Author Archive | Zef Wagner

Bicycle Advocacy Volunteer Opportunity

Hey readers, just a heads up that Hands On Greater Portland is offering a TeamWorks volunteer program starting next week based on bicycle advocacy and education. This will be a really amazing opportunity for anyone who wants to learn about and contribute to the good work of improving and expanding bicycle transportation in the Portland area. You basically join a team of volunteers and work on a series of projects for about a month. At the end of the program I will be co-leading a bicycle policy and infrastructure tour for the TeamWorks members. There are still several spots available in the program and it starts next week, so sign up ASAP right here! For more info check out  Hands On’s program description below and follow the links for full details:

Love bikes? Enjoy doing good while meeting other community-minded individuals? Get involved in some great efforts to make bike transportation a fun, safe, and viable option for our whole community this month! Check out the Bike Fun & Two-Wheeled Advocacy team, Hands On Greater Portland’s new Fall TeamWorks series, kicking off this coming Wednesday, September 25th!

The Hands On TeamWorks program offers individuals the opportunity to volunteer in a team-based environment on a series of projects over 4-6 weeks, while delving into an issue area or neighborhood and getting to know other volunteers in the process. Join in as we help clean donated bikes for kids with the Community Cycling Center, don our superhero capes and ensure safe intersections at the SW Sunday Parkways, and roll up our sleeves to maintain hiking and biking trails on Powell Butte. We’ll also learn about how to stay dry as we head into fall thanks to PBOT’s all-weather cycling workshop, and listen to bike-themed stories as we lend a hand at “Live the Revolution!”, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance‘s awesome storytelling fundraiser, raising money for its Safe Routes to School program. And to wrap up the team, we’ll hop on our bikes for a fun and informative pedal tour of Portland’s bike-friendly infrastructure led by a local transportation planner. Each project will include discussion time and we’ll explore a variety of topics, resources and issues related to cycling and bicycle advocacy in the greater Portland area.

View the full schedule and sign up to join!

Questions? Email


Lombard Re-Imagined Open House on Tuesday, May 7th

For the last several months, I have been working with five other PSU Master of Urban and Regional Planning students (collectively known as Swift Planning Group) on an exciting project called Lombard Re-Imagined. We have been working with the Kenton Neighborhood Association and other surrounding neighborhoods to re-imagine the unpleasant, unsafe, auto-oriented stretch of Lombard Street from N Chautauqua Blvd to NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Our focus is on finding strategies and projects the neighborhood can advocate for that will result in a safer transportation system, a more pleasant walking environment, and neighborhood-friendly business development.

This corridor has a lot going for it (proximity to Kenton’s nice main street, a direct connection to St John’s, excellent transit service), but unfortunately the area has not received much attention or investment in the past and has become a barrier between neighborhoods. As an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) facility (US 30 Bypass) and a designated over-dimensional freight route, many have feared that change is impossible, but as we have seen elsewhere (for example, just up the road in the St Johns area) ODOT is often willing to make needed changes to make streets safer and better. We have been working with both ODOT and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to understand what is possible to make the street work better for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and motorists. We are especially focused on improving the pedestrian environment, since that is what the street is most lacking right now.

After a great round of public outreach with the community over the last few months, we have a pretty good idea of the concerns and ideas people have for the area. We have also done a great deal of research and analysis and have developed a preliminary set of recommended strategies. In some cases, we are still looking at several alternative ways of tackling a problem. Now we want the public to see our ideas and weigh in, and the best way to do that is to attend our Open House on Tuesday, May 7th from 5:30pm to 8:00pm at the Kenton Masonic Lodge (8130 N Denver Ave) (For those who use Facebook, please RSVP at our event page). We will have posters showing off our ideas for the street and we will be asking you to give us your feedback, ideas, and advice for how to make Lombard a better place. This is an open house, so you can just show up anytime to check out our posters and talk with us about what you think. I hope that any readers who care about making our busy arterials more livable and multi-modal (always a big topic on this blog) will consider attending our open house and following our project moving forward.

For more information or to contact us:
Twitter: @LombardRImagine

TriMet Confirms That Orange Line Will Go Through Downtown After All, But Details Still Unclear

Thumbnail image for Orange Line.PNG

Several months ago I raised my concerns about TriMet’s decision to give the upcoming Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line its own color (the Orange Line) rather than simply extending the Yellow Line south through downtown, allowing riders to travel from one end of the region to the other on a single train. Even with the Orange Line name, I had hoped that at the very least the trains would be interlined through downtown with the Green or Yellow Line, but a TriMet spokesperson told me on a tour quite definitively that Orange Line trains would stop at Union Station and would not be interlined with existing service.

Well, none other than Neil McFarlane (General Manager of TriMet) has confirmed that the information I had been given was incorrect, and that Orange Lines actually will interline with Yellow or Green Line trains through downtown. He said that normally TriMet does not come up with a color designation until closer to the opening of a line, so that they can do a thorough analysis of the proper service design, but in this case the color Orange was chosen early on even though they always expected most trains to interline with Yellow Line trains. He did not really have an explanation for the early choice to separately brand the line, but defended the choice based on the operational flexibility gained by being able to interline with either Green or Yellow trains as needed.

While this is welcome news compared with the prospect of trains terminating downtown for no reason, it still presents a pointlessly complicated and confusing situation for both riders and operations. For riders, it means that someone getting on an Orange Line train from Milwaukie whose destination is past downtown will have to consult a schedule to determine if that train will turn into a Yellow train or a Green train. It means someone boarding a train at Rose Quarter Transit Center will have to figure out if their train will go through to Milwaukie or stop at PSU. It means the system map will likely show the lines as being totally separate (see map above) even though in practice they will not be.

For operators, it means trains will have to switch colors at some point and communicate that to riders. Imagine for a moment how many times a day you will have to hear over the intercom, “Attention ladies and gentlemen, just a reminder that this Yellow Line train is now an Orange Line train.” Imagine how confusing that will be for anyone who is not a daily commuter. And where exactly will this color switch take place? Rose Quarter or Union Station? South Waterfront or PSU? There is really no good answer to this, which will make it a real challenge to operate and for riders to understand.

Neil also defended the “flexibility” of interlining with Yellow or Green trains as needed because he claimed the demand on the Orange Line will require different frequencies than the other lines. I very much doubt that is true. The Yellow and Green Lines both currently operate at roughly 15-minute headways all day, and that should be plenty of capacity for the Orange Line as well. It’s not as if Milwaukie is anticipated to become a high-density urban center anytime soon. All these MAX Lines are going out to low- to medium-density areas that we hope will become more dense in the future. Hopefully they will all be able to justify 5- or 10-minute headways someday, but for now there is just not enough ridership to justify higher frequency, especially when bus service is suffering under the weight of repeated cuts to the Frequent Network.

In any case, there is still no valid reason not to simply extend the Yellow Line south and keep things simple. It’s better for riders and easier to operate. We can save the color Orange for another line down the road. I urge TriMet to think this through and not feel like they are stuck with this name because someone years ago thought it would be a good idea–it’s not. If the name is still kept, I hope they strive to make the switch between colors as clear as possible and find a good way to communicate to riders that they can indeed ride through downtown and out the other side.

Zef Wagner is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at Portland State University, specializing in transportation planning. He will graduate in June 2013 and is currently seeking employment.

Taxi Reform Update

As regular readers may recall, I have argued before that we should liberalize the onerous and anti-competitive regulations surrounding taxi service in Portland. Last year, the city took an important first step in revising those regulations and expanding service when it undertook a series of reforms aimed at improving worker conditions and approved new permits, mostly for a new cab company called Union Cab.

The Portland Mercury reported last week on the progress of these reforms. They characterize it as “slow going,” but of course instituting new performance measures and enforcing them is bound to take time. In a year from now we should have a better idea of the effects of the reforms. As far as Union Cab goes, it sounds like they are ready to hit the streets in the next month or so. It will be good to see more competition and more cabs on the street!

Zef Wagner is a student in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University, specializing in transportation planning.

“Orange Line” Name for Portland-Milwaukie MAX: A Triumph of Marketing Over Rider Benefit

Pop Quiz: What makes more sense?

Orange Line.PNG
Or this?:
Yellow Line.PNG

In the recent barrage of emails and press releases from TriMet regarding construction activities for Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail, I have noticed a shift in marketing for the line. The project, officially still called the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project, has long been unofficially known as the Orange Line, but that always seemed like a placeholder in lieu of an actual study of what would be best for the line. However, in the last month or two the Orange Line designation has been actually used by the agency and appears to be official. At a recent tour I attended of construction activities, the tour guide confirmed that the current plan is to run the Orange Line as a stand-alone line, terminating and turning around at Union Station (see the first map above). This is a disturbing development for reasons I will outline below.

Giving the new light rail line a new color is a serious mistake clearly driven by marketing concerns rather than any consideration of operational efficiency or rider benefit. It appears that TriMet (and perhaps the city of Milwaukie) want the line to have a new color because it increases the visibility of the project compared to simply extending an existing line. The problem is that this seemingly innocuous naming scheme will have negative implications for the high-capacity transit network the public relies on.

The most beneficial and efficient way to operate the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line would be to treat it as an extension of the Yellow Line (see the second map above). Southbound Yellow trains would run from Expo Center to downtown, continue past Portland State University, and head down to Milwaukie. Northbound trains would run all the way from Milwaukie to Expo Center. There are three main benefits to this form of operation. First, it allows riders to go straight through downtown without having to transfer. Second, it reduces the need for layover space in downtown where it is most scarce.

A good transit network will, whenever possible, allow transit riders to ride through downtown if they live on one side of downtown and work (or have other destinations) on the other side. We have precedence for this through-downtown model in the form of the Red and Blue Lines. Sure, the majority of riders get and on and off downtown, but there are also plenty of people who ride from one side to the other without having to transfer. TriMet also does this with most of the bus lines through downtown, and many people take advantage of this feature. In any case, extending the Yellow Line would create a very strong north-south transit spine to complement the east-west Blue/Red transit spine, whereas an isolated Orange Line would not. We need a network that expands riders’ freedom to go to more places, and that means making them as long as is practical and not forcing downtown transfers for no reason.

One reason that most bus lines go through downtown besides rider benefit is the fact that layover space is very limited downtown. Some lines do a “live-loop” downtown and don’t have a layover at all, and some other lines layover at Union Station, but there is simply not much space for buses to sit around. For light rail trains, there are a couple turnaround/layover spots: one for the Blue/Red Lines on SW 11th Ave between Yamhill and Morrison (rarely used nowadays), and one at the south end of PSU where the Yellow and Green Lines currently terminate. Other than that, there are a few pullout tracks around Union Station, but these are not as good because they require drivers to switch from one end of the train to the other rather than just turning around.

So one problem with running the Orange Line only as far as Union Station before turning around is that it is not a good place for a layover. TriMet could have trains use the pullout tracks, but it will be more time-consuming and awkward than using a full turnaround space like the ones mentioned above. The other option would be to always live-loop and only do layovers at the other end of the line in Oak Grove. That could work in general, but it leaves less operational flexibility for dealing with inevitable service disruptions or getting trains back on schedule.

Another issue, perhaps minor but still something to think about, is that we have a limited color palette to choose from for transit lines. Why waste Orange frivolously when we don’t have to? What if we decide to give Bus Rapid Transit lines colors as well, following the lead of Los Angeles, where they wisely decided to treat light rail and BRT as one integrated network? There really aren’t that many colors that are acceptable for transit lines, unless we are excited about the prospect of a Fuchsia Line or Periwinkle Line in our future.

The only possible advantage I can see from running the Orange Line separately is that it would effectively boost frequency on the downtown transit mall by 50%, assuming 15-minute headways on Yellow, Green, and Orange Lines. This would have been a bigger benefit back in the days of the Free Rail Zone, when light rail served double-duty as a downtown circulator. It also isn’t much of a boost, going from average 7.5 minute headways to 5 minute headways.

Overall, the benefits of running the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line as an extension of the Yellow Line seem so obvious that I can only conclude that some combination of marketing and politics has managed to dominate any rational discussion of what is best for the public. I hope this article can jump-start that discussion, because it is not too late to change course and do the right thing. Let’s extend the Yellow Line, and save the color Orange for a future line when we really need it.

Zef Wagner is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at Portland State University, specializing in transportation planning.