Mall Discontent III: Return of TriMet

Update: Saturday: TriMet was kind enough to pass along a link to the APTA peer review report (PDF, 974K). I’ve read it, and the key message seems to be “nobody’s done this before, but you seem to have thought out what you were doing”. In addition there are plenty of constructive suggestions about how to make operations smoother.

Today’s Tribune brings another episode in the saga. TriMet contends that the APTA report was actually a (mild?) endorsement of their design. The Trib’s analysis of internal e-mails from TriMet implies that the APTA report may have been a ‘paid endorsement’.

Any predictions for the next plot twist?

11 responses to “Mall Discontent III: Return of TriMet”

  1. So, the business community wanted a thru traffic lane on the mall, but this would make a weave design for right sided stops. Now, the business community dislikes the weave design that they pushed for… hmmm… if safety and operations are the locals concerns then perhaps they shot themselves in the foot.

  2. To be honest NJD, I haven’t seen “the business community” speak up at this stage. The bar owners on 3rd and Burnside complained about parking during the remodel, and there were a couple of people with businesses downtown who spoke up at the Downtown NA meeting on Monday–but as far as PBA or DBA, I don’t recall hearing anything from them about it.

    If you know otherwise, I’d love to see it. I’m likely to call them up and ask them myself, too.

  3. I have been closely following the Downtown Mall issue since it first came up during the Milwaukie MAX proposal about five years ago and I have to confess that all the recent contraversey has be angry at both sides.

    Clearly, Trimet either witheld information from the public in regards to travel timesand street capacity, or else they were very late in doing their homework. If there isnt a problem with capacity, then lets see the traffic modeling information.

    Those business people that have been outspoken against the project are guilty of being asleep at the wheel. The planners have been very open about the process and have been generous about sharing their names, addresses and phone numbers in case one has additional concerns. There have been literally dozens of opportunites for public comment on the mall project over the past four years at open houses, community meetings and public testimony events. Seldom have I seen one of these business representives at the meeting,let alone have they voiced a concern.

    It has been said all along that some bus lines would move from the mall. In fact, this is an idea that predates the current mall project. More transit service is needed closer to the river as well as on the midtown blocks.

    Barring any serious problems in the mall design in regards to overall capacity, it is time to move on and implement the plan.

  4. I have submitted numerous written comments and have given numerous statements at various public meetings regarding the Transit Mall. While commenting on many issues, I have chosen to remain neutral about the auto lane because I am torn on the issue… I can see valid points on both sides.

    However, in this process, I do feel that the PBA has really pushed a bit too hard for this auto lane, and has been unresponsive to the needs of pedestrians and transit users.

    So, tongue in cheek, I make the following proposal:

    We dedicate 2nd Ave, 3rd Ave, 4th Ave, and Broadway exclusively to autos. In fact, we should put 3 auto lanes on each of these streets.

    To prevent the impeded flow of autos, we should move the vast majority of buses to 5th and 6th Aves. But moving these transit vehicles to 5th and 6th avenues, along with dedicated facilities known as “bus stops”, we can then add two lanes of parallel parking strips to 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and Broadway.

    Transit can then do what it does, and cars can do what they do, the two do not have to interfere with one another, and everyone will be happy.

    Oh, wait! That’s what we did in 1978! Clearly that was a bad idea, and the only way to solve any complaints people have now is to put cars back on 4th and 5th, no matter what it does to Transit!

    Getting serious again…

    Something we are going to be losing as part of this mall reconstruction (for better or for worse) is the idea that, at least on 5th and 6th avenues, the Pedestrian is King.

    Right now on 5th and 6th, every several blocks, we have extra-wide sidewalks. Wider than anywhere else in the city. These extra-wide sidewalks have public art. Not just little statues, but large scale high-concept art, large fountains, and more.

    Much of this art will have to be relocated or destroyed. (Do not believe officials when they tell you that all the art must be preserved. Only the art which is registered as “artist designed” will be preserved. Things like the fountain made up of cubes of brick are merely “architect designed” and are therefore expendable.) Many of the existing furnishings (benches) will be removed.

    And, perhaps worst of all, it appears that the unique bus shelters are on the chopping block. No matter what you may think of these shelters aesthetically, they are unique to Portland. They are large, cover many people from the rain, have built-in sheltered amenities such as phones and route maps, and very effective wind screening. Their round shape complements the circular motif of the mall.

    These are likely to be replaced with rectangular shed-roofed structures (albeit glass) with a single small wind screen in the middle. The signage and real-time information features will be moved to a fixture outside of the shelter.

    As shown at a recent CAC urban design subcommittee meeting, the round intersection treatment may have to be dropped due to budget cuts, replaced with square intersections. These same cuts may cause the loss of the Portland-style “twin ornamental” street lights in some segments, and traffic signals will no longer hang from sturdy-looking masks, but instead will be strung from wires.

    The budget cuts affecting shelters, intersection treatments, furnishings, streetlights and signals all stem from everything that is being done to accommodate an auto lane. Is it worth it? I’m beginning to wonder.

    Can’t the transit-using pedestrian be king of the mall anymore?

    – Bob R.

  5. Two corrections to the above post:

    1. “But moving these transit vehicles to 5th and 6th” should be “By moving these transit vehicles to 5th and 6th”

    2. “sturdy-looking masks” should be “sturdy-looking MASTS”

    That’ll teach me to write such a long screed at midnight!

    – Bob R.

  6. According to the Trib article, Trimet has been witholding information from the public.

    That’s not cool. As Vera said, we need to get this design right, period. Politics is always part of the game, but as a city we can’t let politics decide on the Mall design.

    I think Trimet needs to get honest and admit this design is seriously flawed. They should redesign the Mall for the best results in the years to come. If we go forward with this piecemeal pork plan then everyone loses.

  7. Politics have driven this project from the beginning. The Auto mall is a political decision that could never be taken out of the equation even when it went against good planning and design. I’m afraid this entire “upgrade” is going to be a disaster that will not only effect the transit mall, but will do major harm to future lightrail in portland. The autolane is forcing the bad design, but lightrail will get the blame.

  8. I think a combination of half domes on the right side of the auto lanes and the presence of the tracks will prevent the occasional errant car from entering the transit lanes. I think one of the primary reasons you see cars in the bus lanes now is confused drivers merging right when the current auto lane ends. Once the tracks are there, especially with an added warning device (half domes) and a continuous auto through lane, there will be less ambiguity and a lesser tendancy for drivers to encroach into the transit lanes. You don’t see autos in the left hand lanes of Morrison and Yamhill. The bus and rail drivers will have SOP’s for traversing the mall and I doubt there will be any confusion amongst themselves about who has right-of-way.

    Bigger concerns are the loss of the wider sidewalks and the preservation of the art, including the distinctive bus shelters. I see them as analogous to the early Paris Metro art nouveau subway entrances. Love them or hate them, they have become Portland icons and they need to be preserved. I would propose re-using any shelters that need to be relocated to a future or current bus stop on the mall that currently does not have one, especially at the north and south ends. The light rail shelters can (and should) be stylisticly different from the bus shelters for visual clarity.

    Speaking of subways, Chris, I haven’t seen a separate thread yet, but this forum is a natural to begin discussion on when and where the future subway through central Portland will go. It may be a decade or two down the road (no pun intended), but it will have to happen before a million more people (2025) move here if we want to maintain regional and central city mobility. Rail on 5th and 6th, while perfect for adaptation to a future streetcar circulator :-), may preclude future subway construction there. Our best alternatives for a central subway spine would be 4th or Broadway. I would lean more towards Broadway because it is close to both the commercial core and the residential development in the West End and Pearl. Plus Broadway is a more cosmopolitan street with more pedestrian activity. And at the south end, is more centrally situated in the PSU district. Comments?


  9. I’m unsure of the best alignment for a downtown subway, but one thing I think Broadway has going for it is that the underground spaces already existing at Pioneer Courthouse Square would make an excellent grand entrance to a large, open-feeling central subway station. (Along with other normal entrances)

    Easy transfers to bus and circulator streetcar are important so any alignment on either 4th or Broadway should have convenient pedestrian tunnels leading to the transit mall. Looking at San Francisco’s Market St. Subway, there are relatively few stations but they have collector tunnels that reach out in multiple directions from the station.

    Another thing going for Broadway (as opposed to 4th) is that it would also be reasonably close to 10th/11th for transfers to the existing streetcar. Sure, it’s a 3 or 4 block walk but that would be preferable to a 6 or 7 block walk from 4th.

    – Bob R.

  10. Agreed, and Burnside also has open space between 6th and Broadway that would be ideal for a spacious airy grand entrance. The same can occur at Union Station, with a station (Glisan-Irving) that would maximize future development at the PO site.

    I think it’s pretty much agreed that we would have 2-block long stations to allow 4-car consists through the central core, doubling capacity potential. I think 6-8 block spacing (vs. the current 2-4) would be the most efficient from an operational standpoint. Yes, people will have to walk an extra couple of blocks compared to now, but this station spacing is still short compared to other cities. As you pointed out, entrances can radiate out from the actual station in all directions, decreasing the distance to the closest station entrance.

    Using SF as an example again, BART’s Red, Yellow, Blue and Green lines all share the same tunnel, with 6-minute headways during rush hour. So all current and future MAX lines would be able to share the same tunnel through downtown, branching off at the Rose Quarter and PSU. SF’s 5 Muni light rail lines also share a single tunnel, but I see MAX as a higher capacity system than Muni, thus the comparison to BART (which has more capacity than MAX ever will).


  11. Since we’re talking about the subway, I’d like to suggest (as have others) that even if downtown remains a surface alignment on the mall for the time being, we can start on the east side with a subway (at relatively low expense, as subways go) and solve some of the bottleneck problems in the system.

    Imagine the following scenario for a NE Multnomah Street subway:

    The existing I-84 tracks would divert northwest 2 blocks to run under Multnomah, instead of on the surface of Holladay. Getting there would be easy — the alignment from the I-84 tracks to Multnomah would cut diagonally under the existing movie theater parking lot.

    As you mentioned 2-block stations would allow for 4-car trains (although I think there may be some reasons along I-84 and east to Gresham where limiting to 3-car might be necessary).

    By placing a single station on Multnomah between 7th and 9th, you can directly serve the main entrance to the Lloyd center, the office towers in that area, and 7th ave BETTER (less walking for most destinations) with just one station instead of the two we now have at 7th and at Holladay park.

    Even not taking into account the higher travel speeds that a subway alignment allows, eliminating the need for a stop saves you 30 to 60 seconds.

    Next, a cut-and-cover subway would continue westward along Multnomah with a stop at MLK/Grand. This would connect well with eastside N/S bus lines and presumably the streetcar (one of the proposed eastside alignments is for MLK/Grand.)

    There are often complaints that eastside travelers are forced to transfer downtown. Having a Multnomah/MLK/Grand connection with N/S service makes this an ideal transfer location.

    Multnomah street already jogs SW toward the Rose Quarter. The subway would follow this alignment. Note that the lot at NE 1st Ave between Multnomah and Holladay has been vacant for years… this would make an ideal construction staging area. Does anyone know if this block is publicly owned?

    The rose quarter subway station itself could be constructed under what are now open grass and plaza areas, helping to minimize disruption to the existing rail lines.

    It is my hope that by properly configuring things underground (thinking in three dimensions) we can minimize switched crossovers like we have now. (Westbound blue line trains must now cross northbound and southbound Yellow line tracks. By placing the Rose Quarter subway platforms for Yellow Line and Blue Line at different levels, crossovers against opposing traffic can be reduced.) This untangling of crossovers can lead to another 30-60 second time savings.

    This new Rose Quarter subway station would have much easier transfers between Red/Blue and Yellow. Today, you have to cross up to 3 streets to transfer with separate pedestrian signals. Underground, a short tunnel would suffice. The station would also serve the Convention Center, being located only about 100ft further away than the current station.

    The Steel Bridge should be structurally upgraded (or replaced if there is the will to do so) with one that can support rail operations at normal speeds. Running 3 tracks over the bridge rather than two may eliminate the need for the new crossover on the west side which will split Mall trains from original line trains. A better bridge with a less complicated crossover means another 60 second savings.

    Combine all this with the faster speeds that underground operation permits and true grade separation, and you’ve just shaved 5 minutes off every MAX rider’s commute each way. That may not sound like a lot, but these time savings would be coming from the areas which riders most perceive MAX as being slow – a combination of a few underutilized stops, extremely slow crossing of the river, and sitting and waiting for crossovers to clear.

    Most of the construction of such a subway (with extreme care taken in the management of the Rose Quarter area) could be done without disrupting existing service until the time came to connect the new system. This would require a few months of intense work during with the existing system may need to be bypassed by buses, but it could be done.


    – Bob R.

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