Decision time for Powell/Division

Tomorrow, September 29, Metro will host a combination steering committee/open house on the Powell/Division project, in which staff recommendations will be presented.  Not too surprisingly, staff recommendations include:

  • Bus instead of rail (LRT or Streetcar).  This is expected, as the proposed budget and timeframe for the project is simply not compatible with a rail solution, having numerous rail projects happening during the Great Recession (and its numerous service cuts) has made rail a bit more politically difficult, and many preliminary documents and materials have referred to it as a “BRT” project.  At this point, various grades of BRT are being considered, ranging from “dedicated busway” to “frequent service bus plus”.  Even at the low end, the solution calls for 1/2 stop spacings, vehicles larger than a 40′ bus, stations with amenities, and faster boarding (which I assume means fare collection that does not involve the driver).
  • The proposed alignment would be to cross the river using Tilikum Crossing, then use Powell out to at least SE 50th, transitioning to Division between 50th and I-205 (TBD), and Division to Gresham, with a possible connection to Mount Hood CC, with several different alignments possible in Gresham.  A transition at SE 82nd seems to have quite a bit of public support.
  • Riders want a service that is “discernibly quicker” than the existing 4 and 9 bus lines.

Among the next steps are consideration of various potential station areas along the route, and potential impacts/changes to local transit.

A big pile of documents can be found here.


30 responses to “Decision time for Powell/Division”

    • One of the documents suggests “coach style seating”. Not sure how that would work in a transit context, especially if the bus gets full.

  1. The 1/2 stop spacing confuses me. Arent they expecting lots of increased density on powell and division? Skipping stops makes the first/last mile problem a lot worse.

    • That should be “1/2 mile” stop spacing–i.e. stations every half mile or so.

      There is no indication that skip-stop spacing is being considered. All BRT runs will likely stop at all BRT stations. That said, I would expect that parallel local services (with shorter stop spacings, around ~300m or so) would continue to run.

      On Portland’s street grid, 1/2 mile is a stop every 10 blocks or so. With some fudging, an assuming a routing of Tilikum->Powell->82nd->Division->242nd->Stark, that would be stops (east of the river) at:

      * OMSI
      * SE Milwaukie (12th)
      * SE 21st
      * SE 26th
      * Possibly SE 33rd
      * SE Cesar A Chavez (39th)
      * SE 50th
      * SE 62nd
      * SE 72nd
      * SE 82nd and Powell
      * 82nd and Woodward (FuBonn)
      * 82nd and Division
      * 94th (MAX Green Line)
      * Possibly 101st
      * 112th
      * 122nd
      * 130th
      * 139th
      * 148th
      * 162nd
      * 174th
      * 181st
      * 190th
      * 202nd
      * Wallula
      * Eastman Parkway
      * Gresham Central TC
      * Division/Burnside
      * 242nd/23rd
      * Stark/Sundial (Mount Hood Medical Center)
      * MHCC

      That’s 31 stops over a distance of 14.7 miles, so pretty close to 1/2 mile stop spacing.

  2. Is there any consideration to purchase Alexander Denis Enviro 500 double deck busses? You can increase seating capacity without increasing bus length. They come in three sizes – 40, 42 & 45 feet. Based on configuration, the 45-footers can seat 81 & stand 27.

      • True, but I was taking into consideration Portland’s smaller block sizes & how as a result artix may limit the number of busses operated on any given block.

        Look at it this way…

        Artix – seat 60 stand 25 3 busses max per block
        Gillig 40′ low floor – seats 40 stands 20 5 busses per block
        Enviro 500 – seats up to 81 stands up to 27 4 to 5 busses per block depending on length of the busses

        It should be noted that the doors on the Enviro’s are a bit wider than standered busses, so boarding & alighting shouldn’t be an issue if all door boarding is allowed. This will be especially true once the electronic fare collection system is up & running.

        • It’s a good question: Artics generally can board faster, as their longer length gives them more doors; and they need less vertical clearance. Doubles exist with the same vertical clearance as a standard semi (which should thus have no trouble on most if not all of the route), and require less of a footprint at stops–but they board slow. (I’ve been to Hong Kong numerous times where they use doubles extensively–and while the bus system is excellent, the dwell times suck).

          Along the corridor itself, where the stops/stations will be designed with the selected vehicle in mind, and cramming 5 vehicles into the same block is not likely to be an issue, this probably doesn’t matter as much.

          A more interesting challenge will be the Transit Mall. There, they do try to cram multiple busses into a block (though I believe they do 4 vehicles and not five, to provide sufficient room for maneuvering and safety), and one MAX train on the MAX blocks. A 67′ artic might pose challenges there.

          • If they use BRT-style buses similar to those from the Eugene-Springfield “EmX” system, they could feature left-side boarding. That allows Eugene to have center-island platforms, but it could allow TriMet to serve the transit mall by boarding in the left lane. This would increase mall passenger capacity without impacting operations of standard buses and MAX in the other lanes. (To ensure “BRT” reliability, it may be necessary to limit SOV traffic in the left lane during peak hours.)

            Buses with left-boarding capability are also useful for serving in bus bridges when needed, as they could conceivably serve existing MAX platforms without passengers needing to cross the street during such incidents.

            • I believe the Health Line BRT in Cleveland operates that way with one variation. Busses on the Health Line have doors on both sides so there’s maximum flexibility in operation.

              If there is off board fare collection, then it doesn’t really matter if double talls are used. However they could be placed into service on any line with heavy ridership like the 4, 9, 72 & 75. The RTC in Las Vegas does this on several suburban routes since nearly half of there fleet consists of double deckers.

  3. I like the idea of jogging over from Powell to Division. I believe that the current route boardings support Division further in, but hey, this isn’t terrible.

    Nice to see some more concrete ideas emerging out of this process.

  4. It would be nice if Trimet could operate what it already has efficiently before continuing its never ending expansion plans.

    Trimet reliability has gone down the tubes over the past several years and Trimet continues losing ridership in real numbers.

    What they have been doing is not working. Of course that means nothing to the people over there running the place

    • Given that they are essentially proposing to replace an existing service with a service type that typically costs less to operate (and one that doesn’t suffer from the tracks-are-blocked-so-everything-is-stuck problem), it sounds like they are doing what you suggest.

      And FWIW, ridership has rebounded in the last year or so. I’m not sure if it’s back to its pre-recession high, but last August it was back up to ~1.9M boardings per week, a 5% gain over the prior year.

    • The same people that oppose Lightrail are going to oppose Bus Rapid Transit. Perhaps, BRT is the best option for this route, but taking Lightrail off the table because the city is afraid of the political fight is foolish.

      • I don’t think that political opposition from conservatives is the issue here. That may be an issue for SWC; given that Tigard and Tualatin voters (those who bothered to vote in irregular special elections, at least) have expressed issues with LRT, and both cities are auto-dominated places with populations suspicious of upzoning.

        But Powell/Division is going between the cities of Portland and Gresham; neither of these (nor Washington County) are transit-hostile.

        There has, of course, been some anti-LRT backlash from the left, for various reasons (suburban focus, associated with bus service cuts, accusations of pork for developers and contractors, and labor solidarity with the transit union); but many of these issues are rail-specific, and don’t really apply in the Powell/Division context.

        Then there’s the issue of money. Greenfield surface rail tends to go for $100M/mile, and PMLR (with lots of elevated structures, ROW acquisition, and the Tilikum Crossing bridge) is coming in at $200M/mile. The region doesn’t have that kind of money to spend on this project. I expect there will be limited ROW acquisitions for things like queue jump lanes and stations, but FTMP if Powell/Division gets exclusive lanes anywhere, it will be done by painting “BUS ONLY” on the pavement, or by eating up the frontage roads along Powell east of 52nd (remnants of the Mt. Hood Freeway proposal), not by pouring lots of new concrete and knocking down buildings.

        And then–there’s the issue of buildings. This isn’t greenfield development to some new TOD project, this is a line on existing city streets with thriving neighborhoods and structures, in many cases abutting the sidewalk. And Powell is a state highway. In many places, the line will have to fit within the existing street cross-section, mixed in with the cars.

        • Well said. I live right near the proposed Powell/Division Corridor, and the general consensus is that we’re happy with anything better than the existing 9 and 4.

          Express buses with longer hours of service, less stops, and more capacity would be a welcome addition. Anything else on top of that is just a bonus.

        • Dear Scotty:

          File under “Hell Has Frozen Over”, but I think the plan for better bus service on Division and Powell sounds affordable, equitable and an improvement. It sounds like, for once, the residents of Outer SE are being listened to (a bit).


    • They should switch over at 58th. There are great opportunities for bus only turns on both Powell and Division there.

      • 52nd, not 58th; my apologies. Whatever they do, they need to avoid 82nd for the cut-over. It doesn’t serve PCC well (one of the stations would necessarily be cater-corner from the campus necessitating crossing 82nd and Division) and it misses Warner Pacific; granted, that’s a small campus. Best of all it goes only a residential block and a half from the front door to Franklin High.

  5. Why wouldn’t we just increase the frequency of buses before using double-talls or extended buses? This will increase ridership which will eventually be a forcing function for higher capacity vehicles. However it would be cheaper to start with double-sided buses than to go big right away

  6. I like to use the comparison of two transit services, both built five years ago, both are “suburb to suburb” services: WES, and SWIFT.

    WES is our lovely, efficient commuter rail system between Beaverton and Wilsonville. Just under 15 miles long, it came at a capital cost of $165 million (and counting, to this day!), over $10 million a year to run, and is one of TriMet’s least cost effective services, coming in at between $14 and $21/boarding ride, depending on the month. It runs only 3.5 hours during the morning and evening commutes, and not at all during the mid-day, weekends or holidays. It has barely touched 2,000 daily rides – far below some of TriMet’s rush hour express bus lines.

    SWIFT is also an approximately 15 mile Bus Rapid Transit line, in Snohomish County, between Everett and Aurora Village. It cost just $29 million to build and equip, and is one of Community Transit’s lowest cost operations – in fact it actually saved Community Transit money, because it is cheaper to run than the existing regular bus route that ran the same exact route. It runs six days a week (Community Transit eliminated all Sunday service), and provides 12 minute headway service during most of the day, and 20 minute headways during early morning, late evening and Saturdays. It has 7 miles of dedicated lanes, and 10 miles of shared lanes with improvements (signal priority).

    For the cost of WES, we could have installed BRT on several of TriMet’s busiest routes – specifically I’d start with the 9 Powell, 12 Barbur, 33 McLoughlin and 57 T.V. Highway. Instead of cutting bus service to pay for WES we’d be improving and adding service, lowering costs, improving access, reducing pollution (using brand new New Flyer DE60LFR buses to replace the 24 year old relics TriMet continues to use to this day, especially on the 94 route). You’d have improved bus stops rather than TriMet’s famous “let’s bolt a bus stop sign onto a PGE pole and call it a great bus stop”.

    For the cost of the Green Line, we could have built at least 10 other BRT lines – say, the 4, 8, 35, 54, 56, 72, 75 and 76.

    Instead of crying “the economy’s falling the economy’s falling” TriMet would have actually reduced its operating expenses with these routes, while simultaneously built ridership – ridership that doesn’t require building parking lots and parking garages, and widening roads to serve those parking lots (cough, Cornelius Pass Road, Cornell Road, Baseline Road).

    But, with our lovely fascination with rail, no one is looking to Portland on how to best serve the entire region with high quality transit. And we’re stuck, with transit ridership that is the same as it was years ago, with road use at pre-recession levels, bike ridership that has fallen off…clearly, building light rail hasn’t solved any problems. Other than making developers and contractors happy. But for those of us who have jobs to get to in a timely manner, we’re driving our SUVs on I-5 and I-84.

    • You conveniently omitted the reserved lanes which Swift has its entire length, with no exceptions. Gonna pony up those lanes on all those streets in order to achieve the same level of quality and economy?

      I thought not.

      In particular, from which of the enormously broad and straight arterials between Washington Square and Wilsonville are you going to take lanes for a true BRT to replace WES? No cheating now by saying “Well just run it on the freeways”. It would take at least eight minutes to serve the stops at Tigard and Tualatin TC’s from the adjacent freeways. The buses would get bogged down in the horrendous jams at the interchanges, so the running time would increase by at least 50%. WES attracts few enough riders even with a 28 minute running time. Stretch it to 45 and put people on a jerky, bumpy bus ride and 2,000 people per day would look pretty good.

      This is not to say that WES is a great use of transit funds. It isn’t. But your “BRT! BRT! BRT!” blathering also isn’t a magic wand. It’s just a bait and switch.

  7. It’s too late now. The time to build a dedicated busway system (instead of LRT) was in the 70s and 80s, when a lot more land was available for POW.

  8. In order for this project to get Federal Funding the BRT option needs to be (at least) 50 percent dedicated ROW. I don’t see how Powell (or Division) is going to give up 2 lanes of traffic for dedicated BRT. Nor do I see ODOT giving up 2 lanes along US 26 for this project. I don’t see how this can be done without wiping out entire swafts of neighborhoods for the ROW.

    I don’t have a good (inexpensive) solution to this problem. I think we will send lots of money studying the idea, and decide that it is too expensive to do and go in a different direction.

    I hope I’m wrong.

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