July 31, 2012
Tomorrow KBOO will rebroadcast this episode...
July 30, 2012
GM is working on technology that would allow a car to detect the WiFi in your smartphone and trigger collision avoidance systems. A boon to pedestrians and cyclists? The driver might be distracted, but the car won't be?
July 29, 2012
This morning's Oregonian has two editorials (one a guest submission, one by one of the paper's regulars) on the subject of TriMet.
The guest editorial, by Craig Boretz, Randy Miller and Angus Duncan, deals with TriMet's funding crisis. It calls for further "restructuring" of the labor agreements, including withdrawal of mandatory arbitration. But it also calls for improving the agency's funding model--including increased revenue sources--but the latter is contingent on the former.
The other article, by conservative columnist Elizabeth Hovde, deals with the YouthPass brouhaha. She makes the surprising (but spot-on) observation:
The state, along with TriMet, has been taking a beating for the fact that other school districts have yellow bus service for high school students, but PPS does not. In reality, we should be searching to see if there are ways to make other districts look more like Portland when it comes to transportation, not the other way around.
And concludes with
Since transportation takes such a huge bite out of state and district education budgets, before insisting that transportation be provided, we might consider placing the duty of getting one's children to school on families -- no matter a student's age. After all, a lot of families get kids to jobs, soccer practices, birthday parties and other activities. Surely we should be able to work out carpools, joint walks or bus passes to get our kids to one of the most important things that children do.I expect the latter to be met with howls of outrage from suburban and rural constituents--in the countryside, in particular, the journey from home to school may be one of many miles--but money spent on public transportation goes much further if it is spent in places where there is higher density. Rural yellow-bus service is very expensive to provide.
July 27, 2012
[Full disclosure - I serve on the board of the non-profit parent of Portland Afoot.]
Check out the promo video and you'll even get a brief glimpse of yours truly...
July 26, 2012
Chicago is going to Kickstarter to build the ultimate transit app.
Could Portland do this to get something even better than the much-beloved PDX Bus?
Should we do something like this for the interface on our Transit Appliances?
July 25, 2012
July 24, 2012
to celebrate its second birthday.
And you're invited.
The happenings are happening this Thursday, July 26, at Backspace (115 NW 5th Avenue), starting at 6:30. The party is being sponsored by Zipcar and Widmer Brothers Brewery. Admission to the event is free, and the first 50 groups of three or more that show up with transit fare, bikelock keys, skateboards or sensible shoes get either a free raffle ticket or a free drink ticket for all in the group. Notables will include Sarah Mirk and Dan Christensen, with Irie Idea providing the tunes.
July 23, 2012
Jarrett Walker has a post over on Human Transit about all-door boarding being added to buses in San Francisco.
He makes the point that the perception of fare evasion is often much worse than the reality. I've experienced that many times over the years in discussions of streetcar fare policy.
The honor system means that you can't tell if someone has a fare instrument in their pocket, which seems to lead many to the impression that everyone but them is cheating!
In fact, we know that about half our riders have some kind of pass, and a significant number of the balance have a transfer. But it often seems that folks would be happy to have a fare inspection program that could easily cost more than any additional revenue it could generate through fare revenue or fines.
Why kind of marketing or education effort would allow us to prioritize actual budget realities (and faster service) over a perception of fairness to allow all-door boarding on TriMet's buses?
July 22, 2012
The City of Boston has created a pretty nice one-sheeter laying out the advantages, disadvantages, and design principles of running exclusive bus lanes in the center of a road vs. along the curb. As the Portland region considers BRT for future rapid transit lines (Powell/Division, Clackamas to Washington Square, and the SW Corridor are all under consideration for BRT), it is worth thinking about these principles and trade-offs, so take a look!
In general, a center-running alignment is preferable if we want a high level of service. It eliminates conflicts with right-turning vehicles and bicycles, generally gives exclusive signal phasing for transit vehicles, and it breaks up wide streets in a way that can dramatically improve pedestrian crossings. There is a reason why virtually all transit (both trams and buses) in the Netherlands runs in the center of the street, and I can report from experience that it works very well and breaks up wide streets very nicely. Of course, we don't have to look that far for examples. Our very own Yellow Line on Interstate and Blue Line on E Burnside follow the same principle, although I would argue they could be retro-fitted to be a lot more attractive.
Unfortunately, because Bus Rapid Transit is often chosen over Light Rail Transit as a way to save the most money possible on a project, it is all too often relegated to the outside lanes where performance is not as high. Both RapidRide in Seattle and Swift north of Seattle are examples of BRT lines that run in the curbside lanes, either in mixed traffic or in semi-exclusive Business Access Transit (BAT) lanes that are shared with right-turning and parking vehicles. While BAT lanes are better than nothing, they can often be just as clogged with cars as regular lanes, are difficult to enforce, and are often compromised (as we see through Interbay in Seattle) by making them peak-only.
As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons to choose curb-running over center-running lanes. First, if there is not enough right-of-way to fit in the center platforms. Second, if there is a political unwillingness to completely take away car travel lanes. The first reason doesn't really apply to the roads being considered for BRT in Portland. Powell Blvd, even in inner SE Portland, has plenty of room to make the center lanes bus-only and still install median platforms. All we have to do is remove the center turn lane and the planted median. Same goes for Barbur Blvd in SW Portland, which has 3 car lanes in each direction and a small painted median.
The second reason is what will determine whether Portland ends up with high-quality BRT or not. People will object to removing any car capacity on Powell or Barbur, insisting they are critical auto corridors that should not be significantly altered. Curbside BAT lanes (probably peak-only) will be proposed as a way to "balance" the needs of cars and transit. ODOT continues to insist that Barbur needs its current capacity to act as an "overflow valve" for I-5 in case of accidents or congestion. These arguments fail to convince after the experience with N Interstate Ave. That was a road that was considered an important auto corridor and an overflow valve for the northern section of I-5, and yet we reduced its car capacity in favor of building MAX and life goes on. People have adjusted to the new reality and I am unaware of any major problems with the new configuration.
In the case of Powell, a reduction of lanes and a corresponding reduction in speeds would do wonders to improve the street's safety, walkability, and livability. We should also remember that any BRT would be able to get off Powell somewhere around SE 17th to head up to the new Willamette transit bridge, so extra capacity would be available to deal with the Ross Island Bridge bottleneck. In the case of Barbur, that road is over-capacity anyway and should not be kept that way simply to absorb the occasional spillover from the freeway. Why do we have a 6-lane freeway and a 6-lane highway running parallel anyway? Rather than treating it as if it were one 12-lane superhighway in two parts, perhaps we should design them to perform distinct functions.
Zef Wagner is an analyst at Fregonese Associates and is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at Portland State University, specializing in transportation planning. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fregonese or PSU.
July 20, 2012
"It is extremely important that we understand the effect that the Big Dig debt service has on overall transportation spending in Massachusetts," said Representative David P. Linsky, committee chairman and a Natick Democrat. "We're paying over $100 million a year in Big Dig debt service, and that is obviously $100 million that we can't spend on other transportation needs."
If anyone thinks the Columbia River Crossing will not displace other regional (and state) transportation priorities, please think again...
July 18, 2012
Here's one from Nokia, running on the Windows Phone platform. I'm quite intrigued by the UI.
July 17, 2012
I've written before that carpooling/ridesharing may be fundamentally a social networking problem.
Now the New York Times is reporting on a bevy of apps trying to take on the problem from that direction.
July 16, 2012
The Statewide Transportation Strategy is part of the Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative. The Strategy aims to provide "promising approaches" to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in three main sectors: ground passenger & commercial services, freight transportation, and air passenger movement. The Strategy includes recommendations that are designed also to further other goals such as "livable communities, economic vitality, and public health." ODOT is accepting comments on the Strategy until 5pm on July 20th.
As a public health advocate, I was happy to see public health impacts explicitly called out in the Strategy. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have significant long-term impacts on well being directly through mitigating the severity of climate change and improving population adaptation. Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can improve public health in the short-term through increased opportunities for physical activity, improved air quality, and reduced risk of collisions. However, while these co-benefits are mentioned in the Strategy, the Strategy misses key opportunities to connect baseline conditions and strategy elements to these co-benefits.
Whether by design or accident, the Strategy privileges the development and expansion of electric vehicle and alternative fuel technology over the expansion of the use of walking, biking, and transit for ground passengers and biking for urban freight. While any long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will require the use of all available solutions, these oversights are significant. The benefits of bicycling, walking, and transit and the strategies needed to promote these transportation options are not as thoroughly discussed as other options in the Strategy, even though these modes are well-positioned to promote livable communities, economic vitality, and public health. While electric vehicles and alternative fuels reduce transportation-related emissions, these options offer only limited support of our other societal goals.
We know that increasing the use of walking, biking, and transit for transportation has myriad positive impacts in our communities and on our health, including a reduction of obesity and related chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.1 2 In addition, there is a robust and growing economy related to the bicycle industry throughout the state, and there is increasing evidence that pedestrian and transit-oriented development provides economic advantages. The Strategy can better support its mission of increasing overall prosperity with prudent, integrated transportation and land use planning by better connecting the Strategy actions to the issues described below. [Warning: digging into the weeds of the Strategy below!]
Walking and Biking: Underestimated Benefits
Nowhere in the Strategy is it mentioned that reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips in favor of trips by foot or by bike will result in a reduction in bicycle-car and pedestrian-car collisions.3 4 This is a critically important cost- and life-saving benefit of these particular modes of transportation that should be highlighted and ultimately considered when prioritizing strategies to implement with constrained resources.
In addition, the GreenSTEP model's smallest round-trip measurement is 6 miles. Nationally, nearly half of trips in urban areas are 3 miles or less, and 28% of trips in urban areas are under 1 mile; 60% of trips one mile or less are completed by car, truck, or SUV.5 Considering the enormous opportunities embedded in those numbers, GreenSTEP's modeling limitations might cause an underestimate of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction benefits of efforts to shift trips to walking and biking.
Freeways: Barriers to Mode Shift and Health Impacts
Under "Recommendation G10 - Road System Design/Development," elements cover a broad range of potential negative impacts of road expansions but do not include potential barriers to walking, biking, and transit trips, even though Technical Appendix 2 notes, "Freeways can also act as travel barriers to other modes of transportation." Because road design can have a significant impact on the safety and accessibility of walking and biking, the Strategy should explicitly include an element related to the avoidance of creating barriers to their use.
Freight: Bicycles and Efficiency Tradeoffs
The Strategy privileges trucks (and the adoption of electric vehicles and alternative fuels) to the exclusion of bikes for freight movement, even though freight by bike is increasingly an option in urban areas across the country and here in Oregon.
Large trucks, particularly in urban areas, are often in serious conflict with other road users, creating costs in human health. Transitioning these trucks to more efficient fuels does not address safety issues. However, switching loads, where possible, to bikes will likely result in fewer serious collisions. Information coming out of London and Paris indicates that bike freight in urban areas can have significant advantages over truck freight - from a need for smaller parking and loading zones to more reliable journey times.6 7
In the Technical Appendix for Freight, "Urban bottleneck removal on Portland area freeways" is included in the case assumptions. The meaning of "bottleneck removal" is not discussed, but this phrase could include everything from widening freeways to signalization changes. While widening freeways in the Portland area might "improve overall efficiency of the freight market," it also has the potential to impede other modes and negatively impact public health. The Strategy should define suggested methods for "bottleneck removal" and clearly articulate the possible public health and safety trade-offs of these methods.
Public Transit: Underestimated Benefits and Multi-modal Integration
The Strategy misses several opportunities to connect investment in transit to public health and economic benefits. It appears from Technical Appendix 2 that GreenSTEP's treatment of non-motorized travel includes "the number of household walking trips and the miles of short-distance SOV travel diverted to bicycling" but not transit trips. If that's the case, the Strategy might underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions reductions of transit-related recommendations. Transit-oriented development is not discussed in the Strategy.
The Strategy also misses the opportunity to support the integration of the transit network with walking and biking networks. While bike parking is mentioned in Recommendation G8 - Mode Shift for Short Single-Occupant Vehicle Trips, there is no explicit treatment of end-of-trip facilities and other investments that have been shown to increase both bike and transit trips.8 Transit trips, on average, cover greater distances than biking and walking trips; in this way the transit network supplements the biking and walking networks, and the Strategy should explicitly include related recommendations.
Pricing: Covering Costs v. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
With a focus on "full cost of travel" for both ground passengers and for freight movement, the Strategy emphasizes fiscal responsibility over greenhouse gas emissions reduction. To achieve the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, pricing mechanisms should focus on this goal rather than indirect goal of covering the "full cost."
Recommendation G4 includes "considering equity concerns" and G7 includes considering "how the revenue generated is used/spent (e.g. on other modes) and the effects on different populations in Oregon," but the Strategy does not provide enough information to help identify which factors should be taken into account in these recommendations. While the age group analysis and the definition of "equity" included in the glossary are helpful starting places, the transportation system impacts different groups in very different ways depending on factors including income, language spoken, physical ability, and geographic isolation.
Overall, the Strategy advances a vision for Oregon's transportation future that is likely to result in better public health outcomes. However, to ensure that all Oregonians benefit from the Strategy and our communities receive the highest level of benefits possible, the Strategy must address walking, biking, and transit with as much attention as other actions.
1. Woodcock, J., Edwards, P., Tonne, C., Armstong, B. G., Ashiru, O., Banister, D., ...Roberts, I. (2009). Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Urban land transport. The Lancet, 374(9705), 1930-43.
4. Wier, M., Weintraub, J., Humphreys, E.H., Seto, E., and Bhatia, R. (2009). An area-level model of vehicle-pedestrian injury collisions with implications for land use and transportation planning. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 41, 137-145.
5. Flusche, D. (2010). National Household Travel Survey - Short trips analysis. Retrieved from: http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2010/01/national-household-travel-survey-short-trips-analysis/
6. Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility. Freight Transportation for Development: A Policy Toolkit. World Bank Transport Research Support Program. Retrieved from: http://www.ppiaf.org/freighttoolkit/toolkit/policy-framework/policy-measures/policy-measures-regarding-operational-regulatory-licensing/promoting-clean
7. Cycle Logistics. Screen of Business to Business and Business to Consumer Sector to Establish Potential for Bicycle Deliveries Including the Situation of Bicycle Couriers. Retrieved from: http://cyclelogistics.eu/index.php?id=39&folder_id=111
July 14, 2012
Updated 7/3/12, 7AM:
Apparently today is the deadline for filing NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) suits for the project. Thompson Metal Fab has joined the party, suing over the height of the bridge.
Looking a recent developments for the Columbia River Crossing:
- The project is suggesting that the recent conference committee compromise on the Federal Transportation Authorization is good news for the project:
Congress has authorized a surface transportation bill that includes continued funding for the Federal Transit Administration New Starts program at current levels, and substantially expands the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program to $750 million next year and $1 billion in 2014.
The CRC project is seeking construction funding from three major sources: the federal government, the states of Washington and Oregon and tolling the I-5 bridge.
Expansion of the TIFIA program means CRC may compete for a federal loan that will offer more favorable financing terms, thereby allowing the project to better leverage toll revenue. The U.S. Department of Transportation has indicated that the CRC will be a priority for receiving TIFIA support.
- A coalition of local organizations has filed a federal suit challenging the project under environmental laws.
July 13, 2012
As mentioned in the open thread, TriMet has prevailed against ATU Local 757 in the abitration over the 2009 contract offer. TriMet's "Modified Final Offer" is retroactively imposed, and expires--this fall. An announcement by TriMet is here, the ruling is here.
Earlier, The Oregonian summarized the contract proposals here, and profiled the arbitrator here. The main item in dispute was medical benefits; even with the loss, TriMet operators will still have quite good benefits (10% medical copay, no monthly premiums, and deductible of $150 per employee or $450 per family, and $5 RX copay).
The arbitrator, while awarding the victory to TriMet, did so reluctantly; the ruling contains the following tidbit (emphasis added):
In the case at hand, the Arbitrator spend a considerable amount of time reviewing the exhibits provided by the parties, listening to the audio transcript that was made of the hearing, and giving full and thoughtful consideration to the parties' arguments. Both parties provided lengthy and well-written briefs. Ultimately, the Arbitrator is awarding TriMet's Modified Final Offer package as he finds that it is the best total fit to the statutory criteria. He does so reluctantly, as there are parts of the package which he believes are unwarrented, poor public policy, and simply unfair.
TriMet has gone to great lengths to emphasize that this means no further service cuts this fall--which does prompt me to ask--what about the $20M contingency fund? Can some of it be used to restore service? Or is it necessary to stave off future service cuts? (It wouldn't actually be a bad idea for TriMet to keep a nest egg--perhaps throwing it into the pension fund, from which it could conceivably borrow in the future--to help cushion the agency from future economic headwinds. But I would be much happier if it were more up-front about doing this, if that is indeed what is up).
There's a post up today at Transportation for America that looks at key features of the just-signed Transportation Reauthorization Sausage.
Included is this interesting item:
10. Tolling for new interstate lanes and HOV sleight-of-hand, and an emphasis on public-private partnerships
Today states are not allowed to toll Interstate highways except under very limited and rare circumstances. MAP-21 allows states to toll any new Interstate lanes - as long as the number of free (non-tolled) lanes, excluding high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, remains the same. This misses a major opportunity to allow states and regions to advance congestion pricing and other user-based charges that could both generate revenue and tackle traffic on clogged urban interstates.
If only new lanes can be tolled, does that mean that the Columbia River Crossing would be required to maintain 3 free lanes (matching the existing lanes) in each direction?
If so, that would seem to once and for all shoot the funding model in the head...
Can someone with deeper knowledge of the bill answer that?
There's been quite a bit in the national press this week about the subject. Amanda Hess, writing for Atlantic Cities, penned an article called Race, class, and the Stigma of Riding the Bus in America. This article drew quite a bit of attention, including a somewhat scathing criticism from Jarrett Walker, who objected to the article's focus on "white people" as a proxy for higher economic classes, particularly in a the context of a majority-minority city like Los Angeles (on which the Hess article focuses). Not to be outdone, the long-time transit and poverty advocates supporters at Reason (yes, that was sarcasm) penned an article called How Rail Screws the Poor, accusing LACMTA of building rail projects to wealthy communities while cutting bus service elsewhere. Zooming out, a new Brookings Institute report looks at employer access to labor via transit in major US cities. (Portland does quite well on this report, actually).
The issue of whether how well transit systems ought to be optimized to focus on the "transit-dependent"--those who generally don't have reliable alternatives to public transit for journeys too long to walk or bike--is a major topic in local transit debates. OPAL got started as advocates for those in poverty (though they've expanded their focus to all transit riders), and service to the poor is still a major issue. TriMet, for its part, claims that "equity" is a big part of their mission, though many of the agency's critics would likely dispute that (or argue they are failing to carry this mission out). Unfortunately, the subject is frequently a major source of heat rather than light.
On the transit dependent
Many transit advocates hate the term "transit-dependent". Many of us dislike even more the term "captive rider". Both terms, and especially the latter, frame transit as a bad thing--something to be avoided if possible. (This is one reason I like to talk about the auto-dependent; whether a car is liberating or limiting depends on where you live). The terms also promote the notion that there exists a class of rider whose needs not be considered when doing service planning--they will use the service no matter what, so a transit agency can safely go ahead and ignore (or screw) them. (The private sector gouges the poor enough already).
However, it is clear that there are some people who have greater dependency on public transit than others; and in virtually all of the country, land use and infrastructure investments favor motorists over transit riders. Pretending otherwise isn't beneficial--it fails to reflect reality, and it can also lead to those who depend upon transit to have their needs neglected. Even if an organization cares deeply about the poor and makes equitable service part of its mission, the needs of the "transit-dependent" rider will often be different than the needs of the so-called "choice rider"; and failure to account for these difference will often look like gouging or neglect.
Transit elasticity of demand
One way to characterize a rider's dependence upon something is via the economic concept of elasticity. Elasticity (assuming that it can be measured with some precision) is roughly defined as the marginal percent change in consumption divided by the marginal percent change in price (or some other parameter)--roughly speaking, it's a normalized derivative of the demand curve. Price is the usual parameter for elasticity, but other parameters besides price drive consumer behavior. In the case of transit, patrons are also interested in things like coverage, service span, frequency, reliability, speed, comfort, safety, social status, and amenities. Many of these things are difficult to quantify, let alone subject to a rigorous elasticity analysis, but if transit is made more useful and/or pleasant to use, it will attract riders; conversely if it is made to suck more, than they will be driven away.
Overall, a commonly used "overall" price elasticity figure for transit is -0.3, which means that for a given percentage rise in price, one can expect a -0.3% change in ridership. (The -0.3 figure is somewhat disputed; here is a good reference). If one accepts -0.3 as a valid value, this means that raising prices will increase revenue--the additional fare revenue will only be partially offset by passengers leaving the service--an important point to remember when considering TriMet's FY13 budget planning. (Interestingly enough, analysis of the Portland Streetcar indicates that raising prices does not raise revenue; implying an elasticity closer to -1.0. If this is correct, this would imply that either the Streetcar ridership is less dependent on transit in general; or many trips on the Streetcar are more easily substituted. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest the latter; it is often used for short trips that could easily be made on foot).
Often times, elasticity measures are computed and reported for an entire population. In practice, different members of a given population will express different elasticities for something. In the case of transit, this manifests itself as a significant subset of the ridership whose personal elasticity is closer to 0--the transit dependent--and another subset whose elasticity is far greater (in the negative direction) than the mean.
What do the dependent need?
Some riders are completely dependent on the service--they have no access to a car (or other motorized transport) whatsoever. Others may have limited dependency--someone in a household with more adults than automobiles, or who uses a service like Zipcar may have part-time access to an automobile, but not have one available on demand. Others have a car in the garage, ready to run on a moment's notice, and elects to use transit only to avoid a difficult commute (or for reasons such as reducing one's personal carbon footprint). These groups of riders have very different needs.
The first group needs comprehensive service--that runs to all parts of the cities, at as many hours of the day as possible. Frequency and speed are important as well, but likely take a back seat to basic availability. If you have no option other than transit, and the bus or train doesn't run to a place when you need it to, then you can't go there.
Part-time transit users can often afford to give up comprehensive service, and are often more interested in transit service optimized for specific trips, most often the commute. Many in this camp will use transit when it's convenient, and not use it otherwise--and may find themselves preferring transit solutions that optimize the most common trips over the less-utilized routes and corridors. To the extent that "choice riders" can easily abandon the bus or train, they may demand amenities and virtues beyond basic service parameters like span, coverage, frequency, speed, or reliability.
The problem? Reconciling these two goals can be difficult.
The paradox of rapid transit
A major source of objection to capital-intensive rapid transit projects is that rapid transit tends to correlate more with the needs of the choice rider. This is not to say that it isn't usable by the transit-dependent--of course it is. All riders benefit from fast, frequent service. Many capital projects which have been maligned by demagogues (whether on the right, like the Reason editors, or on the left, like the LA Bus Riders Union) in fact provide a great deal of service to the poor. But rapid transit, by its nature, focuses on corridors--corridors which are then optimized for fast, efficient, and reliable service. This is great if you live/work in the corridor. It's good if you can drive to a park and ride, or take good connecting transit to reach the corridor. It's bad if you are carless, and the connecting transit is poor or nonexistent--then the corridor is of little benefit to you.
Doing it right
Does this mean that building rapid transit is a mistake? Certainly not. Many large cities, including virtually all of the largest metropolises on the planet, would not function without quality rapid transit. The key, however, is to build rapid transit on top of a an existing, thriving, and functional basic service network--which in the US is typically local bus.
The problem comes when a city builds rapid transit lines, but without a core network of comprehensive basic (typically bus) service--or cuts basic service to fund rapid transit. There are plenty of examples of boondoggle light-rail or streetcar projects being built in US cities with poor bus service. These lines tend only to serve the destinations within walking distance (or park-and-ride users), and generally have poor ridership as a result. The network effects which make transit transformative, simply are not there.
TriMet has avoided this problem, for the most part. The Blue, Red, and Yellow lines were laid on top of an existing, high quality bus network. Bus service leaves something to be desired out in Hillsboro or Gresham, but is good in the core. However, the recent opening of the Green Line was more problematic, While the proximate causes of Portland's recent service cuts are factors other than MAX--TriMet didn't plan the Green Line with the intent of sharply reducing the frequent bus network, the fact that its opening coincided with the recession and the subsequent service cuts, did not look good. There's a significant danger that the opening of PMLR will have similar issues--TriMet isn't planning on reducing bus service to fund Milwaukie MAX (other than redundant lines like the 33 and the 99), but if the financial picture doesn't improve, PMLR may be an additional expense that will have repercussions elsewhere.
Additional complications arise.
- Rapid transit lines (unlike freeways) are frequently regarded as a valuable amenity to live near, which can have the perverse long-term effect of pushing the poor away from the transit service they are dependent on. Much of greater Portland's lower-income population lives outside the inner city. While Portland has built MAX lines into lower-income communities like Rockwood or south of Lents, the strongest concentration of service is in the "core" between the West Hills and I-205, Johnson Creek and Killingsworth--a region which contains some pockets of poverty (particularly in the eastern corners) but is mostly middle-class in nature.
- In times of economic difficulty, the lines which are easiest to cut are the social service lines--as they are the ones which lose the most money. No matter how much an agency cares about equity, it has to balance its books at the end of the day.
- Exacerbating the problem, many grant-funded capital projects include operational commitments as part of their funding conditions. Many proposed delaying the Green Line opening as a way of dealing with the recession, on the grounds that it was mostly redundant with the 72 bus and the existing Red and Blue lines into downtown. The trouble with that proposal was that TriMet had to run it. This is especially a problem when a capital project turns out to be a boondogggle.
For TriMet: I would get the operational house in order prior to any more major capital expansions on rapid transit corridors. (I'm not talking about Portland-Milwaukie, which is already in progress, but things beyond that). There are plenty of ways that capital dollars can be spent (assuming local politicians will continue to have a goal of winning federal grants to goose the local economy) that don't place all the eggs in one geographic basket.
For the USDOT/FTA/Congress: Funding of capital projects (both urban rapid transit and urban freeways) ought to be conditioned upon having a thriving and useful bus service in place--before laying track or pouring concrete, efficient use of existing infrastructure should be encouraged. Transit projects without good bus service lack the network effects to be successful. The best transit projects are those that are built to relieve overcrowding in an existing bus system, not ones dependent on speculative new riders, even if one suspect that there are large numbers of potential patrons who will ride trains but not bus. And likewise, freeway construction should be discouraged until more efficient utilization of existing streets is made. (Transit project is subject to unfair funding competition with freeways as it is; it would be undesirable for a proposal design to reduce boondoggle projects to have the effect of diverting funds to highways instead).
July 12, 2012
Metro is taking a deep look at how they do citizen engagement (can you say 'Opt-in') and as part of this effort they are forming "PERC", the Public Engagement Review Committee.
If you'd like to apply to be part of this, head over here to get an application and more info. The deadline is August 24th.
Here's the blurb:
The PERC is part of a multi-track strategy to ensure that Metro's public involvement is effective, reaches diverse audiences and harnesses emerging best practices. In addition to the committee, Metro will convene public involvement peer group learning sessions, hold an annual stakeholder summit, conduct online surveys and develop an annual report of Metro's public involvement practices.
The updated public engagement review process was adopted by the Metro Council in May following a two-year process to replace the Metro Committee for Citizen Involvement that previously oversaw the agency's public engagement activity.
I think it's probably the best example to date of what our flat-screen appliance vision is about. It's a 40-inch Toshiba TV, beautifully wall-mounted.
It's already getting very favorable comments from building tenants.
Big thanks to the crew at CBRE (the building manager) for driving this, and to the Lloyd TMA for helping with the funding!
Zef Wagner is currently in the Netherlands taking a class on sustainable transportation. He will be posting periodically about the Dutch transit system and what lessons we could apply in Portland and elsewhere in the US.
One of the first things I noticed about transit after arriving in the Netherlands was how incredibly fast the trams are here compared to their counterparts in Portland. (Reminder: a tram is sort of halfway between MAX and Streetcar in terms of size and capacity, but they are all technically forms of light rail). Anyone who has spent much time riding transit in Portland usually comes to despise how slow our vaunted MAX system moves through the Downtown and Lloyd Center areas. The Portland Streetcar is even worse, moving barely faster than walking speed. It is naturally tempting to blame this slowness on the fact that we use surface-running rail rather than underground or elevated, but the Netherlands manages to have a massive amount of fast-moving surface-running rail in its major cities. So how do they manage this?
One reason for faster transit has to do with the nature of Dutch cities themselves and their hierarchical approach to traffic engineering. Most major roads in the Netherlands have widely spaced major intersections, so a tram can routinely travel for a half-mile or more without encountering any signals or much cross traffic. Most blocks, if you can call them that in cities with no grid system, are very long and are often permeable to pedestrians and cyclists but not to cars. The major roads that trams generally use are also very wide, although the right-of-way is divided between pedestrians, bikes, cars, and transit in such a way that it doesn't seem very wide from the ground. Compare all these factors to downtown Portland, which has very short blocks, narrow streets, a grid system with lots of signalized intersections, and a lot more pedestrian crossings, and you can see that moving light rail in Portland is inherently more difficult.
The Netherlands also employs a lot of transit priority treatments that speed up the trams as they travel through the cities. The major one that jumps out immediately is that trams virtually always have dedicated right-of-way either in the center of the road or along one side. A typical cross-section for a major road in Amsterdam or The Hague or Rotterdam would be sidewalk, one-way cycletrack, 1 or 2 lanes for cars in one direction, tram tracks in both directions in the middle, car lanes in the other direction, one-way cycletrack, sidewalk. Occasionally a road is divided so the trams are on one side and all car traffic is on the other side. Less common treatments I have seen include running trams on either side of a canal, running trams through pedestrian/bike-only areas, and even running them through buildings.
In any case, the pervasive use of exclusive lanes and right-of-way removes the danger of congestion-related delay, at least in the spaces between intersections. Another benefit is that the tracks can be covered by grass if they are tram-only, adding green space to the roadway. It is also notable that I have never really seen trams running on the outside lanes, which is common practice for streetcars in the US. By using center lanes and platforms, pedestrian access is slightly worse but in exchange the trams are out of the way of right-turning traffic and connections between overlapping tram lines are much easier.
In Portland the use of exclusive right-of-way is much more limited. The Yellow Line on Interstate is the most similar to what I have seen in the Netherlands, using the center alignment to good effect, but once MAX hits Downtown it becomes more problematic. The exclusive right-of-way in Downtown Portland is only marked by paint, for one thing, which results in cars illegally using the lane and makes it easier for cars to stop in the middle of an intersection blocking the tracks. The lane is also shared with buses on the Transit Mall, forcing MAX to go much slower than it could in an unimpeded lane. Some tramways in the Netherlands can also be used by buses, but the schedules are coordinated so there are no conflicts. Major busways where several lines come together do not appear to ever share space with tram lines.
Portland Streetcar, of course, has almost no exclusive right-of-way and uses a couplet design with vehicles in the right-hand lane of each one-way street. This design would never be used in the Netherlands. The Streetcar gets stuck in traffic constantly and is sometimes blocked by parked cars, and the couplet design results in a smaller walkshed (remember, people need access to both directions). This design is even worse for the new Eastside Streetcar line in Portland. In that case, the two directions of streetcar will be divided by 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic in each direction and one city block. This could have been avoided by running the streetcar two-way on Grand (decoupling Grand and MLK for all traffic in the process), or by running it on the left side of both streets. In either case, it should have also been given exclusive lanes, especially since Grand and MLK have so much right-of-way to spare.
So now that trams in the Netherlands have priority between intersections, how do they get through intersections without delay? The answer is true signal priority at almost all intersections. I have seen countless instances of this: a tram is approaching an intersection at full speed, special "tram" lights start flashing and bells start ringing to warn people, all the lights turn red, and the tram barrels through without slowing down. After it gets through, the normal signal phasing starts again. Sometimes another tram arrives immediately after the last one, and amazingly the lights all turn red again to let it through. The basic message here is that traffic engineers in the Netherlands are willing to deal with the possibility of a few extra seconds of delay for cars so that a tram full of people can pass through without stopping.
The general practice in Portland is to try our best to time the signals downtown so that buses and light rail and streetcar can move through the lights without stopping, but this barely ever works in practice due to the inconsistencies of loading times at stops. The closest thing we have to signal priority in the Portland and the US in general is the ability of transit vehicles to keep certain lights green for a little longer than normal in order to get through an intersection. This only helps in certain situations, and is no help at all when the light is already red or when a vehicle has to make a stop right before the intersection. It is common for a MAX train to stop and open the doors for loading during a green light ahead, which then turns to red right when the doors close. Then the train has to sit there for a full signal, resulting in delay for potentially a couple hundred people while a much smaller number of people in cars are able to cross the intersection. Again, Portland Streetcar is even worse since it also has to stop at lots of stop signs in addition to signals. Even buses, supposedly inferior to streetcars, almost never have stop signs to deal with on their routes.
The only place in the Netherlands where I have seen a tram slowed down or delayed was in Rotterdam, which generally had much worse car traffic than anywhere else I have visited. In that case, the trams were given full signal priority but traffic was so bad that cars had queued up into the intersection, blocking the tracks. This can happen anywhere, of course, but I suspect this problem may be worse in the Netherlands because they use near-side traffic signals. The lack of signals on the far side of intersection means that drivers close the intersection may not be able to see that they have a red light and are more likely to end up stuck on the tracks.
Portland's built form and street network, with its small blocks and one-way couplets, creates many challenges to running efficient surface-running light-rail that are not as much of an issue in the Netherlands. However, it is clear that Portland could do a great deal to improve its surface rail system by employing the other techniques used here. Exclusive lanes, ideally two-way in a center-road configuration, along with much more advanced signal priority systems, could do wonders for the Portland system and lead to increases in ridership as speed and reliability improves. All it takes is a recognition on the part of our political leaders and traffic engineers that transit (along with bikes and pedestrians) should be given clear priority over automobiles as we move people through the city.
Zef Wagner is an analyst at Fregonese Associates and is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at Portland State University, specializing in transportation planning. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fregonese or PSU.
July 11, 2012
Every year I enthuse about the value of the PBOT/PSU Traffic and Transportation Class. I'll restrain myself this year and just say that if you've never taken it, sign up NOW. It's free to citizens taking it on a non-credit basis. NOW.
July 9, 2012
There are still several chances to express your views during this round of public input on the SW Corridor Plan, an online open house, through July 13, and at several community events during the summer:
- July 13, Farmers' Market, Tualatin Commons
- July 22, Sunday Parkways, SW Portland
- July 28, Beaverton International Celebration, Beaverton
July 6, 2012
About this time last year, I enthused about a Kickstarter project for a bicycle utility trailer adaptable to a variety of tasks.
It didn't fund then, but the project is back with more modest goals to get tooling put together to begin production. I'm excited to back the project, and I hope you'll consider it as well.
July 4, 2012
Listen to the show (mp3, 27.4MB)
Disaster strikes! How can we be prepared, and how can bicycles help us manage in a time of crisis? Our guests are Carmen Merlo, Director of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Ethan Jewett, Organizer of this year's inaugural Disaster Relief Trials.
July 2, 2012
I'm not deeply familiar with this project. Is the deep bore tunnel (and associated projects) a good result? Does the process of building some kind of consensus yield any lessons for us?
July 1, 2012
We now enter the second half of 2012.
- Milwaukie MAX construction enters its second year. Speaking of construction and MAX, there will be elevator maintenance at five MAX stations this month, so be aware.
- Congress has finally passed a transportation bill. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be a very good one (although much better than the House proposal which was discussed a few months back), but at this point national Democrats seem more interested in economic stimulus than they are in active transportation and urban infrastructure; something more transit-friendly is unlikely to pass the current House of Representatives. Bike Portland has more coverage here.
- More legal maneuvering on the CRC.
- Atlantic Cities with more commentary on the US urban renaissance.
- An online survey on the Southwest Corridor.