Archive | April Fools

TriMet and Metro to extend Blue Line to Central Oregon

Today, TriMet president Neil McFarlane and Metro president Tom Hughes announced the start of a new transit project, the Hood and Central Oregon Corridor.  This project, a 210-mile (338km) extension of the Blue Line, would provide light rail service to Sandy, Mount Hood, Madras, Redmond, Bend, and Sunriver.  The line would end at a transit center in Chemult, Oregon, where riders may transfer to the Amtrak Coast Starlight for service to Klamath Falls and points in California.   The proposed project, a direct result of the approval of Ballot Measure 91 by Oregon voters last Novemeber, is estimated to cost between $35B-$40B; the project is scheduled for opening in 2042.

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HUMP-IT: TriMet and BTA introduce “Active Transit”

For a long time, activists have frequently lumped public transit (including bus, Streetcar, and light rail) together in with various means of human-powered locomotion, including walking and bicycling.  Today, TriMet and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance are proud to announce the HUMP-IT program.  HUMP-IT, or Human Powered Intermodal Transportation, is intended to usher in a new age of Active Transit, in which commuters travel together using zero-emissions, human-powered vehicles.

A prototype vehicle, in TriMet livery, is shown below.

humpit

Unlike traditional busses, which are powered by fossil fuels such as diesel or CNG (compressed natural gas), or powered by electricity generated in various ways which are bad for the environment, HUMP-IT vehicles (being human powered) are true zero-emissions transit vehicles.

Riders of HUMP-IT vehicles will have two choices.  Those who bring bicycles on board can simply mount their bikes into the HUMP-IT chassis, and then ride their bikes as they ride the bus.  Those without bikes of their own can mount a fixed pedal station, and a mechanical power-transfer system will insure their physical inputs are transmitted to the wheels.   BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky agreed, noting that many hard-core Portland cyclists have had an aversion to public transit.  “With HUMP-IT, we’re hoping that even the skeptical members of our community will get on board”.

While the prototype vehicle shown above is uncovered, TriMet indicates that production vehicles will provide shelter from the elements.

According to Neil McFarlane, TriMet general manager, “with HUMP-IT, we are trying to solve a fundamental problem that bicycle commuters face when using public transit.  Frequently, there is no room on board the bus or the train for a bicycle, and the bike lifts on our bus fleet frequently slow other travelers down.  With HUMP-IT vehicles, attaching a bicycle to the bus chassis is trivial, with an ISO-standard mount.”

McFarlane also indicated that the zero-energy consumption of HUMP-IT vehicles would result in lower fares.  “With HUMP-IT, we don’t have to pay for diesel or electricity, so of course we are going to pass the savings along to our riders”.  However, advocates for OPAL were unimpressed, stating that it was inhumane and unfair for the poor to have to exercise for a lower fare.  “We just want a fare that’s fair, so our constituents will fare better”, said an OPAL spokesman.

TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch stated that HUMP-IT vehicles may be deployed as early as Fiscal Year 2015.  “We plan to put them on some of the shorter downtown routes, first.  Those routes stop frequently, thus making the low top speed of HUMP-IT vehicles less of a problem.  Plus, the frequent stops will give passengers a chance to rest.   It wouldn’t be suitable to use HUMP-IT on express busses, partciularly the 94.  Although that’s tempting…”   When asked if she expected slow speed to be a problem, Fetsch responded, “Hey, it’s still faster than the Streetcar”.

City of Portland announces new “Portland Hayride” project

This morning, Portland mayor Charlie Hales announced that the City, in cooperation with the Buckman, Hosford-Abernathy, Richmond, Sunnyside, and Mt. Tabor neighborhood associations, is forming a new quasi-public entity known as Portland Hayride, Inc. (PHI), chartered to provide horse-drawn public transit along SE Hawthorne. The proposed line, which will run between the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge to SE Powell and 50th, may open as early as 2017 if all regulatory and financial hurdles are cleared. “This is an exciting day for the city of Portland”, said the mayor at a public ceremony at City Hall. “Once again, we are demonstrating visionary leadership in urban development to the country and the world. The new Portland Hayride will truly be a transportation project for the 21st century!”
Proposed route

The proposed route would start one block east of the Hawthorne Bridge (and the Portland Streetcar CL Line), head east on Hawthorne to SE 50th, south to Division, east two blocks to SE 52nd, then south to Powell, then west to 50th, north to Hawthorne, west to SE 12th, north to Madison, and west to SE 6th; with layover points at 6th and Powell. Eventually, planners intend for the line to reach Lents and the Green Line, but limited funding permits only construction of a first phase out to Powell. A westward extension into downtown Portland is considered unlikely, as draft animals cannot cross the steel grating on the Hawthorne Bridge’s lift span. “To a horse or an ox, the Hawthorne Bridge looks like one big cattle guard”, stated a project engineer.

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A special guidance technology known as RUTS (rapid ungulate tracking system), consisting of carefully-designed channels embedded in the pavement, will be installed along the route and make it difficult for the horses to guide the wagons off course, while not interfering with the operation of other vehicles. In addition, the Portland Water Bureau has announced that bioswales planted with alfalfa will be installed in sidewalk strips along the route, permitting the city to both feed the animals and collect rainwater at the same time.

The vehicles

The service will use specialized, Czech-made low-floor hay wagons. Unlike domestic hay-wagons, which are high-platform vehicles that are difficult for even able-bodied individuals to board, the selected vehicles will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The vehicles feature side low-platform boarding, bicycle racks, spaces for wheelchairs and other mobility devices, on-board ticketing, and free wi-fi. Also unlike traditional hay-wagons, such as can be found at pumpkin patches and other agricultural festivities in rural areas, the Portland Hayride vehicles will have modern suspensions, in order to permit a smoother ride. Rather than real hay, which is notoriously flammable (and under some conditions, explosive), prone to decomposition when exposed to moisture, and likely to be removed from its bales by riders, the Hayride will use synthetic grasses made out of a special composite polymer mesh for seating. “Those concerned about losing that traditional hayride feel, need not worry”, stated Hales. “While use of synthetic hay may seem disturbing to some, I can reassure the public that it will provide that same uncomfortable, butt-scratching feeling as the real stuff”.

In addition, the vehicles will be optionally configurable with a special cloth canopy, to protect passengers from the elements during inclement weather. The canopy will be capable of being removed on sunny days, giving passengers a unique transit experience.

Power and traction

In order to reduce vehicle emissions and help the region meet environmental goals concerning air quality, draft animals shall be used to pull the Hayride, instead of tractors or other mechanized vehicles. While technical staff had recommended oxen for the Hayride, as cattle are less skittish than horses, and more suited to long-distance hauling, neighborhood focus groups overwhelmingly preferred horses. In addition, many developers adjacent to the line indicated that lenders were reluctant to finance projects that would be served by ox-drawn transit. An anonymous staffer was quoted as saying, “nobody wants to ride to their favorite bistro on a wagon pulled by an [expletive] cow. Oxen simply don’t have that je ne sais quoi that horses do.” But OPAL director Jonathan Ostar disputed this, noting that use of horses instead of cattle was yet another instance of sacrificing the needs of riders, for the benefit of developers. “It wasn’t horses pulling the wagons over the Oregon Trail, it was cattle. Portland needs a strong system of frequent and reliable oxen more than it needs another expensive pony ride. Oxen, and not horsies, are the workhorses of a quality transit system”.

Use of donkeys was discarded for the Hawthorne line, owing to the generally flat topography of the route; but leaders indicated they may be used for a proposed replacement for the frequent bus lines serving Marquam Hill.

The immediate advantage of draft animals is that they do not burn fossil fuels, resulting in vastly lower emissions (and nearly no emissions if a proper diet is maintained by keepers). In addition, the use of draft animals will allow the service to survive a collapse of civilization–even if the electrical grid and the petroleum distribution network were to fail, shutting down Portland’s busses and trains, the Hayride may continue to operate. A longstanding objection to draft animals in an urban environment, however, is the waste products produced. However, the Portland Hayride vehicles will also include especially-designed fuel cells that collect droppings from the animals, and use them to provide electric power to the on-board amenities. “Residents need not worry about horse manure along Hawthorne Boulevard”, remarked Mayor Hales. “There’s enough of that near the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge; we wouldn’t want to inflict it on the east end as well”.

Reaction

Reaction to the project has been mixed. Urban Studies researcher and writer Richard Florida commented that “once again, Portland has hit it out of the park. After the success of the original Portland Streetcar, every city started building them, and Portland needed to step up its game. The new Portland Hayride should continue to attract the creative class to a place with great food, great beer, great skiing, great bud, and no jobs. I salute the City for its continued leadership”.

New Geography‘s Joel Kotkin disagreed, stating that “the fact that Portland–the mecca of Starbucks urbanism and all that other yuppie frou-frou, is planning to use farm animals to operate part of its transit system, is proof that the cities are dead.”

Closer to home, Bike Portland’s Jonathan Maus was skeptical of the project; of particular concern was a worry that the RUTS channels would be even a bigger hazard to bicyclists than are streetcar tracks. “What Hawthorne needs is a road diet and proper bike lanes, not a new type of public transit that will need an orange triangle on the back”. And while TriMet officials refused to comment on the project, deferring questions about the Hayride to the City of Portland, one agency employee speaking off the record expressed concern that this would damage the 14 bus route, requiring either redundant service along the Hayride route, or a forced transfer at 50th and Powell.

TriMet announces new Type 5 MAX vehicle

In response to criticism that it is underfunding its bus system in favor of rail, TriMet has announced plans to cancel a prior solicitation for rolling stock as part of the Portland-Milwaukie project. Instead of purchasing conventional light-rail EMUs (Electric Multiple Units), the agency instead intends to partner with Oregon Iron Works to build a novel bus-rail hybrid, a design it calls a “railbus”.

The new vehicles, which will also be known as Type 5 vehicles internally, will consist of articulated electric-powered flatbed cars, with room for one 40′ TriMet bus to be parked on each articulated section–two busses per car, or up to four busses in a typical 2-car consist. “Once again, TriMet is a leader in coming up with innovative transit solutions”, said general manager Neil McFarlane at an April 1 press conference announcing the new vehicle technology. A picture of the prototype vehicle, taken at the Oregon Iron Works test track in Clackamas, is as follows:

type_5_MAX_train.jpg

According to TrIMet, once railbus technology matures, it may be possible for this vehicle configuration to support branching, providing both the advantages of rail and of bus rapid transit (BRT). For example, rather than requiring Line 33 passengers to transfer to MAX at Milwaukie, in the future it may be possible for the northbound 33 to simply pull into the Lake Road station, drive onto one of the flatbed sections, and continue its journey to downtown Portland on rails, obviating the need for a transfer.

A few issues remain to be worked out with the technology, which is expected to be ready for the Milwaukie-Portland line’s planned 2015 opening. The prototype vehicle is not yet ADA-compliant, as even low-floor busses have boarding height issues when mounted on railcars. And the proposal has drawn some fire with ATU Local 757, which is demanding that each bus which is part of a Type 5 train nonetheless have a driver on board, whereas TriMet insists that one operator per train is sufficient.

Still, the agency has high hopes for the technology. “Just as the Portland Streetcar launched a revolution in urban design last decade, we believe that the Type 5 railbus will continue Portland’s leadership”.