Archive | October, 2014

Mission and Devolution of Transit

The most recent episode of the Strong Towns podcast is particularly thought-provoking. It presents a panel discussion held off-site during the recent Railvolution conference. The panel includes some well-know transportation bloggers: Jeff Wood (The Overhead Wire) and Jonah Freemark (The Transport Politic).

The topics are wide-ranging and challenge some sacred cows. Two themes I found interesting:

  1. What’s the mission of transit:
    • Providing urban mobility, primarily for low-income or minority populations?
    • Moving commuters to the central city to ameliorate (or avoid) auto congestion?
    • A catalyst for development?
    • Some rational combination of all of the above (but we may lack a framework for rationalization)?
  2. The devolution of transit:
    • When we couldn’t afford Subways, we turned to Light Rail
    • When we couldn’t afford Light Rail, we turned to Streetcars
    • When we couldn’t afford Streetcars, we turned to BRT
    • When we couldn’t afford BRT, we turned to Rapid Bus
    • When…

Whatever your own perspective it’s an intelligent and stimulating listen…

Frequent Services on 122nd Needs an $8M Ante from the City of Portland

An interesting sidebar in today’s Council work session on the street fee: TriMet could justify (and pay for the service hours) upgrading 122nd Avenue to Frequent Service if a series of safety and access improvement were made by the City to help draw ridership from the surrounding area. The cost of those improves is about $8M according to Commissioner Novick.

Requiem for a Greenway

It was after 6:30, so the bulk of the evening rush had come and gone. Clinton Street would be quiet, relaxing, exhilarating…like the olden days. Or so I thought.

Before I’d even ridden a block, I got the all-too familiar “Clinton Street Salute:” a car zipping around me too quickly and too closely. It presaged a glut of traffic the whole way, and along with it the nerve-racking claustrophobia that’s kept me away from Clinton since a group jaunt back in August.

Just a few years ago, the thought of going two whole months without setting tire upon Clinton Street would have been unfathomable to me. One of the best things about my job is that I get to travel throughout the city to look at roads and intersections, and Clinton has long been my superhighway to all points southeast. If you got there early enough, you could often go from Seven Corners all the way to Southeast 26th without seeing a single car. On my many ambles through the corridor I discovered the best cup of coffee in Southeast, the best corn muffins in the city, and the best hot buttered rum anywhere. I realize now that I developed something of a sentimental attachment to the street while riding eastbound all those mornings, mesmerized by constant stream of people cycling past me on their way downtown. Those sign-toppers really meant something back then.

Neighborhood Greenways, née Bicycle Boulevards, are among the most innovative of Portland’s contributions to bike infrastructure. Because Portland’s density is relatively low, and our city blocks are relatively small, we’ve got a decent number of streets that are naturally low-volume. By identifying some of those streets and making a few modest improvements to them, the city created a fairly robust network of comfortable bikeways, quickly and cheaply. Quintessential “low-hanging fruit.” These would never cut mustard as a substitute for high-quality bikeways along our busiest and best streets, but they could be an excellent complement to them. Certainly, they’d suffice in the interim while we built out all of that truly nice stuff.

While I savored those early morning rides along sleepy Clinton, change was happening quickly a block to the north on Division Street. As the recession eased and development picked up, Southeast Division began to densify as fast as any street in the City. Many hands were wrung regarding where everybody would park, but we forgot to think about where everybody would bike. All the while, car traffic on Clinton crept upward. When the Division Streetscape project hit, it was over. Though the project improved Division Street by adding curb extensions at the expense of automotive capacity, we forgot to plan for the impact to bicycling even though it was easy to see this coming. In the course of detouring cars around the construction, we introduced them to a route that they seem to be sticking with in lieu of a slower, narrow Division. The transformation of Clinton Street from a low-stress bikeway to a vehicular cycling boot camp is now complete.

When your bike plan consists of leveraging your low density and your growth plan is to densify, you run the risk of moving backward by standing still. We’ve seen that happen in real-time over the last few years on Clinton Street, and we’re starting to see it more and more clearly in the lagging indicators. The good news—in the case of Clinton, at least—is that the solution is easy and obvious: diverters. The traffic study to determine what to do and where to do it would be a cakewalk, and the cost of installing a few planters to do the trick would be minimal.

So what’s stopping us? My fear is that, with the 2030 bike plan now clearly relegated to “pipe dream” status, Portland lacks a vision for our identity as a bicycle city and how to move forward as such with determination. Bringing bicycling to the best streets is not happening nearly so quickly as we had hoped, which makes it that much more urgent to do what’s necessary to keep the greenways as a workable alternative in the interim. We must defend the fruits that we picked when they were low. We must, at the very least, not move backward.

A few planters could speak volumes. They’d definitely reduce them.

Rethinking transit on the west side

 

No, this is not a post about the Southwest Corridor project, though that is certainly a relevant topic here.  Instead, it’s an update on the Service Enhancement Plans covering the west side of town, both the Westside SEP (covering Beaverton, Aloha, Hillsboro, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Cedar Mill, Cedar Hills, and Bethany), and the Southwest SEP (covering SW Portland, Tigard, Durham, King City, Tualatin, Sherwood, Lake Oswego, and West Linn).  TriMet published the Westside plan last year, and Portland Transport examined it then.  Now, TriMet has published a draft vision for the Southwest region, and is seeking public comment.  While the Southwest SEP draft anticipates somewhat the Southwest Corridor project, it doesn’t include it.  Oh, and the SW map also drops a few more hints (and contains a few revisions) of plans for the Westside.

The obvious caveat:  This is a vision document, not something for which there (necessarily) exists funding to pay for.  Both plans include substantial increases in service hours–and there are many things in these documents that have long been on TriMet’s published wishlist, but never delivered by the agency.

This article will focus a bit more on the Southwest changes, but highlights of the Westside plan are also included–especially where it appears things have changed.

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