Transit Projects: Faux BRT – A Summary of the Situation

Previously written about here.

There are two projects that are either being built or are in the works. There’s the Trimet Powell & Division Corridor BRT Project and north of Portland in Vancouver there is the Fourth Plain “The Vine” BRT Project that is being built right now.

What is BRT? BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, is bus service over dedicated lanes. This service is generally provided with higher capacity buses that are 60 feet long or longer. Think of current light rail service in downtown Portland it’s basically similar to that, just with buses. The buses run in these dedicated lanes, people pay fare off of the buses at the stations, they have light precedence, and that way the buses are able to move along much quicker than traditional bus service.

The two “BRT” projects I mention above are neither BRT nor regular bus service, but instead a mix of traditional bus service and BRT. The bus service for The Vine and Trimet’s current project will include 60 foot long buses, payment at the stations, but beyond that will have no real features that would make BRT. Thus the reason I labeled the service “Faux BRT”.

Bus Service Improvements : The Current Situation

Even though these lines won’t be real BRT, the good thing is that both of the lines are pretty dramatic improvements over what currently exists. Right now both routes have regular, frequent stop, local bus service style operation. That means they stop about every other block, which makes them timely or efficient if you need to only go a short, very short distance. Otherwise they quickly double, triple, or quadruple the time it takes to simply bike or driver the same distance.

In the case of The Vine in Vancouver, the route will travel along Fourth Plain from downtown Vancouver to Westfield Mall. The route currently has two routes that serve the bulk of the corridor: the Ctran #4 & #44 routes. The #44 is an express bus that currently travels from Delta Park in Portland (the second to last stop of the MAX Yellow Line) and goes to Westfield Mall and past it onward to some other key points. The #4 goes from Delta Park, the same MAX stop, through downtown Vancouver, and onward along Fourth Plain until it reaches the Westfield Mall.

In the case of the Powell/Division Corridor, there are two buses that run this primary corridor right now too: the Trimet #4 & #9 routes. The #4 actually starts far north of Portland in St Johns, travels all the way south into downtown Portland, then back across the Hawthorne Bridge, then over to Division and onward until Gresham. Almost 15 miles form downtown Portland to Gresham, and the #9 completes a similar route, except on Powell.

The Ctran #4 and #44 are low ridership lines compared to the #4 and #9 in Portland. Which will make the ridership of The Vine interesting. Ctran intends to remove or significantly alter or curtail #4 and #44 service when The Vine starts running. The Trimet #4 and #9 lines are actually high ridership lines. Trimet doesn’t intend to entirely cancel either of these lines, but the intent that the ridership that currently uses the #4 and #9 routes in this corridor will likely switch to the new service to get downtown.

Predictions

In both cases the new service will reduce the overall costs for Ctran and Trimet to carry passengers in the corridor while making way for decreased trip time and a potential ability to carry far more passengers than can currently be carried with existing service. The current estimates, from yours truly Transit Sleuth, is that The Vine will like get about 8-10k rider trips per day. The Powell/Division Corridor Service will likely see upwards of 15k passenger trips or more per day and likely climb well past that once it has been operating for several months and people get used to the frequency and faster travel times.

A Major Concern for “The Vine”

There is one other caveat of The Vine, which might be a major sticking point. This bus service improvement actually curtails service in downtown Vancouver, while replacing the #4 and #44 bus. The #4 and #44 bus currently goes to Delta Park, which is one of the top destinations for all of Ctran ridership. The Vine cuts out Delta Park, which could cause a significant time increase and prospectively drop that 8-10k riders a day down significantly. I personally would suggest that Ctran and Trimet both need to figure out how to insure that the riders can get to Delta Park with one trip – one more transfer is unacceptable. Already the vast majority of riders on the #4 and #44 are going to Delta Park specifically for a transfer to the MAX Yellow Line, so adding another transfer would make an already time consuming & rough trip into a relatively unbearable one for the majority of riders.

So that’s my quick review of the situation. More to come on this topic later.

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.

Portland

Updates: PMLR Bus Changes in 2015, Clinton Street Chaos, and Division/Powell BRT

PMLR Bus Changes

The final proposal for bus changes when the PMLR (Portland Milwaukie Light Rail) line starts running and the respective changes are in place have been posted. I’m stoked about a few of the changes that I’d already assumed would take place.

My favorites of the list include:

  • The #9 and #17 are both going to start running over the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. This is going to make the rush hour service for these buses dramatically better. I used to live at 20th and Powell, and during normal times of the day it was about a 10 minute bus ride on the #9 or #17 to downtown, but during rush hour it could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the Ross Island Bridge. With this change, that cluster of car catastrophe will finally be over for those bus routes!
  • Even though it is rare that I’m in the area on these routes, the #31 and #33 will actually become more relevant and usable for me to do business south of Milwaukie. Today I sometimes will go down to Milwaukie to meet with or work with clients, but I’d never go west of or south of Milwaukie from Milwaukie itself. Usually I would just refuse customers or other work from those areas (not that there is much to start with), and those prospective customers would unfortunately lose out. Now myself and others have an increased service area based on these new routes.

Clinton Street Chaos

Some odd things have happened as of late in the drama of Clinton Street. One of the most awesome things of the last few days was the release of a diverter, done in a beautiful Portland style using tactical urbanist maneuvers to get drums put into the street to divert cars off of the bike boulevard! Personally I find it bullshit that the city went out to remove them so quickly, since they can’t replace potholes or do other things that they are actually supposed to do within a reasonable time frame. They should have left them there for at least the early morning, and let the early morning children bike trains enjoy the added comfort of getting to school that way, or simply the safer conditions that other cyclists (thousands mind you) would have on the route.

The other thing that has changed in the area, is a few strong riders that I talk to regularly have all started – or plan to start – just riding in traffic on Division. The reason being is Division traffic moves at a more reasonable average speed (lower top speed, faster from point to point) than over on Clinton now. The idiots using Clinton as a short cut spurt down the road at 30 mph sometimes, endangering anybody on or around the road and oncoming traffic as they recklessly pass. So since this isn’t even possible on Division anymore, it makes it a somewhat faster and safer street for anybody traveling on it. Albeit the “street skippers” barreling down Clinton are to damned stupid to realize this, because they’re in “must hurry and win the rat race” mode that they don’t stop to realize that a higher top speed doesn’t get them there faster.

Either way… the whole of Clinton, Division and especially the growing auto-train-pacolypse that is going on at the nexus of 11th/12th and Clinton and Division is a growing catastrophe. I’m hoping to write more about this in the future, with some thoughts are real solutions now versus the solutions that we’ll need but will take 10+ years to get them into place!

Division / Powell BRT

So there’s this myth (and yes I know they’re actually workign toward getting it actually built, whatever it is, has been discussed here, here, and here among other places, but I won’t believe it until they break ground with a real plan) that Portland will be getting BRT along Powell and Division. The idea is that BRT would probably run over the Tilikum Bridge (since it already is technically real BRT) and then go onto Powell until 82nd or other section, cutting over to Division on to Gresham. I’ve got a lot of thoughts and ideas about how to really connect the Division corridor to BRT, and cutting across on 82nd I’m not sure is the best spot. BUT, this is huge for many obvious reasons. The most obvious one is that both Division and Powell are in desperate need of better transit service. I however have a massive fear about this project…

The Fear

Will it be real BRT, and if so, where in the hell will it go on Powell? Further out past 39th (and even a little before) heading east there is plenty of room to move sidewalks and roadways around to make space for BRT. The only way, and this is only if Portland is serious about helping people become the focus of this city instead of automobiles, is if the city is willing to get brave and take away some actual auto-capacity. This would be a real removal of auto-capacity on a major street, not some pretend removal like the theoretical removal of auto-capacity on streets like Burnside or Foster, because the capacity at current is barely affected by road diets because the capacity throughput requirements are manageable in every other hours of the day except rush hour. On Powell, getting BRT wedged in there will for sure cut back on actual SOV auto capacity. Either way, one day, Portland WILL BE FORCED to make changes to this area that will result in auto-capacity decreases, so the sooner the better.

Does anybody have any other details on this yet? Will it be real BRT? Are there already plans to cave before the selfish-misguided pressure of auto-lobbyists to maintain current auto-capacity over the needs of all citizens? How is that going? What’s up in the region? I mean, I kind of live here, but it’s still hard to keep up with all the exciting, wild, sometimes crazy things going on!  😮