The Past, Present, and Future of the Portland Transit Grid

Disclaimer: Zef Wagner is currently a Service Planning and Scheduling Intern at TriMet. The views expressed on this website are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views, plans, or policies of TriMet.

As Jarrett Walker notes in a recent post, this weekend marks the 30th birthday of the Portland transit grid system that enables crosstown travel without always having to go through downtown. This occasion seems like a great opportunity to discuss the past, present, and future of this incredibly important aspect of our transit network.

The Past

I don’t really have a whole lot to add about the formation and impact of the grid beyond what you will find over at Human Transit, so go read it now if you haven’t already. While MAX seems to get all the attention when people think of Portland’s transit innovations, the grid is arguably a much bigger deal. After all, most North American transit agencies are still stuck with radial networks that don’t make a lot of sense in today’s multi-centered or completely decentralized cities. The Portland eastside grid, established in 1982, has since inspired many other transit agencies (especially those in cities blessed with a grid street layout) to follow suit, among them Translink in Vancouver, BC, and Metro in Los Angeles.


1970 TriMet bus network

I really enjoy some of Walker’s examples of how difficult the TriMet system used to be for crosstown travel. It’s incredible that there was only one real north-south line in the entire SE quadrant (along SE 39th Ave), and even that was split into two lines at Hollywood. There was no continuous bus line at all along SE 82nd Ave, now home to one of the most consistently high-ridership lines (the 72) in the whole system. In any case, we should all be thankful that the grid system was established in the face of much opposition, and I echo Walker’s call for people to take the time to thank the planners who made it happen. (Full disclosure: one of them is my supervisor at TriMet, Ken Zatarain).

The Present

It is fitting that this Labor Day weekend marks the anniversary of the grid, because it is also when we will see a few new additions and enhancements to the grid. Even though the current restructures were implemented in the context of overall service cuts, they also show that even after 30 years there are still opportunities to make the grid work better.

Starting this Sunday, we will have a couple new crosstown connections that continue the work of building the grid:

The new Line 70 (click for map) will combine the current 70 and 73 into a new north-south crosstown running from Milwaukie all the way to the NE 33rd Ave/NE Columbia Blvd area. There has also always been a very wide gap in SE-to-NE service stretching from SE Grand Ave to SE 39th Ave. This won’t fill the gap completely, but it will be a big improvement and will create a nice connection between the inner SE and the Alberta neighborhoods. Frequency on NE 33rd will see a boost from current levels as well.

The new Line 87 (click for map) will also combine two previously short and disconnected lines, the 82 and 87. The new line will provide a complete north-south crosstown on 182nd Ave for the first time, with east-west segments to Gresham and along Airport Way, and another north-south segment down 102nd Ave to Gateway. The result is a rather strange-looking zig-zag route, but if you think of it as a few crosstowns stitched together, it makes sense as part of the grid.

The challenge of creating pure north-south crosstowns in East Portland and the eastside suburbs is that there just isn’t much space between Sandy and Powell for a viable stand-alone bus line. The 87 manages to be a long and useful route while also filling in a gap in continuous north-south service. The Airport Way employment district will have midday service for the first time and will be much better connected to the larger system. The bad news is it will run infrequently and only on weekdays, limiting its usefulness as part of the overall grid network, but over time this will hopefully improve if it performs well.

Even in the western suburbs and SW Portland, where a grid is challenging due to geography and land use patterns, we have seen elements of a grid slowly taking shape. This weekend’s service changes include some improvements to this grid as well. One very successful example is the 76 and 78, which have a combined segment from Tigard to Beaverton that acts as one of the few north-south crosstowns in the area. The 76/78 together are about as frequent as any of the “Frequent Service” branded lines, and weekend trips are being added this weekend to boost frequency even more.

Another change is combining the 47/48 with the 89 to create a pair of east-west lines from Hillsboro to Sunset Transit Center via Tanasbourne. The segments of the 47 and 48 that currently run to Willow Creek Transit Center will be deleted, but the 52 will remain to provide that north-south service. This is exactly the kind of change called for in designing a grid system: eliminating redundant service, simplifying routes, and encouraging connections.

Finally, while it is not a new part of the grid, we should celebrate the extension of frequent service on the 9-Powell out to East Portland and Gresham. Previously, every other trip ended at 92nd & Powell, but now East County residents will have access to more frequent service, which means much easier connections to other lines in the grid.

So it’s all good news, right? Not really. While this weekend’s service change does a great deal to strengthen the grid in terms of network design and even adds trips in a few places, we still lack the overall network frequency needed to make the grid function well. The whole foundation of putting in the 1982 grid system was to replace a lot infrequent radial service with frequent crosstown service, encouraging people to connect from one frequent transit line to another rather than always expecting a one-seat ride. This is only possible with frequent service (at least every 15 minutes, preferably every 10 minutes), because otherwise people end up waiting so long to connect that it is no longer worth it. Right now only a handful of bus lines get better than 15-minute headways, and usually even that is only during peak rush-hour times.

We need a return to real frequent service (at least every 15 minutes all day, 7 days a week) for our core grid system to really work for everyone and for multiple purposes. Transit needs to be useful not only for M-F 9-5 workers, but also people working in the service industry on weekends or in the evenings. It needs to be useful for work and shopping and leisure activities. All of this requires high frequency during more than just rush hour for our high-demand transit lines.

Another problem is the lack of coordination between the more-frequent service in the more dense parts of the region and the less-frequent service out in sparsely-settled suburbia. Some elements of the grid, like the 87 or the new 21 on outer Sandy, might never warrant truly frequent service, so ideally they would be timed to connect riders easily to the frequent grid.

TriMet used to have a timed-transfer “pulse” system at suburban MAX stations, but the system was phased out because it was expensive to operate and because frequencies were increased on many of those lines. Pulsing is very expensive because it depends on very high reliability, which in turn requires a great deal of layover and recovery time in the schedule. An alternative to the pulse would be to try to match up frequencies so that, for example, a 30-minute-headway line connecting to a 15-minute-headway line would be scheduled to arrive a few minutes before every other connecting trip.

The Future

So where do we go from here? Besides the need to restore and expand the frequent service network, where do we still have gaps in the grid that need to be filled? Here are some ideas (since I don’t have Adobe Illustrator handy, please refer to this handy interactive TriMet System Map to follow along):

One clear candidate is that pesky gap in inner SE Portland. Even after this weekend we will still have well over a mile (from 12th to 39th) between north-south lines in one of the most dense and transit-friendly parts of the city. Part of the reason this gap exists is that there is also a gap in the arterial street grid. There is an odd discontinuity there, with 33rd, 28th, 30th, and 26th all acting as the main arterial at various points. For this reason, it is probably impossible to design a good bus line through that area.

SE 20th Ave, however, could work as a north-south line. What might such a line look like? One idea would be to have the 10 run on SE 20th Ave after going through Clinton, rather than going to downtown via Ladd’s Addition. This would undoubtedly anger Ladd’s residents, but they all live within 5 minutes of at least one frequent line to downtown anyway (the 4 and 14). I fail to see why they need extra buses cutting through the neighborhood, and cyclists might appreciate getting buses off such a popular bike route. The line would then run up 20th all the way to Sullivan’s Gulch. 20th might have to lose some parking for bus stops, but it wouldn’t really require major changes to accommodate bus service.

After Sullivan’s Gulch, where would it go? From a network design perspective, it should connect with the 8 going up NE 15th Ave, but the problem is that this new line would have no MAX connection. One solution would be to cut over to Lloyd Center MAX, then back to 15th, but that is quite a deviation. It is also unlikely that current riders of the 8 would be willing to lose their downtown service.

Another idea is to connect this new Line 10 with the northern part of the 44. It would cut over on Multnomah to connect with MAX, then go up Williams to serve the current path of the 44. That part of the 44 currently gets pretty infrequent service anyway, with decent peak service dropping down to once-an-hour service in the mid-day and evening hours. It is also very redundant with nearby Lines 4 and 6. Everyone on that stretch of Vancouver/Williams from Rosa Parks to Fremont lives within a 5-minute walk of the 4 or 6, which both provide frequent service to downtown. Therefore the 44 would be an excellent candidate for being turned into a crosstown.

The new 10/44 hybrid would be another odd-shaped line, but would provide a brand new connection from SE to N Portland and would be much more useful than what are now two redundant and infrequent radials to downtown. This is exactly the situation planners successfully challenged 30 years ago, but these lines show there is still work to be done.

Another clearly needed crosstown would be a line up and down 148th Ave in East Portland. This is needed to fill an extremely large gap in north-south coverage that leaves residents with a series of disconnected east-west lines. As more and more low-income people move out to East Portland, the need for car-free mobility is more urgent than ever, and north-south service will be key to meeting that need. The 71 along 122nd Ave has been pretty successful, showing there is demand for such a line.

The northern end of 148th Ave, up near Sandy Blvd, does have hourly bus service on the 23, but that line quickly leaves the arterial to meander about neighborhoods on its way to Gateway Transit Center. The 23 gets pretty poor ridership and is very unnecessary given that those neighborhoods are pretty close to the 77-Halsey. Whether or not the 23 was eliminated (preferable in order to get some service hours to invest in a new line), there could be a new line running all the way down 148th to Powell. That line by itself would be too short, so it could go southwest a bit and connect with another line like the 17 or 19.

My final example of how we could continue to build the grid is made possible by the long-overdue construction of the new Sellwood Bridge. Bus service can finally be restored! Rather than running yet another bus from Sellwood to downtown (which would duplicate the 35, 19, and Orange Line), why not use it for an east-west crosstown? The 43 is a very low-performing line that runs through SW Portland on Taylor’s Ferry Rd before going downtown via an extremely slow and frustrating route on Corbett Ave through Lair Hill. This line runs very slowly on narrow roads through neighborhoods surrounded on all sides by superior transit service on Barbur and Macadam. The numbers show that very few people ride the 43 on the Corbett, and it also means that few riders get on the Taylor’s Ferry segment knowing they are in for a long slog to get downtown.

If the Corbett segment were removed, the 43 could instead make a sharp turn from Taylor’s Ferry to Macadam, then cross the Sellwood Bridge. It could run on Tacoma St through Sellwood, connect with the Orange Line at the Tacoma station, then continue east on Johnson Creek Blvd, which currently has no transit service. The line could cut south to Clackamas Town Center, making a great new east-west crosstown from Washington Square to Clackamas Town Center. We often talk about the need for good, high-demand anchors for transit lines. This line would have two very good anchors, with lots of neighborhoods in between.

Once again, I would like to make clear that these are my own ideas, and do not necessarily reflect any actual plans, policies, or opinions of TriMet.

In conclusion, I think we need to take this time to celebrate the implementation of the grid 30 years ago, but we also need to start having a public conversation about how we can restore the frequency needed for the grid to work and how to fill in the gaps in the grid that still remain. These are not just questions for TriMet, but also for our candidates and elected officials at all levels of local government. Please chime in with your thoughts on these ideas and submit your own in the comments!

31 responses to “The Past, Present, and Future of the Portland Transit Grid”

  1. “SE 20th Ave, however, could work as a north-south line. ”

    On a map maybe, but what are the destinations along 20th that anyone would want to get to? I don’t think there really are very many. By contrast 28th is destination rich, at least north of Stark. The real issue is south of Stark which would likely mean running the bus along 30th or 20th. I think 20th is closer to more destinations.

    I think transit planners sometimes under estimate the importance of destinations. Its a lot more comfortable to walk to the bus in your own, familiar, neighborhood than it is to walk to a destination in a strange neighborhood. And almost by definition, better access to popular destinations serves more people than access to a neighborhood bus stop.

  2. I disagree. Transit planners actually overestimate the importance of having destinations on each line, because when you have a grid network this is not so important. The 71 basically runs through residential neighborhoods with very few destinations, yet it is a pretty successful bus line. Why? Because it crosses lots of other bus and MAX lines. People use it to to transfer to other lines in addition to local travel.

    20th may not have many destinations, but it would give people another way to access other lines. I actually live near 20th, and it is annoying when I want to access the 14 or 4 or anything in NE. There is no good way to get north and south unless you go to 11th/12th. It would be better to go up and down 28th, I agree, but it is difficult.

    The idea of running it up 20th, then Stark, then 28th is intriguing…it would be less simple and elegant, but would hit more activity for sure, including the Fred Meyer. If that was the case, it would be best for it to merge with the 17 up NE 24th, although we saw this last spring how unwilling the folks up there are to lose direct-to-downtown service. It could also merge with the 70 segment up NE 33rd, in which case the 70 would have to go somewhere else. Maybe the 44!

    One other problem with 28th is that it is a major bike route even though it is not marked as such. The city will likely make major bicycle improvements to 28th in coming years as part of their 20’s greenway project. It really is the only viable bikeway through that whole area, and that could create conflicts with buses.

  3. Zef, I like both of your ideas for the 10 and the 43 which are ideas I have been thinking about. Once Sellwood is done, running it across the bridge to Clackamas makes a lot of sense to create a stronger crosstown line. Just wish there was something to make it stronger on the westside.

    One note is from my experience the 44 and the 4 are extremely busy routes north of Rose Quarter. It seems like that part of the route would demand for better service despite the presence of the 4 nearby. What I don’t see as necessary is running it all the way to Pier Point but is that for layover convenience because it seems like neither the 75 or the 44 do well west of St. Johns proper.

  4. I read these posts over here at Portland transport and I always wonder “what planet are these people from” (not personal Zef)
    The complexity of the arguments befuddles me, I can barely read the posts due to the technical nature of this.

    I worked for 15 years as a transit bus driver for Trimet. All I heard was complaints from riders about decreasing service.

    I see nothing good about this redesign.
    What I see is beefing up MAX service by eliminating bus service. Something that has been going on long before the phony ‘GREAT RECESSION” (actually the great re-distribution) became the latest paradigm.

    I am of the opinion that TRIMET is actively in the “death spiral”. Over extended, bloated fat bureaucracy, more a land development agency than a transit agency.

    Penalizing the poor while rewarding the rich.

    Its everything that is wrong with government today.

    Mass confusion awaits, great for Trimet bloggers, death for Trimet users

  5. I remember talking long ago about cross-town service with my friend Ray Polani, whose extraordinary foresight and persistence for 40 years has realized much of our present system.

    Make no mistake: Ray is a captious fellow, always capable of pointing out ways to make public transit better. When the Yellow Line opened I encountered him and his daughter at the Coliseum station and remarked, “This is all your fault, Ray!”

    “Yes, it is,” he replied, “but they could have done it so much better!

    Were I mayor I’d name the new bridge after Ray.

  6. John, I think the Pier Point terminus is indeed because of the turnaround opportunity, and sometimes the schedules work out so that a little extra length doesn’t actually cost any extra (since you have to round up to a full driver shift).

    The 44 may be busy during peak times, but the 44 then drops to hourly service and is practically useless during the off-peak. If there is so much demand in that corridor, why not cancel the 44 and increase the 4 and 6 to 10-minute headways? That would probably absorb that demand, and people might be willing to walk farther to catch better service.

    I didn’t bring it up in the post because it’s unlikely to happen, but really the 44 along Vancouver/Williams should be eliminated completely. That whole section is very close to both the 6 and the 4, which means they compete for the same riders. It is also a major bike corridor with lots of reported bus/bike conflicts. If that section were removed, the 44 from St Johns could continue east and merge with another line like the 8 or 72.

    Yet another idea is to merge the 44 with the struggling 24 on Fremont. The new line would at least be marginally more useful, although it would still likely have low ridership.

  7. That’s a great idea! I’ve been wondering what they will name the bridge, and it would be fitting to name it after a transit advocate.

  8. “My final example of how we could continue to build the grid is made possible by the long-overdue construction of the new Sellwood Bridge.”

    Good, Now that political family magnate Deborah Kafoury has committed to blowing $300 million + on the rusty coat hanger design, we don’t have enough money to put Tacoma St. thru traffic underground—thus the danger to bicyclists and pedestrians only two blocks from Sellwood Middle School persists. If the Sellwood bridge (1928) is outdated think how terrible the Hawthorne Bridge (1910) must be, Hurry, tear it down! Nonetheless, the supposedly decrepit Gustav Lindenthal design can be moved 200 feet to the side and placed on temporary pilings.

    And does anyone think the $300 m price tag is the final word? Does anyone think the Kafoury dynasty is finished wreaking havoc on the state of Oregon?

  9. An issue about Line 10-Harold is riders from out on Harold/Steele/etc where the route is part of the 1/2 mile-spaced grid. Everybody in that area would have to walk a ways or transfer to reach downtown.

    Also, there’s a worry that Line 52 may not have the frequency or capacity to take the former Line 47 and 48 passengers.

    Lastly, one idea I have is to extend the Line 47 east down Baseline to Willow Creek.

  10. Amen to the Sellwood crosstown bus, this makes a lot of sense though there are the issues of SW’s lack of grid and low density. But there really should be a SW-SE connection.

    What is the story with the 40-Tacoma, is it coming back with the opening of the new Sellwood Bridge? This was the plan when it went away 8 or so years ago due to bridge weight issues but I am certainly not expecting it with the slashing of bus service. Eliminate the 43 and have the 40-Tacoma replace the 43’s Corbett/Virginia route and then as Zef said, the new crosstown would take over the 43’s route from Sellwood Bridge to Washington Square.

    While Johnson Creek could probably use a new bus, do you really think that is the best route to connect to SW? Seems like that area would only work for a downtown bus given its low density of mostly postwar residential where the only other bus service is either infrequent or major crosstowns. I would think that Sellwood Bridge line would make a lot of sense if it was the bus route running in the SE/NE 20s. Or maybe just take this Sellwood Bridge line to Milwaukie TC so it would be Milwaukie-Sellwood-South Johns Landing-BarburTC-WashingtonSquare?

    A route in the SE/NE 20s would cross many of the vibrant eastside commercial shopping streets. Bikes and buses can easily share 28th and afterall the 19 until only a few years ago ran on 28th through the commercial district.

    Can the 71 please be broken in two? Its crazy to be catching a bus northbound on 60th with a destination of Lents or northbound on 122nd to Clackamas Town Center. Break it at Parkrose.

    I absolutely think N. Williams/N.Vancouver needs to keep its bus service, the 4 & 6 alone is not adequate when they are many blocks over.

  11. In the “rail or bus” conversation one often hears that “bus lines can be moved, rail lines can’t.” That is theoretically true, but not so easy in the real world. People with bus lines hate to lose them; those without are louth to have the “loud, smelly bus running up their street with those bus riders!”
    About a dozen years ago I was underemployed and volunteered once a week at Food Front. I got to wondering why the 17 turned at 23rd and went to Vaughn Street rather than augmenting the lousy 1/2 service of the 15 on Thurman passed the busy store. TriMet listened and re-routed the 17 to 25th, and boy, did the owners of the new condos along Thurman holler and drown out us timid souls who maybe rode that bus. Likewise there was quite an uproar on Northrup when TriMet looked to move the 77 westbound there when Streetcar opened. And that stretch had once had the 15 and was an historic streetcar route. Its just not easy to move a bus line. I’m always amazed at how easily we did it in ’91 when we moved the 77 to Montgomery Park and kept the 15 on 23rd…unreal!
    The most recent rationalization (or reduction) in bus service mostly rearranges routes, with very few cases of new service or discontinued service.
    My guess is 1982 was not much different, except the economy was in even worse shape as Oregon struggled with a deeper and longer recession.

  12. ” People with bus lines hate to lose them; those without are louth to have the “loud, smelly bus running up their street with those bus riders!””

    Possibly a good reason for electric or even hydrogen buses. As I have posted they are on the way, and apparently China is making them and Scotland the latter. We’ll keep posted. And I think there are ways to make buses more palatable.

    For example, if something like the new, futuristic London Routemasters were running on an express route at 60 mph, I think they would be a hit.

    We just need the right PR approach. After all, people are impressionable : )

    And frankly I’m surprised that gearheads like you don’t take up the challenge. I’m more of the nailbanger type (and collector of fine antiques :).

  13. @Lenny Anderson: I’m surprised that you overlooked this change as part of the new service cuts, given your familiarity with the NW, but there is now no longer direct service from NW to the Transit Mall spine.

    Also, I used to live on Northrup just west of 23rd and it is hard to imagine buses traveling there as it is a narrow residential street. I did find the four-block gap between the 23rd/25th couplet to be non-intuitive, to say the least.

    I second the call to maintain the 44 on Williams/Vancouver to St. Johns via U-Portland. That is a much more useful route for getting Downtown from St. Johns and U-P than the circuitous 35 bus or the slow 4 and 75 (+ transfer) buses. Williams is also a vibrant and burgeoning retail district with many new apartment/condos going in, many without parking who figure to be occupied by frequent transit users. This captive audience must be served directly.

    I would also love a NE/SE 20th-28th Avenue bus line to narrow the gap in north-south service between the 70 and 75 routes. I also always wonder why there is such a huge gap in service between 11th and 42nd on the Banfield MAX. A new infill 28th Avenue station would be wonderful to connect to this new bus line and is roughly equidistant from the existing stations.

    And how about a new crosstown line using the Fremont Bridge? I always thought there should be more trans-river service west of the Broadway Bridge. It is difficult at best to get anywhere in N/NE Portland from NW unless you are going somewhere along Broadway-Halsey (via the 77). This line could start at Jeld-Wen or Goose Hollow MAX, traveling along 23rd Ave, to I-405 via the Vaughn Street ramp, to the Kerby Avenue exit near Legacy Emanuel, and then travel east along Prescott or Fremont Streets (perhaps tie it with the 24) to serve destinations in close-in N/NE Portland all the way to Parkrose MAX station. I am hoping that the realization of the Conway development may force TriMet to rethink service in NW neighborhood.

  14. As I noted the 15 used to run up Northrup between NW 23rd and 25th as that was the old streetcar route. Note the appartment buildings in that stretch. When I was Chair of NWDA Transportation, we directed TriMet to keep the 15 on 23rd to Thurman where it splits, and shift the 77 from its old terminus at 23rd and Burnside to Montgomery Park to fill the gap on NW 25th. Those stops on 25th are now no longer served.
    What’s interesting is that the only new city transit lines of late are Streetcar lines, and they are paid for in part by businesses along the alignment via LIDs. Would businesses support a crosstown bus line along a 20th/28th Avenue alignment on the eastside with LIDs? Maybe they would step up for a Streetcar line. And yes it would need to connect to a new MAX station somewhere around 28th. But do we want to add more stations to that system that is already overburdened with stops?
    Last, I’ve had a hand in starting three bus lines, the 85 Swan Island, the C-Tran 191 Swan Island and the Swan Island Evening Shuttle. We lost the 191 after a few years, but it had decent ridership.

  15. As a current 8 rider to downtown, I’d be willing to transfer if the line still connected with MAX at Lloyd Center. And I’d be delighted to have a connection to SE. I haven’t been down there much since being unable to ride longer distances.

    I think the people who ride to Marquam Hill would feel differently, though. The 44 proposal is an interesting alternate!

  16. Thanks for the inclusion of the 148th Ave N/S evaluation and comments. I would have direct access to a new route here at the South end. People not in this part of town do not know about some of the major draws that should added to the conversation near 148th and Powell. There is retail and banking at 148th and Division. That includes my favorite Mexican restaurant that is close to authentic as I remember it in PV back in 1995. Nice owners! There are many religious assets and suppport near this area (Lutheran, Catholic, Bapist, two Buddist temples, and smaller faith communities. Our church has a food bank three times every month. Others are doing their own things for the community. There is a Human Solutions office. There has a out-reach by our church about what the community needs and a community center was mentioned multiple time (youth, language, job and life training for examples). Our church has some of the most active AA, NA, and Grey Meeting groups in PDX. People to these meetings come from all of SE and NE PDX. We do need better N/S transit access. I would.agree that the South terminus should be on 136th. I would suggest Foster Blvd though (good connection with the Holgate line, Springwater Trail connection, second trailhead access to the Powell Butte Nature Park, connection with the assumed Foster busline). There is many more multi-family units in this part of PDX. And the zoning is encouraging more and higher density. Tri-Met is way behind in its support of the Midway and Powellhurst neighborhoods. ODOT, CoP, Metro are also not concerned. Even the users on this site are saying that SE should not have light-rail on Powell. Just another example of no investing in Outer SE PDX. On this subject which is off topic is that 20 years from now light-rail should be on Powell out to Gresham just to meet the demand. Division should be for trucks, buses, cars, etc. and Powell become more of a regional HCT corridor for MAX and human transit. The Outer SE Powell Concept Plan talks about this. I do not think this site has even brought up this plan and what it means for East PDX (FYI, big policy changes in the document for this asset). But it all is just words on paper. It would great to see a 148th bus line.


  17. I think the 44 starring on the easy side would work really well. Connecting from Williams to Broadway is presently quite a long trip without a bike

  18. Why do we have hundreds if not thousands of acres of subdivisions developed north of Barnes Rd. on the west side, yet almost zero bus coverage in that area?

    It is damn near impossible for anyone in those thousands of residences to even try to use transit effectively – even peak service is terrible. 15 to 20 minute drives take 75 minutes at best via transit. Off-peak there simply isn’t any transit at all.

    With all the large hills biking wont work for most people either so bus is really it if we want to get people out of their cars at all…

  19. John, the reason bus service is sparse in that area is very simple: very low residential density. No matter how many buses run through low-density subdivisions, they are guaranteed to be virtually empty, since density is the number one factor driving ridership (some studies show that residential and employment density account for over 90% of the variation in ridership, dwarfing demographic factors). Paying a driver a lot of money to drive large, empty buses through sprawling subdivisions is basically the least efficient way to provide service.

    The way a lot of agencies would serve an area like that, if at all, would be run some kind of demand-responsive service, using small shuttles contracted out to a private operator with lower labor costs. That is not possible under the current labor contract, so the Cedar Mill route (Line 50) is really the only viable option to provide basic coverage service.

  20. Ray, thank you for your insight into the issue of a 148th bus line. There are indeed many good destinations along the line, decent housing and employment density, and it would intersect with many other east-west lines. I agree that it would ideally go down to Foster and over to Lents, and perhaps could merge with the 10 or another line heading west.

    Regarding high-capacity transit, are you familiar with the proposal for Powell-Division Bus Rapid Transit? I’m doubtful we would ever see light rail on Powell due to the high cost and lack of right-of-way. It would be difficult to do an Interstate-style treatment on a major road with no parallel freeways to absorb the demand. Bus Rapid Transit would be somewhat more compromised, but still an improvement over the status quo. Most proposals call for a line running on Powell in inner SE, then cutting up to Division around 92nd, then staying on Division all the way to Gresham. This may seem strange, but the idea is that outer Division has more density and more destinations. I would imagine this line would replace the 9, and the 4 would change to become the mirror image, running on outer Powell and inner Division.

  21. “John, the reason bus service is sparse in that area is very simple: very low residential density”

    Right. Because 154, 32, 34, and the outer end of 33, 99, 30, 84, the outer ends of 94 & 96, and some others are all super high density.

    I understand that it is lower density – although there are a lot of incredibly dense townhome and apartment complexes going in all over up there too – but it simply doesn’t have any service *at all* covering most of it.

    You can’t say don’t put in a line because no one will ride it – because no one rides lines that don’t exist. We have to give people the option and the time to get used to using the bus in the first place…

    A bus could easily run over Cornell (giving another option in congested traffic too…)

    Bus 50 needs to be expanded to both cover more territory, run in both directions, and run more than just peak hours.

    There are areas in there along Miller where there are townhomes packed in so tight there is literally no room to park anything larger than a Scion iQ. There are apartment complexes with hundreds of units each all throughout that area. There are churches and schools. The population density there has exploded in the past 10 years. It is now at least as dense as the area around Scholls Ferry & Murray.

    It is a transit wasteland up there.

    I know it can’t have a “grid” because all the roads are stupid and everywhere is a “no-outlet” dead end. I think the “no-outlet” sign makers had a strong lobby in the planning process. :)

    There should at least be busses on Miller and Cornell, and there should at least be service more than just rush hour…

  22. Well, you clearly have more experience with the area and it’s changing level of density, so perhaps you’re right that it might deserve a re-evaluation. I agree that the current service is not ideal, but the street network is a challenge.

    Maybe the 48 could continue on Cornell all the way to downtown, while the 47 would still connect with MAX at Sunset Transit Center. That might work, since the travel times would not be that different. In the process, I would eliminate the 18, since this new 48 would duplicate about half of it on Westover. The rest could be dropped (the 18 is one of the lowest-ridership lines in the system).

    Miller road is trickier. The 50 could be extended to go along Miller, but at the cost of losing part of its current coverage. The ideal thing would be to have a long east-west line along West Union, Thompson, and Miller, with the 50 acting as a north-south line. Doing this would require a lot of money for a line that (even with increasing density) will probably never be a high-performer compared to other lines in the system.

    This is all an interesting thought experiment, but I still think what an area like that could use is something like DART in Seattle. DART (dial a ride transit) is a type of service that runs on a fixed route (like the 50), but uses small vehicles and can deviate a limited amount to get closer to people’s homes. Like you say, the dead ends and winding roads act as a barrier to using transit, so the transit should be able to get closer to them. People have to call ahead of time to request a deviation, and the service still only runs about once an hour. Like I said before, though, the current contract does not allow such service to be contracted out to a private operator, and without that there is no cost saving from such a system and it won’t happen. Basically, the cost of setting up a dispatch system is very high…meanwhile there are private operators that already have such systems in place.

  23. “Why do we have hundreds if not thousands of acres of subdivisions developed north of Barnes Rd. on the west side, yet almost zero bus coverage in that area?”
    The Westside Trail should help some of this, connecting people to the Westside MAX line. Once that happens the determination of appropriate routing in that area would probably change. And, hopefully, then it would be based upon what returns a better profit to Tri Met

  24. al m says: “What do “real” people think about all this.”

    Lots of “nice” comments there, Al m. About half of them use the f word or variants. Is this the sort of people that are now being encouraged and sought after to live here? Included is this one from the supposed man of the people mayoral candidate (which I have censored) who wanted to determine how the people’s affairs would be conducted: (Just remember Tri Met is subject to the people’s control.)

    Cameron Johnson ?@CamOfPortland
    @portortraffic @trimet worthless m—–f—–s at TriMet sitting around and f—ing up their riders’ lives and not even caring. F— them.

    Portland—–where intelligent comments are censored and rubbish flies!

  25. I don’t have a problem with the current fare raises. Now for a crisp $5 bill you can get anywhere you want all day. I will be pissed if they raise it again next year. Round numbers speed up fare collection. Losing the ability to buy books of trimet tickets at vending machines is quite annoying, however

  26. I probably deserved that, haha. :-P *guilty*

    I totally want to ramble on this article when I get near a computer but I fear by then I’ll be out of fashion.

  27. “Possibly a good reason for electric or even hydrogen buses.”

    – Hydrogen buses are a joke. Hydrogen is not naturally occurring and is usually manufactured from fossil fuels. The alternative manufacturing process is to make it using electricity… so why not use electric buses.
    – Electric buses already exist; Seattle and San Francisco have quite a lot of them. People complain about the overhead wires (sigh, people will complain about anything!).
    – Battery buses are still quite expensive and although they’ll be a lot cheaper in 10 years, be assured that it will not affect, one bit, the NIMBY attitudes of NIMBYs.

  28. Nathanael,

    Depends on what you mean by naturally occurring. Hydrogen is the most abundant element, but doesn’t occur in H2 form. The advantage of hydrogen-powered vehicles over electric busses is hydrogen fuel cells have a higher energy density than batteries, and its combustion process produces water as the main byproduct, rather than greenhouse gasses.

    The problems with hydrogen as a fuel is a) no infrasrtucture, b) it’s a gas rather than a liquid at normal temperatures and pressures, and a bit dangerous to handle, and c) lower energy density than other fuels.

    See and

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