Posts by Adron

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Seattle to Portland High Speed Rail

One of China's High Speed Rail Stations

One of China’s High Speed Rail Stations

Currently travel times between the heart of Portland and the heart of Seattle look something like this. Google maps reports driving is 2 hours and 44 minutes. That’s with no traffic congestion. Flying theoretically takes 45 minutes, but that isn’t really to Seattle, it’s to SEATAC, which is nowhere near downtown Seattle. Taking the train takes a mind boggling 4 hours.

But seriously, those times are all a bit deceiving. Because of the unreliable nature of American transportation infrastructure and systems we end up with dramatically different averages. Driving is sometimes as low as 2 hours and 15 minutes, but regularly more than 3 hours if either end has traffic congestion. The train, if you take the Amtrak Cascades takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes, but on some rare occasions it actually makes the trip in 2 hours and 55 minutes when there’s no freight congestion. Flying is a joke if you need to get to the downtown core of Seattle or Portland. Getting to either airport from the city core takes somewhere between 20 minutes to an hour or more for each city. Again, it depends on the traffic and the mode. Using light rail on either end is a 30-35 minute trip to get downtown. So in the best case scenario, with arrival at the airport at least 1 hour before take off we’re talking about a 3 hour trip minimum, if not more. Putting air travel head to head with riding the train. There’s also the bus, which can take a variable amount of time but often similar to driving.

Vision for American High Speed Rail (Click for a great article on American high speed rail)

Vision for American High Speed Rail (Click for a great article on American high speed rail)

Now imagine for a moment if we had real high speed rail service from Union Station to King Street Station in Seattle. At a top speed of 200 mph, with the same stops that are currently in place, the travel time between stations would easily be covered in about an hour an 15 minutes. Maybe plus or minus 10 or 15 minutes. But either way, it would clearly be the fastest way to travel between the cities.

Just think about that type of travel between these cities. Think about what would be possible…

Portland Living, Seattle Jobs

All of a sudden, with a system like that in place it would open up the Seattle job market to thousands of more people in Portland and even introduce the possibility of living in Portland and working in Seattle. That’s a pretty crazy thought when one stops to think about it. A commute from Portland to Seattle would be no more than what a current commute from Tacoma to Seattle is via the Sounder Commuter rail, or some of the express buses from Everett or far eastern Bellevue or Redmond.

Suddenly, Portland would have the possibility of dramatically more business with Seattle, and obviously vice versa. It leaves one with a question of…

Why don’t we have high speed rail between these two cities?

It’s really kind of insane, and is representative of our ongoing paralysis in intelligent economic development between key cities in this country. Portland and Seattle are a prime example of this exact paralysis. The public sector can’t get it done. The private sector isn’t even allowed to touch the notion. It’s pure idiocy all the way down the decision flow.

As I see many people who live in Seattle, who would rather live in Portland, but are stuck living in Seattle because of the better work & career options this high speed rail thought always comes to mind. Also I imagine there are some people that might want to live in Seattle and work in Portland, but probably not. The general crux between these two cities is that Seattle has the good jobs, and Portland has the good life.

Now while you’re thinking that through, just imagine if we really managed to get our act together and include British Columbia and connect Vancouver. We’d effectively move into the realm of a serious powerhouse world class economic region of the world. Livability, jobs, and career options that exceed the rest of North America by many degrees.

I’d wrap up on these thoughts with a simple notion. Let’s kick some serious regional ass and get some high speed rail built. There’s no region we shouldn’t move into the next level in a serious way! It could start with the cities’ mayors getting together to start applying some real pressure on the respective states and nations to get their act together. It’s well past the time we should start building up the Cascadian Region in some serious ways, let’s stop piddling around and make this happen!

Fixing Bicycle Access in Downtown Portland : Time to Get Real

I recently sat reading a Bike Portland blog entry, as I do so often. This one is about a project manage position with the city to work on downtown bike infrastructure. Something that this city, especially with the volume of cycling traffic we have, sorely needs. I started to write a comment, but it got so long I realized I needed to write a blog entry, so here it is… Continue reading →

Thoughts from Oakland on Portland, To 2015!

This last week has been a whole host of madness. I’ve tried to kick off the new year with some solid riding, which I’ve been partly successful at. I’ve also started my planning around activism and advocacy for cycling and transit in Portland. There are a number of projects, but the top three I’m aiming to put effort into are as follows:

  1. I’m working with others to begin citizen observation and video recording of traffic scofflaws. Those that ignore diverters and other traffic control devices are on watch. Think of this as a neighborhood watch but with the prospect of actually pressing charges utilizing citizen citations. Those that endanger others through their actions are officially on notice.
  2. I’m trying to figure out a way, and would love any assistance, at figuring out how the city can crowd fund and allow citizen activists to actually help maintain infrastructure amenities. All of those downtrodden bus stops, MAX stations, and other areas that seem to be in disregard – I’d like to find a way that myself and others can volunteer to help out with these amenities.
  3. I’m starting efforts to organize and sustain more regular rides, both cycling and transit rides, that will culminate in various activities that might include: bonfires, camping, hacking (coding), hardware hacking (building cool stuff that does cool things), and possibly hardware build outs (like hacking bikes and building rigs of various sorts).

No bets yet, I hope I’m successful at all three, but I’ll be happy if I can knock out #1 and one of the other two.

Other Network Building & Learning Efforts

I’m also intending to actually meet, face-to-face, a number of individuals that I’ve been aiming to meet for years in the Portland area. Hopefully if I don’t accomplish the later two of my goals above, I can help others knock out a few of their goals for the coming year in activism and advocacy.

For now, cheers, happy new year, and all that jazz.

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Let’s Have Hunger Games for Cars!

coffee-albina-press2

Putting it All Together: Bike, Coffee, Life

December 28th, just a few days from the final night of 2014, I’ve set off for a ride around Portland. This year has been a tumultuous year of firsts and a year of frustrations. I deemed it a day I’d wrap up, before the final week of 2014, with one of the activities I unquestionably love combined with enjoying one of the things I love: biking and coffee.

I set off about noon from home. I turned from Park Avenue down on to Salmon and to the Waterfront. There to the Steel Bridge and up the switch back into the Rose Quarter area and on into Lloyd Center.

Before leaving Lloyd Center I cut over onto Multnomah. It seems, the permanent nature of the Multnomah Cycle-track is always a little less then permanent. As I rode along, the bus stop at the intersection on the corner of the movie theater parking lot had multiple cars swerve into and out of the cycle track and bus stop dedicated space. It’s part of the problem when only mere paint is what separates the two spaces. As I rolled on, even the space with the flimsy plastic bollards had been breached. The bollards that had protected the area had been knocked off of the surface of the street and placed to the side of the road near the sidewalk under a tree. Three of them sat there useless, dismembered from the road surface. I rode on. Continue reading →

National Transit Ridership

Cycling at 6% of Commute, Transit at 8% and … Blagh, Blagh, Blagh…

Let’s talk numbers and the real world. I’m going to lay out a few things in this post.

  1. Why the way we measure auto versus cycling versus transit versus walking commutes in metropolitan areas is an absurd, myopic and broken way to set policy around roads and systems in which modes are used on those roadways.
  2. Why the 6% bicycle commuting number is barely the tip of the iceberg of cycling in Portland.
  3. Why measuring commutes for the entire metropolitan area is counter productive for the city of Portland the surrounding cities of Hillsboro, Gresham, Beaverton, Tigard, Milwaukie, and other places in the metro area.

#1 – Measuring The Commute for the Metropolitan Area

The way urban planners, traffic engineers, and others measure the daily commute is usually by modal splits. What that means is each mode is assigned the percentage of the trips taken with that particular mode.

Let me detail the current way this is measured with an example. There are 2,314,554 persons in the metropolitan area of Portland. At the current labor force participation rates in the Portland metropolitan area we can safely assume that about 50% of these persons would be commuting to work. That gives us about 1,157,277 persons traveling to a place of employment and back every day.

Based on the 1,157,277 daily commutes in the metropolitan are of Portland, at 6.1% the area has about 69,436 people cycling to work everyday. Just think about that for a minute, that’s a sizable number of people bicycling. But is this an honest measurement of Portland commuting as a city? Does the metropolitan area really represent the city? Does that 69k+ people represent cyclists in Portland?

A quick side note…

For the actual city or Portland the population is 609,456 with the commuters coming to about 304,728. Here’s a map of the actual city of Portland, note the red outline around the city.

The City Limits of Portland

The City Limits of Portland

I won’t write about these numbers just yet, but I’ll bring them back up further along in this blog entry.

Is Gresham Portland? Is Hillsboro Portland? Is Salem Portland?

Let’s dive in on what exactly the metropolitan area actually is, then we can look at how ridiculous this measurement really is. Here’s a map of the metropolitan area of Portland.

The Metropolitan are of Portland

The Metropolitan are of Portland

Do you see how big that red area is? That is the metropolitan area of Portland. Does this strike you as a bit odd? Based on what is included in that area, the 6% measurement is absolutely amazing. It’s super impressive when the area is, by a huge order, completely suburban and rural areas that happen to all fit inside of this giant metropolitan area. Wikipedia even has a completely stand alone page dedicated to Portland’s metropolitan area (as it does many other metropolitan areas). This is the normal area that many statistics are derived for policy and decision making at federal, state, county (parish), city and even at the neighborhood level sometimes.

The metropolitan area of Portland includes;

  • Vancouver, Washington @ 161,791 people
  • Gresham, Oregon @ 105,594 people
  • Hillsboro, Oregon @ 91,611 people
  • Beaverton, Oregon @ 89,803 people
  • …and many others.

The 6% number is completely irrelevant, as are any modal splits, based on the metropolitan statistics for each of these cities. Including the city of Portland itself at 609,451 people. So why do we measure at the metropolitan level and then attempt to make quotes and other speculations or even decisions for our city this way? It’s a very valid question considering how often many of the cities surrounding Portland and Portland itself make decisions based on these metropolitan measurements.

There is some use of these statistics that are valid, but time and again they’re brought up to say “the majority of people drive” and “nobody rides bikes” and “barely anybody walks” when that might be true for some auto-dependent neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington but it is absolutely not true for the actual city of Portland. So why hold Portland to the condemnation of the metropolitan area’s statistics? It comes up all the time, people making pro- or anti-biking arguments based on the 6% number. Sometimes people even compare the 6% metropolitan number to the plan to get 25% mode share in Portland (the city) by 2030. Who’s kidding who, we aren’t getting anything positive out of the suburbs in this regard, they’re going to still be polluting the inner city with their commutes and killing each other with their cars by the time Portland gets to 25% mode split.

One last reason to toss this whole metropolitan area focus, especially for the 6% cycling mode split, or the 81% automobile mode split, or whatever number you’re comparing. Let’s get down to the business of the actual communities. Portland is not Gresham, Gresham is not Vancouver, and the others’ are not this or that part of the city. They each have different metrics. But the city of Portland itself has a bicycling mode split for transit that is huge and one for cycling that is also much higher than the metropolitan area. The city of Portland also has a minority use of single occupancy vehicle trips. This might be painful, but give this report and good review. Yup, that’s 43.9% auto use for trips in the CBD. CBD stands for central business district. That’s down from 58.4% in 1994, a pretty damn good improvement. In the CBD transit usage is at 44.5% of trips, up from 33.6% in 1994. These are the types of numbers we actually need to look at to determine goals, not the misleading data of the metropolitan numbers.

#2 – Tip of the Iceberg of Bicycle Usage

I’ve talked about the absurdity of following metropolitan numbers in determining policy in Portland, now I’m going to take a stab at this 6% nonsense. The 6% number is great for the metropolitan area, like I was saying, that’s an impressive achievement when you factor in all of the blatantly hostile areas where some of the riders come from. As anyone who rides regularly knows, a bike lane right beside 30mph+ traffic is tantamount to insanity. There is zero comfort when you know one cell phone talking motorists swerves a little and your life is over. The vast majority of our roads and ways to get into and out of the city of Portland area are still these types of roads. There are very few dedicated paths or cycle-tracks that would encourage the mythic 60% “interested” population to jump on a bike and ride into town. Albeit among all of this frustration with the current 6% number being stagnant for several years now, there are a few trends that lead me to believe that this 6% isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s my list of why the 6% number is illegitimate at this point:

  1. The first reason, goes back to the first thing I wrote about in this blog article – metropolitan numbers aren’t representative of the area we’re trying to measure, which notable is the city of Portland, not the metropolitan area. So let’s measure Portland, not Gresham and Hillsboro and the other areas. PBOT and the city have almost zero net impact on how those cities determine and act to improve cycling, so we really should focus more specifically on Portland’s numbers instead of the averaged number across the entire metropolitan area.
  2. Who’s ridden across any of the bridges that have cycling measurements lately? Notice how on Hawthorne this year (2014) the same drop off didn’t occur in cycling commuters during the winter time as in previous years (2013, 2012, 2011, etc)? It looks like, and I’m waiting to get hold of the actual data, that the drop off was only about 10-30% off of the peak summertime commuters instead of the traditional 40-60% drop off! That’s huge. If that is being maintained, it would appear that somehow there are more consistent riders – which wouldn’t show an actual increase, but it would also lead to a ground swell of advocates that are really holding to it. But that leads me to the next observation…
  3. Who rides around on the east side on weekends or during the week? Ever noticed how there are steadily more and more cyclists going about their business on the east side during the day? I did a couple of measurements: 34th and Clinton, 35th and Hawthorne, 35th and Belmont and Going at the 15th Street Diverters. At each of those locations I saw a steady increase in ridership over the year that I was riding across these areas during the day to do business. I’d stop and count for 15 minutes at a set time each day. After the year and numerous measurements I saw an increase of about 15-20% at each intersection. Even though the results weren’t done in a rigorous way, I did follow a scientific approach. Even without the rigor, and doing this out of pure curiosity, I can’t really ignore them since they were consistent over time.

The simple observation is this. Something is happening within the biking movement in Portland, and it isn’t a decreasing bike share of commuters. There is instead a ground swell of advocacy, an increasing frustration with the speed infrastructure is being built and the kind, and there is a growing love of biking among many in the city. They may not be bike commuters yet, but there is a huge percentage of people out there biking in other ways, and the simple fact is we aren’t measuring them, even though they should indeed count!

#3 – Why measuring commutes is … not a good measurement!

I’ll dive straight into these reasons.

  1. Commuting makes up a trip to work and a trip from work. That’s it, two trips. The average household makes 9 trips per day (see references below, there’s tons of data on this). Why is the measurement we use that dictates the vast majority of transportation policy dictated off of trips that only make up 2 our of 9 trips a day for a household? Fortunately in many cities, the cities take it upon themselves to determine what these other trips are and focus on these trips instead of commutes. However much of US policy at a federal, state, and even many cities, is entirely focused on commutes first.
  2. Commutes leave out everybody that’s not in the workforce, which in the Portland metro is hundreds of thousands of people, and even in the city limits of Portland itself is over a hundred thousand people. That means transportation policy dictated by “commuting data” leaves out an absolutely massive percentage of people. Are you a stay at home mom? Generally not included. How about a student in school? Yup, you’re not really included either. How about a retired person or someone looking for a job? Nope, you’re out too. That’s just absurd.
  3.  The ideal commute is not having a commute. We as a society often encourage remote worker situations, which completely removes someone from commuting. However a remote worker still makes the average number of trips based on household data. This means we’re pushing for people to work from home, remove themselves from the commute, but ideally we’d shift away from the daily commute dogma altogether! So why do we use it as the core policy planning and decision making metric? If anything we should take hold of the data from the OTHER trips and work with that data, the 7 instead of the 2. One might say it’s because everybody commutes and it is the easiest and most problematic event of the day – being it causes rush hour. But really, think about that for a minute and why do we still encourage rush hour with such zeal and gusto? If there’s a problem with the game, maybe we need to change the game!

Summary

Data is a fickle thing. There’s a reason the saying, “lies, damned lies, and statistics” exist. Numbers and data can be used to derive solid, intelligent, and wisely built solutions to problems. But they can also be used to do the exact opposite. When we discuss things we need to form real stories and cast out the absurd misinformation that is spread around by using single metrics. Stories need told with multiple measures identifying the full point of view of individuals in society. A single metric never produces an intelligent and well structured system of solutions, it just leaves us behind.

I’d like to see us move forward more in the United States. Understanding the systemic nature of measurements (the Research Center OHAS 2011 summary is a good starting point) and how they interact and work together will help us actually do that. Cheers, and happy number hunting!

References