July 2011 Open Thread

July 2011 open thread

Well, we’re now halfway through 2011, and so time for another open thread.

The big news is that on July 1, the official groundbreaking for the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project occurs; with construction already starting on the last day of June (Bob has the scoop) here, as does Joseph Rose at the Oregonian. In other business:

  • PBOT considering adding parking meters to Grand and MLK. Local business owners predictably unhappy at removal of city-subsidized free parking.
  • Metro has a new development project in East County.
  • “I’m tired of all these [expletive] scorpions on this [expletive] plane!”

Bob should be back soon with more coverage of the MLR groundbreaking–but remember; anything which is on topic is fair game in the open thread. Have a happy and prosperous Fourth!

76 responses to “July 2011 Open Thread”

  1. “I’m tired of all these [expletive] scorpions on this [expletive] plane!”

    Which I happened to catch on my phone at the TriMet event just before speakers took the stage… there was a small buzz among the audience about it, but no stings…

    Remember the time when a coyote rode MAX? From what I understand, he didn’t have a valid fare instrument at the time, but he sure blogged about it on his RoadRunner Internet account.

  2. Does anybody have any links (news articles) documenting Charlie Hales support for the Western Bypass back in the 90s?

  3. Conversion to a grid system, like LA County is trying to do, is generally good for transit efficiency–but highly inequitable when a transit system doesn’t provide free transfers. After all, the transit agency is selling complete trips, not individual segments thereof, and transfers are for the agency’s benefit, not the rider’s.

    But yes–a downside of concentrating/improving service in one corridor (which often happens with rapid transit lines, including light rail) is that without additional operating funds, service cuts elsewhere might be necessary. OTOH, improved service in a corridor can attract more ridership (increasing revenues to compensate), and make the overall system more valuable.

  4. Have you guys considered providing the full text of articles in the RSS feeds? Content that is normally “after the jump” is not provided in the feed — worse, there’s usually no indication that the post is cut off. I just realized that there’s a few articles that were really filled out that I had only read the first paragraph or two of.

  5. Thanks, that’s much better. While I’m at it, is there any control over the blue “social” text-as-image links in the footer? Do you have any way to tell how many people use them? Besides being kinda ugly, it really seems like those should be left to the RSS reader to implement, as most do these days. I saw these on many feeds a while back but it’s to the point that only PortlandTransport (of my 33) still uses them.

  6. Fair enough, thanks! (And I was very wrong, turns out the normal setting I have my feed reader at was causing them not to display. I found the “Feed Flare” or something like it on 8 blogs, 3 or 4 of them even local.)

  7. You know speaking of RSS requests, is it possible to make the RSS feeds include the author tag? Right now you have to load the main page to see who wrote the article.

    The other thing that bugs me is that the comments in the Comments RSS feed are not always in order posted if there were a bunch posted around the same time. If these are easy fixes they would be really helpful. Thanks.

  8. Oh my god, yes, the comments thing. I should have mentioned it above. I like this site for the comments just as much as the posts and that problem pops up anytime there’s any good volume of comments going on here. It seems like maybe there’s some kind of static RSS file for the comments that is perhaps not getting generated often enough, or something. You’ll get a few comments, for example, perhaps from 1:00PM to 1:20PM, and they’ll all show up with a time of (lets say) 1:23PM and the order will usually be pretty random. Latest example are the two comments from different Jason’s on the seven day service thread.

  9. I’ll look at the Author tagging, but I’m not sure there’s much I can do about comments. My belief is that the order of the comments feed is determined by Movable Type, not by my template. And the ‘bunching’ is due to the caching going on at Feedburner.

    One of these days we really need to move over the WordPress…

  10. Hi all, soon to be Portland resident here, actually I’m already spending about a third of my time in the city …does anyone know if the blue max line gets overloaded during rush hour? I’m considering getting an apartment near that line, somewhat east of 205.

  11. Yes, it gets crowded. But you can also take the Red or Green lines to Gateway, then transfer to the Blue line where it’s less crowded.

  12. Ryan,

    Another option is to bike. There is a nice bike route from east Burnside to downtown (I take it almost every day).

  13. According to the NW Examiner, the streetcar stop at 10th and Marshall is getting moved a block north up to Northrup. Seems like a good opportunity to axe the stop at 12th, with those three stops packed together like that.

  14. I doubt that the owners of the Bridgeport, who paid for the stop, would be very amenable to that :-)

    That’s the problem – each stop develops a constituency, making them almost impossible to change.

    That’s why it’s important to get them right in the first place. I’m optimistic about the east side.

  15. Ah, well. Maybe when there’s streetcar going down Hawthorne in twenty years they can “relocate” the stop at 12th to their other location. :)

    It would be interesting to track how the average NW 23rd -> SoWa (or just to PSU, so you could compare back further, perhaps) trip times and reliability have changed incrementally (if they even have so far) over time, perhaps from some kind of historical arrival data.

    Do you know anything about the students here at PSU doing their capstone on the streetcar trying to reduce delays? (Chiefly, what’s likely to come of it, if anything.)

  16. I’m not familiar with the PSU class project.

    I do know that the Lovejoy/Northrup Couplet has shaved several minutes off the trip time.

    In general we have improved cycle times over time, mostly through signalization improvements.

    Every minute of cycle time is worth 10 of thousands of dollars per year in the operating budget.

  17. Sumitomo Electric Industries claims up to 3X times greater capacity with their “Aluminum Cel-Met” Lithium Ion batteries.
    I wonder if this would lower the cost of replacing the batter pack in an electric or hybrid vehicle. I understand that a typical hybrid battery pack replacement can be upwards of $9,000. They claim it will significantly reduce the size of the battery pack.

  18. I believe that MIT and others have been working on porous battery electrodes. Probably the biggest advantage of energy density increases would be in extending range. Reducing battery pack size with this technology would probably not reduce cost proportionately because the cost per unit weight might well be higher than with existing less porous technology. There still could be a lower total manufacturing cost plus a definite advantage in lower weight (i.e. a slight gain in range, acceleration, and efficiency).

    Given the relatively low range capabilities of available electric/plug-in hybrid vehicles, wouldn’t many customers opt for more range as opposed to cheaper battery packs?

    The real question for these technologies might be about relative durability.

  19. I would see one of the main advantages of this technology—when combined with other unrelated advances–as the potential for engineering down the size, weight and complexity of hybrid vehicles. On the website http://www.greencarcongress.com they do cover a gamut of emerging technologies.

    For most urban dwellers a 100 mile range would be sufficient, as long as you have another power source available. I’ve been enthused about the Ford Motors agenda for getting PHEV vehicles into the mainstream; they also are tinkering with the ICE and have a one liter engine apparently in production, supposedly comparable to their existing 1.6 engine. What will they be capable of when they combine the two? But if a battery pack costs several thousand to replace that, to me, would be an obstacle.

  20. When the subject of Southwest Corridor HCT has come up in the past, I know some posters have envisioned a tunnel through part of SW Portland. Although it’s way early, looks like it might be more than a pipe dream:

    MAX Tunnel Serving OHSU?

  21. Seems crazy but how else do you serve Dwntwn, OHSU, and Hillsdale on one line, without at least considering a tunnel?

  22. A tunnel based SW rapid transit line [MAX, BRT, or even heavy rail] is one of very few high-cost projects that MIGHT make sense as it could be competitive with private vehicles throughout the day. That will be critical in the not too distant future if the potential of autonomous vehicles is even partly realized.

    An aside: Now that Nevada is allowing AV operations on state roads, it would be appropriate for Metro to include potential effects of AVs in its forecasting model. Projects are typically studied in a 30-year time-frame. Even conservative forecasts offer the possibility of AVs being available within that period.

  23. Southwest MAX tunnel:

    I’ll believe it when I see it. The fact that Portland is only doing a “Barbur Concept Plan” means that they have a very narrow vision of where potential light rail would go in Southwest.

    A southwest extension done right would tunnel under the Tualatin Mountains with underground stations at OHSU, Hillsdale, Multnomah Village, and Barbur Blvd TC, before portaling and crossing I-5 to a station at the PCC-Sylvania campus. From there, a viaduct would travel west across I-5 again to Tigard Triangle.

    After that, I’m less certain of where the route should go, but I’m inclined to tunnel southwest to Tigard Town Center before surfacing and following the OE corridor to Tualatin with perhaps a diversion along 72nd Avenue to Bridgeport Village. Electrifying and double-tracking the line here would also go towards potentially converting WES to all-day, frequent service MAX operation in the future.

  24. Boy, how could you guys miss this? While looking for an article on natural gas power plants for a lightrail vehicle I ran across this Chinese development. Could do away with conventional propulsion for light rail vehicles—-and the infrastructure of catenary wires. Now—how would you also bring down the cost of laying track? Perhaps then you would have less opposition to light rail:

    China introduces first light-rail train with new-energy fuel cells

    A major west coast bridge is being fabricated in China. Would LRT be next?

  25. Ron, to that I say show me the performance specs and the floor layout.

    Fuel cells are notoriously expensive and hydrogen has a rather low energy density.

    You’d have to show that the resulting loss of space (and time cost of hydrogen refueling) on dozens of rail vehicles is cheaper than installing and maintaining overhead wire and operating vehicles with more interior room.

    Not impossible, but frankly I have my doubts about the viability of the Chinese vehicle at this time.

  26. (And studies of fuel cell systems thus far have shown that the total energy consumed generating the hydrogen — it has to be extracted from other compounds — is far higher than if you have the ability to consume electricity from the grid, such as via an overhead wire.)

  27. The fact the Portland is doing a Barbur Concept Plan does not mean that LRT is going directly on Barbur. Barbur needs a vision and plan, and that will help inform the LRT planning.

  28. Well, maybe the DMU’s are more cost effective. I was wondering if there might be something less noisy; which is why I started looking for articles on natural gas power. There have, apparently, been some areas that have put in LRT at very low cost. Ottawa, Ca. was an example I cited a few weeks ago. I did note some exceptional circumstances at the time.

  29. How do the costs of overhead catenary wire compare to those of doing it under the train? Is there some reason (it seems) this is never done with light rail? I imagine there are either physical ways to make it safe or ways to ensure there is only a circuit when a train is ontop.

  30. Aaron –

    Ground-level (just below-ground, actually) power supplies have been experimented with at various points in history, a modern example would be in France:


    As you suggest, the technology is set up so that only localized sections of the power system are activated at any given time.

    The system currently has problems, however, including not shedding water adequately, the accumulation of debris, and ice formation. The cost of implementation is also reportedly a few times higher than overhead power. The system is best suited where local regulations absolutely preclude the presence of overhead wires.

    Lately, perhaps related to this regulatory issue, prototype trams (streetcars, small LRVs) have been developed which have on-board batteries capable of operating over short stretches without the need for an external power source. It has even been suggested that in the future such vehicles could be used here in Portland to cross bridges without needing to retrofit the bridges with a power supply system. (It’s one thing to put overhead wires on narrow bridges with an overhead structure such as the Hawthorne, Steel, and Broadway bridges. Wide, multilane bridges like the Morrison would be more difficult.)

    Such vehicles have also been suggested for historic districts in Washington, DC which are considering streetcars.

  31. A tunnel under OHSU would likely only be slightly more expensive than trying to fit light rail between Barbur and I-5 on the steep and unstable west hills just south of downtown.

    Ideally, the new LRT route would have stops at OHSU, Hillsdale, and Multnomah Village, emerging around the Barbur TC, then following I-5 or Barbur into Tigard. This would be a long tunnel, but only marginally longer than the west side tunnel, but with 2 more underground stations. I think they could pick up both OHSU and the VA with one station. Elevator shaft at the north end for OHSU, and shaft at the south for the VA.

    This line needs larger spacing between stops. This will ensure quick transit times, and we can keep all of the existing bus service for local trips.

  32. There’s a high likelihood that OHSU and the VA could contribute enough $$$ towards the tunnel/station that it would offset any costs that would have been saved by using Barbur. Of course, that’s also assuming that a Barbur alignment would be cheaper, which given the extremely challenging topography from Downtown to Burlingame, may not be the case.

  33. @Chris Smith:

    Does that mean the Barbur Concept Plan will also look at potential transit-oriented development at Hillsdale and Multnomah Village? Or will it look primarily retrofitting Barbur Blvd. at specific nodes (@ Terwiliger/Bertha, @ Multnomah Blvd, @ Taylors Ferry/Capitol Hwy) where potential LRT stations would be located? You would hope that “T” in TOD would come to fruition, either with MAX or rapid bus service.

    Another major problem with a Barbur alignment is the lanes that would be removed for MAX. That may be okay on outer East Burnside or Interstate where there are multiple alternate routes, but the traffic volumes on Barbur are far too high to make this feasible. Keep in mind that Barbur is a state route for long stretches, and ODOT would vociferously object to removing extensive auto capacity.

    @Chris I:

    Investing this much ($2-4 billion easy) in a line and bypassing PCC-Sylvania is a shortsighted decision. Let’s actually serve our major ridership generators (OHSU and PCC) if we’re going to undertake this incredible expense (for Portland, anyway).

  34. The Barbur Concept Plan will stick to Barbur, but the larger planning for the transit corridor (and LRT is not necessarily the mode – that will be studied too) will look at a variety of potential station areas in a fairly wide envelope.

  35. Don’t see how a Barbur Subway(for lack of a better description) pencils out without significant upzoning around station areas. Doesn’t make sense to spend significant amounts of money for an area of single family homes zoned for 7,000+ square foot lots. Not sure if you could get the respective buy in from the respective Neighborhood assoc. for upzoning and a more dense environment around the station area

    Really interested in what the studies come back with. BRT? Surface Light Rail? Full or Partial Tunnel? Interesting times.

  36. So here’s a random question I don’t recall ever being addressed anywhere:

    Why has there never been serious discussion of using the existing rail route from Vancouver to Downtown as a commuter rail route? Because the trains are scheduled nicely, it’s actually quite possible to do so from Oregon City on Amtrak (I’ve done it, it’s pleasant).

    With a little care, you could get a single train running on a 40 minute schedule during rush hours. Two trains and you could easily get every 20 minutes, even with a quick stop in St Johns (which I would *love* to use, myself).

    Of course, I understand that the tracks on that stretch are privately owned,
    but it seems that for a fraction of the cost of a light rail bridge (not to mention the entire CRC boondoggle project we could pay off UP/BNSF/CNX (I forget which) or just out right buy the tracks/bridges off of them and lease access back.

    Anyway, just a thought…

  37. In related transit news, C-TRAN now has a system they call “Next Ride,” which is similar to TriMet’s Transit Tracker. Details on the c-tran.com homepage.

  38. I see it as this: build a fast tunnel to serve the largest employer in the city (OHSU) and 1 town center (Hillsdale) plus potentially 1 other non-designated town center (Multnomah Village) -OR- build a slow at-grade line that serves a forest and miles of auto-oriented sprawl right next to the ped-shed barrier of I-5 and hope futilely for a transformation of the street into a pedestrian boulevard (still waiting on Interstate Ave which has much more potential).

    After utility relocation, traffic impact remediation, property acquistion, designing to accommodate for neighbor concerns, topography issues, designing for ODOT traffic engineer concerns, etc, the surface alignment on Barbur is probably also more expensive versus a bored under-the-hill tunnel.

  39. Thank you, jon. I honestly don’t see how a Barbur alignment would be cheaper than a bored tunnel. I know that sounds counterintuitive to most people, but given all the reasons you listed, and the fact that Barbur would have to be essentially completely rebuilt and widened to accommodate light rail, the tunnel HAS to be cheaper. Hopefully more people will start to realize that.

  40. Another point on tunneling, in addition to our recent local experience with the Big Pipe project, is that by the time a SW Corridor project gets going, Seattle will have wrapped up extensive tunneling for its various light rail projects, so there will be a lot of expertise in the Pacific NW, and perhaps some idle equipment as well.

  41. Don’t see how a Barbur Subway(for lack of a better description) pencils out without significant upzoning around station areas. Doesn’t make sense to spend significant amounts of money for an area of single family homes zoned for 7,000+ square foot lots.

    Hillsdale is already fairly dense (plus it has a very popular farmer’s market). OTOH, I’m not sure if Multnomah Village would merit an underground stop without significant rezoning.

    I honestly don’t see how a Barbur alignment would be cheaper than a bored tunnel. I know that sounds counterintuitive to most people, but given all the reasons you listed, and the fact that Barbur would have to be essentially completely rebuilt and widened to accommodate light rail, the tunnel HAS to be cheaper.

    This, plus there’s a 1.5 mile stretch on Barbur between Terwilliger and Hamilton where, for all intents and purposes, there’s nothing to serve.

    Also, the recent closure of Sam Jackson Road only further underscores the need of alternative methods of serving Pill Hill.

  42. If you were to ask me the most important destinations in the corridor between PSU and Tigard TC, ones that wouldn’t require significant upzoning to justify mass transit, I would say (in rough geographic order):

    1) PSU–major university, current end of green/yellow lines, major transit center
    2) OHSU–major university/hospital, connections to tram.
    3) Hillsdale–connections to several important bus lines (44, 45, 54, 65), high-density neighborhood.
    4) Barbur TC. Significant transit center, lots of nearby commerce. Horrible pedestrian environment, though, with Barbur and I-5.
    5) PCC Sylvania. Also a big college campus.
    6) Washington Square. Major shopping mall/TC
    7) Tigard TC.

    Obviously, a straight line can’t be drawn between all of these, though a reasonable route can be constructed serving all but Washington Square–one that also includes stops in Burlingame or Multnomah (though not both) and the Tigard Triangle.

  43. Changing the topic a bit, the always-reliable Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland reports that ODOT is starting up a new “active transportation” section–and expresses some hope that the agency’s longstanding auto-centric culture is starting to wane a bit.

  44. More from Joseph Rose: A study reports on an American Public Transit Association study that taking public transit (and forgoing ownership of an automobile; including one-car households) can save Portland families $859 per month, 11th best in the nation.

    The difference is the cost of a monthly transit pass ($88 for all-zone) vs the calculated costs of owning an automobile, which the APTA computes as nearly $1000 per month.

    My main quibble with the report is that this assumes, generally, ownership of a new car (and thus bearing the full brunt of depreciation). Many motorists own used or older vehicles which are, in essense, “fully-depreciated”; their market value being not much higher than their salvage value. (And unfortunately, these vehicles are more likely to have underperforming engines and emissions systems which produce more pollutants and consume more fuel compared to a new car with a motor still at factory specs).

  45. $1000 a month? Good lord.

    I drive a 2002 Civic that is very fuel efficient and requires almost no maintenance. My monthly costs are somewhere around $150 including insurance.

    Are we referring to people who buy a new car every two years?

  46. I suspect the APTA is referring exactly to those people–depreciation can be expensive if you own new cars.

    One other thing to consider: The IRS recently just increased its mileage depreciation rate (for those motorists/vehicle owners who qualify) to 55.5 cents per mile; a figure which only begins to make sense in the context of commercial/fleet usage, where vehicles are subject to high mileage, generally kept in good repair, and are traded in a market less sensitive to issues of style/taste as the consumer automobile market. This mileage rate, unfortunately, represents a subsidy to owners of personal automobiles who qualify for the deduction (generally, people who use their car for their employer’s business, and the self-employed), one which encourages driving–as the deduction permitted well exceeds the actual marginal costs for driving a personal car (assuming you own one already).

  47. Jeff,

    $150 a month seems too low. Are you including maintenance and depreciation? Might be possible with an older car, if you do your own repairs, and drive very little. $0.25 – $0.30 a mile is a typical estimate, including insurance, maintenance, depreciation.

    I’ve calculated that my wife and I save about $3000 a year by sharing one car instead of two. Most of the savings are from insurance and maintenance.

  48. I’m counting maintenance, sure, but that’s minimal. The car only has about 50,000 miles on it. Since the car was a gift, the original cost was $0 so any depreciation doesn’t factor in. No matter what I eventually sold it for, it will be far more than I paid for it.

    I realize this is atypical, but I still can’t imagine $1000/month.

  49. “True Cost of Ownership” at Edmunds.com seems to offer a fairly realistic cost analysis. The site compares new v. used vehicles, assumes 15,000 miles per year, and shows each of the first five years of ownership.

    Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference with many models between new and used as the depreciation of a new car is compensated to a significant degree with maintenance on a used one. Probably the main difference is that the biggest hit on depreciation is early while maintenance costs increase over time.

    It’s easy to find a new car that costs 55.5 cents a mile to operate among Audis and Beemers; a little harder among Hondas and Fords.

  50. The APTA study is the one they update every month. A few years ago they pegged the savings at a bit over $600, IIRC.

    If you follow the link on the bottom of the publictransportation.org page to the apta.com website press release, they also explain the methodology. Parts of which are as follows (and I add some emphasis on an important part):
    The cost of driving is calculated using the 2011 AAA average cost of driving formula. AAA cost of driving formula is based on variable costs and fixed costs. The variable costs include the cost of gas, maintenance and tires. The fixed costs include insurance, license registration, depreciation and finance charges.
    So it appears these sorts of savings are if and only if one were to totally give up their vehicle, not just leave it in the driveway.

  51. Its not a double post unless you say the same exact thing twice. (And no worries if you do–they happen from time to time for various technical reasons; we mods simply delete duplicate posts without any further issue).

    So no worries.

  52. (Note to moderator: This is essentially a repeat of a post made around 9:30 last night on a January ’06 thread. Please disregard if that one got through.) [Moderator: It didn’t, but this one did. –ES]

    Yesterday evening, I caught part of a short documentary on a local access channel about Curitiba’s bus system. I was generally aware of that system but two things stuck out:

    1. They use bi-articulated (four axle, three section) buses with a capacity of 270 riders at a peak headway of 50 seconds on their BRT network. You read the numbers correctly — these things can move up to 19,440 people per hour in one direction on one route past a single point! Even more people can be accommodated on the entire route as late boarders replace early ‘deboarders’.

    The bus shelters have received a fair amount of press. Riders pay to enter the barrel-like shelters, and then quickly board buses through any of the available five doors, minimizing dwell time. BRT stops are about 500 meters apart.

    2. The BRT lines are arranged on five spokes radiating from the central city core. Each spoke consists of three adjacent thoroughfares, with the outer two being one-way couplets. The middle ones are bidirectional with BRT and emergency vehicles in the center two lanes, and local traffic in the outer lanes. Large buildings are generally restricted to the spokes instead of adding to congestion in the city center.

  53. Have to give credit to the SRTC Blog (srtctransportation.blogspot.com) for highlighting this: current partisan documents indicate a loss of $3.8 billion in transportation funding and 141,000 transportation jobs nationwide (compared to 2010 funding levels), including $30 million and 1,124 jobs in the State of Oregon, under the current House transportation funding proposal.


  54. An outrageous–and sad–case out of Georgia, where a mother who was injured (and her son killed) by a hit-and-run driver when she and her children crossed a busy expressway to reach their apartment from a bus stop–has been convicted of jaywalking in the incident, and now faces a potential prison sentence, one which may be longer than that given to the driver who fled the scene.

    And for those who are wondering–the mother in question is black; the jury that convicted her is all-white.

  55. The June TriMet Board meeting minutes shows the Board unanimously approving purchase of up to 215 Gillig buses, including four hybrids. Does anybody have any comparative notes re: these and New Flyers? (Standard LF’s, not the tricked-out CTRAN hybrids)

  56. On a more serious note, a report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, slams the quality of mass transit in much of the United States.

  57. A few bits of news from TriMet:

    * Ridership in FY11 exceeds 100 million boarding rides again, albeit barely (100,002,700 rides)–an 0.7% increase over last year; though still below pre-recession ridership levels. If it weren’t for WES and its 370,800 rides, the 100M mark wouldn’t have been crossed, BTW.

    * TriMet is hiring a Director of Diversity and Transit Equity and a Multicultural Program Manager, two positions to help manage and improve relations with the minority communities served by TriMet. The obvious question, and I’ll ask it to save others the trouble: Is this a better investment than improved bus service on lines serving minority communities? (I especially invite minority readers to comment on this issue–how often are such community liaison roles actually constructive, and how often are they just public relations ploys, and money that might be better spent on better service or reduced fares?)

  58. Scotty,

    I can’t help but wonder how many rides TriMet lost in covering WES? Even though Washington County is kicking in $2 million a year and Wilsonville a few hundred thousand more, TriMet still has to pony up $3 million plus for its share of WES operating losses.

    BTW, Washington County’s contribution is supposed to expire next year. Has anybody heard anything about them throwing more at WES after that, or will TriMet face another dose of reality?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *