Author Archive | Curtis Ailes

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.

Streetcars as Part of the Transit Network

Curtis Ailes has long been a Portland Transport correspondent, living in Indianapolis. He and his family have recently moved to Portland and we’re happy to welcome him to the region and to Portland Transport!

Recently, a tectonic jolt rocked the transit blogosphere as The Atlantic Cities’ Eric Jaffe penned a column supporting the notion that streetcars in America are not part of the traditional transit network. Jaffe presented data suggesting that low ridership share of streetcar lines (as a percentage of total network ridership) supported this notion. Portland was not spared the brunt of this conclusion with Streetcar contributing a meager 3.5% (approximately) to the regional fixed route network. Certainly, when viewed through this frame, the thought makes a lot of sense.

But is this a suitable validation of the core question? Are streetcar systems “failing” as transit simply because they are not generating huge ridership numbers? Is the data being sliced the right way?

A look at Portland’s Streetcar ridership shows an increasing trend in boardings over time with no major dips. Analyzing the data a bit further, as of Q4 2013 daily weekday boardings are averaging over 13k (Q2 2014 has improved to 18k/day).  Contrast this with MAX which came in at 108k, and streetcar, if counted as part of the system, would count 10% of the system’s boardings.

I thought that digging a little further and comparing Streetcar’s contribution vs other individual MAX lines made sense as well. According to data obtained from Trimet by PT’s Bob Richardson, and based on 2012 data (the latest detailed data he was able to obtain), Streetcar contributed just 7% to the 2012 numbers. Streetcar easily contributes more than WES, something we all know, but falls below the other MAX contribution to the network. However, if we compare the growth of streetcar in just one year, total share has grown 3% and if the latest jump in ridership from 13k to 18k are to be believed, that share continues to grow, even as total MAX ridership dips.

So what can we conclude? Streetcar while not as big a contributor to the total rail network as individual MAX lines is showing impressive year over year growth while MAX ridership has flattened. From this point, you can suggest causes for this however you want. City Center densification? CL contributions (even if it is chronically delayed)? Whatever story we craft, streetcar ridership growth is robust.

Anecdotally speaking, as a newly minted resident of Portland, my family and I have relied heavily upon the streetcar for daily functions. We use it get groceries & to run errands. We use it to explore new neighborhoods. We use it to stay dry when getting from one place to the next. As a long-time observer of transit systems nationwide, I can attest to the first hand usage of Streetcar as a crucial part of the local transit network versus a tourist attraction. An inspection of the data supports this.

data_snapshot_streetcar_as_transit