December 2011 Open Thread

Christmas presents? Or coal? ‘Tis time for the final Open Thread of the year.

Have at it, and happy holidays!

67 responses to “December 2011 Open Thread”

  1. TriMet GM Neil McFarlane is calling for better behavior from TriMet operators; noting that the bus driver involved in the “crying baby” incident was suspended for two weeks and will be fired if there are any more incidents. Hat tip to Al….

  2. It appears Oregon Iron Works and its subsidiary, United Streetcar, is attempting to get into the light-rail business, and is (along with partner Stadler Rail, a Swiss railcar manufacturer) finalist for winning a bid to supply LRT trains for Milwaukie MAX. Another likely finalist is Siemens, who manufacturers the Type II, Type III (Siemens SD660), and Type IV (Siemens S70) MAX cars.

    United Streetcar also drops hints about winning another streetcar order in the same article. Currently it is planned to provided streetcars to Portland Streetcar and to a Tuscon, AZ light rail project.

  3. I really hope TriMet sticks with the Siemens cars. Stadler has not produced any US light rail cars and Oregon Iron Works has not delivered any. Stick with a known product.

  4. I really hope TriMet sticks with the Siemens cars. Stadler has not produced any US light rail cars and Oregon Iron Works has not delivered any so how do you evaluate their quality unless you receive substantial discounts? Stay with a known product and lets not go experimental. Siemens rail cars are assembled in Sacramento so it’s not like we are not buying a rail car that’s not made in the USA.

  5. It would be great to get those extra jobs in the region, and would really help OIW get a foothold in the market of rail transit vehicles. I too am concerned with their abilities, though. We don’t want another Colorado Railcar situation…

  6. Sandy Post also reporting Boring’s successful withdrawal from TriMet:

    According to the yearly iterations of TriMet’s Transit Investment Plan, the 84-Kelso/Boring has been one of, if not the worst-performing route for years. When I rode it out of curiosity in July 2010, I boarded at the stop at Bluff and Orient and was the only rider as the bus continued through Orient and on the Boring loop, even through the more built-up area in Gresham.

    Other useful routes like the old 74-Lloyd District/SE Express, 95-Tigard/I-5 Express, and 157-Happy Valley all had higher boarding rides per vehicle hour than the 84 (IIRC) yet were eliminated by TriMet (to be fair, I remember the 153-South End Rd. Loop as having lower ridership, which was also eliminated). And let’s not forget that much of the service in Washington County has been gutted over the last few years in the name of “low ridership and/or alternate service nearby” (tell that to the folks on routes like the 67 and 45) as well as “we have to do this!”, and what service is provided is generally provided by dinosaur buses that break down.

    I’m sure this decision will also be spun and used against those who support transit, however this is a win for not only system productivity but also peoples’ Constitutional right to decide what services they want (or, in this case, do not want) in their community.

  7. I note that despite an apparent correction, Smith has some problems correctly identifying the players in his article. He identifies “Portland” as having buoyed up Colorado Railcar to deliver the WES vehicles AND went ahead with “pioneering the creation of United Streetcar” with the 2007 streetcar order. Different governments, different projects, different companies.

    I suppose it doesn’t undermine his general point about problems with domestic sourcing of rail transit vehicles, but it’s not like “Portland didn’t learn its lesson from last time.”

  8. TriMet has a new web tool on how to deal with the upcoming funding crisis. Of particular interest may be this FAQ, which contains TriMet’s answers to common questions like “why not cut WES” or “why not delay Milwaukie MAX”?

    That said, fairness requires that I point out that the page DOES go to great lengths to wag fingers at the transit union.

  9. Two news items on the Sellwood Bridge replacement project:

    * Earlier this week, the project received a $17.7M TIGER grant from Uncle Sam, making up the bulk of the funding shortfall. (Apparently, the lack of regional consensus on the project didn’t hurt the project’s funding like Congressman Blumenauer thought it would, unless I’m confusing funding requests…)

    * Groundbreaking on the project is tomorrow morning. Mayor Sam Adams will be there for the photo op, along with “several surprise guests”.

  10. More on the latest round of TIGER funding: Three projects in the NW got funding this time–the Sellwood Bridge replacement ($17.7M), an extension of Seattle’s Link LRT to South King Street ($10M), and a congestion management project along I-5 between Olympia and Tacoma, through the Ft. Lewis area ($15M).

    All grants (nationwide) are described in this document.

  11. Way off topic (or maybe not)…

    Can someone please explain the reasoning for using obscure non-user-friendly tertiary colors to designate the streetcar lines. Aqua? Amber? Not only is it confusing to people who don’t speak English as a first language, but even fluent speakers would have problems distinguishing Amber from Yellow, or Aqua from Blue. These are not MAX lines… they shouldn’t be designated with colors at all.

    The logical choice (for user-friendliness and for future expansion) would have been to use letters (A, B, C, etc.) since the streetcar network is likely to grow much bigger in the coming decades. Why were letters not used?

  12. Another Streetcar question that I hope that insiders can help me answer…

    A comment on the SkyscraperPage forums described the new sign installed at the NW 11th and Marshall stop as saying “To OMSI”. Would this mean that the Eastside Streetcar will now only run in a loop from OMSI to the Pearl instead of all the way south to Market Street when it opens next year? Otherwise, shouldn’t the sign say “To Downtown”? The maps at the Streetcar Fare Policy open house suggested otherwise bydepicting the halving of headways along 10th/11th.

  13. ??
    Meaning the current plan IS to continue to Market? Or there’s NO plan to continue to Market?

    I understand if the truncated route is a temporary situation based on financial constraints, but how long will transfers be required in the Pearl?

  14. To avoid the double negative, to the best of my knowledge we are planning to operate to Market.

    I took some pictures (the sign does indeed say OMSI) and I’ll be checking it out. My guess is that it comes out of design documents based on the FTA submission, which only covers OMSI to the Pearl.

  15. Sounds like a plausible explanation. Thanks Chris.

    Any insight into the color scheme? Was this a Board decision or did some consultant dream that up?

  16. Wow, OK.

    So I assume a lot of thought and discussion went into these colors? I’m still struggling to understand the logic behind using obscure colors versus a simpler lettered system.

  17. Sorry, I thought you meant the colors of the sign :-)

    There’s strong pushback in the Citizens Advisory Committee about the color scheme for the lines, which was “assigned” by TriMet (since they produce the overall transit system map).

    I’m hopeful we’ll come up with something better.

  18. So they were just random colors used on Trimet’s map? Good to know this wasn’t a deliberate decision by PSI. When do you think you’ll revise the designations? The second line starts operating in less than a year.

  19. There are people on the Citizen Advisory Committee who read this blog who are much closer to this issue than I am, so I’m going to defer to them.

    But I would think it has to get sorted out by late spring.

  20. As a CAC member (and a proponent of non color-based schemes for local service lines), I think it’s a fairly safe bet at this stage that the colors will not be used. Amber and Aqua were just colors to use when printing maps, to avoid conflicts with TriMet colors, rather than formal operating designations.

    Personally, I’m advocating for letters which do not also correspond with a primary color. (So a line “B” would not exist because that might get confused for “Blue”, but a line “A” or “L” could exist, for example.)

    People have also looked at the historic naming schemes using two letters based on a primary street (“HA” for Hawthorne) but this has problems of its own when a service, like our first two modern streetcar lines, operates on multiple prominent streets.

    In my opinion (based largely in part on items I’ve read from Jarrett Walker), a transit line designation sign should indicate the route designation itself (letters, colors, numbers), the ultimate destination, and how it is getting there (major areas or streets served). So for the new streetcar loop, you _might_ see “L – To OMSI – Via Lloyd District” or “L – To OMSI – Via MLK”. The “via” message might change as the streetcar progresses along the route. Several TriMet bus lines use a similar display scheme.

  21. I agree that the streetcar system should use letters rather than colors. I would take care to ensure that no sound-alike letters are used — so you wouldn’t have B and P, or D and T, in the same system.

    For example, the letters C, F, H, J, K, L, N, Q, S, and U would avoid any possibility of confusion when getting instructions over the phone, would not overlap with any primary colors, and would cover the first ten Streetcar routes.

    I’d label the current streetcar “N” for Northwest, and the new one either “C” for Central or “L” for “Loop.”

  22. That’s a good list, Douglas. Eliminating sound-alikes is a good point.

    I would also leave out “S” because some regional transit lines exist called “Silver” and perhaps TriMet might want to use that someday, but if somehow we get to the point where we have nine streetcar lines and are building a tenth, and TriMet hasn’t yet used “Silver”, I say take it back. :-)

  23. I think even the most ambitious long-range concept plans for the Portland Streetcar network don’t have more than a dozen lines. We could come up with a choice of a dozen letters and maybe even tentatively assign them to proposed routes right now.

    There might be reasons to avoid certain letters. As Bob points out, “S” might overlap a future “Silver” line. I left out “I” and “O” from my list because even though they aren’t sound-alikes with anything else, they look like numbers. I left out “X” because some transit systems use it to designate express buses, and “W” because it’s three syllables and takes longer to say.

    I’m sure a one-hour planners’ meeting could come up with a list of twelve useable letters that don’t cause potential confusion or run afoul of some other policy.

  24. I don’t think eliminating “sound-alike” letters is really feasible. You’d have to eliminate B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V and Z. Also M and N. And A, J and K. And F and S sound similar. U and W are similar. Where do you stop?

    Also, I’m skeptical of any confusion between colors and letters. I don’t see a blue line on a map and think “B”, I think of things that are blue… water, sky, blueberries, Democratic states.

    I do agree that we shouldn’t use I, O or S because they look like numbers. And any letters that could be used as bus designators, such as X. Other than that, all letters should be fair game.

  25. The idea behind not using letters which correspond to colors (which is something I’m promoting) relates to accessibility to those with visual impairments, especially color blindness.

    Right now, TriMet indicates line colors on signage using circles. Along I-84, you’ll see three circles, Blue, Red, and Green. As more colors are introduced and more lines overlap at central stations (Orange and Yellow, possibly?), this can create problems for those without the ability to clearly distinguish colors.

    I think it is very possible that TriMet will someday adopt the practice of embedding letters inside the colored circles (perhaps even as a future ADA requirement, I’m not sure). B for Blue, R for Red, G for Green, and so on.

    I may be wrong about this, but if we can adopt clear, distinct designations for the streetcar without limiting future possibilities for accessibility, then why not?

  26. Eliminating sound-alikesis completely feasible. “Sound-alike” letters aren’t “rhyming” letters. It simply means letters where a person hearing a message over the phone would need clarification. “B” as in “brother” or “P” as in “Portland”? You could potentially put C and D in there because one begins with a soft consonant. On the other hand, B, P and V would all potentially be misheard as one another.

    Similarly, nobody is going to mishear J and K. F and S might be a problem. U and W are not a problem — nobody will confuse them when said aloud. I dropped W purely because it takes three syllables to speak it aloud.

    But eliminating possible sound-alikes is easy if you have fewer than a dozen lines. And right now, the very boldest, most expansive visions that have been publicly proposed don’t have any more lines than that. If some future lines go through downtown and out again, they might share a designation — imagine, for example, a streetcar that runs up the Foster/Hawthorne corridor, through downtown, and then back out the Broadway/Sandy corridor. Even if it’s built as two or three projects, it could still carry one line designation.

    So, eliminate B, G, O, P, R and Y for colors, plus I, S and X. Eliminate potential sound-alikes Z (for C), T (for D), and M (for N). That still leaves you with 14 possible letters, although I’d put A, E, and W at the end of the list. That’s probably more than the Portland Streetcar system will EVER need.

  27. For all this work you can just introduce numbers and it would eliminate most of the hassle, right? Line 1 for NW-SoWa and Line 2 for the Loop.

  28. Or S1 and S2 if you don’t want people to confuse them with bus lines. Or find numbers not currently used by buses. I don’t think the risk for confusion would be that great.

  29. Reza –

    Yes, using “S1” (S and some number) is another possibility I’ve suggested.

    That system has the advantage that you could operate some services (for whatever reason) with a mix of buses and streetcars, where the “S” indicates a type of service while the number indicates a route. Similar to using “X” to designate express on a route. (Although TriMet doesn’t quite do that, the 99X follows much of the 33, but they don’t call it the 33X.)

    I think numbers mixed with a service type designation are entirely appropriate for local service lines. But people seem to be leaning toward letters (which I’m also quite OK with), so I’ve been promoting ideas (above) on how best to handle letters if that’s what’s chosen.

    Then there’s the case of the Lake Oswego line which, if implemented, has a regional service quality. Would it have a letter or a color? (And which agency ultimately would be responsible for operating/maintaining it?)

  30. My personal multi-modal bias would be the following:

    1) Local services (local bus, Streetcar) get numbers.

    2) Rapid transit services (MAX, honest-to-goodness BRT lines should we build one) get colors.

    Whether the wheels have tires on ’em doesn’t matter much.

  31. I suppose the Lake Oswego line could simply continue the designation of whatever the current streetcar is called. This assumes it’s operated and maintained by the City of Portland, with partial funding from Lake Oswego.

    However, I hope the current plan crashes and burns. It’s a mess. My preferred concept for the eventual Lake Oswego line would be a rapid streetcar operated by Tri-Met. The vehicles would be extra-long (one or two extra low-floor center segments) and designed to function at both MAX and Streetcar platforms through the use of an extended step to fill the gap, and treated as a MAX line. They would also carry Tri-Met colors.

    The line would run from Union Station to South Waterfront on the MAX tracks, share Portland Streetcar tracks through South Waterfront (the platforms would be extended), and continue on the WST right-of-way to Lake Oswego. Most of the line south of Bancroft would be single-tracked, with very limited double-tracking (mostly around the stations) that will allow cars to pass one another while operating on 12-minute or 15-minute headways.

    I’d replace the Vintage Trolley barn at Rose Quarter with a much larger storage and maintenance facility for all the Tri-Met streetcars — large enough to handle all the cars needed to serve the entire route, with room for one or two extras to be rotated off service for maintenance.

    I’d call it the Purple Line.

  32. The line would run from Union Station to South Waterfront on the MAX tracks, share Portland Streetcar tracks through South Waterfront (the platforms would be extended), and continue on the WST right-of-way to Lake Oswego. Most of the line south of Bancroft would be single-tracked, with very limited double-tracking (mostly around the stations) that will allow cars to pass one another while operating on 12-minute or 15-minute headways.

    Right now, there won’t be the connectivity for that routing on the planned MLR alignment: The LRT tracks will have a grade-separated crossing over SW Moody (and the Streetcar line), descending into the South Waterfront MAX/Bus station. According to the station plans, there will be four transit lanes and two platforms through the station, with MAX using the outer lanes, boarding to the left, and busses using the interior lanes and boarding on the right. Streetcar will use the bus ROW, but not share a stop with the busses; streetcars will stop nearby on Moody. Outside the LRT lanes will be cycle tracks; for details see this TriMet presentation.

    For a vehicle to go from the Harbor Drive structure to SW Moody, it would need to go through the station onto the bridge, reverse direction, back up through the station on the streetcar ROW onto Moody, and then switch onto the southbound streetcar line; with a reverse maneuver required for northbound trains. It would make tremendous amounts of sense for the Harbor Drive structure to include a ramp for trains to connect directly to SW Moody, but that’s not in the cards at the moment.

  33. Scotty,

    Actually, the MAX crossing at Moody and Porter is NOT grade-separated. It’s an at-grade crossing. While there isn’t a connection planned to go directly from SW Moody onto the Harbor structure, it could easily be done at that intersection in the future if the LO MAX-lite/”Rapid” Streetcar is routed onto 5th and 6th.

  34. The 10th/11th v. 5th/6th alignments are significant concerns, but not the only ones. The Caruthers Bridge/LO terminus trip would still take longer than the current bus and that’s not counting the forced transfers in Lake Oswego. For those coming from south of Oswego Creek, even with a Transit Mall alignment, round trips to Portland would take about a half-hour longer than with the current 35.

    The LOPT streetcar was originally presented as ‘rapid’. The refinement includes two additional stops to answer neighborhood concerns.

    Whether or not we get the LOPT streetcar, we need frequent service on the 35 to have good transit along the west side of the Willamette.

  35. Forcing transfers onto a Lake Oswego streetcar is not an option. You’d be severely degrading access to downtown for all of West Linn and most of Lake Oswego. Even if this were upgraded to a MAX line, with higher capacity, fewer stops and faster travel times, it still doesn’t serve the whole Hwy 43 corridor the way the 35 does. The only reason to force transfers in LO is to try to artificially boost ridership numbers by co-opting the numbers from the 35 and 36 lines. If that’s what they have to do to make the LO streetcar pencil out financially, then it’s not worth the cost.

    The streetcar is designed to be a local circulator which supports high density neighborhoods, not a long-distance transit mode for serving suburbs. Extending it to Nevada St. at the south end of John’s Landing makes perfect sense (AND costs only 71 million vs. 200+ million). Running it beyond that, through 3+ miles of the Riverview Cemetery, Dunthorpe and Riverdale, makes absolutely no sense.

  36. That’s exactly why I’d want to see LO streetcar designed as a MAX-type line with rapid/limited service. It doesn’t work as a hybrid local circulator/semi-rapid line. Also, by making only a few stops between South Waterfront and Lake Oswego (I’d say no more than five or six between Bancroft and D Avenue), it will eliminate any pretext for Tri-Met to eliminate the 35.

    The Streetcar could still work as local circulator support high density development in Lake Oswego, since it’s HIGHLY unlikely the line will ever be extended beyond LO. It doesn’t matter if the service runs slowly at the south end. But north of LO, it needs to be fast, and the existing plan simply doesn’t do that.

  37. As of the Fall 2010 passenger census, there are fewer than 900 riders (less than 1800 boarding rides) using the 35 & 36 between the LOTC and Lowell. The number has been flat to declining over the last decade, except for the gasoline price spikes. Providing frequent service on both the 35 and streetcar would cost something like $6 million plus per year.

    In the LOPT Alternatives Analysis and DEIS, the assumption has always been that streetcar would mean elimination of Highway 43 bus service. (The AA did have a provision of a single commute hour run – northbound mornings and southbound evenings.)

    The interesting thing is that no official study has ever considered the reverse: elimination of the existing SOWA streetcar to PSU, saving about $1.5 million per year. Once the Caruthers Bridge is completed, Moody and River Parkway will have oodles of service with the buses now using the Ross Island Bridge and the Eastside Loop streetcar. The existing streetcar will only have three stops in each direction not served by Caruthers transit. Frequent service bus should easily be able to handle that. I know it’s heresy, but….

  38. I wouldn’t call it “heresy” but it’s rather problematic… there are LIDs (local improvement districts) and urban renewal district commitments specifically set up for streetcar projects and service that would have to be dealt with (compensated) somehow, likely negating short-term operational savings.

  39. Are there minimum guarantee periods like the 20 years FTA has with WES?

    What kind of streetcar ridership do the three stops generate?

  40. Cost per ride for Fall 2011 on the 35 is $3.35…not bad; for the 36 its $7.76. Can we afford $7.76/ride?
    All MAX lines are will under $2 per ride; not sure about cost/ride on Streetcar, but ridership is second only to the 4 and 72 buses, and Rides per Vehicle Hour are over 100…up there with the four MAX lines. The 14 at 49 R/VH is the highest among bus lines. Seems like rail carries more riders at lower cost or am I missing something.
    Regardless, it may be that Streetcar only makes it to Johns Landing or Sellwood this go around (maybe out Tacoma to the MAX station). It takes grass roots community support and business support (including LIDs) to make it work.
    We can wait and see how the Eastside Loop does for attracting investment from the private sector; that may tip the scales in favor in LO…if there is any federal $ to be had.

  41. Speaking of cost-per-ride, the “Rantings” Blog has a link to the updated TriMet Boring withdrawal page, indicating that 84-Kelso/Boring is indeed a ‘very low ridership’ route and could be eliminated before Dec. 31, 2012 (Boring’s withdrawal from the TriMet district is effective Jan. 1, 2013).
    How about eliminating it as of the next operator sign-up?! My Dec. 14th post in this thread mentioned some of the routes with higher ridership that’ve been axed while the 84 remained, so why keep it around longer than necessary? Simply refer the transit-reliant in the withdrawn area to charitable and/or social service agencies regarding their options should they need assistance with future transportation needs and/or relocation assistance.

  42. Speaking of cost-per-ride, the “Rantings” Blog has a link to the updated TriMet Boring withdrawal page, indicating that 84-Kelso/Boring is indeed a ‘very low ridership’ route and could be eliminated before Dec. 31, 2012 (Boring’s withdrawal from the TriMet district is effective Jan. 1, 2013).
    How about eliminating it as of the next operator sign-up?! My Dec. 14th post in this thread mentioned some of the routes with higher ridership that’ve been axed while the 84 remained, so why keep it around longer than necessary? Simply refer the transit-reliant in the withdrawn area to charitable and/or social service agencies regarding their options should they need assistance with future transportation needs and/or relocation assistance.

  43. Lenny –

    The 36 took a major hit a couple of years ago when TriMet increased headway to 1 1/2 hours and eliminated one commuter run to Portland in each direction in an effort to save the 37. Ridership nosedived and cost per boarding ride went up accordingly, from $5.53 in fall 2009 to $8.80 in fall 2010.

    Hour-&-a-half headway is bad news: Is this the hour when the bus comes by at 11 minutes after or the one where it’s 19 minutes before the hour? Or is this the hour when there is no service at all? Riders really have to plan their days around the schedule. It’s amazing that the ridership increased to the point where the costs dropped below $8.

    We’ve probably gone round and round on the LO streetcar enough to not spend much time and space here, barring significant new info from the refinement due next month.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the DEIS projects ridership at 11,170 between LO and Bancroft. This is more than the entire existing streetcar line currently serves at 10,500…and that’s despite the very high density throughout most of the line and the fact that a huge chunk of the rides are provided – legally and illegally – for free.

    It costs roughly 50% more to operate a streetcar per unit time as a bus. That number is modified by the relative trip times. In the LO case, a significant portion of the bus alignment is on a 45 mph segment of Highway 43 while streetcar is expected to average about 30, including the segment through the Elk Rock tunnel. So the bus currently averages somewhere around 25 minutes between PSU and B Avenue (where the project would relocate LO’s transit center) while the DEIS would have streetcar time at about 31 minutes.

    The point is that it would end up costing almost twice as much to run a streetcar for the trip as a bus. That’s perfectly OK if there’s more than a busload of passengers on board. We’re still ahead by not having to run two buses. But anytime we have a busload or less (figure about 54 riders), it would be cheaper and almost always faster to run a bus.

    It is possible for rail to cost more for ops than bus — think WES. Available evidence and the DEIS agree: the LO streetcar will cost more to operate than frequent service on the 35, which is the no-build option.

  44. Exactly right… higher operating costs AND slower speeds than the existing 35. Streetcars are meant to be neighborhood circulators that promote higher density development, not long-distance commuter lines. Regardless of what the “refinement” is to the LO project, it’s ill-conceived to use a streetcar for the Hwy 43 corridor. I’m really hoping they decide to go with the MOS (minimum operating segment) from Lowell to Nevada.

  45. Moody and River Parkway will have oodles of service with the buses now using the Ross Island Bridge

    My understanding is that they will use the “Harbor structure” guideway that MAX will use.

    As for Lake Oswego, what I’d like to see is a middle, lower-cost option. Either an upgrade of the trolley that already runs there, diesel LRVs (possibly have service travel along I-5 in the South Waterfront area and end at the MAX station) or limited streetcar service. With most options, buses would continue to be the workhorse.

    Either one of those or see if some sort of agreement can be reached so that the easements can be used for a trail for users who are not at all accommodated along at least the southern portion of the line.

    The right-of-way is there and has been preserved so lets use it. But lets not use it for something that creates problems.

  46. Jason –

    Thank you for your correction of the west side bus alignment. Buses are set to use the light rail transitway along with cyclists and pedestrians according to the project Transportation Impacts Results Report. The east side loop streetcar would go up Moody.

  47. As of now (8:00 AM Monday), it hasn’t made it online, but the O’s editorial section has come out again against the LO streetcar extension. This time, it’s even more emphatic, headlining the editorial: “Pull the plug on the Lake Oswego Streetcar.”

    As has been the pattern among general public discussions, the focus is on capital costs and not degradation of service.

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