January 2013 Open Thread

Happy New Year, everybody!

This is the first Open Thread of ’13, in which you can post on any (transport-related) topic you like, and where Al can record each and every January MAX outage for posterity. :) Even though I’m typing this on the eve of the 31st, I will refer to incoming officials who take office in the new year without the “-elect” qualifier, as they will be sworn into their posts by the time you likely read this.

A few items:

  • TriMet is, once again, free on New Year’s Eve.
  • Local elected officials start their new jobs with the new year, and fellows like Sam Adams and Randy Leonard, long prominent names in area politics, return to private life. Portland mayor Charlie Hales has already asked for his first major resignation.
  • Another incoming politician, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, has penned an oped for the Willamette Week urging tolling of I-205, and cautioning Oregon lawmakers and transportation officials to make sure they don’t get caught holding the bag. And Hart Noecker takes on what he calls the “build, baby, build” Democrats in Salem, who seem to be the project’s biggest champions.
  • A bit more on Stacey’s new gig.
  • One service that will suffer as a result of budget games in Washington is Amtrak Cascades, which will lose federal operational funding (currently 23% of its budget).
  • In a story that we missed while Christmas shopping (but was alluded to in the prior OT), Clark County is still looking for a way to pay for LRT across the Columbia.

And if you haven’t used them or turned them in already, your non-foil and/or 1-2 zone TriMet tickets will make excellent New Year’s confetti. (Just pick up the trash afterwards…)

79 responses to “January 2013 Open Thread”

  1. Mayor Hales with a fascinating interview in Willamette Week, in which he laments (somewhat) the downtown focus of Portland’s recent development projects. Jarrett Walker’s take here.

    That said–is Mayor Hales expressing concern that Portland’s outer neighborhoods are being neglected–or is he thinking that 122nd and Division ought to look more like downtown?

  2. My observation would be that we set up East Portland with permissive zoning with minimal design standards, and then provided little or no infrastructure investment. It’s not surprising that the result is disappointing.

    Fortunately, City leadership has woken up to this, and the East Portland Action Plan maps out the direction we should be taking to deliver on the potential in East Portland, and we are beginning to execute on this. I’m glad the new Mayor recognizes this necessity. East Portland doesn’t need to look like downtown to be successful, but it does need a lot of love and care.

  3. Al, consider this 2013’s annual request (I hope the only one) to tone it down a notch. Your comment could have included all the necessary facts without resorting to hyperbole. And yes, you did resort to hyperbole.

  4. Yes I am very famous for hyperbole, thank you.
    I think I got my start right here if I remember correctly.

    Let me make this point Bob- They have been distorting and lying and breaking laws etc.

    Yes they do it in a genteel way, I offer no such pleasantries when covering stories.

    The way I wrote it is the way I see it.

  5. Thanks, Al. You are free to utilize whatever rhetorical devices or unleash whatever freewheeling opinions you may have on your own blog, other more permissive blogging sites, etc. (I know I sure do.) But we do have our rules here for civil discourse.

  6. Lake Oswegan David Reinhart, who perished last weekend on Mount Aconcagua, was a vice-chairman on the original Lake Oswego to Portland Advisory Committee. He was part of that committee’s majority which recommended limiting a streetcar extension to the Johns Landing area and enhancing bus service to LO. Only members of the committee’s minority (who voted to study a streetcar extension into Lake Oswego) were invited to participate in the Community Advisory Committee which superceded LOPAC in 2009.

    He continued to participate, but in a very much reduced role.

  7. Maybe they ought to just equip MAX trains with cowcatchers and use them to “push” errant automobiles off the tracks. :)

  8. Anti-LRT activists in Clark County considering their own “no-thinking-about-MAX” initiative: http://t.co/bK4T5fte

    Maybe the city of Portland voters ought to consider a parallel ban on freeway expansion?

  9. “Nathanael Says:

    I still want the People in Power to kill the CRC …..”
    There are only small bits of the CSA that are needed. Clark Co, has firmly rejected light rail again, so no need to put in the discount version either.
    The downtown waterfront development will accomplish the strategy of TOD type development ( albeit naturally)in the Couv. Further TOD could occur: next to UP rail line, in uptown and close to Vancouver Lake. And a Third Bridge would give both bicycle and transit access to the new wave of jobs springing up like fungi in the silicon Forest. So, so long Rex B., we don’t need ya.
    Good luck to those who are lobbying against the CRC. With that project in the new House Speaker’s district and since she has lots of helpless, economic victim types living there it’s going to be a tough cookie to crunch.

  10. I’ve been stewing on this so I figured I would ask:

    Who decided how to split state gas tax revenues. I know 1/2 goes to the counties, but who decided that it would be determined by vehicle registration? Is it possible that that could be changed to ‘share of state VMT’ on Roads in that county? It seems like it might be hard to collect that data, but it would more closely correlate gas tax dollars with road use – which I think is what we want.

  11. Am I the only one who has a problem with the crow population on the downtown bus mall? You can’t even walk down the sidewalk without being in danger of being bombarded with droppings. Someone please tell me that there is a plan to deal with this urban assault!

  12. Scotty- do you realize that every time you post it puts 2 copies of the comment on? Just wanted to give you a heads up

  13. The duplicate posts are a known issue; we’ve been having server problems with our hosting provider (one reason we are planning to change to WordPress–though the date of that transition is still being worked out.

    Don’t worry if a post is duplicated; sooner or later one of your friendly neighborhood moderators will clean up the mess.

  14. Are there any stats yet about how the cuts last Fall have affected performance? Or perhaps there are anecdotes people have about how the quality of their rides have been affected by it?

  15. Folks have been pushing PRT for decades… and if you think that light rail is expensive…

    As Allan point out, if and when autonomous vehicles become technically and legally available (Google’s valiant efforts are encouraging, but still a long ways from production), the whole notion of PRT (a fixed guideway system, in most visions) likely will evaporate.

    Of course, what happens when we get autonomous busses?

  16. “Folks have been pushing PRT for decades… and if you think that light rail is expensive…”

    Oh, come on….There has to be a cheap way to extend MLR to Oregon City? Wouldn’t this do it?

  17. “Oh, come on….There has to be a cheap way to extend MLR to Oregon City? Wouldn’t this do it?”

    I know you are being facetious, but installing lightrail down the center of McLoughlin would be cheap as heck compared to the current Orange Line construction to Milwaukie. No expensive flyover structures, and no right-of-way purchases required.

    I’m not as pessimistic as others about the future of lightrail transit in Clackamas County. The current teaparty craze is already fading, and demographics/economics are on the side of more progressive transportation solutions. A few years of improving economic conditions and one election is all it would take.

  18. Yeah, the next phase of SE lightrail is easy: McLoughlin from Park to West Linn … put in a new transit center at Gloucester Street. Four miles down level existing right-of-way. It probably could be done in the neighborhood of $100 million for the whole project. If Tri-Met comes in under budget on the current Milwaukie MAX project (which I’m not expecting, but there IS precedent for it), they could probably extend the line to West Linn with the left-over money.

    Extending it into Oregon City would be more difficult, since it would require structures and (probably) some new right-of-way, particularly if it’s to connect with the Oregon City Amtrak station. But getting MAX right to the border of Oregon City should make that last two miles a fairly easy sell.

  19. ” they could probably extend the line to West Linn with the left-over money.”

    And crossing the Willamette on what? Apparently the two posters above don’t even have a unified idea on what to do.

  20. A few points of Clackamas County order:

    * The distance from SE Gloucester Street (a major east-west thoroughfare in Gladstone) to the Clackamas River is about 1/2 mile; from Gloucester to the OC Amtrak station is slightly more than a mile. Of course, doing that requires crossing both the Clackamas and I-205.

    * As Ron notes, McLoughlin Boulevard doesn’t go into West Line; neither the I-205 bridge nor the old Oregon City bridge are likely to be modified for light rail.

    * If a LRT line down the middle of McLoughlin could have been done for $100M more–don’t you think it would have? It would have vastly elevated the cost-effectiveness of the project. But unlike Interstate or Burnside, McLoughlin is still an active state highway–any LRT down its middle will likely require the roadway be widened; which pretty much automatically increaes the price tag well about $100M.

    My biggest concern with Clackamas County in the medium term is funding. SW Corridor likely won’t get MAX for at least a decade and a half, and that’s a higher priority corridor than extending MLR to Oregon City.

  21. Douglas meant to say Gladstone, not West Linn. A little bit of geographical dyslexia. And it would indeed be incredibly cheap (compared to MLR) to run light rail, at grade, down the center of McLoughlin Blvd. That ROW is extremely wide and would easily accommodate both MAX and two auto lanes each direction. No adjacent properties would need to be acquired. And the only major structure would be a Clackamas River crossing. No structure would be needed under I-205.

    I know that this 4-5 mile extension would be more than $100 million, but given there would be no property acquisitions and just one simple 1000 foot long structure over the river, I doubt it would cost more than $300-350 million. That would be a $150-175 million local match, low hanging fruit compared to the $2 billion(ish) SW corridor. If there are any cost savings on MLR, they should be carried over to help fund the OC extension. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they started planning and scrounging up funds for that extension before MLR is finished, not unlike Hillsboro jumped on the bandwagon after the Westside line was already under construction to SW 185th.

  22. It seems like the biggest cost avoidance would be limiting the number of park and rides. At about $20,000 a spot for parking garages, it adds up quickly.

    I don’t think there will be any money for projects like this if the state is committed to the CRC as planned now.

  23. Thanks, Aaron. I was indeed thinking of Gladstone when I wrote “West Linn” — the other town right next to Oregon City. I think a new Gladstone TC that replaces Oregon City TC could work as the end of the line, leaving the extension to Oregon City for later.

    And I don’t know that the McLoughlin would need to be widened along most of its length; McLoughlin currently has two lanes each way PLUS a central turn lane PLUS bike lanes PLUS (along much of the road) a shoulder beyond the bike lines that conceivably could be used for street parking if there was any need for it. Get rid of the bike lanes, the shoulder and the central left-turn lane and there’s plenty of room for four traffic lanes plus light rail.

    I grant you, $100 million is low for a four-mile project — no doubt there would be a lot of utility relocation, which I wasn’t thinking about — but I can’t imagine it would be all that expensive (as LRT goes) when the right-of-way is already there and the street is already wide enough for most of its length.

    My “two mile” extension into Oregon City assumes the line ends near the Clackamas County Courthouse, the municipal elevator, and what I hope will be a future park at Willamette Falls. It could, of course, end at the Amtrak station.

  24. I’d be surprised if that bill gets anywhere; Olympia is not Clark County. If anything, were LRT to be deemed necessity to get the CRC built, my suspicion is that the Washington Legislature will–assuming they decide to fund the project–happily squash any local opposition to the project from Vancouver or Clark County, if necessary.

    Unfortunately, I suspect a similar principle may apply south of the Columbia. That said, Portland and Metro are still “playing ball”, as opposed to withdrawing support from the project, or attempting to impose conditions on items that other project sponsors consider non-negotiable.

  25. The “big slide”–relocation of the Sellwood Bridge so that the new bridge can be constructed where the current bridge has sat, begins today.

    The bridge is expected to remain closed for a week.

  26. Always glad when UC Berkeley agrees with me! Got to have that dedicated transit ROW no matter the vehicle type.

  27. Martin Munguia, of Community Transit, told me they could have someone from their agency speak to Tri Met or CTRAN, upon invitation. (That doesn’t prevent a member of the public from speaking now, though) I don’t know how consistently reliable their express service to Seattle is. But the ridership is way up:

    But since the are projecting a 25percent ridership increase anyway, that factor would probably be secondary.
    “Community Transit maintained most of its ridership by strategically cutting unproductive service – early and late-night buses, mid-day trips and low-ridership routes. As a result, productivity on the service that remains has skyrocketed.

    Local bus service within Snohomish County has seen a 31 percent increase in boardings per hour.
    Swift bus rapid transit service along Highway 99 between Everett and Shoreline has seen a 59 percent increase in boardings per hour.
    Commuter service to Seattle and UW has seen a 70 percent increase in boardings per hour.

    “A new draft six-year Transit Development Plan (TDP), 2013-18, forecasts no significant new service growth for the Snohomish County public transit agency, due to slow economic growth. Community Transit has, however, set an ambitious goal to increase ridership by 25 percent – to 12 million riders by 2017.

    “Our future growth is not based solely on how much service we can provide, but how wisely we use the resources we have available,” said Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor. “Any new funding for service will be directed in the most productive way possible.””


    Oh, I forgot to ask: How’s the bicycling today?

  28. Ron Swaren: “Oh, I forgot to ask: How’s the bicycling today?”

    Thanks for asking Ron. It was a cold, crisp morning and conditions were a bit slippery. As of 8:30 this morning, the Hawthorne Bridge bike counter showed ~700 trips.

    The Springwater Corridor was the usual mix of hardy winter commuters and committed joggers. I actually biked down the middle of Tacoma Street this morning, taking advantage of the Sellwood Bridge closure to enjoy a traffic- and stress-free ride down a main street.

    More bikers seem to be willing to brave the cold than the rain. I always say, you warm up faster than you dry off.

    I heard some folks on the Broadway Bridge were having trouble due to slippery, icy, conditions. Probably not a great day for an inexperienced cyclist to hit the roads. I bet the roads and busses were a bit busier than usual as more folks decided to drive or take Trimet instead of facing the cold conditions. It’s nice to have options :)

  29. I would guesstimate that volume on the Springwater Trail, going right in front of my house, is about 2 percent of summertime volume. ;)

  30. Thanks for the anecdote Ron!

    The Hawthorne Bridge counter shows that bridge traffic in winter is ~50% of summer peaks. I wonder why there is such a larger decrease on the Springwater compared to downtown? Probably because many (most?) of the summer users of the Springwater aren’t commuting, but instead taking advantage of warm weather recreational activities.

    My own anecdotal estimate of Springwater Commuter traffic, during the morning and evening rushes, is that commute volumes are maybe ~25% of summer highs.

    Even with the expected winter decrease in riders, it makes me proud to see so many folks taking advantage of our great trails. For me personally, it took 5 years of being a “fair weather” commuter before I took the plunge and started riding year round. For some folks they’ll never make that change, and that’s perfectly understandable :)

  31. TriMet could probably improve its operational performance greatly by cancelling marginal routes; there are plenty of low-performing routes to choose from.

    But should it?

    Many of those routes are run for social-service reasons–to serve some transit-dependent or otherwise disadvantaged population along the line. (Some others may be run for political reasons–either because some powerful constituency wants bus service, or to extend the service footprint). On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of examples of disadvantaged or dependent individuals in the greater metro area who don’t have transit service–either they live outside the district, or their street/community is one that TriMet presently is not serving.

    Cutting marginal routes–whether pocketing the savings, or deploying the resources instead on stronger routes–will certainly improve the bottom line of a transit agency, as well as many metrics. Is it the right thing to do? That’s in general, a hard question. I don’t know that much about Community Transit, but it appears that they are choosing to prioritize provision of commuter services to Seattle and elsewhere over local circulator service within their community. That’s their business, of course, but I’m not sure that is the best strategy for TriMet to take.

  32. Maybe TriMet should look at closing marginal routes before reducing service on more productive routes :/ It seems like cutting the lines with 1-5 people on them is a greater cost savings than cutting some runs on popular routes, because it discourages people from using these routes and can affect ridership in a larger way.

  33. “Thanks for the anecdote Ron!”

    It’s not anecdotal. It is a reliable, visible, informal survey.

    The point is that bicycling isn’t a year round alternative to areas that lie further out. I think the Hawthorne figures are also subject to age demographic factors, possibly including the fact that many of them may be going to school somewhere downtown….. That area has a lot of younger age renters, so if they become homeowners and then have to get to a job somewhere out of the downtown area it could be a lot harder to get there by bike, especially in inclement weather. I’m just putting out the fact of the Community Transit buses as being an alternative that is very easy to implement.

    Efficiency factors: time length, availability to certain groups, (equity)—-have become less important factors now that people have lots of other things they can do—such as with their communication devices—-while they are on transit. Yeah, I think Tri Met should put more emphasis on ways to “improve the bottom line.” i.e. Less taxpayer subsidy.

    Bicycles are a good alternative; since roadbuilding costs a lot of money, too. In fact I think our area infrastructure is a lot more adequate than it’s given credit for being.

  34. I got your point Ron.

    My counterpoint is that 50% of peak summer usage during the coldest days of winter is quite amazing, not something to scoff about. Even 25% of peak usage for a further out neighborhood like Sellwood is very impressive.

    Your visual, informal survey might not be technically be defined as an anecdote, but it has no more basis for discussion than my own visual, informal survey. I wonder if PBOT or another agency publishes bicycle count data for the Springwater? I see automated counters on the trail sometimes, but they are frequently vandalized.

  35. Bike Portland reports that a bill being proposed by Governor Kitzhaber to fund the CRC is no longer calling it that: instead, it’s now the “I-5 Bridge Replacement Project”.


  36. Does Gov. Kitzhaber have a total of 5 dental bridges in his mouth? What is his problem with paying for those, anyway? Please grow up, Gov. Kitz…

  37. Another interesting article from Ed Glaeser, on how recent Republican Party disregard for cities is bad for both the GOP, and for cities themselves.

    I do have a few quibble with the article–some of the libertarian reforms (such as congestion pricing) which he advocates and equates with “the right” are anathema to the current GOP, much of which prefers the current policy of “road socialism”, but overall, ’tis interesting and thought-provoking.

  38. Re: the Glaeser piece, thanks for pointing it out. The crime discussion jumped out at me. I don’t accept the contention that “The past decades have overwhelmingly vindicated the conservatives” on crime, there is no shortage of ideas about why crime began dropping in the 90’s. But I agree with the notion that urban life depends on peace and security, and does so to a degree not adequately reflected in discussions of urban policy (or at least not the ones I read).

  39. Scotty, Bob, Chris et al: You should practice not referring to TriMet administration as “Center St.” As of 1/14, the correct label would be “Harrison Square.”

  40. It appears that the YouthPass program is on the chopping block.

    ~~~>Anything that helps real citizens is on the chopping block, bus service, social security, medicare, benefits for employees.

    The only thing that is never on the chopping block is tax breaks for the 1%, war, and money for developers.

  41. “The only thing that is never on the chopping block is tax breaks for the 1%, war, and money for developers.”

    Also government careers And lucrative jobs for engineering consulting firms, too. Like Evans and Co.

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