September 2012 Open Thread

As the kids get ready to head back to school, YouthPasses in hand, it’s time for a new Open Thread.

  • Your last reminder: New routes and fares take effect this weekend.
  • Jarrett Walker reminisces on the 30th anniversary of Portland’s transit grid; and Zef follows up here.
  • Clackamas County votes on requiring citizen approval for rail spending on September 18. County officials insist that the initiative cannot apply to MLR; petitioners disagree and are now circulating another petition to target MLR more specifically.
  • Eastside Streetcar opens September 22. If there are any technical difficulties, Chris has promised to help push. :)
  • Next month, the Oregon Symphony, as part of their Kids Series of concerts, will host a performance by the Pacific Youth Choir and Dance West entitled “Trains, Trams, Trolleys and more“, featuring renditions of numerous transportation-themed pieces from various eras. Where else can you hear “Flight of the Valkyries” and “Bicycle Built for Two” on the same bill?

86 responses to “September 2012 Open Thread”

  1. I got a chance to ride the streetcar last week. It went pretty smoothly, although one pickup truck driver decided to partly block the tracks. The streetcar operator had to ring the bell continuously for about 15 seconds before the truck driver finally realized what was going on and pulled over more. It really highlighted once again the inherent problem with putting tracks in mixed traffic next to parking…hopefully people will get used to the streetcar in time and it will be less of an issue, but of course it still happens on the existing streetcar line all too often.

    It was pretty cool to go over the railroad tracks on the streetcar viaduct. It’s really steep, and is probably the maximum grade a modern streetcar can even handle. Great views all around. The platform is in a weird spot, not very close to OMSI, but it sounds like it will be moved eventually when the bridge is built and the loop completed. One unfortunate part of the design is that they single-tracked the end of the line, which really limits the possible frequency. It won’t be an issue at first, since we are stuck with 18-minute headways for awhile, but even when all the new streetcars are built and the city comes up with more operating money, headways will be limited by the lack of layover space.

    Another problem, at least for the time being, is that the schedule will result in frequent “streetcar bunching” where the Central Loop joins the original line. Northbound streetcars at 10th & Lovejoy will sometimes have to sit and wait while the central loop streetcars merge right there. The original line will also see headways drop to 14 minutes instead of 12 in order to loan cars to the central loop, although at least the shared portion will have more service.

    Does anyone know if Portland Streetcar got approval to start enforcing fares? Will they actually hire fare inspectors? I’m very curious how the $1 fare will affect ridership and whether it will bring in the desired revenue. At first I thought ridership would drop quite a bit, but with MAX becoming $2.50 downtown, streetcar may be more popular. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see overcrowding, actually, which would be very unfortunate when there is no way to add trips. I hope if that does happen, that Portland Streetcar will be smart enough to swiftly raise fares enough to deal with crowding.

  2. I rode MAX today and noticed that the ticket machines and MAX vehicles all had updated info and graphics — the system maps on board were new, with the zones and Free Rail Zone removed. Good on Tri-Met for making those changes overnight.

    Then I transferred to the Portland Streetcar. The Free Rail Zone still exists on the on-board graphics and on the streetcar system maps in the shelters. So is the Streetcar still have a Free Rail Zone? If not, I think anyone riding without a fare would have a damned good argument that they’re in the clear.

  3. Hmm, streetcar becoming overcrowded…as if it wasn’t already during rush hours and weekends? It’s a good thing TriMet decided that it wouldn’t be wise to cut bus service that might help relieve those crowded streetcars. Oh wait… Now everyone who might have otherwise taken a 17 bus to Downtown will now have to take a Streetcar if the 15 is not close enough.

    The Streetcar does not still have a Free Rail Zone; the signs and maps should have been changed to reflect this. The Streetcar website has been updated.

    Speaking of Streetcar, I see that several stations now have fare kiosks located next to the shelters. This is sorely needed as the on-board fare machines are slow, don’t take credit cards, and are frequently broken. Anybody know when they are to come online?

  4. A recent traffic sting by the Portland Police resulted in tickets for 50 cyclists (mainly for blowing through stop signs), including one for Portland transportation policy director Catherine Ciarlo.

    Bike Portland has thoughts on the matter here.

  5. For a few years I’ve been wishing that somebody would “do something” with that hotel, but this isn’t at all the “something” I had in mind. Despite being a bit dated and somewhat ill-situated, it had a nostalgic lodge-like quality which could have been turned into something modern and “northwestern” in the right developer’s hands. Oh well.

  6. The Streetcar does not still have a Free Rail Zone; the signs and maps should have been changed to reflect this.

    I have asked someone I know at PSI who can find out the answer to this, I’ll report back if I hear anything.

    My own pure speculation (unsupported by anything at all) is that because the Loop opens on the 22nd, the timeline for unveiling new maps is closer to that date… otherwise it might be necessary to deploy two sets of new maps in short succession. (Or maps with stickers to be removed later which may cause other problems.)

    I do have direct personal knowledge that even though the stops on the eastside have bags over the signs (even replaced after being torn down by vandals and careless official photographers) that people contact streetcar customer service wanting to know why a streetcar didn’t come to their stop on MLK or Grand. I’ve even seen people chase after test streetcars as though they had missed their ride. So (speculation again) there may be some trepidation about posting maps which show the new stops too far in advance of the grand opening.

  7. I recall that about a month before the first Streetcar line opened I noticed a family standing in the Art Museum stop on 10th Avenue in “waiting for transit” body language. I asked “Are you waiting for the Streetcar?” Yes, they answered. I told them it was due in about ONE MONTH! They gasped, thanked me and went on there way. We all had a laugh.

  8. Reza, great points all around. It is a real shame that people in the NW are not only losing the 17, but also getting cuts to Streetcar frequency (already not nearly frequent enough). The city really needs to come up with dedicated funding to get streetcar up to 10-15 minute frequency for both lines, otherwise this really is just symbolic transit.

  9. I wonder if TRIMET plans “Night Owl and 24-hour line(s)in the future transit? Please TRIMET informs me about future transit, so let me know. Thanks. smile!

  10. @al m:

    Not that confusing. The Honored Citizen/Streetcar Only fare is at the bottom, $1. A Day Pass good on all TriMet services is $5, while a single TriMet ride is $2.50, good for 2 hours.

  11. It does take a 2nd-glance to figure out. Not too difficult, but if it were me doing the design I’d include the dollar amount in the same brighter-color bar as the description, and angle the bar at the end to form an arrow pointing at the button — to remove all ambiguity.

    A few years ago, a local designer did a mock-up of a vinyl graphic wrap for the original streetcar fare machines (on a volunteer basis IIRC). It was based on the TriMet color scheme and interlocking circle motifs, and it had very clear steps identified as 1-2-3 within each semicircular region.

    From what I understand, there was difficulty in finding a vendor who could accomplish the wrap to go over the materials used in the fare machine casing and to also include ADA-compliant braille legends integrated into the wrap. Too bad — it was a really nice design.

  12. Great catch, Al! That’s pretty funny, it’s like the fare machine was designed by a computer instead of a human being. Having Honored Citizen (good on both TriMet and Streetcar) be the same button as the streetcar-only fare is really confusing. It also doesn’t tell you that the streetcar fare is only good for 2 hours. It also doesn’t sell youth or honored citizen day passes! Also the letter codes are meaningless to the public! So much is wrong with this.

    It should just say “Adult Day Pass (Good on TriMet & Streetcar)”, “Adult 2-Hour Ticket (Good on TriMet & Streetcar)”, and “Streetcar-only 2-Hour Ticket”. Don’t include the letter codes, but do include separate buttons for youth and honored citizens (or omit them altogether). This would still be somewhat confusing, but not quite as bad.

  13. It says, right at the top in big letters: “STREETCAR FARES.” Underneath that, it says “Adult All Day $5.00” and beneath that “Adult 2 Hour $2.50.”

    Reading that, I’d conclude it would cost $2.50 to ride the STREETCAR for two hours, and $5.00 to ride the STREETCAR all day.

    The fare at the bottom? It’s the streetcar-only fare for honored citizens.

    Really, REALLY bad design. Unless they’re TRYING to get new streetcar riders to cough up more than is needed, in which case … well done. Confusing, misleading, but still technically accurate enough to avoid charges of fraud.

    Since there are only four buttons, and apparently one of them is needed to “cancel,” maybe the Streetcar should just sell All-Day Tri-Met Fares on board the Streetcar. Need just a two-hour fare? Go to a ticket machine.

    The way it SHOULD read:

    Streetcar only 2-hour fare: $1.00

    (Accepted on Streetcar, MAX, WES, and Tri-Met Bus)
    Adult All-Day Tri-Met Fare: $5.00
    Honored Citizen All-Day Tri-Met Fare: $2.00


    That would be a LOT less confusing.

  14. More goings-on in Clackamas County, as commissioners cancel (for now) proposed bond sales to finance the county’s share of MLR; but get a few rulings there way from a county judge–who denied a LRT opponent’s request for an injunction halting the bond sale. The judge also ruled that the proposed bond sale is an administrative act rather than a legislative ones, a ruling (if it stands) which would be it not subject to referendum.

    Appeals to the state Supreme Court are forthcoming.

  15. I got to give these activists credit for never giving up.


    What are you going to do about it Mcfarlane?

  16. I just found out that one of my buddies still working at Trimet taking the anti aids drug that keeps him alive is responsible for THOUSANDS of dollars now!

    What a racket we got going in this country between the employers and the crooked pharmaceutical industry.

  17. I was planning to check out the Rail Heritage Center. I was disappointed to hear they won’t have room for much more than their three locomotives. My hope was they could also house some classic trolleys, maybe on loan from the Oregon Electric Railway Museum in Brooks.

  18. “The Onion strikes again.”

    Speaking of carps: Those fish will find some nice shady places to rest in the lower Willamette R. with the two big piers of the MLR bridge. Good place to lurk for juvenile salmon but, hey, it’s progress.

    And…. I also saw some working on the bridge….

  19. Speaking as someone who (most of you should know by now) is favorable to rail projects (in addition to providing better-than-adequate bus service), there’s a problem in the article Al links to…

    Very positive stats are presented for rail corridors, but there’s nothing to compare to. How has ridership fared in Los Angeles in the two following scenarios:

    1. Major corridors served by “basic” local bus service.
    2. Major corridors upgraded to true BRT service.

    Without those two variables, it’s not possible to assess just how successful (or otherwise) the rail projects listed have been in the LA metro area.

  20. As for the concept of a “church of rail disciples”, I’m not sure what you specifically mean… although I used to play the organ in church, it was not on rails. Although I did put an organ on wheels, if only to bring it to the Nevada high desert. And I’ve yet to play an organ on a rail vehicle, although perhaps someday I might achieve the courage (or succumb to the pressure) to perform as part of the streetcar mobile music fest, but certainly not this year! (The organ is in disrepair.) But I digress.

  21. Al, I’ve run into a number of “true believers” on a variety of topics in my time, but few are as strident as those believers who ardently insist there is some nefarious “church of light rail”, right here, in lil’ ol’ Portland. ;-)

    Nice to be the “mecca” of something, I suppose.

  22. Yes it is nice to be a Mecca but you make fun of it but it is indeed the truth.

    This is the city that THE WHOLE WORLD, that’s right, THE WHOLE WORLD, comes to visit to find out the secrets of LIGHT RAIL and how they can establish their own churches of light rail.

    Our light rail actually sucks because its so SLOWWWW, but we were the first to experiment with it, or something, maybe its streetcars.


  23. Don’t worry Al, I count you among (in fact, emblematic of) the True Believers. Belief in exactly what is left as an exercise to the unwashed masses. :-)

  24. Actually, we can use our leadership role to our advantage. We should come up with some new insane transportation idea, build a demonstration project, and get every city to want one–meaning more funding for light rail. :P

    Horse-drawn streetcar, anyone?

  25. New transportation idea:

    The Nada-Rail. A photonic-powered levitation device (none of this outdated maglev business), the Nada-Rail has no rails at all. Just as monorails are superior to regular trains due to having at least 1 fewer rails, the Nada-Rail goes one better.

    The propulsion system and body are constructed entirely of neutrinos, dramatically reducing mass.

    The subatomic nature of the system allows for quantum-state scheduling, which means that you either know when your vehicle is arriving, or you can board it, but not both at the same time.

    This may seem like a problem for potential riders, but the installation of high-tension trampolines below every boarding platform (constructed of woven carbon nanotubes) allows passengers to continue bouncing into the potential loading area with a minimum of effort.

    No longer limited to 55mph along freeway corridors, vehicles may even achieve faster-than-light speeds, however this would require a dramatic social restructuring of the workday, as you would be arriving at your office slightly before you ever leave your home.

  26. But I don’t want to get to work earlier. Indeed, for many, a great advantage of public transit is being able to arrive at the office late and blame it on @#$@! TriMet. :P

  27. I should note, of course, that my previous glib comment doesn’t reflect the circumstances for many TriMet users. Quite a few have jobs with zero-tolerance policies for absenteeism and tardiness, for whom unreliable transportation is a Big Problem. It sucks rather hard when people have to leave for their jobs two hours before their shift starts, because they can’t depend on TriMet to reliably get them there in the scheduled time.

    Al did a blog post several weeks back about one TriMet rider (and activist) who was fired from his job after his bus broke down.

  28. Motorists in Beaverton (and/or riders on the 52) may have noticed a new type of pedestrian crossing signal at near the intersection of SW Farmington and 139th (by the fire station just east of Murray). It’s called a “HAWK” (which stands for High-Intensity Activated crossWalK–I kid you not). This signal type is fairly new to Oregon.

    Beaverton police will be conducting crosswalk enforcement activities at the intersection this afternoon and evening.

  29. There is a HAWK signal on NE Sandy Blvd. and another on E. Burnside.

    I’m glad to see the document from Beaverton clarifying that at the end phase of a HAWK signal, when it goes to flashing red, drivers may proceed if the intersection is clear. Some drivers are unfamiliar with these signals and do not yet understand this and wait until the phase is complete and the signal goes dark.

  30. The Oregon Supreme Court has lifted a preliminary injunction which prevented Clackamas County from selling bonds to finance its MLR contribution. The Court ruling did not contain any opinion or ruling on the merits of the various legal motions concerning MLR, the bond sale, and Measure 3-401, which county residents vote on next Tuesday.

  31. Bob,

    I use the HAWK on Burnside frequently, and I think it is great. We should have more of them.

    However, some drivers either don’t understand them, or seem to think the intersection is “clear” even if I’m in the middle of it at the time.

  32. One minor bit of confusion about the HAWK on Farmington–it replaces an older signal which was only there for the fire station. While I’m assuming that the new HAWK turns red should a fire truck leave for an emergency, many motorists in the area have to be retrained. :)

  33. [Note: moved from thread on Newberg/Dundee Bypass]

    Residents of NW Portland are trying to address the problem of excessive traffic on Cornell Road.

    The problem is obvious: Through much of Washington County, Cornell Road (and Thompson Road, which merges with Cornell just west of the bird sanctuary) are major thoroughfares; and Cornell, Burnside/Barnes, and US26 are the only through roads through between downtown and Washington County–unless you want to head further south (to BHH or Patton) or north (to Germantown Road). Entering Portland, Cornell turns into a neighborhood street, before entering the PDX street grid on NW Lovejoy.

    Yet many Washington County commuters use Cornell for their commute–sometimes when the other routes get clogged up, sometimes all the time.

    I’m not sure what solutions here will work, beyond further disincentives to using Cornell as a thoroughfare (or closing it outright). Many traffic calming strategies have already been tried–there are speed bumps galore on Cornell, Lovejoy, Westover, and other affected streets. Improving transit in the area feeding this might help; though right now much of the neighborhoods which feed Cornell traffic are auto-oriented–in these lean times, I’d rather spend transit dollars elsewhere. Plus, long-term Cornell might make a great bus route–imagine if the 15 were extended into Washington County, perhaps out to PCC-Rock Creek, instead of turning around on Thurman.

    OTOH…what if this were a poor neighborhood instead of a wealthy one? Cornell would probably already be four-lane highway, in that case, with semis and such speeding by….

  34. RE: NW Portland- Why isn’t this street classified as an arterial? Simply because the residents don’t want it? I mean I’d like MLK to be a neighborhood collector but come on, it isn’t going to happen. I think they should reclassify the road to recognize reality but also add uphill bike lanes where possible and some of the other stuff they are suggesting. Getting commuters to take a longer, more congested route is going to be a losing battle. They don’t mention it in the website, but there is substantial traffic there in the afternoons as well

  35. One differecnce between Lovejoy/Cornell and MLK, is that MLK is *designed* as an arterial (four lanes plus turning refuges, etc), whereas Lovejoy/Cornell is designed as a collector.

    W Burnside has a similar problem, to a lesser extent–an impedance mismatch between the regional arterial through the hills, and the needs of a local street once you get east of NW 23rd.

    One potentially nasty solution to both problems: Install a metering signal, similar to those found on freeway onramps, both on inbound Burnside and Cornell. Put the Burnside meter just before the tunnel (headed inbound), the Cornell one between Thompson and the bird sanctuary. Limit inbound traffic to one car every five seconds or so on Burside, one every ten on Cornell. Let the traffic back up into Washington County, until commuters there get the message. :)

    Of course, this idea is not likely to get very far (for obvious reasons), and in the case of Burnside, would adversely impact the #20 (unless a bus-only lane were provided, so riders could wave at the stopped cars as they cruise on through…)

  36. I love that idea Scotty.

    I wish they would put a sign at the meter saying “this is here to prevent the neighborhood streets from gridlock. contact XXX for complaints”

  37. After several months of renting my car on I’ve found myself wanting a number of features. Has anyone used both relayrides and getaround enough to tell me what the main differences are? I’ve got a car kit so it seems like that was one of the main differences- not all getaround cars have an automated system for renting the car

  38. Anti-rail measures pass in Clackamas County and King City.

    As noted previously, what impact (if any) the Clackamas County measure will have on MLR is questionable–Clackamas County paid TriMet $19.9M last week, and the county has taken the position that it wouldn’t retroactively apply to MLR anyway–only to future projects, none of which is in the pipe (at least as far as light rail is concerned). Proponents of the measure disagree with that, and have indicated that legal action is forthcoming.

    A bigger effect may be on HSR or commuter rail; as the main proposed route for Portland-Eugene line passes through the county.

  39. The potential HSR route would have to pass through Clackamas Co either way, so the question is whether or not Clackamas Co would get a vote on the route. If a station is located in Tualatin, rather than Oregon City, but tracks have to be upgraded through Wilsonville, would Clackamas Co get to vote?

  40. The measure only prevents the County from spending any money on the project, without a vote–which may limit county participation. The county doesn’t have the authority to limit the construction of railroads (freight or transit) within its borders, and the measure makes no attempt to do so.

  41. In that case, there would be a strong motivation for ODOT to not locate a new station in the county. I would expect them to want TOD or some sort of increased development around a station, with some local money thrown in.

  42. The answer is simple: As has been previously (semi-jokingly proposed), put a toll on Clackamas County vehicles crossing the Sellwood bridge. (Use existing, photo toll technology that reads license plates, only send a bill if the plate registration matches a Clackamas County address). Use the revenues to pay for Clackamas County’s share of projects it benefits from but doesn’t want to pay for. Problem solved. :-)

    Yes, this is mostly a joke.


  43. It wasn’t so much of a surprise that 3-401 passed in a special election, but that it passed by a 3-2 margin. That would seem to give like minded Washington County folks encouragement to try again for a similarly timed measure. Would it work or are WaCo residents happy enough with existing and potential rail services to turn down such initiatives?

    Some of the local election campaigning on both sides tried to tie 3-401 with the LO streetcar extension. That was pretty much a bogus issue as the Board of County Commissioners already committed to no more funds for that project.

  44. I get a lot of heat over here because I talk about the church of light rail.

    THIS article from DC talks about Portland being of CULT status.
    The definition of CULT FOLLOWS:

    : formal religious veneration : worship
    : a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
    : a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents

  45. Light rail represents what portion of our transportation system (including all modes)? 5% at most? Wouldn’t that make cars the default religion?

  46. ♫♫♫
    This train is bound for Gresham, this train
    This train is bound for Gresham, this train
    This train is bound for Gresham,
    Cram ’em in and then compress ’em
    This train is bound for Gresham, this train…

    (Sorry. Couldn’t’ resist).

  47. I did propose tolling vehicles on the Sellwood Bridge, and it wasn’t a joke at all. Multnomah County taxpayers kicked in the money, so they should be exempt from the toll. Every car NOT registered in Multnomah County should be charged $2 to cross the bridge — or 50 cents if they establish an account linked to the vehicle to allow automatic on-line billing to a debit or credit card.

    To single out Clackamas County vehicles for tolling is probably unconstitutional. To toll everyone, but exempt Multnomah County vehicles (which already prepaid for bridge crossing through a higher registration fee) is not.

  48. al m says: “I get a lot of heat over here because I talk about the church of light rail.”

    And if there is anyone around who can totally mess up religion it has to be Bill Clinton:
    OSLO (Reuters) – The world needs to find the equivalent of the flow of 20 Nile rivers by 2025 to grow enough food to feed a rising population and help avoid conflicts over water scarcity, a group of former leaders said on Monday……
    “The future political impact of water scarcity may be devastating,” former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said of a study issued by a group of 40 former leaders he co-chairs including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.

  49. Light rail represents what portion of our transportation system (including all modes)? 5% at most? Wouldn’t that make cars the default religion?

    No because nobody is thinking about cars, but the policy makers are OBSESSED with light rail, to the point of cultism. Hey I’ve said it for years, and now somebody else, who is from out of town and writes for a DC newspaper says the same thing.

  50. Random observation here… Has ODOT given up designating 205 as a bypass? Anyone who’s recently traveled 5 north out of Wilsonville has undoubtedly noticed that the new diagrammatic signs for the 205 interchange only have Oregon City as a destination. There’s no longer any mention of Seattle or The Dalles, although this sign is still in place. Interestingly enough, WSDOT still apparently considers 205 a bypass; the new signs on 5 south for 205 still list Salem as a destination.

  51. I was disappointed to hear they won’t have room for much more than their three locomotives.

    Well I believe their current setup is a “Phase 1”. They have other rail cars currently in storage that could use a home.

    Every car NOT registered in Multnomah County should be charged $2 to cross the bridge

    What I would like is to see every car tolled and the Multnomah County vehicle fee refunded.

  52. re the “Church of lightrail,” help me out with these questions:
    1. Do you support transit only ROWs in major transportation corridors? Yes or No?, if yes proceed…
    2. Do you support converting existing travel lanes for that purpose? for example on 99W?
    Yes or No?, if No, proceed…
    3. Do you support using local, state and federal funds to construct such a transit dedicated ROW?
    Yes or No? if yes, proceed…
    4. Which vehicle rider capacity do you favor for operation in a transit dedicated ROW?
    50 riders?, 100 riders?, 200 riders? 300 riders?
    5. And one follow up question: what are your ideas for making bus service in low density suburban areas of the region operate at a cost per ride below $4/ride? All savings would be dedicated to the operators’ pension funds.

  53. All savings would be dedicated to the operators’ pension funds.

    Lenny, I think you’re stirring the pot just a smidge by adding that last part. Let’s all give each other a bit of a break for awhile. The rest of Points 1-5 frame the argument nicely.

  54. I don’t know if anyone will be carrying it locally, but Gov. Brown is supposed to sign California’s autonomous vehicle enabling act at Google’s HQ at 1PM.

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