Archive | March, 2014

Your Questions For Neil, “Round 5”, Part 1 – High-Capacity Projects

Last Wednesday, Chris sat down with TriMet’s Neil McFarlane for a discussion focused on your questions. This has become a sort of annual tradition for Portland Transport, and this year we were very pleased to be hosted by the Portland Opera – the Opera headquarters is located on the east bank of the Willamette just inches (48 to be specific) from the new transit/bike/ped bridge currently under construction.

The interview session is divided into four videos. We’ll be posting one a day this week – here’s Part 1:

Part 1 is mainly about high-capacity projects, now and in the future. Here’s some of the questions addressed:

  • Will the new bridge be open for bikes and peds before transit operations begin?
  • How will the “Orange Line” be operated? Will it interline with the Yellow Line?
  • What is the fate of high capacity to Clark County now that the CRC is officially dead?
  • How does the vote in Tigard affect SW Corridor planning? What’s TriMet’s view on what the ballot measure means?
  • Is a transit tunnel serving OHSU still on the table
  • Is the Powell/Division corridor being positioned to leapfrog the SW Corridor project?
  • Does TriMet have a strong modal preference (BRT, LRT) for the Powell/Division project?

Segment Navigation:

Check out Neil’s responses in the video and give us your take in the comments.

Cars are from Mars, Busses (and Bikes and Trains) are from Venus

In the open thread, I mentioned that a Clark County legislator (Republican Liz Pike) wanted to “restart” the CRC project.  The Columbian has the scoop–and not surprisingly, Rep. Pike’s opening bid is to get rid of light rail.  Obviously, such a proposal isn’t going to be acceptable to those of us in Oregon–a state of affairs which was rather confusing to the folks in the combox, mostly Vancouverites, and mostly opposed to MAX expansion (but more than eager to have a wider freeway).

Part of the reason the debate gets so heated–and there’s plenty of bashing of Vancouverites that goes on in Oregon (including, unfortunately, in our combox), is that the two sides don’t understand each other and empathize with each other.  Rural Clark County (and Clackamas County) is full of people that don’t really care to live in urban environments–thinking them to be nasty, crowded, and full of crime.  (Sometimes such attitudes are informed by racism, though certainly not always).  That people who live in Portland may like it the way it presently is, and may view freeway expansion as a threat to urban living, does not commute.  Of course, the reverse is also true–many Portlanders like to snark about “Vantucky”, and engage in all sorts of stereotyping about “white trash” and such, and can’t imagine that someone might actually prefer to live in Battle Ground or Woodland  (or for that matter, Canby or Molalla or Banks), completely dependent on the automobile, and far away from the action here in the city.   Many people who live in rural or semi-rural areas like it that way, and are terrorized by the thought of waking up one morning and finding that the Big City has come out to them.  Right or wrong (and certainly, a LRT line to Clark College poses little threat of upzoning in  Battle Ground), people on both sides of the river fear change, and often see “foreign” infrastructure as a threat, not as a benign (let alone beneficial) improvement.

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Changing the DNA of City Streets

PSU Transportation Seminar:

Speaker: Peter Koonce, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Topics: Introduction to the NACTO Urban Street Design – Changing the DNA of City Streets
When: Friday, April 4, 2014, 12-1 p.m.
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
Summary: In this seminar Peter will summarize his contributions to the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide, a guidebook focused on a paradigm shift in transportation, pulling away from the traditional bias toward highway designs that do not always meet the complex needs of streets in cities.

Peter Koonce, P.E., manages the traffic signals, street lighting for the City of Portland. He has served as an adjunct professor at Portland State University teaching graduate level courses in transportation engineering. He is a member of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and was appointed Chair of the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Traffic Signal Systems. He has served on numerous University Advisory Boards related to transportation engineering and locally he is active as a volunteer for the Community Cycling Center.

A reminder: Transfers Need Frequency

In the recent SW Corridor thread, the prospect of a LRT line connecting Tigard TC with Washington Square and/or Beaverton TC came up.  Such a thing is outside the scope of the SW Corridor project as currently defined, but might well be a longer-term project for the metro area.  One specific question that came up for such a hypothetical prospect is the question of whether an LRT line in the corridor would follow the freight tracks as does WES, and require transfers (at Hall/Nimbus, or possibly Scholls Ferry) to reach the Washington Square Mall (and its rather busy transit center, as well as a park-and-right near the mall), or serve the mall directly via flyover tracks (something not feasible with WES).

Commentor Anandakos thought such a direct connection was necessary:

Agreed, except that it must serve Washington Square without a street crossing. It can be open air (though covered would be better), but a MAX line must cross 217 both north and south of Washington Square to make it work.  People would laugh if Tri-Met proposed spending half a billion dollars extending the Red Line to Wilsonville and bypassed Washington Square. Rightly.

Commenter Wells thought Anandakos was being a bit dogmatic.

Transit agencies (and advocates) must leave the ‘one size fits all’ thinking behind. The first sacred cow to go should be one-seat ride. No major transit system can work optimally without dedicated transfers. The original Interstate MAX S/N line was routed along I-5 from Going to Lombard taking out 110 homes and apartments. Interstate MAX fortunately evolved. Seattle planning agencies produce hypnotically grandiose designs and disappointing outcomes. Seattle Metro is the worst bus system I’ve ever seen.

While I tend to view Washington Square as an important-enough destination to get its own MAX stop, were such a line built (and I’d be tempted to further route the line up Hall Boulveard, rather than bypassing whole swaths of south-central Beaverton), Wells does have a point here:  Modern transit networks do depend on transfers.  You can’t have bus lines connecting everywhere with everywhere, and you especially can’t have that with trains.

But here’s the rub, though:  Transfers either need to be synchronized (as with a “pulse” at a transit center–something that works best in smaller, low-traffic cities), or connecting services need to be frequent.  As it is, 76/78 is nearly “frequent” in the corridor…but WES itself is not.

A big reason why the cuts to the high-frequency grid in 2009 and 2012, were so devastating to the quality of TriMet service, was not that the average wait to catch a bus along, say, SE Hawthorne went up from 7 1/2 minutes to 10 minutes.  The devastating thing is that riders who wanted to transfer to another bus (say the 75 or the 71) found that these transfers now took a lot longer time.  Grids require high frequency to work.  You can’t time transfers at all the connections in a grid, and grids abandon common transfer points in favor of a more efficient network of parallel routes–so to make transfers tolerable, the connecting services must be frequent.

Of course, this analysis may not apply in Washington County, particularly Tigard, where there is neither high-frequency service (only the 12/94 and 76/78) nor anything resembling a grid.  The street network there is poorly-suited towards a mesh topology, and the lower density makes it all but impossible for everyone to have a bus stop within walking distance.  In such an environment, use of transit centers (and structuring transfers so most of them occur at transit centers) makes more sense, and having major trunk lines (such as any expansion of MAX in the area) serve those transit centers ought to be viewed as an obvious step.