Transit with Multiple Centers

Via Planetizen.

This may be very appropos to our discussions about where to use what forms of transit. This piece compares Houston with a region in Germany to look at how to combine modes in an area with multiple centers.

28 responses to “Transit with Multiple Centers”

  1. I’ve argued that we need something just like this, and each time I’m pooh-poohed.

    For example:

    1. Commuter Rail network, connecting Portland with Salem initially via Milwaukie, Oregon City, Canby and Woodburn. Later (as population warrants) to Kelso/Longview, Camas/Washougal, St. Helens, McMinnville, and Troutdale.

    2. MAX, connecting Portland with Gresham, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Airport, Tigard/Tualatin, Clackamas (note that I am not including North Portland or Milwaukie here.)

    3. Streetcar in Portland central area (between the West Hills and I-205, Columbia River to Willamette/Clackamas convergence – which includes the MAX Yellow and Green lines.)

    4. Busses, which will connect residential and business centers to the commuter rail and MAX stations, as well as outlying communities and also to connect with each other.

    Of course these will then connect with Amtrak intercity services (at Union Station) and regional/national flights (through PDX).

    Now, this isn’t going to happen. Why? Because we can’t think beyond light rail and Streetcar. We come up with excuses that the rail system is clogged (we can build a second track, or rebuild the BNSF bridge – but then we have to add light rail to the bridge.) There is no desire to think regional, no desire to look beyond MAX. We have the infrastructure in place to develop this system just as Germany has (and I have seen and used first hand).

    The closest that we have come to realizing any of this is to suggest that we can expand the Beaverton-Wilsonville Commuter Rail line to Salem, of which is frought with issues (namely, there’s a much better route that serves more communities and is already “passenger train ready”.) That still leaves many communities with nothing, because they aren’t ready for rail and nobody wants to discuss busses.

    When the day comes that the relevant parties come together and start discussing a comprehensive, regional transportation network that involves meeting the transportation needs of people, without anyone yelling “MAX!” as the very first word, we will make progress. MAX has its place in the network, but we are also clearly demonstrating that we are using MAX where it is not appropriate (where we should be utilizing a Streetcar instead), or are trying to have MAX do something that is more the role of commuter rail. Nor must we define ourselves by our existing infrastructure and projects, but be willing to look at what other communities are doing and are doing well (i.e. building a brand new high speed rail line connecting Seattle to Portland, BRT, monorail, jitney service).

  2. Been there (Germany, Netherlands, London, etc), done that, have the transit tickets still to show it.

    In my opinion, we should be looking at linking the entire Willamette Valley region together into a comprehensive network that allows easy transfers, station/transit centers with amenities (like shops! benches! etc! cleanliness!) that entice people to travel from place to place quickly and efficiently…utilizing:

    Regional Rail:

    Lightrail/BRT systems in the larger metro areas:

    and Bus systems in the rest of them.

    Surprise tho! A lot of this system already exists. The problem, however, is low frequency, poor reliability, particularly when it comes to adhering to schedules.

    Additionally, easy signage and an actual valley-wide system to allow people to travel from city to city quickly and effortlessly needs to be done to reduce reliance on the auto – people still want to travel, but cars produce too large a physical impact on our cities.

  3. I guess I pretty much agree with Erik on these, except I don’t think MAX to Vancouver would be inappropriate, considering it’s only 6 or so miles away.

    When I was in Berlin, there didn’t seem to be that much of a difference between the U and S-Bahns, except the spacing of the stations further outside the cities. In Germany, some of the S-Bahn (suburban) lines run underground like the U-Bahns, and in places like Berlin, there is an underground S-Bahn line that functions like the U-Bahn.

    I did like how they do commuter rail in Germany, however – the S-Bahn had long trains that can carry several thousand people, are pretty much indistinguishable from a metro train in size, shape, and propulsion. Some S-Bahn (commuter) trains also share both metro stations AND regional rail stations.

    If anything, our MAX performs more like the S-Bahn train service in Munich… and, of course, we have no metro/underground service, but we need one pretty bad!

  4. With their downtown centric mindset, Portland, Metro and TriMet can not even get it right within the UGB. Before there is any thinking outside the boundary box, TriMet needs to realign its service with transit hubs that are located at regional employment centers other than downtown, offer hub to hub express service, and create rapid East-West and North-South service that all bypass the downtown transit jam. Local feeder service and park and ride would serve/be available at all hubs. Significantly increased transit fares, not wasting funds on expensive streetcar systems and street modifications like curb extensions, and an end to Fareless Square would pay for the new service instead of flashy paradigm.

  5. I was just reading an article in the April, 2007 issue of Urban Land in which Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, is interview. I particularly thought that the following quote would be useful to share in this discussion:

    I am sure that the future of urban transportation is in surface mass transit — in a surface system that has the same performance as a subway. You can give a surface system the same performance as an underground system, but you can construct it much faster to serve more passengers with higher quality. I can tell you, because I did it. Now, over 80 cities are implementing systems like the ones that I implemented in Curitiba.

    Lerner is basically saying that, sure, an underground system might be great, but it costs so much and takes so long to build, why not just build a surface system that offers the same performance at a small fraction of the cost?

    So far, this is more or less the path that Portland has chosen, and with some tweaking, it should continue to work into the future.

    Yes, Portland needs a more multi-modal system. Commuter rail needs to expand to the more far-flung neighboring cities, high speed rail needs to bring us in connection with the rest of the regional Northwest and the nation, and our streetcar system could be expanded to provide neighborhood services to more areas.

    All we need is a $2/gallon gas tax to start making it happen…

  6. “With their downtown centric mindset, Portland, Metro and TriMet can not even get it right within the UGB.”

    Terry, I’m not sure that is a fair characterization in the year 2007. How does what you say square with Metro’s strategy regarding regional centers? Isn’t that trying to purposefully spread development?

    “Significantly increased transit fares, not wasting funds on expensive streetcar systems and street modifications like curb extensions, and an end to Fareless Square would pay for the new service instead of flashy paradigm.”

    What do you have to back the above statement up?

  7. “All we need is a $2/gallon gas tax to start making it happen…”

    How about a $2/ride transit tax to start making it happen?

  8. [personally directed comment removed]

    And I re-iterate and clarify my suggestion:

    A $2/gallon gas tax is exactly what made Germany’s transit achievements possible (or the equivalent with euros and liters). The same would make a similar network possible here.

    Anthony, if you have an alternative proposal that would raise a similar amount of capital, that necessary to construct the system outlined in the article that this post is in reference to, let’s have it.

    [personally directed comment removed]


  9. There are places where running rails on the surface works, I think downtown Portland, OR is not one of those places. If MAX were run underground between the Convention Center and Civic Stadium you could cut out at least 3 stops (downtown two stops could be served by one underground platform with stair extending from either end), and MAX wouldn’t have to deal with traffic lights.

  10. [personally directed comment removed]

    What your proposing is an astronomical “sin tax” on motorists to fund a welfare transit system used by a select few. I merely turned it around and suggested that the transit users pay the tax.. and I am suddenly a troll.

    Only in Portland.

    Want a better funding program for the system outlined above? Don’t build it. The transit around here already has plenty of problems without adding to it.

    I would start with improving what we have. Getting rid of redundant MAX stops. Grade separating the entire MAX system. Removing fareless square and installing turnstiles at all train stations. Building an additional HOT lane on all of Portland’s freeways. Upgrading certain highways to freeway status [such as HWY30, 99E, 224]. Creating a freeway bus network such as the one implemented in Seattle. Stopping the endless urban renewal transit oriented crap that is putting us into debt.. not enough money for all of this? Then we shouldn’t be building anything more!

  11. Garlynn one thing about Curitiba that is different than Portland. Much of their system is private. Last time I looked 13 private companies made up the system that was then managed by a government agency. They have neighborhood ciculators, medium service transit and express BRT buses. I understand from others that the frequency of the buses often is every 3 minutes.

    Portland on the other hand has shut out any private investment.


  12. For once I agree with Erik on this one, and with the comment that a fast regional rail system – ELECTRIFIED should extend from St. Helens in the northwest, cover most of Clark County, and south to Eugene with branches to McMinnville, Corvallis, etc. But be aware that this would NOT be cheap — the most expensive part of a regional network would be upgrading the current UP mainline, particularly between downtown Salem and Union Station. Getting across the Columbia is also a major, expensive challenge given the huge volumes of freight traffic. Ideally fast regional passenger service would be separated to the maximum degree feasible from heavy freight traffic.

    What is being advocated in Houston and seconded by Erik and most others in this thread is NOT a new idea, however. See this link for a 30-year old presentation outlining the principles of “multiple destination transit networks.”

  13. This idea of more Hot Lane multi-mode methods of connecting transit centers and communities is important. MAX should be considered a Hot Lane but to me it is not.

    Express Bus service with little or NO stops, most often provides better service at a faction of the cost over MAX/LRT.

  14. If MAX were run underground between the Convention Center and Civic Stadium you could cut out at least 3 stops (downtown two stops could be served by one underground platform with stair extending from either end), and MAX wouldn’t have to deal with traffic lights.

    You don’t need even that much underground. Quadruple-track the Steel Bridge to get rid of the bottleneck (although not the bridge-lift problem), get rid of some stations, and you could run faster four-car trains on the red and blue line.

    Eliminate Lloyd Center and Convention Center stations, and build the Rose Quarter and 7th Avenue Stations to 400 feet.

    Get rid of the Old Town/Chinatown and the Oak Street stations on First Avenue, and build the Skidmore Fountain station to 400 feet.

    Put MAX underground (two tracks) under Morrison from First Avenue to Twelfth, with stations at 4th/5th and 10th/11th. Take it back to the surface between 12th and 13th, and run two tracks on the surface along Morrison from 13th to 18th. Get rid of the PGE Park station and expand Kings Hill Station to 400 feet.

    This would double the passenger capacity of the Blue Line while significantly reducing travel time through downtown, and cost substantially less than most MAX tunnel proposals.

    And then put a second track on Yamhill (the current MAX track remains car-free for west-bound traffic) and use it for a streetcar line from 18th and Burnside to the Hawthorne Bridge.

    On an unrelated note: if MAX or BRT goes to Oregon City, it should serve the Amtrak station there.

  15. In Germany, some of the S-Bahn (suburban) lines run underground like the U-Bahns, and in places like Berlin, there is an underground S-Bahn line that functions like the U-Bahn.

    I was in Hamburg for a month and routinely used trains from Elmshorn, a town about 30km northwest of Hamburg, which was served by a variety of DB trains including Hamburg S-Bahn trains.

    Imagine in Portland:

    S-Bahn – Commuter Train (to Kelso/Longview, Camas/Washougal, and Salem)

    RegioTrain – Regional Train (Amtrak Cascades, between Seattle and Eugene)

    Long Distance Trains (not really an equivalent in Germany, but they would be Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Empire Builder trains)

    All on the exact same tracks.

    Unfortunately any transportation planning that exists, won’t even look at the potential that such has – yet Germany, which is often seen by the “Transit-Oriented Development” and “Mass Transit” advocates – DOES THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY. We have a suitable railroad that connects Kelso, Washougal, Troutdale, and Salem to Portland. Three of those lines currently host Amtrak service, and one (the line to Troutdale) used to (and is still capable of operating passenger service with no improvement to the rail infrastructure). Yes, there is the issue of capacity, which can be easily rectified.

    Instead, we find tiny faults and excuses for not doing this. Instead, we build light rail systems at several times the cost, we “plan” to no end systems that require massive investment (for which funding will not exist in many, many years), and the one link that makes sense (Portland-Salem), we are insistent on using a very unsuitable route, which bypasses every community and requires a complete rebuild from the subroadbed up – instead of using a more suitable route that currently has Amtrak passenger service.

    Because of this, we’re stuck because no one will truly look at what other cities/countries do; but rather try to find what other cities (like Vancouver, BC) does, and use ideas to further pre-conceived notions. If the Metro planners that have looked at Vancouver, BC truly, truly took a hard look at Vancouver, we would immediately and without any delay begin a massive infusion of cash into beefing up TriMet’s bus fleet, and immediate start a commuter rail system to Camas/Washougal and to Salem, and begin planning for other routes. We’d have commuter bus routes to McMinnville and St. Helens (with the ultimate goal being commuter rail service to those cities), along with to North Plains and Banks (which have zero transit now), and to Gaston. We’d start a truly regional approach to transportation planning. And we’d take a hard look at the role of MAX and Streetcar, and also realize that Streetcar is not a regional mode of transport, and demand that Portland – not Metro and not TriMet – operate Streetcar as an indepedent, but complimentary, mode of transport.

    I’m not holding my breath. It isn’t going to happen in Portland.

  16. Ever since reading that Tribune article a month ago on the prospect that urban planners are putting people in unhealthy places I have found a new passion to help this problem.

    First thing is education; how can someone in the public media straight out blame a scapegoat without addressing the issue even once (I know this seams elementary to anyone with common sense but; cars create the pollution, putting people in suburbs away from the pollution centers creates more pollution centers and a bigger overall polluted area). With that said; Metro is looking at ways to fund our infrastructure needs, so I propose we set up a congestion tax by tolling and a gas tax within the UGB to pay for infrastructure improvements that directly decrease these negative health aspects of car exhaust.

    We, as a community, need to give Metro goals for reducing this air pollution by demanding a full multi-centered model of transport. As others have posted in this comment section, there are numerous options for local circulators, local rail, regional rail and intercity rail. We need to go further than this by funding seperated bike paths, build sidewalks, create car-free streets, cap major freeways and filter the car exhaust (I-405, I-5 in N Portland, and I-84 Banfield would be good starters since they are already below grade seperated), paint and sign combined HOV and freight only lanes on the freeways, set gas standards and auto efficiancy standards within the UGB (hybrid only new cars by 2015 (PDX is a decent sized market for auto makers to comply)), and even… if I dare… combine all of Portland’s suburbs, Metro, Trimet and the like into one government body (Greater Portland?) with a system of control similar to New York’s or Greater London’s boroughs to maximize resources and simplify colaborations.

    These are simply ideas to put out there, but we need to act now to keep our city and region healthy as people and in the world economy. We need multimodel transportation, not just single focuses.

  17. I think it is important to remember that Germany’s land mass is about 1/3 larger than Oregon with a population of over 82 million people. Oregon will never be like Europe no matter how hard it tries.

    But that is not really the problem with heavy rail solutions. The problem is that US rails are privately owned by companies that make money moving freight, not people.

    We also have a fragmented system of government. The federal government regulates the railroads. Metro plans for the local Portland region. It is not responsible for transportation outside the Metro area. That includes commuter lines to places like McMinnville or Salem, much less Kelso, Longview, Washougal or Camas.

  18. Regulation and planning are two very, very different matters – apples and oranges, so to speak.

    The federal government does indeed regulate the railroads, which comprises of two components – safety (Federal Railroad Administration), and ratemaking/line sales/abandonment (Surface Transportation Board).

    In fact, TriMet (as the owner of the railline between Tigard and Beaverton) is itself a federally regulated railroad. (See: this document).

    Now whether Metro should be planning outside the region, there is precedent that Metro should be planning outside the region.

    Case in point: Southwest Washington’s Regional Transportation Council, in which Metro has one seat on its Board of Directors (see:, yet is very clearly outside Metro’s jurisdiction (see: ORS 268.020).

    Likewise, I think we can all agree that Portland is not a self-contained community, in that it encourages and thrives upon outside influences, whether it be Metro-area residents enjoying areas outside of the region (i.e. Columbia Gorge, Oregon Coast, Willamette Valley, Washington) or participating in economic affairs that are outside Portland (surely Nike, Freightliner, Adidas, Intel, and the many other Portland area companies do the bulk of their business outside the Metro area); or for those outside of the Metro area to engage in recreation or economic affairs within Portland – i.e. employment, shopping, as a source of goods and services, etc.

    As a result Metro certainly has a vested interest in planning outside the region, when the plans are to consider links to within the District. Certainly, one would not think that ODOT wouldn’t collaborate with WSDOT, ITD and CalTrans – otherwise we wouldn’t have any of the bridges across the Columbia River (most of which are jointly owned by WSDOT and ODOT, and most of them are actually operated by ODOT), nor would we have the interstate links provided by U.S 101, I-5, U.S. 97, U.S. 395, U.S. 95, U.S. 20, 26, 30, I-84, or I-82.

    Now, commuter links to the outside regions like Columbia, Clark, Marion and Yamhill Counties most likely won’t be operated by Metro or TriMet, but rather a regional transit agency (like Sound Transit in the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett area) or a subsidiary component to ODOT (like Washington State Ferries). Or by a separate entity, popular in California as a Joint Powers Board (like the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, more popularly known as Metrolink). But to suggest that Metro has zero authority to become engaged in such, well, then what is Metro doing as a constitutent member to a transportation planning agency outside it’s boundaries (the RTC)?!!

    [Editor’s note: Link updated to restore formatting. 2007-05-21 – B.R.]

  19. Out of all the comments, “Portland on the other hand has shut out any private investment.” only one person has gone straight to the point right off the bat.

    How come private interest is basically banned in this area from providing any real solutions? Raz exists but mainly just stays out of the way.

    What is so wrong with private interests getting invested in transportation?

  20. What is so wrong with private interests getting invested in transportation?

    They are involved in a lot of ways. The reason they aren’t directly involved in operating public transit is that there isn’t a profitable business model. That’s the reason we have public transit agencies. Many of the benefits to having a high quality transit system are spread out to the general public rather than concentrated on a few individuals who can be expected to pay directly for them.

  21. I was in Amsterdam last week and missed this post, but nonetheless feel compelled to comment on it, since I am currently doing an internship at the Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG (SSB), the operator of the 11 light rail lines, 1 streetcar line, bus system, cog railway line, and funicular railway in Stuttgart, one of the cities discussed in the original post.

    Stuttgart, the state capital of Baden-Württemburg, is a hilly city of about 500,000, with about 1.5 million in the metropolitan area. Within the city itself there are multiple centers, though like most German cities it is far more downtown-oriented than similar U.S. cities. Nevertheless, of the 11 light rail lines, two are true tangential lines that do not pass through the city center (the U3 and U13). The other nine lines run through the city center underground through a network of tunnels originally intended for use as an actual subway system. All this in what is most definitely a “car city”–it largely gave birth to the automobile, and DaimlerChrysler (as its name remains for the time being) and Porsche are both based here. (One other interesting note: the SSB has a farebox recovery rate of 91%–the highest in Germany.)

    Looking at a map of the system, it is clear that it is very interconnected. Transfer stations between lines are numerous and it is very easy to get almost anywhere in town by light rail, to such an extent that I have hardly needed to use a bus since moving here.

    It is interesting that Erik would reference Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany and by far the largest without a light rail or streetcar system. In the 50s Hamburg followed the “New York” model, figuring that only two modes are necessary for urban transit: metro (in the form of the Hamburger Hochbahn, the elevated railway in the city consisting of three lines) and bus. Of course, there is also the Hamburger S-Bahn, the five or six lines of which operate effectively like a metro within the city but extend to the suburbs. And then there are the Regionalbahnen–the regional railway lines that serve other regional centers–and the intercity trains. But today Hamburg is running double-articulated buses because they lack the medium-capacity functionality of light rail.

    I say it is interesting that Erik would cite Hamburg because his argument–for greater willingness to support various modes for various purposes–is not particularly well-reflected in Hamburg, due to the city’s decision to abandon streetcar/light rail altogether. A better example would perhaps be Munich (where I also worked) or Berlin, both of which have bus, streetcar, subway, S-Bahn, Regionalbahn and intercity service.

    I believe that the Portland region needs a variety of modes as well, commuter rail included. But I do not think that with three lines (and a fourth under construction) that it is quite fair to say that the city focuses on light rail to the exclusion of all else. After all, The system is far from built-out and I don’t think it’s good policy to rule out modes outright–whether that means building only light rail or anything but.

  22. Now whether Metro should be planning outside the region, there is precedent that Metro should be planning outside the region.

    Of course Metro participates in planning outside the region. Tualatin participates in planning outside Tualatin. Your examples from Washington would suggest you want new regional authorities and that is the responsibility of the state legislature, not Metro.

    The last time Metro started talking about including “satellite cities” like McMinnville as elements in its planning for regional growth it caused quite an uproar as I recall. You may think it makes sense, but those small towns don’t see their futures as bedroom communities for Metro Portland.

  23. Many people including myself do not want live in overpriced studio boxes stacked in overly dense neighborhoods like cord wood. Home ownership with the white picket fence and a green lawn is part of the American Dream, and one of the many reasons and freedoms that US Armed Forces have fought in many wars to protect.

    As for Metro’s strategy for regional centers: A regional center is not necessarily a transit hub, but in most cases probably should be with off the street facilities. However TriMet’s downtown centric mindset appears to be somewhat different. They have all but dismantled the Gateway Transit Center with far fewer busses stopping there, and TriMet along with PDOT wants to dismantle the Hollywood Transit Center and replace it with a development project with the busses stopping and blocking traffic on the street. Furthermore the Sandy bus no longer takes the small jog and serves the Hollywood Transit Center. It stays on Sandy through the Hollywood District and also creates unnecessary congestion when stopping in traffic for passengers.

  24. Your examples from Washington would suggest you want new regional authorities and that is the responsibility of the state legislature, not Metro.

    No, I do not want new regional authorities nor do we need it. That’s what TriMet and Metro are – regional authorities.

    Since we appear to be defining what Metro’s job isn’t, well, what IS Metro’s job? I thought they were the regional transportation planning agency, but I must be mistaken.

    (Reference, Metro Charter, Chapter II, Section 5 (2)(b)(1) – )

  25. djk wrote on May 19th:

    Put MAX underground (two tracks) under Morrison from First Avenue to Twelfth, with stations at 4th/5th and 10th/11th. Take it back to the surface between 12th and 13th, and run two tracks on the surface along Morrison from 13th to 18th. Get rid of the PGE Park station and expand Kings Hill Station to 400 feet.

    This is intriguing… it may provide just enough of the needed decrease in travel time without breaking the bank like a full-on subway might. (Although if we can build a subway for sewage on both sides of the river, we shouldn’t be immediately afraid of a subway for trains.)

    I took a look at partial-subway solutions and maximum train lengths last year in my How I Would Untangle the Rose Quarter post.

    Short of my more intense proposal, can you expand on what you would do for the Rose Quarter? 3 or 4 car trains stopped at Rose Quarter would block the off-ramp from I-5 to Holladay. That ramp could be elevated a short distance to Multnomah, but then it wouldn’t have convenient access to Holladay and the Convention Center.

    Personally I think that it would be easy and effective to eliminate the Convention Center station and rename Rose Quarter as “Rose Quarter / Convention Center”… the walking distances involved to the entry doors and ticket office are not significantly different, but it would probably be politically untenable, and wouldn’t solve the 3-car train blockage problem.

    Your suggestion of an underground station at 4th/5th could be adjusted slightly to center on 5th/6th with connecting underground walkways as far out as 4th and Pioneer Courthouse Square. This would facilitate the best transfers with the transit mall.

    (Does anybody else think that the portal/doors in Pioneer Courthouse Square under the fountain, where TriMet already has an office, would make a great entrance to a subway station?)

    – Bob R.

  26. How about undergrounding MAX from Hollywood TC (it’d actually go underground just before Lloyd Center) to Sunset TC, with just three stops – Rose Garden/Convention Center, Old Town (anywhere north of Burnside), and Pioneer Courthouse Square (using the current Visitor’s Center entrance is a great idea) – and using the existing MAX line from Goose Hollow to Lloyd Center as a Streetcar line, creating a new loop at Lloyd Center (instead of a stub-end terminal) and a loop at Collins Circle.

  27. portal/doors in Pioneer Courthouse Square under the fountain as a MAX station entrance

    I have thought of this in the past. There might be a problem with the increased use, but the design aspects would be INCREDIBLE. But sadly, TriMet is instead spending (wasting) $200 million on a slow, disruption-prone surface alignment. Overall, I consider a tunnel a project on the scale that Randy Gregg mentioned and something that would actually help traffic congestion.

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