Archive | July, 2005

4-4-2 Columbia Crossing

Columbia River Crossing … a tunnel, a “Burnside Bridge” with MAX, and a freight arterial with added passenger rail capacity … Let’s call it the “4-4-2.”

Deliberations have begun on different options for a Columbia River Crossing. A tunnel under the Columbia River (including Oregon Slough/Portland Harbor) may offer a simple – even elegant, data based and cost effective solution to this transportation challenge – separating through trips from local ones. Then the fun begins…

The I-5 Task Force recommended 10 total lanes – freeway/auxiliary/arterial – and a pair of lightrail tracks between Oregon and Washington; data shows that at least 1/3, if not more, of all trips across the existing Interstate Bridges are of local origin with local destinations. “4-4-2” addresses the growing demand for local access across the Columbia River by creating a variety of options for those trips:

  • Four (4) through freeway lanes in a tunnel, going to six (6) lanes at Columbia Blvd. in Portland and Mill Plain Blvd. in Vancouver. (Columbia and Mill Plain are key E/W freight arterials)
  • Four (4) arterial lanes for local traffic on existing twin Interstate Bridges with dedicated light rail alignment in what are now the inside lanes.
  • Two (2) new arterial lanes designed for freight on upgraded railroad bridge – new lift and possible 3rd track for passenger rail.
  • Boulevard type arterial with traffic signals and/or circles for traffic distribution replaces existing freeway between River and Mill Plain; redevelop old freeway right-of-way between downtown Vancouver and Historic Reserve.
  • Boulevard type arterial with traffic signals and/or circles for traffic distribution replaces existing freeway from River to Denver Avenue/MLK and Marine Dr; redevelop vacated right-of-way and adjacent property between Columbia and bridgehead.
  • Upgrade & widen sidewalks on Interstate Bridges; add bike bridge in space between bridges supported by existing structures.

The Tunnel option simplifies construction logistics, has fewer impacts on river traffic, water quality, fish or air traffic. The conversion of the existing Interstate Bridges, retains historic structures, re-using them in new ways to accommodate local vehicle and transit trips. Removal/conversion of existing freeway segments captures valuable land adjacent to transit, arterials and the River for re-development…commercial, industrial or residental/retail.

The original Interstate Bridge, built in 1917, had four traffic lanes with streetcar tracks – you could take the Union Avenue streetcar to downtown Vancouver! With the construction of I-5 through North Portland and across the River, a second bridge was built and together the twin bridges became I-5 – the arterial and transit connections were lost!

“4-4-2” restores the arterial/rail connectivity between Portland and Vancouver.

The Cost of Parking

Transportation advocates have long known that free parking has a high cost: it encourages drive-alone trips, ties up valuable land in acres of impermeable, pedestrian-unfriendly parking lots, and creates business districts lacking in “life on the street.” This fantastic article takes a closer look at the high price of free parking in our cities, including Portland:

The central city districts that have done really well in recent years aren’t the ones that have provided the most parking; they’re the ones that have provided the least. Portland, Oregon, instead of expanding its downtown parking capacity, has spent the past 30 years restricting it. There was less parking per capita in downtown Portland in the 1990s than there was in the 1970s. And Portland, as any visitor notices at once, has one of the most successful downtowns in America.

It’s not hard to do the math and figure out that if every person in your office block drives their own car to work, it’s going to eat up a LOT of land to store their empty cars during the day. Some cities now devote more land to parking in downtown than to all other uses combined! Parking reduction is one of the best tools we have to get people out of their cars, benefiting the environment, public safety, and local businesses, not to mention freeing up land for development.
As the author quotes,

automobile dependency resembles addiction to smoking, and free parking is like free cigarettes…it will take decades for cities to recover from the damage.

Transportation on the Cheap

A common criticism of Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is that it drives up housing costs. While I believe there is ample evidence that housing costs have risen even more dramatically in many sprawling regions, a new report offers evidence that Portland’s compact urban form generates an economic benefit in reduced transportation costs.

Driven to Spend: Pumping Dollars out of Our Households and Communities, released this month by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Surface Transportation Policy Project, puts Portland at position 27 on the list of the country’s 28 major Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) for cost of transportation (Baltimore edged us out for the lowest cost). The national average is 19.1% of household expenditures spent on transportation, while here in Portland we come in at 15.1%. Houston is most expensive at 20.9%.

On the housing side of the ledger, the Portland MSA spends 34.5% of household expenditures (12 MSAs are more expensive), against a national average of 32.9%. Looking at housing and transportation combined, we are the fourth most affordable, at 49.6% of household expenditures (national average, 52.0%).

Among the key findings of the report: “Households in regions that have invested in public transportation reap financial benefits from having affordable transportation options, even as gasoline prices rise.”

I’ll cringe a little bit less as I pay my Trimet fare come September.