Archive | October, 2010

Transit Appliance Goes Out for a Beer


Today I had the opportunity to install our first alpha test unit of the Transit Appliance at Bailey’s Taproom (213 SW Broadway at Ankeny).

Happily, compared to hotel WiFi setups, Bailey’s was a snap, with a simple passphrase entry.

But each installation comes with new discoveries. At this location near the transit mall there are simply too many arrivals to display on one screen! We may need to look at a paging scenario (but that contradicts the ‘glanceable’ use case we’ve been trying to support). So for now we’re focusing on displaying the arrivals for the two nearest MAX stations. We make tweak that based on requests from Bailey’s customers.

So please go check it out and have a beer by way of a thank you to owner Geoff Phillips for being our first guinea pig.

I hope to be showing another unit at GOSCON (Government Open Source) this week (another hotel WiFi scheme to navigate).

After that I hope to find an eastside coffee house location for our next alpha test!


Find it right by the cash register

Now playing at Bailey’s:

The Oregon gubernatorial election and transit looks at the Oregon gubernatorial election between Democrat John Kitzhaber, and Republican Chris Dudley, and its potential affect on transit in the Portland area.
There are many issues on next Tuesday’s ballot which will or may impact transit in the Portland area. All Oregon citizens will be voting for a state representative, and half of us will be voting for a state Senator. All of us will will likewise have a pair of Congressional races to consider. And, there are numerous ballot measures to consider, and more than a handful of local officials to select as well.

There are three races which are of particular importance, and which aren’t limited to a particular part of the Portland area. One of them, the race for Metro President, was covered by PortlandTransport back in February (prior to the primary election), which you can read here, here, here, here, and here. More recently, we have covered Ballot Measure 26-119, the TriMet-sponsored proposal to renew the expiring Westside MAX levy for the purposes of various capital upgrades to the bus system, here and here.

Today we turn to a race in which transit politics have not played a big part in the campaign, but may have a big impact on TriMet and its future plans: the Oregon gubernatorial race, between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley.

Given that PortlandTransport is a 501(c) organization, the following rules apply:

There are some special rules for comments on these posts. As a 501(c)(3), Portland Transport cannot and does not endorse candidates. So please no comments of the form “you should vote for _______ because he said…”. Feel free to comment on the policies, their implications and your feelings about them, but refrain from turning that into encouraging votes in a particular direction.

Why is this race important?

Why is this race important? Oregon’s system of government does limit somewhat the executive ability of the governor–many executive functions are overseen by elected officials who don’t report to him or her, such as the secretary of state and the attorney general. Likewise, the gov has limited ability to intervene in local political matters. However, one interesting state of affairs is that despite being only serving the Portland metropolitan area, TriMet’s board is appointed by the governor. Board members, once appointed, ordinarily serve up to two four-year terms (and must be confirmed by the state Senate); but the Governor can fire and replace board members at any time.

Governors in Oregon have not often exercised their authority to replace TriMet board members out of cycle. In 1986, Vic Atiyeh replaced the entire board in one go; I don’t believe that it has happened since. But 2010 may be an unusual situation, given the economy, the general political instability in the country, and a rising lack of confidence in TriMet management in some quarters. There have been more than a few commentators on Portland politics, including longtime TriMet critic Jack Bogdanski, who seems to be leaning towards Dudley in the hopes that he would (among other things) do exactly that.

The candidates

The two major party candidates are, of course, John Kitzhaber, a former ER physician who served as the state’s Governor from 1995 through 2003, and as president of the Oregon Senate prior to that; and Chris Dudley, a former professional basketball player (who played two separate stints for the Trail Blazers) who nowadays works as a financial adviser. Kitzhaber is FTMP a known quantity, given his prior service in the position; during his tenure TriMet built Westside MAX and the Red Line. Transit wasn’t Kitzhaber’s first priority as governor (his pet project was the Oregon Health Plan), but he was supportive of it. His prior career as an emergency room doctor did lead him to long oppose increasing the state’s speed limit, after the US Government repealed the 65MPH limit back in the 1990s; and he also has a credible record with environmentalists. In a statement to, a Kitzhaber spokesperson gave conditional support to Milwaukie MAX, stating:

John Kitzhaber respects the legislature and governor’s prior commitment to light rail, and he sees the benefit of jobs as an important reason to continue to support the project. Should new information arise that requires he and the legislature revisit this project, he will certainly do so, but until that time, he supports this important capital investment in Oregon’s future.

Much less is known about Dudley’s positions on transit. asked his campaign several pointed questions on the issues, including both MLR and whether Dudley might consider wholesale board replacements, and got non-answers. One of Dudley’s primary opponents, Allen Alley, came out against MLR during the primary season; and Dudley did not stake out a position in response. This can be seen as an improvement over gubernatorial candidates in other states, such as Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both of whom are campaigning on pro-automobile, anti-transit (and anti-high-speed-rail) platforms. New Jersey governor Chris Christie has made quite a bit of news for his position on the ARC tunnel project. On the other hand, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Dudley a well-known entertainment personality who made the jump into politics under somewhat similar circumstances, has not been a hindrance to transit expansion in California’s metropoli. The focus of Dudley’s campaign has been fiscal issues: lower taxes and reduced state spending (in particular, reductions in wages and benefits for public employees), though he hasn’t given much indication of what would be cut–whether spending reductions would be across the board, or only targeted mainly to programs disliked by conservatives.

What could happen?

At the present time, the race appears to be a dead heat. Kitzhaber was generally popular during his first stint as Governor, and was free of major scandal; but spent eight years playing defense against a hostile legislature, and famously suggested that the state was “ungovernable” near the end of his second term, a remark which has haunted him somewhat in the second act of his political career. (Dudley was primarily known as a defensive player in the NBA–an observation offered only here for the sake of levity). Dudley is probably the first GOP gubernatorial candidate in quite a while not pushing a social conservative agenda–he’s generally avoided social issues, in contrast to many prominent Republican candidates elsewhere in the country. These factors, and the overall poor electoral environment for Democrats in general, suggest that this is in fact anybody’s race.

And whoever the next governor is, will have Portland-area transit issues on the agenda.

Last year, the Oregon Legislature granted the TriMet board the authority to increase the agency’s payroll tax, which TriMet has indicated it will do in 2014, prior to the planned opening of Milwaukie MAX. (The increase assumed in the financials section of the EIS). The authority is contingent on the Board finding that the state of Oregon no longer is in a state of recession. But 2014 will be near the end of the next governor’s term; and if the governor takes a more hostile position to transit (or to taxes in general), things could get interesting. The governor could, once again, replace the TriMet board en masse, nominating members who decline to do so. (As MLR would be nearly complete by that point, and cancelling it not a viable option; this would result in service cuts elsewhere on the system). Of course, Metro could respond to that by taking over TriMet, as it has the right to do under ORS 267.020.

Unlike Governor Christie in New Jersey, there is probably not much that an Oregon governor could do on his own to cancel MLR, even if he were to be opposed to the project. State funding has already been appropriated. The Legislature working with the governor would be another matter–it wouldn’t be difficult for a motivated legislature to withdraw the appropriation and scuttle the project. There isn’t much polling on the Oregon legislative races, though–I expect the GOP to pick up a few seats, but I would be astonished were the GOP to take control of both houses of the Legislative Assembly.

Bottom Line

Like it says up at the top, this blog is a non-profit corporation, and cannot explicitly endorse either candidate. However, we can–and I do–encourage all of you to vote, regardless of who you are voting for. It is, after all, the ultimate expression of the public’s will; and even though we often love to gripe about the government; we ultimately get the government that we select–and deserve.

So if you haven’t done so, mail in those ballots.

Thinking About Next Steps for Our Transit Equity Project

I’ve been trying to get this post done for a while, but RailVolution and working on the Transit Appliance have kept me a bit busy.

I’ve also been musing over a couple of very interesting posts from Jarrett Walker at Human Transit that talk about the interaction between transit and density and the difference between average density and clusters of density (“the perils of average density” and “can we make density make sense?“).

This thought process just confirms to me the need to move our analysis down to the Block Group level. So that’s priority # 1.

I’m also very interested in finding a way to visualize the affect on transit score of MAX lines, frequent service lines and local service. I think that’s a great heatmap application, but I think the data need to be more fine-grained than the point spacing I used to score census tracts, so I’ll probably generate a new data set – one that also doesn’t worry about boundaries of census tracts, but stays closer to a true grid. I’m thinking about using the Hollywood district as the example for this, but I’m open to suggestions about other areas that might have all three types of service to serve as examples.

Meanwhile, I did manage to compile one other data set, which is a set of transit scores for all the transit stops in the TriMet system (it’s the GTFS stop file enhanced with the three result fields from Transit Score). If someone has the time or interest to do a visualization, I suspect that would be very interesting.

Finally I’ve been thinking about other “physical” data sets that I’d be interested in correlating with Transit Score:

  • Distance to the “center” of the transit system
  • Distance to a Regional Center
  • Distance to the nearest High Capacity Transit stop (MAX, WES)
  • Intersection Density

The first three can be calculated from data I already have, I’m hoping I may be able to get the intersection data as a by-product of work already being done on the Portland Plan by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. If so, I’ll encourage them to add it to the Civic Apps open data sets.

So please be patient, I suspect it will be a number of weeks before I can assemble enough time to get the Block Group data set done…

A Recommendation That Should Not Be Overlooked

Scotty has already reported on the release of the TriMet Safety Task Force report.

I’d like to highlight one of the recommendations that has not gotten a lot of coverage:

4. Community advisory committee

TriMet cannot achieve the highest levels of safety performance without engaging the entire community. The task force heard from operators that the rules of the road and the physical environment in which they operate don’t always accommodate a conflict-free environment.

Members of the public have described their need for more collaboration between TriMet and its customers and partners both in decision-making processes and in response to identified issues.

Community conversations will be required to harness the knowledge of all constituents and thereby improve the safety of the region’s public transportation for everyone. TriMet should consider a community advisory committee that would allow TriMet’s customers and partner stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in as TriMet makes decisions. It would also provide an opportunity for customer engagement on the agency level beyond the limitations of current public testimony to the board. Engagement with the community should also include an improved process for collecting and responding to safety issues that are identified by the public.

I’ve always found it odd that TriMet had no general purpose citizen or riders advisory committee (they do have a Committee on Accessible Transportation and a Budget Advisory Committee). I hope the recommendation will be followed and some kind of CAC will be created. I think it would help on a number of fronts, not just safety. If nothing else, some of the more tone-deaf things that TriMet has managed to do in recent years might get headed off with some honest CAC feedback.