Transit Mall Update

Even from 2,000 miles south of fareless square, I couldn’t help but notice developments on the Transit Mall Light Rail project. Here’s the rundown:

  • The Trib is focusing on the pedestrian safety aspects of the design. Does the operational change that would give buses and trains in the center lane the right-of-way increase risks for pedestrians. Note to self: avoid having Nick Budnick ever investigate Portland Transport.
  • The Downtown Neighborhood Association has prepared their arguments (PDF, 330K) in opposition for City Council.
  • TriMet has scheduled a Hearing and Open House for March 15th. They will take testimony on the bus relocation plan but only “answer questions” about the light rail plan.

15 responses to “Transit Mall Update”

  1. Would it even be possible at this stage to delay or cancel the transit mall alignment while allowing the I-205 line to proceed?

  2. According to the just-posted TriMet web page on the open house, they will be accepting comments on more than just bus relocation:

    “TriMet will receive comments from the public regarding the proposed Portland Mall Light Rail Project at a hearing on March 15, 2006. TriMet will accept comments related to the South Corridor Project, Portland Transit Mall design and construction, the proposed bus relocation plan during construction and other related topics. Comments may be presented orally or in written format. TriMet General Manager, Fred Hansen, will be in attendance to listen to the public comment.”

  3. Interesting… looking over the document submitted by the DNA, it is clear that the “Base Case Left Side Option” is the one that should have been under consideration all along. According to the table listing all of the options, it is the one that scores highest in every category, and the only one that prioritizes bus and light-rail movement as job one for the transit mall. This is substantially similar to the option that I’v advocated on this blog more recently, though I must admit to being ignorant of the existence (until now) of this as an earlier legitimate option.

    Go DNA!! Hopefully, their pressure will cause Tri-Met to reconsider and go back to a left-side option design. I’d be willing to bet that Tri-Met could pull this off without blowing the FTA deadlines/jeopardizing federal funding, if they’re honest and up-front with FTA and use our congressional delegation to full advantage…

  4. I’ve been neutral on the multi-modal lane issue – I can see some of the points being made by the business community as valid. However, having that lane does cause most of the headaches in the current plan.

    It would be interesting to see if the PBA would back down on their insistence on a through-lane at this point.

    The “Base Case Left Side Option” has some advantages, most notably that it is the least expensive and the lest disruptive to construct.

    However, regardless of how you feel about the through-lane, there are some negatives to the Left Side scenario:

    1. Transfer to rail from bus would require at minimum two street crossings, no matter where you are on the mall. (With the serpentine design, you are deposited on the right-hand side of the street at rail stops, which is the same side of the street used by buses in adjacent blocks.)

    2. Even though the current extra-wide blocks would not be removed under this plan, the fact that they would be used as boarding platforms would still likely result in the removal of large-scale art and trees.

    3. As in all plans, buses would need to pass other buses by merging onto the rail tracks. However, unlike in the serpentine design, a disabled rail vehicle would not risk totally blocking bus traffic.

    4. Trains would still be running along-side auto traffic where the current auto lanes exist. The potential for train/auto “interactions” would still be present.

    5. The trough-lane concept allows bicycles to traverse the entire mall. Not having the through lane forces through-traffic bicycles onto streets already crowded with auto traffic. (Of course, since bicycles may conveniently be carried on MAX, having fareless rail service along the entire length of the mall offers an alternative to cyclists.)

    – Bob R.

  5. Bob R.-

    You make some very good points there. I’d like to follow up on some of them:

    1. I think that, personally, I’d be willing to put up with crossing the street at least twice to transfer from bus to light rail, or vice versa — I’m used to this from the current alignment, which presents the same situation, albeit from an alignment perpendicular to the bus routes rather than parallel.

    2. The removal of the large-scale art and trees might be acceptable under this scenario, since they might be ultimately replaced with other art and trees in a different configuration that allows for passengers and LRT-stop furnishings. Certainly, this is more acceptable than the removal of large-scale art and trees for a TRAFFIC LANE — such a 1950s pro-cars concept!!

    3. Ah-hah — and this is where the base case differs from my ULTIMATE PROPOSAL: Run LRT in the auto lane between stations (that is, eliminate the auto lane entirely), and then have it weave back into the middle lane for stations. Buses would run through the station blocks in single file in the right lane without stopping; this would allow all bus stops to be clustered equally either one block north or south of each station, guaranteeing that a bus-to-LRT transfer would have a maximum one-block walk with two street crossings for transfers in the same direction.

    Barring the adoption of the ULTIMATE PROPOSAL, the base case left-side still seems to be a better option than the serpentine motion, as it would allow for greater predictability. However, the ULTIMATE PROPOSAL would allow for the highest capacity of all options.

    4. See my response to #3, above. I believe the answer is to eliminate autos completely.

    Barring this, at least the base case left-side option doesn’t have a higher potential for train/auto interactions than the serpentine design.

    5. Bicycles… are pretty small. They can move around things fairly easily. As a bicyclist, I’ve gone up the bus mall, I’ve gone up Broadway, I’ve taken Park, I’ve taken 10th/11th, I’ve taken 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th… I kinda prefer Park to all the others, but the one I pick just depends on my destination. I would go along with whatever option. This shouldn’t be about bikes vs. transit, because as you pointed out, you can take your bike on transit. Bike access to the car lane is being held up as a red herring by the DBA in order to preserve their true love: car access to the bus mall.

    The best thing for the transit mall is probably to keep the sidewalks as wide as possible, encourage more sidewalk cafes, and add more colorful public art to make it seem a bit less dreary. I don’t see how auto access adds anything beneficial to it whatsoever, especially without on-street parking. And the addition of on-street parking at the expense of sidewalk width and street trees/furniture is absolutely unacceptable! This is still Portland we’re talking about, right?

  6. The Trib is going full on with its resistance to the mall plan. And while I don’t normally agree with the Trib’s advertorial style, in this case I’m very happy that they are educating the public on this ludicrous plan.

    My bet is that the majority of portlanders have no idea that this mall plan includes this dangerous weaving design that will change the current feel of the mall to a transport-only corridor. I think education is the key here, because I can’t see anyone with a brain supporting this ridiculous design.

    I was under the impression that the mall “revitalization” was intended to create a more vibrant Mall with pedestrian traffic, shopping, cafes, etc. This plan goes the other way and will make the Mall a noisy, dangerous dreary place.

    I say scratch this design and any design that compromises the portland spirit. For 200 million I would think we could come up with a real plan that actually meets the needs and goals for the downtown area, namely N/S light rail, concentrated bus service, pedestrian friendly atmosphere, wide sidewalks, art, etc. Why plan a disaster? I just don’t get it.

    Why has the political component become so out of hand on this project?
    Do we even need light rail and the buses on the same throughfares?
    Why an auto lane but no parking? (wtf!?!)

    And, my biggest question if anybody can answer… Does TriMet have something up its sleeve here? They’ve been hiding information, squashing dissent and focusing on PR rather than the project itself. What is it that they are planning for the future that makes them disregard all these legitimate concerns in order to push this boondoggle through? Does anybody think TriMet may have an ulterior motive for just getting this project done?

  7. Wait… isn’t the mall currently a dirty, noisy and dangerous place?

    The transit mall is supposed to be a transit corridor, a ‘surface subway,’ if you will. I think most people recognize this fact by there being not too many nice businesses along it, besides Pioneer Place.

    However, the question is what will happen in the big Portland mix-ulator when pedestrians, bicycles, cars, trucks, busses, and light rail are thrown together.

    Perhaps, as in Europe, everything will be hand-schmandy. However, they don’t mix trains and autos that much… its just usually cars, bikes, and peds.

    Maybe I should call it a Mix-O-Rama?

  8. Nathan wrote:
    …I can’t see anyone with a brain supporting this ridiculous design.

    I’ve been to many forums and CAC meetings, and have talked to committee members and TriMet staff. Near as I’ve been able to discern, all of these people have brains, and some pretty sharp ones too.

    I find that when I have a disagreement with people, accusing them of having no brain tends to shut down the discussion. Better to assume that someone has a brain, and then try and figure out why they are coming to a different conclusion, and try to make arguments to sway them.

    I was under the impression that the mall “revitalization” was intended to create a more vibrant Mall with pedestrian traffic, shopping, cafes, etc. This plan goes the other way and will make the Mall a noisy, dangerous dreary place.

    While I tend to agree that eliminating the various extra-wide blocks is contrary to the idea of programming sidewalk activities, I don’t see how this is going to make the mall “noisy” or “dreary”.

    Noise: The mall is pretty noisy right now. As passenger traffic gradually shifts to rail, the mall will quiet down as there will be fewer buses. As more buses switch to hybrid drive, they will be quieter too. Most passenger automobiles are not noisier than buses, especially at the slow speeds they will be traveling in a single lane on the mall.

    Dreariness: The through-lane will remove the 2nd row of trees from the sections that have double-rows. Other trees will be selectively pruned to allow more light to reach the street. More light generally reduces a “dreary” feeling. Are Morrison and Yamhill dreary due to the single auto lane there?

    Do we even need light rail and the buses on the same thoroughfares?

    People regularly transfer between bus/rail. Bus and rail are part of the same transit _system_. If you run rail on a different street than the mall, then people will have to walk further to transfer, and they will have to walk to somewhere they cannot see when they deboard.

    The mall is where there is the highest concentration of destinations downtown. Does it not make sense to run rail, which is supposed to be our higher-capacity transit mode, to where the destinations and transfer opportunities are?

    Why an auto lane but no parking? (wtf!?!)

    The downtown business groups (mainly PBA) strongly believe (rightly or wrongly) that a continuous lane will make more sense to downtown visitors (coming via car), will reduce their frustration and therefore draw more retail users downtown, and by allowing cars to pass by a business it will make it easier to find and boost sales. They also view the presence of auto traffic as putting more “eyes on the street” during non-peak hours thereby reducing the threat of crime.

    The business groups also wanted parking, but this would have narrowed the sidewalks way too much and in most cases parking was rejected. There will be a few opportunities for pullouts for various reasons in various places, but these will not likely materialize due to other engineering issues.

    – Bob R.

  9. I agree with Garlynn’s assessment that eliminating the auto lane from the mall ultimately makes all the transit options work much more safely. There is plenty of accomodation for cars in downtown Portland. I have never been convinced that having cars on the Mall was critical to the success of downtown as a shopping and business district. Cars, in and of themselves, don’t buy anything.

    Putting on my tin-foil hat for a moment, could it be that TriMet, knowing that they couldn’t beat back the downtown business lobby’s desire for an auto lane, purposely came up with this design, in hopes that the public would shoot it down?

    Seems REALLY far-fetched, I’ll admit. But, the folks at TriMet aren’t stupid. Even if they didn’t plan this, if it ultimately turned out that the auto lane was eliminated, I’d be estatic!

  10. It should be clear to all that the continuous auto lane (aka Multimodal lane) was (and remains?) the #1 demand of the downtown business community. I am sure TriMet would have preferred the more straigthforward center lane MAX alignment with stations on the left where the existing auto lane ends.
    Funding for this project includes an LID….with adjacent businesses picking up some of the tab, so their desires/needs were taken seriously. I am confident that the currently preferred design would not have been adopted if it had serious operational flaws.
    That said, the current Mall has lots of retail…most of the gaps are “self inflicted” where businesses like M&F shut their doors or office towers were built without retail.
    But during midday, the Mall is a deserted place with only the occasional bus and car. Having trains every 6-8 minutes and some car/bike traffic will liven it up.
    One other advantage of the preferred design is that it allows for station placement to be more appropriate..i.e. right at Pioneer Courthouse, not a block south, etc.
    Last, all this activity will be happening at 12 mph as governed by traffic signals; as long as we riders restrain ourselves from running in front of a bus or train, things should work pretty well.

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