AORTA Goes on Record re Transit Mall

The Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates in a letter dated March 8th, is asking the Federal Transit Administration to appoint an independent reviewer to assess the Transit Mall light rail plan.

Among the concerns expressed:

All trains serving Washington County must cross the Steel Bridge and pass through the Rose Quarter interlocking, because there is neither a turnaround nor any useable storage tracks on the west side of the river. Consequently, the Steel Bridge and the interlocking will effectively limit all further growth in service to Washington County. All service diverted from the Cross-Mall alignment to the Mall will be at the expense of service to Washington County. Today, the Rose Quarter interlocking is at its effective free-flow capacity. By building delays into the schedules to produce queuing at that junction, which will increase travel times, the capacity of the current configuration may be pushed somewhat higher. However, the 30 trains per hour envisioned for the year 2025 may come at the expense of significant delays, and are likely the practical limit.

The full letter is available here (PDF, 71K).

24 responses to “AORTA Goes on Record re Transit Mall”

  1. My #1 concern about any expansion of MAX has been the Steel Bridge and the interlocking. I’ve brought it up at meeting after meeting (and in multiple comments on this blog), but Steel Bridge improvements or replacement never seem to be on the table.

    – Bob R.

  2. Wow, this seems to be the second major shot fired across Tri-Met’s bow this week! Not only does the currently-proposed serpentine configuration of light rail on the transit mall stink (according to the DNA), but having any light rail service on the mall that doesn’t wind up in Washington County also stinks (accrding to AORTA)!

    Though, I’d like to point out that there actually is a pocket track at Lloyd Center (adjacent to the square, currently used only for vintage trolleys) which might allow some trains to turn around there and head back to WashCo if necessary. Question: If this option was combined with a third track across the Steel Bridge, could the questions of passenger capacity to WashCo be answered?

  3. Garlynn –

    I think you miss AORTA’s point.

    They are not arguing that some mall service should somehow reach Washington County.

    The are arguing that the additional trains which will be crossing the new interlocks on the west end of the Steel bridge will crowd out any room for growth in east-west service to Washington County.

    You can only run so many trains through the interlocks at both sides of the bridge per hour.

    It is not possible for a Washington-county train to turn around downtown… it must cross the river and go to the pocket track at Rose Quarter or Lloyd Center (as you mentioned.)

    Basically, congestion at the Steel Bridge and interlocks limits the growth potential of the entire system, but AORTA believes that Washington county service will be the first to be impacted.

    And this not the first time they or others have brought this up.

    – Bob R.

  4. Interesting. A little overhyped to call it a “fatal flaw,” I’d say–a hypothesized deficit of 4 to 5 trains 20 years from now? And that’s based on continuous ridership increases at the pace of previous growth.

    I’m skeptical that growth rates will continue the way they have from the startup dates of the Westside and Red extensions. At the risk of misapplying the term “common sense,” you would think rates would climb fastest from zero, then taper off under the rule of diminishing returns. They also imply that all of the additional traffic from Willamette commuter rail will be eastbound into the city. Based on employment projections from Metro, I wager that significant numbers of commuters will turn west from BeavTC, not east. And those peak load figures cited by AORTA do not, I imagine, represent what the trains are carrying all the way out to Hillsboro.

    And let’s be fair here: they’re complaining about an INCREASE of 33% in terms of Westside service, and don’t seem to grasp that a) Green line Mall service will bring MAX to the most heavily used stop in all of TriMet (PSU), and b) forms the foundation of an extension to Milwaukie in the future.

    I agree that the Rose Quarter wye seems to be the biggest problem in all of this, dwarfing any other issue IMO. And it is not good that planning for improvements to that sticking point do not seem well elucidated or addressed. However, we’ve got a few years before the capacity doomsday AORTA is predicting based on that failure, comes to pass.

  5. However, we’ve got a few years before the capacity doomsday AORTA is predicting based on that failure, comes to pass.

    True, but along the way to that “doomsday” we are also introducing delays into the system which are greater than those experienced today. This must also be considered.

    – Bob R.

  6. 1. The official plan projects Max ridership to Washington County to grow 1.5% per year.

    2. Historic growth in Max ridership to Washington County has been 5.5% for five years.

    3. AORTA is claiming that 3% annual growth will cause a problem.

    Here are some statistics that may help the critical reader determine whether historic growth is a short term phenomenon:

    TriMet’s Transit Investment Plan of June 2004 says that system ridership (bus and rail) is supposed to grow from 223,700 to 500,000 originating weekday riders between FY 2003 and 2020, according to Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan. That is a 224% increase over 17 years which translates to 4.8% annual compound growth.

    Historically, system ridership ridership grew 65% from 1990 to 2001, which is 5.1% annual growth compounded for ten years. Over the longer term, fiscal year 1987 annual ridership was 47,880,000 and fiscal year 2003 ridership was 88,863,600. This 185% increase translates to 3.9% annual compounded growth for 16 years.

  7. Does adding a 3rd track or 4th to Steel bridge help with this? Or is a subway the only real fix?
    I thought I heard someone from TriMet tell me once that they could run trains every 90 seconds over the bridge…that would allow 45 trains per hour per direction. But the real problem isn’t the bridge per se, its the wyes at both ends, right?
    I do wonder if someone on the transit side of our region has been following the Big Pipe project with the 14′ dia Westside and now the 22′ dia Eastside tunnels along the River. These are both 100′ plus deep around where a future river subway would go.

  8. Does adding a 3rd track or 4th to Steel bridge help with this?

    I have never heard from anyone whether there is capacity on the outer upper-level decks of the bridge to carry tracks, or whether more than two trains on the bridge simultaneously can be handled.

    However, if it is possible for the bridge to hold a 3rd track, it could very slightly help. Mall-bound Yellow line trains would not need to interact on the east-side interlock, just the west side. That would save you 4 east-side westbound interactions per hour. Adding a 4th track would not help.

    A “subway” per-se does not necessarily help. If you just moved the Steel bridge into a tunnel, all the interlock problems do not go away. However, if you reconfigured Rose Quarter three-dimensionally so that some of the tracks which now must cross opposing tracks via the interlock could go above or below those tracks, avoiding conflicts.

    This could be done with above-ground structures as well, except that I-5 is in the way. An underground Rose Quarter station centered under the plaza at Multnomah may be the best hope for untangling that area.

    Also, another note on Washington-county service: If you wanted to add Washington county service that only went as far as downtown, you could add a spur at 1st and Morrison which would allow trains to reverse and head back out to Beaverton TC. Call it the “orange line” or some other designation, basically sharing all the same tracks as the westside blue line, but terminating downtown. This short spur on Morrison would be very similar to how the Portland Streetcar originally reversed course at PSU.

    – Bob R.

  9. ^
    Yeah I was going to suggest that same thing.. allow trains to loop back at Morrison & 1st by adding a tiny little piece of track and some switches. Trains from Beaverton and Hillsboro have already passed through the core of downtown by the time they get to Skidmore District.

    As a long term idea and as a possible alternative to the subway under the river… I’ve been wondering if instead of a tunnel under the river, would be possible to have a downtown subway surface by that abandoned fire house next to Union Station and run up onto a new bridge over the Willamette River *just* north of the Steel Bridge taking the trains over to the Rose Quarter? The bridge would have to be an operable span for waterway clearance. I was envisioning the trains running in a grade-seperated open trench along Holladay Street between the Rose Quarter and 84 freeway with cross streets bridging over the tracks. I have been thinking that getting the subway tunnel under the Big Pipe sewer tunnel and under the Willamette River would force the tunnel to go very deep yet on the East Side the subway would need to slope up pretty steeply (considering the Lloyd District is on a hill) in order to get the trains to surface by I-84 and also on Interstate Ave.

  10. Forgive me if this is naive, but could they not also create a large turnaround loop by routing some trains from Hillsboro onto the transit mall alignment? Add a set of switches and little piece of track and have some eastbound trains make a right turn from Yamhill onto 6th, run through PSU, back north on 5th, and make a left onto Morrison. Then Washington County gets some direct service to the “single largest trip generator” (PSU), and Washington County service is not limited by the Steel Bridge interlockings (for the record, I don’t believe the one planned for the west side is a wye; it’s merely a junction).

  11. James –

    What you suggest may be limited by the very tight radius required for such a turn. If you observe how MAX turns on to 1st at Morrison and especially Yamhill, you can see how wide a turn it actually makes. Turning from the east-west alignment onto the mall might required knocking out a chunk of sidewalk, or worse, knocking out a chunk of Pioneer Square.

    I’ve been looking at maps and satellite photos today, and perhaps the best way to add a turning track for Washington County trains would be to have them continue down Morrison/Yamhill to a sort of plaza in Waterfront Park. Eliminates street conflicts, minimizes construction disruption, and adds the intriguing possibility of a station right in the park which could serve major events.

    – Bob R.

  12. Another great idea, that would assist the expansion of the streetcar along the east side of the river would be to drop some tracks that would intersect with the southern bridge when they build it for the Milwaukee route. Matter of fact they should find some way to build this “southern” bridge very soon after the mall and route some tracks up and down MLK. This would allow the streetcar to run a massive loop and then the yellow line could either skip downtown or head south and come in from the southern end of the city along with possibly the green line.

    I know these aren’t even close to happening but it would make a lot more sense then to try and run more traffic over the poor old steal bridge. If anything THAT bridge needs tore out completely and replaced with a longer caddy corner bridge to expedite freight rail traffic, increase MAX speed crossing, and maybe even run car/pedestrians.

    Either which way, it’s a huge bottle neck that probably should be resolved before the downtown mall was even a thought. But then again, I’m not in charge, otherwise I’d not be doing this the same way.

    …and no matter what, it won’t be the holocaust any of these groups are saying.

  13. Adron, that’s exactly the plan for the eastside Streetcar, to get down to OMSI, then come back across the Caruthers crossing when Milwaukie light rail gets built. But that bridge is expensive, it’s not going to get built early. In fact, the fallback plan if we can’t afford the bridge when the time comes is to use the Hawthorne.

  14. “In fact, the fallback plan if we can’t afford the bridge when the time comes is to use the Hawthorne.”

    I have conjectured that the Lower portion of the Marquam bridge could handle a streetcar track. This would be a relatively negligible weight increase–compared to the massive components of the Marquam. A lift span would be needed, with the mechanism attached above, on the girders of the lower course.

  15. I’d rather see a streetcar run on the Hawthorne than on the Marquam! If they retrofitted the Marquam with a streetcar line, there’s more reluctnace to eventually bring the ugliest of all bridges down!
    Of course its a few years away at least, but I’m still hoping we can get rid of that eyesore someday…the Marquam and I5!

  16. Nathan says, “Of course its a few years away at least, but I’m still hoping we can get rid of that eyesore someday…the Marquam and I5!”

    Do you guys ever stop to figure out what all of these schemes cost and how to get the most value for the public’s investment? Or do you just come up with a shopping list and think taxpayers will gladly pony up the funds? If every other locale in the USA is doing the same, we are going broke very soon!

  17. If every other locale in the USA is doing the same, we are going broke very soon!

    But Ron, weren’t you just advocating extensive modifications to the Marquam bridge just a couple of comments ago? Including a lift span? When the alternative is running streetcars along the already-existing, streetcar-ready Hawthorne bridge?

    My point is that we all have our ideas and dream projects, and this forum is a good place to discuss them.

    What can and can’t get done is a matter of political spending priorities.

    For example, right or wrong, what the Iraq war has cost us so far could have constructed 400 medium-sized light rail lines ($500 million each). That’s 8 light rail lines per state, or 4 light rail lines in the 2 largest cities in each state. Gold-plated ones at that. Might facilitate a big shift in transportation mode share.

    It’s all about priorities.

    – Bob R.

  18. Earlier in this thread I made a comment about addressing some of AORTA’s concerns by adding a turning track at Morrison/Yamhill in Waterfront Park.

    I now have an illustration of what this would look like:

    Small Image
    Large Image

    Call it the “Purple Line” (or any color of your choice), it would use the existing tracks from Hillsboro to Downtown, and would turn around at the park rather than continuing to the east side.

    This would allow for additional Washington County trains without worrying about the bottleneck at the Steel Bridge. By making the line a different “Color”, you avoid confusion about route endpoints and which trains are through trains.

    You can either include a station in the park itself, or if you do not use a station, the turning loop can accommodate the storage of up to three trains (sequentially.)

    – Bob R.

  19. Bob,
    I like it. A station at Waterfront Park would be cool. I wonder what City Parks & Rec would have to say; also there would be the usual hand wringing about trains crossing Naito Parkway, etc.
    But it does solve the problem raised by AORTA, though I think their letter was aimed at short-circuiting the Mall, and this issue was their best shot. And as per your comments, a subway only solves the problem if the N/S lines and E/W lines are all grade separated deep down somewhere.
    Yikes, hide my checkbook!
    Chris’ analysis is right on the mark…”the good is better than the perfect!”

  20. Lenny –

    Thanks for your comments.

    Regarding what Parks & Rec would say, I do not know. But the single turning track could be constructed to resemble an extension of the streetscape and sidewalk area, with the trees moved eastward to delineate the boundaries of the park.

    We have three turning/storage tracks now at 11th/Morrison/Yamhill, plus the streetcar, without significant pedestrian interaction problems.

    As for trains crossing Naito Parkway (I slipped up and called it “Front Ave.” in my earlier comments), both of these intersections are already signalized, and because only one train line would be using these crossings, it would not need signal priority. Traffic on Naito should not be affected.

    – Bob R.

  21. Bob-

    That’s a very good suggestion, and the cost really shouldn’t be all that much; that’s about 600 feet of track, 2 switches, plus some associated streetscape improvements and probably a little bit of utility relocation…

    Would the purple line be peak-hour-only service, such that this track would be used to store three two-car trains for introduction into service during the off-peak; or would it be all-day-long service, being used continuously as a turn-around for trains heading back to WashCo?

    These sorts of little “tweaks” to the system certainly do seem like they may wind up being rather essential as the region, and the light rail system, continue to grow together.

  22. Garlynn –

    Once the turning track is there, you could do a number of things with it.

    At the very beginning, you wouldn’t even need to designate a “purple” line.

    The track section could be used to store 3 separate trains until the evening peak hour. Evening peak tends to be more concentrated than morning peak.

    These trains could fill in as extra westbound Blue Line trains, released say at 4:45, 5:00, and 5:15. They would have the advantage of starting off empty, allowing a large number of westbound passengers to find seats.

    Such a storage track would also be useful after large weekend events such as Rose Festival.

    The next step up would be to add a “purple” line as I described it, but running only in morning and evening peaks. I would use a different color designation than “blue” at this point because the train terminates downtown and eastbound riders from Beaverton on a groggy morning wouldn’t want to become confused as to the destination of their train.

    Beyond that, as demand warrants, you could upgrade service on the “purple” line to all-day, with 3 trains per hour during the non-peak. Why only 3 trains? Because the “purple” line is really just a virtual Blue Line that runs on a subset of the full line. You don’t have to run very many of them off-peak because the Blue line is a full substitute.

    But keeping some going at regular intervals would help avoid rider confusion… imagine a tourist waiting around all day for a “purple” line when they could really take a blue line. (Avoiding confusion is not the sole reason to run the line all day. As I said, it should move to all-day service when ridership demand on the westside warrants such expansion.)

    I agree with your comments about low cost. Also, automobile traffic will not be interrupted on Morrison/Yamhill (but will be reduced to 1 lane), and construction should be able to be done without weekday interruption of MAX. Trackwork would be very similar to the Streetcar crossings of MAX on 11th. Some upgrades to the traffic signal controllers on Naito would probably be required.

    – Bob R.

  23. I think this so called purple line is a great idea. Why not go all the way and use it for a new branch off the westside line sometime in the future, maybe down through beaverton or aloha? Down 185th? Seems flawless to me.

  24. Isaac –

    Yes, you could initially build the turning loop and run the “Purple Line” to Beaverton Transit Center and then later “extend” the Purple Line as one of several proposed future alignments in the Beaverton-Hillsboro corridor.

    – Bob R.

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