Thousand Little Fixes

Lenny passed on this pointer to an article about Seattle’s efforts to mitigate the closure of their bus tunnel. The meta-message is that lots of small operational improvements may have more impact on moving people effectively than large capital projects.

20 responses to “Thousand Little Fixes”

  1. Note that the headline is a bit misleading, its the Bus Tunnel and the Alaska Viaduct, not the Bus Viaduct.
    But isn’t the inverse of “build it, and they will come,”…”tear it down, and they will go away?”
    I wish we could get an outside consultant with real “creds” to recommend a 1000 little things to make the I-5 bridges work as an alternative to the “Big Fix.”
    Then we could move on to the task of removing the Eastbank Freeway and Marquam Bridge.

  2. Of course, one much watch out for diminishing returns. Which of course “small changes” are dangerous in that sense.

    But if something returns more than a major change than that is definately good. As for many transit operations there are a LOT of fixes that could be put in place to make operations more efficient. For one their is no competitive operational comparison, if one could just imagine a competitive operational environment similar to the early 1900’s one would get an idea of the additional services, and on time demands of such systems and what could be acheived if operations where similarly run today.

    The newer technology and features such as light rail specific type development and modes should be better utilized too. The use of light rail today basically takes the place of interurbans of yesteryears but are really not an increase in service, capability, or cost, but they really really really really could be.

  3. I wish we could get an outside consultant with real “creds” to recommend a 1000 little things to make the I-5 bridges work as an alternative to the “Big Fix.”

    Didn’t the region already do that? The I5 bridge was closed down for repairs and the anticipated gigantic traffic jams never happened. The argument, of course, is that that was at temporary situation. But the reality is that as long a big expensive new bridge paid for with federal dollars is on the table, no one is going to implement 1000 cheap, little things that would make it unnecessary.

  4. I have to thank Lenny for drawing attention to this article. It directly relates to where we are in some of the decisions associated with the CRC Project.

    As they end this article the question is if they should abandon the the whole Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement Project and replace it with multiple new beefed up arterials, busways and 1000 other possible improvements.

    There is direct analogy with what we could accomplish with the arterials connections where we eliminate all of the I-5 on/off ramps coming form or going to Hayden Island. Many people have brought up this alternative as a way of giving us back the capacity of the 3-lanes in the I-5 corridor and on the I-5 bridges. Singulary these I-5 ramps associated with Hayden Island are the biggest Choke Point that has rippling effects in the totallity of the flow of traffic in the whole of the I-5 corridor. Just create arterial ramps from Marine Drive and you will have made a huge difference.

    The second thing of course is building this alternate multi-mode bi-state arterial bridge and corridor replacing the inadequate swing BNSF RR bridge with a new double deck bridge and N. Portland Street arterial that bleed traffic and in particular trucks away from the I-5 corridor.

  5. Since, supposedly, PSU and OHSU are the two largest transit/transportation generators in the central core, maybe there is ONE simple fix:

    Ban OHSU (including the VA Hospital) and PSU from generating traffic between the hours of 7:30 and 8:30 AM (to return home between 4:30 and 5:30 PM). Force traffic to those two points to spread out including before and after those hours.

    We know it works – today TriMet ran on a reduced schedule because those two institutions (as well as the rest of government offices) were closed. Imagine, if just the government required its employees to start coming into work at 6:00 AM, and continued in waves through 11:00 AM.

    Ironically, that’s how my office works. 200 people, all coming in waves 30 minutes apart starting at 5:00 AM and the last wave at noon.

  6. Of all things, the Government doesn’t do that?!?!?!?!?!

    That seems hypocritical. Then of course I noticed Metro has a HUGE friggin parking garage too. One would think that a requirement for working there would be that transit be used.

    Most of the companies I have worked for all support either tellecommuting (the ultimate in commute solutions) or a flexible start time. One figures out the busy times, and doesn’t leave or drive then. I used it to not ride the MAX/Streetcar/Busses during the rush.

    Do that, then resolve the school situation and whammo, no more bloody traffic problems for another 20-40 years. Because seriously, if it could be spaced out just in the daylight hours (or at least working hours of say 8:00am-7:pm) more evenly we wouldn’t have traffic problems. ALL of these traffic problems that we keep discussing solutions for on this blog (at least in throughput) are easily fixed by flexing start and end times of work days.

  7. I sometimes wonder how much fuel and pollution would be saved if TriMet immediately disposed of its fleet of F-150/F-250 trucks for its transit supervisors, and its Ford Explorers for its “executive staff”.

    What’s good for “the rest of us” (the bus/MAX) apparently is not good enough for TriMet’s own employees. I understand the transit supervisors need vehicles, but full-size trucks???

  8. I would note that Metro employees who use the garage get to pay for the privilege, it’s not subsidized for their use. And in fact the garage serves the whole district, not just Metro.

  9. Do TriMet execs really get Explorers? As has been noted here, at least TM GM Freddy (TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen) rides. And I know those supervisor vehicles carry a lot of stuff, like bus stop signs.

    That being said, a lot of the time it seems those vehicles are just for the supervisors’ comfort. Also, they have a lot of parking around 17th. Some of it may be used be operators who have to be there before buses start, but I don’t think that’s all. I would like to see it replaced with housing (w/support) for new operators. And I’m pretty sure that many operators don’t ride.

    Overall, the problem is that TriMet, while good, isn’t comprehensive like in San Fran and New York. And no, big projects aren’t really, really necessary. We just wouldn’t end up with as good a transportation system.

  10. TriMet got me to work this AM, but nothing was routine. I always tell folks, who say that they will try the bus when it snows, that all bets are off when the streets of Portland are slick.
    I expect that by the nature of their operations, OHSU and PSU already have a lot of coming and going all day unlike an outfit with an 8-5 schedule. Also both institutions have paid parking and subsidized transit, and hence have high non-drive alone mode splits. If we could get the private sector to do as well…at least down on Swan Island.
    I’ve had my battles with the bus company, but I think you guys are a little hard on TriMet. We have the 20 something largest service population, but the 12th or 13th highest ridership in the country. That says a lot.
    I think operator training is where more resources should be deployed; my experience with TriMet, RAZ and C-Tran tells me over and over that the realiability, people skills, etc. of operators has a huge impact, particularly on “choice riders.”

  11. Rest assured that turning Trimet into SF Muni is not a desirable path.

    Ask anyone from SF about the “cascading array of 38 Geary’s”

  12. OHSU and PSU already have a lot of coming and going all day unlike an outfit with an 8-5 schedule.

    Then why do all of the OHSU express busses (61, 64, 65, 66) get people to OHSU between 6:00 and 8:30 AM? The 65 is the only bus that has service (to 9:17 AM)

    Obiviously TriMet has increased the service to OHSU to correspond with the needs of OHSU, which is for people to work a close-to-eight-to-five weekday work schedule. So I stand by my statement, that OHSU, the VA Hospital, and PSU, as the largest transportation generators, should voluntarily restrict people from coming in during rush hours.

    Better yet – they built a tram. USE IT! (And redeploy those express busses to serve the general public.)

  13. On the Viaduct Issue, there is a former Monorail Board member that has his own idea on what to do. If it was not for being an elected board member(2 of the 9 members were elected) presiding over that fiasco, I would probably not have too many reservations. he called it Sea-Rex, or Seattle Regional Express.

    One improvement done to facilitate better traffic flow for the tunnel buses being put on the surface during construction, was a boarding Island at 4th and Jackson. That was to avoid too many buses on the the south side of Jackson St on the stop next to Union Station(the old Union Pacific/Milwaukee Road station, which is now RTA HQ). It also helps the Trolleycoaches on RTs 1,7, and 14, plus others being deadheaded from having to cut across several lanes of traffic to make the turn onto Prefontaine Place to pickup 3rd Ave. They only have to cut across 2 lanes of traffic now in one block.

    As for any snow impacts, the inconveniences of our articulated buses popped up again. Here is a picture of a Community Transit bus in Downtown Seattle, that jacknifed on slick streets.

  14. The OHSU express buses were a direct response to OHSU’s annual pass program where the institution pays for an annual pass for every employee (10K emps x $100 or so = $100K per year) at a reduced rate. This is in addition to payroll tax. Also, paid parking and extremely limited access via Terwilliger and Jackson Drive make it a necessary service.
    But yes the Tram will supplement that as well when the 35 gets rerouted to the base station in addition to Streetcar.

  15. The OHSU express buses were a direct response to OHSU’s annual pass program where the institution pays for an annual pass for every employee (10K emps x $100 or so = $100K per year) at a reduced rate. This is in addition to payroll tax.

    The OHSU Medical Group, to which, I believe, all the doctors belong to –and I don’t know who all else– does NOT pay Tri-Met payroll tax, as a 401(3)c non-profit.

  16. Gee, I pay TriMet tax as a self employed consultant. Not sure non-profits are excempt from this tax. That’s half the town.
    Can someone answer this question? Non-profits excempt from TriMet tax?

  17. According to the Oregon Department of Revenue:

    What wages are exempt from transit taxes?

    The following are exempt from TriMet and LTD excise taxes:

    Federal government units.
    Federal credit unions.
    Public school districts.
    Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3)–nonprofit and tax exempt institutions, except hospitals.
    Foreign insurers.
    All insurance adjusters, agents, and agencies, as well as their office staff, whether representing foreign or domestic companies.
    Domestic service in a private home.
    Casual labor.
    Services performed outside the district.
    Seamen who are exempt from garnishment.
    Employee trusts that are exempt from taxation.
    Tips paid by the customer to the employee.
    Wages paid to employees whose labor is connected solely to planting, cultivating, or harvesting seasonal agricultural crops.
    The following are exempt from LTD, but subject to TriMet:

    Public education districts.
    Public special service and utility districts.
    Port authorities.
    Fire districts.
    City, county, and other local government units.


    So, the above doesn’t answer the question as to whether OHSU and the VA Hospital are exempt, because it lists them as either exempt (state and federal government units, public school districts) or non-exempt (hospitals).

    But, 501(c)(3) non-profits (except hospitals) are exempt – but is OHSU or the VA Hospital a 501(c)(3)? I think not, so they must fall under the exempt category.

  18. I am appalled at how long this list is of exemptions to the Tri-Met employment excise tax. There should not be all of these exemption, period.

    This needs to be revisited by whoever is the ruling authority that controls this. This has to happen right now. This is not tax fairness, this is special previlege being given and it has to stop or have justifications that walk on water to stay in effect.

  19. It underscores my belief that TriMet is providing more service than necessary, to a population which is exempt from funding TriMet (namely, OHSU, PSU and the VA Hospital) and does not serve (or underserves) other large employment centers such as Tualatin, parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro, Rivergate, and areas around Portland International Airport.

    Although it could be argued that some of those entities pay for transit passes for their employees, so does mine – and my employer is not exempt. So shouldn’t my company get a tax break, or at the very least more service for its employees?

  20. “It underscores my belief that TriMet is providing more service than necessary, to a population which is exempt from funding TriMet (namely, OHSU, PSU and the VA Hospital)”

    Actually, the State of Oregon kicks in payment “in lieu” of payroll tax to transit districts, including TriMet, LTD and eight others, $15 million according to this 2004 briefing.

    So, it’s not accurate to say that state agencies are exempt from funding TriMet. The state is kicking in on their behalf. How the state’s “in lieu of” payment pencils out in comparison to what they would pay in payroll tax is another topic.

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