The (Almost) Ides of March Madness Open Thread

It’s mid-March!  Which means that this weekend Caesar will be stabbed, brackets will be filled out, and the weather starts to look like spring.  Recently, PT has been focusing on the Columbia River Crossing, but there has been plenty of other transit related news, good and bad of late.

  • Two stories on TriMet ridership.  Joseph Rose writes that ridership on the TriMet system is still on a downward trend, even more than a year after the last fare hike and/or service cut kicked in, and while other cities have seen rebounds in ridership.
  • However, TriMet is reporting that its winter numbers are showing improvement.
  • TriMet has released its proposed 2015 budget–and it contains good news, not bad:  Restoration of more frequent service lines (both bus and MAX, no fare increase, continuation of the bus replacement program).
  • The City of Tigard appears to have narrowly passed Ballot Measure 34-210, requiring a public vote for the city to spend money on mass-transit projects.  An earlier measure passed requiring a vote for light-rail; this one adds BRT (or any mode of transit that could conceivably run in an exclusive lane, whether new infrastructure or lanes taken from cars) to the list.  It also requires the city to issue form letters saying that Mass Transit Is Bad.  TriMet GM Neil McFarlane “isn’t sure what to make of” the vote, and neither apparently are city leaders.  The Southwest Enhancement Plan (which focuses on bus service, and is designed to augment the SW Corridor project) continues apace.
  • On the other side of town, the Powell/Division project, originally slated to start last summer, is finally getting underway, with a bunch of public outreach coming up, and the first steering committee meeting next Monday.
  • Bike Portland looks at a recent Supreme Court ruling that many make certain rail-trail projects difficult (and make it easier for adjoining landowners, in some cases, to reclaim land on a rail right-of-way that is abandoned).


46 responses to “The (Almost) Ides of March Madness Open Thread”

  1. I ride the Barbur bus often enough and wonder why Tigard residents wouldn’t want their ghastly commercial stretch of Barbur 99W completely rebuilt – for BRT – instead of MAX LRT. New and better sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic signals and cross-street/intersection arrangements. I figure the Wes corridor could accommodate a MAX line (instead of Wes trains) alongside the P&W RR freight line and serve Wilsonville, Tualitin, Tigard, Washington Square(area), Beaverton. Commissioner Novick’s proposal to fund a MAX on Barbur study seems wasteful. BRT on Barbur seems more logical. The standard bus is designed for highway speeds and along many stretches Barbur is quite scenic.

  2. Wells – I totally agree!
    The WES line would make for a perfect MAX line. All they would need to do is add a ramp over to Washington Square and add a few additional stations. I might actually run MAX down the center of I-5 from downtown Tualatin to Wilsonville. As for 99, there is a ton of fear that running MAX down the middle would increase congestion. While it may work in Portland, it will not work further out in Tigard. I actually think running a street car down Barbur to Hillsdale and Multnomah might be a much better idea for the Portland section of 99.

    • My proposal objective is for the simplest, least expensive MAX line on the Wes corridor. Where a MAX line cannot directly serve major destinations – like Washington Square – transfers are integrated into local bus lines. Transit advocates need a refresher course on effective transfer design. IMNSHO, Tri-Met needs to build a fleet of short wheelbase 30′ – 35′ buses particularly for convenient transfers. Flyover ramps and dedicating the center of I-5 to light rail only complicate MAX route arrangements. Finally, streetcar rail lines are not safe sharing lanes with high speed Barbur traffic. A BRT system for Barbur can locate stations in the median or curbside where feasible and practical.

      • For MAX to work in that corridor, you will need a flyover ramp to Washington Square. Ridership will be adversely affected if you do not have front door access. People are just damn lazy to invest the time to take an additional bus and be stuck in the heavy traffic around the mall during peak shopping periods.

        And both of us know that the city of Portland will never go with BRT on barbur. If it’s not rail focused, then they wont do it. It either has to have steel wheels or it will never get built.

      • I actualy agree about converting WES to MAX and skipping MAX on 99W. I think just turning the red line south would be an awesome idea.

        I don’t so much agree about short busses. The shorter the bus, the fewer passengers per operator. I’d rather see articulated back and some form of BRT type rollout on key corridors such as all the Frequent Service routes (TV Highway, 76/78, Barbur, etc…).

    • Can’t go into Washington Square and passing through Tigard, even alongside the P&W, is not allowed now. There would be condemnations required for either and the city wouldn’t agree to make them.

      So far as the portion of the WES route south of the Tualatin River, there is no room — NO room — for additional tracks anywhere up to the top of the hill by the gravel loadout where the double track starts.

      So I guess if there’s to be a MAX replacing WES (there isn’t anyway) it WOULD have to go down the middle of I-5 south of Tualatin.

      Nobody has notified us how it would make the transition from the P&W right of way to I-5 however.

      Look, MAX extensions are dead. Three suburbs full of howling Confederates have said “over my dead body” and they aren’t going to change their minds.

      Concentrate growth in Portland and along the Blue Line in Washington County and leave them to stew in their congestion. Maybe the southwest corridor will get some sort of stunted “BRT” in mixed traffic, with cool bendy buses in Imron paint, but nothing is going to happen out that way; the rubes don’t want it, just like Clarkansas and Clackistan.

      • Tigard is not rural Clackamas or Clark Co. Don’t let the “barely a majority” of a very vocal and very small minority fool you. They know how to use special elections to their advantage. This measure will be short-lived, assuming it even passes legal muster.

  3. Actually, the new ballot measure which passed in Tigard does more than just add BRT and anything that removes lanes from Barbur to the previous measure that passed.

    The last measure that passed was actually crafted by pro transit advocates as a preemptive measure in order to try to head off a more dramatic or drastic version. It only restricted the city from spending city funds on such a project for 10 years. And we all know that given the time that these things take, there’s not going to be any kind of HCT in the city of Tigard in that timeframe.

    The new measure is far more drastic. It makes it the stated policy of the city to oppose HCT, no matter pays for it. This is part of the reason why it is so difficult to determine the consequences. Tor example, let us assume TriMet and the state and the county decided to pay for HCT that ran through Tigard. Would the city be allowed to approve their permit requests? Would the city be allowed to assign city employees to help manage the impacts of such a project on city property and on city streets? And where is the line between an improvement for a normal bus stop, versus a BRT bus stop?

    The reality is the Tigard is not in Clackamas County. It is not nearly as reactionary as some of the communities that have voted against light rail in recent years. This is a city that less than a decade ago voted 60% in favor of urban renewal something that it had voted heavily against for 25 years. This is a city that is represented in the legislature by a Democratic House Rep and a Democratic Senator.

    The backers of this most recent measure were brilliant. They placed it on a special election with no other important measures, in fact no other measures or issues at all. This virtually guaranteed a low voter turnout. And as anyone with any knowledge of local voting patterns will tell you, the voters who solidly come out every election are the voters who vote no against everything. (If anything, I am shocked that the vote was as close as it was. I was expecting a landslide in a low voter turnout in favor of the anti-transit ballot measure.) If this issue had been on a primary with many candidates running, or if it had been on a general election in an even year, such as this November, it would not have passed.

    But now it has passed. And now the city will have to figure out what this means for how it cooperates with transit agencies and other transportation departments. And those who support public transportation in the city will have to figure out whether or not they can put another ballot measure on in the future, preferably in a major election, that will rescind this ridiculous travesty of regressive politics.

    • Having lived in Tigard, I know firsthand how horrible the traffic through there can be. Despite this poorly written and regressive measure, and unlike rural Clackamas and Clark Counties, Tigard is actually very much in favor of MAX and would (in a “real” election, November of any even numbered year) PASS a measure to fund light rail into their city. That’s precisely why the anti-rail backers used this “special” election…. they knew very few people would be paying attention and it was their best shot at sneaking this onto the books.

      Personally I think it’s unenforceable, since they’re TELLING their elected officials and city employees to state something that they don’t believe. Most, if not all, Tigard officials know that MAX would be hugely beneficial to their city, but now they can’t express those beliefs? Isn’t that depriving them of their 1st Amendment rights? I expect this measure to be held up in the courts, possibly even stayed, until a judge can rule it unconstitutional.

      • Well, the City of Tigard doesn’t have any (independent) First Amendment Rights, so a law directing the City to send a letter stating X is generally legal. Of course, the City will probably, in practice, publish a letter that says something like this:

        Ballot Measure 34-210, enacted by voters in March 2014, requires the City to publish the following sentence: “It is the policy of the City of Tigard to oppose mass-transit”. In reality, the Mayor of Tigard and the Tigard City Council have not taken any such policy.

        This is how Washington County deals with the Sizemore-esque requirement that proposed land-use changes be accompanied by dire warnings about property values: it notes that the law requires it to publish a specific sentence, utters the sentence, and then disclaims it.

  4. Speaking of WES. I found this nugget in the Trimet budget:

    “WES Diesel Multiple-Units (DMUs). This project
    would exercise an option available to TriMet to
    purchase 2 additional diesel multiple-units (DMUs)
    heavy rail vehicles for WES commuter rail service,
    under a contract issued December 2010 by the Sonoma-
    Marin Area Rail Transit District (SMART) to Nippon
    Sharyo U.S.A., Inc. Based on WES ridership growth
    between 2010 and 2013 two additional DMUs will be
    required by 2016. The proposed project would increase
    the WES fleet from 4 to 6 in 2016. Total cost of the 2
    cars is $8.5 million. The annualized cost of the new
    DMUS ($660,000 a year for 20 years assuming 4.5%
    interest) is paid for with payroll tax rate increase

    So I’m assuming by two DMUs, they mean two, two-car units like the one pictured here:

    According to Wikipedia, SMART paid $6.67 million each for their first 6, and will pay $2.9 million for each add-on, so I guess that looks about right. If only they had gone with Sumitomo in the first place…

    Another consideration, with the recent acquisition of two Talgo trainsets and these additional DMUs: ODOT and Trimet will have a decent little fleet of trains. Has anyone looked into special weekend event trains? I’m thinking about fall football season, Eugene Marathon, etc. They could run a WES train from Beaverton and a Cascades train from Portland, and take some of the stress off of I-5.

    • Oh, and I should add that according to the budget, Trimet will also be spending $8.5 million to update the WES line and equipment to meet the 2015 Positive Train Control requirement. So that’s $17 million for WES in the budget this year…

    • I doubt that they mean two-car sets. By two units, and at that price point, it’s probably literally two self-propelled cars. That would allow them to run full two-car trains for every schedule, something they desperately need to do. Anything they can accomplish towards more riders per operator reduces operating costs and improves the bottom line. That said since this is coing out of the payroll tax that *does* mean that this is money that *could* have went elsewhere (such as to busses) rather than federal money returns that were earmarked only for rail.

      Given WES’s issues… sigh. If it ran like an actual light rail line (all day, frequent) we wouldn’t have ANY of the problems it has now.

    • I doubt that they’d get four “units”. I expect they’d just be getting two single units. They might run them as a married pair and make the two existing singleton cab cars into another married pair. The current “WES fleet” (it’s really a flotilla, or maybe a flotilette) consists of three “cab” cars and one unpowered trailer. If both the expansion cars are powered two of the three trains would climb Mount Gravel more quickly than the trailer train does, making schedule keeping easier.

      • Correction: the WILL run them as a married pair, because they are designed without a mini-cab on the “rear” of a single car. To be reversible they have to be married with another unit facing the opposite way.

        So the two current “bachelor” cab cars will be married together as a single train.

        The WES sidings were laid out with three train operation in mind. It is unlikely that they could add a fourth without difficulty. Of course, it would be great to have a backup train (preferably the trailer train).

        • Well, they do still have the old Budd trainset, correct? By marrying the two single cars together and adding the two Sumitomo trainsets, they would have a 4 double-car fleet with the Budd as backup. What would the schedule look like with 4 cars instead of 3? Can you expand on the siding issues?

          It seems to me that they need to go big or go home with WES. Add capacity/frequency and promote it to boost the ridership; and hopefully bring the cost per rider down to a more reasonable level. If they can’t achieve sub $5 cost per boarding, close the line.

          • The main issues with WES in terms of operational cost are:

            * Per FRA rules, the trains must (presently) be built like tanks, and thus suck gas. New FRA regulations to be rolled out in the next few years will mitigate this requirement (on lines with PTC implemented, the ridiculous buff strenght requirements re waived). But taking advantage of that requires new rolling stock that isn’t build like tanks.

            * Also per FRA rules, a two-man crew is required; MAX and Streetcar only have the operator on board.

            * Finally, the service is actually operated by Portland and Western, not by TriMet itself. Which means that in addition to paying the salary for P/W engineers, TriMet is also paying overhead and profit to P/W, and I’m certain there’s some amortized capital cost in there as well.

            Running a WES train for an hour costs $1200. MAX trains cost $300/hour. WES is getting up to nearly 2000 boarding rides per day, only enough to pay outright for about 3 train-hours of WES service (if one assume every penny of the fare goes to pay for WES, which it doesn’t).

            • So wouldn’t it make more sense for Trimet to purchase off the shelf European DMUs at this point? Obviously, piggybacking on the SMART order is cheaper than going out for bids on their own, but the European standard vehicles may be cheaper and will definitely use less fuel.

              Regarding the FRA conductor mandate, are there any options here?

  5. Re:Tigard
    Usual whining about ‘special elections’ as if that means anything at all.
    People are sick and tired of having all this transit stuff jammed down their throats and this is the latest kick in the teeth for the Portland transit cabal.

    • Speak for yourself. Most Tigard residents are actually in favor of bringing MAX into their city. Obviously you’ve never had to sit in traffic along 99E and/or Barbur Blvd on a daily basis.

      • If you think you’ve seen a traffic jam just wait till they actually put in a MAX line over there, holy cow I don’t even want to think about it.

        Unfortunately Light rail does not ease traffic, that’s a reality.

  6. Plan light rail through Tigard but only build it to the edge of the city and put a big park & ride there. Call it “Crime Train Transit Center” just to tick them off. The vote was really close. It won’t take long for opinions to change.

  7. How about a Subway system that doesnt compete with roads like lightrail & trains!!
    Because above ground Light rail sucks!!

    • Hey, if that taxpayers are willing to pay for it, I think you would get a lot of transit advocates on board. Are you prepared to double the payroll taxes to fund expensive subways?

  8. On the Powell/Division HCT Corridor concept planning (they will not call it HCT in their documents), the meeting on Monday was well attended (40 people in the room?). I have my own request for the corridor for consideration by the steering committee. I was late to the first meeting and they were working the policy statements at this first meeting so I decided not to speak.

    I believe the Inner SE Portland area demand for transit needs to weight heavily toward LRT only out to I-205. This gives the Green Line a more direct route to downtown (quicker time to arrivals for commuters, higher usage by more commuters, etc.) as well.

    MAX would go elevated from 17th to 52nd and be the most expensive section. Costs would drop off from 52nd to 92nd since most of the land will be already in public hands. A below grade transit station at I-205 will move trains under the Powell Station currently used by the Green line. A fly over for getting the Green Line onto the Powell alignment could be one option.

    We don’t have to connect a Powell MAX to the I-205 North unless we want a Powell MAX to go up to the Gateway Station at 99th. I would rather keep the options open and have a Powell MAX go out to 112th, 122th, or 148th if Division becomes the choice for MAX out to Gresham (doubtful, see comment about the Gresham Division Hill below).

    Just going to I-205 from 17th Ave. gives the committee the option of using BRT-lite on one or both of the main roads out to Gresham. The reason for this choice is flexibility in the decision 20 to 30 years from now. BRT-lite (better stations at farther distants, dedicated right lanes for turning and buses only, bus only lights at main intersections, etc.). We are going out here with residential buildings on both streets. In twenty years, we will know which street (Powell or Division) will be better for a LRT extension.

    One place that might put Division out of the final decision for LRT in the future is the hill east of 182 (includes the intersection at 201st, seems like an issue having a train needing to stop on this hillside in an emergency). That hill might have a grade that LRT trains would not be able to work over. But if LRT then goes on Powell, Division would still have BRT-lite. My take on this idea is that developers would love to have transit corridors (even if they are only BRT-lite) both north or south of their property or just near by.

    East Portland population will be rising for the next fifty years (flat property so easier for building up density, good transportation options once roads are updated for all modes, grid road pattern so easier to bypass issues). The higher densities will stretch out to Gresham and Troutdale on the Blue Line and later on the newer Powell/Division corridor. Great news about this is that Portland is putting money into sidewalks for Outer East Portland and a new project that I wasn’t aware of (130th Ave Greenway) is going forward (fully funded).

    One final option that using this LRT to I-205 first gives us is the possibility that an extension to Gresham is not done in 20-30 years but instead the extension is done to Damascus after the citizens there realize that being inside the Urban Growth Boundary means sprawl or protection of land and higher densities, parks on the buttes that surround Sunshine Valley. I hope they choose more parks and higher density in the town centers. They can see Happy Valley developments getting closer and closer so they will have to decide.

    These steps gives us flexibility for the future and should be considered. The steering committee has a big, important job ahead of them.


    • That’s not much of a hill on Division; it’s maybe 3 degrees, and LRT can handle seven easily and in a few places (the track alongside Dolores Park on the J for instance; but it never snows there).

      But I question the whole supposition that MAX LRT has a snowball’s chance in hell of being the adopted technology in this corridor. There’s a parallel high capacity line a mile and a half north; no way the FTA is going to pay for duplicating the Banfield line in a city as small as Portland. And if the Feds don’t pay, ain’t nobody gonna play.

      • Sorry, I didn’t finish the last sentence in the first paragraph. After the close parentheses it should have said “up to ten.”

    • If capacity is truly an issue, it seems like you could upgrade the tram by possibly operating it on a loop. I figure you could keep the towers and just modify them and replace the mechanicals. Wonder what that would cost compared to other options being considered.

      • I like this idea too but if you take a look at the actual hardware I’m not sure its possible. Maybe you could run 2 at a time – I just rode a gondola in israel (google haifa gondola for a picture) where they had multiple cars attached right next to each other on the cable.

        • If you look at the Peak 2 Peak Gondola in Whistler, it’s made by the same people who built the ones in Portland but operates on a loop. That might give you an idea of what’s possible.

          Another option is to simply replace the two existing cabs with larger ones. That might also require a new cable to support it. But I imagine you could double capacity by doing that. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola cabs are about twice the size of the OHSU ones.

      • I’m not sure how you would do this. If you look at the tram terminals, the rope does not operate on a loop, at least a loop that would accommodate detachable cars. Additionally, the stations would essentially need to be rebuilt to allow gondola loading and unloading loops.

        The only possible solution might be extending the loading zones a bit, and hanging two cars adjacent to each other. This would double the capacity.

  9. I would focus on how to connect SW Corridor HCT to OHSU. Tunnel with elevator station? or covered escalator from Barbur Blvd? or ??? The Tram was not meant to be a commuter facility so much as an intra OHSU facility. Extending the Transit Mall to OHSU with a high capacity station serving both bus and rail would take care of most commuters.

  10. Lenny, as OHSU builds more buildinds on the South Waterfront, the need to expand the tram will increase. While your idea is great for access to the campus, the tram was intended to unite the two separate campuses so that they function as one. If we are at capacity now, what happens when more buildings are built? Asking folks to go downtown and then ride another line back out to the other campus isn’t reasonable and will discourage intercampus use.

  11. The question is what proportion of current Tram users are commuters who could just stay on MAX or a bus to a upper campus station if SW HCT is well done. I don’t know, but it might be enough to reduce the demand/need for more intra campus capacity.

  12. An an interview with the lobbyist who is behind Oregon’s ban on inclusionary zoning. (Inclusionary zoning refers to zoning designations that require a certain number of housing units be targeted towards low-income residents; a practice that is legal in 48 states and illegal in Oregon and Texas).

  13. The Portland Tribune looks at the issue of a pedestrian-deck on the PMLR crossing of Kellogg Lake in Milwaukie–that won’t be usable by the public without subsequent connecting work in the City of Milwaukie.

    (Additional funding, not part of the PMLR project, will be needed to connect the overcrossing to street level on the east side of the bridge. The project was started knowing this was an issue, as it was far cheaper to design a pedestrian deck into the initial construction than it would be to modify the bridge later to add one).

  14. A couple of Republican state legislators from SW Washington are interested in reviving the CRC–or more specifically, in finding a way to build a bridge despite the CRC itself getting cancelled.

    Whether they are willing to advance sane proposals for the bridge, or they are looking to find a faction of non-green legislators in Oregon willing and able to overrule Portland opposition to a highway-only bridge, wasn’t immediately obvious from KGW’s reporting. Though I’m sure the highway lobby is already whispering into various ears in Salem… but could a coalition of Republicans and centrist Dems manage to move a transit-free bridge over Portland’s obvious objections to such a thing?

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