December 31, 2012
Happy New Year, everybody!
This is the first Open Thread of '13, in which you can post on any (transport-related) topic you like, and where Al can record each and every January MAX outage for posterity. :) Even though I'm typing this on the eve of the 31st, I will refer to incoming officials who take office in the new year without the "-elect" qualifier, as they will be sworn into their posts by the time you likely read this.
A few items:
- TriMet is, once again, free on New Year's Eve.
- Local elected officials start their new jobs with the new year, and fellows like Sam Adams and Randy Leonard, long prominent names in area politics, return to private life. Portland mayor Charlie Hales has already asked for his first major resignation.
- Another incoming politician, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, has penned an oped for the Willamette Week urging tolling of I-205, and cautioning Oregon lawmakers and transportation officials to make sure they don't get caught holding the bag. And Hart Noecker takes on what he calls the "build, baby, build" Democrats in Salem, who seem to be the project's biggest champions.
- A bit more on Stacey's new gig.
- One service that will suffer as a result of budget games in Washington is Amtrak Cascades, which will lose federal operational funding (currently 23% of its budget).
- In a story that we missed while Christmas shopping (but was alluded to in the prior OT), Clark County is still looking for a way to pay for LRT across the Columbia.
And if you haven't used them or turned them in already, your non-foil and/or 1-2 zone TriMet tickets will make excellent New Year's confetti. (Just pick up the trash afterwards...)
Both Willamette Week and the Oregonian are reporting that Mayor-elect (for a few more hours) Hales has asked Tom Miller for his resignation as PBOT director, effective with budget submissions in early February.
PBOT's own Denver Igarta recently had the opportunity to visit four European cities on a German Marshall fund fellowship to look at how their street networks function.
His take-away? Start by designing local streets as places to be, not to move through. Check out his report (PDF, 2.4M) to learn what makes a great street for 'sojourning'.
December 27, 2012
This morning's Portland Tribune has an article about our Transit Appliance project.
It features the unit at the Streetcar Bistro & Taproom!
I've accepted the Mayor's request to assist with the startup of the NW TMA to manage parking in my neighborhood.
It was just about 10 years ago that I unsuccessfully tried to reach an agreement between my neighborhood association and the business association on a parking plan. So why would I put myself back into the fray? A few reasons:
- Hopefully I'm 10 years smarter...
- As a 'resident at large' I have a responsibility to look out for resident interests, but I am not a representative of any particular organization, which gives me a little more latitude on positions I take.
- As I get to grapple with parking issues around the City as part of my duties on the Planning and Sustainability Commission, I'll have a little more credibility if we've managed to make progress with parking management in the neighborhood that has historically been most challenged.
If any of you would like to tilt at this windmill with me, there are a number of positions on the TMA governing body yet to be filled, and the City is taking applications (PDF). I'd like to believe we can make this work!
December 20, 2012
I've been pleasantly surprised by how relatively easy it was to get our Transit Appliance software stack running on the Raspberry Pi.
I'm using the Raspian OS (a variant of Debian) and the Midori web browser (webkit based).
I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, since the ARM11-family processor and 512MB of RAM are substantially beefier than the Infocast/Chumby 8 that we've been running on successfully for some time.
I still need to acquire a compatible WiFi adapter and see how that does. But one true surprise is how nicely the single-board computer drives a display at 1080p (1920x1080) resolution. The Linux nettop we've been using for our flat screens tops out at 720p (1366x768)!
It will take more investigation to determine if we can really build some practical configurations around this. If so we'll need a case and power supply, so the unit costs will be more than the $35 for the processor board, but could easily stay under $100...
December 18, 2012
Each year, I like to call out one outstanding presentation from the Traffic and Transportation Class.
This year I have to plead to some bias since I've been aware of this effort for some time. But it's also not every project that's already been submitted by the City to ODOT for funding.
There are also a LOT of people who have been involved in this effort, in both government and in the community, and the credit is clearly shared.
But presenter Betsy Reese has been watching the very dangerous intersection at Broadway/Flint/Wheeler for over a decade from her vantage point at the Paramount Apartments which she and her husband own. She's been letting the City know how dangerous this location is on an ongoing basis.
PBOT attempted one fix a few years ago, creating a sidewalk peninsula in front of her building - it didn't help. The bicycle right-hook risk continued, as did the parade of cars making unsafe cut-across movements to make the U-turn back to Broadway.
As the NE Quadrant project finally gave some direction to what will happen in the long term, PBOT (and the Mayor) acted and removed the right turn opportunity onto Wheeler.
But this doesn't fix all the issues at the intersection and Betsy and her allies continue to advocate for stronger treatments, including signalization. Betsy's class presentation (PDF, 10M) outlines all the issues, and the effort got a major boost mid-way through this semester's class when PBOT submitted the project for an ODOT grant.
We'll continue to track this and let you know when it's time to send those letters and e-mails to ODOT to support the project during final selection later in 2013!
December 17, 2012
Metro has a new on-line planning tool up for the Southwest Corridor project.
It lets you choose where you think the station areas should be for High Capacity Transit (but you only get to pick five!) and also gets your input on modal and community investments.
Check it out, it's called "Shape Southwest".
December 16, 2012
Here at Portland Transport, we're getting ready to take the plunge... to Wordpress, that is.
In 2005 when we founded this blog, the state of the art in blog software was Movable Type. And it's served us well for 3,200 posts, 48,000 comments and more than a million visits. But it's getting a bit long in the tooth. You may have noticed some server errors and double posts from time-to-time when making comments.
So we're going to switch! Sometime early in 2013 we'll take a few days of downtime, move everything over and take advantage of a platform that has literally thousands of features and plugins.
This will not be a small effort. As part of the process we'll be getting some professional help with a new theme, and probably also with database work.
In fact, if we have any web designers reading out there, we're soliciting proposals for the theme development project. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And the quality of work we're looking for won't be free. Which is why this message includes our annual year-end solicitation. Please think about hitting the donate button and sharing a few dollars to keep this enterprise going. Many hands make for light work!
Thank you and have a great holiday season. And expect to see good stuff in the new year!
December 11, 2012
Every fall I look forward to participating in the panel discussion during the Traffic and Transportation Class presentations of student projects (even more so this year because I had to miss last year due to a conflict).
Each year the standard gets higher and higher, and this year is no exception! Later in the week I'll feature one standout presentation. But here are some of the great efforts this year:
- Tara Gallagher, Sonia Stolfo and Randy Ward look at ways to make Waterfront Park safer and more comfortable for everyone (PDF, 1.8M).
- Rachel Hill looks at bicycle-oriented development opportunities on inner NE Broadway (PDF, 4.6M).
- Jeremy Grotbo looks at active transportation access challenges in the knotty transportation network of South Portland (PDF, 3.6M).
- Noel Mickelberry looks at issues and opportunities on some of the streets that could be part of a "20's bikeway" (PDF, 1.2M).
December 10, 2012
WWeek has two blogs posts on the Columbia River Crossing today:
- A conservative group in Washington is calling for an audit
- The project staff is now aiming for a 115 ft bridge, but the Coast Guard hasn't signed on
The drama continues...
December 9, 2012
A new Oregonian editorial supports the Mayor's NW Parking Plan resolution (as I do), but then gets the facts completely confused:
The plan calls for up to 650 new off-site parking spaces, and Adams said agreements have been reached for the first 200. Businesses want more, and particularly covet a parking garage. A garage might not be realistic, but the city should consider allowing more spaces. Though outside the city's control, better park-and-ride options along TriMet bus and light-rail routes also would help.
Where to start...
The plan calls for up to 650 new off-site parking spaces...
The plan does not call for 650 new off-site (I assume they meant off-street) parking spaces. That was a feature of the 2003 ordinance (finally re-adopted in 2009 after a remand from LUBA) that allows for six sites to have parking structures, up to a limit of 650 spaces. This is not new, and not part of this plan. The private sector has had this ability for several years, but has yet to produce a structure.
agreements have been reached for the first 200...
These are not new parking spaces, these are shared-use agreements for existing spaces (for example, allowing overnight resident parking in parking lots used by medical offices during the day). This is also a feature of the 2003 plan that made sense then and continues to make sense now. Every existing space should be used as productively as possible (subject to some limits on things that might cause nuisances to neighbors, for example noise and light in the middle of the night).
The 200 hundred shared-use spaces have nothing to do with the limit of 650 additional structured spaces.
Though outside the city's control, better park-and-ride options along TriMet bus and light-rail routes also would help.
Actually the city does have some control, both city and TriMet policy do not support park-and-ride facilities in inner neighborhoods, for very sound reasons.
Is one allowed to hope the editorial board might actually try to understand a City plan before editorializing about it?
My personal view is that off-street structures are unlikely to be developed because the economics will not support them. But I'm certain that because any off-street parking structures will need to be paid parking, none will ever be built while on-street parking remains free. We have ample demonstrations that drivers will go a long way to find free on-street parking in this neighborhood while existing paid lots remain only sparsely used.
December 7, 2012
In zoning, we talk about "parking ratios", how many parking spaces you're required to build as a multiple of the number of residential units in a multi-family building.
Portland's ratios can be as low as zero if you're near a frequent transit line. But a recent review by Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff (PDF) computed that since 2006, on average, we're building about 0.6 parking spaces per residential unit (outside of the Central City).
An interesting situation is developing in downtown Brooklyn, where the required parking ratio is 0.4 spaces per unit - but only 22% of households own cars.
"The issue, officials say, lies with the large garages that the developers of new residential buildings have been required by zoning rules to construct. But with 13 subway lines and 15 bus routes in the area, many new residents choose to leave their cars behind, meaning the garages sit half-empty and take up precious space."
The city is considering dropping the ratio to 0.2. Apparently, you CAN have too much parking...
Note: My phrasing above apparently confused some folks. Brooklyn, not Portland, is considering changing the ratio to 0.2.
December 5, 2012
Listen to the show (mp3, 23.9MB)
The Bike Show gets high-tech retro with a flashback to materials of the past that are making a splash now. In this episode we talk about wood and wool as the re-imagined, super hot, high tech materials of the future with Adam George, creator and fabricator of Bound Bikes (a bamboo bicycle and trailer maker), Chris DiStefano, the Communications Director for Rapha Performance Roadwear North America and Emily McKissock, Account Manager for Icbreaker Merino. Later in the show we get a re-cap from the world of BikeCraft-- Portland's annual hand-made bicycle accessory wonderland.
Here's a fun little brain teaser: Where have you seen this lane configuration:
While you pontificate that, allow me to regale you with a metaphorical vacation slideshow. Two summers ago, I was in Delft, NL as part of a PSU engineering class studying Dutch transportation infrastructure. An assignment offered a list of various pieces of bike infrastructure and asked that we ride around until we find and document an example or two of each. Most facilities were easy enough to track down. As one would expect in the Netherlands, bike facilities from the basic to the exotic were all commonplace, but one item on our checklist was conspicuously hard to locate: a bike box. Eventually, we did manage to find one lonely installation on a tiny side street downtown:
It is worth observing and thinking about this bike box for a moment, given that it's the only instance of that treatment in a sophisticated university city of 100,000 in the unassailable cycling capitol of the world. Why is this the only sight where the treatment was utilized, and why was it the treatment chosen for this location?
One feature that immediately jumps out is that it's on a narrow, brick street. This means that traffic is naturally calmed--cars are limited by the physical characteristics of the street to about the same speed that bikes go (It also invites a chance to demonstrate your city's commitment to bike infrastructure by setting the edges of the bike facility in brick!). Also, note the share of the street's width allocated to bikes versus that allocated to cars. The wide bike lane is indicative of the fact that there are easily as many bikes that use this street as cars. And the street has fairly low traffic volumes in general; this makes it easy for both drivers and cyclists to stay aware of other traffic on the street with them. The cross street is much busier, so most of the time folks have to stop at the signal.
Look carefully at the lane configuration here. Bikes can turn in either direction, although most turn left toward the nearby train station. (Before the construction began, the bikeway to the train station was straight ahead; that configuration can be seen in Google Maps). Cars must turn right. Approaching an intersection on a bike, it's reassuring to know that a car is turning right, whether or not it signals, and whether or not it brakes hard into the turn.
Compare this to a bike box in Portland that has come to typify many of the problems with the treatment. The photo above shows SW Madison Street approaching SW Third Avenue. It is a primary route to the Hawthorne Bridge for both cars and bikes. It carries more cars than bikes, but enough bikes to warrant much more than the tiny sliver of road they've been allotted (an in which they're legally compelled to stay). Most cars go straight, but some turn and not all that turn use signals. While traffic signal timing keeps the speeds reasonable, there's no natural, self-enforcing traffic calming on this road. Tangentially, there is no "No Turn on Red" sign displayed, though the design guidance is unambiguous in recommending (if not outright requiring) one.
Again, take note of the lane configuration. This one should look familiar--it's the lane configuration at the top of the post, except I drew the bike lane as a vehicular lane to fool you (did it work?). But I also wanted to make a point: you will never see this lane configuration used with two vehicular lanes due to the obvious conflicts inherent with adjacent through-right lanes. However, if you swap out the rightward vehicular lane for a bike lane, this is precisely the lane configuration that you see at countless intersections throughout Portland (and beyond).
This is the origin of the right-hook conflict. Complicating matters, the through movement gets the right of way, and in this case, through vehicles are coming from behind, often hard to see, moving at speeds that can be hard to judge, and particularly susceptible to injury in the event of a crash. That's why the bike box here isn't working: unless you arrive at the red phase, it doesn't really address any of these factors. And the signals are timed such that traffic arrives mostly on green.
Intersections like Madison and Third have given bike boxes a bad name, but they can be an effective treatment if we get choosier about where to install them. Above is a bike box on the SE Clinton Street bikeway approaching SE 39th Avenue. The similarities to the bike box in Delft are striking. It's a low-volume, traffic-calmed street, where almost all bikes go straight and all cars must turn. Roadway space is shared until a wide-ish bike lane splits off just before the intersection. Most traffic arrives on red. The bike box does well in this scenario, organizing the queues of bikes and cars as they arrive on red, imparting a natural order to the queue clearance when green arrives. It's a nice bit of infrastructure that's safe and comfortable to ride on. The same conditions exist and the same treatment is used just up 39th Avenue at SE Lincoln Street, but most of Portland's bike boxes have far more in common with the unsuccessful Madison Street installation than this successful one.
So a bike box can be a good solution if a specific set of circumstances are met. Used as a cookie-cutter solution to the right-hook conflict, however, bike boxes are the wrong thing used wrongly. So what might work better? A few experiments in the city are worth keeping an eye on. At Couch and Grand, the City is trying to tackle the visibility issue by using an unmissably obnoxious sign to tell drivers when a bike is approaching. More recently and perhaps more intriguingly, "mixing zones" are being utilized on the new bikeway on Multnomah, representing an entirely new (and in my view, more sound) approach to intersection treatments that addresses many of the issues that bike boxes don't. (What about adding the bike box treatment to the end of a traffic-calmed mixing zone?)
In the long term, we should envision physically separate bikeways with separate green phases at our major signalized intersections. In the interim, it's important to acknowledge that we have a uniquely Portlandian problem that will require a uniquely Portlandian solution. Our city's grid system and small block size serves us wonderfully in many ways, but it complicates installation of safe bikeways. A bikeway is only as good as its worst intersection and we've got a lot of intersections in Portland. Like too many pieces of our bike infrastructure, the efficacy of our intersection treatments have not kept pace with our ballooning ridership. Portland can and should be a leader among North American cities in designing and implementing a better solution to this problem.
December 3, 2012
Someone let the cat out of the bag that the Portland Bureau of Transportation is beginning to explore a street utility fee, local gas tax or other revenue sources to augment or replace declining state gas tax revenues.
All I can say is it's about time. The Portland Plan makes clear why this is an absolute necessity: our policies for shaping the future of Portland in a way that is healthier, more affordable, more resilient and more sustainable are pushing us to drive less - which in turn undermines our ability to maintain our transportation facilities, since the current revenue stream is based primarily on fuel taxes.
That alone would be enough reason to think about a different way to pay for our streets. But in addition the state gas tax is not indexed to inflation, and increasing fuel economy (another good thing!) further reduces the revenue.
Let's get on with it! Certainly it's going to be a challenging conversation with voters, but there's really no way around it.
December 2, 2012
Or is it just the beginning of the battle royale?
Mayor Adams is ready to take his version of a meters-and-permits plan for NW Portland to City Council on Thursday. The plan is supported by the neighborhood association and opposed by the business association.
I have lots of history with this, although none of it recent. In 2003 I was the point person for the neighborhood association, trying to find common ground with the business association. It fell apart and the business association walked away with zoning to allow construction of six parking structures in areas where they would not otherwise be allowed. There was no on-street management plan.
None of the structures has been built, although one developer has had a building permit for about five years.
I suspect that paid structured parking is simply not viable until parking on-street is priced (meters). Possibly this new plan could provide that push, but I doubt it. The economics of creating parking have only gotten worse in the last ten years, and driving is down. But we'll see.
For my part, I'm ready. The parking situation in NW can't begin to get better until there is an on-street management system. At this point I'd take almost any kind of system to get things started. The one being proposed; with meters on NW 21st, NW 23rd and the adjacent residential blocks (residents with permits are exempt from paying at the meters that are back in the residentially zoned areas) coupled with visitor time limits throughout the neighborhood; is not very different than the plan I worked on a decade ago. A TMA (Transportation Management Association) board with pretty broad representation will be in charge and can work on tweaking the details - and I'm sure there will be tweaks.
I doubt the Mayor would be bringing this to Council if he didn't have the votes - so I look forward to the next phase in NW Parking, whatever it brings - it's time to move on.