October 27, 2011
The Land Use Board of Appeals ruled today on a collection of appeals filed by numerous parties related to the "LUFO" (Land Use Final Order) enacted by Metro providing the Oregon land use approvals for the Columbia River Crossing.
LUBA sustained one grounds for appeal, that Metro exceeded its authority by approving a portion of the Oregon side of the project that extends outside the urban growth boundary and rejected all the other grounds for appeal.
Willamette Week ran this under the headline "Columbia River Crossing Project is Rejected By State Land Use Board".
But I think the Oregonian headline is more on point: "Columbia River Crossing opponents lose first ruling on bridge project".
The key question of whether Metro could use a statute primarily written to authorize a light rail project to approve a whole freeway (the CRC is longer than the entire I-405 freeway) appears to have been decided in favor of the project.
Some analysts believe Metro could easily extend the UGB to include the portion of the Columbia River to the state line. Others believe the City of Portland might have jurisdiction.
It will be interesting to see if the appellants take their case to up the ladder to the Court of Appeals.
Seattle is striking up a manufacturing partnership for its next streetcar line.
The partnership is with Inekon, the lead partner in the manufacturing of Portland's first ten streetcars (partnered with Skoda for the first seven cars, then Dopravní Podnik Ostrava for the next three).
I was part of a delegation to the Czech Republic in 2005 to check on the progress of those last three. A secondary purpose of that trip was to firm up a partnership between Oregon Iron Works and Inekon. When that didn't happen, OIW partnered with Skoda instead...
October 25, 2011
[Updated 10/26 with full press release after the break. - Bob R.]
Prepare for more pain, this media advisory came from TriMet today:
TriMet faces budget shortfall for FY2013
Agency kicks off budget process early to develop options
TriMet will kick off its Fiscal Year 2013 budget process tomorrow at the monthly meeting of the board of directors.
The agency is starting the budget process three months ahead of schedule to begin developing options to respond to a projected budget shortfall in its FY13 budget. The FY13 budget begins July 1, 2012.
The October 26 Board meeting will be at:
1120 SW 5th Avenue
Room C on the 2nd floor
The budget presentation will occur at the beginning of the meeting.
No additional details available until tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.Details after the break
TriMet faces budget shortfall for FY2013
Agency kicks off budget process early to develop options
TriMet today kicked off its Fiscal Year 2013 budget process three months ahead of schedule to begin developing options to respond to a projected $12 million to $17 million shortfall. The shortfall results from the continued recession and slow recovery, an anticipated cut in federal operating grants and costs associated with a new labor contract.
The shortfall is part of the agency's FY13 operating budget that begins July 1, 2012. TriMet's FY12 operating budget is $444 million.
"We have already cut $60 million from past budgets, but our financial challenges remain," said TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane. "We face some tough decisions ahead and everything is on the table as we look to take corrective actions to close our budget gap and realign our cost structure."
With employment and wage growth stagnant, TriMet expects to receive about $3 million less in payroll tax revenues than previously anticipated.
Federal operating grants
TriMet receives $40 million to $45 million in federal funds for annual preventive maintenance. There is significant uncertainty in the federal budget, including the continuation of that funding level. TriMet is estimating a cut of $4 million.
TriMet is working to bring the union contract in line with revenue growth and make it financially sustainable. The contract expired in 2009 and both parties are now heading to interest arbitration scheduled for mid-January 2012. A recent Employee Relations Board (ERB) decision, which TriMet is asking ERB to reconsider, currently has eliminated potential wage and retiree benefit savings from the current labor arbitration. The ERB decision adds $5 million to $10 million to the FY13 budget shortfall, an amount that grows significantly in future years. There are also additional outstanding items related to the labor contract that could increase the shortfall further.
TriMet will create a Budget Task Force with community members that will provide the general manager with recommendations on how to balance the budget. TriMet has limited options to lower costs and increase revenues. The task force will consider internal efficiencies, fare increases and service reductions.
Over the next 2 to 3 months, TriMet will develop specific options to close the budget gap. In the meantime, the public can begin to offer suggestions or comments:
Phone: 503-238-RIDE (7433) select option #5
Mail: TriMet 2013 Budget
4012 SE 17 Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97202
Sign up for email alerts on the budget process at trimet.org.
October 24, 2011
East coast transportation geeks have been left with their jaws hanging, wondering what happened to the Tappen Zee Bridge project.
The project, which might once have been an example of a better way to do a mega-project, was scoped to add Commuter Rail and BRT to a highway corridor.
But co-incident with the project being selected for "expedited Federal Review" the transit and rail components have been mysteriously removed. More shocking, no one will own responsibility for the decision.
Which makes one wonder what ODOT and USDOT might conspire to do with the Columbia River Crossing? And would Metro even notice?
October 22, 2011
Here's a bit of an entertainment diversion for the weekend.
Just over a month ago, several groups came together to produce an event called "Portland's Streetcar Mobile Music Fest", which featured eight different bands or performers on a series of streetcars over a three-hour period. The event was quite well-received, and many riders turned out specifically for the event, as well as those who were pleasantly surprised to have live music on-board.
I was hired by some of the event organizers to produce a video of the festivities. That video was recently shown in the film festival portion of the Railvolution conference in DC, and has now been released on Vimeo.
Without further ado, the overview video:
Other venues (not just streetcars!) have been discussed for future events. It was a great deal of fun to be a part of this and I hope to see events in the future which further promote other modes of transit (from buses to the aerial tram) and active transportation.
Many people were involved in making this event a success. Full credits available on the Vimeo page.
October 20, 2011
I haven't heard anything about this locally, but this DOT document (PDF) contains a fairly cryptic item:
Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet)
Project: Transit Vehicle Replacement (Mini-Hybrid)
TriMet will use funds to replace buses in its fleet that are beyond their useful lives with minihybrid technology buses.
Or am I misunderstanding what "Mini-Hybrid" means?
In this month's open thread, it was noted that Metro was considering an expansion of the urban growth boundary, which will be voted on at Thursday's council meeting. Metro staff proposed a recommendation containing a list of ten sites (three industrial, and seven residential/commercial); of these ten, three were initially endorsed by the acting Chief Operating Officer: An industrial parcel in North Hillsboro, and residential parcels in South Hillsboro (or if you prefer, West Aloha) and South Cooper Mountain. Since the Open Thread was posted, Metro has also published a FAQ on the process.
(In late-breaking news, a 49-acre parcel west of Bull Mountain, along Roy Rogers Road, has been added to the proposal to be voted on tomorrow; and the cities of Cornelius, Wilsonville, and Forest Grove are voicing displeasure about parcels adjacent to them not being included.)
Many commenters in the open thread were troubled by the proposal for one of two reasons: 1) Some though that expansion of the UGB, particularly for residential uses, was not necessary at this time, given the current state of the housing market, and the ability of the region to add density within the UGB. 2) Others questioned the wisdom of putting higher-density development out on the urban fringe.
We may consider the issue of industrial expansion at another time; and Portland Transport looked at the South Hillsboro site last year. Today, we consider the South Cooper Mountain site (and to a lesser extent the Roy Rogers site, which is located nearby), and ponder the issues involved in the second question. I don't intend to ignore the first question--it's an important one, and there is plenty of infill development going on as we speak; but the readily observed phenomenon of "high-density suburbia", with urban levels of density but a lacking of urban amenities, is a problem which needs to be addressed.
South Cooper Mountain: Where is it?
The South Cooper Mountain parcel is located on the southern flanks of Cooper Mountain (and the eastern flanks of the Progress Ridge, another landform in South Beaverton), pretty much to the south of Aloha, to the west of Murrayhill and the Progress Ridge development, and to the northwest of Bull Mountain. It is bounded on the south by OR210 (Scholls Ferry Road), on the west by Tile Flat Road, and on the north and east by the aformentioned hills. This map shows in detail where it is:
View Beaverton UGB study area in a larger map
Metro has published a more detailed report on the parcel, which would be annexed into the city of Beaverton as it urbanizes. In addition, a Metro staff report provides additional information. Likewise, the Roy Rogers West parcel is described in further detail here (the report describes a larger parcel of which the 49 acres are a subset).
The South Cooper Mountain parcel consists of 543 acres, of which 361 are deemed buildable; Metro foresees construction of ~4350 dwelling units in South Cooper Mountain, along with various commercial properties. In addition, the parcel is being eyed by the Beaverton School District for the future construction of an additional high school. Currently, the parcel contains some agricultural uses, though is located on a slope, and is in close proximity to existing development, in particular Progress Ridge.
Transportation in the area is likely to be problematic with existing services and infrastructure. The main thoroughfares which serve the South Cooper Mountain area are Scholls Ferry Road, running east to Washington Square and the bulk of the metro area; and running west to rural Washington County (and to Hillsboro via River Road); Roy Rogers road, running south to Sherwood, with connections to Bull Mountain and King City via Bull Mountain and Beef Bend roads, and SW 175th, which connects to west Beaverton and Aloha. Other important thoroughfares in the area include SW Murray Road, which provides access to the remainder of Beaverton, and SW Walnut, which provides access to Tigard. The Roy Rogers Road parcel is flanked on the west by Roy Rogers Road; nearby east-west streets are Bull Mountain and Beef Bend roads.
Scholls Ferry Road is a 5-lane facility between the intersection with Roy Rogers and the Progress/Washington Square area, except for a short stretch west of Murrayhill which is presently three lanes (though a widening of this stretch to five lanes is planned in 2013). It currently is at or near capacity during rush hour, with backups frequent; in addition to local traffic, it serves significant amounts of regional traffic (being a state highway). Roy Rogers Road is a high-speed, two-lane rural highway for most of its length, including where it abuts the parcel named after it.
Murray has more tolerable traffic in the immediate area, though is frequently a parking lot further north, in the stretch between Farmington (OR10) and TV Highway (OR8). 175th over Cooper Mountain has numerous sharp curves and steep grades, and is unsuitable for high traffic volumes (and would likely be an undesirable route for bus traffic).
TOD without transit?
Even without the addition of high-density development in South Cooper Mountain, the area already has a fair bit of higher-density housing. The Progress Ridge neighborhood, sandwiched between Scholls Ferry and SW Barrows, has numerous townhouses and apartment buildings, along with the Progress Ridge shopping center. This shopping center is unusual in that despite having several destination tenants (including an upscale movie theater and a New Seasons market, along with a Big Al's across the street), it isn't located on a major thoroughfare--Barrows Road functions as a two-lane collector. Bike access is rather good, though some of the steep slopes may be an impediment to bicycle use--the Powerline Trail runs nearby, and the city of Beaverton does take bicycle infrastructure seriously.
But despite all of this, transit use (and service) is limited. No transit serves the South Cooper Mountain parcels directly, and no fixed-route transit is in the area. The only seven-day bus service is the half-hourly 62, which starts at Washington Square, proceeds down Scholls Ferry to Murrayhill, than heads north to the Millikan Way MAX station and the Cedar Mill neighborhood before heading back east, ending at Sunset TC. The South Beaverton Express (92) also provides service to the area (and the South Beaverton and Greenway neighborhoods), connecting to downtown, and reaches as far west as SW Teal. As a peak-hour express service, however,, it only provides inbound service during the AM commute and outbound service in the afternoon and evening. The 45 also ventures near the area, coming as far west as SW 121st before heading south to Tigard TC.
None of these services is of sufficiently high quality to attract many choice riders; and the real estate in the area is too expensive for the poor to afford.
Similar criticisms have been made about other TOD/high density projects in Washington County, such as Orenco Station--which has disappointing transit share, despite being located close to MAX. However, other than the MAX line, Orenco has poor transit connections, and many of the Washington County employment parks where Orenco residents work, likewise are not easily reachable other than by automobile or bike. As South Cooper Mountain presently has worse transit service than Orenco, it would be folly to expect better outcomes without a focus on better service. Of course, the development plan for SCM has not been realized, and nobody has claimed that it will be TOD of any sort--but higher-density housing generally is improved by good transit service, and currently the level of service is not great. (It's better than other parts of Washington County, but that isn't saying much).
The Roy Rogers Road parcel presently is rural in nature, and has no transit service.
What could be done?
At the present time, there doesn't seem to be plans in the works to improve the quality of transit in the area. The Washington County Transportation Plan does not include any new transit lines in the area. (The City of Beaverton would like to widen Scholls Ferry to seven lanes, however; a notion which is seconded in the RTP).
Given the demographics of the area, it might be tempting to suggest playing the streetcar card--there are probably a lot of residents in the South Beaverton area who will board a streetcar, but would rather ride in the back of a hearse than in the back of a bus. Both the Murray and Scholls Ferry corridors have major anchors such a line could connect to, and lots of useful destinations along the way. That said, it's hard to justify such a project in a corridor which currently does not merit frequent bus service.
However, development of South Cooper Mountain (and possibly of the Roy Rogers parcel, though it appears to be of lesser import) may provide an opportunity to improve and/or reconfigure bus service in the area. The current shape of the 62 limits connectivity between Beaverton and the southern parts of Washington County--it heads south down Murray, takes a hard left at Murrayhill, and then heads northeast to Washington Square where it ends. Having the 62 instead serve Walnut and/or Gaarde streets and connecting to Tigard TC (and extending the 56, 45, or 43 out to Murrayhill and the SCM parcel) would greatly improve connections between Beaverton and Tigard.
Having a transit "anchor" south of Cooper Mountain might encourage other regional routes as well--such as a route between Sherwood and Beaverton along Roy Rogers road (which would connect the two parcels under discussion), or possibly even a route to Hillsboro along Scholls Ferry and River roads (these routes are popular shortcuts among knowledgeable Washington County commuters seeking to avoid traffic on the area freeways).
It also should be noted that part of the SCM parcel lies outside of the TriMet service district. (All of the Roy Rogers parcel lies within; Roy Rogers Road is the service boundary in the area).
One other factor to consider: Both parcels are "on the edge" of the Southwest Corridor plan map--while they aren't likely to receive any sort of high-capacity transit as part of the corridor (or otherwise), development of a high-capacity transit line in the 99W corridor would make good transit connections for these to-be-developed areas more important.
October 19, 2011
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Ronald Tamse (City of Utrecht, Netherlands)
Topic: Lessons from Utrecht: Connecting Bicycle and Rail Networks
When: Friday, October 21, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
October 18, 2011
The "Noun Project" has announced a new collection of "civic" icons, including a few for transportation.
Earlier this year Metro launched an interesting approach to public input in the form of their "Opt In Panel" program, an opportunity to voluntarily register to take surveys on topics of interest/action by the Metro Council.
October 17, 2011
There is no question the planner is very cool. The ability to integrate bike and transit trip planning, better pedestrian routing to transit stops, and a myriad a bells and whistles (check out the 'bike triangle'!) are a great step forward.
But I'd like to focus on how this came to be and what it portends for trip planning more broadly.
This new trip planner is based on the "Open Trip Planner", an open-source software project conceived of and initiated by TriMet's Bibiana McHugh. This process is described in a report to Metro (PDF, 2.7M), which provided a seminal grant from its Regional Travel Options program.
McHugh partnered with Open Plans, a firm specializing in open source software development for public sector agencies. The project was put together on a budget of less than $140K. To put this in perspective, the only other multi-modal trip planner developed by a U.S. transit agency (Chicago) required a $1M Federal grant.
In contrast, TriMet pays tens of thousands of dollars annually in license fees for the proprietary trip planner it currently uses. So this project will ultimately not just improve the capabilities for planning trips in our region, but will positively affect TriMet's cost structure.
How does open source get more for less? Simply, by sharing. Part of this reason this project could be accomplished so economically is that developers around the country were prepared to contribute their efforts without financial compensation, aware that they could benefit from the completed software, which would be open to all. The considerations are well described by this graphic from the report.
And the benefits are already accruing in other cities. Nine other cities on three continents have demonstrated localized versions of the Open Trip Planner.
The "open" benefits don't stop there. A trip planner is not just a set of algorithms, it requires data, including what's known as a "routable network" (essentially a street map that includes details like which streets are one-ways and what turning restrictions exist at any corner). TriMet could have licensed that information from a proprietary vendor (for a fee).
Instead, McHugh hired a crew of interns who enhanced the data in the OpenStreetMap project. OpenStreetMap is an open data project under which volunteers and public agencies have contributed data describing street networks around the world. By basing the trip planner on this data set, TriMet not only improves the data available to others, but gains the benefit of additions and improvements made by many others. Again, this changes the nature of the game.
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the Open Trip Planner is going to be a highly disruptive project, and that within five years a majority of transit agencies in North America will be using variations of it.
And we'll have Bibiana McHugh and her visonary leadership to thank for it.
October 11, 2011
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Christopher Garlick (Atkins North America)
Topic: Gasless and Cashless Take a Toll: Sustainable and Non-Stop
Mobility through User Fees
When: Friday, October 14, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
October 10, 2011
I missed the post on Streetsblog when this first came out (thanks to @groxie for tweeting it and catching my attention). A group of students at Hunter College produced a report: "Beyond the Backlash: Equity and Participation in Bicycle Planning" (PDF, 10.6M).
The report resonates quite a bit with issues here in Portland:
- Better infrastructure in the center than in the edges of the community.
- Perception of cyclists as "other people", either affluent recreation riders, people who can't afford other modes of transportation, or bicycle messengers (I don't think messengers are a big population, or issue, here in Portland).
- Uneven relationships with Community Boards (neighborhood associations).
- Need for bike parking at key transit connections (in Portland this hasn't so much manifested as a request for parking as for more rack space on vehicles - but I expect this to morph eventually).
- Backlash to a rapid expansion of cycling infrastructure (Portland's expansion has not been as fast as New York's, but has been going on for a longer period).
- Resentment at infrastructure investments in gentrified neighborhoods.
The report is definitely worth a read. The prescriptions presented by the authors include:
- Develop consistent community involvement and review processes for all bicycle projects so citizens and neighborhood associations know what to expect.
- Develop infrastructure in all parts of the community.
- Present projects in the context of Complete Streets (with benefits for pedestrians and other users as well as cyclists).
- Look for "hidden cyclists", folks, often lower-income, who may not show up in counts and statistics but nonetheless need and benefit from infrastructure.
Many of these ideas would be well-applied here in Portland.
October 8, 2011
This year is the 50th anniversary of Jane Jacobs' masterpiece The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Influential conservative magazine The American Conservative (a conservative political organ which hasn't been given over to Tea Party reactionaryism) has an interesting article commemorating the occasion. Of particular interest to Portlanders, even if you disagree with every word of it, is this bit by TAC transportation expert William Lind:
The first three chapters of Jane Jacobs's definitive book The Death and Life of Great American Cities are on sidewalks. Had she lived in a city other than New York and written thirty years earlier, her fourth chapter might have been on streetcars.
New York had streetcars, but unlike other American cities it also had (and has) a comprehensive transport system. Subways and streetcars have somewhat different urban functions, but New York City's subways did ensure that, once the streetcars were gone, public transportation remained the choice for most New Yorkers.
Elsewhere, the ripping up of streetcar lines and their replacement with buses also ripped the urban fabric. Most people like riding streetcars, but almost no one likes riding a bus. The substitution of buses for electric streetcars drove most former streetcar riders to drive.
When people took the streetcar to town -- and every American city or town with 5,000 or more people once had streetcars -- they also spent a lot of time on Jane Jacobs' all-important sidewalks. There, they performed multiple functions: eyes on the street, office worker, restaurant diner, shopper, theater-goer and more.
Once they drove into the city, their time on sidewalks dropped and with it shrank the number of roles they filled. They drove as close to their (usually single) destination as they could, parked, and walked only as far as necessary. When their business was done, their car drew them like a magnet and as soon as they could press the starter pedal they were gone. Stores, restaurants, and theaters moved to the suburbs where parking was easier. In time offices followed, and the city's sidewalks emptied except for the occasional beggar or wino. My home city, Cleveland, lost its streetcars in 1953, and the downtown's decline began. If Ohio had tumbleweeds, they would now blow down Euclid Avenue.
Cities such as Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin that have brought streetcars back have found the sidewalks come to life again. So have shops, theaters and restaurants. Streetcars are pedestrian facilitators, more so than subways. People walk, take the streetcar, then get off and walk some more.
Cities need streetcars. They are not a cure-all; if people do not feel safe on city sidewalks, nothing will move them to walk there. But if a city can restore order, streetcars are more likely to fill its sidewalks with people than anything else.
Lind repeats a point made by many others about streetcars: they are an extension of the sidewalk. Personally, I would like to think that busses can also play the same role (and in many cities, including Portland, they do). One point which must be made, and is made in Zef's article on the trolleybus, and in this site about Portland's old trolleybus system (thanks to Douglas K.) which was dismantled three years before Jacobs' book was published, is that back when many legacy streetcar and trolleybus systems were converted to gas-powered bus; the busses of the time were noisy, foul-smelling things; far more so than modern diesels (let alone hybrids).
Often we here get wrapped up on regional transit solutions--light rail, commuter rail, express bus, and BRT--and treat the stopping patterns of local service as a liability. It is a liability when one must depend on local service for longer-distance routes; but it must be remembered that quality local service is an important assert for any urban area.
October 7, 2011
One thing I noticed my years living in Seattle was how much that city loves to copy Portland's innovations. Government officials were constantly taking tours of Portland and bringing back ideas, many of which have borne fruit. Seattle now has a streetcar line, for example, and has just recently decided to start working on Neighborhood Greenways. I always wondered if there was anything Portland could learn from Seattle, and now I think I have found one. I refer to the electric trolleybus, which is not an innovation but rather an old idea that deserves new life.
The venerable electric trolleybus, once ubiquitous before the era of cheap oil, is now rare in North America. Cities across the continent traded overhead wires for diesel fumes during the decades after World War II. A few notable cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC, chose instead to keep a core network of these vehicles, recognizing the benefits of quiet operation, zero tailpipe emissions, and the ability to easily climb hills. Anyone who has ridden a trolleybus knows they are far more pleasant to ride than diesel bus, and a modern trolleybus can approach streetcar levels of comfort.
In addition to these advantages, the electric trolleybus is inherently more environmentally sustainable than the diesel bus. Most electricity generation is only partly generated from fossil fuels, and in many cities like Seattle it is made up entirely of renewable energy like hydroelectric and wind power. The electric grid is also a much more efficient way to deliver energy than an internal combustion engine, so less energy is being wasted overall. A transit system that uses more electric vehicles can reduce its carbon footprint significantly. King County Metro in Seattle recently did an evaluation comparing the impacts of trolleybuses and diesel buses, and found that on virtually all measures the trolleybuses performed better.
What does this all mean for public transit in Portland? TriMet touts the sustainability of its light rail lines, but its bus fleet is almost entirely made up of aging diesel buses. Given that buses will always be an essential component of our transit network, it is essential that they be targeted for improvement. I would argue that the best way to make the bus system better and more sustainable would be to start building out a trolleybus network, starting with the Frequent Service Network.
Installing the wire costs about $3 million per mile, and the buses cost somewhat more than diesel buses, but given the many advantages it seems worth it. In addition, here's an important and little-known fact: the federally-funded New Starts grants can be used for electric trolleybuses, not just streetcars and light rail. Rather than immediately build yet another light rail line after the Milwaukie project, TriMet could use federal funds to instead embark on a transformative modernization of its bus system that would have a positive effect all over the region.
It is worth noting that $3 million per mile is also a small fraction of the cost of building a streetcar line. I like streetcars as much as the next transit nut, but I think they should be specifically targeted towards focusing development in "urban renewal" areas, not built along areas where zoning is unlikely to change much in the future. The development impact is really the only thing streetcars seem to do better than a good bus, and even then the results are mixed. I've seen many fine developments tout their location on a major bus line.
It might make sense extend the streetcar to Hollywood, since it's a designated growth center and could use the help, but perhaps we should build out some other corridors with a high-quality, modern, electric trolleybus network as seen in many European cities and a few American ones. Then we just need to wean Oregon off coal and TriMet could eventually reach carbon neutrality. This would make our transit system more sustainable, more comfortable, and cheaper to operate in the long run as oil prices rise.
October 5, 2011
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.2MB)
Tori and Michelle chat with Charlie Hales about his vision for cycling in Portland and other transportation issues. BTA's Gerik Kransky discusses bicycle funding.
On the off chance the prior post ruffles too many libertarian feathers, here's an interesting article on New York City's dollar vans--small vans (14 passengers) which essentially provide bus service on routes that the MTA doesn't serve. The vans in NY are quite popular (as are the similar "public light busses" in Hong Kong, some of which run regular routes like the dollar vans, otherw which are essentially share taxis).
Only problem is--they're presently illegal in the Big Apple. (At this point, enforcement mainly consists of cops writing tickets when they observe a curbside pickup). The vans are licensed and insured (most of them anyway), they're just not legally permitted to pick up and drop off passengers for hire.
Could such a thing work in Portland, assuming any legal regulations prohibiting the service were deleted from the books? Possibly--there are quite a few routes TriMet runs that could easily be served by a Ford E350 rather than a 40' New Flyer; and there are plenty of corridors where the existing bus service is either infrequent or nonexistent. Cascade Policy Institute (and many other libertarian organizations) have long praised dollar vans/jitneys, and I'm not at all ideologically opposed to the free market providing this sort of service.
My main concerns and thoughts would be:
- I'm assuming that the vehicles in question would be held to reasonable safety standards, and that operators would be licensed and insured, etc. TriMet and other public transit operators are held to these standards; there's no reason to endanger the public safety by permitting rattletraps to be driven around. (To those who think that safety could be a factor on which competing services compete, and that this should be left to the market, I offer a gentle reminder that poorly-maintained or uninsured vehicles operated by maniacs pose a threat to more than just the paying passengers).
- I see this as an enhancement to regular transit service, not a replacement for it. Jitney service might replace ordinary transit service on social service routes, but many of the routes TriMet runs are better served with larger vehicles. In both the cities I mentioned (HK and New York), the jitneys complement a well-patronized full service transit system; nobody in their right mind would proposed replacing the MTA with dollar vans.
- Given that, coordinating service with TriMet would be an interesting puzzle--are the vans permitted to self-organize, or assigned routes and/or schedules? Can vans drive the same routes as high-frequency busses? What of the problem, observed in some developing countries where jitneys are a primary mode, of aggressive forms of competition (such as vehicles racing for, or drivers fighting over, particular passengers)? Might we subsidize certain routes or corridors that otherwise would not be profitable?
- Part of the attractiveness of dollar vans (for some) is the labor costs are lower. Drivers make far less than the unionized operators at public transit agencies such as TriMet. Obviously, some will consider this a bug, others will consider it a feature.
- New York's dollar vans, like the so-called "Chinatown busses", originated in immigrant communities, and then as they became popular started to be patronized more by native-born New Yorkers; a similar demographic pattern might be observed here. (A place I could see such a service arising is out in the Beaverton/Hillsboro area, which has an extremely large Latino population, quite a few large concentrations of high-density housing and ethnic business enclaves, and spotty transit service outside the MAX and TV Highway corridors).
In some ways, this is a hypothetical argument. While those whose political orientations cause them to question the role of government in providing or subsidizing transit love to propose jitneys as an alternative, I'm presently unaware of any attempt to organize or operate (legally or otherwise) private urban transit in the Portland metropolitan area as a business venture. It may well be that we lack the necessary urban density for this to be an attractive business--both of the cities cited as examples where these services are provided are extremely dense megacities; which Portland is not. It may well be that the politics aren't there--the dollar vans remain illegal in New York, though as noted above, enforcement is pro forma (if the authorities really wanted to shut them down, or at least drive them underground, they probably could).
Thanks to Intersection911 for the tip.
Last week, John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute penned his latest missive against Milwaukie MAX. While I share concerns about the cost of the project, I view a comprehensive rapid transit network throughout the metro region as something which is vitally important--and which will become moreso as gas prices and environmental pressures in the future make driving an increasingly-expensive proposition.
The role of transit
Charles' article starts off with an attempt to burnish his environmentalist credentials (which he seems to have recently rediscovered in his now-moot attempt to save trees on Lincoln Street, even though CPI usually sides with the chainsaws in such matters), recalling his days traveling by bus as a young activist, but then says this:
Times have certainly changed. Cars have become more efficient, and chronic urban smog has permanently disappeared due to improved auto technology. That's the good news. But the bad news is that many transit agencies are no longer content to merely provide a service to those unable or unwilling to drive in a private vehicle.
There's a lot of baggage in that paragraph. Specifically:
- The suggestion that modern auto technology has somehow solved the problem of both fossil-fuel dependence and air pollution. I'll agree that it has helped on both fronts, but despite the fact that cars are generally more efficient than the hunks of Detroit steel that plied the roads during the 1960s, before the oil shocks hit, we still have both a significant oil-supply problem and a significant air pollution problem; one with potentially more serious side effects than smog. (Nor does Charles mention that Cascade routinely opposes attempts to beef up environmental laws).
- The notion that because the auto-pollution problem is now "solved", the only sensible mission for transit agencies is social-service transit. Charles then goes on to excoriate TriMet for having more expansive service plans than the role which he thinks is appropriate.
The first bullet item is such obvious nonsense that I don't think very many are fooled by it. The same efficiencies in design that have benefitted cars also benefit transit vehicles; and fixed-route transit can additionally benefit from externally-supplied electric power, which has zero emissions at the vehicle site (and even if the electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels, fixed powerplants are far better for the environment on a per-kilowatt-hour basis than are thousands and thousands of mobile combustion engines).
The second bullet item, though, sounds seductive and reasonable to many. (A few local advocates whom I respect and shall not name :), seem to respond positively to Charles' piece). Appeals to social equity are laudable, and indeed so-called social service transit is, and should be, a fundamental part of TriMet's mission. I wholeheartedly support OPAL and their efforts to create a more equitable fare structure (my alternate suggestions on how to do so in this post shouldn't be construed as objection to the CFT proposal). There is a significant part of the population dependent on transit, and we should not fail them.
But switching to an entirely social-service model; wherein the primary purpose of an agency is to serve the poor, contains a trap. When agencies switch to a primary social-service role, and stop trying to serve the public at large by offering services which are competitive with the automobile--it isn't long before the service is branded as welfare. (And you can guess what CPI thinks of the other parts of the social safety net). When this happens, political support can vanish, funding will disappear, services will be cut, and the service will become even less attractive--meaning that even more, it becomes the domain of the destitute. There are plenty of examples of transit systems in US cities which only offer subsistence transit--hourly runs at best, no seven-day service, overcrowded busses; and the notion that such systems ought to expand and provide reasonable service is considered laughable in the political cultures of these places.
While the one of the biggest factors in determining the quality and mode share for of transit is land use (New York is #1 for a reason, and it's not because the MTA is known for efficient management), a big factor is civic engagement and popular support. Portland has excellent transit (for a US city of its size) in no small part because the populace supports it, and it enjoys popular support because the system is usable (and is used) by more than just the poor. The moral of the story: if you want good transit for the poor, you must provide good transit for the middle class. Otherwise, it will be cut to the bone.
One other reason to avoid social-service-only transit: It is often environmentally-unfriendly. While Charles didn't include this particular canard in his article, other anti-transit activists have been known to repeat claims that driving is more fuel-efficient than taking transit. Jarrett Walker does a fine job of debunking this theory, but social service-focused systems (which often have little patronage outside of peak hours and lines) frequently run nearly-empty busses, and a car with one passenger is more fuel-efficient than a bus with one passenger. Well-patronized transit systems in large cities, on the other hand, easily outperform private autos on energy efficiency.
Light rail vs express bus
The other key claim in Charles' article is that light rail, allegedly, offers a worse customer experience than bus. The basis for this claim seems to be the observation that MLR will provide a slower ride from Portland to Milwaukie than the express 99 bus, which makes the trip in about 15 minutes according to the schedule. The local-service 33, on the other hand, requires 25-30 minutes to make the trip. MLR is expected to make the journey in 25 minutes. On the surface, this seems like a bad deal for commuters, however there are two important factors to consider:
- Express service is only offered during peak hours. This isn't an immutable property of the line--TriMet could run the 99 all day and on weekends if it chose, but the agency currently does not do so.
- Express service is only useful if you are in Milwaukie (or beyond) and are trying to get downtown. If you want to visit OMSI, or if you live in Westmoreland, the 99 is useless to you. Likewise if you want to travel in the reverse direction--if you live in the Pearl and commute to a job at Dark Horse Comics, you can't use the 99.
- And most importantly, both local and express bus service, when running in mixed traffic, are unreliable. The schedule says you'll get downtown in 15 minutes. It could easily be double that or worse; anyone who travels McLoughlin during rush hour knows that it is frequently a parking lot. Rapid transit in an exclusive right-of-way (which does not necessarily have to be rail) doesn't get stuck in traffic jams, and thus can deliver far better on-time performance. This is not just an advantage that rapid transit has over local bus, but it's an advantage that it has over the automobile--even if on most days the commute is smooth, people on a fixed schedule often need to budget additional time for those days when the highway is jammed.
Most of the rest of the article consists of broad accusations of incompetence against TriMet (and against government-run transit in general), and the usual assortment of free-market platitudes (a "a market-driven transit concept") that one might expect from a Libertarian think tank. Charles seemingly pines for the halcyon days of Rose City Transit--and while the old private bus operators were treated shabbily by the law back in the 1960s, what really killed off Rose City Transit and the numerous other private transit companies that existed during the first half of the 20th century, was the massive adoption of the automobile and the buildout of auto infrastructure. RCT no longer had a viable business model (even if the fare increase it wanted in 1968 were granted, it was toast as a private concern), and private transit still does not, and won't as long as driving as subsidized and cheap. I've no particular objection to privately-operated transit when and where it can make money, but calls for transit to be privatized and unsubsidized in this day and age are essentially calls for it to not exist at all. Given that we don't expect the roads to make money (they're viewed as a public good, and not as a profit center), the suggestion that transit ought to be held to a higher standard is patently unreasonable.
Scotty hit it in the open thread for this month, but I want to reinforce it - Metro is taking applications for three seats on TPAC - the "Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee".
As I suspect I've mentioned before, TPAC is one of the places where I got my education in transportation policy. Six citizens have the opportunity to sit with transportation staffers from jurisdictions all over the region and help frame up choices for the elected officials on JPACT.
I can't think of a better way to get a handle on all the ins and outs of transportation in our region, and you have a chance to inject some reality into the process...
October 4, 2011
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Andrew Dannenberg (University of Washington / Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention)
Topic: Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability
When: Friday, October 7, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
October 3, 2011
If you have a question you'd like to ask Charlie you can post it to the show's Facebook page.
11AM-Noon, Wednesday, October 5th
KBOO FM 90.7
Streamed live at KBOO.fm
Podcast here later that day
As mentioned in the comments for the Monomodal fixation disorder article, Jarrett Walker at Human Transit did a followup article on the subject. In the responses to that article, Human Transit commentor Eric Fischer said something quite interesting:
For some bike people, the issue is that they fear being hit by large, fast, heavy vehicles and see fast buses as especially threatening. I am personally antagonistic toward transit projects that damage the pedestrian environment by narrowing the sidewalks or replacing stop signs or timed signals with actuated signals in an attempt to gain speed.
In other words--if you're on a bike, the bus (or the train, especially in-street surface rail) is just another vehicle which poses a hazard, and ought to be calmed (slowed down) to make a safer environment for pedestrians and two-wheelers.
Transit planners, on the other hand, frequently view technological improvements to bus service--including (though not limited to) signal priority schemes--as important tools in the toolbox, as making bus service faster and more reliable not only improves the quality of service for passengers, but lowers operating costs.
This may not be directly relevant to Portland, as Portland doesn't have much in the way of BRT-style bus treatments; and much bus traffic through downtown is routed down the transit mall, with other streets being preferred avenues for bike traffic. (OTOH, MAX gets signal priority downtown, but the rails provide cyclists with additional reasons to avoid the tracks). But when and where traffic calming schemes are applied, how much should transit be exempted from attempts to slow vehicular traffic down?
The folks at Sightline wrote it up before I could. Two new apps help us make better transportation choices:
- The folks at Walkscore have a tool that helps you figure out the places from which you can commute to a job in a given amount of time, billed as "Apartment Search".
- Reroute.it will calculate the cost, time, calories and greenhouse gas impacts of taking any given trip by different modes.
Compute in good health...
October 1, 2011
It's getting close to trick or treat time. Which of the items below are treats, and which are tricks is up to you.
- Now that the urban reserves are settled, Metro is considering an expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary [Ed: Link fixed] and is looking for community feedback. Ten areas are being considered. Industrial parcels up for consideration are North Hillsboro, Forest Grove North-Purdin , and SW Morgan/Tonquin in Tualatin. Residential parcels under consideration are South Cooper Mountain, South Hillsboro, SW Advance/SW Stafford in Wilsonville, East Cornelius, South Cornelius, Roy Rogers Road/W. Bull Mountain, and West Sherwood. Other than the Wilsonville tract, all ten parcels are in Washington County.
- The Technical Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) is looking for three new community members. The committee, which advises JPACT on technical matters, includes several community posts. Selection to the committee is by appointment, interested parties may click the link.
- In two-wheeled news, the City of Portland this past week approved the 50s Bikeway project, a 4.3 mile bikeway (some bike lanes, some bike bouleavards) running parallel to 52nd//53rd, between SE Woodstock and NE Thompson. The $1.5 million project will also include crossing upgrades at eight major intersections.
- A brief reminder: Quite a few public meetings on the Southwest Corridor in October.
- As mentioned in last month's open thread, several notable national transit critics (Tom Rubin, Randall O'Toole, and Wendell Cox) will be joining John Charles at a CPI-sponsored event in Vancouver, entitled the "Free citizen education forum on Urban transportation and the CRC Light Rail Project". Apparently, there is a fair bit of opinion in the 'Couv that the CRC is first and foremost about light rail and not about freeway capacity, and the freeway stuff is being added as a sweetener to make light rail more palatable for the folks across the Columbia. Whether or not the phrase "CRC Light Rail Project" is an attempt to encourage this point of view, or an attempt to portray light rail as a separate project from the rest of the bridge, I'm not sure...
And now 'tis time to turn, as they say, into a pumpkin.