The marvelous multicolored Milwaukie MAX

Lost amidst the controversy around the Milwaukie MAX project, has been a little operational detail that many of us transport geeks care passionately about…the color. The project has long been informally referred to as the Orange Line. While TriMet doesn’t use such terminology in its project literature, it appears as a big orange line on planning maps. Public statements from the agency have been a bit confusing.

During his interview with Portland Transport last spring, TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane had this to say:

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.

Michael Anderson at PortlandAfoot apparently asked around within TriMet, and reports the following:

In April 2011, TriMet Rail Operations Planner John Griffiths wrote: “Milwaukie trains would be Orange Line trains and have an Orange Line designation in station signage.”

He further specified that the new line is expected to be largely continuous with the Yellow Line, but the train colors are expected to change their labels at Union Station (for southbound trains, from Yellow to Orange) and PSU (for northbound trains, from Orange to Yellow).

Officially, TriMet still refers to the project simply as “Portland-Milwaukie”. But check out the project logo on the Facebook page.

Lines changing color–a good idea?

Early in the planning process, I expressed a bit of skepticism about the prospect of an Orange Line, under the assumption that if it were colored orange; that would imply that it would not be interlined with either the Green or the Yellow–and that travelers seeking to go from Milwaukie to the Expo Center, for instance, would need to change trains downtown. While that scenario is apparently off the table (something I consider a good thing), the idea that Orange trains would become Yellow downtown (and vice-versa) was a bit of a surprise. It is known that Yellow Line trains coming into PSU nowadays frequently leave as Green line trains, and vice versa; however this is an operation detail which is transparent to the rider–passengers have to get off the train at PSU; there isn’t a continuous service, from the rider’s point of view, between Expo and Clackamas.

There are several Red Line trains coming from the airport which “turn blue” at Gateway, and proceed all the way to Hillsboro instead of turning around at Beaverton; but these are the exception and not the rule. Neither Blue nor Red trains change color downtown.

Having a train which “changes color” downtown seems to be a bit unusual–offhand, I can’t think of any place else where that is done. That said, commentor Erik Halstead noted the following in the comments:

Personally I hate the idea of using the same designation through downtown – I hate it even on buses. Especially since TriMet eliminated the split designation of interlined routes, so the 12 line is now the Barbur/Sandy. Bus stop signs in Tigard say “To Gresham” which is absolutely a disservice to the average new rider who has no interest in going clear across town; timetables are huge (and timepoints have had to be reduced) and the maps are useless.

Seattle does it right – routes don’t continue through downtown, but the timetables will indicate which route a particular trip will become as it passes through downtown. So they still interline bus trips, but the route “ends” in downtown. The bus simply drives onto a new route.

Getting back to MAX…frankly the Yellow/Green Line operation is good. Train enters downtown as a Yellow Line, and then it leaves as a Green Line – even though it’s the same train. The Blue Line should be split into two distinct routes – the Red Line should “end” in Portland, but certain trips/trains would continue as a Blue (or whatever color) Line train to Beaverton or Hillsboro.

So… what do readers think? Should Milwaukie trains be Orange or Yellow (or something else)? If you board an inbound train outside of downtown, and that line is through-routed through downtown to somewhere else, what should it say? Should eastbound Blue Line trains boarded in Beaverton advertise themselves as going to Gresham or to City Center? Do you think it would be confusing for trains to change color on a regular basis? (What about bus routes?)

Please note: This is not the thread to debate the merits of the Portland-Milwaukie project (or of light rail in general). We’ve had plenty of articles on those topics and there will be plenty more; attempts to divert the discussion from the intended subject will be moderated with extreme prejudice. :)

56 responses to “The marvelous multicolored Milwaukie MAX”

  1. IMO, it all depends on future planning of operations. With any expansion (North or South) will this line be absorbed into a single color/ operation? If so, it should be a single color, as thru-running is the reoccurring design of our existing system (both on rail and bus systems). I understand varying frequencies to Milwaukie versus the Expo Center, but that logistic is easily overcome by a “Downtown Only” sign. For me, it’s all about continuity: if we had designated Hillsboro/ Beaverton as a different color from the Gresham line when it opened I would most likely want separate color markings.

  2. To Eric Halstead and his number-changing fans: NOT everyone is going downtown!!! TriMet has understood this since 1982 when they created the Eastside grid, whose 72 and 75 crosstowns are among the most productive in the system. The common number for Barbur and Sandy is useful because lots of people may want to ride through from Barbur to Sandy. Why destroy this legibility just for the convenience of people downtown? Why are downtown people presumed to be easily confused? Everyone else in the region has to deal with lines that go in two directions under one number or color. So unless Orange and Yellow are completely broken, or (more likely) TriMet finds it necessary to run some Oranges thru to Green, I say one color all the way.

  3. I would like the PMR line to be designated as an extension of the green line.

    I have a hope that one day the Milwaukie line can be connected to the green line at Clackamas Town Center (via Oregon City or HWY 224) and thus become the green loop. Labeling it as the green line now would make that the transition to a green loop more seamless.

  4. I say Green to Milwaukie, but if TriMet needs to run trains from Milwaukie to both Expo Center and Clackamas as Jarrett suggested, why not just extend both the Green and Yellow lines to Milwaukie for the time being to make it as straightforward as possible for travelers? Remember that the South Corridor Project showed the Milwaukie-Downtown-Clackamas segments as one line which they split into two phases.

    If SW Corridor gets built in the next 10-15 years, then we’ll revisit this discussion to decide what color THAT line should get.

  5. I would prefer that the yellow line be yellow for the full alignment from the Expo Center to Milwaukie. If the line ends at PSU, it’s a yellow to PSU. Trains coming from Milwaukie that end downtown can terminate at Union Station or the Rose Quarter for clarity.

    If the green line continues to Milwaukie, or originates in Milwaukie and ends in Clackamas, it should be a Green to Milwaukie or Clackamas.

    The color indicates the alignment(s) used, the termination point indicates the direction of travel.

  6. I’d keep Yellow Line all the way to Milwaukie — and maybe eventually to Oregon City. I’d reserve the Orange Line for a future route. In the future, when the (probable) southwest MAX line is built, I’d switch the Green Line to the west side (probably terminating at Willow Creek), and have a new Orange Line run from Union Station to Tigard TC.

    There’s really no point AT ALL to changing the color designation on a rail line as it travels through downtown. Anyone who is confused by the destination (“which way to get downtown?”) apparently can’t read either the signs or the maps or the posted schedules at the platform. Or understand the announcement that says “this is a Yellow Line MAX to City Center and Milwaukie” when the train arrives at the platform. A color change downtown won’t help them much.

  7. It depends on if SW is anticipated to be an extension of the yellow line or not. If so, Milwaukie will need to either be the extension of another color, or its own color. There’s some logic to preserving yellow for SW, as SW and Expo lines would both follow the 99W corridor.

    If SW is not anticipated to be a yellow line extension, then logically Milwaukie should become part of it.

    Interlining Milwaukie with Clackamas would be a horrible move. They’re both east of Portland and both in Clackamas County. It would be confusing for a user entering the system from a transfer downtown to figure out where they are going, since both directions on the green line would be cardinal the same.

    As for rerouting colors to make changes later, I think that’s far more confusing. It’s been blue Gresham to Hillsboro since the west side opened, to suddenly change it would be highly confusing.

    Swapping colors downtown is no different than the buses changing their direction signs downtown was. For those on board headed downtown, the color of the sign won’t matter any more. For those wanting to board a train to Milwaukie, having an orange sign on from the first stop downtown onwards works. It is passengers along yellow who want to get to destinations on the orange line (and vice versa) who would be most confused. Without knowing the detailed rider projections, perhaps this segment of the rider base isn’t anticipated as significant.

  8. Rose Quarter has a third rail that is used to hold an event train or for service issues on occasion at the east station (Blue, Red, Green) and its possible that a train could stop, the operator switch cabs and transition to the eastbound rails. This is done during service disruptions in some cases to keep service moving.

    The Yellow Line I think can turn back as well if I’m not mistaken there is a cross over track near the Rose quarter station.

  9. A minor correction, Alexandar–IIRC, the Blue Line didn’t become the Blue Line until 2001 or so, when the Red Line opened. Prior to that, there was only one line in the system–no need to use color to distinguish multiple lines.

    But still, your point is valid: Blue is blue from Gresham to Hillsboro; it doesn’t turn from purple to blue at Goose Hollow, or vice versa at the Lloyd Center or Rose Quarter.

  10. @Jarrett: regarding the bus destination signs, while it’s true that not everyone is headed downtown, from the suburbs it is highly likely that the vast majority are, and for that matter in a radial system the odds of any given passenger wanting the transfers in a central city locarion over the end destination of the route they are boarding is very very very high.

    Also, the further away from downtown that a rider is picked up, the less relevant (and possibly even less clear) the opposite ending terminal is as wayfinding. Quite frankly, I’m not sure anyone in Sherwood is going to know exactly where Gresham is much less gather any useful wayfinding information from it. It’s only when the “CIA CITY CENTER” message shows that anything helpful is learned.

  11. I’ve never seen it, but always wondered if trains could/do use the third platform track at the Rose Quarter under I-5 for layover and reverse, similar to red-line trains at the Beaverton TC. Personally, I’d find it more cohesive to have any Milwaukie – downtown Portland only train complete the line at the Rose Quarter TC, connecting back to all the other lines, versus termination to a non-TC of Union Station. The thing I’m curious about is whether frequency of trains on the Steel Bridge might be an issue though.

  12. Ah, looks like you got to the Rose Quarter question, Robert, as I was posting. I am curious about this option though, since it already seems to be layout as a terminus if need be.

  13. The thing I’m curious about is whether frequency of trains on the Steel Bridge might be an issue though.

    That’s why I suggested a Union Station terminus. The Steel Bridge is the bottleneck of the entire MAX system, carrying all four lines on a single track. I can’t see adding a FIFTH line across it, at least during peak hours.

  14. Jarrett: To Eric Halstead and his number-changing fans: NOT everyone is going downtown!!! TriMet has understood this since 1982 when they created the Eastside grid, whose 72 and 75 crosstowns are among the most productive in the system.

    The difference is that the 72 and 75 don’t even go downtown (like the 76 and 78 through my neck of the woods).

    Think of it this way: When you’re travelling on I-5, do all of the signs read “North I-5 to Vancouver, BC” and “South I-5 to Tijuana, Mexico”? No. The signs read to the next major city – which if you’re in Portland the major city north is Seattle and south is Eugene. Sure, plenty of people are only going to Tacoma or Salem, but Seattle and Eugene are much more logical “destinations” for signage than, say, Gresham on the 12 line stops in Tigard. Very, very, very few people in Tigard are going to, or even near, Gresham.

    Likewise it can be confusing for riders in Beaverton trying to get to Portland and their only choices are “Airport” or “Gresham”. This is where the LCD destination signs are very useful: “MAX Blue Line, Via Portland City Center, To Gresham”. Or, “12 Barbur Blvd, via Portland City Center, to Gresham” (at least the buses do that…but “Barbur/Sandy” is still confusing. TriMet has the technology to change the name – after all, it was done for who knows how many years, up until a couple years ago.)

  15. Right now we have the following *general* system:

    -Blue Line: Ends in Hillsboro or Gresham (exclusions of course at Elmonica/Willow, Gateway, & Ruby at some points in service).
    -Red Line: Ends at Airport or Beaverton TC (the color generally changes to Blue at Gateway when it is going to what would normally be a “blue” terminus)
    -Yellow Line: Ends at Expo Center or PSU (the color for trains from Ruby indicate yellow the entire route, and changes to Not in Service or blue after final runs on “yellow” stops, interlined from green)
    -Green Line: Ends at Clackamas TC or PSU (interlined from yellow, trains display “blue” to Gateway and end service and operators move cabs to go Green to Clackamas)

    I think we should stick with the fact that the trains coloring is based on what trains generally service that station, for example you would never want to see a Green line train at Willow Creek because (generally) that train should not be there. It would be better to have it display blue until it reaches a stop where it would be expected to display Green (like Rose Quarter or Gateway) as that would be expected service and less confusion to riders. When people see busses and trains where they don’t expect them they aren’t sure how to react or use the service because it no longer depicts what they understand. So if the route is indeed going to be standard and expected as Expo to Milwaukie then the train should be a Yellow the entire route and no switching to reduce confusion as to where it’s going. This train will go the entire route (maybe a City Center/Milwaukie sign?)

    @Erik H. Currently TriMet busses do this on interlined routes like the 12 or 4 and it displays the entire route and a “Via Portland City Center” to indicate that it will go Downtown but it doesn’t arrive downtown and suddenly jump numbers. This helps reduce confusion as well, for example if you are going from Sherwood to Gresham and the numbers change you might deboard and try and change numbers if its not clearly announced and the same applies for the trains. I highly oppose separating out the numbers or even removing the final destination signs, the sign shows the entire route and while for people unfamiliar it might take getting used to it indicates exactly where you can get with that bus.

    “12 Sandy/Barbur to Gresham via Portland City Center” indicates Sandy & Barbur are the roads this bus will travel down. It will go as far as Gresham on Sandy and it will hit downtown. When you start taking out information you start losing the details, so if it was named “12 Barbur to Portland” you know only that this bus will make it downtown, is it going to Parkrose? Gresham? Does it stop Downtown? Is it changing to an 8?

    Once an interlined bus enters downtown Trimet removes the road already covered (for example the Sandy/Barbur becomes just Sandy) and changes the sign to no longer reflect “Via Portland City Center” The sign indicates where this bus is going only making you less relient on schedules, drivers, maps, internet, etc.

    Also, TriMet has “12 Sandy Blvd to Portland” in the morning and some of them change to an 8 to Marquam Hill, so the naming system would be even more confusing and TriMet would need to find a way to address this problem if they removed the details from the sign.

  16. Technically, I-5 ends in Blaine, WA and San Ysidro, CA–neither actually reaches BC or TJ.

    This is an important point, and I agree that only mentioning the terminus of a line is insufficient for wayfinding, particularly if that terminus is a minor destination.

    OTOH, I-5 is called I-5 for its entire length from the Mexican to Canada borders–it isn’t called I-5 from the border to LA, and then I-74 from downtown LA to Sacramento, then I-52 from Sacramento to Portland, and I-121 from Portland to Seattle… the route is continuous from border to border. (If you go to China, on the other hand, the freeway system is generally named and not numbered; and named freeways generally connect two major cities and that’s it. There’s no single trans-China route with a common designation like I-5 or I-90).

    One other wrinkle that you point out, and which Jarrett has written quite a bit about over at Human Transit, is the issue of “to” vs “via” routing; Barbur and Sandy are not destinations but routes taken to get there. While not many busses go to Sherwood (and half the 12s don’t make it that far even), there are many ways to get to Gresham and/or Troutdale on TriMet, so the “Sandy” part is very important.

  17. @Alexander

    As far as a Green Line extension to Milwaukie being such a “horrible” idea, I don’t know if you’ve been to DC but the Metro Red Line travels through downtown and has both termini north of the city in Montgomery County within maybe 5 miles of each other as-the-crow-flies. This is not a completely foreign concept and somehow people manage.

  18. The DC Metro red line is a NW-to-N U shaped service; five miles “as the crow flies” is an eternity in DC traffic. I would much rather see the Green extended to Tigard, and the Yellow to Milwaukie.

    ACTUALLY, what I’d like to see is the Green extended to Beaverton, and the RED going to Tigard. That might not work, though, given the operational constraints imposed by the single-track section of Red Line near Gateway–someone wrote once that this essentially limits Red Line service to 4TPH.

  19. The Rose Quarter/Steel Bridge are too congested with trains as is. Having Tigard or Milwaukie trains turn around at RQTC would only slow things down further. The pocket track there should remain reserved for trains that need to be serviced or when there are service disruptions.

  20. I have to say I prefer the system used in Seattle of interlining routes through downtown. The number of people who are going through downtown is always going to be very small, and those people are the most likely to figure out which buses go through and where they go. For the vast majority it makes the routes a lot more legible to have them begin or end downtown on the map.

    It also allows numbers to reflect destination. I know TriMet doesn’t do this, but they should. In Seattle all the 50s go to West Seattle, the 70s go to the U District, the high teens go to Ballard, etc. It isn’t done perfectly, but in general it is useful when giving people directions. “How do I get to West Seattle?” “Oh, just catch one of the 50s.” The 50s are all interlined with other routes going through downtown, but keeping the numbers separate helps in this way.

    It also gives the transit agency way more flexibility without confusing customers. For example, I recently took the last 4 of the night from Mississippi, with Division as my final destination. I expected it to go through downtown since that’s what the map shows. Instead it got downtown and turned around! I had to call a cab and wait downtown in the middle of the night. If the North and Southeast portions of the 4 had different numbers, I would not have assumed that and I would have checked the schedule to see if that particular run was interlined or not. It’s very easy to show on a schedule.

    Another thing this allows is for the transit agency to split routes during peak times to improve reliability, then combine the routes in non-peak times to reduce costs. An example in Seattle is the 44/43. They are split through most of the day, but late at night and all day Sunday it becomes one super-long route.

    In this case, I would call this the Orange Line, and just make announcements as the train approaches downtown that this train will become either a Yellow or Green Line train. That should be sufficient for the people who are going through, and is less confusing for people who are not. If they decide to have it interlined with Yellow for pretty much all trips, then I suppose this one could be called Yellow, but if TriMet wants more operational flexibility they should give it another color.

  21. Interlining Milwaukie with Clackamas would be a horrible move. They’re both east of Portland and both in Clackamas County. It would be confusing for a user entering the system from a transfer downtown to figure out where they are going, since both directions on the green line would be cardinal the same.

    Using color designations for rail lines is very helpful for system maps, and for getting someone on the correct line, but the information is essentially useless without the destination. Telling someone to grab the Green Line is no help unless they know which train to catch. “Green Line to Clackamas” is much more useful.

    No single piece of identification is enough on its own. Customers, new or regular, need to know which bus stop or station platform to use, and they need a lot of clues to reassure them that the choice is correct (so the outbound Red Line trains have a little airplane on the overhead)and they’re going in the right direction.

    Nothing seems to baffle more people than compass directions, especially if they don’t know the layout of the region. Some people simply cannot read maps.

    Identifying any interim point on the route as a destination is confusing unless that trip actually terminates at that point (Ruby Junction being a case in point). That’s why the “to” and “via” is so useful. It still isn’t enough on its own; if I’m in Beaverton and want to get to Hollywood, “to Gresham via City Center” isn’t much help without any context.

    I think the I-5 analogy breaks down because the signs on the freeway are not the same as the sign on the bus, especially once I’m aboard. That’s the point when stop announcements provide the most useful information–in conjunction with other information.

    Whew. Wordy.

  22. It also allows numbers to reflect destination. I know TriMet doesn’t do this, but they should. In Seattle all the 50s go to West Seattle, the 70s go to the U District, the high teens go to Ballard, etc. It isn’t done perfectly, but in general it is useful when giving people directions. “How do I get to West Seattle?” “Oh, just catch one of the 50s.” The 50s are all interlined with other routes going through downtown, but keeping the numbers separate helps in this way.

    TriMet has done this a few times. The 70s are cross-town buses, and the 20s were feeder routes into Gateway TC. In reality, though, the system grew like Topsy, so the numbers just arrived as they were needed. And some of the routes and their numbers go back a long way.

    You should have been around for sector symbols.

  23. Growing up in Oregon City, I was in Green Leaf territory.

    What made the sectors work was the coordination of information. It made maps easy – all the buses here are Green Leaf — and what really tied it all together was their use on the Mall. All you had to do was tell Scotty to look for the Green Leaf shelter on 5th Avenue and all the buses heading to that area would stop there. All the information in the shelter was targeted to that sector and those routes.

    Timetables had sector symbols prominently displayed. Even the Call-A-Bus pages in the phone book were sorted by sector.

    I was fond of the Brown Beaver and the Orange Deer.

  24. @Zef – You may have boarded the 4 but there are two things of note, if you would have looked at the schedule it does indicate it only goes downtown. Additionally the bus itself would have said “4 Fessenden to Portland City Center” when you boarded and should have indicated an issue for you. In order to know that bus was coming off Mississippi you should have looked at the schedule and it would have shown the full line as we don’t really have schedules for a specific stop any longer.

    Another (more personal) note is that you should never ride TriMet that late at night without a gander at the schedule because many routes end early, turn around, etc. Just my two cents to avoid taxi rides.

  25. Ah, I should have consulted a schedule! Why didn’t I think of that. In reality, the goal of a transit agency should be for schedules to be as unnecessary as possible. My point was that if the lines had been different numbers, a rider’s default assumption would be that it does not go through. This would be adequate for the vast majority of riders who begin or end the trip downtown. The few people who want to go through would be expected to consult the schedule. I would rather have more people be able to avoid using schedules than require more people to use a schedule. Especially on frequent lines, a schedule should not be required. I have to admit I failed to notice the different message on the front, but it would not have made much difference since I don’t usually ride the 4.

  26. Zef,

    A few of the frequent lines are only “frequent in the core”. The 9 is frequent between downtown and 92nd, but only half of the busses continuing out to Gresham and the other half turning around and going back downtown. (Likewise for the portion of the 9 north of downtown). Busses are signed to indicate which goes out all the way and which do not, but newbies to the system might look at a map and think the 9 always goes to Gresham and be surprised when they get kicked off the bus at 92nd. At least, in this case, they don’t need a taxi–they can just wait for the next 9 (which WILL go to Gresham) and grumble at the inconvenience.

    Other frequent busses which routinely run short sections or have branches are the 12 (frequent only between King City and Parkrose), the 33 (half of runs stop at Oregon City TC), the 54/56 multiplex (splits into two non-frequent routes at Raleigh Hills) and the 15 (branches at NW 23rd). The 4 actually is frequent all-day; with partial runs only occurring in the morning and evening as busses enter or leave revenue service.

  27. The 9 is a perfect example of a route that should have separate numbering. You would still keep the signs on the bus that say “Powell via City Center” or some such, but using a different number would be another way to help people avoid confusion. People looking at a map of the 9 shouldn’t be expected to understand intuitively that a bunch of the trips only go partway, and could be forgiven for assuming that they all go through.

  28. zefwagner, I’d say it was more a perfect example of why one piece of information is never enough. The system is complex enough that a map is only good for general information. As Scotty explained, there are plenty of instances (especially late at night) where perhaps half the trips on the same route (in this case, the Powell leg of the Line 9) are short-lined. That’s never going to be something that can be communicated with a map alone.

    If the Division leg of the Line 4 had a different number, you would not have known that in most cases that through-route to get you from Mississippi to Division even existed – not without a schedule (or two schedules, actually). Even then it’s very difficult to communicate to a customer.

    Any new transit system, including Seattle’s, has a learning curve. Quite honestly, customer information has to bow to the requirements of schedulers, who have an incredibly difficult job balancing ridership, union and safety rules, efficiency of vehicle use… and then the result needs to be communicated to customers. Since it’s a complex system, the information can be equally so.

    You might also take into consideration that millions of people ride TriMet’s buses every year and, for the most part, they get to their destination. Before developing a solution so people can “avoid confusion”, you need to find out how many people and who they are.

  29. @Zef – You indicate that you want to avoid people looking at schedules as much as possible and that’s what this system does currently. Right now you can look at a bus/bus stop and see the entire route this bus could go; using Transit Tracker also provides the final destination as well. This all avoids the schedule in its entirety.

    Your advocating the use of more schedules, indicating that the lines should be separate and you yourself say “I would have looked at a schedule” when all you had to do was check Transit Tracker (however you please)and you would have been able to see when that last bus that went “to Gresham” was leaving. You would also need to check for a bus downtown now too to figure out your full route. Its also more confusing for people who want to continue on a route to have to look at a schedule then see a note indicating to check a different schedule now.

    In regards to the 9 being a good route to change I would completely disagree. This is because you would need three numbers and it would miss the fact that these lines overlap a good portion providing frequent service on Powell. So instead of having one line you now have line 9, 10, 11 serving a large portion of the same stops and creating additional information for the rider to understand just to avoid a rider having to read a sign and listen for a “Via” or “To”

    As an example I had a friend who asked “What bus do I take to go to work?” (work being about 181st & Sandy BLVD) and he lived out near Tigard TC so I said “Take a 12 to Gresham” and that was it! Worst case he has to get off at Parkrose and wait for the “Gresham” bus which he would have had to do anyway. No explaining “the line number will change downtown into a 13 and continue to Gresham or Parkrose” nothing like that needed to be said because the sign displays all the pertinent info for the route.

  30. The name change does not happen in the downtown Market St subway, though.

    Can you specify where these changes do occur? If I’m not mistaken “downtown” would not include the Church, Castro, or Forest Hill (and the non-used Eureka) stations prior to West Portal.

    A change even at those three stations might be confusing to inexperienced riders, as you are still in a tunnel and heading in basically the same direction when the change occurs.

    (I was in SF earlier this month, and filmed portions of the N-Judah line, among other things, but the weather was somewhat uncooperative.)

  31. Hmm, no one seems to actually be reading my comments carefully.

    Any change to numbering will impact a certain number of people. What I am suggesting would make the system more legible to the majority that have downtown as an origin or destination. I admit it would make it less legible for those going through downtown. If you can show me that more people are riding these routes through downtown than are going to/from downtown, then I would admit I am wrong. I doubt the numbers would bear that out.

    Sure, you can tell someone to catch a “12 to Gresham”, but it would be a lot easier for a new transit user to just look for the 12, rather than a specific kind of 12. People going to any intermediate point are not necessarily going to know the end point, so it would be better for each number to correspond to a route going one direction from downtown rather than two.

    There’s no need to indicate short-routing or splitting with a different number–that is sufficiently communicated with the front-of-bus sign, although I would love it if routes could use letters as well. For example, we could have 15a and 15b to indicate the destination.

    Ultimately, we need more crosstown routes that don’t even go through downtown at all, which would relieve this situation. Using downtown to serve crosstown customers results in annoyed riders who are stuck going slowly through downtown, and leads to reliability problems down the line. A person on Mississippi heading to Division and 30th should not have to take a bus that crosses one bridge, goes through downtown, and crosses another bridge. We really need more buses that connect the N/NE to the SE. Right now the 72 and 75 are basically it.

  32. In general I think the bus system should be intensely focused on making the system as easy to figure out for new users as possible. Us pros will figure out the maps and schedules and details, but to get new riders is difficult. One reason for “rail bias” is that is easier for new riders to figure out. New riders will never look at the front-of-bus signage or understand what it means. They need a clear, bold signal. With MAX there are only a few lines so it is easy to figure out, but there are so many buses downtown I’m sure it is very confusing. Making each number correspond to a single spoke from downtown would make it very easy for a new rider to navigate. Even better would be for each group of numbers correspond to a general destination. TriMet could go by quadrants (1-9 to the NW, 10s to the SW, etc), similar to the old symbolic system. The stops could be grouped together.

  33. zefwagner: There’s no need to indicate short-routing or splitting with a different number–that is sufficiently communicated with the front-of-bus sign, although I would love it if routes could use letters as well. For example, we could have 15a and 15b to indicate the destination.

    And that is exactly how the system worked up until 2009, although the name and initial reflected the primary route. I.e., 12-Sandy and 12-Barbur. The routes, however, were actually designed as single lines but the in-house scheduling software could not cope with all those timepoints. The routes reverted to the original intent once the technology caught up.

    Why do you think the current approach is confusing?

  34. My perspective comes from Seattle, where with a few exceptions routes change numbers as they go through downtown. If I wanted to catch a 49 to Capitol Hill, and I saw a 49, I knew without a doubt that that bus was going to Capitol Hill and not it some other direction. No need for checking the sign on the bus, no need to know what streets it runs on, none of that. The 49 inbound to downtown changes either to 7 or says “To Base”, so there is no way I will accidentally go the wrong direction. For a new transit user in Portland, it would be very easy to catch a bus going the wrong direction. Someone going to Hollywood shouldn’t have to know that the 12 they are looking for runs on Sandy–they should just have to look for the 12. That’s less confusing.

  35. Someone going to Hollywood shouldn’t have to know that the 12 they are looking for runs on Sandy–they should just have to look for the 12. That’s less confusing

    If I were standing on the corner of Pacific Highway and Walnut in Tigard, and heading to Hollywood, I would have to know to catch the 12 headed to Gresham or Parkrose and not the one headed to Sherwood. Likewise if I were trying to catch the bus in Burlingame, or at Burnside and MLK. Same thing in the opposite direction if I were at 82nd and Sandy, or out in Fairview or Gresham. (If I were standing at the corner of Halsey and 227th, trying to get to Hollywood, I’d have to know to take the bus which is physically headed headed EAST to go West–a detail I could ignore if I simply read the sign on the front).

    Why should catching the bus in downtown be any different? Obviously, there’s more riders getting on and off there; but in order to use transit you need to know both route and direction. Having different rules for different parts of town for the same bus strikes me as more confusing.

  36. Three of the more confusing stops in the system are those for the 35 & 36 on the Lake Oswego Transit Center loop off Highway 43. The individual stops serve buses going both north and south, even though the streets themselves are bidirectional. So riders generally need to read the on-board bus signs, but both automated and driver announcements offer a final check to anyone who bothers to pay attention.

    I agree with those who’ve pointed out that part of the simplicity of current rail service v. bus is that there are relatively so few lines. Has there been a final decision for a labeling system to distinguish among streetcars?

  37. I’ll tell you what’s confusing-INTERLINING!

    Routes that start off as one thing then magically switch to something else.

    Boy does that screw up riders who are expecting the bus to go back the same way it came!

    I never did understand the logic for that, other than share the pain for operators forced to do the less desirable routes.

  38. The “one platform for both directions” is a feature found at many transit centers, where busses coming from both directions pull through the center an the same way. Some have dedicated stops for different directions–Millikan Way, for example, has a stop for the northbound 62 and the southbound 62, and big signs telling you which is what; but the 62 is the only bus line that stops at Millikan Way. If you have a TC serving many lines, it would be wasteful to have dedicated platform areas for each direction of each line, so yes–you gotta read the sign.

  39. Al: I never did understand the logic for that, other than share the pain for operators forced to do the less desirable routes.

    Unless I’ve completely screwed up the explanation, it’s a means of maximizing the use of vehicles and operators and dramatically reducing pulls and long layovers.

  40. Has there been a final decision for a labeling system to distinguish among streetcars?

    No, there has not been a final decision yet.

    This was apparently brought up on the agenda at the most recent Streetcar CAC meeting, which I could not attend because I was out of town. In the past, I’ve relayed some of my ideas as well as a few that have come up here in past discussions on Portland Transport.

    I’ve been told that the most recent discussion was tabled until I can attend a meeting and comment more on any proposals… something I was not expecting and I’m flattered and grateful. :-)

    I’ll report back here at Portland Transport if there’s any concrete ideas or significant open questions after the next meeting.

  41. If you changed it and the the line went X to Portland then anywhere in the middle of the route (like a TC) you need to review the destination in order to make sure the bus still was going where you needed it. At the end of the line it may be more clear but otherwise you still need to look at the sign to make sure you’re going the right way.

    Now adding a letter to the number would fix that issue but its been noted (I specifically remember Human Transit mentioning it) seems to convey that they system is very complicated and discourages people when you start saying things like “12B then transfer to the 17A” versus “12 to Portland then 17 to Montgomery Park” which are familiar sounding.

  42. I got to thinking about this a little bit over the last 24 hours or so and it dawned on me that the whole interlining process is nothing but a TriMet convenience, and has nothing to do with passengers.

    Case in point: The 1 bus used to be interlined between Vermont in Greeley. But, TriMet decided to change – the 1 bus would no longer interline, and instead the 33 McLoughlin bus would interline with the Greeley route.

    OK. Simple enough. Except how much money was spent to change every single bus stop sign on the Greeley route? And, with TriMet’s new-and-improved interlining route scheme, all of the 33 signs all the way to Oregon City had to be changed.

    All of the 12 route signs had to be changed. All of the 4 route signs had to be changed. All of the 9 route signs had to be changed.

    Where was the benefit for the customer? There was none. Meanwhile, TriMet has actually removed many of the bus shelter bus schedules (!!!) so that riders don’t even have a map or a timetable posted at the stop; the TriMet signposts that include the schedule holder have gone unused for a couple years now. But there’s money to replace perfectly good signs to confuse riders – and for those route maps and schedules that exist (or are online or printed) the maps have become useless and the schedules bloated. Seattle doesn’t seem to have the problem – the timetable for the route on one side of downtown will tell you if the bus continues through, and what route it’ll take. (After all, not every 12S bus becomes a 12B, and not every 12B bus becomes a 12S.)

    It’s already ridiculous enough that the 12 line runs from Gresham to Sherwood – a bus route that actually serves more incorporated cities than the entire MAX, WES and Streetcar system – combined. When you throw in that the 12 hands off to the 84 at Gresham, you have a single trip that serves all three counties. – and serves more of Clackamas County (in terms of route mileage) than MAX does. But what does that mean for the average rider? It means utterly nothing.

    A perfect example of the pitfall is an experience I had a few years back where for nearly an hour not a single bus showed up on the 12 line outbound. The response from TriMet was that there was a problem on Broadway that tied up the buses. But…the 12 bus doesn’t use Broadway. Turns out those buses ran on the 9 Broadway/Powell Line…became a 12 at Gresham. Again – convenient for TriMet, but worthless for riders.

    Interlining, when done right, can be a benefit to the transit agency in saving money which can go to increasing/improving service. But I fail to see how that has provided any benefit at TriMet. Sure, a handful of riders who live in North Portland can take a single bus trip out to Powell and Foster. A handful of riders can take a single bus from Hollywood to Tigard. But what about those riders in Multnomah Village who lost their single-seat ride to the University of Portland? What logic was used there?

    During the various events that totally mess up TriMet service downtown (i.e. Rose Festival parades, the various runs like the Race for the Cure, Bridge Pedal, Portland Marathon) that effectively divide downtown Portland – the interlining scheme creates a huge disadvantage to riders because the bus has to get from one end of downtown to the other – damned be those riders who actually have to get downtown and now can’t because the bus is on an unpredictable detour. Without the interline the bus could enter downtown, stop, and return on an outbound trip, with TriMet providing some sort of downtown bus bridge that connects the various turnaround points.

    Eliminating the interlining, focusing on improving schedule reliability, and making transfers fast, convenient and painless would resolve any problems that would exist by eliminating the interlines. Much of this is simply providing better information to riders, and much of it is the faulty design of the downtown transit mall that makes transfers between buses more inconvenient than before. Buses are no longer grouped by geographical region or common route, and where it used to be a one-block walk to transfer buses is now two blocks or in some cases more. Information about buses is limited to only those buses at the stop – with a huge LCD display there’s plenty of room for more information. And oftentimes passengers who need to transfer arrive at the transfer point only to find that their bus that they need to connect to left two minutes prior. Other transit agencies have figured out timed transfers (Salem? Eugene? Spokane) even if it’s at a single point. TriMet can’t even figure out a timed transfer at an outlying transit center where it should be a no-brainer to have buses depart at a common time, especially for buses that operate less than 15 minute headways (which, by the way, is almost every TriMet bus route.)

  43. We (especially us transit geeks) have always known PMLR to be the orange line (or as i like to call it, the rotten orange line), and that should not change. Changing it will only make everything surrounding the new planned light rail line even more confusing than it already is. Since the project has begun in planning and such, TriMet has always boasted it as the orange line (at least to my knowledge) and everything online that they associate with PMLR ends up orange, thus the orange line. Heck, even the project logo is orange, so why should it change?
    Moving on to the question of inbound trains going through the city center (Blue line from Gresham-city center-Hillsboro, vice versa), I think those should follow the same system Red Line trains do. What I have seen with the red line trains sometimes is if the train is leaving Beaverton, the sign will say Airport via city center and vice versa. Blue line trains should do the same. A train leaving Hillsboro/Gresham should display Gresham/Hillsboro as well as city center as in “Gresham via city center” or “Hillsboro via city center”. Doing it that way would make it less confusing to riders who do not yet know the system and how the train destinations work.
    Though the Red-Blue line and Yellow-Green line changes work, having a yellow line train leaving downtown suddenly change into an orange line train or vice versa is just a stupid idea. All that does is make it that more confusing to everybody, mainly those who do not know the system well, and creates an unnecessary situation. If a train were to leave the PSU turnaround, it should simply display the destination that it is going to with the line color that it would be, so if it was a yellow line train, the destination sign would be yellow with the typical Expo Center display. In the future when PMLR is finished (because nothing anybody can do will stop it at this point) if that train was coming from the said turnaround, it should say Milwaukie and the sign color should be orange–it’s as simple as that. To have trains change color, like the proposed yellow/orange line situation, would just be stupid.
    Buses I feel the same. If they’re bound through city center (like the 35 for example), going from one end of the line to the other, the sign should display the end destination and via city center and where ever else major that the line ends up going besides the end destination. For example, the 35 comes from Oregon State University and into downtown, through downtown, into lake Oswego and then eventually through to Oregon City. The destination sign heading to Oregon City could read: Oregon City via city center and Lake Oswego. Simple as that. We gotta face it that our bus system is not the best designed and TriMet is 99% likely not to change that, but we could at least make it work better by making it less confusing for new riders, tourists, and people who simply do not have very good knowledge of TriMet’s system. Why make something more confusing if we don’t have to?

  44. @Erik,

    Again, it is useful to distinguish between en-route interlining (bus changes number while in revenue service with passengers on board) and inter-route (bus changes numbers at a layover in between runs). The latter can have schedule benefits, allowing TriMet to optimize layover times, but it can–as you note–entangle lines, and has no direct benefit to riders.

    Timed transfers–the so-called “pulse” system (as busses tend to arrive at TCs at fixed points) are easiest to pull off in smaller cities where traffic and other reliability impairments are less of an issue, and busses can actually keep to a schedule easily. In larger cities, high frequency rather than strict schedule observance is how you have easy transfers; a good argument can be made that TriMet is kind of in a no-man’s land; most routes are not frequent enough to throw away the timetable, but traffic is frequently bad enough that timing transfers is difficult to pull off–which is one reason that exclusive-guideway transit (whether bus or rail) represents a significant improvement.

  45. Timed transfers–the so-called “pulse” system (as busses tend to arrive at TCs at fixed points) are easiest to pull off in smaller cities where traffic and other reliability impairments are less of an issue, and busses can actually keep to a schedule easily. In larger cities

    Salem is larger than Gresham, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tigard or Oregon City (in some cases larger than a combination of these cities.) Cherriots can figure it out. LTD can figure it out. Spokane can figure it out. Spokane is larger than Vancouver (Portland’s largest suburb.)

    Certainly with the number of bus lines that TriMet has that serves these communities but does not run into downtown Portland, it can be done.

  46. Erik,

    The bulk of your complaint about poorly-timed transfers related to the transit mall and downtown–and here, issues with traffic apply. While perhaps a better way of dealing with events causing service disruptions could be devised, I don’t think eliminating interlines gets you there (if you do this, the temptation will be simply to shorten the route prior to the disruption)–and if an event disrupts normal bus service, it probably would be an obstacle to a “bridge service” as well. Other than providing transit with an exclusive route that isn’t disrupted by thinks like bike races or parades, special events will likely continue to be a problem.

    Certainly, through-routing could be done more efficiently–I wish there were more busses through-routed from the east side to the west side; connecting the 54 and the northbound leg of the 9, for instance, would probably be more useful than the current two “spokes” joined together as the 9; and TriMet’s practice of having many lines from different directions ending at transit centers is likewise annoying (though C-TRAN and Cherriots do the same thing). But if busses in Salem are more reliable, it’s most likely because the traffic is better, not because Cherriots schedulers are more clever or TriMet schedulers are involved in some nefarious plot to make bus riders suffer.

  47. 33 McLoughlin bus would interline with the Greeley route.

    When did that happen?

    Where was the benefit for the customer? There was none.

    How about making it clearer where the bus goes?

    riders in Multnomah Village who lost their single-seat ride to the University of Portland?

    Doesn’t Line 44 still go between those two points?

    Cherriots can figure it out.

    From what I’ve heard, the pulse system has indeed caused problems for Cherriots. Buses often had trouble getting back in time and making connections and leaving for their next trip on time. They were able to adjust routes, as many of them were circuitous and went through neighborhoods, which I think would be less of an option here.

    And speaking of interlining, Cherriots at least used to do it for whatever reason. It can give some people a one-seat ride instead of having to get up and go to a different bus.

    As for TriMet, I believe they have reduced it, but to eliminate it would mean less service because buses and operators are sitting waiting for their route to leave again, instead of heading out on a different one that’s due when their break is done.

    Bottom line, it’s often not realistic to have routes that all a)have ideal routing, b)return at the same time and c)never need their running times changed.

    In downtown Portland, breaking the through-routes would mean lots of extra expenses as they would not be able to simultaneously drop off passengers from one end and pick up ones for the other as they can now.

  48. The bulk of your complaint about poorly-timed transfers related to the transit mall and downtown–and here, issues with traffic apply.

    Then explain why when I’m driving my car in Tigard, I don’t have to worry about traffic in Northeast Portland or Gresham, but when I’m just trying to get to/from the grocery store and my home in Tigard – all of a sudden traffic issues 15 miles away are an issue (because it affects the bus that I depend on.)

    It’s naive to think that these delays don’t impact transit ridership – if I can’t be assured of mostly reliable service, I’m not going to ride the bus. When I call TriMet to ask why my “Frequent Service” bus that is supposed to show up every 15 minutes hasn’t shown up in 45 minutes and am given the brush-off excuse “There was a traffic jam on Broadway”, when my bus was never supposed to be on Broadway – THAT is a problem. That is not acceptable. Did TriMet give me a complementary ride for my troubles? Of course not. Did TriMet make changes to make sure service was reliable? Nope. Did TriMet dispatch relief buses to ensure reliable service? Nada. Yet the travel time from Broadway out to Gresham, and then to Tigard, was more than adequate to understand there was a service failure that needed immediate attention. TriMet’s buses are equipped with GPS and Dispatchers are supposed to know where each bus is in real-time and if they are off schedule, so something broke down.

    Clearly, it still isn’t working – and the scheme of interlining buses from one side of a sprawling metropolis to another side of the sprawl isn’t working. It isn’t something that needs a $2 billion light rail investment to solve. De-interlining the buses and having them stick to one side of downtown is an insanely cheap resolution – and doesn’t require operators to “sit around” as McHuff argues – in fact TriMet Operators have long complained of being short-changed with breaks and given inadequate break and meal periods. (Yet, McHuff makes no mention of the outrageous break periods that WES Operators receive for every 90 minutes a WES train is “in service” the train is sitting around doing nothing in Beaverton or Wilsonville for 36 minutes – and that occurs on one of TriMet’s most expensive operations.) On the 12 line between downtown Portland and Sherwood an outbound trip during the P.M. rush hour takes 1h 20m – which leaves more than adequate schedule padding (about 15 minutes) and provides plenty of time for a 15 minute rest break at the end of the line to be fully rested and alert for a return trip to downtown; one out-and-back trip is just shy of four hours and thus would be a lunch period, handoff to another Operator, or time to bring the bus back to the garage.

    This also allows a little bit of cost-savings…a large number of 12 buses arrive in Sherwood and have to dead-head back to Center or Merlo empty. An empty bus costs just as much to operate as a bus with 50 riders…so by planning schedules to start and end all trips in downtown (which is MUCH closer to Center Street), the expense of a 17 mile dead-head run is eliminated (cost of an Operator for a half hour, currently much of which is overtime pay, cost of several gallons of fuel, cost of additional wear/tear on the bus…)

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