May 29, 2012
For those who couldn't get in the room, a video of the presentation is now available from the good folks at Crank My Chain: http://www.crankmychain.com/enrique-penalosa/planning-cities-for-people-an-international-perspective-video_5ee3f1c62.html
Original Post: 5/1/12
Several local organizations have partnered to bring urban transportation rock star Enrique Peñalosa to Portland. Tickets are free, but limited. The only way to get tickets is to request them via e-mail, starting TOMORROW (Wed, May 2nd) at noon. Here are the details:
Enrique Peñalosa, respected speaker on urban planning issues, will be visiting Portland for a lecture on May 14th. There has been an overwhelming response for tickets and space is extremely limited for free general admission tickets. Tickets are being awarded to the first persons who e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org starting TOMORROW Wednesday, May 2nd at 12:00pm. Quantity is limited to one ticket per person and per e-mail (requests for multiple tickets will not be honored).
Your e-mail MUST include:
Subject line: Enrique Ticket
Body Text: First and Last Name, preferred e-mail, phone number, occupation/title
If awarded, your ticket will be held at Will Call and be available for pick up in the theater lobby when doors open at 6:30pm. There may be standby seating at the event if you don't receive a ticket. Failure to claim your ticket by 6:50pm may result in forfeiture of your seat. NO LATE ENTRIES.
Planning Cities for People: An International Perspective
Monday, May 14, 2012, 7:00 PM
Ellyn Bye Studio-Gerding Theater at the Armory
128 NW 11th Avenue, Portland
Doors Open at 6:30pm and Close at 6:50pm
Enrique Peñalosa is a leader in the urban field, whose vision and proposals have significantly influenced policies throughout the world. His advisory work concentrates on sustainability, mobility, equity, public space and quality of life; and the organizational and leadership requirements to turn ideas into projects and realities. He is also an accomplished executive, who has achieved positive results in diverse activities in which he has been involved.
As Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Peñalosa profoundly transformed the city of 7 million inhabitants into an international model for improvements in quality of life, mobility, equity and sustainability which has been awarded important international recognitions such as the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale and the Stockholm Challenge. Two of Peñalosa's accomplishments while Mayor were the installation of the TransMilenio bus rapid transit system and an extensive bicycle infrastructure network.
May 26, 2012
While we await the announced "vision, goals, and objectives" for the Southwest Corridor project, recently approved by the project's steering committee, it is time to consider the Top Ten Problems of such documents.
The purpose of a purpose-and-need statement (I'm assuming that "vision, goals, and objectives" is the same thing) is to define, at a high level, what a project is and what a project is not. The comments following are only intended to apply to P&N statements--other types of planning and design documents may have different purposes, and thus different requirements. Blue-skying is perfectly appropriate in a long-term transportation plan; and detailed design information is expected in a DEIS. Broadly, a purpose and need ought to be documenting what and why, but not how.
Many such documents contain one or more examples of the following problems, which are enumerated after the jump in David Letterman fashion. For those of you who have been through MBA programs, project-management courses, or similar curricula, much of this will be old hat--this applies to private-sector projects as well. But it's amazing how often public officials get this wrong.
10. Blank check of platitudes
Leading off the list is the P&N that doesn't say anything, other than singing the praises of motherhood and apple pie, and whatever values the current political consensus holds dear. A good P&N will broadly (not narrowly) describe the solution space. Such documents don't give any reasonable guidance to the team, nor do they sufficiently narrow the scope of the project so that more focused planning activities can proceed.
Instead:Include objectives which are quantifiable and testable. Saying that you want to "reduce greenhouse gases" or "increase ridership" is nice; it's better, though, to say how much you want to do these things. If bus service is increased from one bus every thirty minutes to one every twenty-nine, is anyone better off?
9. Pie in the sky
A good P&N ought to have some understanding of the financial (and other) constraints that the project will be operating under, and be scoped appropriately. Considering different funding scenarios is great for strategic planning, but when a project is undertaken, project managers and sponsors should have some clue as to what resources are available, and the P&N should be consistent with that assessment. Refinement of scope (usually downwards) is often necessary as a project progresses (optimism bias is a problem even with experienced, conscientious teams). One of the many problems with the CRC seems to be wishful thinking concerning funding sources--and that the mere existence and importance of the project would force legislators in Salem and Olympia to fund it.
Instead: The P&N, or related documents, should address the issue of resources, and identify the political sponsors counted on for funding. A detailed budget is not necessary at this point, but some clue of where the money is coming from, is.
8. Fixing what isn't broke
Part of justifying a project is documenting why you are doing it--and that "why" should include description of a problem, along with evidence that this really is a problem. And then the project primary goals should relate to fixing that problem. Some projects, unfortunately, attempt to fix what isn't really broke: addressing traffic congestion that is only occurs occasionally, for instance (and could be instead addressed by time-shifting). Some projects, of course, are speculative in that they attempt to foresee and forestall future problems--the LO Streetcar and the CRC both spend a lot of time worrying about traffic levels fifteen years from now--with many of those predictions based on outdated or inaccurate data.
Instead: P&N statements should be able to identify a problem which is either existing or reasonably imminent, and one which is worthy of spending resources on. Long-term predictions should be justified with solid research, and even then, appropriate levels of future-discounting should occur.
7. Not fixing what is
The opposite of the prior problem is successfully identifying a problem or problems, then coming up with goals that don't address them. If the problem is slow or unreliable transit, then project goals should include improvements in these things (and the actual proposed solution should address these goals head-on). Far too often, a problem is stated and then solutions are offered that don't really address the problem, or only address it in an incremental fashion.
Instead: Stated goals, or the majority thereof, should be traceable to the overall problem statement.
6. Eyes OFF the prize
This is a specific instance of the prior issue. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm generally of the opinion that transit agencies ought to be primarily in the transit business--giving people access to places they can't easily reach on foot, without having to use a motor vehicle. Many projects which are nominally transit projects include goals around things such as the environment, social equity/justice, economic development, land use, etc. These are important things, and land use in particular has an important and noticeable impact on transit outcomes, but sometimes what is nominally a "transportation" project becomes more about these other things than it does about improving people's mobility and access. (And in some case, the mobility of existing customers is reduced in favor of speculative new ones).
I'm not against any of these other things, but if they are to be advanced, that should be stated up front, and funded appropriately. One good thing about Portland Streetcar, Inc. is that they make no bones about their land use and placemaking focus, and that the Streetcar is a development tool as much as anything else.
Instead: Projects shouldn't place undue burdens on agencies by imposing unfunded (or underfunded) mandates to support goals other than their primary ones. Project development and execution should be carried out by agencies whose fundamental mission is aligned with the project goals.
5. Dictating the solution
Here's another longstanding problem with the CRC--it's P&N is tailor-made to essentially require a big new freeway bridge and exclude other alternatives such as a supplemental bridge. It was drafted, after all, by officials at the state DOTs who seem to want to do exactly that. The Sellwood Bridge is another project whose P&N constrains the design to essentially dictate the solution. Drafting a document which essentially excludes a whole range of reasonable alternatives, and "forces" the project team to only consider the desired solution, is a longstanding trick in project management.
Instead: P&Ns should dictate goals, not solutions or technology.
4. The gerrymandered bundle
Again, we turn to the CRC for an example, which defined a "project impact area" which included five miles of Interstate 5, but excluded areas close to the bridge but further distant from the freeway. (It also excluded parts of I-5 downstream, such as the Rose Quarter, which would clearly be impacted by a widening of I-5). This definition allowed a whole bunch of freeway enhancements only tangentially related to the Columbia River to be included in the project, and also helped to exclude non-freeway solutions from consideration.
Instead: If a corridor or impact area is to be defined, at this stage of planning it should be defined with fuzzy lines rather than with a scalpel, and shouldn't show evidence of obvious gerrymandering.
3. The laundry list of conflicts
With this sin, a whole list of specific goals is presented, each one reasonable in isolation, but the combination of which is nigh impossible to satisfy--and results in an attempt to square the circle. A transit project that simultaneously calls for higher end-to-end speed and high stop density, for example, will have trouble satisfying both goals.
Some times, this is a result of the different demands of competing political constituencies, as was the case of the Lake Oswego Streetcar (which also had a significant technical constraint--an existing ROW that was necessary for the project). It can also be the result of a simple failure to prioritize, or it can lead to the next item.
Sometimes, it can even represent an attempt to strangle a project in its infancy, by making success impossible.
Instead: Prioritize. In addition to listing goals, their relative priorities should also be set, so in the event of a conflict, the project team and the community at large will have clear guidance as to how trade-offs ought to be made.
2. The sacrificial lamb
A specific problem with a failure to prioritize is that if a project needs to be de-scoped, goals can be discarded in an arbitrary fashion when it come time to implement, often on the grounds that they are contradictory and/or too expensive to support. Sometimes culling of project goals is done in a good-faith manner, but sometimes goals are advanced that are intended to broaden the support for a project (at least initially) but which are later cast aside--and you wonder whether the goal was ever given serious support in the first place. The transit elements of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, recently jettisoned from the project, may be a good example of this phenomenon. Many critics of the project allege that the bridge is first and foremost a highway project, and the proposed dedicated transit infrastructure was little more than greenwashing.
Instead: Instead, prioritize. Make it clear up front what is really important to the project, and what is ancillary stuff that might be discarded should constraints dictate.
1. The Fourth Directive
The other issues are primarily sins of commission; this is a sin of omission. But in many ways it's the most serious, as it invariably involves an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. In the film Robocop, the Fourth Directive was an unspoken rule that the titular cyborg policeman not harm executives of the corporation which created him. For purposes of this discussion, a "fourth directive" is any constraint or requirement which is NOT specified in the planning documents, but nonetheless is (usually) non-negotiable. Fourth directives may include demands by specific stakeholders (often contrary to the public interest) who can exercise veto power over the project, or may simply be the failure of planners to recognize the political environment. An example of the former is the seeming ability of merchants to stymie street projects that eliminate subsidized on-street parking. An example of the latter may be the Fourth Plain BRT project, whose purpose and need sang the praises of efficient BRT, but quickly ran against the political reality that Vancouver voters simply were not about to accept conversion of general-purpose auto lanes into bus-only lanes.
Sometimes, a fourth directive may be hidden from the project planners by an influential stakeholder, who saves his ransom demands for later (and goes to great lengths to keep his fingerprints out of the crime scene). Other times, the constraint may be known to the project team but unspeakable in public, because acknowledging the reality would cause a political backlash.
Instead: Political constraints should be documented up front. In case of constraints of public opinion, there's no point in pretending otherwise--a project team should understand and document the political climate, and be prepared to address it head-on. In the case of ransom demands from stakeholders, secrecy is often an additional requirement; dealing with this may require deft political skills. The best option may be to lawyer up later on in the project--a FEIS which contains major requirements not tied back to a purpose-and-need may be grounds to challenge the project. Unfortunately, legal action is more likely to delay a project or kill it outright than it is to change it in a useful fashion.
May 24, 2012
Over on their Facebook page, OPAL links to an old Jarrett Walker column from three years ago, "bus-rail debates in a beautiful abstract city, and in los angeles". In it, he poses the question of which is a better use of transit dollars:
- Building more expensive types of infrastructure (such as rail or high-end BRT) serving a smaller area?
- Building less expensive types of infrastructure (low-end BRT) that covers a wider area?
Unfortunately, the question in practice is seldom posed that way: Instead, it's often "should we build expensive transit in this corridor?" vs "shall we build cheap transit in this corridor, and pocket the savings?" Much of the discussion about BRT for the SW Corridor is predicated on the discussion that light rail in the corridor may be too expensive, especially if tunneling through the West Hills is required. I've seen figures such as $2B thrown about--entirely believable, given that getting to Milwaukie (about 7 miles from downtown) is costing $1.5B, and Tigard TC is about three miles further away from the city center than is Milwaukie. And Sherwood is almost 17 miles from downtown Portland.
While I'm certainly not intending to slight those in the Southwest, eagerly awaiting their turn for transportation improvements, let me ask the question. If the region were to spend a couple billion dollars on light rail in a specific corridor; why not spend it on comprehensive, system-wide improvements, mainly focused on the bus system? What would this look like? What could we get? Could such a proposal get funding in the first place--or would it be too politically unattractive to legislators to merit taxpayer dollars? (I'm not worried about the FTA; I'm worried mainly about local politicians who might not be willing to approve appropriations for such a project, without which there will be no FTA matching funds).
Obviously, this question could have easily been asked several years ago, before MLR was planned and approved. But that's water under the still-under-construction bridge.
May 23, 2012
The City Club of Portland recently announced a research study: BICYCLING IN PORTLAND: A SERIOUS LOOK AT TRANSPORTATION POLICY AND PRIORITIES .
Here are the objectives of the study:
- Make a recommendation on the role bicycling should play in Portland's transportation system, based on review of existing criteria, available studies, and witness testimony.
- Based on the committee's recommendation for the role bicycling should play in Portland's transportation system, make further recommendations on the goals the city should set for bicycle ridership and the necessary improvements to reach those goals.
- The committee must identify the level and sources of funding necessary to achieve the identified goals.
- The committee is encouraged to make recommendations in related areas, including safety, governance, traffic enforcement, economic development, and community outreach.
You can't lobby a City Club research committee (and I wouldn't want to - having participated in a couple and chaired one - I respect the process greatly), but you can make sure they have good information, and we'd like to make sure they have lots of it!
And we'd like you to help us.
We've launched a Wiki site: The Case for Cycling and we're asking your assistance in populating it with the best arguments, statistics and research making the case for why cycling is good for our city, region and country.
While the motivation for this site is immediate and local, we'd like this to be a high-quality effort that can take on a longer life and be a resource for other communities.
Please check out the site, sign up for an account, and contribute your best arguments and data!
May 22, 2012
UPDATE: The Vancouver City Council last night approved the project, voting to support a mixed traffic configuration (with both center and median stops), extending out to NW 121st.
Older content after the jump.
While Portland Transport focuses most of its energies on the Oregon side of the river, we do consider Clark County, WA to be part of our coverage area. And one of the ongoing mass-transit projects in the region is the Fourth Plain BRT project, or officially, the Fourth Plain Transit Improvement Project. This project, a partnership of C-TRAN, the city of Vancouver, and the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, calls for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) of some flavor or another to stretch from just outside downtown Vancouver, along Fourth Plain Boulevard, out to Vancouver Mall or beyond.
Portland Transport examined the project last November. However, the project is approaching the point in its planning where the Locally Preferred Alternative is to be selected, and C-TRAN this past month has begun a public outreach program to get the community involved. Thus, it's useful for us to take a look at the project again.
First, the project's location. Fourth Plain Boulevard is a major east-west thoroughfare running between Vancouver and its northeastern suburbs such as Orchards. At one point the road was the route of SR500 and was the primary connection. In the 1980s, the current highway alignment of SR500 was opened, and Fourth Plain nowadays serves mainly local traffic. WSDOT is in the process of converting SR500 (the new alignment) into a freeway, with a new interchange at St. Johns Road under construction at this time, and plans in the works to likewise remove the remaining traffic lights at Falk and NE 54th Avenue.
Fourth Plain is also the most important transit corridor in the C-TRAN service district. Several routes run in the corridor, most importantly the 4-Fourth Plain, which runs between Vancouver Mall (where C-TRAN operates a transit center) and downtown Vancouver, continuing into Oregon to connect with TriMet at Hayden Island and Delta Park TC. The 4 is the only route on C-TRAN's roster which would meet the TriMet definition of frequent service, as it offers 15-minute all-day (except for late evenings) during weekdays. The corridor is also served by the peak-hour 44-Fourth Plain Limited as well.
According to the project's purpose and need statement and a fact sheet, the 4 is frequently subject to overcrowding and poor reliability, and the population in the corridor (and ridership demands) are expected to increase in the next twenty-five years. Many important transit destinations--downtown Vancouver, Clark College, a VA Hospital, and the mall, are along the corridor. The Fourth Plain corridor is also home to many transit-dependent riders.
The bad news is that the existing land uses along Fourth Plain tend to be low-density. Other than the aforementioned destinations, the road is mostly surrounded by single-family housing, low-rise apartments (concentrated on the west end of the corridor), and big-box and strip-mall retail. Fourth Plain borders the "Vancouver Auto Mall", a large collection of automobile dealers along Andresen Road; a golf course has its northern boundary along the street as well. The road is a classic "sprawlevard", one presently optimized for automobile traffic over anything else. Bike lanes are intermittent. In many parts of the street, pedestrians on the sidewalk are surrounded by cars--by those on the road itself on one side, by a sea of parking lots on the other. The good news is that the powers that be recognize this is a problem--a streetscape study done five years ago calls for numerous improvements, and C-TRAN has been keeping the Clark County Bicycle Advisory Committee in the loop.
The project, then, is to build a Bus Rapid Transit system along the Fourth Plain corridor, essentially from the VA Hospital complex (just east of Interstate Five), out to Vancouver Mall, or possibly further. (The project also includes a no-build option and a "transport system management" option, both of which are required to be considered and analyzed by Federal law; we do not discuss them in this article). If all goes well, the project could open in 2014. One key milestone will be public approval of a funding measure (backed by a 0.1% sales tax), which is slated to go before voters in August or November of this year. (One outstanding issue is where the boundaries of the taxing district would lie; a question which has become somewhat contentious).
The proposed line would have stops at roughly quarter-mile (400m) intervals. The key design issues yet to be decided are:
- The routing and alignment in the vicinity of the VA Hospital.
- The design of the route along the bulk of Fourth Plain
- The routing and alignment around Vancouver Mall
- How far east to extend the project--options include terminating at the mall, going all the way out to NE 162nd (density, not high to begin with, drops dramatically once you cross I-205), or somewhere in between.
Probably the most interesting question is the routing and alignment along the bulk of Fourth Plain. This is the busy part of the corridor, and it's more important to optimize the middle of a line than the ends. Three options are under consideration, generally:
- Curbside mixed-traffic BRT. Buses (with BRT enhancements such as all-door boarding, off-board fare collection, and limited stop spacing) would run in mixed traffic in the outer lane of the street.
- Median mixed-traffic BRT. This is an unusual configuration (I'm not aware of other examples, other than at "difficult" stops), in which busses would travel in the left lanes of Fourth Plain, and board on the left at median platforms (which would also serve as pedestrian crossing refuges). Generally, BRT systems that travel in the median provide exclusive lanes for the bus. This idea makes me nervous, if for no other reason that it would encourage dangerous passing-on-the-right maneuvers as annoyed motorists whip around stopped busses.
- Curbside "BAT" (business access and transit) lanes. Here, busses travel in the right lane, which is closed to through vehicular traffic. Cars are permitted to enter the transit lane for purposes of making right turns.
While C-TRAN is to be commended for this project, the above design choices do leave much to be desired. Despite the fact that the Fourth Plain corridor lies adjacent to the SR500 expressway, and despite the fact that the purpose-and-need statement calls out laudable transit-related goals, the project is constrained by a hidden-in-plain-sight fourth directive: Thou shalt not annoy motorists. Other than in the vicinity of the VA Hospital and the mall, it doesn't appear that bus signal priority is part of the project at all, and the ideal BRT configuration (absent more expensive options like a full busway) of median-running, exclusive lane, is not among the options. Bus service in this configuration don't get blocked by traffic at all, including by turning cars, and the platforms are useful for pedestrians. In contrast, Portland turned the two interior lanes of Interstate Avenue, made obsolete by the construction of I-5, into the Yellow Line; such a transformative option is off the table for Fourth Plain. And while the less-desirable curbside BAT is being advanced for consideration, this presentation, prepared by C-TRAN as part of the public outreach, puts the fourth directive in black-letter text. If you look at the chart on page 7 of the presentation, you'll note that the differences in transit quality improvement between the design options is glossed over (all get a green check for "improving corridor transit service", despite the fact that exclusive-lane BRT performs far better than the mixed traffic variety), but the BAT option gets a red exclamation point for "failing to meet current and future travel demand", by allegedly causing automobile congestion. C-TRAN might take note of the fact that induced demand also works in reverse--if you take traffic lanes away, the cars tend to disappear, rather than continuing to exist in a perpetual traffic jam. And as noted above, there's a perfectly good freeway just a short distance away from Fourth Plain that commuters from Battle Ground are quite able to use.
Of course, agencies have to work within the political constraints of their environment. It's easy for Portland to generate the political consensus to put city streets on a road diet; such things are hardly controversial south of the Columbia. Vancouver is significantly more conservative, and existing land-use patterns far more greatly favor the automobile, so perhaps asking Vancouver to surrender two auto lanes on a major thoroughfare for bus service is simply a non-starter; in which case C-TRAN should strive for the best service quality they can muster. But still, mixed-traffic BRT doesn't provide an effective demonstration of what BRT is capable of, so the indication that C-TRAN is leaning towards the mixed-traffic alternative is somewhat disappointing. I was kinda hoping that C-TRAN could show TriMet how it is done. :)
Speaking of TriMet...
One area of the current 4/44 route that isn't part of the project is downtown Vancouver and the extension of the routes into Oregon. The BRT project ends around the VA complex and/or Clark College; it is anticipated that busses will use Vancouver city streets when reaching downtown.
At least until (and if) the Columbia River Crossing opens.
After that, C-TRAN anticipates that the BRT will share an alignment with the extension of the Yellow MAX line between Clark College and downtown Vancouver. (See map). Operational agreements are already in place between C-TRAN, the CRC project committee, and TriMet for this to happen. If and when the Yellow Line reaches Vancouver, it is likely that C-TRAN will no longer send its regular-service bus lines into Oregon to rendezvous with TriMet; instead, Oregon-bound commuters will change to MAX in Vancouver. (I expect express bus service to Portland to continue).
As the BRT project is anticipated to open in 2014 at the earliest, well in advance of the CRC, one of two things will happen in the interim: Either the BRT line would use the existing Interstate bridge to reach Delta Park and Hayden Island, as the 4 and 44 currently do, or a high-frequency shuttle service would transfer passengers between the BRT line and TriMet. The former would be more friendly to customers, but would expose the BRT to Interstate bridge traffic, potentially undermining its reliability. The latter would require an additional transfer, likely making the service less attractive to Oregon-bound commuters.
And this is all assuming that the CRC itself is built as planned. Were the CRC to be cancelled or materially changed in scope, what would happen is anybody's guess.
May 21, 2012
In the previous post, we noted that Metro had approved study for the Powell/Division corridor. A Metro planner indicated that the region in the future would be pursuing a less capital intensive strategy in the future, and hinted that the Southwest Corridor might just not be light rail.
The Southwest Corridor stretches roughly from downtown Portland, along OR99W, southwest to Sherwood. (Map courtesy of Metro).Major destinations and communities along the corridor include PSU at the north end, the South Portland neighborhood, OHSU/Marquam Hill, Hillsdale, Multnomah, Capitol Heights, PCC-Sylvania, all of Tigard, Garden Home, Progress/Washington Square, some parts of S. Beaverton, Lake Grove, Durham/Bridgeport, Bull Mountain, King City, a small part of Tualatin, and Sherwood.
The corridor was identified as a high-priority corridor in Metro's 2008 High-Capacity Transit System Plan. The cities of Portland, Tigard, and Sherwood are active participants in the project, and Portland and Tigard have significant planning activities ongoing concerning 99W; Sherwood will be starting a town center plan soon.
Metro has emphasized that the transit mode for the corridor has not been determined: The project website states "Light rail may be included as a potential solution at that time, but other high capacity solutions, such bus rapid transit, commuter rail or rapid streetcar, or even improved local bus, may also be pursued as well or instead." That declaration has not prevented many observers (including myself) from believing that light rail is the most likely choice, so the suggestion that BRT is a likely possibility was interesting indeed.
After the jump, we take a look at whether or not BRT, of some form, would work in this corridor. We will not consider rapid streetcar or commuter rail any further.
What would a Southwest BRT look like?
The following is, obviously, rampant speculation and geekery on the part of yours truly. A major assumption with a BRT implementation of the Southwest Corridor is that it would be a surface route, using existing rights of way, with capital spending at a minimum. More exotic solutions such as a subway tunnel under Marquam Hill and Hillsdale are considered out of scope--both due to the cost and the issue of ventilation if internal-combustion-powered vehicles are used. Some limited capital enhancements, beyond preparing the right-of-way and building stations, are considered within scope; but a busway solution to the Southwest Corridor is not likely to look like Milwaukie MAX with tires. I do assume, in a few cases, that planned urban projects along the busway are done (and that these aren't part of the project budget itself). This proposal ignores the question of project phasing.
Click on the image for a larger version.
A hypothetical design corridor would start at PSU and the south end of the transit mall. Rather than proceeding south on Barbur, it proceeds east on Lincoln along the transitway being constructed for PMLR along Lincoln Street, serving the Lincoln Street stop near Naito Parkway. It then will proceeds south on Naito (which will have a busway constructed in the middle--I'm assuming that some of the recommendations of the South Portland Circulation Study Report and Recommendations are done), with stops near SW Arthur/SW Kelly, and Whitaker/Curry. The busway then connects with Barbur, and proceeds in the median of Barbur until further notice.
Another stop would be at Bancroft/Hamilton. After this stretch, it enters the "woods" segment. There might be a local-service stop near the 4900 block of Barbur (there's no named cross street here, but a big apartment complex), and another near the interchange with SW Capitol Highway. One thing the South Portland Circulation Study recommends is an interchange between Capitol Highway and I-5, so auto traffic coming from Raleigh Hills and/or Hillsdale can use the freeway, allowing further de-highway-fication of Barbur Boulevard. If a Capitol Highway stop could also be connected to the Marquam Trail (crossing under the highway), so much the better.
Stop density would increase a bit in the Burlingame area, with a stop just northeast of SW Third, another at Terwilliger/Bertha, and 13th and Custer. Stop density would then decrease somewhat compared to S. Portland or Burlingame (every 600-800m or so), perhaps at 19th and Capitol Hill, 26th Way, Alice/35th, and the Barbur TC. Beyond that, SW Huber and SW 53rd/Pomona.
After that, the line would cross into Tigard, and Barbur Boulevard becomes Pacific Highway. While the city of Tigard has plans to tame OR99W through its limits, such plans may be subject to pushback from ODOT, as well as from established property owners and an electorate less sold on density and upzoning. I'm going to assume stops at 64th, 71st/72nd, Dartmouth, Hall, and then Tigard TC. Beyond that, Main/Johnson, Park St., McDonald/Gaarde, Bull Mountain/Beef Bend, Durham Road/King City, and Fischer Road.
After leaving Tigard and crossing the Tualatin, OR99W ceases all resemblance of an urban thoroughfare and becomes a high-speed expressway. While grade-separation of the line isn't necessary; pedestrian overcrossings are probably a useful thing to have in this stretch. A station could be supported at Tualatin Road/124th and possibly at Cipole Road, then nothing until Six Corners is reached. The current 12/94 takes a rather winding route through Sherwood; while the city of Sherwood is mostly single-family housing, I can think of several places where transit service would be useful. As Sherwood is the "end of the line", I'm assuming minimal capital improvements here.
For most of the line--certainly until one gets past the Tualatin River, my assumption is a median busway within 99W for most of the length, with a few deviations at places like Tigard TC. In some places, this may difficult to accomplish, but one advantage of BRT is that it can mix with regular traffic if needed for a tight spot. I'm also assuming robust signal priority along the route; the bus should only rarely have to wait for crossings or be blocked by traffic. I'm assuming platforms designed for 67' busses (in addition to better capacity, longer busses speed dwell times by having more doors), and proof of payment used on busses that serve the BRT corridor, including those that branch off, and that stations will have amenities and facilities similar to light rail.
One obvious issue: By running on Barbur (and Naito), the line as indicated doesn't serve OHSU/Marquam Hill directly. Given its location, OHSU is awfully hard to serve with transit. The current streets up to and around Marquam Hill aren't suitable for a rapid transit line. Some possible options to reach OHSU include tunneling (which would favor light rail over combustion-powered busses), a new surface route (on a gentler grade) up to the top of the hill, or some way for transit users (as well as pedestrians and bicyclists) to reach the campus from Barbur Boulevard. Although a subway tunnel is likely out of scope for BRT, my assumption is that OHSU is an important enough destination that a reasonable connection to the line and the hospital complex is made--either a pedestrian tunnel to a bank of elevators (passenger throughput will be a big problem, as said elevators may be a bottleneck at shift changes), or a bank of escalators up the side of the hill (similar to the Central-Mid Levels Escalator in Hong Kong). Or a funicular, or some other technology. In the above map, a connection from the Whitaker/Curry stop is assumed, and shown in yellow.
Technical analysis of BRT
In this comment, I list several technical advantages that BRT has in some situations. One additional one, relevant to this discussion, is that it's far easier to support passing (and thus things like express services). Supporting this with rail is far more difficult--you need to add switches, reconfigure the signalling, etc--but for busses running on pavement, providing passing opportunities is easy. This is important. You'll notice that over the 11 mile stretch between PSU and King City (we'll ignore everything past there), there are about 26 stops/stations called out; one about every 700m--and depending on development patterns, I could see calls for more. This stopping distance is far closer than needed for rapid transit--the Yellow Line, for instance, also travels in a street median and has 3000' (1km) stopping distance on average, and still regarded as kind of slow. I'm assuming that since this is BRT and not rail, there will be opportunities for busses to pass, and thus many of the busses running the busway will have limited stopping patterns. (Were this to be a LRT line rather than a BRT, I'd suggest fewer stops). On the above map, the stops indicated in blue are assumed to be called on by all stations, those in red may be skipped by rapid services.
Now take a look at this map of the current TriMet services in the area.
If one looks at the map of existing bus services in the area, one thing stands out: There's a whole lot of bus lines heading south from downtown, on one of five corridors: Terwilliger, Barbur/Naito, Corbett, I-5, or Macadam. Other than those bus lines heading down Macadam, most of them branch out and head west to varying degrees in the vicinity of Hillsdale/Burlingame; but in between there and downtown, you have some intense bus activity. Many of these lines run limited service through this area. This sort of branching configuration is something BRT supports well, particularly through "open BRT", and is something that rail has a harder time supporting--rail works best with linear corridors, not trunk-and-branch. Geography prevents construction of an effective grid in southwest; one doesn't encounter a significant crosstown bus line until one reaches Tigard and the 76/78. Many of the major trip generators (such OHSU, PCC, Washington Square) don't lie in a line; serving all of these with a single rail line would be difficult. Note that BRT-like improvements outside the Barbur corridor aren't discussed, but a BRT line along Beaverton/Hillsdale out to Beaverton TC (and then along TV Highway to Hillsboro) would be a fine idea, as would BRT improvements down Capitol to PCC, then to Kerr and along Boones Ferry to Bridgeport and Tualatin. (I'd love to see the 44 extended to Tualatin--far southwest really could use an all-day direct line to downtown).
There are a few flies in the BRT ointment, however. One is that ideally for an open BRT, you'd have intense development and high density along the trunk; so many people would be able to take advantage of the very-frequent transit service. Most of the "trunk" of Barbur Boulevard, however, is built along the side of a cliff--the terrain prevents any significant development. While this permits fast service through the area, it's unlikely that significant new development along Barbur would be able to take advantage of this. One exception is the stretch along Naito Parkway that the city hopes to rebuild one day, as the parkway is turned from its highway past to a tame urban street; there are ample development opportunities here.
Another potential issue is that while the current transit topology is tree-like, travel patterns might not be. OHSU, in particular, draws many people from the south and west; several express bus lines serve Pill Hill. Improving transit connections to OHSU is an important issue.
Finally, one downside of open BRT is that it limits vehicle choice--in general, the busses that operate on the BRT section are limited to standard rolling stock--in particular, things like center-platform boarding (requiring doors on the left) are off limits. This can be mitigated by having some bus routes run limited service, skipping some stations--the skipped stations can be configured for left-side boarding.
A longstanding rule of project development (in both the public and private sectors) is "if the politics doesn't fly, the project won't either". Whether a BRT solution will be acceptable for stakeholders is an interesting question. Several important points to consider when thinking of the politics:
- The South Corridor DEIS, which led to PMLR, concluded that light rail would produce 33% more trips than a busway would.
- A big factor in the choice of light rail over busway for Portland-Milwaukie was objections by the city of Milwaukie. The reasons for this objection I'm not sure enough about, but other metros (LA comes to mind) have had nasty fights between different communities over who gets "better" infrastructure, much as children will squabble over the largest piece of cake. Expect some hurt feelings in Tigard and Sherwood if they "only" get BRT whereas Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, and Milwaukie all got light rail--many politicians seem to view rail as the more prestigious project.
- On the other hand, Tigard already has rail--WES. Given the manner in which Washington County twisted TriMet's arm on that project, the region might be justified in saying no to light rail.
- The same folks pushing anti-rail politics in Clackamas County have been active in Washington County of late, trying to get anti-rail initiatives on the ballots in Tigard and Sherwood. (And in Tualatin, though the line only nicks a corner of Tualatin, so I'm not sure its contribution matters much). If these measures are similar to the one one the ballot this September in Clackamas County, they only would affect rail, not BRT.
- OTOH, Tigard still seems to be a Democratic-leaning town, and Washington County is still a blue-leaning county, so anti-rail organizers may have less success here than they have been having in Clackamas County.
- Given the present national and economic situation, the region may not be able to count on buckets of cash from Uncle Sam; a low-cost option may be required.
- A good argument can be made that WES and Milwaukie MAX have "poisoned the well" for future rail construction, at least for the time being.
- At least one recent TriMet board appointees, Craig Prosser, is known to be an ardent supporter of MAX on the SW Corridor. While the TriMet board won't be directly involved in the planning process, were board members to object to BRT it would be a major obstacle.
- One other potential political land mine is OHSU's involvement with the Portland Aerial Tram, which suffered cost overruns of over 200%. OHSU management was accused of misconduct by public officials, including Portland city councilor Randy Leonard, after it became known that OHSU officials knew of cost overruns early on but didn't inform city officials, preventing the city from considering the cancellation of the project prior to the expenditure of public funds. Given that, there may be considerable political resistance to any further infrastructure spending seen to be beneficial to OSHU, even though it may be otherwise important to the region.
A plausible political case for BRT can certainly be made, though a BRT project may face opposition that a rail project might not. One key constituency to be concerned with are developers; they seem to still exhibit a definite pro-rail bias, and are less likely to consider BRT-facing properties to be a lucrative opportunity. Developers and their financiers tend to be a conservative (meaning slow-to-change, not politically conservative) lot, and many of them still don't believe that bus service can be an attractive amenity. To the extent the Southwest Corridor is intended as a transformation project instead of just a transportation project, there may be pushback against bus.
One other issue is environmental goals. Assuming that the region isn't likely to consider trolleybus (or other types of electric-powered bus), the issue of bus emissions may be important (even if no tunnels are built). One reason busses suffer from a bad rap is that their engines are often noisy and smelly; compared to the electric motors in LRT vehicles which are quiet and emission-free. (On the other hand, there's no rail squeal with a bus). This doesn't rule out bus, of course--a bus project that can attract motorists out of cars can still meet environmental goals--but at a certain price point, this too will exert a strong push to a rail based solution.
I suggest that the recent Metro announcement may well be a trial balloon to see if the region is ready to do a BRT project on a major regional corridor. BRT on Powell/Division is probably an easier sell--much of the route is already developed; there's already a parallel light rail line (and thus no reason for Portland or Gresham officials to get upset), the established bus service does well, and given the existing grid there's nothing to be saved by eliminating overlapping routes to downtown. But none of these things are true for the SW Corridor.
May 18, 2012
At it's recent Thursday meeting, the Metro board voted 7-0 to move forward with a study of the Powell/Division Transit Corridor. The corridor in question stretches from Portland State University out to Gresham, centered on SE Powell Boulevard and SE Division Street, ending around Mount Hood Community College.
(A full-size pdf of the above map is here).
As widely expected, Metro planners envision the corridor to be some sort of Bus Rapid Transit, not light rail. In a bit of a surprise, Metro planner Elissa Gertler suggested that this might be a way of doing business that the region embraces more in the future. In an interview with Metro staff reporter Nick Christensen, she said ""We are focusing on lean and mean solutions. Whether it's the Southwest Corridor or any other corridor, we have a different definition of success. Every corridor plan does not necessarily have to end in a giant EIS (environmental study) for light rail. Most corridor plans are not going to end that way for a long time."
While I would be surprised if the Southwest Corridor wasn't another light rail line--there are many reasons it too could work as BRT, especially if the money (or political stomach) isn't there for future light rail expansion. Much political capital has been spent on Milwaukie MAX, as well as financial capital; given the uncertainty of funding for large capital projects going forward, BRT can be an excellent way to improve transit service without breaking the bank.
May 17, 2012
As many of you have heard, a few nights ago a 29-year old woman riding her bicycle downtown was struck and killed by a truck. Several weeks ago, an 11-year old boy in Vancouver was struck and killed by a C-TRAN bus. The response in more than a few media sources was "oh dear, urban cycling is unsafe".
That observation I don't necessarily have a problem with. Riding a bike amongst a large number of two-ton (or twenty-ton) hunks of steel, many of which are traveling at high speeds, is a risky endeavor. Lots of things in life are unsafe. Being a pedestrian along a busy street is unsafe, as is riding in a car. As is sitting at a desk or on a couch, doing nothing.
What I do have a problem is the claim that because these things are unsafe, they shouldn't be done--especially from sources who then turn around an oppose projects that seek to make cycling safer.
It's a kind of Catch-22. And while I don't normally like to inject sexual politics into this blog, it reminds me of certain religious fundamentalists who insist upon abstinence because premarital sex is unsafe--then turn around and oppose things like contraceptives or the HPV vaccine, because they would hypothetically make sex less unsafe and encourage more of it.
Generally, when you hear this sort of argument, you can rest assured that the safety of bicyclists isn't the speaker's prime concern--their concern is that they, for whatever reason, don't like bicycles on the roads on the first place. People really concerned about bicycle safety would look for ways to improve the urban environment for bicycles and their riders--even if it were simple things like just slowing traffic down, as opposed to cycle tracks and the like--and not use danger as an excuse to tell the bikes to stay at home.
It would appear the Feds are about to open up the piggy bank for their share of the Portland-to-Milwaukie Light Rail line.
Transit, both schedule data and real-time vehicle location (AVL - Automatic Vehicle Location) data, has been the poster child and first set of killer apps for open government data. Here's a nice survey article on the topic:
May 16, 2012
One major flaw in the analysis: The conclusion is based on the principle that most car-share users are non-car-owners who already drive infrequently--fair enough. It then poses the hypothetical about 20% of the country switching to car-shares, and still claims that the energy savings are a drop in the bucket.
The flaw, of course, is that if 20% of the population were to switch to car-sharing, you'd see significant number of car owners using car-sharing services. But why would a car-owner use a car sharing service, other than perhaps to rent a vehicle type they don't have in the garage (say, a SUV to haul lots of stuff)?
Well, they just might if they got rid of their car.
This is the key potential win for car-sharing services: it permits people to reduce the number of cars they own. Many people live in relatively transit-rich areas, and aren't opposed to biking or walking--but still have cars and use them for most trips. Why? Ignoring cultural reasons, many either don't trust the availability of the transit system, or have need to make trips (such as hauling lots of stuff) that can't be made easily without a personal vehicle. And so they buy cars. And once they have a car in the garage, it is often more economical to go ahead and use it for everything.
The whole point of car-sharing services, from an environmental point of view, is that it enables people to sell their cars. Once you no longer have one parked in the garage, driving is expensive. But if you already own a car, you're already paying most of the costs for it (depreciation being the biggest expense) regardless of whether you use it or not; at that point the marginal cost of driving is small.
May 14, 2012
UPDATE: KOIN reports that a tentative deal has been reached. Terms of the deal have not been released pending ratification.
Original message content after the jump.
Now things get interesting.
While we've been focused on the labor dispute between TriMet operators and ATU757, another dispute has been brewing: between ATU 757 and First Transit, the outsourcing firm that TriMet uses to provide lift service.
And now ATU757 is striking First Transit, and LIFT service is being impacted. TriMet's statement is here, a statement by ATU 757 president Jonathan Hunt is (courtesy of Al) here. Until the dispute is resolved, only "life-sustaining trips" will be provided.
A few obvious questions:
- ATU 757 has long been arguing that TriMet should take LIFT back in-house, rather than outsourcing its operations. Apparently, by outsourcing LIFT operators, they are no longer covered by the state's law treating transit workers as essential, and thus requiring binding arbitration instead of strikes/lockouts to resolve labor disputes. (And conversely, were they to be brought back in-house, they would be covered under the law).
- Provision of paratransit is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Does the ADA make exemptions for labor disputes, or could TriMet find itself in legal trouble for not providing the service, regardless of the reason?
- How involved TriMet is in the negotiations (which are ostensibly between First Transit and the union, not TriMet and the union) is another question.
- Paratransit is, of course, a big money-loser for TriMet (and other transit agencies), and is an unfunded mandate. Unless legal or political pressure is brought to bear, I could imagine that TriMet might be in no hurry to settle this dispute at all. (Speaking from a public policy perspective, and regardless of this dispute, I think it would be beneficial if paratransit services had their own funding source(s) apart from ordinary transit. A question to consider--why shouldn't paratransit services be paid for by states, cities, and/or counties directly, if not by Uncle Sam, rather than by transit agencies?)
I actually missed it when it happened, but sometime in the last week Portland Transport racked up its millionth visitor...
So much wonkery, so little time.
Check out Portland's ratings here.
As most of you are aware, election day is Tuesday, May 15. Portland Afoot and others have thoroughly covered many of the races that are on the ballot, including the races for the open Metro council positions, the Portland city council, and the Portland mayoral race. One set of races that hasn't gotten as much coverage in the urbanist and alternative-transportation blogosphere, but which are also important, are the races for the Clackamas County Commission. A conservative political action committee, the Oregon Transformation Project, is running a slate of candidates for the commission, hoping to transform the 5-seat county board from one which openly supports what the region has been doing, to one that opposes it. Like the Portland mayoral race, any candidate which wins a majority in May wins the seat; if no candidate wins an outright majority, the top two vote-getters face off in November. In either case, the new commissioners take office in January of 2013.
As Portland Transport is a 501(c), I'll have no more to say about theses races or any of the candidates; if you're interested the county elections website is a good place to start. However, the Oregon Transformation Project has coined a new term in the local political lexicon: Portland creep
The density debate
Various political factors seem to drive the various participants in the broader anti-density coalition, if I may call it that. Some density opponents are staunch conservatives, motivated by cultural politics, free-market economics, or political solidarity with other conservative constituencies such as big oil. Many other density opponents come from the left--viewing big-ticket capital transportation projects (as well as urban renewal projects designed to encourage infill) as little more than corruption and cronyism, indistinguishable (other than in scope) from the antics of Wall Street banksters, with greenwashing being used to deceive a gullible public. But a common theme that motivates many of the critics on both the left and the right, is a dislike of density itself.
A billboard run by OTP (you can see it here) compares a picturesque view of Mount Hood with a grainy, black-and-white photo of downtown Portland, with the words "CONGESTION DENSITY CRIME" lying under the latter. The implication being is that if the current course continues, much of Clackamas County will soon resemble the worst attributes of Portland. There seems to be a fear that single-family neighborhoods all over the tri-county area will soon be overrun by apartment housing of the worst sort, and that middle-class communities will be transformed overnight into budding Rockwoods. In some cases, this fear is expressed in near-apocalyptic terms, with dire warnings about an urbanist tyranny literally forcing people out of homes and cars and into Soviet style block housing. (The term "Potemkin Village" gets used quite a bit as well--although the term originates from Tsarist Russia and has nothing to do with communism or forced living arrangements).
In short--the fear that the communities that people love and live in will be transformed beyond all recognition--if not destroyed outright.
The death of the American city
Jane Jacobs' most famous book is called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. At the time she wrote it, the death part was well on its way to becoming a fait accompli; the life part was her sincere hope for the future. For in 1961, many American cities were being destroyed: both literally, by the wrecking ball and the bulldozer, and figuratively, by abandonment. In many cities, including Portland, neighborhoods were ripped apart to build freeways. In many cities (again including Portland), thriving African-American communities were branded slums and demolished (often replaced by housing projects which were invariably far worse and more blighted and dangerous than the neighborhoods they replaced); in more than a few cases, such neighborhoods were deliberately targeted. (The urban renewal project that gave us what is now the Rose Quarter reportedly came about so white Portlanders could go shopping at the then-new Lloyd Center without having to pass through a black neighborhood). And in many cases, central cities were abandoned wholesale by the middle class, who fled to the suburbs, where they would be protected by discriminatory lending practices, exclusionary deed restrictions, and low-density zoning which had the effect of pricing the poor out of the market. Much of this migration was racist in nature (I'm speaking of the 1950s and 1960s, not of today), and likely exacerbated by the forced integration of inter-city public schools.
I do not recount this history lesson to ascribe mid-20th-century attitudes to 21st-century politics. Modern suburban communities are far more integrated; redlining and "whites only" covenants are now illegal. While some bigots do exist in the modern anti-density crowd; I have no reason nor desire to tar everyone with that brush.
I instead recount this bit of history as a warning to the urbanists in the crowd. The death of many great American cities is an event that still burns bright on the landscape--and many people in the suburbs have reason to fear that their communities are next.
...and the life
In many American cities, with Portland being acknowledged as a leader in this regard, an urban revival is occurring. Young Millenials and (to lesser extent) Gen-Xers are eschewing suburban living in large numbers, seeking instead to live in more urban environments. Many trends undergird this transition: greater levels of poverty affect housing (and transportation choices); the Internet and social media has replaced the automobile as the means by which the younger generation communicates, shops, and works. Gas prices reached higher (on an inflation-adjusted basis) than their 1970s peak back in 2007, and after crashing in the Great Recession, are back above $4 a gallon again, and are continuing to climb. The rise of other economic powers such as China and India have both driven up oil prices, and posed a challenge to American global supremacy. The threat of global warming looms large. And whereas the suburbs of the 1950s and 1960s were greenfields unencumbered by urban pollution, corruption, and debt; the communities of today are struggling under the weight of pension obligations, decaying infrastructure, and (in many cases) the flight of capital to the next greenfield. The recent collapse in the housing market devastated many communities which were built in response to real-estate speculation; there are several cities in this country where perfectly good housing is next-to-worthless.
Given all of that, what can politicians do to rein in burgeoning costs? In many cases, the answer is "upzone".
The cost of suburbia
Suburbia is expensive. It's a simple matter of geometry--many types of infrastructure have costs (both construction and maintenance) which scale with the amount of land they have to cover. A 6" water main that's two miles long costs nearly four times as much as a 12" main that's only a half mile long, even though they may serve the same number of customers. This principle applies to all sorts of things--electrical distribution networks, telecommunications, sewers, roads, and public transit. If you limit the number of people that can live in a given chunk of real estate, adding more people requires adding more real estate--more roads, wires, and pipes. For this reason, US-style suburbs are a feature only commonly found in wealthy countries--and much like a Versace handbag or a Mercedes-Benz; for many Americans, suburban living has become a status symbol of American affluence.
But in the modern economy, many communities are finding it harder and harder to keep up appearances. Some are continuing to try to do so, of course; and some communities (particularly those with thriving export economies) are still staying above water. Other communities, however, are starting to adjust to what may well be the new reality.
One such community is Portland, which recently announced a moratorium on major-street paving. This decision resulted in howls of outrage, as the city is continuing to invest in its expansion of the bicycling network, as well as the Portland Streetcar. Many opponents of this decision have wondered loudly why the city is prioritizing frivolities over basic maintenance of existing infrastructure. It's a perfectly legitimate question, of course--and one which I expect to get more discussion over the next few months, especially if nobody wins the mayoral election outright on Tuesday, and the city goes to a November runoff.
The city's answer, of course, is that it is essentially trading in its Mercedes Benz for a Honda Civic--that instead of continuing to maintain the expensive sort of infrastructure (roads which handle auto traffic need replacing frequently; and construction costs have been going steadily upward over the years), it's working on replacing it with things which are cheaper over the long run, even if doing so requires a big capital outlay up front. (TriMet makes much the same argument to justify light rail construction over simply expanding bus service).
Holding the bag
This argument may be well and good on an abstract level. But there's one big problem. Many people--people who pay taxes and expect city services--are left holding the bag. If it's your street that the city declines to pave, or your bus line that TriMet cuts because it doesn't perform well, you're not likely to be comforted by the existence of a new bikeway or rail line in some other part of town. Many people have made significant investments in their homes and their communities, and see them threatened by recent developments. For many people, public investment in new urbanism represents public disinvestments in where they live. One other geometric fact about density is that unless the local population explodes, density can't go up everywhere. If the overall population stays more or less constant, and one neighborhood sees its density rise, then simple mathematics dictates that some other community will see its population decline. Property values and tax base will go down; and the quality of services will decline, leading to a vicious cycle of decay.
Just like what happened to America's cities sixty years ago.
And the other side of the coin isn't necessarily much better: the smooth functioning of many established neighborhoods can be disrupted by increases in population. A community geared around the automobile, with copious amounts of free on-street parking, may take umbrage when new apartments go in and suddenly finding a parking space requires circling the block, or feeding a parking meter. Many people, especially of the older generation, equate density (particularly apartment living) with crime, poverty, or with lifestyles viewed as unsavory. While many successful (and safe) neighborhoods have high levels of density, getting to these types of urbanism from the starting point of a residential-only single-family neighborhood is not a trivial undertaking; you've got to do far more than just throw a few apartments and trendy restaurants into the mix.
Fighting for home
Given all of that, it's not surprising that a backlash is continuing to brew. The recession hit many people hard, and when government elects not to maintain the status quo, it's not hard to see how people feel abandoned or even threatened. People are attached to their homes, and will often go to great lengths to defend them.
The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that some of the tools used by new urbanists, notably urban renewal, were the same tools used by Robert Moses and his progeny several generations ago. While most modern instances of urban renewal are simply a matter of financing--redevelopment is more expensive than greenfield development, and thus developers on such projects insist on public assistance; there is significant stigma with declaring a neighborhood "blighted" (and some such declarations are plainly fatuous). And even today one can find abuses of urban renewal and eminent domain, where perfectly viable neighborhoods are demolished against the will of the occupants. (Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn comes to mind). Given the history, it's not unsurprising that some communities have restricted use of urban renewal, or abolished it altogether (as did Beaverton until recently).
The problem is, is that unless there is a significant restructuring in the both the national and global economic orders, the battle for suburbia is probably a losing one. The economic and political conditions which made the suburban boom of the mid-20th century no longer exist, and it is my belief that long term, suburbia is fundamentally unsustainable. Some of the choices that Portland is making voluntarily may be forced on communities in the future. Detroit is a favorite target of scorn, but perhaps it should serve as the canary in the coal mine: when cities (no matter what form) no longer can afford to provide basic services for their residents, bad things happen. And the policy response of Detroit has been to try and shrink--to abandon portions of the city (no longer providing services) in order to focus on a smaller core that can be served. Which is unfortunate for those stuck living in the parts that are abandoned.
My dire premonitions could be wrong, of course. Manufacturing could make a significant return to the US; new discoveries could resolve the impending energy crisis and counteract global warming; comprehensive healthcare reform could greatly reduce public payrolls, and the Federal Government could find some way of absolve countless municipalities of their crushing pension debts. But my suspicion is that most of these things will not occur, and that significant belt-tightening at the municipal level will need to occur (above and beyond what has been occurring for the past forty years, since the rest of the world recovered from World War II). And that sooner or later, many city, county, and state governments will have some rather unpleasant choices to make--choices that have been postponed until now.
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Spring 2012 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Jarrett Walker
Topic: Human Transit: Old Principles, New Choices, New Opportunities
When: Friday, May 18th, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
International transit consultant and author Jarrett Walker (Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives) is the 2012 Expert in Residence for the University of Oregon's Sustainable Cities Initiative. In partnership with OTREC, Walker will give a series of presentations across several days:
- Wednesday, May 16, 6:00 to 7:45 p.m. in Eugene at the University of Oregon, Lillis Hall, Room 182. Social Hour and lecture (watch the webcast live)
- Thursday, May 17, 7:00 p.m. in Portland at Portland State University, Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 338. Public lecture.
- Friday, May 18, 12:00 p.m. in Portland at Portland State University, Urban Center Distance Learning Annex, Room 204. Public lecture (watch the webcast live or archived)
About the talk: The historic divide between spacial planning and transport planning has caused many crucial insights to remain stuck on one side of the divide. When dealing with public transit, Jarrett Walker argues that planners urgently need a clearer view of transit's fundamentals. These are often lost track of amid the excitement of a particular project, resulting in development where efficient (and therefore abundant) transit is impossible. This talk reviews the much-ignored principles of efficient transit networks, bus or rail, and argues that true "transit-oriented development" must be consist with those principles. These principles yield surprising conclusions both about many New Urbanist projects, and also about the potential of 82nd Avenue and similar "sprawl arterials."
Speaker Bio: Jarrett Walker is an international consultant in public transit network design and policy. He has been a full-time consultant since 1991 and has led numerous major planning projects in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. He currently serves as a Principal Consultant with MRCagney based in Australia. He provides expert advice to clients worldwide
Born in 1962, he grew up in Portland, Oregon during the revolutionary 1970s, the era when Portland first made its decisive commitment to be a city for people rather than cars. He went on to complete a BA at Pomona College (Claremont, California) and a Ph.D. in theatre arts and humanities at Stanford University. Passionately interested in an impractical number of fields, he is probably the only person with peer-reviewed publications in both the Journal of Transport Geography and Shakespeare Quarterly. In addition to Human Transit, he also writes on botany, creative writing, performing arts, and a range of other interests on his personal blog, Creature of the Shade.
May 9, 2012
To a large degree, I try to allocate my charitable giving dollars in alignment with my policy advocacy.
Which is why for each of the last two years, one of the bigger (tax-deductible) checks I've written has been to the Community Cycling Center.
Right now they're engaged in a campaign to fund their program to help create a more inclusive bicycle economy for Portland.
The CCC is one of the bright spots in expanding cycling to diverse communities that haven't traditionally participated. It's important to me that the benefits of cycling don't just accrue to segments of our society, but to our whole city and region.
This new initiative will go even further, helping develop job skills and employment opportunities for minority youth in the cycling industry.
I hope you'll join me in supporting this vibrant and vital organization.
May 8, 2012
From the Swan Island Transportation Management Association (TMA):
Big improvements are coming in the next few months to Swan Island - pedestrian and
bicycle access projects that will make getting to and around the Island safer and more fun.
Over the next several months,
- the Going to the River project will improve pedestrian and bike access along N Going Street from N Interstate Avenue,
- the Shipyard Spur and Ballast Avenue route will improve access to the Portland
Shipyards and the Swan Island Lagoon,
- and the Waud Bluff Trail will connect to the north end of Swan Island with a bridge
over the Union Pacific railroad line.
These projects will be constructed by the City of Portland with federal funds administered by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
To celebrate, we are throwing a party, and you're invited! Please join us at Daimler
Trucks North America, 4747 N Channel Ave, on Wednesday, May 9 from 10am to 2pm
to enjoy good food and great music. City and regional agencies, transportation non-profits and others will be there to answer your questions. Come learn how these projects
will improve bike, pedestrian and transit access, making Swan Island an even better
place to work and explore 7 days a week!
This post from a couple weeks ago has been updated with some new thoughts regarding the WES commuter rail service.
Only a few days after TriMet released its final budget recommendation, OPAL has released its alternative budget proposal aimed at limiting fare increases and service cuts. OPAL and its allies are adopting a smart strategy here: using clear methodology and TriMet's own budget data they have crafted a reasonable, pragmatic alternative that the TriMet Board can take seriously as they consider the budget over the next month. While OPAL and many others have called for more sweeping changes in the future to deal with TriMet's apparent death spiral, in the short term it makes sense to focus on the low-hanging fruit. I will offer commentary on each element of the Budget Alternative below.
$2.25 flat fare, maintain youth and honored citizen fare, 3-hour transfers, and discounted ticketbooks: $0.4 million
This is by far the biggest change, only generating $0.4 million as opposed to $6 million for TriMet's proposal for a $2.50 flat fare. OPAL is right to focus on the regressive effects of such a large fare increase and way it is structured. The TriMet proposal explicitly puts most of the fare increase on current two-zone riders traveling short distances, riders who are more likely to be low-income and transit-dependent. While I would personally prefer a system that charges based on distance (since that is a true reflection of the cost to the agency), until TriMet moves to an electronic fare system it would be difficult to enforce. If we have to have a flat fare, $2.25 seems like a reasonable compromise precisely halfway between the two fares we have now.
I pretty much agree with the other elements as well. It certainly makes sense to keep youth fares lower since the current high school pass program will most likely expire by next year. I'm not sure the 3-hour transfer is necessary, but on the other hand it is a low-cost way to help out transit-dependent folks who use the bus for shopping or making long journeys. After successfully fighting off the threatened introduction of one-way fares, I'm sure OPAL feels emboldened to continue making the case that transit should be made more useful for daily needs rather than just commuting. Discounted ticketbooks are a no-brainer that should have been implemented long ago. Tickets save time at the farebox and are great for people who can't afford to buy monthly passes--they should get some kind of incentive to buy them.
It would be interesting to see the economic analysis behind this proposal. At first glance, setting the fare at $2.25, extending transfers, and offering discounted tickets would seem to be revenue-neutral at best. It appears that OPAL is making one or both of two key assumptions. First, that the short-haul riders with a fare hike ($2.10 to $2.25) have relatively inelastic demand for transit. In other words, these riders are more transit-dependent and so ridership will only drop by a small amount and revenue will go up. Second, that the long-haul riders who will see a fare reduction ($2.40 to $2.25) have relatively elastic demand for transit. In other words, these "choice" riders will be lured in by the lower fare and ridership will go up by enough to increase total revenue despite the lower fare per rider.
The first assumption is well-supported by academic studies. If revenue is the goal, rather than ridership, fares can be increased by quite a lot and revenue will still increase because most riders don't have many other choices and will come up with the additional fare. The second assumption, while it seems to make sense, is most likely incorrect. Choice riders are much more likely to use transit based on factors like access time, waiting time, travel time, the cost of parking, and road congestion, rather than the actual fare. The fare is such a tiny percentage of the actual cost of using transit that people with the means to drive are rarely swayed by a fare reduction. Still, some extra ridership can be expected and an increasing number of transit-dependent people do live on the fringe, so the math may still work out. In any case, it seems reasonable that this modest fare change, along with some added incentives like longer transfer times, could raise a modest amount of additional revenue.
Eliminate Free Rail Zone, but maintain it for riders with proof of same-day fare payment: $2 million
This rather interesting idea would generate $2 million, rather than $2.7 million from simply eliminating the FRZ entirely. The concept here is that as long as someone has contributed to TriMet in some way, they should be able to ride the train downtown as much as they want. Another way to think about it (and TriMet could market it this way) is that a day pass for Downtown-Lloyd Center-Central Eastside trains will cost $2.25, half the price of a full system day pass. That way tourists, visitors, shoppers, etc, can use the system as a Center City Circulator at a low price. Given that trains generally have excess capacity and that the marginal cost of serving one more person on a short trip is essentially zero, it makes sense to charge less. This is a great idea that at least maintains the idea of a downtown circulator system while still raising revenue. Even if Portland Streetcar still decides to go with its (very poor) decision to have a different fare from TriMet, they could still have this $2.25 day pass for MAX only.
Sell ads on TriMet website and Transit Tracker: $0.3 million
This is identical to TriMet's proposal and I have nothing to say about it.
Charge a fee for Park and Rides: $0.1 million this year after administrative costs, up to $1 million per year thereafter
Another excellent and long-overdue idea. TriMet floated this in their original budget outreach, but quickly abandoned it, claiming that it needed more study and would cost too much to implement. I suspect it had more to do with their fear of a public backlash from suburban commuters accustomed to getting something for nothing. TriMet has spent a huge amount of money building parking lots and continues to spend money maintaining them, but refuses to charge for this valuable resource. Why? One common claim is that it will reduce ridership. Perhaps at certain low-demand lots it would not make sense to charge a fee, but at high-demand park and rides it makes sense. A park and ride only has a limited number of spaces. If they all fill up at $1 per spot, that is pure revenue gain without any loss of ridership. The price should keep going up as long as the lot is being fully utilized. The other reason given for not charging at park and rides is that people might park in surrounding neighborhoods (the "hide and ride" effect). First of all, most park and rides are nowhere any neighborhoods in walking distance. Second of all, a simple residential permit program can eliminate this issue altogether.
Increase contingency fund by 50% ($5 million) rather than TriMet's proposed 100% ($10 million): $5 million
This was a major catch by OPAL in their careful reading of TriMet's budget proposal. The contingency fund, which is used to cover budget uncertainties like health care costs or changes in payroll tax revenue, was quietly increased from $10 million to $20 million. TriMet made no mention of this in any public outreach materials and it could have easily slipped by. While it certainly makes sense to increase the contingency this year with all the uncertainty about union arbitration, federal grants, and tax revenue, there is room for debate over whether doubling the fund is necessary. TriMet's failure to address this is troubling. The agency has publicly stated that the current proposal for $12 million in cuts may have to increase to $17 million in the case of an unfavorable ruling in union arbitration, and yet they have a growing contingency fund meant to deal with just such an outcome. OPAL's call for a more modest increase in the contingency fund seems reasonable, and hopefully will at least force TriMet to address the issue in public and defend their decision.
Maintain current annual operating subsidy for Portland Streetcar: $3 million
Another case of OPAL catching a detail missed by most of us. While TriMet includes a reduction of $300,000 in the streetcar subsidy as a savings in their budget proposal, OPAL realized this was only a reduction in the planned $3 million increase from the current $6.3 million subsidy. This planned increase is a result of the opening of the Eastside Streetcar later this year. OPAL makes the case that we are already spending enough precious transit dollars operating what even ardent streetcar supporters admit is more about fomenting economic development than providing mobility. I think this is a powerful case and deserves to be a public debate.
The existing streetcar at least connects an existing neighborhood (the NW) to downtown and PSU, so it provided some (extremely slow) mobility in addition to benefiting developers in the Pearl. The Eastside Streetcar, in contrast, serves virtually no useful purpose in the short term other than connecting convention-goers to OMSI. MAX already connects Lloyd Center to downtown, the number 6 bus connects Grand/MLK to downtown, and dozens of buses provide more direct connections across the river. Even when they "close the loop" in several years (still unfunded), it is hard to see the purpose of the Eastside Streetcar other than promoting residential, retail, and office development in the Central Eastside and Lloyd District. Development may be a laudable goal, but that doesn't mean transportation dollars should be used to subsidize it when we have real mobility goals to deal with. The prime beneficiaries of the streetcar line in the short term will be current landowners along it--they are the ones who should pay for the bulk of its operation for now. Before any more public funds are potentially wasted on this poorly-conceived and badly-designed line, it should have to prove itself through actual ridership.
Internal Efficiencies: $1.2 million
This is identical to TriMet's proposal, and I'm glad to see that OPAL avoided the temptation to try to squeeze even more savings from this area. While TriMet surely needs to cut management and staff and become more efficient, internal efficiencies can only go so far before they lead to a decline in service quality.
Reconfigure bus routes to reduce overlapping routes and improve efficiency: $0.5 million
OPAL's proposal for a $0.5 million service cut, down from $1.1 million in the TriMet proposal, is short on details but appears to favor keeping the bus route changes but not going forward with the actual service cuts to specific routes. This is the right approach. As I have written previously, many of the route reorganizations will provide a positive improvement by creating new connections and eliminating wasted redundancies in the system. I also like the mention of efficiency. I know that TriMet planners would love to focus more on equity and efficiency and rely less on service cuts to popular routes, but they are under immense pressure from powerful interests to maintain inefficient service to affluent areas. OPAL and transit riders in general should continue to put pressure on in the opposite direction so we can focus our transit system on the neighborhoods that need it the most. Transit is actually one of the few industries in which efficiency and equity go hand in hand. Routes that connect low-income and minority neighborhoods to jobs and other destinations are consistently the most efficient and productive.
A few ideas floated by OPAL and others in the past did not make it into this budget alternative. One, to charge premium prices for premium services, is a worthy idea but unlikely to generate much revenue in the case of TriMet. The problem is there is very little in the way of "premium" service! There are only a few express buses left, WES doesn't go directly downtown, and streetcar is really slow. It is likely that if prices were raised much on these services, ridership would drop enough that revenue would decline.
Another idea floated by many has been to simply cancel WES service entirely, and I completely agree. It is one of the worst boondoggles in Portland's history and deserves to be scrapped at the earliest opportunity. TriMet likes to trumpet double-digit ridership growth, but it is easy to have double-digit growth when absolute number is so low to begin with. Just to offer up a few numbers courtesy of Portland Afoot and TriMet: As of September 2011 WES served about 900 people per day and seat occupancy ranged from 27% to 44%. It costs about $6 million per year to operate and costs $15.44 per boarding ride (those are one-way trips, remember) compared to $2.33 for frequent bus service and $1.66 for MAX. So we are spending over $30 per person per day on those 900 people while we have full buses all over the Portland metro that don't have enough frequency. That said, TriMet has agreed to operate WES until at least March of 2013, so this year's budget would be mostly unaffected. I sincerely hope this stays on the radar, though, so that next year's budget can include permanent savings of $6 million from ceasing WES service or transferring operations to Washington County.
Commenter Alexander Craghead helpfully points out a major reason why it might not make sense to cancel WES now, even if it was a mistake to build it in the first place. You see, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) contributed $58.7 million toward the $160 million capital costs for WES. The big string attached to that federal money was a requirement that TriMet operate the service for 20 years, otherwise the entire amount would have to be repaid. Given this fact, it probably makes sense to keep operating the service, even with such a high operating loss.
However, much could be done to improve the service and make it more cost-effective, especially charging higher fares during the few trips each day with high demand. Average occupancy per train on WES varies dramatically, from about 60 people on the first couple trips in the morning and afternoon to as low as 20 for later trips during each peak period. Charging a higher price for the higher-demand trips (similar to what I advocate for the TriMet system in general below) would not only raise revenue but would also help spread out demand, filling up empty trains and reducing the need to purchase more trailer cars or convert to double-deckers in the future. (By the way, increasing frequency at the peak is not an option, since the signal system was apparently built to only accommodate 30-minute headways). Unfortunately for common sense, TriMet has an agreement with Washington County to not charge premium fares on WES, but this provision could be renegotiated in the future.
One final idea that I think is worth pushing at some point is the idea of charging a higher fare during peak morning and afternoon travel periods. This is done in Seattle, where it costs 25 cents more during peak periods. This would have several benefits. First, it would encourage people with the ability to travel during non-peak times to do so, spreading out demand and reducing the need for TriMet to run so many peak-only buses. This would save money on both operations (less need for extra part-time drivers) and capital expenses (fewer extra buses needed just to handle the peak). Second, the burden of the fare increase would mostly fall on commuters who at least have a source of income. Low-income riders are less likely to work 9-5 jobs in the first place and are more likely to take off-peak trips for other purposes. Third, it would charge more to the people who most directly benefit from TriMet's many peak-only services, which are often the most expensive bus routes to operate due to one-way demand and low densities. The downside is that it would make fares more complicated. Again, electronic fare payment would make this very easy to implement and hopefully this idea can be on the table in the future if not right now.
Well, there you have it. A strong counter-proposal from OPAL that purports to save the same $12 million as the TriMet proposal. Will the Board listen? Will TriMet be willing to change direction after all these months of process? Can OPAL continue assembling a broad coalition to push these ideas? Will our elected officials get involved? Only time will tell, but one thing I do know is that this is an important moment for public transit in Portland. We need to have a very loud and public debate over its present and future, otherwise it will slowly wither away instead of thriving as it should.
Zef Wagner is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at Portland State University with a specialization in transportation planning.
It appears that our favorite Transit Appliance platform, the Chumby, is on its way out.
The best opportunity for a low-cost (sub $200) small-format (under 12") device as a replacement is probably an Android tablet. Here's what we need to make it work:
1) Ability to configure a WiFi connection and have the device remember it.
2) Cause the device to boot into a web browser (does this require rooting?).
3) Run the web browser in full-screen mode (no chrome), loading an HTML file we install on the device.
Unfortunately, we don't have anyone on the team with Android experience, so we're starting from scratch. Do we have any Android experts in the audience who'd like to lend a hand?
May 7, 2012
The Oregonian outlines the negative outlook for the Oregon and Washington Legislatures providing the local match for the Columbia River Crossing in the face of declining driving (1.2 BILLON miles fewer driven in Oregon in 2010 less than in the peak year of 2002, despite rising population).
Of course, it's not as if the Federal Government has already allocated their end of the funding mix.
May 4, 2012
As an economist--someone who follows data and trends closely--and as a long time observer of the CRC public relations machine, I've become accustomed to the Orwellian spin that they frequently put on the facts. The latest sign of CRC's continuing disconnect from reality is its effort to deny that higher gas prices and declining traffic volumes matter at all.
The Columbia River Crossing has updated its "frequently asked questions" page. You can view it here:
Here is CRC's completely numbers free explanation of traffic trends:
Can we rely on traffic forecasts with all the volatility in gas prices and other factors? Traffic count data marginally declined between 2006 and 2009 at some locations when compared to historical daily volumes. This was the result of the stagnant economy and slowing regional population growth, as well as increased price of fuel over that time period. It is typical for traffic volumes to decline during a recession and to rise during boom periods. These fluctuations are expected. However, traffic counts during peak commute periods have remained steady or increased. Based on the most recent counts, evidence suggests that traffic volumes are resuming their long-term upward trend on both I-5 and I-205.
CRC officials--like highway builders everywhere--are simply in denial that a world of $4.00 gasoline has not only erased but actually reversed the trend in driving. This is not a temporary, local, aberration: it is a permanent national change.
Here is the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Americans are now driving about 25.6 miles per day--7 percent less than in 2005, and 14 percent below the 1990-2005 growth trend. And plainly, this is not a recession induced blip (you can see recessions in 1990-91 and 2001-2002, and they look nothing like the hard right turn we've seen in this line since 2007. And, even though the economy is recovering--VMT per capita continues to decline. All indications are that Americans are continuing to adjust their behavior in ways that will reduce VMT further in the years ahead.
The truth is, CRC continues to rely on traffic forecasts that haven't changed in the past five years--traffic forecasts that are built on the underlying assumption that gas will always cost about $1 per gallon in real terms, and that driving and sprawl increase forever without limit. We know none of those assumptions are true. This means that the rationale for a massive increase in highway capacity, the accuracy of the project's environmental assessment, and the validity of the project's toll-based financial plan are all simply wrong.
The Final EIS approved in December, 2011--made no changes to the traffic forecasts CRC has used since 2007. And the FEIS document doesn't even contain any data about actual traffic levels on the I-5 bridges after 2005. These are symptoms of advocates who are in deep denial about a changing world, and who will simply ignore or edit facts that don't fit with their worldview. This is no basis for making a multi-billion dollar investment.
May 2, 2012
Well-known transportation planning consultant (and native Portlander) Jarrett Walker, who wrote the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich our Communities and our Lives, and authors the blog Human Transit, will have two speaking engagements in Oregon.
The first, down in Lane County, will be entitled "Eugene-Springfield Transit: What are the real questions?", and will be held at the University of Oregon campus, in Room 182 of the Lillis Building on Wednesday, May 15th from 6:00 PM to 7:45 PM. Two other events will be held at the U of O on the same day, in Room 249 of the Lawrence Buiding; and a planning workshop from 2-4:30. Space is limited for the workshop, those interested should RSVP to email@example.com. The other events are open to the public.
The following day, he will be speaking at Portland State University--there, the title of the talk is "Portland Regional Transit: What is the question?" This lecture will be from 7:30PM to 9:00PM at in the Smith Memorial Union, room 338.
A flyer for the UO events is after the jump:
Listen to the show (mp3, 27.1MB)
Earl discusses cycling and transportation policy and funding, both locally and nationally with Tori and Steph.
Timo Forsberg from the Portland Bureau of Transportation talks about events for May's "PDX Bike Month".
May 1, 2012
A few interesting news items and reminders.
- Primary election is May 15. While we can't endorse candidates, we can point you to Portland Afoot's low-car voters guide. AROW (Active Right of Way) has a voters guide as well.
- TriMet's Washington Park Shuttle service starts May 5.
- A Brookings Institute study links exclusionary zoning to school performance.
- C-TRAN's Fourth Plain BRT project is getting close to selecting a Locally Preferred Alternative, and is engaging in community outreach concerning the potential options. Portland Transport coverage here.
- ATU 757 may be making a concession on the subject of health-care benefits in the ongoing labor dispute with TriMet.
- Bike Portland reports that Clackamas County is going to vote on a proposal to increase fares on the Canby Ferry: Existing fares would double, and bicycles would pay a $2 toll (previously, bikes could cross for free). The ferry would remain free for pedestrians. Earlier, Bike Portland reported on a survey that indicated Clackamas County residents were supportive of tollincreases, including bicycle tolls.
- TriMet has a noise variance hearing related to MLR construction in SE Portland scheduled for the fourth.
- Bolt Bus is launching a Portland-Seattle service starting May 17th, the first foray into West Coast travel for this Greyhound subsidiary.