Author Archive | jedge

Light Rail’s Next Stop: Oregon City?

Putting aside the ongoing CRC discussion for a few minutes, an article in Thursday’s Oregonian briefly mentioned that the city of Oregon City has passed a resolution endorsing the Portland-Milwaukie light-rail line LPA that was chosen by the steering committee.

The resolution supports the Porter-Sherman Willamette River crossing, the Tillamook Branch alignment in Milwaukie and the Park Avenue terminus, which would provide better service to Clackamas County communities south of Milwaukie.

Additionally…

“What this plan says is that Oregon City is on the radar,” said Mayor Alice Norris. “The next light-rail extension needs to come to Oregon City.”

This is quite the reversal from ten years ago, when Clackamas County residents and officials couldn’t have been paid enough to “allow” light-rail to be built on their land. Now, Milwaukie and even Vancouver are both behind the idea of bringing light-rail to their cities, and even more suburban cities and urbanized areas of the counties will be lining up in the near future asking when they’re next. Oregon City is indeed squarely in the sights of not one but two future light-rail extensions: The Yellow Line (Milwaukie) and the Green Line (Clackamas). The Yellow Line will terminate seven miles north along 99E, while the Green Line will terminate eight miles north along I-205.

This raises an interesting question.

For those of us who’ve been paying attention for the last several years, we know that the next great light-rail expansions are rumored to be Powell and Barbur Blvds. Both of these projects are going to require massive capital investments due to the intensity of development along both of these state highways. By contrast, installing light-rail from Oak Grove to Oregon City might be a cakewalk.

One of the benefits touted by Vancouver officials about building light-rail in Clark County is that they’d only have to cross the river to tie in to a mature and expanding multi-billion dollar light-rail system spanning dozens of miles. Indeed, if transportation dollars are scarce (and they were even before the CRC gathered momentum), the light-rail expansions of the next two or three decades might consist primarily of new spur routes (i.e., Airport MAX) rather than entirely new routes (Westside MAX).

The questions that I pose to you are “where?” and “why there?” What potential spur routes could gain favor to the point of leapfrogging Barbur and Powell as the “next” expansion projects to follow Milwaukie and/or Vancouver? Or will Barbur and/or Powell prove high-priority enough to remain at the top of the list?

I know very well that investment in light-rail (for some, even it’s continued operation) is controversial to many individuals, and I don’t intend for this post to provide yet another forum for pro-rail vs. anti-rail (or pro-public transit vs. anti-public transit) commentary, as there are already more than enough venues catering to that discussion. In the near future we will have similar discussions about other transportation modes and where we need to be focusing our expansion/intensification efforts with respect to those modes. This time we will discuss light-rail expansion.

For purposes of this discussion, we are assuming that light-rail will be expanded in the future, but not at the cost of required investments in other parts of the transportation network (including but not limited to roads, bike lanes/boulevards, heavy rail, marine and air terminals, buses, and streetcar). I support a balanced transportation network and am not advocating that any light-rail expansion projects move forward that will create a situation that results in disinvestment in other parts of the transportation system by any agency. However, this is not a “pie-in-the-sky” scenario, either, where money is no object and reality is out the door. The question I ask you is really this: “To where does it make the most sense to expand the light-rail system next?” You can and should take land-use and density goals (not just current zoning and land uses) into consideration.

Is Ms. Norris being too optimistic about her city being “next,” or is that actually the most likely scenario? Or is it more likely that the first extension to Oregon City is along I-205 (linking an Amtrak station to the airport in one shot)? If so, would you also want to extend that line all the way to Tualatin to link to WES?

City gives its support to light-rail alignment

Report Predicts ‘Mass Exodus of Vehicles off America’s Highways’

Via Planetizen:

Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off America’s highways in history. By 2012, there should be some 10 million fewer vehicles on American roadways than there are today—a decline that dwarfs all previous adjustments including those during the two OPEC oil shocks (see pages 4-8). Many of those in the exit lane will be low income Americans from households earning less than $25,000 per year. Incredibly, over 10 million of those American households own more than one car.

Soon they won’t own any.

More fundamentally, the freeways are about to get less congested. Not only will the number of vehicle registrations in the United States not grow over the next four years, but by 2012 there should be roughly 10 million fewer vehicles on the road in America than there are today. For the past half century, America has spent the bulk of its infrastructure money on building highways—only to see that soon, $7 per gallon gasoline prices will lead to fewer and fewer people using them.”

The CRC wouldn’t even be open for business in four years, but this report predicts sweeping changes in even that short period of time. However, taken with all of the other information we have about the CRC and the region’s future in particular, should we stop the project in it’s tracks? Or, knowing that the cost of construction materials will only increase and that the region’s population may close to double or even triple over the next 50 years (Metro projections of 3.2M to 6.2M residents in 2060 pdf), would it prove to be smarter and more forward-thinking if we just built the CRC now? Although experts may expect traffic to decrease over the next few years, at some point the overall growth in our region will cause traffic to eventually exceed present levels, so do we seize this opportunity (i.e., federal funding) to build the bridge now or deal with it later? Without the bridge, how long until we reach that point where traffic will again exceed present levels?

Personally, while I feel a 12-lane bridge is overkill for what is actually a four to six lane highway, I do believe that additional road capacity will be required in the future. The current gas crisis may allow us to put this off for awhile, but eventually we’re going to need the capacity, if only for freight. Today I would still choose to save our resources for other, higher-priority projects (sorry, the ‘couv, but this really isn’t an important enough problem to warrant siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars away from other needed highway projects in Oregon). Ideally, we revisit this thing within five to ten years and look at a third bridge to replace the railroad crossing in North Portland and/or a fourth crossing in Troutdale. I know it’s not a popular opinion here, but even with gas prices pushing $4.50 (and eventually much, much more), making room for 1.5 – 4 million new residents will inevitably mean additional road capacity, and new connections to Vancouver/east Clark County will do more for distributing that traffic than funneling everybody into the I-5 corridor.

Continue reading Report Predicts ‘Mass Exodus of Vehicles off America’s Highways’

Transit Investment Plan Meetings

Get involved in your local transit planning process by attending a TriMet Open House in May.

Learn about the I-205/Portland Mall Light Rail and WES Commuter Rail projects, and discuss plans for Milwaukie Light Rail and the Columbia River Crossing. Talk with TriMet staff and see what’s in the works in our Transit Investment Plan (TIP).

Can’t attend? You can view Open House materials online, or stop by the Portland Mall Info Center through June 6 to view Open House materials and exhibits.

Monday, May 19, 2008, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Location
Portland Mall Information Center
519 SW 6th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
Plan a trip to this meeting
Contact
tip@trimet.org, 503-962-6478
Monday, May 19, 2008, 4-7 p.m.
Location
Public Works Building, Richard Brown Auditorium
8777 SW Burnham St.
Tigard, OR 97223
Plan a trip to this meeting
Contact
tip@trimet.org, 503-962-6478
Tuesday, May 20, 2008, 4-7 p.m.
Location
OIT Conference Center
7740 SE Harmony Rd.
Milwaukie, OR 97222
Plan a trip to this meeting
Contact
tip@trimet.org, 503-962-6478


Yamhill County Rail study focuses on 3 options

Plans for linking Portland to Yamhill County by rail will likely fall short of Spirit Mountain and even perhaps McMinnville. The study currently underway by Portland-based IBI Group suggests that the line may go no further than Newberg due to low ridership estimates.

Randy Knapick of IBI Group said three options are getting a serious look. They include:

  • Train service between Newberg and Beaverton, operating as a branch of Washington County’s system, with stations in Springbrook, Sherwood and Tualatin and connections at existing stations in Tigard, Beaverton and Hall/Nimbus. Rough cost estimate: $72 million.
  • Diesel light-rail service from Newberg through Sherwood and Tualatin to Lake Oswego, and then along the Willamette Trolley right-of-way to the North Macadam area of Portland. Rough cost estimate: $98 million.
  • Rail service from Newberg to Tigard, where passengers could transfer to a Tri-Met bus or a MAX train. Rough cost estimate: $59 million.

All of the alternatives would enable passengers to connect, one way or another, with the Westside Express Service system now under construction.

The three project estimates under study all come in below $100 million since the right of way is still available. However, according to one Yamhill County commissioner, current ridership estimates aren’t much higher than they were ten years ago, which may limit the project’s ability to qualify for federal funding.

Several months ago many participants of this blog expressed optimism that a Yamhill rail line would be built, perhaps even to the coast, broadening the appeal beyond a commuter and winery tour train. With a route extending no further than Newberg, does this project still stand a chance as more than just a commuter line? Will McMinnville-to-Portland Metro commuters really bus it or drive to Newberg to take a train to work?

Continue reading Yamhill County Rail study focuses on 3 options

Enhancing Public Transit With Wi-Fi

A recent column found by way of Planetizen identifies many of the advantages of providing Wi-Fi Internet access to public transit passengers and provides several brief case studies of transit districts that have implemented wireless networks on their systems. One of the most commonly cited benefits was the ability to enhance the safety of passengers and operators by enabling streaming video from on-board surveillance cameras that can be accessed by dispatch. Many of the agencies mentioned in the column received Homeland Security grants to install their networks.

“Rail and bus companies are using Wi-Fi to entice more passengers to use their service,” said Esme Vos, an intellectual property lawyer based in Amsterdam and founder of MuniWireless.com.

In addition to enhancing the commuter experience, Vos says that Wi-Fi is helping transit operators improve safety and efficiency, by using widespread video surveillance and sophisticated maintenance and diagnostic tracking.

“Streaming surveillance video from wireless cameras on buses to public safety authorities has been very successful for bus operators,” she said.

Jim Baker agrees.

“While offering free Wi-Fi connectivity to passengers is a value-added service that is going to distinguish a public transit operator from its competition, that’s not the main selling point for the operators,” said Baker, CEO of UK-based Moovera Networks, whose company makes gateway devices that deliver broadband connectivity to public transport companies worldwide. “The primary driver is not Wi-Fi for passengers, but Internet connectivity for the vehicle.”

At present, Trimet is planning to offer Wi-Fi on WES. When does Wi-Fi become a priority for MAX and buses? No numbers were offered, but many of those interviewed for the column said they believed ridership increased as a result of offering Wi-Fi, but most of those were for commuter trains or BRT routes. I would suspect that Wi-Fi becomes more appealing to a passenger as the trip length increases. If that were the case – or even if I’m wrong about that – what routes should be at the top of the list to be fitted with wireless Internet access for passengers? Are there routes that you think should be targeted for Wi-Fi in an attempt to boost ridership? Or routes that could use the enhanced security?

Continue reading Enhancing Public Transit With Wi-Fi