Archive | September, 2005

More from Japan: Should Standards be Standard?

[Editor’s note – contributor Rick Browning is currently in Japan studying urban streetcape issues, supported by a grant from the Architectural Foundation of Oregon.]

Konichi wa Portland Transport Gang!

Still in Japan. It has been more challenging than I thought trying to sketch, diagram, keep a journal, interview Japanese designers and planners and — do laundry. Sorry only one report so far. Will try to do better in my last week

Being here has brought up a question I have been asking myself for years more forcefully than ever – should standards be standard?

I first started asking myself this question in earnest when my firm was hired by the city of Forest Grove to do a bike/ped masterplan. During this project I distinctly remember a cyclist coming in and pleading for space, any amount of space – no matter how narrow, on the notoriously treacherous Hwy 47. “Please” he said, “just give us something, anything – two feet would make a huge difference, even a foot. I’ve measured the road, I know there is enough space to move the fog line over at least a foot.”

The response to this, from ODOT, not us, was of course – a two foot wide bike lane doesn’t meet standards, therefore you can have nothing. There might be money for restriping if it was for a conforming to standard shoulder bike lane, but restriping for an extra foot or two of width, which met no standard and thus – had no reason for existing, was out of the question. Cyclists would continue to ride with NO shoulder space because there was not enough room to provide an ideal width bike lane.

This is a bike example, but the additional width would have made walking on the highway that much easier as well. And there are plenty of stories about missing sidewalks that fit the same script.

Now fast forward to Rick in Japan, summer of 2005. What do I see here? Zillions of sidewalks two feet wide. Not to say I am not seeing grand boulevards and 40’ sidewalks – they have those too. But on the many roads where for whatever reason space is really constrained, they put in whatever they can. Sidewalks 2 to 3’ (less than a meter) wide, shared by bikes and pedestrians, are not uncommon.

Know what? They work great. Bikes use them, often dipping out onto the adjacent roadway for short stretches to get out of pedestrians’ way. Pedestrian stop and wait for each other, or for oncoming bikes. Adjacent commercial buildings often provide some small “give back” space – a paved voluntary setback that provides a brief interlude of wider space.

There are innumerable other examples on Japanese streets and transit stations about the power of not making standards standard. Train stations have what seem to be horrifyingly narrow bottlenecks where flights of stairs come down onto train platforms, forcing massive waves of foot traffic on to narrow little ledges adjacent to open tracks, but it works.

Do the designs work because people are innately polite and cooperative or are people polite and cooperative because the designs give them no other choice? Not sure, but based on my experiences here I am more than ever against the tyranny of standards. I believe they come in part from American “me-ism”. Every mode must be accommodated in ideal fashion for that mode. The hell with everyone else. The hell with the fact that there is innate efficiency in sharing rather than segregating.

In the kind of dense, multi-layered and multi-modal society we envision for Portland’s future – I don’t think this approach works. I don’t even think it works right now.

If Japan was stuck with American risk management lawyers and code standard enforcement I think it would cease to function as a society within 24 hours. That it succeeds so brilliantly as a dense, multi-modal society (and it really has to be studied in some depth as I have been doing, to appreciate the stratospheric level to which it does succeed), is an eloquent argument that standards should not be standard.

Another Perspective on Bridgeport Village

Readers of this site will recognize that we have not been hesitant to criticize the new Bridgeport Village “Lifestyle Center” (the new term for shopping mall) in Durham. Its lack of multi-modal connectivity and the fact that it is not located where the 2040 plan calls for a center to occur (along with supporting transportation infrastructure) have been called out in past posts.

But recently, we heard criticism from a direction we had not anticipated – the freight community. Attending a meeting of the Portland Freight Committee we heard frustration on two fronts:

1) Bridgeport Village is creating congestion on I-5 that slows movement of other goods and services (a criticism also applied to the Woodburn factory outlet stores).

2) It is poorly designed for delivery of goods to the mall itself, increasing costs.

Let’s hope local decision makers around the region can learn from this cautionary tale.

PSU Announces Fall Transportation Courses

Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies

We are pleased to announce our Fall 2005 course offerings, and particularly encourage students and working professionals to register for these courses related to transportation:

CE 407/507 SEMINAR: TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH AND PRACTICE (1 credit, F 12-13:30**)* – Weekly seminar series where students, faculty, practitioners, community members and invited visitors discuss a wide variety of subjects related to current transportation research, education, policy and community issues. For credit, students must either present a seminar or submit a paper summarizing one seminar topic area.
Go to:

CE 410/510 TRANSPORTATION SAFETY ANALYSIS (4 credits, MW 12-1:50)* – Incorporating safety in highway engineering and transportation planning.
Includes highway design, operation, and maintenance, as well as human factors, statistical analysis, traffic control and public policy. Design concepts of intersections, interchanges, signals, signs and pavement markings; analyzing data sets for recommendations and prioritization; principles of driver and vehicle characteristics in relation to the roadway. Instructor: Monsere

CE 454 URBAN TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS (4 credits, MW 8-9:50)* – Urban street patterns and transportation demand, highway capacity analysis, process of urban transport planning, travel-demand forecasting and its application to traffic studies. Development of transport models, multiple regression analysis, models of land use and trip generations, stochastic trip distribution models, applications and case studies.
Route assignment analysis and traffic flow theory. Prerequisite: CE 351.
Instructor: Monsere

– Introduction to intelligent transportation systems, including:
enabling surveillance, navigation, communications and computer technologies. Application of technologies for monitoring, analysis, evaluation and prediction of transportation system performance.
Intervention strategies, costs and benefits, safety, human factors, institutional issues and case studies. Prerequisite: CE 351. Instructor:

USP 565 PEDESTRIAN/BICYCLE PLANNING (3 credits, M 4-6:30)* – Examines the importance of walking and bicycling as means of transportation in a sustainable urban environment. Covers planning, design, implementation, and maintenance of bikeways and walkways, as well as ancillary facilities such as bicycle parking. Focus on the role of education, advocacy, and outreach in improving walking and bicycling conditions.
Study relevant examples from various cities, with a heavy emphasis on Portland’s experience. Instructor: Birk *

USP 537 ECONOMICS OF URBAN TRANSPORTATION (3 credits, Th 4-6:30)* – The transportation system is critical to the functioning of an urban area.
The movement of people and goods affects both the productivity and livability of the region. Transportation systems also affect and are affected by land use and location decisions. This course presents the economic analysis of urban transportation. This will include analysis of the effects of transportation systems on land use and location as well as the evaluation of transportation investments. These methods will then be applied to evaluation of various proposals to improve the urban transportation system. Prerequisite: USP 515 or 615. Instructor: Rufolo

Non-degree students may take classes via “Quick Entry”:

Tuition and fee information:

Winter Class Schedule:

We look forward to welcoming you to campus!

Robert L. Bertini, Ph.D., P.E., Associate Professor Director, Center for Transportation Studies, Portland State University

September marks the anniversary of 3 MAX lines

Just 19 years ago, the Portland region opened its first MAX light rail line. The first 15-mile segment opened in 1986 between downtown Portland and Gresham. There was excitement in the community as we opened one of the first modern light rail lines in the country. Of course, there were a few derisive comments before it opened, including a suggestion that we should leave the keys inside and just walk away from it.

But all these years later, MAX has carried 199 million trips, and has helped spur more than $3 billion in transit-oriented development along the entire alignment.

Eastside MAX opened with an average of 19,500 weekday trips, which has now grown to an average of 41,100 daily trips. During the planning for the line, the city of Gresham didn’t want the MAX line in their front yard. But has since spent years and millions of dollars turning the city toward the MAX line.

A decade later, the 18-mile Westside MAX line opened, with half of the riders in the corridor new to transit. The success of the line could be seen since opening day – standing-room only trains during rush hour. First year boardings averaged 22,800 and has since climbed to an average of 32,700 weekday trips.

1st train to plane on West Coast

When the 5.5-mile Airport MAX Red Line opened Sept. 10, 2001, less than 24 hours before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center buildings, it was the first train-to-plane connection on the West Coast. In these four years, 3.3 million people have ridden to or from Portland International Airport. The former bus line that served PDX averaged about 900 people getting on or off on weekdays. MAX has nearly tripled transit trips with an average of 2,600 weekday trips.

System expanding

TriMet’s overall MAX system now covers 44 miles with 65 light rail stations. Last year MAX carried 32 million rides, up from 27.5 million the year before. And Saturday ridership is 80% of weekday ridership, showing that ridership isn’t focused solely on commute trips. On similar systems, one out of four riders are choice riders, but MAX is carrying three out of four riders as a matter of choice – leaving many cars in their driveways.

Next month, the 8.3-mile I-205/Portland Mall Light Rail Project will enter the Final Design phase. The community is invited to provide comments on issues including station design, and how MAX can help enliven the Mall for retail, pedestrians and transit riders. The project will extend MAX from Gateway Transit Center to Clackamas Town Center, and between Union Station and Portland State University between 5th and 6th avenues. Construction is expected to begin in fall 2006 and open in September 2009. Get project updates by signing up at

Then what

The South Corridor Project Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement published in December 2002 that included the 2nd extension into Clackamas County – from Portland State University to SE Portland and Milwaukie – will have to be amended beginning early next year led by Metro. That work will focus on the connection across the Willamette River to Portland State University, and on the transit center and alignment in Milwaukie that was considered by a citizen committee last year and formally approved by the Milwaukie City Council. That South Corridor Phase 2 project could open in 2014.

In the meantime, a new phase of a bi-state study is considering a joint highway and transit project in the I-5 Corridor, crossing Portland’s other river to Vancouver. That study was led by the two state DOTs. A governor’s task force prepared recommendations in June 2005 that calls for a multi-modal approach to addressing the significant bi-state transportation needs. A light rail extension north from the Expo Center is being considered in that study, alongside bus options. Information on that effort is available at

MAX has become a signature of our region and a tool for providing mobility while building and preserving neighborhoods. The success of MAX has made the Portland region a national model we can be proud.