Archive | February, 2014

Streetcars as Part of the Transit Network

Curtis Ailes has long been a Portland Transport correspondent, living in Indianapolis. He and his family have recently moved to Portland and we’re happy to welcome him to the region and to Portland Transport!

Recently, a tectonic jolt rocked the transit blogosphere as The Atlantic Cities’ Eric Jaffe penned a column supporting the notion that streetcars in America are not part of the traditional transit network. Jaffe presented data suggesting that low ridership share of streetcar lines (as a percentage of total network ridership) supported this notion. Portland was not spared the brunt of this conclusion with Streetcar contributing a meager 3.5% (approximately) to the regional fixed route network. Certainly, when viewed through this frame, the thought makes a lot of sense.

But is this a suitable validation of the core question? Are streetcar systems “failing” as transit simply because they are not generating huge ridership numbers? Is the data being sliced the right way?

A look at Portland’s Streetcar ridership shows an increasing trend in boardings over time with no major dips. Analyzing the data a bit further, as of Q4 2013 daily weekday boardings are averaging over 13k (Q2 2014 has improved to 18k/day).  Contrast this with MAX which came in at 108k, and streetcar, if counted as part of the system, would count 10% of the system’s boardings.

I thought that digging a little further and comparing Streetcar’s contribution vs other individual MAX lines made sense as well. According to data obtained from Trimet by PT’s Bob Richardson, and based on 2012 data (the latest detailed data he was able to obtain), Streetcar contributed just 7% to the 2012 numbers. Streetcar easily contributes more than WES, something we all know, but falls below the other MAX contribution to the network. However, if we compare the growth of streetcar in just one year, total share has grown 3% and if the latest jump in ridership from 13k to 18k are to be believed, that share continues to grow, even as total MAX ridership dips.

So what can we conclude? Streetcar while not as big a contributor to the total rail network as individual MAX lines is showing impressive year over year growth while MAX ridership has flattened. From this point, you can suggest causes for this however you want. City Center densification? CL contributions (even if it is chronically delayed)? Whatever story we craft, streetcar ridership growth is robust.

Anecdotally speaking, as a newly minted resident of Portland, my family and I have relied heavily upon the streetcar for daily functions. We use it get groceries & to run errands. We use it to explore new neighborhoods. We use it to stay dry when getting from one place to the next. As a long-time observer of transit systems nationwide, I can attest to the first hand usage of Streetcar as a crucial part of the local transit network versus a tourist attraction. An inspection of the data supports this.


The Air We Breathe

PSU Transportation Seminar: Measuring Urban Bicyclists’ Uptake of Traffic-Related Pollution

Speaker: Alex Bigazzi, PhD candidate, Portland State University
Topic: Measuring Urban Bicyclists’ Uptake of Traffic-Related Pollution
When: Friday, February 28, 2014, 12-1 p.m.
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
Abstracts: Urban bicyclists’ uptake of traffic-related air pollution is still not well quantified, due to a lack of direct measurements of uptake and a lack of analysis of the variation in uptake. This paper describes and establishes the feasibility of a novel method for measuring bicyclists’ uptake of volatile organic compounds (VOC) by sampling breath concentrations. Early results from the data set demonstrate the ability of the proposed method to generate findings for transportation analysis, with statistically significant exposure and uptake differences from bicycling on arterial versus bikeway facilities for several traffic-related VOC. These results provide the first empirical evidence that the usage of bikeways (or greenways) by bicyclists within an urban environment can significantly reduce uptake of dangerous traffic-related gas pollutants. Dynamic concentration and respiration data reveal unfavorable correlations from a health impacts perspective, where bicyclists’ respiration and travel time are greater at higher-concentration locations on already high-concentration roadways (arterials).


County Chair Transportation Conversation

As a 501(c)(3) Portland Transport does not endorse candidates. But we can and do encourage our readers to get knowledgeable about candidates’ transportation positions.

The Multnomah County Chair race may seem like a bit of a sleeper for transportation advocates, but it’s a very important one. The County is responsible for the majority of bridges that cross the Willamette and makes critical decisions (like the replacement of the Sellwood Bridge) that affect our daily transportation.

The Women’s Transportation Seminar is holding a conversation with Deborah Kafoury and Jim Francesconi on the evening of February 25th. I’d encourage our readers to consider attending and getting informed!

How Would ODOT Pay for the CRC?

The Columbia River Crossing was front page news in Salem last week (more on that later), which begs the question, if Oregon goes ahead on its own, how would the bill get paid?

The first installment is the $450M that the legislature committed last year. They’d have to repeat that commitment, as it expired when Washington did not cough up the matching amount. At the time, the legislature did not specify a source of funds to repay the bonds. ODOT had suggested they could cover the first couple of years from existing revenues. That seems somewhat dubious now, as ODOT appears to be effectively broke (i.e., all its revenues are committed), as this post from Sightline demonstrates.

The next slug of revenue would be from tolls. But Joe Cortright, while dissecting the project on Blue Oregon, points out that CDM Smith, the consulting firm that did the investment-grade analysis, has a habit of overestimating toll receipts. And of course, it’s still very much an open question whether Washington will assist us with toll enforcement.

A big inducement for approving the project has always been the prospect of $850M from the feds for the transit component. But this week brings the news that the Congressional Budget Office estimates $100B of general fund dollars or new revenue would be needed to fund the aspirations of the pending Transportation Bill. Can Patty Murray hang onto to about 1% of that for the CRC?

It seems timely that all this is coming to a head just as the next season of “House of Cards” is being released.

And one final thought. Given the diversion of 50,000 cars a day to the I-205 bridge that the tolls are estimated to cause, is it possible that ODOT’s REAL strategy is to eventually toll that bridge too? Is it possible that they simply don’t want to raise that now, judging that while the diversion might be a calamity, proposing tolls on I-205 would make it even harder to get the project adopted at this moment?