January 31, 2012
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Dr. Miguel Figliozzi (Portland State University)
Topic: A review of case studies exploring pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users' exposure to particulate matter in Portland
When: Friday, February 3, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
January 29, 2012
In response to our discussion about the likely recommendation of TriMet's Fare Task Force, TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch passed along a white paper on electronic fare collection (PDF, 581K) that had been prepared at the request of General Manager Neil McFarlane.
Before commenting on the very interesting contents of the document, I want to provide a couple of disclaimers:
- I don't know if Mary has sent this to other media outlets. If not, it's an interesting choice to release it through Portland Transport. I'm tempted to take it as a compliment that it's likely to get a thorough airing here. But I'm also conscious that it could be a calculation to release it in a venue where it might get more favorable treatment - readers can be the judge.
- We're straying into an area where I have a conflict of interest. A couple of years ago my employer, Xerox Corp., purchased ACS Inc., a computer services firm that among its many business units has a transportation systems group that includes fare systems among its offerings. Indeed, Xerox/ACS just installed a contactless payment system for the transit system in Philadelphia. While I don't work directly with the transportation systems group (I'm in a corporate web marketing group) as ACS is integrated into Xerox I am beginning to become more aware of and in communication with that business unit. Readers should be aware of that as they read my comments.
With that out of the way, some observations on the document:
- It's quite detailed and includes an implementation plan that has some very near term steps. This is to be taken seriously.
- The flat-fare/limited-transfer recommendation of the fare task force is entirely consistent with the discussion in the document.
- It contains a very interesting breakdown of the cost of collecting fares based on where they are purchased (those ticket vending machines we all complain about are by far the most expensive channel). There appears to be some hope that this could be financed based on savings in fare collection costs.
- My personal fare-instrument-of-choice, the book of ten tickets, would appear to be going the way of the dodo bird. But given that I purchase these (I don't use enough to justify a monthly pass - I do have an annual Streetcar pass) mainly to avoid the need for exact change, any kind of electronic system will meet my need.
- It would appear that we'll have many options for payment instruments: a stored value card, bank credit cards that contain smart chips, or 'contactless' systems like the NFC (near field communication) technology now beginning to be seen in phones.
- My policy preference, a distance-based fare system, is possible but more complex (you need tap-on, tap-off, not just tap-on).
- The technology makes peak-period fare premiums a possibility.
- The draft schedules seem to suggest that this would not be implemented with the opening of PMLR, but perhaps within a year or so after the opening.
- TriMet is apparently leaving the door open to use open source software for some aspects of the system.
Read and discuss!
January 26, 2012
Joe Rose at the Oregonian is reporting that a TriMet fare task force
may will recommend doing away with zones, and prohibiting using transfers for return trips (transfers would only work in one direction).
While I'm a big proponent of keeping things simple, this proposal does not excite me. Beyond potential equity issues (I honestly don't know if this is better or worse for transit-dependent folks, but OPAL is already objecting) which should get a very thorough analysis, I generally prefer some relationship between distances and fares. Tying trip cost to distance is important to encourage compact land use patterns.
I suspect this is just the beginning of what will be a very intense conversation this Spring.
January 25, 2012
The Portland-Milwaukie MAX project commenced construction last year, albeit concentrated in downtown. Trees have been ripped out along SW Lincoln, work on the bridge has started, and work is also starting on the so-called "Harbor Structure", a viaduct over Harbor Drive between SW Naito and SW Gibbs. Work on the bulk of the project, beyond the new bridge, doesn't start until next year.
That hasn't stopped activists in Clackamas County, who are skeptical of the project, from trying to block the county (and the city of Milwaukie) from contributing funding. Whether these effort a) are legal, and b) will succeed at the ballot box, but my guess is the latter question will be a yes--and the former question is a big I-don't-know.
County commissioner Paul Savas, who is critical of the project, has suggested that Clackamas County renegotiate the contract (already executed) which commits the county to pay $25 million to the project in exchange for MAX being built to the Oak Grove area. One proposal that he makes--and which has also been previously suggested here as a potential fallback plan-- is that instead of constructing the full line to Oak Grove, the region instead construct the MOS to Milwaukie, and stop there.
What is a MOS?
MOS stands for "minimum operating segment". It is a standard part of a federally-funded project's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which specifies a smaller subset of a project which, if built, would still meet cost-effectiveness goals. Identification of the MOS serves several purposes--it helps a project deal with funding contingencies--such as a participating government agency withdrawing their contribution--and it also helps (in theory) to make sure a boondoggle section isn't tacked on to the tail end of an otherwise useful project.
According to the Record of Decision, the full version of the project (the Locally Preferred Alternative, or LPA) consists of a two tracked light rail line from Portland to Oak Grove, terminating at Park Avenue, with 11 new stations, 20 new rail cars, several viaducts, and the Big Bridge over the Willamette River. Two stations, at SE Tacoma and Park Avenue would have park-and-rides, with capacities of 800 and 600 spaces respectively.
The MOS consists of the entire full line, except for the last station. The line would instead end at Lake Road station in Milwaukie, rather than ending at the Park Avenue station in Oak Grove. The MOS would eliminate the construction of a viaduct over McLoughlin Bouleavard, and the Park Avenue station. Instead of building a park-and-ride at Park Avenue, it would be built at Lake Road instead (the LPA has no park-and-ride at this stop). Only 16 new railcars would be purchased instead of 20.
The FEIS contains one other option--and this is what TriMet actually intends to build. It's described as the "phasing option", and it is essentially the same as the LPA, but with only a surface parking lot (no garage) at Tacoma Street, giving 320 spaces instead of 800, and a smaller structure at Park Avenue, with 355 spaces instead of 600. It also includes potentially fewer railcars, and a few other cost-saving measures (such as fewer switches along the line, where trains can transfer from one track to the other).
There does not appear to be a "phased MOS" option, which combines the cost savings of the phased LPA with the elimination of Park Avenue.
How much are the various options projected to cost? In year-of-expenditure dollars, the figures are as follows (all figures taken from Table 5-1.1 of the FEIS, page 5-4):
- For the LPA to Park Avenue, US$1.55 billion.
- For the LPA Phasing option, $1.49 billion (a savings of about $60 million from the full LPA).
- For the MOS, $1.38 billion (a savings of about $170 million from the full LPA, and $110 million from the phasing option
- For the LPA to Park Avenue: 25,570 daily trips.
- For the phased approach, 22, 700 trips.
- The MOS: 24,810 trips
Hmm. While I'm generally not fond of cost/rider as a metric, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, I'll do the calculations. For the full LPA, that works out to $60.6k per new rider. The MOS, $55.6k/rider. The phasing option: $65.6k per new rider.
What this tells us is that ridership is dependent on ample park-and-ride spaces. That isn't terribly surprising--Clackamas County is not terribly dense nor transit-oriented, so many users of the MAX from the county will be driving to a park-and-ride; fewer spaces will naturally depress ridership. It also suggests that the bulk of the riders using Park Avenue will be users of the park-and-ride, and will happily drive an extra mile or so to a different park and ride. But it also tells us that the option that TriMet is planning to build, is apparently the least cost-effective one--there's more bang for buck to be had by eliminating the Park Avenue station (and the trackwork and viaducts needed to reach it) then there is from the various cost-reduction exercises undertaken to produce the phased approach.
Let's now turn to the question of paying for the thing. Most of the local funding for the project is secure--right now the only doubtful piece is $25 million from Clackamas County, and $5 million from Milwaukie. Since there is a 1:1 federal match on the local contribution, were this $30 million to vanish, so would another $30 million from Uncle Sam--for a grand total of $60 million. There isn't sufficient local funding to build the full LPA; the best the region can do with pledged funding sources (including the Clackamas County portion and the federal match thereon) is the phased approach. Without Clackamas County's share (and match), even the phased approach can't be afforded.
However, the MOS is still quite affordable even without Clackamas County's share--it costs $110 million less than the phased LPA. If the region built that, it could do so without a dime of Clackamas County's money, and still have $50 million left over. Uncle Sam would keep half of the cost under-run, but that would leave $25 million. Which brings up an interesting question: Who would get it?
My suspicion is that the under-run proceeds would either be spent on additional capital improvements (such as the recent solar panels at the current end of the Green Line), or divided up among the contributing governments in rough proportion to their contributions. But given that TriMet has pledged operating dollars to help float a bond to finance MLR, it would be nice to think that the cost savings could be used to offset that.
At the recent #askneil event on Twitter (transcript here), I asked Neil McFarlane about the prospect of building the MOUS:
@engineerscotty: Any thought to only building PMLR MOUS to Milwaukie, w/o Park Avenue, if Clack Co voters block county from contributing its share?
Neil responded thusly:
@talktrimet: @engineerscotty The petition drive in Clack Co is still an evolving process; too early to speculate.
@talktrimet: @engineerscotty Clack Co has committed has to light rail and to the $25M contribution to build the line to Park Ave.
Unfortunately, he didn't answer the question--something I don't consider promising.
However, building the MOS might have other advantages:
- Public goodwill. TriMet's reputation is not in the greatest shape at the moment, with many accusations abounding about the agency's motives--including a significant number of folk who believe the MLR project is about pork-barrel politics, not transit improvement. Voters in Clackamas County, in particular, are skeptical. While some of this is no doubt motivated by hard-core anti-transit ideology from the usual suspects, quite a few transit supporters are doubting the agency. Building the MOS might be politically useful.
- Greater future flexibility. While I don't expect MLR to be extended for quite a while, at some point in the future an extension to Clackamas, or Oregon City (via Gladstone), or Lake Oswego might be in the works. By truncating the line at Milwaukie, all of the options remain available; the Park Avenue extension somewhat commits further extension down the 99E corridor--other extensions would then have to branch at Milwaukie.
- A better anchor. An important factor in an efficient rapid transit line is a good "anchor"--a destination at the end of the line that drives ridership. A park-and-ride in downtown Milwaukie, where support for the project has generally been strong, is doubtless a better anchor than one in Oak Grove--a poorer community with low residential density, and many residents who are both suspicious of transit and terrified of gentrification.
January 23, 2012
One of the things which Portland is famous for in urbanist circles, was the decision in the 1970s to remove Harbor Drive and replace it with Tom McCall Waterfront Park (or Waterfront Park as it was known back then). And more recently, another urban demolition project--of smaller scope--helped in making NW Portland what is is today: the 1999 removal of the Lovejoy Viaduct.
The viaduct, an elevated structure running between the Broadway Bridge and NW 14th street, with a spur connecting to NW 12th, crossed over a railyard which used to exist in NW Portland. As part of a series of projects to transform the industrial NW into what is now the Pearl, the bulk of the viaduct was removed (at a cost of $14.5 million, most of which came from Uncle Sam) and replaced with a surface street, with a shorter 2-block ramp connecting Lovejoy Street to the Broadway Bridge. The former railyard is now the heart of the Pearl District, with parks and mixed-use buildings replacing rail spurs. The trains that run there now are streetcars, not freights, and the removal of the viaduct was key to the transformation.
Other cities have seen similar benefits from removing elevated structures and replacing them with surface streets. The collapse of the Embarcadero Freeway in the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and its subsequent demolition and removal, has transformed the waterfront of downtown San Francisco. With that in mind, here are three other locations in the city where removal of viaducts or obsolete highway alignments may have a transforming effect.
After the jump.
Before the list beings, a few conditions:
- The structure or alignment in question ought to be of limited transportation value. The Lovejoy Viaduct served a useful purpose when it crossed a railyard; not so much when it crossed a vacant lot. Absent from this list are proposals to remove freeways--while some of us may like doing that, such things are, obviously, a harder sell. In general, if removal of the structure would create a bottleneck where none exists before, it's not on the list.
- Some potential for urban transformation is also required.
With that, here's the list.
The Kerby Avenue viaduct
The Rose City Freeway/Prescott Freeway was planned to be a freeway extending from the east end of the Fremont Bridge to an alignment along Prescott Street, then east out to I-205 somewhere near Rocky Butte. It was killed when the Mt. Hood Freeway was killed, and is today a dim memory--except for one glaring reminder--the Kerby Avenue ramps connecting the Fremont Bridge (I-405) with Emanuel Hospital. Quite a few blocks of NE Portland were demolished in anticipation of this freeway; the short stub of it which was actually built serves no useful purpose, and separates the neighborhood to the north with Emanuel Hospital. And for several blocks, the Kerby ramp runs parallel to Kerby Street itself--or the mutilated alignment of Kerby.
An obvious improvement would be to end the ramp at the place where the existing Kerby Street curves (just north of the hospital) with a signalized intersection, and continue the route eastward on the existing Kerby/Cook alignment--possibly reconnecting Kerby Street with its northern self, providing easier access to the hospital (and to the bridge) from the north, without having to use the Vancouver/Williams couplet. The land occupied by the existing alignment then could be put to some better use.
Naito Parkway south
This isn't so much of a viaduct removal as it is an obsolete-highway removal. Long before the construction of the Baldock Freeway (I-5), traffic through town from the southwest came in on Barbur Boulevard, which connected to Harbor Drive via Front Avenue (now Naito Parkway). While Harbor Drive itself is mostly gone, the section of Naito Parkway which joined the two (roughly between SW Harrison and Barbur) still resembles its former freeway-esque glory, with no left turns, cross traffic, or signals in the entire stretch. A few streets have grade-separated crossings of Naito in this stretch (I-405, SW Arthur, and SW Grover), along with an elevated pedestrian bridge and the Portland Aerial Tram, but the street is a major barrier to bike and pedestrian traffic--as well as to cars trying to get through South Portland. Oh, and the ramp system connecting Naito to Arthur and the Ross Island bridge is a dangerous, confusing mess. And frontage roads provide local access in many places, lest a parked car interfere with high speed traffic.
There's no reason for this stretch of road to resemble a 1950s-era freeway. Barbur to the south has plenty of signallized intersections through Burlingame, and Harbor Drive is long gone. (One bit of evidence which remains--the oversized overpass crossing I-405, which used to feature ramps to Harbor).
View Larger Map
There's quite a bit of good news, however:
- MLR will introduce a new signallized grade crossing at SW Lincoln, shortening the de-facto freeway stretch by about two blocks.
- In 2010, the city and ODOT agreed to transfer jurisdiction of the parts of Naito Parkway north of I-405 to the city of Portland. (Many have called for all of Barbur Boulevard north of the Tigard interchange to be transferred to local jurisdiction).
- The Southwest Corridor project will no doubt look at future opportunities along this corridor--Naito could be a routing of a future MAX or BRT line. (Such an alignment would have issues with OHSU access, but it's possible).
The stretch between Arthur and the Ross Island Bridge is probably difficult to modify because of its role in handling US26 traffic, but the stretch north of there (north of the freeway and south of the bridge) likely would be easier to improve--and the improvements are obvious:
- Put in signals so people, bikes, busses, and even cars can cross the thing. A signal at Curry would make sense, as it's parallel with the pedestrian bridge over I-5. Likewise, remove the frontage roads, and provide direct on-street parking. The width of the corridor, if this it is done, makes it attractive for a busway or other rapid transit in the median.
- Longer term, the US26 ramp system could use some serious redesign.
East approaches to Hawthorne and Morrison bridges
I group these two together because they are only a few blocks apart, and many of the comments for one will suffice for the other. At the east end of both bridges are twin viaducts (one for eastbound traffic, one for westbound) that connect the bridges to OR99E--for some reason, crossing over southbound OR99E (MLK Jr. Boulevard) but intersecting at grade with northbound 99E (Grand Avenue). Both viaducts also cross over the UPRR mainline and I-5 (or under it, in the case of the Hawthorne). Long term, it would be nice to bury the UPRR mainline so it no longer bisects the neighborhood, but three blocks separate the train tracks from MLK.
Thus, the obvious suggestion: Shorten the viaducts by these three blocks, so both come to the surface at SE 2nd.
The Belmont Street viaduct may be a bit difficult to truncate at that place, because of the ramp from southbound I-5; but it's also the one that provides a big safety hazard: the dangerous merge-weave between that ramp and the offramp to MLK. With the viaducts removed, the latter ramp would no longer exist.
Effects of this:
- The wasted blocks between MLK/Grand/Belmont/Morrison and MLK/Grand/Hawthorne/Madison, currently taken up by ramps, could be put to more productive use.
- The pedestrian environment would be much improved.
- It would have transit calming effects on MLK Jr; motorists tend to speed on this stretch due to the grade separation and absence of signals.
- It would improve transit connections between the 14 and 15 and the southbound Streetcar when it opens--right now, getting from the Streetcar route to either of these frequent bus lines is a big pain in the butt.
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2012 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Dale Bracwell (Manager of Active Transportation for Vancouver, BC)
Topic: Sustaining a Transportation Legacy from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games
When: Friday, January 27, 2012, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
January 20, 2012
Testifying before the Legislature, representatives of the Columbia River Crossing Project offered up $650M of savings by delaying freeway interchange improvements at Marine Drive, Fourth Plain, Mill Plain and SR500.
Point of Order - the FEIS does not contain a phasing plan. What does the project need to do under the NEPA process to introduce phasing?
The PSU Planning Club is going to help us find out, with a candidate forum specifically on active transportation issues:
Local Motion: Portland Mayoral Candidates Discuss Active Transportation at Portland State University
What: A Portland Mayoral Candidates Forum on Active Transportation
Who: Mayoral Candidates: Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, and Jefferson Smith
Emcees: Lawrence Wallack, Dean of Portland State University's College of Urban and Public Affairs and Sarah Mirk, Portland Mercury Reporter
Where: Lincoln Hall (Main Auditorium), Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR 97201
When: Monday, February 6. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. for light refreshments. Forum from 7-8:30 p.m., followed by reception with the candidates from 8:30-9 p.m.
Sponsors: Presented by PSU Planning Club. Co-sponsored by the PSU Environmental Club, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Coalition for a Livable Future, Community Cycling Center, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Ride Connection, Upstream Public Health, and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition.
January 19, 2012
Couv.com has the video of a joint appearance by Oregon Republican Party Chair Allen Alley and Metro President Tom Hughes, who have diametrically opposed positions on the Columbia River Crossing.
January 16, 2012
A major issue with large-scale infrastructure projects, such as highways or rail transit lines, is that frequently they face community opposition. Depending on which side of the fence one sits on a particular project, such opposition can either consist of heroic defenders of community values fighting valiantly against vested interests and the desctruction of their homes and neighborhoods--or of howling bands of NIMBYs putting their own selfish and parochial interests ahead of the Greater Good™. (Even the acronym NIMBY is generally considered a term of abuse). I've been on both sides of this particular fence, and so have you, I'm sure.
Three major controversial infrastructure project in the Portland area--one just "suspended" (and likely cancelled, at least for the forseeable future), one which continues full-speed-ahead through the planning process, and one which is already under construction but which has been subject to eleventh-hour attempts to derail it, serve to illustrate the issue quite well.
As noted in a prior thread, Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced the suspension of the Lake Oswego Transit Project after a Lake Oswego city council member withdrew his support for the project, placing the projects supporters on the council in the minority. The CRC continues to march towards construction, despite bipartisan opposition to the project, though funding issues may accomplish what community protests have not been able to. And the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line is now the subject of a second political challenge from detractors in Clackamas County, as opponents of the project have launched a second challenge to the project, this time an initiative in the city of Milwaukie to block that city's contribution to the project. A similar measure is also being circulated county-wide, and one county commissioner has suggested renegotiating the contract, already executed, which exists between the county and TriMet, and calls for the county to contribute $25 million to the project.
And a formative event in both the political culture of the region, as well as our transportation infrastructure, were the freeway revolts of the 1970s, which led to the cancellation of the Mount Hood Freeway, as well as several other proposed freeways through Portland neighborhoods--a strike against the alleged Greater Good which was made largely on the grounds that it would have ripped up much of SE Portland.
While I have issues with the cost, I'm generally a supporter of Portland-Milwaukie. I'm on record as opposed to the current CRC, and I'm generally ambivelent to the proposed LO Streetcar. Part of the reason for my ambivelence to the LO Streetcar is that many of the communities along the line--Dunthorpe, Lake Oswego, and even West Linn (which is beyond the line's terminus, but would be affected by the proposed transit restructuring) seem to be opposed to it. So a good question is: how do I square this with support for PMLR, when it's frequently alleged that Clackamas County doesn't want that? (And what of the CRC, which many leaders, particularly in Salem, Olympia, and Washington DC, insist is of crucial to state and national interests, sufficiently so as to override local objections?)
Striking while the iron is hot
A major issue is, of course, timing.
The Lake Oswego Streetcar is still fairly early in the planning phase. Financial commitments haven't been made, the Final Environmental Impact Statement wasn't complete (the Draft EIS was, but that's still early in the process), let alone final design, permitting, and construction started--in short, now is the right time for community objections to be taken into account. And while some of the stated objections may well fit into the "NIMBY" category (particularly from Dunthorpe residents who don't want streetcars passing by their expensive homes), a key complaint was that the project as proposed would make transit service worse for many users, not better. The design of the line wouldn't improve either transit times or reliability for Portland-LO trips, and would require a transfer for those coming from beyond Lake Oswego. And the opponents of the project have been, for the most part, those affected by the project.
Given the project didn't pass the political test, the resources that would have gone to fund it can go to something else. Of course, one key asset for the project--the Willamette Shoreline right-of-way, can't be moved elsewhere, but there may be other opportunities to use it in the future.
A wrench in the works?
The situation across the river is arguably different. The PMLR project has, for much of its planning and design, enjoyed the whole-hearted support of the relevant government agencies--the city of Milwaukie and Clackamas County. Lower-cost options such as BRT were considered for the project--and Milwaukie officials made it clear that they preferred light rail. The project DEIS was completed in 2008, and the FEIS was published in 2010. Funding has been secured, and construction of the line is already underway. And of particular importance, contracts between TriMet and the county have been negotiated and signed. Yet since the publication of the FEIS in October of 2010, the project has been under assault from within Clackamas County. There was vocal opposition to the project prior to this, but it was mostly unorganized and ineffective.
Thus a good question can be asked of the various petitioners and activists trying to block the project (or at least block the County and City's contributions thereto)--where were you guys four years ago? Why weren't anti-LRT petitions being circulated in 2008? Why weren't city and county officials who supported the project being threatened with electoral challenges back when the scope of the project could have been meaningfully changed? Why are anti-transit activists calling on the County to renege on agreements it has already made?
A couple of possible answers to that question:
- Prior to 2008, political conservatives were dispirited due to the low public regard for the Bush Administration (and to a larger extent the GOP). After 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, and particularly in 2010, the opposite has been true.
- The current recession has caused some desire to rethink government spending, with calls for austerity being a major feature of political debate, at least until recently.
- Various outside interests (with an ideological opposition to transit) seem to have taken a greater interest in the issue, and are encouraging local activism.
- Rather cynically--there may be bad-faith attempts by some to sabotage the project by attempting to raise last-minute obstacles after the ink is dry on the planning process--in particular by targeting its funding. (Some Clackamas County opponents have suggested truncating the project to Tacoma Street, the first stop north of the county line--a project configuration not contemplated by the FEIS, and one which would thus require an expensive and time-consuming replanning phase to requalify for Federal funding).
Indeed, many of the objections to PMLR seem to be more ideological and funding-related rather than community-based objections. Residents of Oak Grove have expressed concerns about gentriciation, and there have been quite a few snarky references to "crime trains", as though the primary users of transit are lowlifes; but much of the objection comes from those who don't live anywhere near the line. Certainly, County voters are entitled to determine where their tax dollars are spent, but again the question must be asked: Where were you when the decisions were being made? (And why wasn't the Green Line, which was being built at the time and goes much further into Clackamas County than does PMLR, subject to similar levels of opposition)?
The will of the people
Many opponents will retort that they have already answered that question: quite a few will tell you that they were opposing the project front-and-center, but being ignored by elected officials--officials who were busy disregarding (if not outright thwarting) the Will Of The People. The first part about that claim is probably true--the activists against the project have been opposed for quite a while--but the second part is harder to justify. Determing the "will of the people" outside of elections isn't always easy; and many politicians assume that they have a mandate to do the things that they wish to do once in office, particularly if they campaign and win election on these issues. Politicians who only seek to do what appears to be political popular are routinely derided as weather-vanes and flip floppers, after all, not praised for their commitment to democracy. Activists on all sides of an issue will often claim to represent the will of the people, but knowledgable politicians will tend to disregard such claims until they are backed up by votes. (Or dollars).
And a key point about the will of the people--it changes over time. People may change their minds on issues, priorities may shift due to differing circumstances, people move in and out of different jurisdictions, and people may tune in or out of politics due to various psychological factors. This is a big reason why I asked "what changed" above--prior to 2008, it was liberals who had an enemy to rally and defeat; now it is conservatives who are energized by a bogeyman. Thus it is entirely possible (and I suspect, likely) that the critical mass of opinion in Clackamas County has shifted on the issue. Right now, it seems rather evident that a public opinion in the county as a whole is against the project, as several recent electoral contests have been won by the anti-smart-growth side. But a key thing to remember is that it has shifted--much of this appears to be a recent development. If public opinion was against the project in the latter part of the aughts, it was far less in evidence.
When is late too late?.
So which brings up an interesting question: How much should the political process respect stare decisis--a legal term of art meaning "it's already decided"? (In law, it refers to the concept that a given issue shouldn't be adjudicated more than once, without good reason). Is TriMet justified in suggesting it may sue Clackamas County if it tries to back out of prior commitments to PMLR? Were governers such as Chris Christie, Rick Scott, John Kasich, Scott Walker justified in killing off various transit and rail projects in their state, in many cases leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in sunk cost and federal funding, and years of planning, on the table?
Before you answer that, consider: CRC defenders love to point to the hundred million dollars, and advanced state of the public process, as reasons the CRC ought to be built as currently planned, despite significant opposition to those plans on both sides of the river.
And consider the Mt. Hood Freeway.
In the early 1970s, Portland's freeway plan was about half done. The Fremont and Marquam bridges were complete, as were the Stadium Freeway (I-405), Baldock Freeway (I-5 south of downtown) and Minnesota Street Freeway (I-5 to the north). Much of the East Portland Freeway (I-205) was under construction. (This is in addition to older freeways such as the Banfield and Harbor Drive; which predated the construction boom associated with the Interstate highway system). Next on the list was the Mount Hood Freeway, followed by the St. Helens Freeway and the Rose City Freeway. This plan was a subset of the even more ambitious Portland Improvement plan written by none other than Robert Moses in the 1940s (to say nothing of the proposed freeways designed to support a Portland bid for the 1968 summer games; a bid which did not get far).
The Mount Hood Freeway was, in many was, the crown jewel of the system. West of 92nd, it was to be the intended routing of I-80N (later I-84) into Portland, replacing the functionally-obsolete Banfield Freeway. One part of the proposed highway, a stretch between Gresham and Sandy, was already built. Final designs were in progress, property acquisition had started, and the powerbrokers were all aligned to build it--City Hall, the state highway department, and the feds. Gas was cheap and freeways meant Progress.
But then, neighborhood activists, seeing the destruction brought to neighborhoods like Albina and South Portland by the prior freeways, fought back. Allying with environmentallists, they were able to find a sympathetic audience with the Multnomah County Commission, which was able to delay the project. The 1976 mayor's race became a referendum on the highway, and the anti-freeway side won. A deal was cut, and the Mount Hood Freeway was cancellled, as were the other highways coming after it. The funding was diverted to build the original MAX line. (But not all was good news--as part of the deal, I-205 was allowed to complete, resulting in the destruction of thousands of homes and several East Portland neighborhoods).
Today, hardly anybody laments the millions of dollars spent on designing a project that was never built. The object lesson--inertia, by itself, ought not be an excuse for building a bad project.
So where does that leave us?
So where does that leave us with regard to MLR? Are the same dynamics in play here as were in play along SE Powell Boulevard back in the days of disco?
A couple of differences between the proposed light rail line, and the Mt. Hood Freeway, come to mind:
- Actual community impact. The Mt. Hood Freeway, were it built, would have resulted in the destruction of hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and businesses. Homeowners would have been reasonably-well compensated, but many business owners, particularly those who don't own the premises, would have been wiped out by the eminent domain practices in use back then. While the number of condemnations needed for MLR is higher than for prior light-rail lines, it still numbers in the tens rather than the thousands. An eight-lane freeway would leave a scar about 50 yards wide through the neighborhoods it runs through, completely impassable to pedestrians and cross traffic except where overpasses would have been built. A surface light-rail line, on the other hand, is far less disruptive to cross traffic, as the trains only come every several minutes, rather than a continous stream. And electric-powered rail produces zero emissions and little noise; compared to the roar and fumes of a freeway. Rail detractors often point to "increased crime" as a side-effect of transit infrastructure--but this is a charge with little basis in fact, which depends on offensive stereotypes of transit users. These basis of these stereotypes--transit systems predominately used by the poor, and thus afflicted with the pathologies of poverty--aren't true in Portland anyway, as many middle-class commuters use MAX and the bus.
- Who benefits?Another big problem with urban freeway construction is that the benefits accrue mostly to those living outside of the city. Someone living near 52nd and Powell isn't in great need of a shorter ride into town--if Powell is slow, there are plenty of alternate surface streets avaialble; numerous frequent service bus lines serve the neighborhood, and the distance can easily be covered by bike if you prefer. The main beneficiaries are suburban commuters and regional and long-haul traffic. City dwellers, however, bear the brunt of the consequences; it's their neighborhoods who are ripped up. Urban transit lines, on the other hand, mainly benefit those who live nearby.
- Source of opposition. Often local fights over community decisions get affected by ideological politics. While much of the opposition to the Mt. Hood Freeway was based on affected neighbors terrified of the bulldozder, the project certainly attracted the attention of environmentalists, who provided local activists with organizational skills, money, and the like. Likewise, Portland's transit plans have attracted attention from national anti-transit activists, with Americans for Prosperity getting heavily involved in financing and organizing opposition to light rail. In both cases, groups with strong ideological positions (independent of the particulars of a given project) got involved and likely influenced the outcome. Given the short distance that PMLR extends into Clackamas County, however, a good argument can be made that the ideological concerns dominate the discussion.
January 13, 2012
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire outlined a 10-year transportation package in her state-of-the-state address, and did not include the Columbia River Crossing.
Evan Manvel gives the details at Blue Oregon.
January 11, 2012
Allan got here first in the the open thread, but The Oregonian is reporting that the Lake Oswego/Portland transit project has been "suspended". Last night, the Lake Oswego city council indicated that they would not support the project, and Portland mayor Sam Adams announced this morning that the project was being suspended. Adams indicated that going forward, the city of Portland would focus more on implementing the Streetcar System Plan, which the LO/Portland project predates.
January 10, 2012
Would you like to manage all the transit aspects of the Columbia River Crossing construction? Now's the time to apply. And the pay's not bad.
But wait, I thought we didn't have any construction funding yet? Who's going to pay this person?
The PSU Transportation Seminars are starting up for the Winter term. The first two weeks are student presentations:
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2012 Transportation Seminar Series
The Winter Quarter will begin with a special TRB Preview. On January 13th and 20th, PSU Students will showcase the research that they will present at the Transportation Research Board's 91st Annual Meeting later this month in Washington, D.C. Take advantage of this opportunity to see a slice of the conference! Students and faculty from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) are making nearly 50 presentations at TRB this year. To see a roster of speakers and talks, check out OTREC's TRB Guide, 2012 Edition.
- Wei Feng: Impacts of Economic, Technological and Operational Factors on the Economic Competitiveness of Electric Commercial Vehicles in Fleet Replacement Decisions
- Sirisha Kothuri: Preliminary Development of Methods to Automatically Gather Bicycle Counts and Pedestrian Delay at Signalized Intersections
- Brian Davis: The Competitiveness of Commercial Electric Vehicles in the LTL Delivery Industry: A Model and Application
- Adam Moore: Bus Stop Air Quality: An Empirical Analysis of Exposure to Particulate Matter at Bus Stop Shelters
- Alex Bigazzi: Do Mobility-Based Performance Measures Reflect Emissions Trends?
- Carl Olson: A Framework for Multimodal Arterial Data Archiving
- Kristi Currans: Context-Based Approach for Adjusting Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Generation Rates
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
January 9, 2012
What do surface parking lots do to land use patterns? Check out this post at Price Tags for a great comparison of different cities.
January 5, 2012
I actually suspect in many cases this would be a zoning violation, as it would be classified as commercial parking, which is generally disallowed in residential zones. But I can't imagine how the City could practically enforce against it.
January 4, 2012
Meanwhile the Oregionian is reporting on the possibility of a five-year moratorium on major repaving projects.
Listen to the show (mp3, 27.7MB)
Michelle, Tori and Steph talk with Mayoral Candidate Eileen Brady. Economist Joe Cortright discusses the Columbia River Crossing.
January 3, 2012
This Wednesday at 11:00 am we're interviewing Eileen Brady about her candidacy for Portland Mayor; then at 11:30 am we'll talk with Joe Cortright, a Portland economist, about the Columbia River Crossing
11AM-Noon, Wednesday, January 4th
KBOO FM 90.7
Streamed live at KBOO.fm
Podcast here later that day
Apparently funding the Columbia River Crossing is high up on the Oregonian's list of resolutions for the 2012.
Their number one argument is freight and a linkage to jobs:
No, the first reason we need a new bridge is to safeguard our own economic health and assure growth -- and to create thousands of new family-wage jobs for years to come. Prosperity is at stake. And no public project can help to jump-start prosperity faster than construction of the $3 billion-plus Columbia River Crossing.
Our hobbled I-5 bridge is at the center of a transportation and trading system that supports one in every five jobs in Oregon. Freight industries using the bridge support an estimated 130,000 jobs at warehouses and distribution centers near the ports of Portland and Vancouver. Truck freight valued at an estimated $40 billion crosses the river every year.
Yet as trucks are slowed, scheduled to less congested off-hours or rerouted around the bridge, ripples of costly delay often are sent through a chain of production and shipping here, domestically and even internationally. This hurts Oregon employers, workers and their families -- and over time could make competitor states look like more promising places to do business. If we let our transportation system -- comprising roads, rail, river and air facilities -- become decrepit and cause delays, we'll threaten our own fortunes.
This conveniently ignores two facts:
- By the project's own numbers, peak hour congestion delays are only trimmed by a few minutes
- The vast majority of the investment in the CRC will go to the benefit of private single-occupany passenger vehicles
If freight is our real concern, then there are many much more cost-effective projects across the region that could benefit freight movement.
January 1, 2012
Happy New Year, everybody! In 2012, the Eastside Streetcar extension is scheduled to open, TriMet has a few difficult decisions to make, and construction on Milwaukie MAX continues.
A few recent news items.
- Clackamas County voters may get to vote on a referendum to block the County's contribution towards Milwaukie MAX
- Portland freeways may soon be getting variable speed-limit signs.
- Metro has picked its top stories for 2011. Joseph Rose has his list as well.
- A recent editorial in the Portland Tribune calls for preservation of
Fareless SquareFree Rail Zone.