Vantucky Suffers Vantucky Traffic, but So Does Portland, Maybe Provide a Fix?

Get em’ trained. We know one thing about the many morning commutes in the Portland metro. The worst one is from Vancouver, Washington over the I-5 Bridge into Portland. Traffic is always backed up for miles adding 20-40 minutes depending on where people commute from. Currently this is three lanes of packed interstate roadway. There is no way around it in a car without taking a 20-60 minute detour. Of course, that detour also depends heavily on how the traffic congestion is.

Except… there could be an easy fix for thousands of the commuters…

One lane should be made a toll road or “congestion” based lane for transit, taxis, and related high capacity vehicles. However, Vancouver has failed to enable something like that to be setup. They’ve also failed to get any other reasonable options started, such as true BRT or otherwise. Simply put, everybody suffers because of the selfishness of the SOV motorist.

The current SOV motorist can’t blame freight, because freight has shifted most of their movements outside of the morning rush hour on this route. Aside from that, freight isn’t a significant cause of congestion at all, but their business sure suffers from it. The SOV motorist can’t blame transit, there’s not enough buses traveling over the bridge to block a single lane let alone block all those greedy SOV motorists. If anything the few buses going over the I-5 Bridge average about 10-20 people, which is 10x to 20x the capacity of the same space used for 1-2 SOV that a motorist might drive. You can’t blame cyclists, there isn’t even any dedicated cycling infrastructure on the I-5 Bridge at all. Maybe it’s the pedestrians. There are sidewalks, maybe if we converted the sidewalks to car lanes for 2 foot wide cars? Oh, nope, that’s not the point of blame either. So who’s the blame? It’s all down to one root cause; suburbanite SOV motorists. They are the vast majority clogging up the interstate every morning going into Portland. They are their own curse, and everyone else’s curse too. I could go on, but I think the point is fairly evident for anybody with a small amount of functional gray matter in their brain.

So why let them keep messing it up for everybody? Why let their selfishness delay and clog up all the others that are willing to take alternate routes or modes? Here’s a real prospective solution.

Get a true, honest to goodness, BRT that runs from the Community College (i.e. what is going to be The Vine, except make it REAL BRT) to the Yellow Line at the least. A better scenario would be an HOV lane from the Community College in Vancouver directly to the heart of at least downtown to the bus mall. That would be highly ideal. Implementation cost would be for stops and getting 60 foot buses and running them every 5-10 minutes throughout most of the day. Having a dedicated lane from the Clark Community College to downtown Portland wouldn’t be an added cost, it’d just delay those that refuse to take alternate modes.

After that build out whatever else needs to be built out. Until we make strides on some real transporation option, all the (theoretically) tax-evading suburbanites in Vancouver are just going to continue to pollute, kill, maim, injure, and clog up the roads through irresponsible motor-car usage required by their auto-dependency. Something ought to be done to alleviate the suffering of those who would do right by others and jump on the bus instead. It’s really unfair to them, and even in some odd way, to the SOV motorist.

Simply put, everybody would win if we had some serious and dedicated transit options across I-5 from Vancouver to Portland.

References: SOV stands for Single Occupant Vehicle, an automobile that only has one occupant in the vehicle.


Observations of Krakow

Today I’ve gone out and ridden several of the Krakow tram lines. The map shown below gives you a good idea of a well built transit system with appropriate redundancies, requency, and overlapping lines to actually connect inner core city areas with outerlying areas, all crisscrossed with appropriate cocnnecting bus service for lower ridership local style service and a lot of 60 foot bus service.

The trams operate almost entirely in dedicated right of way, except in the old city inner core. Everywhere else they operate in medians, dedicated routes, tunnels, and other pathways that allow them unencumbered travel. This makes for easy frequency and timely travel that rivals that of auto-travel along similar routes. In rush hour it is easily the fastest, except for bicycling, way to travel throughout the inner core and immediate outter regions of the city.

A thought for comparing Portland to Krakow is, don’t. The comparisons really aren’t even close to apples to apples, however there are many things each city could learn from each other. Let’s take a look at a few of those learned lessons, by looking at each city. Not to compare competitively but to see from a learning perspective. (If we can do that) ;)

The trams and Portland’s streetcar and light rail operate in similar ways, at certain times. Both have some tunnel, but not much. Krakow has a tunnel that has two stops near Krakow Glowny, the main train station. In Portland we of course have the tunnel with the elevator to the Zoo and a minor cut and cover style tunnel at Gateway.

Both tram/light rail systems have street running, that is theoretically dedicated, but often mixes with traffic. Both also mix heavily with pedestrians, which honestly in both cities is much safer than the actual automobiles mixing with pedestrians. One major difference I noticed however was the delivery vehicles that come into the city core aren’t the type that would dismember or kill people the way they do in American cities. Anything coming into or out of the pedestrian heavy city core is generally traveling slow speeds and operated in an extremely safe manner. This is something Portland could very well learn and adapt a few rules on.

{Operational Observation}

The 3rd day I was in town some jack ass driver ran into the tram. I noticed an immediate difference in how things get resolved here versus in the United States. In the US, the police would likely need to come, some supervisor would need to show up, and in the meantime that entire tram/light rail vehicle would have to just sit there causing congestion among the entire transit system. In Krakow however the tram driver cursed at the driver to get out of the way, and then the driver took their dented and damaged Mini Cooper and got out of the way. The tram then continued on it’s way since both vehicle were still operative. As should be the case, the Mini Cooper driver would just have to deal with all of their stupidity and cover the costs of damage themselves without interupting the entire transit line! I was impressed!  (I also know, from hitting a pole with a Mini Cooper once, that the damage would be about $3000 dollars!)

Population and Geography

Both cities have unique landscapes to build around, as do all cities. Portland has many hills, two rivers, ancient volcanoes, and other geographic terrain to build around. Krakow is relatively flat, with thick forrests and greenery with a twisting river running through the city.

One city is hundreds and hundreds of years old, the other is barely over a century old. Portland has about 600k people living in the inner core and about 700k living outside of the inner core in town centers and sprawling suburbs of single family homes. Krakow has about 430k living in the core, with barely a measurable amount of people living in the surrounding area. Most in Krakow live in flats, or what Americans would call apartments.

{short rant start}
…and dont even look down at that notion, they’re doing just as good as single family home owners in life with those flats. If you scoff at that notion as Americans do sometimes, you’re showing your damnable ignorance. If anything it shows how deeply suckered you are by the marketing for “space space space!” Space doesn’t get you a loving family, a vibrant life, or otherwise.
{short rant over}

In the inner core of Portland, as in the inner core of Krakow everything is very walkable. There is zero need for a car in this city, albeit about 50-60% of the population uses a car on a regular basis to do something. Around 40-60% use a car to commute. In Portland of course, about 40-60% also use a car to commute into and out of the city inside Portland city itself, however outside the core about 95% commute into the city by car.

Portland and Krakow both have job centers distributed throughout the urban core of the city. In Portland the metropolitan area includes other town centers and job center areas such as the west side like Beaverton, Hillsboro, Intel, Nike, Vancouver also has several sprawled out job centers. This is something that does set Portland apart, in the number of jobs that are located well outside of the actual city itself.

Another key thing I’ve notied is the city of Krakow is an atomic city. There’s a huge Soviet Atomic energy plant just to the south eastern section of the city. It’s barely 1-2 kilometers away from where I’m actually staying. I have to admit it is somewhat forboding, however I know it’s doing volumes to keep the air clean compared to the horrid coal plants that would prospectively be here otherwise.

Even with the clean energy of the atom being provided, the city manages to get some strange toxic smells and is even smoggy on some days. When I say smoggy, I’m talking about Los Angeles level smoggy. I’m not sure what plants or other pollutants are cast into the air, but they are definitely there.


Polish people have a diet similar to that of Americans, albeit they eat dramatically less food. By proxy, I’ve seen two people that could be termed obese by American standards. Only two. Honestly, this is kind of a surreal experience because everyone simply looks very different because of this. Albeit we’re an extremely similar people, there are after all there have been many Polish immigrants come to the United States. Everyone else looks extremely healthy and fit in comparing to the average American, which makes me wonder what differences in lifestyle allow this. Again, this is just merely an observation of all the people I’ve seen so far here in Krakow. So just like Portland isn’t like the rest of the US so may Krakow be and outlier in Poland.

People in Poland also dress conservatively. Portland people dress however they want with all sorts of absurdities thrown in for good measure. In America in general people dress frumpy like they’re a walking catastrophe that don’t know how to purchase cloths that actually fit on their respective bodies. The difference at first glance might seem small, but the differences become very noticable after a couple of hours.

But Polish men generally dress in fitting jeans or slacks (for business), with tshirts or other comfortable and casual button
ups. Often wearing nice shoes of fair quality that look good.

Women dress very attractively in Poland. Pencil skirts, leather skirts, conservative leather jackets, blouses, jeans, shorts, tshirts, and the like. There is a distinctive cut off however right around 45-50 where women seem to shift entirely to long soft colored pencil skirts that run to the ankles and blouses that easily classify these happy ladies (that to Americans might seem grumpy, but they’re not, Communism fell after all and they’re real aware of this fact) remind me of merry grandmothers going about their business without a care in the world about the modern rat race.


Another thing I’ve noticed, that obviously differs from Portland and also other trips to western Europe.

In Portland, people speak English almost entirely. If you don’t speak english in Portland you basically are going to have an extremely hard time doing anything on a regular basis.

In Krakow you can speak english or polish and get by very very well. You could also speak russian and probably do very well too, just from the similarities in many words and such. Also, if you know Italian words for food, you’re also not going to go hungry if you eat out. There are Italian Coffee shops and places to eat everywhere. Italian food is easily more popular in these parts that Polish food actually is!

The difference in languages that I’ve seen between Poland and western european (north western I should add: Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, etc) countries is that most conversations start in Polish here, and almost the entirety of conversations in northern western european countries start in english. Often even conversations among locals in those countries start in english but in Poland you know when locals are speaking to each other beccause it is very clearly Polish.

I assume, again I have to research this theory, that Poland having english as a signficant language goes back to the formation and inclusion of Poland in the European Union. Where as the north western european countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and other countries had started speaking english far before (likely in a significant way after WWII, but really even before that) Poland did. Also, Poland had to deal with decades of russian influence where english was absolutely not a preferrred language to know. With that in mind, the youth in Poland today (< 30) are the first generation(s) that actually had the opportunity to learn english as a core language.

Other Notes

A few other things that I have noticed that I find fascinating. Some of these are just interesting to me and others I’ve noted as they would drive me crazy since some things in America have me spoiled.

Note: Grocery Stores

{partial rant start}
Oh my god I want my natural, organic, non-mutated farm produce and meat! I want it now! Krakow, from what I’ve been able to determine, has no actual fresh food and produce. I realize America generally doesn’t either, but living in Portland has me ridiculously spoiled and dammit I want some fresh fish, some vegetables that were picked a few hours ago. I want something I know hasn’t been flash frozen!

The grocery stores here are the equivalent of Wal-mart style … how should I put it? Shit? The food just isn’t good in the grocery stores. The restaraunts are pretty good, I wonder where they get their food? Maybe they just inject tasty into it somehow? I don’t know.

But the last thing, which is such a small thing, but it makes me nuts. I don’t care about needing to buy a bag, or expectation that I should have my own bag for groceries (because in portland that’s how I roll anyway because I’m not a wasteful asshole). But what does bug me, is I have to hurriedly bag my own stuff (in my bag or the one I just bought) and quickly get out of the way myself at the grocery store.

That by itself might not be so bad, but combine that with the lack of a smile and a hello (even a Polish one that I only recently understood) would be an improvement, but instead the cashier just sits there like a machine, poking the buttons quickly and shoving you along to bag your groceries. This makes me miss New Seasons or even *gasp*
{partial rant complete}


So far I’m thoroughly impressed by Krakow. In the coming days I’ll be trying out many of their cycle tracks and river runs. So I’ll have a lot more to add to all of this, as biking is a legitimate and regular thing that people make use of here in Krakow. So stay tuned… more to come!

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 →


Let’s Have Hunger Games for Cars!

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!


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!


28th & Clinton

Clinton Street @ 28th : Commenting on the 2035 Comprehensive Plan

28th & Clinton (click for full size image)

28th & Clinton (click for full size image)

Another comment I left on the Comprehensive plan went like this,

“This is another node that is great now. However it is another reason I left the neighborhood because the commute through this area on bike just got to be too frustrating. Traffic would pile up coming from Powell and from Division, sometimes diverted or just people cutting from 39th/Cesar Chavez through Clinton as a bypass from Division. In the process adding traffic that isn’t stopping at the businesses and decreasing the safety and calmness of the street as a regular residential street. It made commuting and actually enjoying a cup of coffee out on some of the sidewalk tables less than enjoyable some days. On a calm Sunday with low traffic the ideal condition of the street with cyclists calmly riding up for coffee, a movie showing or such at Clinton St Theater or other activity is great. But the last 2 years has been annoying (and that’s putting it kindly) to be able to enjoy the area with the rush hour traffic dragging on throughout the week.

Summary: A diverter here is need desperately to make this NOT a cut through street for Powell to Division AND to prevent the through traffic using Clinton as an arterial instead of Division (or Powell).”

2035 Comprehensive Plan

Get Involved in Helping to Plan the Future of Portland! The Comprehensive Plan 2035…

The 2035 Comprehensive Plan is currently being commented on for the city of Portland. The idea is to go to the plan site located at The main page when you arrive will look something like this…

View the Map

View the Map

Click on “View the Map” and the map will then render. Zoom in to the area you’d like to leave comments, such as your neighborhood. You’ll see color coded spaces within the various areas of town that are up for rezoning and new possibilities. This is where we, the citizens come into play to give input and help provide direction to our city.

Continue reading →