Is the Yellow Line the best rapid transit connection to Vancouver?

While the CRC and its design remain a topic of hot controversy, one of the key design elements is the extension of light rail, specifically the Yellow Line, into Vancouver. Many in Portland insist on it. Many in Vancouver are just as opposed, considering light rail an expensive boondoggle.

Currently, the only through services between Portland and Vancouver are C-TRAN’s 105 and 199 express lines. And Clark County (specifically the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Clark County, albeit one far less powerful than Metro) is making its own rapid transit plans based on Bus Rapid Transit, with the first proposed line along Fourth Plain Boulevard, in the planning phases.

Might a BRT connection between Portland and Vancouver, assuming suitable design modifications on the CRC (or whatever gets built), be a possibility (including in addition to the proposed MAX extension)?
Whither the Yellow?

Right now, the Yellow Line is tabbed to be the primary connector between the two downtowns; and many Vancouver-Portland travelers use it to Delta Park before transferring to one of the C-TRAN services that cross the river. The 105 and 199 also provide express service between Portland and Vancouver; whether or not these services will be maintained in a post-CRC future is an interesting question. (Anecdotally, there is a significant contingent of express riders who have reservations about using MAX, in some cases for rather retrograde social reasons; that said similar objections are commonly voiced whenever a rapid-transit line replaces an express service).

The Yellow Line has one problem, though: It’s slow.

Unlike the east-west trunk line, and the soon-to-break-ground Milwaukie line, which operate in their own rights-of-way soon after leaving the downtown core, the Interstate line runs in the median of Interstate Avenue for over four miles, and is speed-limited to 35MPH. It takes 20 minutes to travel the less than six miles between the Rose Quarter and the Expo Center; while that’s faster than a well-used local bus (and more reliable, given the exclusive right-of-way), it’s not all that good either. The Steel Bridge bottleneck makes things worse; it takes about six minutes on average for trains to travel from the Rose Quarter to Union Station, and another five to reach Pioneer Square. If we tack another 3-5 minutes to cross the river, including a stop at Hayden Island, we’re looking at a 35 minute trip between the two downtowns. It’s better than the current arrangement, but it is far from ideal. And for a line which is intended to be a regional trunk, it’s rather….annoying.

Interstate MAX has other issues as well, many of which commenter Jason McHuff outlines here. Some of these issues, such as I-5 acting as a barrier to the Yellow Line’s catchment area, don’t directly affect the issue of Portland/Vancouver trips, but many of Jason’s observations point to opportunities, which we will discuss later.

Meanwhile, across the river…

..planners in Clark County are busily making plans to build bus rapid transit. Four corridors have been identified, the first of which is in the early planning phases (the other three do not yet have projects associated with them). They are:

  • Fourth Plain Boulevard, between downtown Vancouver and Vancouver Mall, with a possible extension east along SR500. This is the busiest corridor in the C-TRAN system; with the 4 and 44 lines providing headways that TriMet would label frequent service (and being rather crowded to boot).
  • The Highway 99 corridor north from downtown Vancouver to Salmon Creek
  • A “BRT-lite” alignment along Mill Plain from downtown Vancouver to Fischer’s Landing
  • A “freeway bus” route along I-205 from Fischers Landing, to Gateway TC in Portland.

All of these proposed corridors, other than the I-205 one, would intersect the proposed MAX extension downtown. (The I-205 corridor running to Gateway is an improvement over the existing eastside busses which only connect to Parkrose TC; thus missing connection opportunities with the Blue and Green Lines).

I will not waste any (digital) ink condemning Clark County’s preference for BRT over LRT. I’m generally mode-agnostic, density north of the Columbia is much lower than in Portland, and the political support for rail simply is not there–so a BRT solution makes a lot of sense for Vancouver. Of course, the necessity to transfer to MAX in Vancouver to reach Portland bothers me.

One interesting thing that caught my eye in the FAQ for the Fourth Plain line is this little tidbit:

How is this related to the Columbia River Crossing Project?

The Fourth Plain BRT Project is independent of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project and is not funded from the CRC project’s funds. However, C-TRAN is currently working with the CRC’s transit design team to determine if it is possible to run BRT buses along the same transit guideway as light rail trains (LRT) that the CRC project is planning to extend into downtown Vancouver at some point in the future. [emphasis added] C-TRAN is also working with CRC staff to ensure that both the CRC LRT and BRT projects can be accommodated in downtown Vancouver. Additionally, there is a proposed August or November 2012 ballot measure which would increase the sales tax slightly to pay for construction and operating/maintenance costs of the BRT project as well as just operating/maintenance costs for the LRT extension.

It is unclear if they simply mean dual LRT/BRT operation on the surface MAX alignment in downtown Vancouver… or if they mean dual LRT/bus operation on the CRC as well.

The latter idea has possibilities.

What if BRT were extended into Portland?

What if one (or all) of the proposed BRT lines, rather than ending in downtown The Couv, all crossed the river and provided fast, friendly service to downtown Portland? We’ve got a bit of BRT ourselves in the Rose City (the transit mall), even if we don’t call it that; and a Salmon Creek BRT would obsolete the 199 and 105 express lines. Assuming that the transit lanes on the CRC could be configured to support busses as well as trains (there are good reasons to extend MAX into Vancouver, even in this scenario), there are several possible routes that a BRT corridor could take to reach Portland. In order to avoid duplication of service (and due to the fact that rebuilding the Yellow Line is considered out of scope in this discussion), a few possible BRT corridors come to mind:

  • Portsmouth to UP to Swan Island. One option would send busses west from Delta Park up Columbia Boulevard (preferably in an exclusive-ROW, and then south along the Portsmouth Trench (or whatever its called) to UP, then along the shore to Swan Island, and then downtown. This would be the longest route, but provide good opportunities for an exclusive right of way without needing to tear down much in the way of existing urban fabric. This route could include a short “green bridge” connecting Willamette Drive south of UP to Basin Avenue, crossing over the railroad tracks, permitting other useful service reorganizations in North Portland.
  • Along I-5. This routing would closely parallel MAX, but help to rectify a major sin of the Yellow Line by providing service to the east side of I-5. In many places along I-5, there’s room for a busway; an I-5 routing would provide direct service to PCC-Cascade and Legacy Emanuel, two important transit destinations in North Portland which are presently not directly served by mass transit. (Also as part of a BRT line in this corridor, it would be a useful project to tear down the bulk of the obnoxious Kerby Street ramps off of the Fremont Bridge, bringing it down to surface grade at the Kerby bend–and then reconnecting Kerby Street south of the ramps to Kerby Street north. The land currently occupied by the ramps could be converted to something more useful than redundant pavement. This is probably a good idea apart from any BRT…
  • Along MLK. MLK is a four-lane highway (or better) all the way from Delta Park to Broadway; which is probably two more lanes than it needs to be. Median busway (or hybrid busway-streetcar, as it’s on the Streetcar System Plan) makes a lot of sense. Of course, it’s still a state highway, so ODOT will probably put the kibosh on this idea, and a higher-speed surface line might not work with the neighborhood.

One other outstanding item is the bus connection from the Rose Quarter to downtown. Right now, existing busses use surface streets and the Steel Bridge (curiously, no TriMet busses use the Broadway, which I find intriguing), the outer lanes of which are shared with cars. It’s tempting to want to close the Steel to through traffic altogether, but doing so probably would be disruptive (though it would be nice to do something about the horrible bottleneck on the east end where the MAX lines all come together–right in the middle of an intersection with Interstate Avenue and Multnomah Street). A better idea might be to shift many of the bus services that currently use the Steel to the Broadway, and make the outer lanes of that (where the Streetcar tracks are doing) transit-only; with autos limited to the inner two lanes, with exclusive-transit lanes continuing to Irving Street and the north end of the mall. (Another possibility would be to make the rightmost eastbound lane on the Broadway, and the rightmost westbound lane on the Steel, transit-only; and provide both with direct connections to the transit mall).

Thoughts

I should conclude that much of this post is probably wishful thinking. Building a rapid transit corridor in close proximity to the Yellow Line is probably not happening any time soon; and one which would be significantly for the benefit of an out-of-state transit agency is doubly problematic–especially if it doesn’t have a larger multi-state project like the CRC to piggyback on. And the inter-agency cooperation issues discussed previously would be magnified (though MAX into Vancouver will likely bring these issues further into the forefront). But still–C-TRAN’s forays into BRT might be useful to TriMet in the future.

76 Comments

76 Responses to Is the Yellow Line the best rapid transit connection to Vancouver?

  1. Chris I
    June 24, 2011 at 8:15 am Link

    Several issues with your proposals:

    – Speed of BRT.
    I attempted to drive to delta park using I-5 at 6pm the other night. The freeway was moving at about 2mph average. I was stuck next to CTRAN “Express” busses. I hopped off and took Interstate, which was clear sailing. This is the problem with BRT on I-5, it slows down exactly when we need it the most. The only way this might work is by expanding I-5 to 4 lanes each way through North Portland, with HOV lanes dedicated to busses and 3+ carpools. Your proposal to close two lanes on MLK is also a non-starter. MLK is busier than Interstate, and I think residents and leaders will have trouble understanding why we would close two lanes after just recently doing so 1/2 a mile west on Interstate.

    – Broadway bridge:
    I believe the streetcar tracks are going in on the middle two lanes. The streetcar is left-side running on Broadway and Weidler.

    The quickest option from Vancouver would be commuter rail, with an upgraded rail bridge across the Columbia. 3-4 tracks would provide a dedicated ROW for Amtrak and commuter rail between the two cities. Amtrak Cascades will be moving to 2-hour headways within the next decade, which could be supplemented with smaller local trains, providing half hour headways with 12min travel time. I don’t know if the ridership is there, however, and the rail station in Vancouver is not ideally located. It would probably be best to run a commuter line east along the north side of the river.

  2. NJD
    June 24, 2011 at 9:27 am Link

    ^ the commuter rail option is a no go with the track owners until the new Columbia rail bridge is built according to the Pacific NW Rail Plans which have involved Amtrak, WSDOT, ODOT, B.C., and both BNSF and UP RR’s. They estimate it at roughly $300-1,000 million depending on retrofit, supplementary bridge or replacement. After that hurdle its adding another main track to the peninsula cut or widening the Swan Island tunnel, retrofitting the Willamette rail bridges and building respective yard bypass tracks. The Vancouver side should be able to handle the commuter rail traffic after the current yard improvements are finished.

  3. NJD
    June 24, 2011 at 9:40 am Link

    BRT is probably a political non-starter on the CRC unfortunately at this point.

    I think BRT over I-205 has a better chance politically in the coming years. On the Oregon side I think BRT could be a great addition to the HCT identified Powell Blvd corridor, then BRT from Vancouver could interchange with East-West BRT there. We could create a Sound Transit-esque express bus system linking Oregon City to Vancouver and Tualatan. There is room within the 205 ROW for a center running BRT/HOV lane that entire length (with connections to city centers).

  4. EngineerScotty
    June 24, 2011 at 9:45 am Link

    Chris,

    For the I-5 corridor, I was thinking a separate busway; not an HOV/NOT lane, but a completely separate facility closed to automobile traffic (and not likely to be affected by traffic jams on the freeway).

    I agree that MLK is probably a non-starter, but was just throwing it out there.

  5. Alexander Craghead
    June 24, 2011 at 9:58 am Link

    I suspect C-Tran would likely continue their BRT busway over the light rail lanes on the bridge, just as TriMet is doing with the new Willanette River bridge. I suspect that C-Tran, like Eugene’s EmX, would use bussesthat can operate both in a guideway and in mixed traffic, and I would also assume the big express trunk routes to Portland would get these high capcity buses also. It would make senseto feed them over the transit lanes on the bridge. This is all, however, only speculation, I know no inside information.

    None of this has any affect on extending the Yellow Line, however. The value of a MAX ticket is increased in relation to the system’s size without a transfer, so extending it north would occur regardless of C-Tran’s intentions.

    As for commuter rail, that would be the best option, and probably would be palatable politically to Clark County’s suburban electorate. So long as an extension of MAX and the current CRC project are on the table, however, I doubt it would have any traction. That said, it is possible that improvements made to the Amtrak Cascades system in that corridor might result in capital investments that would make such a commuter operation more likely.

  6. Wells
    June 24, 2011 at 10:02 am Link

    Commute systems backfire. Whether commuter-rail or express bus, commuters become dependent upon long-distance travel.

    BRT and LRT can be considered anti-commute systems. Their stations are similarly fixed and schedules timed. Their service is around the clock and preferably no less frequent than 15 minute interval. In order to adequately fill LRT & BRT seats in both directions at all segments of proposed routes, the question of land-use and development comes to the foreground — every LRT station has the potential to create jobs whereby the need to commute is reduced, thus the anti-commute concept.

    With a commute system, commuting grows beyond its capacity and the bulk resorts to the only system which can handle the growth — automobiles. A transit agency that promotes a commute design is no doubt influenced by automobile-related business interests who realize this and plan for transit to fail as a competitor/alternative to the automobile.

  7. Alexander Craghead
    June 24, 2011 at 10:03 am Link

    Oh and one FYI to answer your question: the trench is the “St. Johns Cut,” sometimes also called the “Peninsula Cut” or the “St. Johns Peninsula Cut.”

  8. Tim Walsh
    June 24, 2011 at 10:22 am Link

    Scotty – the fact that no TriMet buses use the Broadway Bridge is a temporary arrangement because of the height limitations imposed by streetcar construction. Everything I’ve read has indicated that at least the 9 will use the Broadway Bridge once it reopens fully next month.

  9. Allan
    June 24, 2011 at 11:16 am Link

    What would it take to speed up the yellow line along interstate ave? That seems like the real problem here

  10. Chris I
    June 24, 2011 at 11:24 am Link

    Ya, is there are particular reason why they can’t cruise along at 45 down interstate? Most cars end up going that fast, anyway.

  11. EngineerScotty
    June 24, 2011 at 11:32 am Link

    Right now, the reason is regulatory: The Yellow Line along Interstate (as well as the Blue Line along Burnside), is what is known as a “pre-empt” zone; and ABS train signalling is not used. In such zones, trains are limited to 35MPH. I don’t know if this regulation is an internal TriMet regulation or something imposed by an external regulatory agency–I’ll go ask.

  12. EngineerScotty
    June 24, 2011 at 11:53 am Link

    Actually, the speed limit along Interstate is 30MPH, 5MPH lower than the maximum speed for non-ABS territory.

  13. Jeff F
    June 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm Link

    Scotty – the fact that no TriMet buses use the Broadway Bridge is a temporary arrangement because of the height limitations imposed by streetcar construction. Everything I’ve read has indicated that at least the 9 will use the Broadway Bridge once it reopens fully next month.

    The 9-Powell/Broadway will return to the bridge in the fall.

  14. Thomas Le Ngo
    June 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm Link

    As I walked across the I-5/Lombard overpass around 5 p.m. last night, I stopped to see if cars in the HOV lane were actually HOVs. The majority were SOVs.

  15. Michael, Portland Afoot
    June 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm Link

    Great catch on the FAQ.

    I’m dubious of calling the transit mall “BRT.” Don’t buses lack signal priority, because of the trains? In any case, post-Fareless Square, there’s fare-checking delay at every stop. And the buses are no bigger or nicer, of course.

    Also, I like Alex’s schema for thinking about TriMet’s motivations: “Would action X increase the value of a TriMet pass?” Interesting.

  16. Dave H
    June 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm Link

    I see it was already mentioned a little, but calling the transit mall BRT seems like a bad idea because it feels like anything but rapid with how long it takes. The 70 in my experience avereraged a higher speed from the Rose Quarter to Sellwood than the 17 did on the mall.

  17. jim karlock
    June 25, 2011 at 2:33 am Link

    The fatal flaw in all of this LRT/BRT planing is the lack of demand — currently only about 1650 people use transit across the river each day (3300 “trips”).

    Therefore, the logical improvement to transit service and the low cost solution is to run ordinary buses in free flowing general purpose lanes.

    Its a win-win. Both motorists and transit riders get faster commutes and at lower cost, compared to a billion for the LRT component alone.

    And as Clark county continues to add jobs, and Portland continues to kick out jobs for light rail (about 1000 alone in the SE industrial area) and other reasons, there may be less commuter demand in the future. (Courtright spotted this in his recent report on the CRC.)

  18. Ron Swaren
    June 25, 2011 at 9:38 am Link

    Everett Washington’s new system of BRT, using double decker buses, is an example of how LRT equivalent service can be designed at a fraction of the cost. 23 buses were purchased, each can carry ninety people or more—PLUS they can be redirected to other routes as the day progresses. Or the routes can easily be extended in length. Unlike any expansion of a MAX line here, this would not be a lengthy, controversial, waste of the public’s time project.

    Because of federal and state grants, Community Transit’s portion of the tab for the purchase was $2.2 million. Problem solved.

    I have been watching for further articles and reviews and will post. Since the Columbia River Crossing replacement is NOT what we need it is futile to discuss what would work best on it. However with a third interstate bridge and a connection to US 26, BRT could function well, both on the new route and on a less congested I-5. A route into US 26 at West Union Junction would also intersect with the Blue Line MAX.

    Occam’s Razor: Consider first the simplest solution.

  19. Ron Swaren
    June 25, 2011 at 9:46 am Link

    As far as the Yellow Line, the limit should be this extension to Hayden Island as Howell has suggested—and nothing more. I can see how a multifunctional bridge right there would get some more traffic off that stretch of I-5, once exits and entrances for Hayden Island were limited. The existing I-5 Bridges would be retrofit with better sidewalks and once bicylists were on the Portland Mainland they could connect to a multitude of routes. Trying to weave some bicycle trail on a new CRC bridge and then down along I-5 would be very complicated —and just add to the overall cost of the project. A project not needed in the first place.

    I thought we were all on the same page on that last one.

  20. Jason McHuff
    June 25, 2011 at 10:08 am Link

    currently only about 1650 people use transit across the river each day (3300 “trips”)

    And couldn’t that be because the present options are lackluster? (Would you recommend against building roads where few people are currently traveling, but many are expected to?)

    free flowing general purpose lanes

    Would you be OK with tolls that are high enough to achieve that? Or are you wanting highways widened (at great expense), and believe that neighborhoods next to the freeway should have bear the burden of more and more traffic and pollution?

  21. Ron Swaren
    June 25, 2011 at 10:11 am Link

    23 second video of Community Transit double decker bus in Seattle:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMjW5hOoF3M&feature=related

  22. Wells
    June 25, 2011 at 11:29 am Link

    Watching the double-decker video made me a little seasick. An important measurement to determine whether LRT or bus is more applicable on some transit route is Comfort: The distance & duration of travel comfortably via rail is roughly twice that of a similarly routed bus line. Comfort is more important than speed. Comfort, reliability, station area development, environmental impact are more important than speed and cost. To not build MAX LRT to Vancouver is a mistake.

    I oppose the current CRC design, principally the Hayden Island Interchange with Concept ‘D’. And I favor Concept #1 instead which eliminates the merge problem and subsequently reduces the number of lanes required for the Main Span. I’m the only one on this forum board who has devised a way to reduce cost and impact while replacing the obsolete I-5 bridges. Don’t like it? Tough.

  23. Ron Swaren
    June 25, 2011 at 11:35 am Link

    Tough? What are you going to do about it?

  24. AL M
    June 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm Link

    Comfort is more important than speed.
    ~~~>”Comfort” on light rail? Where?

  25. Ron Swaren
    June 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm Link

    Wells,
    Sorry you get seasick watching a video. Maybe you would be better staying home.

  26. dan w
    June 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm Link

    The Yellow Line has one problem, though: It’s slow.

    Presicely why I’m one of those folks who’s glad the Green Line wasn’t built down the middle of 82nd Ave (though to be fair to the Yellow Line, I’m not sure there’d be enough room adjacent to I-5 to install tracks and stations without major disruption; I-205 had the advantage of the already existing ROW).

    …the logical improvement to transit service and the low cost solution is to run ordinary buses in free flowing general purpose lanes.

    Buses are only as free-flowing as the traffic sharing the road with them. If we want to put the “Rapid” in BRT then the buses need their own ROW (e.g., Eugene/Springfield).

    Everett Washington’s new system of BRT, using double decker buses, is an example of how LRT equivalent service can be designed at a fraction of the cost.

    Although the slowness of loading/unloading might be a major issue, I could see double-deckers working on certain corridors, and I’d wager commuters would be drawn to them by the novelty factor alone — Everett’s new buses do look pretty snazzy. Added bonus: loud cell phone talkers can be relegated to the upper level (OK, I’m half-kidding).

    However with a third interstate bridge and a connection to US 26, BRT could function well, both on the new route and on a less congested I-5. A route into US 26 at West Union Junction would also intersect with the Blue Line MAX.

    Commuter rail could even work on the Clark-Washington Co. corridor, since most of the trackage is already in place across both rivers and over Cornelius Pass (new tracks would still need to be installed for the last several miles, however).

    Whatever Portland-Vancouver rapid transit connection ends up being implemented, having its own ROW is a must. If it’s a corridor that starts out as BRT but could be retrofitted to LRT as demand/attitudes warrant, so be it.

  27. Ron Swaren
    June 25, 2011 at 2:16 pm Link

    Whatever Portland-Vancouver rapid transit connection ends up being implemented, having its own ROW is a must. If it’s a corridor that starts out as BRT but could be retrofitted to LRT as demand/attitudes warrant, so be it.

    But you might consider that BRT can be flexible to meet market demand.

    One would think that where the corridor is already owned by the public a LRT line would not be so expensive. Ottawa put in one for $5 million/mi (in 2000, on shared track).

    At some of the Blue Line stations I noticed that the stairways were already pretty badly dinged up, and repairing concrete is expensive. The Clackamas TC parking structure used metal stairways and metal railing.

  28. Joseph E
    June 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm Link

    Intercity trains with limited stops are the proper solution for Vancouver to Downtown Portland travel demand. However, that doesn’t mean the Yellow Line extension is a bad idea. People need a way to get to North Portland and the Rose District from Vancouver, and the Yellow Line would be faster for these direct trips than taking a regional train, then transferring to Max, and the Yellow Line will be able to support more frequent service at all hours. But I hope TriMet and Amtrak and the freight railroads can get together and figure out a way to get a new railroad bridge built.

  29. Jason McHuff
    June 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm Link

    I’m not sure there’d be enough room adjacent to I-5 to install tracks and stations without major disruption

    There appears to be on the west side for most of the length (the Albina ramps would have to be removed, but there would still be good access at Going and Rosa Parks).

  30. Chris I
    June 26, 2011 at 6:44 am Link

    If we are discussing the C-Tran “bus sharing general purpose lanes” option, I think we should look at the costs. I often see those busses dead-heading back up to Vancouver after the morning commute, and then back down to Portland in the afternoon. What is the cost per boarding on these “express” busses?

  31. Wells
    June 26, 2011 at 9:21 am Link

    Ron, your “Maybe you would be better staying home” goes both ways. Maybe you Ron (and plenty others) would be better (staying home) and there addressing my concerns instead of emptily dismissing them? Or would that elevate your positions from demogogue to merely ideologue? Concept #1 is a Marvel & you should not deny yourself an opinion based on personal viewing and study analysis. I’m against the CRC because it’s overbuilt/poor engineering plus power politics.

  32. Nick
    June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am Link

    I currently ride the 105 between downtown Vanc & the PDX Mall. The hybrids with cushy seats are the best coaches in the metro area.

    I begin my am trip on C-Tran #4 to the #105. Sometimes the #25 to the #105.

    I could ride the #4 to MAX at Delta but why? Slow & less comfortable than the #105 by far.

    If max becomes the only commute option between Vanc & PDX, I’ll drive, I’m sure.

    My overriding objection to max extending into Vanc is what it will do to downtown Vanc. After all the work the city has done to make the downtown space more attractive, it’ll make downtown less accessible with its big train-only footprint. It’ll do to pedestrian crossings what it did to Interstate; irritating and time consuming.

    But, with all that said, as the traffic between the bridge and Rose Quarter gets more dense and then explodes once the bridge is finished, BRT on I-5 or the 105 on I-5 will become a bummer without an HOV lane in both directions at least.

    If I catch the 105 by 5:30pm on the way home, it’s usually OK but later once the HOV closes, it’s only tolerable because of the comfy bus.

    I think what happened to Interstate is sad. BRT would’ve been much more forward thinking with a much better option to/from Clark County.

  33. Nick
    June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm Link

    Correction:

    Tim Walsh Said:

    “Scotty – the fact that no TriMet buses use the Broadway Bridge is a temporary arrangement because of the height limitations imposed by streetcar construction. Everything I’ve read has indicated that at least the 9 will use the Broadway Bridge once it reopens fully next month.”

    Line 9 was moved off the Broadway Bridge temporarily because of width restrictions between the concrete barriers.

    Line 9 does return to the BB on 9/4/2011.

  34. Ron Swaren
    June 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm Link

    Or would that elevate your positions from demogogue to merely ideologue?

    Demagogue in what way? If I am I will drop out of this forum entirely. It would be the right thing to do.

  35. Aaron Hall
    June 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm Link

    Nick Says: “My overriding objection to max extending into Vanc is what it will do to downtown Vanc. After all the work the city has done to make the downtown space more attractive, it’ll make downtown less accessible with its big train-only footprint. It’ll do to pedestrian crossings what it did to Interstate; irritating and time consuming.”

    ????
    Bringing light rail to downtown Vancouver makes it LESS accessible?!? So you think C-Tran will stop operating any buses once MAX crosses the river? If anything, Vancouver is going to become exponentially MORE accessible, for all modes.

    Also, downtown Vancouver is configured nothing like Interstate Ave. Comparing the two is like apples and oranges. In fact, it’s very similar to downtown Portland. MAX will operate on a couplet through a grid of 200′ blocks, just like downtown Portland. How is that possibly going to ruin the attractiveness of Vancouver?

  36. Nick
    June 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm Link

    Accessible as in pedestrians being able to access businesses and residences that are blocked by the alignment; as in motorists being able to access businesses and residences without having to drive several blocks to turn around. Accessible as in people already in downtown being able to get where they want without having to navigate across the transit monster.

  37. Steve S.
    June 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm Link

    “How is that possibly going to ruin the attractiveness of Vancouver?”

    Good greif. What are the two worst N-S streets in downtown Portland.

    5th and 6th the light rail transit mall streets.

    Ruin two streest that way in downtown Vancouver and it will be much more detrimental.

    I go over there all the time and can’t imagine that eye sore light rail infrastucture obstruction through there. What a mess.

  38. Aaron Hall
    June 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm Link

    Nick Says: “Accessible as in pedestrians being able to access businesses and residences that are blocked by the alignment; as in motorists being able to access businesses and residences without having to drive several blocks to turn around. Accessible as in people already in downtown being able to get where they want without having to navigate across the transit monster.”

    What businesses or residences are being “blocked”? How are cars and pedestrians unable to navigate across the “transit monster”? There are signals and crosswalks at every corner, and I’m sure people will jaywalk across the tracks in Vancouver just as they do in Portland. Nobody’s being blocked from anything, or being forced to drive extra blocks for that matter. That’s just nonsense.

    Steve S. Says: “Good greif. What are the two worst N-S streets in downtown Portland. 5th and 6th the light rail transit mall streets. Ruin two streest that way in downtown Vancouver and it will be much more detrimental. I go over there all the time and can’t imagine that eye sore light rail infrastucture obstruction through there. What a mess.”

    Well, if you consider extensive brick and granite paving, planters, street furniture, modern glass bus and light rail shelters, ubiquitous public art and easy access to anywhere in the metro area to be “ruining” a street, then yeah, 5th and 6th are ruined beyond repair. Oh, and all those trains…. real eyesores. That’s why they show up on every article, tv show or promotional piece about Portland…. because we want to show the world our worst possible feature.

    Sorry, I’m not buying it. My guess is your anti-TriMet bias is skewing your judgment.

  39. Aaron
    June 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm Link

    I’d say 3rd and 4th are pretty bad streets downtown.

  40. ws
    June 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm Link

    Aaron:

    Surface light rail can take away parking on the street, limit left hand turns, and render access (i.e. curb cuts to buildings or alley access) on some streets.

    I don’t think we should be condoning jaywalking, or be using it as a legitimate means to cross the tracks.

  41. Aaron Hall
    June 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm Link

    No, jaywalking isn’t a good idea whether the tracks are there or not. My point was that the tracks are not cutting off access any more than the actual streets themselves.

    And yes, some street parking will be removed from Broadway and Washington Streets in downtown Vancouver, but parking is extremely abundant there and losing a few spaces will have negligible effect on access. Most large buildings on the alignment have their own surface or garage parking anyway.

  42. Chris I
    June 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm Link

    Steve,

    Your auto-centric view of the world is very apparent by your rating of downtown streets. As a cyclist and pedestrian, I always go to 5th and 6th, or the park blocks for my North/South travel. It’s not even a contest. 3rd and 4th are the worst streets in downtown. When I am driving, I don’t really prefer one street over the other, because I don’t drive downtown during rush hour. You should try walking or riding downtown, it might change your perspective a bit.

  43. AL M
    June 26, 2011 at 11:09 pm Link


    I go over there all the time and can’t imagine that eye sore light rail infrastucture obstruction through there. What a mess.

    ~~>I agree with that statement. I haven’t driven a bus in downtown Portland for about 6 years now, until this sign up, and I only go up Jefferson and Columbia.

    I have to cross four rail tracks, (not one of which has a walk countdown clock btw)and just barely skirt that transit mall.

    It is the most hazardous driving I have done at Trimet in the last six years.

    And I don’t even start my shift till 6:15 PM!

    It’s a freaking nightmare and nobody in their right mind should be actually taking a car down there.

    (I don’t represent trimet blah blah blah etc etc)

  44. Aaron Hall
    June 27, 2011 at 3:06 am Link

    AL M Says: “I haven’t driven a bus in downtown Portland for about 6 years now, until this sign up, and I only go up Jefferson and Columbia. I have to cross four rail tracks, (not one of which has a walk countdown clock btw)and just barely skirt that transit mall. It is the most hazardous driving I have done at Trimet in the last six years.
    ….It’s a freaking nightmare and nobody in their right mind should be actually taking a car down there.”

    So Columbia and Jefferson are “nightmares” (apparently…. who knew?). What does that have to do with 5th and 6th? And if you’re so terrified of driving downtown, should you really be driving a 40′ long TriMet bus with lots of passengers onboard?

  45. Chris I
    June 27, 2011 at 6:59 am Link

    Seriously. You are making me question the safety of Trimet drivers. Driving in downtown Portland is a piece of cake. Have you ever driven in San Fancisco or New York?

  46. al m
    June 27, 2011 at 9:31 am Link

    Just giving you my opinion, take it or leave it!

  47. al m
    June 27, 2011 at 9:47 am Link

    should you really be driving a 40′ long TriMet bus with lots of passengers onboard?

    ~~~>This comment deserves its own answer.
    I think that anyone that is in this profession right now is a FRIGGEN IDIOT!
    I am seriously thinking of retiring, just because the working environment has become so poisonous.
    The job is one of the most hazardous you can become involved with, not only in terms of your own physical health but also in terms of the consequences of making a mistake that lands you in court.
    (sandi day ring any bells)
    The public hates us (the car driving public that is), the management abuses us, you live a life getting up ridiculously early or staying up absurdly late.
    Why would anybody want to do this?
    So the answer to your question is no, I should not be driving a 40′ bus!
    So why am I still doing it?
    I still like it believe it or not, that’s why.
    I started doing this while a student at UMass, 37 years ago, back when we were a fairly respectable profession.

    And the best thing about driving these tanks around, the passengers, I really enjoy my passengers.

    I would absolutely miss the contact with the people that ride the transit system, because the overwhelming (95%) are tremendously appreciative.

    And I have met some incredible people while driving these buses, people that have added to my life in ways that I cannot describe in a blog post.

    That’s why I am still here.

  48. billb
    June 27, 2011 at 9:52 am Link

    HAHA , I am with Chris I , man just try to drive in NYC , good grief , driving here is so easy compared to that circus.

  49. al m
    June 27, 2011 at 9:56 am Link

    Try driving professionally only in the Beaverton area for six years, then come back and make a statement that has some relevance to my statement.

  50. al m
    June 27, 2011 at 10:02 am Link

    Trimet doesn’t even get on the top 15 of the most used transit systems either, most everybody drives here.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_rapid_transit_systems_by_ridership

  51. ws
    June 27, 2011 at 10:19 am Link

    al m:

    You linked to a source for ridership of heavy rail.

    Portland does not have have heavy rail, we have light rail.

    Commuter rail is not classified as heavy rail, from what I know.

  52. Jeff F
    June 27, 2011 at 10:21 am Link

    al_m: Trimet doesn’t even get on the top 15 of the most used transit systems either, most everybody drives here.

    You did notice the chart referred to “rapid transit”, right?

    Maybe you meant this chart: http://tinyurl.com/3sf6x76

    Portland is #14 and the listing is by ridership. Pretty much every city above us on the list is, well, much larger. We’re never going to get 2,500,000 riders a day.

  53. EngineerScotty
    June 27, 2011 at 10:27 am Link

    Al, the page you linked to is (quoting from the Wikipedia article) a “list of all heavy rail rapid transit systems in the United States”. The term “heavy rail” includes both commuter rail and high-platform metros, but excludes light rail and streetcar. The only thing in Portland that would qualify is WES.

    And why would you be worried about crossing the MAX or streetcar tracks in a bus–unless you think that some train operation is going to ignore a signal and t-bone you?

  54. ws
    June 27, 2011 at 11:12 am Link

    ES:

    Commuter rail is not heavy rail by definition under my understanding:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/Glossary.htm#H

    Commuter rail definition:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/Glossary.htm#C

  55. EngineerScotty
    June 27, 2011 at 11:52 am Link

    Many of the terms used to classify rail are confusing IMHO. I’m basically repeating what the Wikipedia article has to say, not endorsing its definition. (I have my own issues with the definition of “heavy rail”). But the article in question includes subways/metros as well as commuter rail, and excludes light rail. In particular, the LACMTA Red and Purple lines were included on the chart–these are the subways which present run between downtown LA and various points in Hollywood–but not the LA Blue, Gold, or Green lines (or the forthcoming “Expo” line), which are light rail.

  56. Jason McHuff
    June 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm Link

    This is the list to look at, on which Portland is #4, not including the streetcar.

  57. EngineerScotty
    June 27, 2011 at 12:46 pm Link

    I wonder why Portland Streetcar isn’t included in the table for Portland, whereas streetcar systems in other cities (such as the San Francisco cable cars) are counted in their totals. It wouldn’t change Portland’s place in the rankings–we’d still be in fourth place with ~134k daily boardings–but it does appear to be a methodological inconsistency. My guess is that this is because Portland Streetcar is a different agency than TriMet, whereas SEPTA and Muni are integrated agencies which operate both “light rail” and “streetcar” service.

  58. John Charles Wilson
    June 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm Link

    @ Al: You say driving a bus was considered a more “respectable” occupation when you started c. 1975. I’m just curious as to your opinion of what changed? Do you think more government regulation of the transit industry has anything to do with it? Or, is it more likely the anti-government, anti-subsidy mentality that has taken over America since then? Or is it that there are more transit users these days with no sense of decorum? IMHO, all three are a problem (even though the first two seem contradictory at first glance).

  59. Douglas K.
    June 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm Link

    I noticed from the Wikipedia table for LRT ridership, Portland is the busiest light-rail system in the country that doesn’t connect with a subway. We’re also #6 nationally in “daily boardings per mile” (just a shade behind LA), and #3 in daily boardings for stand-alone LRT systems, behind Houston (with a 7.5 mile line) and Buffalo (with just 6.4 miles).

    So Portland’s doing pretty good compared to other LRT/streetcar systems across the nation.

  60. neil young
    June 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm Link

    Hey guys,

    why not switch out the Yellow Line LRT cars for streetcars?

    Speed wouldn’t be affected, and as I understand it, the Yellow Line doesn’t have much ridership. TriMet could send streetcars up in five minute headways all the way to North Portland.

    Trimet would be free to use the LRT cars on other lines, reducing the abominable Portland headways.

    Forget Vancouver, they obviously don’t want to be a part of the region. That means forget the CRC too. It’s a waste of money to subsidize an exurban bedroom community.

  61. EngineerScotty
    June 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm Link

    Streetcar service on the Yellow Line might make sense–the slower speed of the Portland Streetcar vehicles wouldn’t be an issue. (See this article on the issue of further integrating MAX and Streetcar; there are several technical and political issues to overcome).

    However, the main restriction on headways in Portland–both on the Streetcar system and on MAX, is the ability to pay drivers; not the availability of rolling stock. While streetcars are somewhat cheaper to operate than MAX trains (about 2/3 the cost per vehicle hour, IIRC–I don’t have current figures available); they only have about 1/3 the capacity of a two-car MAX train. Using Streetcars might make sense in off-peak hours, but during peak hours you would either lose capacity or require a much more expensive service.

  62. EngineerScotty
    June 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm Link

    One more thought: The Milwaukie MAX line, when it opens, will be an extension of the Yellow Line. And as this will be a high-speed line south of Holgate, using the Skoda 10T streetcars on it would be rather inappropriate.

  63. Joseph E
    June 27, 2011 at 3:53 pm Link

    I read blogs from several cities (LA, SF, Seattle, Portland, NY, even Copenhagen and Amsterdam), and it’s interesting to see what the standards are in each area.

    I can’t believe anyone, even in Portland, could dislike the Transit Mall as an environment for pedestrians. On my first visit there (since childhood) this year, I thought the whole area was beautiful and surprisingly peaceful, compared to downtown traffic in SF, Long Beach, Seattle, let alone Dallas or LA. It was super easy to cross the transit mall due to limited car traffic, frequent signal changes, and it was easy to “jaywalk” across when no bus was coming (most of the time). Crossing the street is a breeze compared to many cities, due to short blocks and narrow (3 or 4 lanes total, including parking) streets.

    I haven’t been to Vancouver, WA yet, but it looks like it has the same block structure downtown, which should be great for walking as long as there are not too many parking lots and garages.

    And while I can see how Interstate is harder to cross with the light rail tracks in the middle, it also now has bike lanes on both sides and only 1 car lane. Compare this to Long Beach Boulevard, where the light rail tracks have a wide fenced median in between, and there are no less than 3 lanes on EACH SIDE that need to be crossed to reach the platforms at station. And you often can only cross every couple of blocks as a pedestrian.

    Compared to this, Interstate looks great, and the fences are low enough to step across if you want to (ours are 6 feet high, chain-link).

  64. Bob R.
    June 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm Link

    Scotty is right that the main limitation is paying the operators, not the availability of rolling stock. And the Yellow Line, given its short length, has decent ridership and during much of the day even 2-car trains fill up pretty well. There might be times when running 1-car trains is warranted, but except for very late-night runs (when other parts of the MAX system don’t have a capacity problem either), reducing to a streetcar-size vehicle would lead to crowding. (And switching out vehicles for only parts of the day induces other expenses.)

    But the main limiting factor is the platforms. The streetcars used in Portland are narrower (so they can fit in narrower streets than MAX and make tighter turns).

    If streetcars were to operate at MAX platforms, this would lead to gaps of a few inches between the streetcar edge and the platform, sufficiently wide that ankles and objects could get caught, and I don’t know if there would be an issue with the automatic ramps lining up properly. Some cities have transit vehicles with “gap fillers” that pop out under the door to assist with this problem.

    But the final issue of substituting streetcar vehicles on the yellow line is one of flexibility. TriMet dispatchers can and do re-designate cars at the end of their runs to manage capacity or get around problems. A Yellow Line train might, for example, reach the Expo Center than then go “out of service”, then head back down to the Rose Quarter and become a Red Line train out to the airport. But a streetcar vehicle couldn’t be rerouted to other MAX lines because of the higher speeds on the freeway-running segments.

    (And, come to think of it, the viaduct between the Kenton/N. Denver stop and the Delta Park/Vanport stop is actually rather long and supports higher speeds that streetcars can’t reach.)

  65. Jason McHuff
    June 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm Link

    I wonder why Portland Streetcar isn’t included in the table for Portland

    “except for Portland Streetcar, whose ridership numbers are not given by this article’s primary data source”–the data source counts ridership by agency, and does not consider streetcar to be a part of TriMet. This same issue occurs in Seattle.

  66. nobody
    June 27, 2011 at 10:19 pm Link

    al m: I’m also curious about why you think driving perpendicular to rail tracks is dangerous. I’ve regularly biked and driven on 6th and never felt it dangerous, and have crossed 6th and 5th nearly every work day at Alder. I mean, sure it’s unsafe if the train operator blows a signal, but that’s hardly a reason to be scared, is it?

  67. Aaron Hall
    June 28, 2011 at 12:48 am Link

    EngineerScotty Says: “One more thought: The Milwaukie MAX line, when it opens, will be an extension of the Yellow Line…”

    I’m curious… Milwaukie MAX has been consistently described as a separate (Orange) line, with trains operating from Oak Grove to Union Station then turning around. However, it seems like (as you said) that it SHOULD be a continuation of the Yellow line. Is the reason for that so the project can qualify for New Starts funding (as a new line versus an extension)? Or is there some completely different rationale for keeping the Vancouver MAX extension separate from Milwaukie MAX?

  68. Juke
    June 28, 2011 at 1:13 am Link

    @Aaron:
    According to the PT interview with Neil, the line will operationally be part of the Yellow Line, though they haven’t decided on the color. It might be similar to how the Green and Yellow lines currently work.

  69. Chris I
    June 28, 2011 at 6:58 am Link

    I hope they just make it a continuous part of the Yellow line. I would imagine that the scheduling would be very similar, and this would greatly simplify the system for riders. Terminating the line at Union station would be tricky as it is, since there isn’t really a good spot to park the trains without getting in the way.

  70. Bob R.
    June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am Link

    Thanks, Juke for remembering that this was in the interview… Here’s a direct link to the transcript:

    First of all, it will operate as an extension of the Yellow Line, so they are not separate train lines, they are actually through-service lines. Some of the Yellow Lines may turn around or some of the Milwaukie lines may turn around, so bottom line is it really is a through route of the Yellow Line in terms of the way it will operate.

    In terms of the color, no, we haven’t really decided. As we get closer to the opening, we do a whole series of outreach and service planning characteristics, and right now it just sort of helps us, I think, in terms of the description of talking about it as the Orange as opposed to Yellow which is a line in service, and so we get a little, you know, hopefully we clarify our terminology on that, but a lot more conversation to come on that.

  71. Juke
    June 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm Link

    Bob R: Thanks, Juke for remembering that this was in the interview.
    Listening to something several times at reduced speed does tend to solidify it into memory.

  72. Lenny Anderson
    June 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm Link

    Its useful to note that many, if not most, peak hour trips from Clark county via I-5 are to destinations in north and northeast Portland…Rivergate, Columbia Corridor, Swan Island, Lower Albina, etc. C-Trans currently has NO service in the I-5 corridor that serves these trips as all of it is express service to Downtown, with the exception of the 157. It took C-Tran 3 years to get the 4 and 44 Limited going from Orchards to the Yellow Line. C-Tran should turn the 105 Express around at Delta Park/Vanport and double the frequency and make it work like the 65 Parkrose Limited and the Red Line…every 15 minutes, staggered for good connections. Clark county residents need connections to a wide variety of destinations in Portland, not just downtown Portland. The Yellow Line nows carries almost three times the riders as the old 5 bus despite the poor connections to Clark county west and north of Fourth Plain.

  73. Nick
    June 29, 2011 at 10:18 pm Link

    Lenny, you’re obsessed with service to SI.

    The riders on the 105 are not interested in traveling to SI. They are traveling to the PDX Transit Mall.

    Those riders traveling to SI should and do travel to SI via Yellow and the 72.

    To suggest “that many, if not most, peak hour trips from Clark county via I-5 are to destinations in north and northeast Portland…Rivergate, Columbia Corridor, Swan Island, Lower Albina, etc.” is delusional and self-interested wishful thinking.

  74. Bob R.
    June 29, 2011 at 10:52 pm Link

    you’re obsessed … delusional and self-interested wishful thinking

    Knock it off with the insults, Nick. You can ask for Lenny’s source or proof of the claim about destinations without being derisive. (And I note that you offer no evidence of your own to show why Lenny might be wrong.)

  75. Aaron Hall
    June 30, 2011 at 12:34 am Link

    Nick Says: “The riders on the 105 are not interested in traveling to SI. They are traveling to the PDX Transit Mall.”

    Only because that’s where the bus goes. They wouldn’t take that bus if they wanted to go to Swan Island.

    But Lenny has a point, there are tens of thousands, if not 100,000+ jobs in those N and NE industrial areas. They’re huge employment centers and it’s likely that a big chunk of Clark County residents crossing the bridge are heading to those jobs.

    I don’t think C-Tran can effectively serve those industrial areas because they are so dispersed. It would be great if they provided a couple of intermediate stops along I-5 so connections to, say the 72 or the 75, can be made much easier. But I’m pretty sure (correct me if I’m wrong) that they’re not allowed to do that because they’re a Washington company and they aren’t supposed to offer point to point transit services within Oregon.

  76. Lenny Anderson
    June 30, 2011 at 9:16 pm Link

    All C-Tran needs to do is connect good service down I-5 to the MAX Yellow Line…what’s so hard about that. Check origin and destination data from UrbanTrans vanpool study for Metro based on 2000 census data for the # of people living in Clark county and working in N/NE PDX. Also the CRC folks should have the data we on the Governors’ I-5 TF received showing that less than half the trips across the River go downtown…at least as I recall. It was a surprise and should not be ignored in this discussion.

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