Archive | August, 2005

Moving Freight

There is a lot of hand-wringing going on in some quarters of the business and transportation policy communities about the “freight problem.” How do we keep trucks moving on what appear to be congested roadways. Curiously, until recently there was only scattered data on this issue; the I-5 Task Force – aka “Trade Partnership” – made its recommendations based on virtually no freight data other than Port assertions that the volumes will grow.

The Portland Freight Master Plan has begun to pull data together from PDOT, the Port and ODOT. Some of that data shows that traffic volumes on two key industrial area arterials, Columbia Blvd. and Going Street, have actually declined in the last five years! Furthermore, 20 year projections show most of the growth in freight movement will occur in industrial/employment areas adjacent to the Willamette & Columbia Rivers, and the existing arterials there will handle that growth (see Technical Memo #4 PDF 4.6MB). Freight delays are likely on NW St. Helens road and SE McLoughlin, but those delays have more to do with commuters than with trucks. So maybe we can relax a bit when it comes to freight movement on the arterial front.

How about the regional freeway network?

One piece of data that was presented to the I-5 Task Force several years ago showed that only about 10% of the vehicles on I-5 in the peak hours are moving freight. Most of our congestion at those times is due to people driving to work, and most of them are alone in the their vehicles. Offering those commuters options to driving alone to work would appear to be the most cost effective means to increase the % of vehicles carrying freight in the peak hours.

Other interesting numbers to consider: 50% of congestion is incident related, which suggests that we can do a lot better in managing incidents. And last it should be noted that the peak hours (approx. two hours in the AM and three in the PM) represent just over 10% of the total operational time of any freeway. Put another way, for 90% of the time even our most congested freeway works pretty well. Efficiencies over 90% cost a lot of money!

The focus for those of us seeking to improve the movement of freight needs to be increasing the efficiency of existing roadway capacity – something any business would do. Give folks stuck on I-5 an option and many will happily take it. So watch out for “freight” projects that add capacity – they may only make matters worse for that vital sector of the transportation picture – everyone knows that most capacity increases will be overwhelmed by commuters – most of them alone in their cars – swearing at the trucks.

Because, when it comes to the subject of freight and how it gets around, It isn’t so much that the public isn’t conscious of a “freight problem,”… it just thinks trucks ARE the problem.

Washington County Commuter Rail Back on Track

US Senator Gordon Smith today met with Washington County officials announcing he has secured a commitment from US Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta to allow the Washington County Commuter Rail project to move forward. The event was held at TriMet’s Beaverton Transit Center, the first station along the 14.7-mile Washington County Commuter Rail project.

In February the project was recommended in the President’s budget, but has since been stalled due to an 11th hour rule change by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) adjusting their cost effectiveness calculation, bumping the project out of range to get a recommended rating and a Full Funding Grant Agreement.

Senator Smith led the Oregon Delegation in securing a legislative fix to the FTA’s new rules and allow the project to move into construction. He also worked with the delegation in getting language in the Transportation Reauthorization bill that just passed Congress that would also remove the FTA roadblock.

Additionally, Senator Smith has secured $15 million for the project in the Senate Appropriations bill, and will work with the rest of the delegation to ensure the $15 million remains in the final appropriations bill expected to pass Congress in October.

“Senator Smith’s leadership and commitment means that in this heavily-congested corridor we will soon have an alternative mode of transportation,” said TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen. “He led the Oregon delegation in making sure this project will serve the cities of Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville.”

Washington County Chair Tom Brian said that local officials “have been advocating for this project for nearly a decade because it will improve mobility and will help strengthen the economic vitality of the cities along the alignment.”

Other local dignitaries attended today’s event to thank Senator Smith for his efforts, including Metro President David Bragdon, Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake, Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan, Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, Tigard City Councilor Sydney Sherwood and Tualatin City Councilor Jay Harris.

The project is now in final design, with 75 percent of the work complete. The design work will now begin again and should be completed by the end of year. The project is expected to sign a Full Funding Grant Agreement in mid-2006 and begin construction shortly thereafter. The commuter rail project could open in fall 2008.


The 14.7-mile commuter rail line would use existing freight tracks to add transit service in the heavily traveled I-5 and Hwy 217 corridor. The line would connect with MAX light rail in Beaverton, then travel to Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville. Travel time between the five stations would take 37 minutes, with service every 30 minutes during rush hour.

The “Portland Bicycle”

One of the pieces of news this week from the Federal Transportation Bill was funding to prototype local manufacture of streetcars, so that we might have a true “Portland Streetcar”.

Well, Portland Transport doesn’t have $4M for a project, but we do have a very creative audience. On several threads it has been remarked that bicycles on the market in the U.S. are optimized for racing or the open road, not for commuting. So today’s question is could we specify, design and manufacture a “Portland Bicycle” for the commuting market that would have a strong local market AND be an export product for our region?

I’m told we have local bike frame manufacturing (and certainly an active metals industry), so I don’t see any inherent obstacles.

Let’s start out with the specifications. I know several of the cycloscenti in Portland ride bikes from the Trek Lxxx series, manufactured in Europe as commuting bikes and imported on a limited basis to the U.S. But when I priced one, it was in the $700+ range, way beyond the means of the masses.

So what do we want in a commuting bike for our region? I’ll start with two requirements:

1) Usable in street clothes, which means fenders and a chain guard.

2) Fits the standard rack on a TriMet bus (why my recumbent is very dusty).

So what else does the “Portland Bike” require? Weight? Price point? Gearing? Lights? Bells? Whistles? What else?

Contributor Rick Browning is on his way to Japan on a research project (more on this later this week), so we’re charging him with bringing back ideas from the east!

We’re Not Alone!

Speaking of bikes…

When we launched this site, we were under the impression that we were starting the first transportation-related blog in the region.

But we find that someone got there first, at least for one mode.

Jonathan Maus has been running Bike Portland for a while now, moving it from Oregon Live to its own standalone site in April!