Temporary Transit Mall, and Now What?

The new transit mall is in use and it is a beautiful stretch through the city.  Now 3rd and 4th have been returned to their previous use as non-transit streets.  The one major difference though is the quality of the street.  It is now crap.  There are dozens of ruts, ridges, pot holes, fills, cracked cement, black top, and other destroyed sections of the street that where in good shape 2 years ago.  All of this damage is bus specific damage.  My question is, what are the city’s plans to fix this?  Is it budgeted?  Have they even planned for it?  Will it be TriMet’s burden?  Is it ODOT’s burden?  In the end, it will of course come out of the taxpayer’s pockets, but that is moot as an assumed point.  I want to know when it will be fixed.

This is one of my ongoing comments about the approach to bus service (I know Erik Halstead has input on this in a number of ways) in the Portland area.  TriMet needs to team with ODOT & the city to make it a HIGH PRIORITY to build primary arterials that buses travel on at a higher quality than mere black top as most of 3rd and 4th are.  It doesn’t do anyone any good to have these streets whimsically destroyed like this because they’re just built crappy.  Often politicians get road funding but then just make sure they get votes for the projects but don’t build the infrastructure for the long term.  That type of nonsense has to stop.

It also brings up the thought, why not really build up the arterials (this is where the pro-bus and anti-rail people and I disagree) that have over 10k-12k riders.  Routes like Powell, Belmont, and Hawthorne should have higher capacity rail options such as light rail or streets (multi-unit).  Rail infrastructure obviously lasts longer than any type of utilized road infrastructure out there, yes at a higher cost, but the costs start to drop once you pay the capital and then inflation makes the price plummet.  Rail that costs a few hundred grand in 1960 is still used today in some cities.  Rail dropped in San Francisco in the 80s and 90s for half of what it would cost now is only at about 1/3 of its lifespan.  Between our monetary inflation system and the lifespan of rail, it easily becomes the cheapest option for high throughput long term right of way.  It needs viewed as such and utilized more.

So with this I mark the closure of the 3rd & 4th temporary bus mall in my own Transit Sleuth kind of way and await, impatiently, the future of transit in the Portland area.  Cheers! (Click on any of the images for the full size (up to 10MP – fair use if you want to use any of them in other media/material – no need to even credit me for these – I just want the street fixed!)


  1. When you have heavy bus usage, as you did with the transit mall, you need to prepare for expedited resurfacing or concrete pads.


  2. Yeah. this is true Wad. Cept’ with 3rd and 4th there was never any intention to have buses on it. But we just ended 2 years of the entire bus mall service being run along these two streets. Now they’re back on 5th & 6th w/ the light rail, which is built to handle it, so they can quickly replace damage points & such.

    3rd & 4th though, is basically destroyed. I guess per Jason we’ll be getting some stimulus money directed to it though. So that should get the roads fixed up good. It shouldn’t cost but about 3-4 million. I’m sure they’ll find a way to spend at least 6+ though. 😮


  3. Basically what the city did on 3rd and 4th was a stop gap repaving job.

    Streets, if built correctly, will last for years. There are sections of I-5 that have 1960s era concrete road surfaces that are still good; there are some stretches of Highway 99W (south of Corvallis) that have the original 1930s concrete surface and are in good condition.

    When I lived in Kalispell, MT, the MDT made it a point that they were going to replace a road (Idaho Street/U.S. 2) with a concrete surface, just like U.S. 93 (Main Street) had on the north-south axis. Why? Because it lasts longer and withstands heavy truck traffic.

    With rail – we would imagine building a high speed MAX line with 65 pound jointed rail and second-rate wood ties, would we? Why do we always cite how "expensive" good bus service is, when in fact much of the reason it’s expensive is because we short-changed it in the first place? We can have dirt-cheap rail service but we insist on gold-plating it up front.

    It’s not apples-and-oranges. You get what you pay for, and it’s no fault of potential transit riders that they "refuse to ride a bus" when the transit agency fails to invest in it. Likewise, when the City of Portland blames buses on poor road conditions (but spends the entire maintenance budget on streetcars)…the issue isn’t that buses are causing the problem, but that the priorities are messed up!


  4. I see your argument, problem is, TriMet can’t just go and build streets wherever – its often easier to build rail. From a political perspective that is. Since we’re dealing with TriMet, Metro, City of Portland, ODOT, and whatever other agencies just to deal with road construction, it is a SERIOUS effort to do so. Thus, another probably with such efforts.

    As almost every study has also pointed out, if they do go to the trouble of dedicated ROW for BRT, it ends up after 20 or so years being more expensive than light rail anyway, usually with less capacity. Your argument is sound, to build better bus service in the first place…

    …however American politics and the inherent system of Government intrusion in transportation make it impossible to really get down to efficient and intelligent choices at the end of the day. Light rail can and is often cheaper in the long run on high capacity lines, but BRT is often a very wise choice, but with the political system the way it is that often just won’t work out.


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