Archive | Bus Rapid Transit

Could Bus Multiple Units (BMU)s bridge the bus-rail divide?

Here at Portland Transport, we (both editors and commenters) frequently like to engage in a bit of technical speculation, hoping for future improvements that will allow transit agencies to do more with less.  There’s lots of talk around here about electric buses, of driverless vehicles, of different vehicle configurations, and even more exotic concepts like Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and bus/train hybrids.   And it’s a tradition ’round these parts to announce groundbreaking new transit technologies the day following March 31st.  :)

We also discuss the merits of bus vs rail a lot, and the various types thereof:  Local bus vs various grades of Bus Rapid Transit.  Streetcar vs light rail vs heavy rail (high-platform long-consist trains found in many large-city subway systems) vs commuter rail.  Some of these debates can get spirited.

Today, I’m going to discuss some utterly speculative technology that might help bridge the operational gap between large rubber-tired passenger-hauling vehicles running on paved roads (“bus”) and steel-wheeled vehicles running on steel rails.  Since I’m not aware of any existing, well-used name for the technology I’m about to discuss, I shall call it a Bus Multiple Unit (BMU).

More after the jump:

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BRT 101 by Metro

Metro is holding an “introduction to BRT” session next week as part of the Powell/Division Corridor process:

December 1: Catch a sneak preview of the future of transit

Metro invites you to a sneak preview of our region’s transit future. The popcorn’s on us.
Monday, Dec. 1, noon to 1 p.m.
Clinton Street Theater
2522 SE Clinton St., Portland

The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project is studying the region’s first bus rapid transit line, which will bring faster, more reliable transit service to a corridor that really needs it.

Bus rapid transit on Powell-Division will save riders time, make transit more comfortable, and connect places we all care about. It will go from downtown Portland and Gresham, linking businesses, educational institutions and thousands of residences in a diverse and growing area. Service could begin as soon as 2020.

But bus rapid transit doesn’t look the same everywhere. There are multiple choices to consider. How will it fit with existing transportation facilities? What could stations look like? What will the experience be like for riders? How might it serve surrounding neighborhoods and support other ways of getting around?

On Monday, Dec. 1 at the unique Clinton Street Theater, we’ll explore examples of bus rapid transit from around the country to see what it could look like here — in the street, at the stations and on board the vehicles. We’ll also highlight existing transit facilities in theregion that can help illustrate options for the new line.

Project staff from Metro and TriMet will be on hand to answer your questions and hear your ideas about bus rapid transit.

Learn more about this event (


Making BRT faster

No, I’m not talking about travel speeds.  As Portland currently has no BRT, there’s nothing to make faster (other than existing local bus service, over which any decent BRT would be an improvement).

Instead, I’m talking about rolling out BRT faster.

Right now, Portland has two BRT (or potential BRT) projects that have advanced passed the line-on-a-map-in-a-planning-document phase:  The Southwest Corridor, and the Powell/Division project.  (There’s also the Fourth Plain BRT in Vancouver, being planned and built by C-TRAN).

A few other ideas have been discussed in significant detail; probably the most prominent of these a proposed BRT line along TV Highway between Beaverton and Forest Grove (or at least Hillsboro).  TV Highway has been the subject of a corridor study  which included BRT as a recommendation (and it’s been on numerous planning maps since), but there is no project to actually build out BRT in the 57 corridor.

Powell/Division’s project timeline calls for it to begin service in 2020.  A firm timeline for the SWC doesn’t exist yet–the start of the DEIS phase has been delayed–but given the scope of the project, we’re looking probably at a decade or more before service opens.  Major capital projects, particularly those that seek Federal funding, simply have long lead times.

But Portland transit riders can benefit from improved bus service today.  (Improved rail service as well, but this article is focused on the bus system).

There’s probably not much to be done about big capital projects–the politics and red tape involved is not likely to go away.  But are there ways to bring BRT on board without large capital outlays?

Some thoughts, after the jump.

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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.

Your Questions For Neil, “Round 5”, Part 1 – High-Capacity Projects

Last Wednesday, Chris sat down with TriMet’s Neil McFarlane for a discussion focused on your questions. This has become a sort of annual tradition for Portland Transport, and this year we were very pleased to be hosted by the Portland Opera – the Opera headquarters is located on the east bank of the Willamette just inches (48 to be specific) from the new transit/bike/ped bridge currently under construction.

The interview session is divided into four videos. We’ll be posting one a day this week – here’s Part 1:

Part 1 is mainly about high-capacity projects, now and in the future. Here’s some of the questions addressed:

  • Will the new bridge be open for bikes and peds before transit operations begin?
  • How will the “Orange Line” be operated? Will it interline with the Yellow Line?
  • What is the fate of high capacity to Clark County now that the CRC is officially dead?
  • How does the vote in Tigard affect SW Corridor planning? What’s TriMet’s view on what the ballot measure means?
  • Is a transit tunnel serving OHSU still on the table
  • Is the Powell/Division corridor being positioned to leapfrog the SW Corridor project?
  • Does TriMet have a strong modal preference (BRT, LRT) for the Powell/Division project?

Segment Navigation:

Check out Neil’s responses in the video and give us your take in the comments.