Looking for Change Under the Cushions

The Daily Journal of Commerce reports on the search for funding for the Sellwood Bridge.

If ever there were a place where tolling made sense…

31 responses to “Looking for Change Under the Cushions”

  1. Tolling was looked at during the Sellwood Bridge process and the earlier county vehicle registration tax proposal… findings said if tolls were placed on only the Sellwood, the administrative and collection costs would cancel out any revenue generated. If Multnomah County placed tolls on all the bridges they had jurisdiction over, the traffic would simply divert to the other bridges (namely, Marquam and Fremont), which would tie up traffic for hours.

    In short: tolling won’t work.

    My personal opinion? If the Sellwood Bridge was truly a city, county, regional, and state priority, funding would’ve been found already. Instead, history is repeating itself: we’re hearing about how the region absolutely must fork it over for CRC, and how the Caruthers crossing light rail bridge already has funding.

  2. Close the dang bridge already, or turn into into a bike/pedestrian only. Find a better location to build a regional crossing, one that doesn’t dump traffic onto neighborhood streets, where the neighbors complain.

    Given that most of the traffic crossing the bridge turns north on OR43 (or is used as a shortcut for downtown/SW commuters to reach the east side), perhaps improvements to the Ross Island might be a better use of the cash?

  3. If ever there were a place where tolling made sense – it would be TriMet’s proposed new transit bridge. Bicycle congestion and mayhem in Portland is coming to a head, in part because of bicyclist arrogance. An article in today’s O talks about growing bicycle congestion. Referring to the Hawthorne Bridge, it portrays that a rush-hour walk on the bridge often comes with a steady whoosh from passing cyclists coming up from behind – some bicyclists passing fast enough to startle even the most aware. It then suggests that pedestrians sometimes walking two abreast are part of the problem. Now isn’t it the bicyclists that are always complaining that cars are bigger and heavier that they are? On the same token, it seems bicyclists should be slowing down thereby yielding to pedestrians – but they don’t. Part of the problem is it is harder to stop a bicyclist than a train, Maybe speed bumps are needed in the bicycle lanes..

    To give more room to both bicyclists and pedestrians, and help relieve bicycle congestion, TriMet engineers have agreed to widen the bike-ped paths on the new bridge from 12 feet to 14 feet at an extra cost of 3.25M. Because it is the bicyclists that are making the demands and creating the congestion problems, it needs to be the bicyclists that are directly responsible to pay that extra 3.25M. Plus paying for bike-ped paths themselves, this makes the new transit bridge absolutely the correct place to implement bicycle tolls with congestion pricing that charges bicyclists a premium during peak periods

    As for the Sellwood Bridge; instead of looking under cushions, local politicians need end their bias against motorists, establish an equitable funding split and again be looking to at what is sitting on bicycle seats. Approximately half of the deck space on the Locally Preferred Alternative design for a new bridge is for non-motor vehicle use. Therefore no more than half of any local match monies ought to be paid by motorists. Not only is there a need for bicyclists to be charged a bicycle tax and/or bicycle registration fee, but if the bridge is to be made a so-called streetcar ready, then equity demands the local match of motorist paid dollars ought much less than 50 percent, and replaced with dollars that transit passengers pay through the fare box. Motorist must not be charged to pay for bicycle and transit infrastructure.

  4. The transit bridge is paid for in large part by lottery revenue bonds. If you don’t want to be taxed to pay for the bridge, stop playing the lottery.

  5. Could we get a handle on the legions of arrogant, aggressive, and plain incompetent drivers before we head off on a crusade against bicycles?

    (Disclaimer: I own a bicycle. I never ride it)

    “The transit bridge is paid for in large part by lottery revenue bonds.”

    I made a contribution Wednesday and will pick up my Saturday contribution today. Widen the bridge! Maybe if I win the big one I should volunteer to pay back all of Terry’s fuel taxes that have gone to anything but automobile use. Minus whatever percentage of general funds have crept in. Oh, and subtract something for the cost of that small presence in the Middle East. Bias against Automobiles? Ya.

    I also mowed my lawn the other day. I did not, nor have I ever requested a refund on my fuel taxes on fuel for off road use. How many people do? And I have a big lawn. Mowers United For Public Transit! Go By Streetcar! Get Off My Lawn!

    Back to my coffee. Thanks!

  6. Since when have governments been taken hostage by the fear of trial lawyers? People have suggested simpler, cost-effective solutions for the Sellwood Bridge, and those could even include a treetcar track.

    If you think that financing projects via a statewide lottery is an equitable solution I’ve got some bad news for you. In a makebelieve world all employees are given a fair chance. In the real world all manner of gambling is condoned and is an endemic problem in our society…..so playing the state run lotteries is just another aspect of that gambling craze and those who don’t participate can suffer discrimination.

    This lottery has given cretins like Kate Brown another slush fund to finance boondoggle projects. Remember the commitment of $250 million in lottery funds to the Milwaukie MAX? Building an entire streetcar line from OMSI to Milwaukie (including over the Sellwood Bridge) would not even cost that much. Or better yet let OPRR run a commuter service and buy the vehicles for them. There are already DMU’s on the market. Other cities use them.

    The replacement of the Sellwood Bridge is just another overpriced boondoggle. I’m glad that the State is coming up with $30 million. What about the city of Portland’s contribution? Both west and east highway approaches are in their territory. Still, I can’t see how the basic structure of the Sellwoood Bridge is significantly trustworthy less than the Ross Island. Similar piers, similar truss construction—and the RI bridge contains twice as many lanes. I’ve already described in other posts how the existing Sellwood bridge how it could be rid of several hundred tons of unnecessary concrete and replaced with lighter metal and prefabbed components. The walkway could easily go underneath. Only the concrete approaches are truly obsolete.

    So what if the piers are not up to present standards? (This is similar to the complaint against the I-5 bridges) For a real scary ride look at the I-84 interchange: Ramps sitting on top of 8 ft dia. columns 100 ft off the ground! If we need some serious seismic upgrade I would examine flimsy construction such as that–or older concrete structures with relatively little steel reinforcement. Not that I think we have a serious seismic risk here. The USGS maps show we don’t, I think.

  7. I probably should be paying more attention to the funding issues involved here, but frankly am just looking forward to setting up a lawn chair at Tacoma & SE 17th, and just taking in the serene expressions of motorists who have had their traffic calmed after relaxing behind a streetcar since Hwy 43.

  8. those who don’t participate can suffer discrimination.

    Are you kidding me? People who don’t play the lottery face discrimination? What, they’re not sharing in the opportunity to lose mony?

    I opposed the lottery before it was instituted. I’d rather we didn’t have it. But since we do, I don’t mind some of that money being spent in our region.

    Never in all my life has anyone quizzed me in such a manner as to determine whether or not I played the lottery in order to provide a service to me, evaluate me for employment, set my tax rates, etc.

    Discrimination against non-participants? Sheesh.

  9. Maybe a driver could get an idea of what it would be like to follow a streetcar on the Sellwood/Tacoma by following one on 10th from Market to Northrup. No fair passing, since we’re expecting to end up with two lanes – except for turns at key intersections.

  10. And how would that be different from following a bus without passing, exactly? (Or are you requiring that buses on Tacoma use pullouts and that platforms/curb extensions be removed?).

    The #1 congestion point for the current streetcar is on Lovejoy, which is currently one vehicle lane in each direction. Passing isn’t an option for anybody, including the buses that use Lovejoy.

  11. You kinda made my point, Bob, with your comment on Lovejoy.

    Actually there are differences between bus and streetcar operations on the bridge and Tacoma. For example, the bus would already be in traffic on 43. (Think of line 40 before the weight restrictions.) The streetcar would be introduced, probably with a signal. Also, streetcar standard braking distances are longer than those for buses, so they need more of a forward cushion, not that drivers behind would notice. There’s not much point arguing about any real time lost or saved with such differences; it’s perception that counts.

    I haven’t been down Tacoma for a month or two, and don’t remember a lot in the way of platforms/curb extensions at bus stops. Actually, it seems that most of the stops (including abandoned route 40 ones) were in parking/turning lanes and therefore did allow for passing. I could be wrong on this. Regardless, safety would be the governing factor on the appropriateness of such facilities. What’s the current transportation engineering philosophy on the desirability of allowing traffic to pass stopped buses on two-lane arterials?

  12. The idea of streetcar on the bridge needs some work I think. The bridge ended up 2 lanes, which means the streetcars will stew in rush hour traffic along with everyone else – not good for attracting choice riders.

    When time for streetcars, I’d advocate for taking away the bike lanes, and running cyclists on the wide sidewalks (ala Hawthorne Br), re-striping for 3 lanes, with the center lane a reversible streetcar track/bus lane to be used during peak hours. The off-peak direction would operate in the travel lane. This would require tracks in all 3 lanes, with some clever signaling equipment to work….I don’t like the idea of making these big investments without considering reserved right-of-way.

  13. There’s not much point arguing about any real time lost or saved with such differences; it’s perception that counts.

    I agree that perceptions are important, but I also try to counter perceptions when they aren’t fully correct.

    Perceptions are most important when pragmatic action will help both with a real situation and a perception. (For example, the public perception of safety on MAX is way worse than reality, but TriMet’s less-than-adequate security measures over the years fed into that perception and did allow for a security situation which is less than optimal. Increasing security personnel and making other structural changes, helps both with real problems and perception problems at the same time.)

    For me, discussing the reality of streetcar operations is important, as these discussions are coming up all over town with regard to the Streetcar System Concept Plan.

    Because streetcars have multiple boarding doors, quikly-deploying platform ramps for mobility devices, and fare collection systems which don’t involve the driver, the dwell time at stops is shoter than for a standard bus, making up at least some of the time lost based on following distances. Acceleration characteristics (at street speeds, anyway) are similar.

    Now, of course, you could build concrete-lined bus pads with carefully-measured platforms and use articulated buses with multiple boarding doors, quick-deploying ramps, and no fare collection, like Eugene’s EmX system, but what you’d wind up with in traffic is something which performs exactly like a streetcar. And with buses like that, you can’t have them pull out of traffic and still line up with platforms unless you clear out nearly a whole block of street parking to provide room for the vehicle to straighten out.

    The reality does matter.

  14. I haven’t been down Tacoma for a month or two, and don’t remember a lot in the way of platforms/curb extensions at bus stops.

    Here is a Google Street View / Map

    The eastbound side of Tacoma has a parking lane which can be used for a transit stop. But as I alluded, above, to provide the level of service a streetcar provides using BRT-style buses would require eliminating parking in order to provide the off-street platforms. There’s no reason a streetcar couldn’t have tracks which move out of traffic at stations, either, if the community is willing to give up the parking. But getting back to “perceptions”, that may create a situation where people perceive “streetcar” as equalling “loss of parking”.

    In the westbound direction, everything is curb-flush, with a median pedestrian island/landscaping strip at intersections. Buses and streetcars would perform exactly the same in this direction, as far as blocking traffic is concerned, unless the community were willing to give up the turn lane and pedestrian/landscaping island.

  15. If anyone wants to see a really gummed up mess on Tacoma Street; add the financially non-self sustainable money pit (10M plus a mile) of a snail rail streetcar creeping along that would obliterate any efficiency on left the street that PDOT has not already destroyed.

  16. Thanks, Bob. I haven’t yet gotten into the habit of automatically looking at Google Maps in these cases.

    Mayor Sam is adamant about putting streetcar here. Would the recall effect the probability of such a project actually happening? One would think that it would lose a place or two in the pecking order because of Milwaukie MAX.

    The Lake Oswego Alternatives Analysis projected 12 minute standard headway, effectively using all the streetcar runs from downtown. So would Sellwood runs have to be expensive additional trips, or would LO headway be doubled to 24 minutes? The AA did provide for 6.5 minute peak LO headway.

  17. One would think that it would lose a place or two in the pecking order because of Milwaukie MAX.

    I think the only reason that it’s still on the drawing board at this point is because of Milwaukie MAX and opportunities for transfer that provides.

    It is my understanding that there is still corridor modeling to be done. My hunch is that projected ridership (rather than land use concerns) will be the deciding factor on that line.

    The SE District Working Group (an input to the Streetcar System Plan) actually wanted to see a line from Sellwood north to OMSI, connecting with the soon-to-be-built Eastside Loop. If you look at the current Streetcar System Concept Plan, there’s also a proposed corridor up MLK to Lombard.

    I think there’s something to be said for a purely east-side, straight-line, N-S corridor all the way from Sellwood to N. Portland. But there are technical hurdles to making that connection, and it scored poorly in some analysis, and it didn’t make it past Screen 2B in the process.

  18. An Adams recall might slow things a bit; though these are long term plans. It mainly depends on who replaces him at City Hall.

  19. Bob,

    I’ll stand by my statement, despite your flip answer. Yes, there are people who don’t do any gambling—it’s not their lifestyle, whatever, and thus may not fit in to the prevailing culture where they work. I worked at a Boeing remodel project in Tukwila Washington, where the big thing seemed to be “goin’ to the casino.” We also had a reformed doper, who because of the nature of his high high strung personality, consistently got on a lot of nerves. There are many other instances of incompetence, too. This was also a FEMA funded repair so the highest standards of equal protection should have been implemented. But when it came time to cut back on people, the prevailing culture wins….. again. (I suppose they needed the work to pay their gambling debts.)

    But you, Bob, with your hoary head of wisdom obviously know all of the answers. I shouldn’t even try to say anything. You have the wisdom of a thousand Solomons by now, apparently.

    BTW, I was comparing the steel truss structure of the Sellwood bridge—it’s just the same thing used on the Burnside, the Morrison, the Ross Island….and who knows how many thousands of other early twentieth century bridges. Riveted, trussed beams with some x-members periodically, fastened to upper and lower chords, which in the RI and the Morrison converged into a single bracket per side at the apogee of the arch. Are all those hundreds of other, similarly constructed bridges ready to fall down, too? Or are they just pickin’ on the Sellwood because they figure the poor, taxpayers can only afford so much?

    $321 million. Sheesh!

    Where we really need to spend the money for a new bridge is smack, dab in the heart of ol’ Lake Oswego, crossin’ Willamette Ck. That would reduce VMT in the So. Metro/No. Clackamas CO. region, soooo much!

  20. Ron –

    I have singled out some of your comments and made fairly strong attacks against those comments, but I have not resorted to personal attacks against you. I request that you not resort to such attacks in return. Thanks.

  21. In that Sam wants to bribe Multnomah County by only promising Portland will come up with some funding if a new bridge is made streetcar ready, not only should such a pronouncement be added to Sam’s scandalous rap sheet, but a Tacoma Street streetcar funding package needs to be already in place before any new bridge is constructed. That funding package then must include a Local Improvement District whereby the residences and business in the Sellwood Bridge impact area help bay for the streetcar readiness of the bridge along with helping to pay for the over-sized super-sized sidewalks on the bridge, and a proportional share of the infrastructure to hold them up. After all, those will be the people that are most likely to use both the streetcar and the sidewalks, and therefore need to be the ones that pay for them. Motorists who never come close to using the bridge must not be required to pay with higher registration fees for the frills the Sellwood neighborhood may want.

    Additionally, it ought to be the Sellwood Neighborhood that pays for the crane to be installed at the West end of the bridge that will it pick up and lower it to the tracks below so downtown Portland can receive yet another subsidy in the form of another duplicated to and from downtown transit line/route.

  22. Terry,

    Whether or not you think Sam’s posture regarding the Sellwood Bridge replacement is wise or not; it isn’t illegal or improper. (If it were either, Sam would have made the demand in secret; not on the front page of the newspaper).

    But you do bring up a good point–so far, streetcar construction has been funded by LIDs and such–neighborhoods who don’t pay up don’t get streetcar service. The LO extension might be an exception, but it’s involving an existing ROW.

    Is there any evidence at this point that Sellwood wants a streetcar line down Tacoma Street, and more to the point, is willing to contribute funding? If the line were built, what percentage of the riders would be embarking or detraining in Sellwood, as opposed to folks getting off at the Tacoma Street TC and riding the line into SW? Would a limited-stop service along this route be better than a local service?

    I think that tying transit enhancements to the bridge isn’t a bad idea. But the issue shouldn’t be demanding the county install tracks in the pavement prior to any service being availble; the issue should be ensuring that the new bridge is a far more regionally useful connector than the current bridge is. Specifically, this means that Sellwood needs to accept regional traffic through their neighborhood. Support for a rail connection would be one way to demonstrate that support.

    Otherwise, we might as well close the thing down to cars, make it a ped only bridge, and build a new connector for cars, trucks, and trains somewhere else.

  23. Is there any evidence at this point that Sellwood wants a streetcar line down Tacoma Street, and more to the point, is willing to contribute funding?

    There is some evidence to suggest this, from the SE District Working Group meetings and related survey, but it would be good to hear more from the area community.

    It should be noted that the Streetcar System Concept Plan isn’t something that’s going to suddenly plop down streetcars everywhere and force a funding scheme on a neighborhood without warning.

    The first streetcar took 10 years to plan and get the various stakeholders on board. The new eastside loop, just underway, has had about 6 years of stakeholder meetings.

    A funding mechanism for any proposed Tacoma line will involve lots of local input.

  24. Bob R. Says: It should also be noted that the SE District Working Group, when discussing Tacoma, was also discussing the possibility of Milwaukie Ave. at the same time.

    I’ve been down Milwaukie a lot since I moved last fall and I have to say I think the idea is nuts. Milwaukie isn’t “narrow in parts” or however the document phrased it, it’s narrow consistently from Holgate south. Down by Bybee, things get very congested and slow and running a streetcar through there would just make it worse, because there is no way around a stopped train.

    I rode the Streetcar last evening, from the waterfront up to 11th & Stark. It was doing a brisk business and was, for our purposes, the perfect option for a pub crawl. Some of the other areas proposed for streetcars, however, just don’t seem as useful, and Milwaukie (and the Sellwood Bridge) fall into this category. IMO, of course.

  25. Jeff –

    The Milwaukie idea is moot at this point … the corridor was marked as a lower priority even by the SE District Working Group, and did not survive subsequent screening processes and was not resurrected by the SAC.

    I brought up the SE DWG mainly to point out that the idea of streetcar service has been proposed and discussed by the Sellwood / Westmoreland community.

  26. On the possible exceptionalness of the LO extension:

    With the exception of the original $2 million which local gov’t’s and TriMet paid for the right of way 20+ years ago, the entire capital cost would be paid with federal tax dollars on the basis of claiming that the ROW (which, as an entity, has no worth to anyone except for the current owner) actually has a “market value” of $109 million as of June of last year. Note, that the parts of the ROW which the consortium owns do have potential value to adjacent property owners; it’s just that as an entity, the ROW is restricted to rail transport.

    The operating costs, though, also should be of concern. Streetcars cost about 40% more per hour to operate than buses. We’re expecting frequent service as opposed to the 30 minute and hourly headway that we now get. So there would be an awful lot more streetcar runs than current bus trips. Line 35 has been on the list for frequent service designation for years but has not shown any growth in ridership. If anything, it’s been on a slight decline.

    Also, there are many reasons to believe that streetcar trip times will take significantly longer than projected in the project Alternatives Analysis. If nothing else, a ‘hybrid’ alignment could add three minutes to the average trip. While the AA projected a 24 minute trip from PSU to LO, it will probably take at least 30 and maybe more than 35. This means that we’ll need more streetcar sets (more operating cost) in service than projected just to meet headway requirements.

    Finally, the longer trip times will mean that the streetcar will significantly degrade service for most riders, especially those losing single seat service. Remember, the extension would come online long before traffic has a chance to slow to 2025 projections. Daily commuting time could easily go up by half an hour or more for most riders. If TriMet agrees to maintain bus service to placate riders, then the costs involved would come on top of streetcar ops.

    Bottom line – TriMet/Portland Streetcar could easily find itself with a WES, jr. where actual ridership is a fraction of projections and ops costs exceed farebox revenue by $3 million or more annually. So will transit operators cut back service throughout the system a la WES? (Perhaps 30 minutes will be the new 15 minutes for frequent service.)

    The point is that there is more than a little reason for LO (and Johns Landing if Metro/TriMet adopt a ‘hybrid’ Macadam/ROW alignment) to form a LID to protect all riders and payroll taxpayers from undue burdens from this project. At the least, the LO city council should consider a direct subsidy to the project, and to make any commitment at least one election before any first payment.

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