Archive | I-205/Mall Light Rail

Further Musings on the Transit Mall

So I’ve been musing about the Transit Mall over the weekend, reading all the comments on the prior posts, and have a few questions turning over in my mind, which I’d like to throw out to readers.

But first, I want to thank Jim Karlock. While I generally don’t agree with Jim’s take on transportation, I admire his dedication, including all the meetings he tapes. He has just posted his video of the Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting last week. Here they are, he tells me you need Real Player:

Part 1 – Presentations (43 min)
Part 2 – Q&A (58 min)

Question #1 – Interpreting the APTA Report

In my last post, I suggested that the APTA report was simply a constructive criticism of the design, not a condemnation. A reader has pointed out to me that the scope of the report was limited (i.e., they weren’t asked to review design alternatives):

We are requesting a report that documents your opinions of our planned
operating procedures and any recommendations for improving the movement
between buses and LRVs. We are also interested in any “best practices” that
you can share with us.

The reader has opined that in light of this, the following paragraph from the report is sort of screaming “don’t do this”:

While other city experiences in downtown street operation would suggest that normal
rubber-tired traffic not be mingled with rail vehicles any more than necessary, and
constantly changing lanes by transit vehicles (particularly LRVs) is not
recommended, the following comments are provided in an attempt to maintain as safe
and smooth a mall operation as possible with the policies already adopted for the
Portland Transit Mall.

So is this a red flag, or friendly recommendations to make it work better?

Question #2 – Bottlenecks

I’m trying to understand if the potential system bottlenecks are a function of the Green Line or the Mall alignment.

Currently the Steel Bridge itself is a bottleneck, and the Y junction on the east side of the bridge is a potential bottleneck. Does the addition of another Y junction on the west side further limit capacity, or is capacity already constrained by the bridge or the existing eastern Y?

This matters because if the new Y is the issue, that might argue toward continuing to use Yamhill/Morrison rather than the mall. If the new Y is not the issue, then the question is whether we can get the Green Line across the bridge to any west side destination.

Who’s got answers or opinions?

Mall Discontent III: Return of TriMet

Update: Saturday: TriMet was kind enough to pass along a link to the APTA peer review report (PDF, 974K). I’ve read it, and the key message seems to be “nobody’s done this before, but you seem to have thought out what you were doing”. In addition there are plenty of constructive suggestions about how to make operations smoother.


Today’s Tribune brings another episode in the saga. TriMet contends that the APTA report was actually a (mild?) endorsement of their design. The Trib’s analysis of internal e-mails from TriMet implies that the APTA report may have been a ‘paid endorsement’.

Any predictions for the next plot twist?

Coining a Term

There’s an extensive piece in the Oregonian’s In Portland section about the Burnside Plan. It analyzes the power politics behind support and opposition to the couplet plan.

Watching the process of deconstructing the results of many years of planning, accompanied by lots of public outreach and input, after the fact, makes me wonder if we should have a name for this process. How about “Burnsiding”?

For example, we could say that the Transit Mall is in the process of being Burnsided.


Update: Ryan Frank, the writer of the O story, posted additional info and links on his City Hall blog.

Mall Discontent II

Update – the morning after: Former Mayor Vera Katz, who chaired the original steering committee that signed off the design is now suggesting that the new information needs a review, as reported in the Tribune.


Whatever you think about the downtown Transit Mall plan, it’s pretty clear TriMet is out of favor with the Downtown Neighborhood Association. The association president used the first part of the meeting this evening to trash TriMet’s response to the written questions.

This was followed by a presentation by Riverfront for People, an organization that until now has been known for their support of removing the freeway from the east bank of the Willamette. They presented their alternative ideas for the mall.

I was not able to stay for the whole meeting, but did get the handout (PDF, 82K). The presenting team was Joe Smith, Ron Buel, George Crandell and Jim Howell.

Here are some of their key points (and my reactions in some cases).

  • The mall does need an upgrade
  • The current ‘weaving’ design is unsafe and reduces bus capacity
  • Two years of construction will disrupt the downtown economy (OK, but what does this have to do with the design?)
  • Moving some bus lines to other streets permanently will be confusing
  • Steel Bridge MAX bottleneck
  • Permanent damage to downtown by moving buses to 3rd and 4th, Columbia and Jefferson (This is the one I struggle with the most – it implies that transit service is a detriment to the retail environment on a street, I think the opposite is true. Also, they might have noticed that Columbia and Jefferson are already transit streets.)

Their recommendations:

  • Separate lanes for Light Rail and Buses, no weaving (doesn’t address Steel Bridge bottleneck)
  • Shorten the construction period (OK, but isn’t that a good idea for either design?)
  • Keep autos off the mall during rush hour (but still allow autos – I think the in the bus lane – at other times. Doesn’t this impact bus capacity?)
  • Keep all the lines currently on the mall on the mall, not on 3rd, 4th or other streets

My overall reaction is that they describe a lot of problems, then offer a solution to a subset. I’m sure that TriMet will basically respond “where were you two years ago when we examined the lane options?”

Mall Discontent

The Portland Tribune is reporting this morning on continuing opposition to TriMet’s plan for Light Rail on the Transit Mall.

While some of the opposition seems a bit cranky, there are also some serious names, Ron Buel and George Crandell, expressing significant concerns about unintended consequences on the downtown environment.

The critics will present an alternative plan at the Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting on Monday (2/13, 5pm at the Lovejoy Room in City Hall).