March 2012 Open Thread

March is upon us, and that means another Open Thread.

  • In the middle of the month, we’re sitting down to interview TriMet GM Neil McFarlane. Submit your questions here.
  • If you live in Oregon City, your very own Carmageddon will be coming in about three weeks, as ODOT closes OR213 at I-205 for four days as part of the Oregon City Jughandle Project. ODOT is going to rip out the existing overpass over the UPRR tracks, widen the undercrossing (by removing the fill), and install a new overpass, currently sitting adjacent to the existing one, over the wider chasm, so that Washington Street may cross underneath the highway, and the existing intersection simplified. Given that the OR43 bridge is closed, the OR99E exit will be the only way to reach Oregon City and points south, unless you care to drive to Carver or Wilsonville. Try to avoid the area and expect delays. (No TriMet bus lines use the affected road, but several may be impacted by detour traffic)
  • The Willamette Week reports that the Oregon Supreme Court has an interesting take on the CRC–in its ruling approving the siting of the CRC under a statute crafted for N/S Rail, the Court ruled that the $2B+ highway portion of the project was a necessary project element due to political considerations–the involved government agencies in Washington would not support a standalone light-rail project–a state of affairs which WW has spun as a “bribe”. While Metro did indeed make the argument that the freeway component was necessary to build light rail–it was a light-rail statute being invoked, after all, the suggestion that TriMet and light rail is the dog and the state DOTs and the freight and construction lobbies are the tail, strikes me as flatly ridiculous. (I only wish TriMet and Portland transit activists had that much political power–and speaking for myself, I’ll happily take the Yellow Line extension off the table if the rest of the project goes with it). But what activists want and what other public officials want are frequently two different things…
  • Metro is planning some community outreach for the East Metro Connections Plan, a planning activity that looks at transportation in the Gresham and Troutdale area, with some focus on the issue of connecting US26 with I-84. (Current thinking involves targeted improvements to local streets, including transit service, not any new highways).
  • Gas prices are going up, which means more incentive to use transit. However, last year Neil McFarlane noted that “fifteen cents on the price of diesel is a million dollars a year for us”, so whether this will hurt or help TriMet’s shaky bottom line is an interesting question

63 responses to “March 2012 Open Thread”

  1. The full-throated liberal support for the CRC in Vancouver comes from its yearning for light rail and a Portland-esque transportation policy in general. Also by unions who are dependent on prevailing-wage government work.

    Without the backing of Vancouver Democrats, the CRC wouldn’t even be under discussion.

  2. I’m not terribly familiar with Washington State politics. I assume you mean Democrats in Olympia (Vancouver’s Congresswoman, Rep. Beutler, is a Republican)–though I suspect that quite a few of ’em are primarily interested in the construction jobs, and aren’t so picky about what exactly gets built. :)

  3. “””However, last year Neil McFarlane noted that “fifteen cents on the price of diesel is a million dollars a year for us”, so whether this will hurt or help TriMet’s shaky bottom line is an interesting question””””

    ~~~>Maybe they should try some fuel hedging bets?

  4. Maybe they should try some fuel hedging bets?

    Uh, no. They already have a hedge against fuel prices: when gas goes up, more people use transit. Last time they tried playing around in the futures market, they got burned.

    Of course, you may already know that and are just bein’ sarcastic, in which case, well played. :)

  5. Over on Blue Oregon, Steve Novick posts a list of issues he wants to address on the City Council, including “what should we do with the money we saved on the Lake Oswego streetcar?”

    Scroll down the entry and he includes a list he got from Tri-Met about how they could use $15 million in one-time funding that otherwise might have been spent on the LO streetcar. Possibilities include bus stop improvement, a BRT line, and restoration of frequent service to a number of lines for more than a year.

  6. ATU757 comes in for some criticism; nobody from the union was cited in the article).

    Of course-its the same old tiresome nonsense that we are subjected to over and over and over.

    I guess they figure if they keep telling everyone just how wonderful all the Portland Rail projects are people will begin to believe it.

    The rail expansion is the worst thing that has ever happened to people who depend on transit and the best thing that ever happened to developers and money makers.

    And just so you know, the highly esteemed Max Faq’s blog did an excellent piece of research for the following article:

    Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. | MAX FAQs

  7. Of course, you may already know that and are just bein’ sarcastic, in which case, well played. :)

    ~~~>of course I’m being sarcastic!

    Trusting Trimet with that sort of thing?

    You can’t even trust em to fix a bus right for crying out loud!

  8. Rail transit has really been the worst thing, ever, for the transit-dependent? How do you explain the lag between the majority of our rail infrastructure expenditures and the cuts in bus and MAX service? Are you speaking of the transit dependent outside the city of Portland, inside the city, or overall?

  9. As many have stated on here over and over again, the problems on the west side are mostly due to land use choices by developers and citizens choosing to live in Washington County. It is very difficult to provide decent bus service with the densities out there.

    One of my good friends lives north of 26 just off of 185th. The 89 has a stop right in front of his house, but he has never used it. It is always empty when I see it go by. At most, I have seen 4 people on there. They drive everywhere they go, and he can’t even ride his bike the 3 miles to work because there is no bike lane or even a shoulder on the road he takes.

  10. I moved to Beaverton in 1997, right before Westside MAX opened, so my memory of pre-MAX transit in Beaverton is a bit hazy. The main land use developments that have occurred in the past decade and a half are:

    * More sprawl in general–much that was farmland or otherwise undeveloped in the 1990s is now developed. Away from MAX, this development has been mainly detached, single-family homes, though on smaller lots than in other parts of the country. Near MAX, there has been quite of bit of high-density housing, especially in the corridor between Elmonica, Tanasbourne, and Orenco.

    * More areas to cover means more service hours are needed to cover it; a good argument can be made that transit is stretched a bit thin in Beaverton/Hillsboro. Many folks like to mourn the loss of express bus service between Hillsboro and Forest Grove (including our current Metro president, who has complained several times about how his wife was “forced” out of transit and into a car when Westside MAX opened and the old express cancelled).

    Prior to Westside MAX opening, there were quite a few busses making the journey between Beaverton and downtown; and now there are but three–the 20, the 54, and the 58; each of which serves a different corridor, and provides transit to residents in between the two cities.

    That said–is the complaint about westside (in particular Beaverton/Hillsboro; Tigard and Tualatin have much more to complain about with regards to service quality–and much lower density to support good transit) the loss of the expresses? The loss of one-seat rides downtown for most Beaverton/Hillsboro residents not along the MAX line? Inadequate coverage? Inadequate frequence? I’m not sure there ever was a golden age of transit out here, and if there was, a big part of it was fewer developed areas that required service.

    Quite a few of the bus corridors in Beaverton–the 57, the 76/58, the 52, the 62, and even the 88–get reasonable-to-good ridership. A few others, as Chris notes, primarily travel through auto-dependent areas and are usually empty, and ran to provide lifeline coverage more than anything else.

  11. Whoops. It looks like the CRC needs additional clearance. They were planning on 95, but now the Coast Guard won’t give its approval because there’s occasional need for more clearance:

    How much clearance does the 205 bridge have? Wikipedia says 144ft at low tide. Why would they think they could build a significantly lower span just downstream?

    I wonder what raising the whole bridge would cost.

  12. Given that the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that its a “light rail project”, and given that there obviously isn’t room (vertically) for two decks, I guess we’ll just have to build a LRT and ped bridge then.


  13. I still don’t quite understand why they needed to come up with a new propulsion system for the new cars. Aren’t other cities OK with off-the-shelf Skoda/Elin systems? Did the streetcar not already meet Buy America requirements, or might there have been lower hanging fruit to reinvent? I’d feel a lot better if someone could at least point out a concrete advantage to the Rockwell system.

  14. Short recap of propulsion system choices:

    0) Prior 10 Inekon cars use Elin propulsion system.
    1) OIW licensed a Skoda design, including a Skoda propulsion system.
    2) Proved very difficult to certify Skoda propulsion system to U.S. safety requirements on prototype vehicle. Skoda not energetically helpful.
    3) OIW proposes replacing Skoda propulsion system with an American-made system to be developed by Rockwell (NOT off-the-shelf, new design)
    4) PSI/City of Portland deem this too risky, but OK development of Rockwell system for prototype vehicle. Request OIW to provide Elin propulsion for vehicles for Streetcar Loop
    5) Re-scheduling and price negotiations ensue, some of the ramifications of which we are obviously still seeing.

    This was a process that the Streetcar Board worked through over about 4 months. I’m confident that we made the right decision to ensure we have a reliable fleet of vehicles, even if it introduced a bit of delay.

  15. Thanks so much Chris. Unfortunately I’m still a little confused :-)

    If I read that correctly, the plan now still for OIW to do the Elin system for loop vehicles and one Rockwell system for the prototype as PSI/CoP requested? If the Elin system can meet US safety requirements, and OIW is capable of integrating it with their cars, why aren’t they simply using that for 100% of vehicles? Which party finds the Elin system undesirable? Which system are other cities getting in their orders?

    What issues and for which system is this further engineering time needed to address?

  16. (Alternatively if there are any sort of board meeting minutes or other documents I could be directed towards that would allow me to figure it out for myself, that would be awesome. I try to keep ontop of the CAC minutes as they are released but there rarely seems to be much nitty gritty there. I slurp up as much information as I know how to find but a lot of this streetcar stuff is still really hazy for me.)

  17. The Elin system is made in Europe (Austria I believe) and a U.S.-made system is still desirable. But not so desirable as to put the Loop fleet at risk. The prototype vehicle was created exactly for the purpose of learning how to make an American-built streetcar. It’s very appropriate to use is as a platform to experimenting with a domestic component.

  18. OK.

    Speaking of hard-to-find information, this reminds me. A year or so ago I asked about MAX speed limits. I really wanted to find a discrete listing of the speeds MAX vehicles travel at over the entire system, segment-by-segment. I finally found this a few months back. I had to register as a vendor through TriMet’s procurement and contract system in order to get at it.

    Solicitation RH120160BW was up for “Type 5” vehicle bids for PMLR. One of the attached documents (“RH120160BW RFP – PMLR Type 5 LRV Vol_2.pdf”) has some interesting reference drawings. This has sort of a profile view of the entire system with lots of information including vehicle speeds and inclines. Here’s the PDF. I’m not quite sure if I’m breaking some kind of rule by sharing it online. If I find out that’s the case I will take it down, but anybody similarly interested shouldn’t have trouble acquiring it themselves.

  19. And since I couldn’t put a bird on it, here is Sam Adams encouraging Atlanta’s streetcar project

    I am so tired of hearing about this NON TRANSIT RELATED baloney.

    This stuff has ruined basic transit services in this country.

    Transit has been hijacked by special interest and big money interests, just like everything else in this country.

    Meanwhile the little people keep eating dirt and more dirt…..

    It makes me sick..

  20. How many daily transit riders does Portland Streetcar carry these days? 12K plus? Sounds like pretty successful transit to me. Not to mention its role in the construction of an entire new neighborhood…how many construction jobs is that? Let’s hope the Altanta project buys its cars from Oregon Iron Works. That’s even more jobs…what a giveaway!

  21. If it passes, Damascus will NEVER have a city plan. You’re gonna have 10,000 opinions (by people who don’t understand how cities work) about how the city should be developed. Nothing will get done, but that’s precisely what these idiots want… status quo.

    On the plus side, if Damascus can’t get its s*** together, Metro may supercede them and do the planning for them.

  22. Given the demographics and politics of Damascus, the sort of plans that could survive a popular vote would likely be laughed out of LCDC.

  23. A few interesting bus ads (i.e. advertising on the exterior of a bus, not ads for bus service or transit agencies), from Copyranter:

    Target takes over a red double-decker:

    Would you board this bus if you saw it coming? (For the Copenhagen Zoo):

    And a NYC music store with an interesting use for the flexible coupling on an artic:

  24. “A few interesting bus ads (i.e. advertising on the exterior of a bus, not ads for bus service or transit agencies), from Copyranter”

    —>I’ve got a whole collection of those artistic buses somewhere around.

  25. You do realize, Al, that the biggest advantage that private-sector operators have over public-sector ones is that they can (and usually are) far more aggressive with labor unions that public agencies are.

    You think Neil’s a pain… try Rick Snyder and his cronies.

  26. Sure I understand that Scott ! And I think there are things about unions that can be destructive.
    Employers will always try to get the most out of its “capital” (people) for the least investment.
    If your in the working class that should trouble you.
    High unemployment is good for the capital class. They get to pay less and less and less.
    It’s all a contrived and manipulated system.

  27. The race to the bottom is real-and contrived.
    People are not connecting the dots so the powers to be get away with this nonsense.
    Even the propaganda about our health care is false. But nobody bothers to challenge Trimet on the facts.
    Billions for banks/austerity for the people.
    And they get away with it.
    The banks have ownership of everyone without using whips and chains!
    Absolutely brilliant manipulation of the human cows!

  28. I think Portland residents better take a look at this “world renown transit system”

    The problem is a complicated one, writes Hutchinson, but it boils down to several core sources. The first is the city’s decades-long, unrequited obsession with building a metro system that would cost much more than bus-rapid transit and cover far less of the city. Another is a lack of government subsidies that hampers the system’s ability to expand and address its problems.

    Why Are People Rioting Over Bogota’s Public Transit System? – Commute – The Atlantic Cities

  29. If there is anyone in Portland that is interested in unconventional trasport system, you can find lots of information about them at the Innovative Transportation Technologies website. More than 100 such systems are described and illustrated, many with videos. Some are operational, some are under development and testing and some are still conceptual. For example:
    There are now three market-ready PRT systems available – described below (2 pages) –

    ULTra PRT video: (Heathrow airport application in the U.K.)

    2getthere PRT video: Masdar: (Masdar eco-city application in Abu Dhabi)

    Vectus PRT video: (about 8 minutes) First application now under construction in S. Korea

    More information on PRT systems (aka PodCars) may be found at:

  30. After TriMet’s recent safety campaign brought on by the unfortunate accident in Downtown Portland two years ago, one would think TriMet would be on a national list of agencies receiving “highest” marks for safety and security (they’re not):
    Pierce Transit in Pierce Co., WA, and Spokane Transit are on this list.

  31. Today at 4:30, OPAL will be holding a press conference in support of their We All Ride The Bus initiative and to present an alternate budget proposal for TriMet. The press conference will be at the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO), located at 700 N Killingsworth St, Portland, OR 97217.

    The press conference will be followed by a walk to the nearby TriMet Open House at the Multnomah County Library.

  32. From the NY Times: Chicago is embarking on a $7 billion infrastructure plan that is funded in part by the private sector and in part by cost-cutting, savings and fee increases. No increase in property or sales tax, and according to the mayor, no waiting around for Congress or the state legislature to get their act together.

    I’m sure cities all around the country are paying attention. Has anyone at the City of Portland (or maybe Metro) proposed adopting the “infrastructure trust” idea locally?

  33. Has anyone at the City of Portland (or maybe Metro) proposed adopting the “infrastructure trust” idea locally?

    Have no idea myself but I’d also love to find out. Sounds like a very intriguing idea. Given the current political climate, it’d hopefully be less likely to suffer from gridlock than anything at the federal level (yeah, I know we’re taking P-town politics here). Looking at the Chicago plan, the transportation component does seem to take a fairly multimodal approach (no mention of bike/pedestrian facilities, but I’m not sure many people would opt to bike during a typical Chi-town winter).

    A Google AV takes a legally blind man to the local Taco Bell:

    Hopefully the next stop was RiteAid for some Pepto Bismol.

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