Archive | August, 2014

New Trimet Rail Map

Trimet Rail Map 8-24-2014

Trimet Rail Map 8-24-2014

I was out walking downtown this weekend when I noticed that Trimet has updated the rail system map to include the pending Orange Line route. I snapped a photo with my camera and while the news is nothing worth getting excited over, it does provide some changes to the existing map that make different regions a bit more clear.

Included on the map is also the closed loop of the Portland Streetcar Central Loop. Both routes are shown as “future service” and while the CL line future service is not in doubt, the new map answers no questions about future Orange & Yellow line service. Where will the Orange Line end on the north end of the route? Will the Yellow Line extend further south as some of the new platforms indicate?

The new maps provide no answers to these questions. I’m left wondering why Trimet went to the trouble of producing new maps that will be obsolete a year from now.

Orange Line Testing (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Orange Line Testing (image credit: Curt Ailes)

The appearance of the new map coincides with this morning’s first test of the Orange Line though which, when taken together, represent some visible forward momentum in the downtown area where the Orange Line is concerned.

California’s New Performance Metrics & Getting What You Measure

The way we quantify how well our roads are (or aren’t) working isn’t something that tends to get a whole lot of play outside of the transportation wonkery, but it has a drastic effect on policies and livability. The most commonly used metrics to describe our system, including the infamous level-of-service metric, are drawn from something called the Highway Capacity Manual. See how the name of the manual doesn’t really imply that it’d be terribly useful for designing safe, welcoming local streets? Most jurisdictions don’t, and that is one of the main reasons why too many urban streets have become de facto highways.

Over the last several years, traffic engineers have increasingly been letting go of their long-held fondness for LOS and other traditional performance metrics, and in many cases are even leading the charge against them. The inadequacy of LOS as a primary measure of performance is perhaps most clear in California, where the state’s all-powerful Environmental Quality Act buttressed the importance of the metric by (ironically) requiring that environmental analyses consider LOS when evaluating the impacts of a project. So perhaps it’s not surprising that California has struck the most major blow to date to LOS, with new guidelines that evaluate projects based not on how much they will increase auto delay but instead on how much vehicular traffic they induce.

It’s hard to overstate how radically that this departs from the status quo. For many jurisdictions, an over-reliance on capacity-based metrics have produced policies that favor anything capable of moving one more car. California’s new standards appear to turn this idea on its head, favoring policies and land uses that create one fewer trip (or one fewer vehicular mile traveled). Thus, it would appear that analyzing a particular idea with California’s VMT-based methodology—whether to widen an intersection approach to include a turning lane, for example—might lead to the opposite conclusion as analyzing it with traditional metrics. Though the turning lane would certainly reduce delays and thus improve LOS, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it would also induce new traffic and thus be undesirable (or impermissible, even?) based on the VMT-based metric. That’s huge!

The VMT-based metric is neither perfect nor wholly complete. Success of the methodology relies heavily upon our ability to estimate the number of trips a project may generate which, as I described here, is something of an inexact science. The need to include trip length in these projections serves to widen the gulf between the data that’s needed and the data that’s available. And the state’s guidance [pdf] for utilizing the new methodologies do not appear to significantly improve upon the half-hearted methodologies engineers currently employ to evaluate safety ramifications of a given project. Finally, a scathing white paper [pdf] from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs suggests that the VMT-based methodology may not even be all that great at its purported goal of teasing out the environmental impacts of a project, although I’d hasten to challenge some of the assumptions their analysis is based upon.

Despite its shortcomings, the new VMT-based methodologies represent a big step forward and I’ll be curious to see how they’re applied by colleagues in California. Those of us who favor a multi-modal and safety-oriented approach are regularly stymied by traditional metrics that concern themselves with only capacity and delay, only as they pertain to autos, and only during the busiest 1% of the day. Though it leaves important considerations unaddressed, California’s new methodologies offer a way to overcome these hurdles. Time will tell what effects this will have, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism.

So what does this mean for Portland? That’s a good question. It’s now been two years since the city launched a project to update our performance standards, but sadly this effort seems to have disappeared into the same memory hole as bike share. Keeping with a storyline that’s becoming too familiar, others innovate while Portland waits.

Jasmine Block Double Tracking Underway

Saw cutting and road closure is underway along SW Montgomery adjacent to the Jasmine Block in SW downtown as work has begun on the double track work associated with completing the loop. I was on my way home from grocery shopping with my family last night when I noticed the familiar orange barrels accompanied by saw cut pavement.

SW Montgomery Construction

SW Montgomery Construction

This morning, I checked in with streetcar construction updates to learn the timeline on this work. According to the update, work should be completed by September 28th, just in time for fall term to begin at PSU with the only major headache occurring from September 15th to 21st where service will be suspended from SW Clay to the South Waterfront. Shuttles will serve this stretch while new switches are installed.

Since I live in this area, I should be able to provide some updates with photos as work progresses. Chris posted some material on this section last November which provides some critical background on why this work is occurring and just how it will look once work is completed.

The Dark Side of Autonomous Vehicles?

Readers of this blog will know that I have a generally optimistic view of driverless cars, believing that a computer is likely to avoid many human frailties and generally reduce the number of crashes.

My viewpoint got a jolt this week. The technologist half of my brain has been enjoying the New Relic Future Talk series. While I didn’t catch it in person, this week I watched the video of Andrew Wilson (Intel’s open source compliance officer) discussing the potential role for open source software in autonomous vehicles.

Some of the potential problems he points out with software-driven vehicles:

  • Software updating – cars remain in service for many years. How do you install updates? Imagine if the car  you’re driving today was still running on Windows 95!
  • Security – Can the NSA (or even more malevolent actors) bug or sabotage your car by inserting code?

Andrew suggests that open source, with more transparent code, can address at least some of these issues. He also posits that manufacturers will have a strong incentive to collaborate since most of the software stack will not be competitive features.

Will your next car run Windows or Linux?