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.
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.