Archive | April, 2013

Semi-Truck / Streetcar Collision

The afternoon of Tuesday, April 30, 2013, a semi-truck collided with a Portland streetcar at the intersection of SE Market St. & SE MLK Blvd.

I happened to be nearby and captured the process of separating and removing the two vehicles. The truck had a flat tire and bent wheel (in addition to major body damage) but was able to move a short distance under its own power before being towed. The streetcar, which had been knocked off of the tracks by about a foot, was lifted back onto the rails by crane, and then towed back to the maintenance facility using a 2nd streetcar.

According to others at the scene, there were no injuries.

UPDATE 5/1/2013:

The following operations update was sent to members of the Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee:

From March 27 to April 27, 2013 we experienced a 100% rate of operating all scheduled vehicles. On April 30 a CL Line streetcar was hit by a semi-truck turning left off of SE Market onto SE MLK Jr. Blvd. The accident blocked all of MLK from just before 2pm to approximately 4:30pm. The Streetcar was put back on the rails and towed back to the maintenance facility. We are estimating that Car 002 will return to revenue service around June 1, 2013. The CL Line will be down one train Monday-Friday until Car 021 enters into service. Car 021 (the first production vehicle from United Streetcar) is now expected to enter revenue service May 14, 2013

Lombard Re-Imagined Open House on Tuesday, May 7th

LombardReimagined.png
For the last several months, I have been working with five other PSU Master of Urban and Regional Planning students (collectively known as Swift Planning Group) on an exciting project called Lombard Re-Imagined. We have been working with the Kenton Neighborhood Association and other surrounding neighborhoods to re-imagine the unpleasant, unsafe, auto-oriented stretch of Lombard Street from N Chautauqua Blvd to NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Our focus is on finding strategies and projects the neighborhood can advocate for that will result in a safer transportation system, a more pleasant walking environment, and neighborhood-friendly business development.

This corridor has a lot going for it (proximity to Kenton’s nice main street, a direct connection to St John’s, excellent transit service), but unfortunately the area has not received much attention or investment in the past and has become a barrier between neighborhoods. As an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) facility (US 30 Bypass) and a designated over-dimensional freight route, many have feared that change is impossible, but as we have seen elsewhere (for example, just up the road in the St Johns area) ODOT is often willing to make needed changes to make streets safer and better. We have been working with both ODOT and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to understand what is possible to make the street work better for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and motorists. We are especially focused on improving the pedestrian environment, since that is what the street is most lacking right now.

After a great round of public outreach with the community over the last few months, we have a pretty good idea of the concerns and ideas people have for the area. We have also done a great deal of research and analysis and have developed a preliminary set of recommended strategies. In some cases, we are still looking at several alternative ways of tackling a problem. Now we want the public to see our ideas and weigh in, and the best way to do that is to attend our Open House on Tuesday, May 7th from 5:30pm to 8:00pm at the Kenton Masonic Lodge (8130 N Denver Ave) (For those who use Facebook, please RSVP at our event page). We will have posters showing off our ideas for the street and we will be asking you to give us your feedback, ideas, and advice for how to make Lombard a better place. This is an open house, so you can just show up anytime to check out our posters and talk with us about what you think. I hope that any readers who care about making our busy arterials more livable and multi-modal (always a big topic on this blog) will consider attending our open house and following our project moving forward.

For more information or to contact us:
Website: www.lombardreimagined.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/LombardReImagined
Twitter: @LombardRImagine
Email: lombardreimagined@gmail.com

Your Questions for Neil, “Round 4”, Part 2 – The Suburbs

This is the 2nd in a series of four videos of our interview last week with TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane, featuring many of your suggested questions.

Today’s topic is “The Suburbs”, looking at service levels, political support, future planning, and transit equity.

Navigation:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Transcript after the jump:


Chris Smith: So lets shift to the second major topic, which I’m calling the suburbs

Neil McFarlane: OK

CS: So, not withstanding the existing contracts between TriMet and Clackamas County, at least the political environment for PMLR in Clackamas County has gotten somewhat hostile in recent months or recent years. What’s the impact of opening service to a district that doesn’t appear to be particularly enthusiastic about having you come to them, and what’s that going to mean in the short term and the long term do you think?

NM: Well first of all, I would tell you that really, just about every light rail line we’ve ever opened has had opposition. And what has happened over time is communities have embraced them in a very big way. I would also tell you that within the environs of PMLR, there is a lot of support for the project and a lot of embedded support. We have a very dedicated for example, citizens advisory committee, we have a number of champions, primarily from the Oak Grove area and Clackamas County, but also from Milwaukie. Now, no doubt there’s controversy associated, that has been stirred up, but one of the things we have to demonstrate is what a great alternative it is, and how important it is for the residents of Clackamas County to be connected to the jobs engines, for example, OHSU and the South Waterfront, to the educational opportunities at OMSI, to Portland STate University, to the jobs inventory downtown and elsewhere through the light rail system. So I think that, plus the speed of that alignment, will be very efficient alignment and make a very efficient trip for the residents of the county, I think we’ll win the day with the residents or with the riders. I think long term we have to continue to build relationships, there’s no question, and one of the things I think is an opportunity to do that, will be our, and you probably will want to talk further about this, is our Service Enhancemnt Plans that are underway with around the region. And our service planning for the Portland-Milwaukie opening will embed in it, will be embedded in the Service Enhancement Plan we do for the Clackamas County area. So that’s an opportunity to talk more broadly about transit service in Clackamas County.

CS: So thats actually the next question. A dynamic we’ve seen in the last few years with the economic and budget challenges is that long-planned rail projects are opened, the Green Line, Eastside Streetcar, that utilize service hours, at the same time, service hours are being cut on busses. Not a popular place to be. Are we going to see something similar with the opening of Portland-Milwuakie, or all the service hours incremental, and what will happen to the bus system at the same time when Portland-Miwaukie opens?

NM: Well there will be some reallocations of service. For example, the 33 doesn’t need to run all the way to downtown Portland with Portland-Milwaukie. So some of that savings will go back into the operation of light rail lines, but there is an increment that is new going to light rail, and that is part of the last increment of the payroll tax expansion, which, as you remember Chris, was dedicated to new services. And one of the new services is the PMLR project. By the way, the last increment of that payroll tax is included in our budget for FY14 starting in January ’14, that’s the last of the increment of the .7% range that was authorized in 2004.

CS: So shifting to another part of the suburbs, were in planning of the SW Corridor. I don’t hear a lot of optimism about actually being able to fund construction for a number of years yet. Why are we spending resources now to do planning for something that we can’t really see the horizon when we can fund the construction?

NM: Well, I think that’s a great question, but if you think about any of our major light rail projects, they’ve been 10-15 year endeavors. They are not flash-in-the-pan proposals. I think the most.. other than the airport, which was a public-private partnership, using the federal process, the fastest that we saw was probably the Interstate MAX light rail, and that was really a portion of the South-North light rail project, so even that one, when you think about the work that we’ve done prior to kicking the Interstate MAX project, probably ten years. So, one of the responsibilities I think of Metro, and we’re their partner in that regard, is to not think about just tomorrow, but think about what the future’s going to bring. And part of that, I think, the interesting thing about the SW corridor is that it is bringing land use planning up front and close to us first. And so, they’re starting with what is the land use vision that the communities in the corridor, whether it be portions of SW Portland or Tigard or others, what’s that vision, and how do you begin to form a transportation/transit system that begins to service that vision the right way. A little bit different than what we’ve done before, and I think a little visionary, and good, but I think it underscores the long term nature of these plans.

CS: And I appreciate that. I’ve a had wearing my planning commissioner hat to work on the Barbur Concept Plan, work with the stakeholders committee, the mayor, to get a vision for what Barbur Boulevard wants to be when it grows up. But just to look at the timeline I think maybe some of us would expect if we, they’re undoubtedly long processes, but we look at the gap between milestones, from Locally Preferred Alternative to a Full Funding Grant Agreement, is it likely that this one will be longer than most, or do you think it will be in the same?

NM: No, I think it will be longer than most. And I would say I think that’s the right thing, and gets to the exact point that you are making. Which is I think this is the time and this the space, to really build our bus system, to build the best bus system we’ve got. That’s going to be my priority moving ahead. Now, the corridor projects are great support for that, you know the underlying network is our bus system, and we’ve got to do a good job with that. That’s why I’ve emphasized bus replacement for example in our budget moving ahead. We’re trying to accelerate the bus replacements so we have, we’re essentially caught up from the lean years of the great recession when we didn’t replace any busses, and we’ll actually be caught up by 2016. So, again, every penny of our service improvement dollars we can scrape together for the next budget, fiscal 14, that’s going to bus service, and that will be my priority moving forward.

CS: So while we’re on the west side. The financial performance, or I’d say the required subsidy for WES, is still a pretty staggering number. I know ridership is increasing gradually, is there a point at which we have to take a hard look and say, we should just be putting those public benefit dollars into more productive forms of transit, in that corridor or elsewhere?

NM: Well, there may be, but I don’t that think we’re at that point. We’re seeing, every year that WES has been open, ridership continues to grow. And recall that we opened in the leanest employment years, much leaner than we anticipated in terms of outlook forecast that justified the project. So I know for example, there’s currently a call center that is located out at our Millikan light rail stop on the west side, that call center is moving down to the former Hollywood Video site in Wilsonville, so frankly we get an incredible amount of riders in that employment zone. So it’s those kinds of system changes that will really affect ridership on WES. The other thing to recognize about WES that it’s really a fixed cost. Every rider we have will reduce the overall average cost per ride, and we still have room, so we want to continue to lure more riders to WES. I think it’s still fair to say it’s not a completely proven concept, but it is, I think, providing an important service. I spent some down at the Oregon Legislature, and it’s interesting to know how many of the staffers, and even members, are using WES to get to Wilsonville to get to…

CS: (SMART) 2X to Salem…

NM: …to get to a bus to Salem. And I think it’s beginning to demonstrate its utility in that regard.

CS: In general, as we’re continuing to evolve the system and the frequent service line system seems to be relatively fixed at the moment, we’re trying to get service back but we’re not adding new lines. What’s the state of equity between service in the center of the region vs the suburbs? Are there changes we should look for there, or are things relatively stable?

NM: Well, Just a couple things about that, is that one of the things I really really want to do is get our frequent service intervals restored. And so I’m going to be spending a great deal of time scraping up the pennies over the next year to see where and how we can do that. A lot of that of course depends on labor negotiations, but even independent of that I want to begin this effort of getting that service restored because I think it’s really important. Second of all, your question I think is an excellent one, and that’s why I mentioned earlier the Service Enhancement Plans that we’re underway with. And we’re essentially at the cleanup stage of the Service Enhancement Plan for the westside area. And I’d encourage any of our listeners to go to our website and look at that plan. But what it begins to do is create a network of bus service that begins to, frankly, look a lot like the network of bus service we have on the near-in east side of Portland, from 82nd in. So in other words, it provides multiple, the ability to serve destinations within Washington County and multiple connections as the grid on the east side also allows. So that’s, I think, a great vision that has been really embraced by many of our stakeholders on the west side. But it also begins to tell us how much demand there is for transit. Everywhere we go, everywhere, every community I go to, people want more transit. Now that’s a terrific thing, and I wish I had the dollars in my pocket just to put out more service. But I think it does indicate that there is strong potential in the future for some good partnerships. You know, first, for me is, we’ve got to demonstrate to our taxpayers and our fare-payers that we’ve got our financial house in order. Then, I think, we can begin to look for the parnerships to begin to grow service. I can give you another example. Our next sector that we’re looking at in terms of our service enhancement planning would be the Southwest Corridor, sort of parallel planning effort we talked about earlier. I was down at the Tualatin Chamber recently, and I was talking to a number of the businesspeople there, and they are offering on the market jobs that are good entry-level jobs, you know, $15-$20/hour jobs, and they’re having a heck of a time getting people to apply for them because of the lack of transit alternatives to the Tualatin industrial area. And I hear this message throughout the region, so what I know is we’ve got a great product that is truly important to the region, and that really need to expand the service. Yes we need to restore frequent service to those lines who have it now, yes indeed we do have some gaps in the frequent service network side. I’m a fan of turning the 35 and the 44 and a few others into frequent service before we get too far along. But we’ve got these great sectors of employment, new employment opportunities in our suburban areas, we need to connect people to, and do a better job of that.

CS: Well I’ll put in a plug that, the planning commission I serve on has been spending a lot of time looking at East Portland, and needs out there, and having a north-south frequent service line in East Portland would go a long way to the need of that community.

Your Questions for Neil, “Round 4”, Part 1 – Labor Relationship

Last week, we interviewed TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane using your suggested questions as a basis for the discussion.

The result is a series of 4 videos of the major topic areas of that discussion. Today’s video focuses on the labor relationship between TriMet and the ATU.

Navigation:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

This is the fourth year we’ve produced these chats. The last two times, we’ve worked to release transcripts along-side the videos. This year, in an effort to get the videos out faster (and therefore be more relevant to evolving topics), we’re posting the videos ahead of creating the transcripts. As always, we’d love to hear from volunteers who can assist in the transcription process.

Transcript for part one is now available after the jump.


Chris Smith: Well, Neil, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to sit down and answer a few questions on the minds of Portland Transport readers. This is our fourth year, and we’ve enjoyed, and hope you do as well.

Neil McFarlane: It’s my pleasure, and again I want to thank you for great work at the transport blog in terms of providing a great voice within the community, so I appreciate that.

CS: All right, well lets get started. The questions are divided into four major sections. The first is the labor relationship, whats on everybody’s mind. Lets start with the existing contract. There have been several arbitrations and court rulings, but there are still some things on appeal. Could you tell us what still is yet to be decided, and what the impacts are for riders if it goes either way?

NM: You bet. So first thing is, just to note, and I think your question implies this, which is there is a great deal of uncertainty as related to labor costs, which is over half of our operating budget when you really think about it, as we move into the budget for fiscal year 2014. One of the challenges we’ve got is we feel we’re building uncertainty on top of uncertainty. So related to the contract that ended Nov 30 of last year, recall that our arbitrator, in August, rewarded the contract proposal that TriMet had made, so TriMet was the winner. ATU appealed that. That appeal was to the Employee Relations Board. That appeal was heard in terms of oral briefing and it’s been briefed since by the attorneys since then, and now we’re awaiting a decision. It could be any day, or it could be a couple of months, nobody really knows the timeline of that. That’s a pretty important decision, because it is really the foundation from which both our budget is built, and we’re assuming that that arbitration decision is sustained, in the current budget moving forward for this year.

CS: And that allows you to make some service improvements next year.

NM: Exactly, And it allows us to have no fare increase, no service cuts, and some service improvements. So it’s really its significant. It also is a building block for negotiations for the next contract. Now, I think the important thing to note, is you asked for the impact on the riders. In any case, we believe that we can sustain the level of service as proposed in the FY2014 budget, through that fiscal year. But were we to lose that appeal, then we’re going to be in the service reductions and fare increases, and this sort of cutback mode next fiscal year, through fiscal year 2015, unavoidably. It’s probably $6-8 miliion a year of cost. Now all of that is underlaid by what’s the economy doing, what are the other issues of the day, so we’ll obviously fine-tune that as we progress, but it will be a signifiant building block. The other remaining issues have to do with, and part of that, by the way, is wrapped in all of this on the last contract, is the Unfair Labor Practice (complaint) that the ATU won, and based on that we owe the employees about $3.6M. We’re appealing that to the Court of Appeals, because we don’t believe that the ERB was completely right in its analysis of that decision. But also as part of the arbitration, just to make things totally confusing, there is a reimbursement of medical premiums from employees over time. Now that $3.6M and the reimbursement of employees are one-time only costs, so they are important, we have to pay attention to them, but the real fundamental for us is what is the base of the agreement moving forward, and what we call our continuing expense category.

CS: Well let’s talk next about the current round of labor negotiations that have started. ATU has asked that the current round be open to the press and/or to the public. What’s TriMet’s stance on that, and where are we at now?

NM: So first of all, we have coming this Saturday on the 27th, the first meeting, which is really to set the ground rules for negotiations. And the admittance of press or public, I think the issue really comes down to the press at this point in time, will be what are the conversations of those ground rules. TriMet’s position is that the press should be admitted, and you talk about sort of the major elements of the press. We think that that provides good public transparency and accountability, having the press there. We don’t wait it open to the public. And the main reason for that, is these are really serious conversations. WE don’t need cheerleaders in the back rows. We don’t need people playing to a crowd. We need very serious rapt attention to difficult issues that we have. And just to reiterate, the key issues there, the key drivers of TriMets cost structure are health benefits for active and retirees. And I’m really cautious to say, that nobodys, this is really nobody’s fault, it’s important I think to note that. But right now the benefit that we have is just not sustainable. The math doesn’t work. So that’s a reality that both players have to understand and come to. Those kinds of issues are very hard work. And a lot of mutual education needs to go on, and that what the collective bargaining process is all about, and that’s why we’re looking forward to get going.

CS: Leading into the next question, you’ve highlighted that the health costs are an important part of the budget and labor negotiations. The union has made a lot of hay recently about the way that raises were handed out in this last budget, and the perceived lack of transparency around that process. I think it’s hard for the public to know, charges and counter-charges going back and forth, who to believe, what’s the truth. In a post on Portland Transport a few months ago, I suggested that the public might benefit greatly from an independent audit and benchmarking against other agencies to see where TriMet’s financials really stack up against other comparables. Is that an idea you’ve considered? Are you open to it?

NM: You know, I’m certainly open to it. But I will also tell you, that if you look at our arbitration presentations from last August, you’ll find all those benchmarks. You’ll find all those peer comparisons that you’re talking about in terms of wages and healthcare benefits. So all of that exists and is in the public record, in the public realm, right now.

CS: But that’s TriMet’s compilation of the data as opposed to an independent review.

NM: And you know, an independent review is fine but, you know, these are generally pieces of information that are pulled from the National Transit Database. These aren’t exactly you know secret sources of information by any means, they’re very public pieces of information. So, I mean I understand the charges and countercharges and think it’s really important for both TriMet and ATU, as we enter into this round of negotiations, to try to lower the tone and volume and try very hard to make sure that we both are doing a good job of educating not only ourselves but our constituents about the issues that we face. Our cry about the healthcare benefit is not for the detriment of our employees, who we have a great deal of regard for, all of them, who we hold in regard, but it is simply the math that is not sustainable, and there’s lot of ways to begin to deal with that. And if we begin to hear what’s important from the ATU, maybe we can find some mutual ways to get to a right solution. But that’s what collective bargaining is all about.

CS: Healthcare is clearly a big deal in our whole society. And we have changes happening, with the Affordable Care Act, and the state of Oregon will soon be setting up health exchanges to make it easier for people to buy insurance. Will any of that help TriMet’s situation?

NM: Not that I see right now. There’s some potential horizon, I think, but what we’re learning from this, and we have a lot of brown bag lunches and other kinds of exchanges with people in the healthcare industry at TriMet, and we need to do, to broaden that exchange i think, with some of our untion leadership and union members, but the changes within the healthcare industry are obviously dramatic. Largely because of the Affordable Care Act, and particularly because Oregon is an innovator in that. What we’re learning is literally its one of these 80-20 rules, where 20% of our enrollees in healthcare cause, or are responsible for 80% of the costs. So what many intelligent insurance programs, and I think Kaiser, for example, is one of them, are doing is really working with that 20% to make sure they’re getting excellent care but also not wasting the dollars for extra tests or other things along the way. Meanwhile, looking at those that might be close to entering that 20%, working with them to stay healthy. So there’s a lot associated with that that I think can be done and will be layered on to what are sort of considered normal insurance policies as we move ahead.

CS: So you talked about the portion of population that drives the expense, and efforts to make the employees healthier. Driving a bus has got to be a challenge from a health area, you’re sitting all day. I’m fortunate enough to have a desk job, but even in my world people have standing desks and treadmill desks, as people recognize that sitting is not good thing to do all day. Anybody ever built a bus that you can drive standing up or in some healthier posture than sitting in that chair all day?

NM: I’ve never seen that, but there’s an awful lot of work that goes into ergonomics of the driver’s seat and the driver location. A lot of people don’t realize acutally there’s some work we’re doing to fine tune this, but the newest busses we’ve bought, the 55 new busses, they actually have pedals that can move back and forth on a plate, so that for example, I interviewed one relatively petite driver, said these are actually the best busses you’ve ever had, but are particularly true for her, because her feet didn’t have such a hard time reaching the pedals. So there’s a lot that I think we can do to the ergonomics of the job and really focus on, and our safety department is doing that on a regular basis. Matter of fact, our Type 5 LRVs coming for the Portland Milwaukie project have another remodel, if you will, of the cab, to make sure we’re doing what we can with the ergonomics. But I’ll also say, you know, there are lots of times during the operator’s day where you could get out and walk at a layover, or take advantage of the times at a transit center. So that’s one of the things we have to really encourage. It is a sedentary job, sitting, and there’s lot of stress associated with it. It’s very important to work that out when the opportunities avail themselves.

CS: So we’ve had one very contentious contract negotiation that went way over the timeline, we’re headed to another, it appears, very contentious. What’s the prospect for getting to a more productive and cooperative labor relationship where we’re more not having every contract be putting service to riders at risk and have all this uncertainty for everyone?

NM: Well, my view, and I know it’s not one that’s held by everyone, is that the binding arbitration statute is one of the mistakes. Allowing that to go through without a word of protest was a mistake of TriMet in 2007. The thing about normal collective bargaining is there is a deadline and there is a cliff and there is a need to come to agreement. And if you look at forty years of TriMet’s history, that’s what happened. Time after time again. The problem right now with binding arbitration is that it’s not very timely, as you’ve noted, you first go round, and the second go-round doesn’t seem to be performing much different. And that puts everybody, including our employees, a great deal of uncertainty and risk. But it also the question with ERB review of the arbitrator’s decision, is it really binding? So, I think there’s a problem there, number one, but number two, if that’s going to be the rules of the game, than what we have to do is operate the best we can, and I think the best we can is really honest and straightforward and businesslike negotiations. I’d like to say that I think the ATU is stepping up to that, in a very good way, and an example of that was our revised hours of service policy that was negotiated with the ATU. And I give Bruce Hansen, president of ATU, very high marks for stepping up to a real problem and helping us solve it, so my hope is that is an indicator of the kind of work, hard work, that we can do together. But it is very hard work, and it takes a long time, and remember union leaders is that he’s the leader of an organization, and he has to bring and communicate with the membership in order to bring them along, so you have to be respectful of that process as well.

CS: So let me play devil’s advocate a little bit here. If we don’t have binding arbitration as the methodology than we have the potential for a transit strike, which would obviously have big impacts on the community, particularly the portions of the community that are transit dependent. How do we weight that risk against the challenges we are having now, in the current form of the process?

NM: Well, so lets sort of flash forward where you’re weighing the chance, the chance of a strike, which you know if you look historically around the country, very few, and pretty short when they occur, the only one that’s happened in Oregon in modern times if you were, was the [inaudible] strike in Eugene, that’s what led to the 2007 law, vs the continued erosion of service with the benefit and wage program primarily health care benefits that are not sustainable, and so you’ve got potential for long term erosion, versus getting it fixed, even if take a little pain up front. So those are the tradeoffs, It’s an intelligent.. our state legislature can help make those has obviously made those tradeoffs. And we’ll play by the rules of the game, obviously, but you know I think there’s really something to be thought about.

CS: And the bill this session that would have changed that is dead, is that correct?

NM: That’s my understanding.

Security, or Security State?

The “CommunityCam” project recently came to my attention by way of an e-mail from one of the project members.

It’s a crowdsourcing effort to identify security cameras that observe the public right-of-way. The motivation of the project is to make it easier to generate evidence in the case of a crime or incident (video of a hit-and-run for example). The project has mapped close to 2,000 cameras in the Portland area.

While the aim of the project seems laudable, and doesn’t in itself impinge privacy (it only maps cameras that already exist for other purposes – and only identifies the location – no video is actually exposed), the shear number of cameras kind of blows my mind.

We seem to be headed toward a point where private or government cameras may observe the entire public right-of-way. What does that say about our society?

A segment this week on the NPR program “On the Media” highlights this issue in the light of use of such videos in the Boston bombings. It paints a picture of what could happen if this video gets aggregated at some point.