Powell -Division Rapid Transit Inspection

Powell-Division Study Area
Powell-Division Study Area

As study progresses on the Powell Division Rapid Transit project, many of us are pondering how Metro will come down on this project. Which street will carry the new service? What will the new service look like? What can we expect in terms of return on investment? Scotty provided some great background on potential designs last year when he compared different types of BRT service and I thought that with meetings beginning, now is a good time to dig a little deeper.

Some of the defining criteria for this project include a planned service start by 2020, a land use plan that reinforces community plans along the corridor and an examination of the mode that will be deployed.

Based on these definitions, some initial conclusions can be hypothesized. First, this is a relatively quick roll out. 2020 is only 6 years away so whatever service is decided upon will need to make it through planning, design and construction quickly. Next, where will funding come from? With so many commitments in the budget for other rapid transit projects, there is little reinforcement for expansion of MAX here; Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is touted in existing documents as a likely result of funding constraints. Lastly, whatever service is deployed will reinforce existing community planning. Recently, East Portland, Gresham and other communities east of 205 assembled an improvement plan with a key component cited as an east/west transit link in this corridor.

So where will new (or enhanced) service go? Division is a straight shot out to Gresham whereas Powell takes a curving route. Jobs along both corridors are fairly similar. Division however does serve Pac Warner & PCC Southeast while further out, Mt Hood College lies closer to Division.

East Portland Metro Jobs (image credit: OnTheMap / US Census)
East Portland Metro Jobs (image credit: OnTheMap / US Census)

One other data point worthy of consideration (and a great litmus for future demand) is ridership along each corridor on existing Trimet lines. The 9 serves Powell and has a respectable daily ridership (avg 10k boards / day as of 2012 data) while the 4 serves Division and pummels that of the 9 with an average of 17k boardings (as of 2012 data). In fact, the 4 is so well patronized, that it rivals that of the MAX Yellow Line which is impressive.

These details, although high level, should be red X’s that Division is the optimum corridor for increased service, whatever that may be. So how best to accomplish this?

Providing a service that is repeatably on time, is frequent, avoids delays and improves travel time over existing service is critical. Certainly, Division has less physical space to add anything substantial into the existing street width when compared to Powell so attaining these goals will be difficult. Any sort of dedicated busway would have to compete with existing automobile congestion and curb side parking (which nobody seems to want to give up). Additionally, as quickly as this project will roll out, the best we can likely hope for is an enhanced version of existing service. Based on existing demand, that could be enough to bolster service and satisfy critics of investment here.

Increased frequency and reduced travel time by way of limited stop service, off-board fare collection, special treatment for buses at traffic lights with a streamlined routing near the river by way of the new transit bridge would create a premium service that will increase access and mobility. Now is the time to offer critical input to the project, so if you have a chance to attend a meeting, now is the time to let planners know your thoughts.


15 responses to “Powell -Division Rapid Transit Inspection”

  1. IMHO, Division is the better choice (after 60th?) because it is closer to the colleges. We don’t necessarily want students walking from Division to Powell at all hours of the day and night. We have high school students going to PCC, in case you didn’t know. And student parents. So maybe some student-friendly, secure stops would be nice. Partner with the schools.

  2. Another article looking at the Powell/Division corridor in detail is this one; though it assumes that Powell would be the route for the portions of the line closer in.

    One challenge that a Division-only route would have: How to cross the UPRR tracks near OMSI? The current #4 bus doesn’t, instead it uses the Hawthorne Bridge to get across the river, but I think service to OMSI, SoWa, and PSU (and transfer opportunities with PMLR and the Streetar) would be an attractive element of Powell/Division.

    An at-grade crossing on the existing street network wouldn’t be desirable. Two options for a grade-separated crossing might be a bridge near 12th and Clinton, allowing the bus (as well as the 70, potentially) to cross and serve both the 12th/Clinton and OMSI stops; or a crossing near 8th and Division (the location of the current at-grade MUP across the tracks). My assumption in either case is that the crossings in question would be for transit, bikes, peds, and emergency vehicles only, and be closed for regular auto traffic.

    Where might stations go? Ignoring everything on the west side of the river, and assuming a Division-all-the-way routing and a crossing at 8th and Division, and showing approximate distance between stops. Crucial stops are in bold.

    * OMSI (MAX station)
    * SE 11th/12th (transfer to 70) (~400m)
    * SE 21st (transfer to 10) (~750m)
    * SE 30th (~700m)
    * SE Chavez (transfer to 75) (~700m)
    * SE 45th (~450m)
    * SE 51st (~450m, transfer to 71 and 14)
    * SE 60th (~650m)
    * SE 67th (Warner/Pacific College, ~500m)
    * SE 75th (~600m)
    * SE 82nd (PCC, transfer to 72) (~500m). A small transit center on the PCC campus, served by both the Division and the 72, might be a worthwhile investment.
    * SE ~88th (~500m)
    * SE 94th/Division Street MAX (Transfer to Green Line) (~500m)

    East of I-205, stop distance increases. This might be an issue, as land uses are linearily distributed along the route rather than be concentrated at nodes.

    * SE 101st (500m)
    * SE 112th (750m)
    * SE 122nd transfer to 71 (700m)
    * SE 136th (1km)
    * SE 148th (1km)
    * SE 156th (600m)
    * SE 163rd (400m)
    * SE 174th (650m)
    * SE 182nd (600m)
    * SE 190th (600m)
    Street quadrant changes to “NW” as we enter the Gresham street grid.
    * NW 202nd (Gresham-Fairview Trail) (800m)
    * NW Walluwa (500m)
    * Eastman Parkway (Transfer to 87, 21) (500m) Note: Bus does not directly serve Gresham City Hall MAX station, as it does serve Gresham TC
    * Gresham TC (Blue Line, numerous bus lines, end of current #4 bus). (500m)
    * NE Division/Cleveland (not the MAX station) (400m)
    * NE Division/242nd. Line turns north on 242nd. (400m)
    * NE 242nd/28th (700m)
    * SE Stark/Sundial–Mt. Hood Medical Center (Hospital, transfer to 20) (400m)
    * SE Stark/Kane (Transfer to 81) (500m)
    *Mt. Hood CC (Park-and-ride/station located within campus) (500m).

    • My distance estimates appear to be a bit off, given the sum of the above is about 18.7km, and the actual distance from OMSI to Mount Hood is about 21.5km.

      That said, the list above has 21 “major” stops” and 11 minor stops. If only the major stops were served, the inter-stop distance would be about 1km (0.6 miles). If the minor stops were served as well, the inter-stop distance would be ~650m (0.4 miles).

      For comparison, the MAX Blue Line between RQTC and Gresham’s Cleveland Avenue station has 19 stops, with an average stop distance of also about 1km.

      Between the Division Street MAX station and OMSI are eight major stops and five minor ones. The Green Line bewteen Division and RQTC has ten stops.

  3. Division is DOA this side of 82nd…too narrow, no chance at all for transit ROW that is essential for this to be worth the trouble. Note that the 4 has a leg thru N. Portland, while the 9 does not. My guess is ridership in SE is comparable between the two.
    It only makes sense to run it over the New Bridge to 17th and Powell; it a challenge from there to 52nd, but beyond there is plenty of public land (now mostly unused parking…except for my wife’s dentist!) out to I-205.
    Then it makes sense to swing north via I-205 ramps with bus bypass lanes to Division which from here on out is excessively wide and hence, dangerous. Whether BRT would have the same calming affect as MAX on Interstate is questionable, but the essential, exclusive transit lane is doable out to Gresham.

    • While the jog at I-205 would be easy, wouldn’t a short run up 82nd be more valuable from a land-use and redevelopment standpoint?

      I’d love to see a new vision of what 82nd could be, even if it was just for 10 blocks.

      • It would serve more businesses, but it would also slow down the line, as there is no room for dedicated ROW. Do you really need a stop between Powell and Division, anyway? It’s only about 1500ft.

        • I don’t think a stop between Powell and Division is necessray, but if you jog at I-205, you miss PCC on 82nd & Division. I can’t imagine that would fly with many people.

    • You still need to raze quite a few buildings to make full use of the service lanes (AKA property acquired by ODOT for the once-future Mt. Hood Freeway in the 70s) on Powell. I think I counted close to two dozen at some point). I’m totally for the idea, but if we go to that expense, we might as well find some way to get exclusive lanes for the ~35 blocks between the UPRR crossing and 52nd.

      It’s about time the region has a frank discussion of the costs it would require to build a gold-plated BRT system in Portland, and how precious few $$ would be saved compared to building LRT in the first place. Either that or we stop framing this project as anything close to “high-capacity transit”.

  4. Cheap BRT (Bad Republican Transit) is just what we do not need. Call it “Enhanced Frequent Service” and see how it works. True BRT requires exclusive ROW, in which case why not just put down the tracks and make it part of the MAX system.

    • That depends. Class C+ BRT can and does perform better than local bus service, and can be installed for much cheaper. From what I gather, this is going to be a ~$100M project, not a ~$1B project, so if any exclusive lanes are formed, they either will be done by restriping the road (taking lanes from cars–which I doubt will happen on Powell) or spot improvements like queue jump lanes.

      Of course, Class C+ BRT ought to be the minimum standard on all frequent lines.

  5. Lenny,

    You are not going to get exclusive lanes on Powell because of the traffic volumes, except possibly the occasional queue jump lane at bad intersections. You’re certainly not going to get exclusive lanes on Division west of 62nd because there aren’t any to take. Nobody is going to pay for a MAX line when the parallel Blue/Green/Red line is less than two miles to the north. This is after all a Metro area which barely reaches two million people, and the intervening mile to mile and a quarter is almost entirely single-family home neighborhoods.

    So, “Bad Republican Transit” is the only dish on the menu. However, there are some entree options from which a selection can be made. Creating actual “stations” with raised curbing so that true level boarding can be accomplished in order to accommodate wheel chairs and required off-board payment means that they have to be fairly infrequent to keep costs reasonable, but that’s a good thing. It improves overall travel time. The stations should of course be bulbed out for their entire length in order to allow “in lane” stopping. The biggest question is the question of station frequency: only at transfer points and established nodes, or at some consistent defined separation.

    As Scotty points out, the MAX line along the Banfield is a pretty high-quality trunk serving pretty much the same corridor. Well, at least as far as Lloyd Center when things go immediately in the toilet and stay there to Goose Hollow. That BADLY needs to be fixed in the next couple of decades, but that’s another post.

    So to encourage some growth in this corridor I think it makes sense to have a defined stop spacing but not get too ideological about it. Obviously, a stop needs to be provided at any crossing bus line. If the distance to the next crossing line is less than a half mile, no stop should be provided between unless there is a major origin-destination node. If the distance is between a half mile and a mile and a quarter and there is no obvious node, there should be one stop at the mid-point. If between a mile and a quarter and two miles and there is no node, there should be two stops even spaced.

    This gives an average stop spacing of a little less than 2/3 of a mile, about what Interstate MAX has. There is no “shadow” service on Interstate Avenue and I doubt one would be needed on Powell if some portion of it is used for the BRT service. There just isn’t that much pedestrian oriented development along the street; it’s a road for cars and the businesses are largely for cars. A BRT system would use it because it offers faster and more reliable travel times for the inner portion of the route. If the BRT brings re-development — it usually doesn’t, but who knows whether it will along Powell until it’s there? — then either more stations can be added judiciously or shadow service can be provided. Obviously, beyond the cross-over point some sort of local service needs to be provided, probably something that overlays the 14 east of 50th.

    So far as Division goes, the 4 should certainly continue as far as the Green Line. It could turn north on 96th Drive to the hospitals along Main Street.

    The BRT buses and the 4 should NOT share the same stops. The locals should stop in a “nearside” adjacent zone, but should never block the BRT’s from accessing their stations.

    It seems to me that the proper place to make the change over to Division is 52nd. There is currently no left turn lane at 52nd on Powell, but there is an existing Median strip which could be taken for a bus-only left turn lane. It needs to be clearly signed “Bus Only” but most importantly never turn green except for a bus pre-emption signal.

    There is room at 52nd and Division for the same treatment by striping the street to the east for no parking for about a half a block. And, there is room southbound on 52nd to remove two parking spaces for the little building at the northeast corner of 52nd and Powell in order to widen the street for a right-turn only lane.

    Plus, this gives a short-block walk from a station at 52nd and Woodward to Franklin HS.

    This means that for ten blocks on Division to 60th where the second lane in each direction begins (actually at 59th eastbound) the bus would have to run in two-lane mixed traffic, but there is very little traffic on Division in this section so it would probably not hurt schedule keeping too badly. The existing westbound right turn only lane could be made “Right Turn Only (Except Buses)”. Since there’s no cross-traffic cars there’s a green arrow which is on except when the left turn arrow westbound goes on. Then it’s “No Turn on Red”. However, if there were a bus approaching the intersection and the left turn was about to come on, the left turn cycle could be canceled and a bus queue jump given it to get ahead of traffic in the westbound “through” lane. The bus might have to slow down a bit for the cars turning right, but it wouldn’t have to stop. The westbound stop would then be a “bulb-out” at the current 4 stop just west of 59th.

    I don’t see how to put a TC on the PCC campus without adding significant running time to both the BRT and the 75 turning in and coming out.

    East of I-205 the BRT could drop to a consistent one-third to one-half mile stop spacing in order better to serve the more residential nature of the corridor. This would be its “collector-distributor” section.

  6. Why not just leave the 4 and 9 where they are and use the money for incremental enhancements to both lines? Call it Enhanced Frequent Service (EFS)…forget BRT, its a misnomer at best.
    Division Street is transforming into something very different up to Chavez and beyond…pretty amazing, so don’t mess with it. Reduce stop frequency to maybe 5 blocks, give the 4 some preemption and signal bypasses where possible (like the 15 inbound stop on Belmont and Chavez), maybe even have on-platform ticket purchasing…common for buses in Germany, and OK, a different paint job. Out beyond I-205 give it a lane.
    On Powell, do the same, but make some use of the publicly owned parking along the ROW beyond 52nd that was originally acquired for the Mt Hood Freeway. My wife’s dentist and a few others will have to more, but they will be well compensated. Beyond I-205 stay on Powell to Gresham and do something creative at cross streets/stations to make them more transit and pedestrian friendly; add a transit lane when possible or cost effective. We end up with two better FS lines instead of cutting and pasting them to pieces.
    TOD on Powell is not likely…its just to degraded; ironically its already occurring in spades on Division without spending a dime on upgrading transit. Don’t mess it up!

  7. And why stop in SE…look at what’s happing along the 4 line in North at Williams/Fremont and along Mississippi. Extend the EFS improvements all along the 4 at least until in begins to meander thru Portsmouth. N. Williams between the Rose Quarter and Fremont would be a great opportunity to do something really special in a shared bike/transit corridor.

  8. I’ve long thought that BRT, or at least BRT-lite, would be a great fit for certain corridors, Division/Powell being near the top of the list. It would make more sense for this corridor than LRT from a political standpoint, since Gresham is already served by rail (and frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion the next big LRT expenditure should be a new four-track bridge or tunnel that replaces the Steel Bridge MAX bottleneck). Also, BRT would be easier and cheaper to implement as the ROW can be installed in stages, with buses running in mixed traffic the remainder of the route.

    As for where the route should jog between Division and Powell, Anandakos makes a pretty convincing argument for SE 52nd (among other things, it avoids the heinous 82nd/Powell intersection).

    If BRT turns out to be a success on Division/Powell, SE 82nd and/or Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy should be next in line.

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