway to downtown, but that is impossible because of the poor planning.

    Then they would have a decent rail rather than a hype rail.

  83. The green line should run as an express from gateway to downtown, but that is impossible because of the poor planning.

    Proper “planning” for such a thing, which would require at least one bypass track, if not two, would require a lot more money to build.

    Keep in mind, all the things being discussed above, whether express tracks, tunnels, or even simple projects such as moving stations, require $$$$$. Personally, if we’re going to spend hundreds of millions (or even billions) of dollars on transit infrastructure, I’d rather spend it on new service.

    And if we’re going to spend money on improving existing service, personally, I’d rather spend it on things like electronic fare collection, bus enhancements (queue jumps, bus lanes, signal priority), and other targeted projects to get busses through known bottlenecks more quickly. Crosstown trips on MAX will become far more important (and thus more cost-effective to optimize) once the connecting service is better. It doesn’t matter if you shave fifteen minutes off Beaverton to Gresham, if you have to wait another 30 for a bus to get you to your final destination.

  84. EngineerScotty:…Crosstown trips on MAX….

    You keep mentioning these crosstown trips as if it’s benefiting only people going through the city. I feel you are biased about this.

    My push for this is it’s about an entire system upgrade for, all people. Downtown and crosstown.

    We all agree the bus times are a joke.

    The thing with the bus times being a joke is that is basic service that Tri-Met is avoiding.

  85. No bias, but if you live downtown in the “slow” area, the “penalty” for slow MAX service is less (depending on where you are and where you want to go), and the solution might well involve a longer trip to the transit stop. So the primary benefit would be for those outside downtown trying to cross it. Given that, there’s a good chance that the connecting service will be suboptimal.

    My point to Al, and more generally, is that if you are concerned big-ticket capital projects (like MLR) are having a negative impact on basic service–well, most of the proposals discussed here are Big Ticket Capital Projects. A key metric for TriMet in doing their capital projects (according to the agency, at least) is improvements in operational efficiency–a well-used MAX line has half the per-rider operational costs of equivalent bus service. There’s also lots of efficiencies to be gained in upgrading bus service–if you make the busses run faster, you can run greater frequency (or expand service elsewhere) for the same money, and provide a higher quality of service to riders. But converting rail to faster rail, where you are already starting from an exclusive-ROW service, doesn’t generate the same bang for buck–especially for an expensive project like a tunnel.

    I think something will be necessary in the future; but were probably talking a few decades away.

  86. No bias, but if you live downtown in the “slow” area, the “penalty” for slow MAX service is less

    I dunno; I live downtown and it annoys the hell out of me. Every single time I use MAX, no matter whether I’m going east or west, there’s a maddening amount of time wasted before I even get out of downtown. There’s nowhere I can get very quickly. If I’m headed east, it takes approximately an eon just to get beyond the Lloyd center. West has wasted time around PGE park. Yellow/green is much better but I live at the bottom of that. MLR will be nice for that hopefully. The new bridge special-built for MAX had better allow the trains to fly at their top speed.

    Indeed, the person living outside of downtown can have it even worse, but only for the trips where they’re going through. Since they live outside of downtown, when they use MAX to get to an intermediate location, they don’t have to deal with it at all. When they’re headed to downtown, they only have it as bad as I do ALL of the time. When it all averages out, I think people living downtown are impacted plenty bad. I sure as hell want it fixed.

  87. Every single time I use MAX, no matter whether I’m going east or west, there’s a maddening amount of time wasted before I even get out of downtown. There’s nowhere I can get very quickly. If I’m headed east, it takes approximately an eon just to get beyond the Lloyd center. West has wasted time around PGE park. Yellow/green is much better but I live at the bottom of that. MLR will be nice for that hopefully. The new bridge special-built for MAX had better allow the trains to fly at their top speed.

    Give that man a cigar! We are talking “world class” systems which Portland is not, forget the hype, its all baloney!

  88. “The new bridge special-built for MAX had better allow the trains to fly at their top speed.”

    Bad news, Aaron. MLR’s new bridge will not allow trains at high speed. We wouldn’t want MAX to be too competitive. The top speed will be 25 mph (40 km/h).

    My opinion on this: public transport in the United States is all just a big watered-down compromise, and as long as we’re grading on a curve, that speed is just fine for me. At least it’s an improvement, as it sure beats the walking speed the trains go over the Steel Bridge (when it’s not broken).

  89. Given that there are stations on both ends of the new MLR bridge, and that it will be shared with busses and Streetcar, and bikes and pedestrians on the sidewalks, I don’t see much reason for speeds faster than 25MPH–high speeds make the most sense when there’s a long distance between stops, and would make the bridge a more uncomfortable environment for human-powered users.

    As far as the Steel bridge goes, the 10MPH speed limit there is dictated by UPRR and design concerns–see this page at MAX FAQs for more info.

  90. The other Aaron (no last name) is absolutely right. It’s not just commuters going THROUGH downtown, it’s everyone going TO or FROM downtown who are adversely affected (penalized) by the slow crawl.

    Even visitors riding from the airport, who initially are impressed by the speedy ride from the baggage claim level, suddenly are shocked once they hit LLoyd Center. They think they’re downtown and close to their hotel near Pioneer Square and that they’ll be getting off in just a couple of minutes. Fifteen plus minutes and ten excruciatingly slow stops later, they’re telling me they’ll take a cab next time. If it’s that frustrating for visitors, it’s exponentially worse for everyone who has to endure it every day.

    I agree that the subway won’t be built until Milwaukie, Tigard, Vancouver and Powell are finished (2030ish), but it needs to happen immediately thereafter. It might even be advantageous to include it in the funding for Powell, the last major spoke, so we’re not sitting with a disfunctional regional system for decades after that.

  91. What the hell. WHY? I completely understand why the Steel Bridge is painfully slow. But they’re designing this new bridge for this exact purpose. 25 MPH won’t be bad enough that I’ll be contemplating how to hang myself from the hand straps, but why would they choose that limit? If the design of things is such that higher speeds would be unsafe, I guess I think it’s poorly designed. From what I understand, there is a nice big elevated structure leading up to the bridge as well. And busses too? Busses can go 55MPH crossing the Columbia River on that ancient bridge, sharing the road with personal automobiles. How does that happen?

    Is it too late to start showing up at CAC meetings and getting all axe-grindey about it?

  92. The 25mph limit on the bridge is fine. Trains would not have enough time to accelerate much faster than that before they have to decelerate for the next stop (it’s barely a half mile total distance). So it will not seem as though the train is unnecessarily slow as it is on the Steele bottleneck. Or on the torturous path the Yellow and Green trains have to take to get to 5th and 6th Aves.

  93. Aaron,

    Read more of MAX FAQs. There are two types of signalling used on MAX–“block” signalling, which is similar to freight railroads use, and “pre-empt” signalling, which is used downtown and anywhere where MAX runs adjacent to (or in) city streets. Block signalling permits high speed operation, but requires a physically separate right of way, guarding crossings (with gates), and long station spacings–and no other vehicles in the right-of-way. MLR will likely use block signalling south of the Holgate station, where it runs between McLoughlin and the UPRR line.

    Pre-empt signalling, which is used from Lloyd Center to Hoose Hollow, along Burnside and Interstate, and in downtown Hillsboro, permits operation in mixed environments without guarded crossings–but has a speed limit of 35MPH. MLR will likely use pre-empt signalling everwhere north of Holgate, as it will be running in mixed environments FTMP (including in the median of 17th and Lincoln streets).

    I’m not a rail design engineer, so I can’t comment on the merits of the chosen speed limits further–but 55MPH on the new bridge would be not possible, unless you want to excluded busses from the bridge (or design it with separate lanes for bus and MAX). Given that it’s only 2000 feet or so between the OMSI and SoWa stations, and given the approach grades on both sides, I don’t think that 55MPH operation would be possible.

  94. Well, I do understand that it’s a relatively short distance and in my head I imagined it as a little my excruciating than it probably really is. I certainly got a little hyperbolic. Getting up to the actual top speed would not be practical. But 35-40 MPH still seems reasonable. I’m not sure I understand the concerns for people on bikes — are there bike crossings on it? That seems like a poor idea no matter what. Certainly it could be designed such that there’s not a chance of people getting hit by a derailed train in the worst case scenario.

    I just played around with the distance measurement tool on Google Maps, and it looks like the distance between the SoWa station and future OMSI one will be 0.6 miles. That’s pretty close, but for comparison I only got 0.5 miles between the Powell and Division stops on the Green line. What is the speed there? (The Vanport structure is a bit longer at .75 miles, for comparison)

  95. Bad news, Aaron. MLR’s new bridge will not allow trains at high speed. We wouldn’t want MAX to be too competitive. The top speed will be 25 mph (40 km/h)

    ~~~>It’s unbelievable! They spend all this money and throw this inconvenience at the great majority of the public that still uses (and will continue to use) private vehicles as transport, and then they don’t even do the job correctly.

  96. Back of the napkin math, might be wrong:

    The given “service” acceleration and deceleration for the S70, at least, seems to be 1.34 m/s². It’d take just about 400ft to get up to 40 MPH and another 400 ft to slow back down to zero. If my distance for the station spacing is accurate, that leaves 2300ft to be maintaining that speed, which would take 40 seconds. On this bridge we will be spending 1m15s poking along at a steady 25 MPH (excluding de/acceleration)! I bet we they could even do 45 MPH. And busses stop a lot quicker.

    But it looks like I might have screwed up, if it’s really only 2000ft separating the stations as said above, at 40 MPH it’s 1200ft/20s. We’d spend 45s at 25MPH.

    I’d still say 25 MPH is just too conservative. Even if I’m pushing it, why not 35 MPH? Why not 30 MPH? In the grand scheme of things it won’t be that huge of a time difference, but with all the people working on this stuff it surprises me that (from the outside) it seems like despite being a leader in many areas, folks aren’t eager to approach, let alone push the limits when it comes to the simple stuff.

  97. Keep in mind that the trains will be climbing as they cross the bridge, and then having to slow down as they descend into the next stop. Gravity does not help either way.

  98. EngineerScotty:“I don’t see much reason for speeds faster than 25MPH–high speeds make the most sense when there’s a long distance between stops, and would make the bridge a more uncomfortable environment for human-powered users.”

    That is a complete joke of a statement, Scotty. So you expect the taxpayers and riders to simply accept that they go slower because of adjacent “human-powered” users? That right there shows there is a flaw in design to site pedestrians next to a LR line.

    25 MPH is 5 MPH higher than school-zone speed.

    Washington’s METRO averages 33 mph system wide. It has stops relatively close to on another. I doubt there’s vastly different brake technologies between heavy and light rail, in fact I would conjecture heavy rail takes more time to brake.

    We should be saving our money up and spending it on something fast that competes with cars when the time comes.

    Build it right the first time is my stance.

  99. If you’ve been reading this site for awhile, you’ll know me as someone who thinks MAX needs to go faster downtown, and that the speed over the Steel Bridge is agonizingly slow.

    However, I think we’re getting too hung up on the speed over the new bridge.

    Assuming instant acceleration and deceleration (!), the time difference between 25mph and 35mph over a 2000′ span between stations is 16 seconds. The time difference between 25mph and 45mph is 24 seconds. And acceleration isn’t instant, so the real differences are closer than that.

    We’ll save way more time, at least double, for every existing station that can be consolidated, for retrofitting every signal that doesn’t have a queue jump for buses, etc.

    Don’t worry about the bridge.

    And I don’t think Scotty meant to imply that slower speeds are slated for the bridge _because_ of bikes and peds, merely that a side effect will be a more pleasant environment for bikes/peds, but I don’t really think that enters into the decision process. It has to do more with safe stopping distances on steep grades when following buses.

  100. Washington’s Metro is a fully-grade-separated system–and given its horrible safety record, probably not a great example to cite. But stop spacings on the Metro are not all that close; certainly nothing compared to downtown MAX.

    It’s a bit of a misnomer, by the way, to refer to high-platform metros like the CD Metro as “heavy rail”. The rolling stock weights about the same per linear foot (and per axle) as light-rail vehicles–the primary differences between the vehicles used in DC and those used on MAX are power source (the Metro is 3rd-rail powered) and platform height.

    Heavy rail, instead, is a term best used in reference to the freight system, and other FRA-compliant rolling stock. WES is heavy rail; and it has considerably heavier axle loads than MAX does.

  101. From the renderings, it looks like there is a guardrail physically separating train and bus traffic from pedestrian and bike traffic. There’s no danger of large moving metal objects smashing into tiny squishy humans no matter what speed they’re operating at.

    So the speed limit is really irrelevant. The limiting factor is the short distance from the west bank to the east bank. The trains are accelerating uphill to the center of the bridge then decelerating as they approach the station on a downhill slope. Even with NO “speed limit”, the trains are not going to get much above 25mph anyway. It’s a moot point. If it was level all the way across, it could reach 35mph between stations, which is typical on subways and grade-seperated metros with close station spacing. But the bridge is absolutely designed correctly. It has to have the rise in the middle to accommodate river traffic. There’s no conspiracy to hinder MAX operations here.

  102. I agree it really doesn’t matter all that much in the end, there are better things to focus on most likely.

    I spent a little while looking but haven’t had any luck. Anyone ever seen a listing of all the speeds throughout the system? Or know what the speed limits may be along the MLR project?

    I notice that in Houston their light rail cars have a maximum operational speed of 66MPH compared to our 55. It would be cool to see the speed along I-84 increased by 5 MPH so we could eek past the cars more often. Are there state laws affecting our top speed?

  103. I did read that — it gives a limited number of examples and the typical limits for different types of areas. Along Interstate, for instance, I think there are small signs with numbers along the track which I think say what the limit is, and it changes at a bunch of spots. I was hoping for some kind of exhaustive, fine-grained catalog of the exact limits throughout the system.

    (And sorry for straying off topic. I realize this is supposed to be about transit speeds downtown… MAX speed limits are something I constantly think about basically whenever I’m on it for some reason. It’s entirely possible I am seeing conspiracies where there are none and it’s really not possible to speed the system up as it is built without spending money, but I am still kind of skeptical.)

  104. It doesn’t matter if you shave fifteen minutes off Beaverton to Gresham, if you have to wait another 30 for a bus to get you to your final destination.

    It makes a big difference to me that it’s faster to go from Gateway to Montgomery Park using the 77 than it is to take the MAX to the 15 up 23rd. That’s a failure of a high speed system.

    There is no reason that taking the 77 across town should compete with an appx 1.5 mile walk to take MAX, yet the 77 wins by a significant amount for most trips. The 4 is faster from a few blocks away from 205/Division than the Green Line MAX for trips I take to/from that area also. Both are about an hour longer than driving, which is also a bad thing.

    Oh, and to the airport? It’s faster to take a 77 to the Rose Quarter to grab a Red Line train out to the airport than it is to transfer at PGE to a 15.

    The only time I take the MAX anywhere between PGE Park (or whatever we’re calling it today) and anywhere East up to the Lloyd Center is either because it’s easier than walking 3 or 4 blocks, or because I hate walking across the Steel Bridge. The Streetcar is more useful to me, living near downtown, than the downtown portion of the MAX.

    Add in the Steel Bridge and Pioneer Courthouse limitations and I’m a full supporter of putting MAX underground before we build the CRC, Barbur, or Powell corridors.

    Of course, I’d rather see the region has HSR from Eugene to Vancouver before we bother with any new MAX corridors, but that’s not politically popular enough either. At least, not yet.

  105. @EngineerScotty:

    DC has one major accident. Heavy rail has some of the lowest accidents and deaths per passenger mile of pretty much any mode of transport including cars.

    Their system averages 33 mph and is safe. Speed has nothing to do with it.

    This is a weak argument considering how many run ins with people and cars our surface grade LR cars have. That’s just the nature of the beast with grade separated vs. surface grade.

    DC’s Metro is heavy rail by definition. So is Chicago’s El, NYC’s Subway, BART, etc.

    Commuter rail is not heavy rail. It is not electrified (and I think the rail gauge is different too).

    (WMATA heavy rail line)

  106. With all due respect, ws, but the DC Metro has one of the worst safety records of any modern US rail public transit system; with numerous train-train collisions and deaths to passenger and personnel. One major accident, my eye.

    One advantage of grade-separated rail over surface rail is, as you note, far fewer incidents of pedestrians or motorists being involved in accidents with trains. Accidents at platforms still frequently occur on systems without platform doors (which open only with a train present). TriMet has had numerous incidents of trains striking pedestrians or motorists, but there is only one incident I can think of–the 2005 Hillsboro collision between a MAX train and a fire truck responding to an emergency which had overridden the train’s signal–where the collision was avoidable by the operator. No passenger or operator has died due to an accident on MAX.

    Regarding the “heavy rail” terminology–I’ve learned to not get into debates on terminology, so I won’t argue that part of the point. My original point stands–the vehicles way nearly the same per linear foot (Metro cars are typically 40 tons and 75′ long; MAX train cars are 50 tons and 100′ long). Metro train cars are slightly heavier, but not much. A WES DMU, on the other hand, weighs in at 88 tons for 85 feet.

  107. To clarify the previous post: No passengers have died on MAX while riding a train; there have been several incidents where intending passengers have been killed at platforms, most recently a few weeks ago when a woman stood on the platform edge and somehow fell between the train cars and was run over. I can’t think of any such incidents which were avoidable by the operator, however.

  108. The fact that the 15 minutes saved between Gresham and Hillsboro all come in a 25 minute stretch is huge. It will change the way folks use the system. Instead of using a bike to get to the MAX across town at goose hollow, I could consider roller blading to the RQTC and riding from there to my destination on the west side. It would be a game changer.

    I agree with you on HSR first or at least ahead of some of these projects, because with a HSR station at the RQTC we’ll have a huge increase in demand for MAX, etc.

    Long story short, these are exciting times. I won’t be heartbroken if the tunnel doesn’t happen right away but I am heartened by the fact that it will happen in the next 30 years.

  109. Will someone do a average speed analysis for the subway with 5 to 7 stops? Not sure the savings is that much greater than reducing the current 14 stops on the Cross-Mall route to 11. Divide minutes saved into $Millions needed for a subway.
    Sure someday it may happen, but it will be a tough sell.
    Residential/job locations patterns for the next few decades may dictate more Streetcar lines rather than a subway. Close-in eastside could equal or surpass the job/residential density of the westside within the Central City.
    re the 77 vs. MAX…try MAX to the Rose Quarter TC, then the 77; that is the most direct route to MP from Gateway.

  110. ES: You could do us all a favor by obtaining and posting the actual subway study, which I recall was done in 2003, and had a projected cost of $1.2 billion in year 2006 dollars. Although Pioneer Square may have had a single station (rather than the current two) in that plan, it also proposed stations at Lloyd Center, Rose Quarter, Union Station, Burnside, and PSU Plaza. That is why it only saved 12 minutes travel time (although that seems to me to be a defensible combination of station spacing and travel time savings). Remember that reduced travel time also lowers driver wage costs and required number of LRT vehicles.

    Regarding the eastside bypass, I find the suggestion that only 4% of riders would use it ridiculous (unless I am misreading the analysis). I suspect that a look at ridership patterns on the Yellow Max line, or the 33 Bus line would show that fewer than half of boarding passengers are traveling across the Willamette River from/to Downtown origins/destinations. In fact, back in the 1979-1980 period, Metro and the City of Portland argued strenously against light rail to Milwaukie because such a small percentage of trips in the McLoughlin corridor had Downtown destinations.

    Since the information in the High Capacity Transit Plan appears suspect, it would be nice to know what the basis for their analysis is.

  111. Regarding the bridge’s top speed of 25mph, it’s sharing the tracks with the Streetcar, which has a top speed of 30 mph, so that could be a limiting factor as well.

  112. What I can find on the Škoda 10T suggests the top speed is actually 70 km/h, or 43 MPH? Wikipedia, a few random brochures.

  113. @ES

    Maybe I was a bit naive to DC’s safety issues. In regards to the topic at hand, speed is not the main factor in these accidents.

  114. A train doing a steady 25 mph over a bridge is not the end of the world, in reality. (We’ll see when they build it how fast it actually goes).

    A train doing 7 mph through downtown is something to worry about, however.

  115. Aaron
    Huh, I guess you’re right. I could have sworn it was 30.
    Since people have been mentioning the Steel Bridge bottleneck a lot, does someone know what the bridge’s minimum headway is?

  116. Maximum capacity of the Steel Bridge is 30TPH per direction; though other elements of the MAX system may impose lower limits than that.

  117. Has anyone considered an experiment using skip stop service on the Red/Blue lines through downtown? Given the fact that two lines currently serve this alignment, it seems as though this could be easily tried out for very little money. Between Lloyd Center and Goose Hollow, all “even” stops would become Blue Line only stops and all “odd” stops would become Red Line only stops. This way no one’s pet station would actually be closed, and if someone REALLY wanted to get to a station that their train no longer stopped at, they could just transfer to the other color before entering the downtown area. All trains would thus only make half as many stops downtown, which I would think could speed the service considerably without the huge capital investment of a tunnel (although that would be nice someday). I think the general public would quickly catch on to which stops were Red and Blue without too much of a learning curve. Transfers to the Mall MAX would still be easy since there is a station on each side of that alignment — one would be Red and one would be Blue. Transers to the streetcar might be negatively impacted though since only one station is nearby — perhaps both color trains could still stop at the Library/Galleria stations to facilitate this transfer. Would this cause any operational problems? Would the existing signalling system be able to handle this?

  118. Tim:

    Yes, we discussed this earlier in the thread. It sounds easy, but in practice, it would be very confusing for most people and turn many riders off. If you’re going to make, for instance, Convention Center Red and Rose Quarter Blue, why not just combine them into one at the RQTC. I assume you’d want all trains to stop at the Transit Center, correct?

    Consolidating stations that are only 2 or 3 blocks apart will incur minimal inconvenience for a few individuals, but will speed service up for everyone. Especially when you’re talking about stations with very low utilization. King’s Hill, 2nd/3rd, Skidmore Fountain and Convention Center should all be consolidated with their neighboring stations.

    Also, there’s no ambiguity about which station you need to be waiting at. Imagine waiting for a Red train to the Airport, but you mistakenly are waiting at a Blue station as the Red train passes you by. That’s a great way to miss your flight.

  119. While I believe the skip stop configuration is not attractive, an express line would be very attractive to commuters.

  120. One other question on the subject of speeding up MAX service downtown — I ride from Old Town/Chinatown to Fair Complex and back almost every day and thus traverse most of the downtown alignment regularly, and one segment seems to consistently function much worse than the others. That segment is the eastbound stretch between the (former) PGE Park stop and the Library/SW 9th stop. Often times the MAX will get stuck at 3 or more stoplights between these 2 stations. Does anyone know why? Has anyone else noticed this? It doesn’t happen in the westbound direction between Galleria and PGE — it almost always sails right through all those stop lights. Sorry if this is unrelated to the current discussion; it is just something I have been curious about for a long time… Is there some inherent flaw or complication in the signaling system in the eastbound direction that does not exist in the westbound direction? Fixing the general problem of MAX trains getting stuck at stoplights where there are no stations could speed up the existing alignment…

  121. Portland Bureau of Transportation runs the signal system downtown. Its first priority is moving motor vehicles, so MAX, some signal preemption notwhithstanding, is at their mercy.

  122. ws:

    An express line requires a second set of tracks for express trains to pass local trains. Where are you going to put a second set of tracks parallel to the existing Red/Blue MAX?

  123. Do you really need a third set of tracks? It might not be practical, but in theory could you install a few pieces of track that allow a train to switch to the track going the opposing direction and back in the right places to weave past things? What kind of upgrades/changes would a rail network need to be able do that safely? I’ve seen cool simulations showing off the kinds of efficiencies you can get with cars if the network were either entirely coordinated or autonomous (no stop lights necessary, etc). Certainly crazy future stuff like that is a whole lot easier with things like transit systems on rails.

  124. Sorry, I meant “second set of tracks”. What caused that brain-o was I also thought about but didn’t mention the possibility of only installing a single extra track, a third, in leu of another pair, and doing similar kinds of shenanigans with everything a bit less hairy than just weaving between the existing ones.

  125. You could, in theory, use switches to permit express trains to pass locals in lightly-traveled segments of the line, but that would require that a) many more switches be installed than presently exist–potentially switches around every platform; and b) the line be fully signalled for bidirectional travel. And on lines where there are lots of trains, you’d have the same problem of trying to pass a motor home on a busy two-lane road: no gaps to do it in.

  126. “An express line requires a second set of tracks for express trains to pass local trains. Where are you going to put a second ” of tracks parallel to the existing Red/Blue MAX?

    This is beyond my knowledge but you would not need to install a third set of tracks along the entire corridor.

    Before and after downtown would probably be logical places for a pass through third set of tracks due to the bottleneck.

    It can be done, we put a man on the moon.


    and Here:,-95.677068&sspn=30.599615,77.167969&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Portland,+Multnomah,+Oregon&ll=45.519092,-122.698553&spn=0.001549,0.004128&t=h&z=19

    Lot’s of rail systems have express lines. Why not MAX is my question?

    I can’t say it’s not possible until someone gives good reasons.

  127. A question that ought to be asked about express lines: Assuming the other details can be worked out (i.e. tracks capable of supporting them), how many “regular” trains would you convert? In other words, how much are you willing to reduce frequencies of locals to provide express service?

    With busses, a technology where adding express lines is easy, its most common for them to only run during the peaks–as additional service, not all-day service. Would this be an acceptable solution, or would people be willing to increase off-peak headway from 15 to 20 minutes so you can get one express every 45 or so? (If the express is truly faster, you can get more daily runs than of the corresponding local).

    In some places, its a good idea–but like any service change, one has to ask if the trade-offs are worth it. I’m not saying they’re not; just pointing out one side-effect of “adding express trains”.

  128. ws Says: “This is beyond my knowledge but you would not need to install a third set of tracks along the entire corridor.
    Before and after downtown would probably be logical places for a pass through third set of tracks due to the bottleneck.
    It can be done, we put a man on the moon.
    Lot’s of rail systems have express lines. Why not MAX is my question?
    I can’t say it’s not possible until someone gives good reasons.”

    There physically is not enough room to add a 3rd track to First Ave and Jefferson St (the 2 locations you showed) without also eliminating autos from both. And even if you did that, you’re only leapfrogging a couple of stations and creating unacceptably huge pedestrian safety hazards in the process.

    Also, a couple of people have suggested express service for the Green and Red trains along I-84. This would definitely be an impossibility. There is no room whatsoever to add a 3rd track anywhere between the freeway and the UP mainline.

    Yes, many cities have express rail service, but they also have built 3rd and 4th tracks to accomplish that. Could we do that here? Sure, if we wanted to spend billions of dollars. But why? Which stations need to be skipped over? The only place where speed (or lack thereof) is a problem is downtown. And the only way to correct that is grade separation from Lloyd Center to Goose Hollow (a subway). Until that happens, reducing the number of stations downtown is the only way to save a few minutes.

  129. If the money for an express MAX service went into enhanced express bus service instead, that would be a much better benefit overall.

    I don’t disagree there.

    I guess we are left with reducing stops downtown.

  130. March 29, 2011 11:25 PM
    Tim Says:
    “That segment is the eastbound stretch between the (former) PGE Park stop and the Library/SW 9th stop. Often times the MAX will get stuck at 3 or more stoplights between these 2 stations.”

    Yes. If the answer up there I read was correct, PBOT should be ashamed. I ride the MAX from Sunset TC to Hollywood TC for work each day. A point-to-point 35 minute drive in a car turns in to a 150+ minute excursion on public transport (IF the MAX is operating through downtown on time… there are lots of snags along the way when you interact with buses, cars, pedestrians, bikes, trucks, and other trains). The snags through downtown is something that is also important and which we have not touched on much so far in this post. What percent of MAX disruptions are due to “police activity” or “car in the right-of-way” along the line? That is another benefit to getting trains a more reliable alignment.

    So our short term plan of action is: Eliminate half the stops in downtown. Correct the signals along Yamhill/Morrison.


  131. MAX from Beaverton TC to Rose Quarter TC is just over 30 minutes, another 10 to Hollywood. Unless Nick S. suffers from very frequent bad luck, it should never be more than 50 minutes, not 150.

  132. Beaverton TC to Hollywood in 40 minutes sounds about right, barring any disruptions and track blockages. But 25 minutes of that is between Goose Hollow and Lloyd Center. It should be half that, only 10-15 minutes through Downtown, depending on the number of subway stations.

  133. Doesn’t matter if it’s 150 minutes, and Lenny didn’t describe if he took a bus to Sunset or not.

    The point is 40 minutes is too long. It’s about the same time in an airplane to Seattle from Portland.

    Let’s get real here.

  134. I don’t ride the MAX one way, I ride it both ways. And yes, I ride the 62 or 89 to Sunset TC. So that is included in my travel time as well.

  135. Let’s say you can cut 10 minutes from travel time thru downtown (low), and it costs you $1B for a subway (cheap). At $100M per minute saved, aren’t there other investments that get you more time saved for more riders? Most MAX riders don’t travel all the way thru downtown, they like having a stop close to their downtown destination, and my guess is, would feel safer boarding at street level than underground. Watch out that you don’t “diss” your existing customer in order to win potential ones.

  136. At $100M per minute saved, aren’t there other investments that get you more time saved for more riders?

    If it time saved were the only metric involved, I’d agree with you, however, I contend (see below) that a subway would result in a jump in ridership while simultaneously providing added capacity to handle that growth.

    Most MAX riders don’t travel all the way thru downtown

    Yes, but is that cause or effect? I contend that there are many potential riders who simply avoid longer trips which cross downtown unless absolutely necessary because of the time delay involved. (And some of that has to do with perceived speed ad much as actual time in minutes.)

    they like having a stop close to their downtown destination

    Good subway designs feature multiple “portals” into a station at various streets surrounding the actual underground platform location. Further, a subway downtown could save time while still having a relatively high number of stations, because it can proceed faster than the downtown street grid and with higher speed limits between stations because of no ROW-sharing with peds/bikes/autos.

    and my guess is, would feel safer boarding at street level than underground

    First, there’s no reason that the surface tracks would go away. The “local” trains into/out of downtown could still use the surface alignment, or it could be converted to a circulator route much like the current streetcar. The surface tracks are a valuable investment and surface transit will continue to be viable and popular for all the reasons you have listed in prior comments.

    But second, I don’t believe people will feel less safe in a modern underground station. If your vision of underground stations is of dirty, dim, cramped, graffiti-covered dystopia as NYC strongly leaned toward in the 1970s, then you might feel unsafe. But (relatively) modern metros like in DC, SF Muni, LA and even our Zoo station are clean, quiet, comfortable and in fare-paid areas.

    But again, I don’t think anyone advocating for a future subway is at all interested in removing surface rail. Riders who want to zip across town would use the underground “express” route, while riders who want specific destinations into downtown or who just enjoy looking out the window will take the surface route. Capacity will increase, speed will increase, and ridership will increase.

    Others have mentioned concerns about sprawl and induced demand from region-wide rapid transit, but development around metro stations (older BART stations being a notable exception) in recent years has tended to be nodal and walkable.

  137. Of course, I’d rather see the region has HSR from Eugene to Vancouver before we bother with any new MAX corridors, but that’s not politically popular enough either. At least, not yet

    Do they even have solid plans for such a monster? The way I see it, both freight AND passenger rail needs an overhaul. I’d propose they re-align both to a new state of the art system — put good grade separations at all crossings and have separate track for passenger and freight. It doesn’t seem to me to make ANY sense to be running freight trains through the middle of major towns’ centers. What if they were carrying something hazardous and there was a derailment? The MAIN line goes 3 blocks from the state Capital in Salem! I lived in Salem downtown for a short time and that UP mainline drove me so crazy I started to hear it even when it wasn’t near or even one day when I was at the beach I kept “hearing” it. It was awful. Took a few months to clear my head of that loud horn!

  138. Do they even have solid plans for such a monster?

    They have a number of mentions in state rail plans and on ODOT’s web site that gives a cost estimate. I’d assume it’s just preliminary estimates based on cost per mile, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had interns drawing up plans as practice. I know I saw a quote from an ODOT employee that they have almost every intern try to find a fix for the Terwilliger Curves as practice before they handle real jobs, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there are some well engineered ideas sitting on a shelf somewhere.

    It doesn’t seem to me to make ANY sense to be running freight trains through the middle of major towns’ centers.

    It would be nice to have bypasses around cities, but given that our government gave out the land to railroads so long ago it seems unlikely that we can force them to build railroads nor can we afford to build bypasses to replace lost capacity.

    In Portland, there are actually a number of businesses that still use the freight rails within the city which further complicates things. The NW Industrial Area is a sanctuary according to the city planning documents I’ve read. The city and region actually want the trains to stay there, and I can see why. Shutting down Terminals 1 and 2 would not be a great idea for the Port of Portland or anyone around them.

    Additional grade separation and passing tracks would be a nice start, and there is the possibility of building out quite zones with at-grade improvements. If that’s not possible it’s probably best to just put up with it. Removing trains from urban areas entirely seems like a bad idea economically for the region.

  139. Bob, thanks for your measured response re a subway. When the time is right, it will probably happen, which is OK with me. It would be fruitful to capture some real numbers on potential cross town trips from new census data. re safety or the sense of safety, didn’t Seattle have to close their tunnel at 7:30pm every night? Maybe that was before light rail. As you know design while not everything, is almost that!
    re freight rail lines. T-1 is now condos and T-2 does not see many ships, but BNSF and UPRR will never relocate their tracks thru Portland. We need to focus on “higher speed” rail in Oregon; start with morning service to Eugene in less than 2 hours paid for with ???

  140. Here’s an idea to help expedite the rush at Timbers games, Blazer games, and other forms of evening entertainment.

    Right now, the day pass ($4.75) is priced just above the pass for 2 all-zone tickets (2x$2.30 = $4.60), and a bit more than the price of two 1-2 zone tickets (2x$2.05 = $4.10). Some people attending evening functions will buy the day pass simply to avoid the need to buy a return ticket, after the event, when there is invariably a big crowd at the ticket machines.

    To encourage this behavior, and to reduce demand on ticket supplies (paper, ink) and wear and tear on ticket machines, perhaps TriMet ought to offer an evening pass–good for unlimited use of the system for one evening? The evening pass becomes valid at 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening, possibly earlier on weekends, and permits unlimited use of the transit system for that evening–and costs slightly less than 2 all-zone tickets (say, about $4.50)? My bet is the decreased use of ticket machines will make up the ten-cents difference in the price, and not watching trains go by while one stands in line at a machine after an event will make casual users think better of the system. (By the same token, offer a 1-2 zone evening pass for $4 straight).

    A similar morning/afternoon pass, good from system opening until, say, about 4:00 in the afternoon, might also spur demand for non-work-related trips.

  141. TriMet’s going to be closing Kings’ Hill/SW Salmon during Portland Timbers games this year

    Good… Maybe they can “accidentally” forget to reopen it? :-)

  142. It’s interesting they don’t say “why” it’s being closed for Timbers games. Of course, we know it’s to keep the trains moving, but for most people that’s counterintuitive…. they’d think that Trimet would want the additional station during large events for relieving the crush at the JeldWen station.

    Hopefully Trimet is testing to see if people really miss the King’s Hill station when it’s closed. If it’s not missed during a Timbers game, then it should be a no-brainer to close it permanently.

    Next, they should try closing Skidmore Fountain during Saturday Market. I’ll bet that people find they still have easy access via Oak/1st and Old Town/China Town :)

  143. Next, they should try closing Skidmore Fountain during Saturday Market. I’ll bet that people find they still have easy access via Oak/1st and Old Town/China Town :)

    Actually, I’d leave Skidmore Fountain open, especially during Saturday Market. It’s much closer than the other two, has a larger waiting area, is covered from the rain, has the fountain, etc. The trains have to move slowly through there during the market times anyway due to the large number of pedestrians crossing between the real Saturday market and the other market on the west side of the tracks.

    In the future, if three or four-car trains are ever used on the system, Skidmore Fountain can accommodate them without much reconfiguring.

    And during weekdays, there’s the new Mercy Corps offices, the U of O, and other activities finally livening up the area.

    So I’d close Old Town/Chinatown instead. The core of Old Town is now well served by the Green Line and Yellow Line and, as you say, it’s not much of a walk. :-)

  144. After Beavers games I usually walked the extra block to the silly (MAC) station to be sure to get a seat on an eastbound train.

  145. Camelopardalis has posted the first part in a series of posts about improving transit speed, in response to the this post and comment thread. The post discusses why lengthening trains would not be feasible.

  146. The post discusses why lengthening trains would not be feasible.

    It’s a great post, but what it’s really describing is why lengthening trains _immediately_ without making any other changes (such as to platforms, tracks at the terminus, etc.) would be unworkable. It’s money and time that stand in the way of train lengthening, not technology.

  147. It’s money and time that stand in the way of train lengthening, not technology.

    Not quite. The author also mentioned that it would slow acceleration as well as force trains to travel slower for longer periods over certain low-speed areas.

  148. Improving speed and extending train length(capacity) are really two separate issues. Ideally you want to do both, but you CAN do one without the other. As long as the trains are surface-running through downtown, capacity will be limited by the Steel Bridge and the Pioneer CH crossing. Yes, it is technically POSSIBLE to run 3 and 4 car trains to increase capacity, but I seriously doubt PBOT will ever let that happen. They’re not going to close cross streets along Morrison/Yamhill or 5th/6th to accommodate larger platforms.

  149. I’m going to send TriMet a comment (as an ignorant rider who doesn’t read PT) about how nice it was to not stop there during the game and encourage them to consider closing it forever.

  150. My grand theory behind the closing of the stop for games is Tri-Met is trying to close stops but given the political nature of public transit and stop consolidation, they need a reason to do so for fear of media and/or rider backlash.

    In this case, transit access for a Timbers game is good reason to initiate this topic without taking too much heat.

    Just a thought. Good for them for FINALLY doing something about this, even if it is temporary.

  151. The station closing might also be for crowd control, in an effort to focus boarding and activity at the other station.

  152. You can fantasize all year long about speeding up these trains but it will never happen.

    Trimet is about pleasing the business community and light rail is about money.

    They won’t pass any station that would leave a business out of the loop.

    Transit passengers are not part of the equation anymore!

  153. Making someone walk an extra block is NOT a hardship on the business community. I mean seriously, you can get off at King’s Hill and literally WALK to the JeldWen station to catch the exact same train. Same with Pioneer Square and Mall stations. Or Old Town and Skidmore Fountain. And besides, don’t you think the business community would WANT faster trains?

  154. If we want to base this off of Peter Calthorpe’s TOD principles, a 10 minute walk is acceptable to stations.

    A 10 minute walk is about 1/4 of a mile.

    If you want to base stop removals off of common sense that walking a few blocks is not bad for people and is in fact good for your health, then we can go that route too.

  155. “And besides, don’t you think the business community would WANT faster trains?”

    The first and obvious fallacy stated by Al M is that if something is good for the business community that it is inherently bad.

    What kind of ass-backwards way of thinking is that?!?! Way to support the people who pay your salary.

    Doing things for the business community in downtown is generally, always a good thing assuming it’s not from TIF.

    Or we can keep pushing businesses away to the urban fringes (which leads to expansion of the UGB) and perpetuate our region’s environmental catastrophe of business “parks”, strip malls, cluster homes and ugly sprawl. People in Portland simply do not understand what it looks like to level forestland into junky tract homes.

    Reason #1 why I feel taxes in the city of Portland and Mult. Co need to be more competitive with outlying suburban cities and counties.

    Make Portland the place to do business and we will stop sprawl in its tracks and create better employment/residential density in downtown which overall helps transit greatly.

    And yes, business want faster transit speeds with good access. Removing one stop helps this.

  156. ws Says: “If we want to base this off of Peter Calthorpe’s TOD principles, a 10 minute walk is acceptable to stations. A 10 minute walk is about 1/4 of a mile. If you want to base stop removals off of common sense that walking a few blocks is not bad for people and is in fact good for your health, then we can go that route too.”

    Agreed, except a 10 minute walk is 1/2 mile, or 10 downtown blocks. We currently have 2, 3, sometimes 4 stations within a 10-block span. Completely ridiculous, IMO.

    I believe Calthorpe said 5 minutes (1/4 mile) was acceptable for bus stops, 10 minutes (1/2 mile) for train stations.

  157. Calthorpe’s book, The Next American Metropolis,
    states that TODs be 2,000 feet in radius which equates to a +-10 minute walk, although this is affected by local conditions.

    2,000 ft = .38 miles. I was off by a bit.

    I agree more with your walking time estimation, I’m just parroting what he says in his book. It takes only 5 minutes to walk 1/4 of a mile for most people in my opinion too.

    10 minutes to walk .38 miles is also over shooting it.

    If anyone’s curious, 690 feet separate King’s Hill and Jeld-Wen stop!

    Anyways, I hate to get too programmatic with these transit planning “rules”. We just need to apply common sense here and realize 700 ft from one stop to the other is silly.

  158. If anyone’s curious, 690 feet separate King’s Hill and Jeld-Wen stop!

    It’s not even that much in practical transit terms. You may have measured from outbound end to outbound end.

    But for a transit rider, it is primarily important just to be in an area where they may board, denoted for MAX by the white bumpy tiles.

    Using Gmaps Pedometer, I get just shy of 500ft between the boarding strip edges of the two stations. And it’s even less if you’re making an eastbound journey.

    There are few riders who wouldn’t have the exact same walk to go to Goose Hollow or “Jeld-Wen” if there were no Kings Hill/Salmon station. (The most notable exception would be the athletic club, which would face tad longer walk, but if you’re that athletic…)

  159. Or we can keep pushing businesses away to the urban fringes (which leads to expansion of the UGB) and perpetuate our region’s environmental catastrophe of business “parks”, strip malls, cluster homes and ugly sprawl. People in Portland simply do not understand what it looks like to level forestland into junky tract homes.

    I take it you haven’t been to Southern California lately? It seemed like every office there was within business park or strip mall that had ten parking spots per employee. The Portland Metro area hasn’t done a bad job of managing growth, at least compared to the problems other areas are facing.

    It’d be awesome to see some of the downtown surface parking lots replaced though.

  160. Bob R:

    I get more like 480′ white bumpy to white bumpy using Google Maps Labs distance measurement tool.

    Dave H:

    Comparing to LA growth wise is rather silly. Even given our smaller metro area size; the urban growth boundary has done nothing to address poor growth occurring inside of its boundaries. And that boundary gets expanded after a few years.

    I think you need to take a drive through some clear cuts around the metro area that house quite possibly the ugliest homes possible before you give our metro area a free pass by saying, “at least we’re not LA”.

    I don’t even want LA to be in the discussion when talking of development and growth of a city.

  161. “And besides, don’t you think the business community would WANT faster trains?”

    I don’t agree with Al on the issue much, but not always. A particular business often would LOVE to have a stop out front, despite any consequences. I think that’s how a lot of these extra stops get there in the first place.

    I mean seriously, you can get off at King’s Hill and literally WALK to the JeldWen station to catch the exact same train.

    I’m sure you know this, but the interest behind that stop isn’t the stadium, it’s the Multnomah Athletic Club.

  162. Yes, I know it’s there for political reasons. It wasn’t even supposed to be there originally, it was a last minute addition. But I guarantee that if a MAC patron isn’t willing to walk the extra (less than) 500 feet from JeldWen, they’re also NOT going to walk UPHILL 200 feet from the closer King’s Hill station. They’ll drive into the turnaround and have the valet park their BMW or Escalade. Or if they’re feeling like they actual want to get some exercise (at an athletic club no less), they’ll park in the MAC garage and trek all the way across the street.

    Oops…. was that too snarky?

  163. Not at all. It’s a freakin’ “athletic” club. So you gotta walk three blocks to get there? BFD. Getting rid of the Kings Hill station should be a no-brainer.

  164. Butbutbutbutbut…. it sucks to have to exercise AFTER your shower. :) Once you towel off and put your suit back on, it’s practically a legal requirement that you be able to casually stroll to your SUV in air-conditioned comfort (or to a waiting train outside) without further breaking a sweat.

    Just think of the catastrophic consequences for the region’s economy were a local powerbroker to offend the nose of an overseas trade envoy with post-workout body odor.


  165. Well… you could always have your chauffeur take you to the station after your workout. There, problem solved.

  166. I was the NWDA Transportation Chair when this matter was debated at great length at montly meetings chaired by Shields of SOJ. Goose Hollow NA did like MAX on 18th Avenue, but when that was fixed, they demanded a station more central to their neighborhood. For reasons I don’t recall, the Goose Hollow station at 18th & Jeff was not central enough. NWDA was determined that the Civic Stadium station NOT move farther from NW one of the most dense neighborhoods in the city. In this we suceeded. So adding another station in between was the final compromise; I heard there were was talk of lawsuits if GH was not satisfied. I always assumed the MAC was behind some of that as there are a ton of lawyers there.
    Metro planners later told me they would never approved this kind of last minute addition in the future. The spacing of stations on the Airport, Interstate, Mall and I-205 lines demonstrates that determination.
    Al: more transit riders get better service at lower cost/ride on MAX than on the bus. The numbers don’t lie. You are sounding a bit like the letter press operators who hated offset printing when it came in and threatened (and ultimately took away) their jobs.

  167. This is all beating a dead horse at this point, but for those of you who don’t follow Human Transit, there was an excellent post today about transit stop spacing. For local service (assuming MAX is not rapid transit – and it probably shouldn’t be considered such through downtown), 400m (1,300 ft) stop spacing is acceptable. Bob R stated that Kings Hill/Salmon station is 150m (480-500ft) away from Jen Field.

    The post today was a resurrection of a previous topic that a Baltimore transit blogger mentioned after the implementation of “skip-stop” in their city. They go on to mention that their stations are 100-150m apart as well…

    Human Transit on Stop Spacing (a link to the Baltimore blog is also in the article). Anyone have an idea if we’re the only ones with stops every 1/2-2 blocks?

  168. Lenny Anderson Says: “…. Goose Hollow NA did [not?] like MAX on 18th Avenue, but when that was fixed, they demanded a station more central to their neighborhood. For reasons I don’t recall, the Goose Hollow station at 18th & Jeff was not central enough. NWDA was determined that the Civic Stadium station NOT move farther from NW one of the most dense neighborhoods in the city. In this we suceeded. So adding another station in between was the final compromise….”

    Interesting to know the history. So how do we go about correcting a bad decision made 15+ years ago? I know Goose Hollow NA would disagree, but I don’t think it takes 3 stations within 6 blocks to effectively serve that neighborhood.

  169. Aaron, thanks for catching my typo! Yes “did NOT like…” is correct.
    What is sad is that there was an alternative route that went straight up Morrison into a tunnel under Burnside with stations at 18th, 21st and 23rd (remember these are double blocks) before turning SE to head for the Zoo. Same number of stations, but serving many more people.
    Redesigned combined stations is the way to reduce the number of stops and speed service.

  170. It is certain that tunnel route through downtown would improve transit time as you have all said — but has an added offset to the costs involved, has anyone considered the impact it might have on fare revenue?

    I mean, I don’t mean to encourage a any bad behavior here, but it’s currently ridiculously easy to ride any MAX line in the city without paying a dime. There’s really no oversight in that area except for the occasional Fare Inspector.

    an underground station would provide the opportunity for turnstiles or something similar — effectively bringing the fare-payment rate from what I would assume is currently close to 60% or so, to almost 100%, as it’s pretty difficult to bypass a turnstile without being noticed (as most BART riders will attest to).

  171. We probably could get close to 100% fare compliance by simply putting a few more fare inspectors out there on a daily basis.

  172. Michael –

    It’s way higher than 60%. Just because you don’t see someone buying a ticket doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid fare instrument. And you won’t see fare inspectors in the fare-free close-in area because it would be pointless. I do agree that there are fare too few fare inspectors currently, but not that compliance is as low as 60%.

    Back in 2008 when we shot the Late Night MAX Experience video, we were impressed to find 100% fare compliance when Portland Police inspected the train.

  173. This is all fine and dandy, but people forget about the other bottleneck in portland, the one that I always am stuck in. I-5 Between portland and Vancouver. Plus lets also think about us 30 to scappoose, that gets very heavy, and if a accident occurs it’s blocked for hours making I-5 Worse. Extend the yellow line to vancouver, no matter what ctran or its fairy bus lane solution say. And how about a commuter connection to st helens to replace busy columbia county buses? That would make max ridership go up and solve 2 major bottlenecks. And what I don’t understand is this orange line/ streetcar extension bridge at omsi. Why are 4 major train lines cramped at the steel bridge? Why dont we have a separate bridge for the max trains? To widen the track number to 4. Perhaps another deck on the steel bridge? OR switch all traffic to broadway and burnside bridges? Perhaps Connect clackamas and Milwaukee to take the green line off the steel bridge with a terminus at gateway for the green line and have it go downtown with the orange line?

  174. Chris,

    Commuter rail is an expensive proposition in a Portland-sized market, largely due to FRA rules. WES is problematic, even in a travelshed which is far more lucrative than connecting Scapoose or St. Helens to Portland. And many of the local freights are uncooperative when it comes to passenger trains moving on their lines.

    I’d love to see such a service in place, but significant regulatory reform would be needed to make it possible.

    As far as the Steel Bridge bottleneck–yes, ’tis a problem. A Gateway-CTC-Milwaukie-downtown line might work (and would arguably serve Clackamas County better); there’s nothing inherently wrong with U-shaped lines. However, the outer lanes of the Steel Bridge are outside the superstructure and reportedly unable to support the weight of trains; which is why the subject of this thread–building a subway–frequently is proposed.

  175. One alternative to a subway is to extend/improve the structure of the Steel Bridge to support the weight of a MAX train on the outside lanes. I’m not an engineer so I can’t comment on its cost or feasibility — let alone the design impacts to a historic structure. But it might be cheaper to do it that way than to dig a subway.

    Running a line from Gateway to downtown via Clackamas and Milwaukie is an interesting concept. It would certainly help the Steel Bridge bottleneck. In fact, Tri-Met could potentially go back (at least temporarily) to a system with two high-frequency lines (4-6 minute headways at peak): Gresham to Hillsboro and a U-shaped line from Expo Center to the Airport via Clackamas County. The Steel Bridge remains the bottleneck, but would have only two lines crossing it.

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