Portland

Tech Helps Build Better Cycling

There’s been a lot of lament about the tech industry and what it does or doesn’t do for a city. I can tell people rest assured, the modern tech company is a huge benefit to cities. Here’s one of the biggest reasons why. They hire people that get active in their tech community, they get active in their local community, and the become active users of transit and cycling at a higher rate than almost any other occupation today. In addition to this the tech industry generally hires people at much higher than median wages, providing a much larger tax base that benefits the rest of society in both higher and lower income brackets.

Portland

Portland

All in all, have a strong tech industry employment base helps a city and its residents in a lot of ways. But what about gentrification you ask? Well remember just because there is correlation that doesn’t mean there is causation, and gentrification is not a cause of the tech industry growing. I’ll have more on this in the future. But real quick I wanted to outline a few companies here in Portland that are leaders in the area when it comes to being great community members. When I say this, I mean in transit use, cycling use, community involvement and city involvement. All of these companies have many people working for them that get active and help out in all sorts of ways.

Elemental Technologies

Trimet did a blog entry a while back titled “Meeting with transit riders at Portland-based startup Elemental Technologies” which has even more information. But here’s a few highlights for the cycling and transit advocates out there.

  • Out of the 91 person team, over 50% use transit and many others cycle into work.
  • The team asked about bus stop spacing, like many of us transit nerds and transit users, we’d like to see them spaced out a bit to cut down on travel time.
  • The Elemental team also asked if the stops will ever be removed downtown to get trip time between Lloyd Center and Goose Hollow down to a more reasonable 10-15 minutes instead of the current 20 minutes. Neil batted this one around and pointed to the fact it would cost a lot to do so. I’m guessing it would actually cost somewhere to the tune of a million or a couple of million to rewire the lights and fix this excessive trip time that currently exists.

New Relic

New Relic got a lot of coverage on their excellent in office, front door bike parking and their dedication to biking as a company. Coverage included “New Relic’s palatial in-office bike parking is Portland’s answer to the Google bus“, “Bikes Are Good for Business: Advocacy on Two Wheels“, and others. Here’s some choice quotes.

  • Asked how many of New Relic’s 180 local employees drive to work, executive assistant and office manager Mary Cameron began ticking off names on her fingers with the help of two colleagues. “Jim drives,” she said. “I think Patrick drives.” They made it to six before getting stuck. “Less than 10,” Cameron concluded.
  • It’s safe to say between transit and cycling, the drivers are in rarity.

Jama Software

Jama Software is another local company here in Portland that has a large percentage of cyclists commuting to and from the offices. This is a home grown (I almost went to work for them when they were just 4 employees!) Portland startup. They now employee well over a hundred people. You can read more about their bicycle amenities and advocacy on the BTA article “Optimizing Efficiency Through Bikes and Software” and the Cool Spaces real estate article “Cool Spaces: Jama Software bangs gong to celebrate new business“.

Note: This is one of many posts I’m going to make on this topic. In the future I’ll connect more of the advocacy and amenities that everybody (not just employees of said tech industry companies) gets to enjoy that comes from these and other Portland tech industry companies.

What Infrastructure Would you Want To See in Oregon and Portland?

I’ve been pondering what ideal wins the infrastructure czars (you know, the Governor of the state, mayor of Portland, Bend, Eugene, Salem and all the other leaders of Oregon) could and should push for these days. With the recent and still ongoing absurdity of the I-5 Bridge to the epic nature of the new bridge in Portland that is Bike, Ped, Bus, Light Rail and Streetcar only bridge, it begs the question. What infrastructure would be awesome to have added to Oregon, and specifically Portland, Eugene, Salem and other such cities and towns? What is reasonable and what would actually be a good return on the effort and investment for the state? What is a good investment to direct a good and effective future path for the state? That’s just the beginning of the questions though, one could write a thick book of endless questions.

But with that in mind, here’s a few I’ve been thinking of just recently.

  1. Rail service enhancement into Vancouver from Portland. Rail service that could be used for, but doesn’t necessarily mean passenger service initially. The bottleneck on either side of the Columbia River is a problem space, however with some solid double tracking, or even triple tracking from Portland north through Vancouver to the Battle Ground area and even out toward Camas we could get some serious benefit from this. Freight could be handled by rail into the city and out of the city more easily, putting intermodal points at locations that better serve Portland and Vancouver instead of so many trucks driving into and out of the cities via interstate. The other notion would be, at some point, with appropriate access real commuter rail service could be offered easily from points north like Battle Ground, Camas, and other locations and have them funnel through Vancouver’s station and into Portland. We’re talking about 15-30 minute commutes. Light rail will never accomplish this, bus service won’t accomplish this, only passenger rail could accomplish this. As the current service, albeit not effective as commuter rail, already serves the corridor from Vancouver to Portland in about13-16 minutes, pending they get a slow order or not. Regardless, for bang for the buck, subsidizing a rail infrastructure expansion here would go far beyond any other motorized infrastructure investment in the area.
  2. Cycle track system, not just a few cycle tracks. Not faux bike infrastructure but real bike infrastructure. Let’s put 20-30 million into it every year for the next decade, then let’s see where we get an truly reevaluate that. For the $200-300 million it would cost to get Portland true bicycle infrastructure on a world class scale similar to Amsterdam, it would easily give us the ability to hit the 25% mark for cycling. This in road bike infrastructure however is a joke to most people, and seriously, it still just exacerbates the more neanderthal drivers to freak out the less assertive cyclists. Very frustrating to see such an opportunity go down the drain. As for that investment, we already know the more cycle oriented parts of town are doing crazy good business, have healthier, happier and more effective citizens then the auto oriented areas – so seriously, we need to get our ass in gear in this regard.
  3. BRT – Bus Rapid Transit needs to be put into play in a number of areas from Eugene to Salem to Portland. BRT would be highly effective in acting as core arterials feeding the existing light rail systems, and as systems feeding directly into the city cores. BRT should be implemented as true BRT, not the faux junk implemented in Seattle, but as dedicated – possible to upgrade to LRT or even heavy rail in the future – with regular 5-7 minute service for more than 10 hours a day. Ideal points to connect in Portland would be Gresham down Powell to downtown Portland, 39th street north and south as a feeder from St Johns out and down to Hollywood and into Milwaukee, and another possible great route would be to setup a core run somehow on Barbur and put some traffic calming into place so motorists stop killing pedestrians and other motorists on that arterial. BRT could play a huge part in future build outs, especially since we need to bulk up ridership with frequency more than “luxury light rail”. Light rail is still needed, but with the completion of the Portland-Milwaukee Light Rail, we’re good for the next 10-20 years for rail infrastructure as our corridor backbone. Let’s get to feeding it as we should to make it easier and faster to use.
  4. My last thought is actually a huge way to spend a little money and over time save millions upon millions. There are untold miles of roads in Portland that we can’t afford to maintain, along with roads in Salem, Eugene and every major city and even more road miles in rural parts of the state. We should designate some of these roads as either toll roads, no longer maintained roads (i.e. close them unless a private entity wants to take responsibility for them) and especially in the city let’s figure out which roads we can cut out, stop maintaining, turn into parks, do turn outs or cut offs to improve neighborhoods and decrease costs or one of another zillion options. Simply, we have too much road infrastructure for a limited budget at the national, state and city and county levels. Let’s scale back appropriately. If motorists want to pay more to have more infrastructure, let’s actually foot the bill instead of continually pawning it off to bonds of various sorts that often end up in foreign hands. Our current road funding models are just insane, let’s budget what we can afford instead of living so far past our means. This would economically, environmentally and socially be logical as well as getting people to face the reality that we’re overbuilt on debt and poorly run infrastructure – we can do better.

That’s my top 4 that ought to have something done sooner than later. I’d love to see what your top choices would be. Leave a comment or three with your thoughts, I’ll put them into a larger write up that might even be put forth to implement. Cheers and happy riding!

Portland Meeting w/ The City on Street Deaths, Maintenance and What To Do

Thursday night at 6:30 kicked off a public meeting at the Sunnyside Environmental School. This topic concerns everybody from the motorist who wants better roads and roads to last to the cyclist who wants to be able to ride peacefully down a greenway into work to the pedestrians who would like to walk down the street with their children and not fear that one of them may be killed or maimed by an errant driver. Ok, so a few stats to start this article off. The first are few from this image and derived information (ie, I did some simple math after speaking with one of the street engineers on hand and also others that work for the city, they know this material very well).

Portland General Fund (Click for full size image)

Portland General Fund (Click for full size image)

First thing to note, because it escaped me for about 2 seconds until my friend Tony pointed it out, public safety actually translates to police and fire. So let’s just put that out of our minds as anything that we’re allowed to be “flexible” with. But the real kicker, is we get down to actual road budgets in the general fund. The transportation and parking budget is a mighty whopping 2% at $8.7 million dollars. When it comes to road maintenance and other such things, that isn’t a lot to work with. Now keep in mind there is still the gas tax, which in Portland isn’t a huge amount of money but it adds a few million more. But a lot of that goes to other roads too. ODOT takes a cut, the Feds of course take a cut of gas taxes, etc. The gas tax however is NOT a large amount of money and does NOT fill the gap between needed roadway work and related things. The simple fact is, gas tax plus general budget funds don’t really cover but about 20-30% of our roadways. More on that in a moment. The second image I took is of a little budget pie chart split out.

Pavement System (Click for full size image)

Pavement System (Click for full size image)

Up in the left hand corner (click if you can’t see it in the regular sized image) of the image you’ll see a few stats.

  • 4,827 lane miles in Portland’s road system. (that’s 1 lane that is 1 mile long, it does not include ODOT roads like 82nd, Powell and others, nor does it included Interstates (federal/state/ODOT) or related roads that happen to come into Portland)
  • 1,871 of busy streets. These are basically arterials where there are buses, trucking, etc. These are the arterials, sometimes including neighborhood arterials like Division, Hawthorne and other such extremely busy streets.
  • 2,971 lane miles of neighborhood streets.
  • $5~ about 5 billion in value.
  • 52% of busy streets are in fair or better condition.
  • 46% of neighborhood streets are in fair or better condition.

Simple Math, We’ll Have to Give Up Some Roads Soon

As I spoke with one of the city engineers about this information I asked, “based on the budget or even doubling the budget, how many lane miles can the city of Portland maintain?” He did some quick math in his head. I then confirmed that number based on some extremely conservative estimates the city could maintain about 1300-1500 miles of roads. As shown above on the chart, there are 4,827 lane miles in Portland, which leaves somewhere between 3,327-3,527 that can’t be maintained. Looking at things another way, Portland has enough money to cover most of the maintenance of the busy streets in the city but not the neighborhood streets. The city has 3,327 to 3,527 miles of streets that will continue to fall into disrepair.

But what about the unpaved streets? They measure approximately 60 miles of unpaved streets in the city. Most cities have somewhere around the same to dramatically more unpaved streets than Portland. Many of the streets are short blocks that lead immediately into a paved street, alleviating much connectivity issue. All of the unpaved streets are used rarely by anybody but the people that live on the street or a few others that might pass by. Emphasis on a “few”. So the question really is, “so what about em’?” With that I’m going to drop this point for a few, because while a few people fuss about 60 miles of unpaved streets there are 3,327-3,527 miles that are merely years away from becoming unpaved. Priorities here people, priorities.

So there seems to be some options here that are going to take place no matter what we do. No significant money is going to become available. The feds aren’t exactly swooping in to save the disappearing gas tax revenue. It’s up to the cities, and the only options on the table for streets are to let some of them disappear from the cities list of streets to maintain. In New Orleans I recall seeing those notorious signs “This Street No Longer Maintained”. That sign meant the city of New Orleans was done with that street, it was up to the local community to do anything with it. Most people on the street and surrounding areas were actually fine with that. They didn’t care.

What to do with all these streets we can’t maintain? As road budgets get strained even further there is going to be increasing pressure to abandon the notion that a street must be provided to every single doorstep in America. It just isn’t possible, never was, and never will be.

So the question is, with well over 3,327 miles of of road miles about to be left untouched, why keep wasting them as mere roadways. What should we do with them? Some neighborhoods have even reclaimed low yield streets and planted mid-road gardens, turned them into neighborhood parks and other such wonderful additions. Why not officially start declaring some streets as off the books and let the neighborhoods really, truly take back their streets!

There’s a lot of potential in this issues to reclaim the streets and make our neighborhoods more livable, safer for our families, friends and children and make our city more efficient in the process. What are your ideas for these 3,327 miles of roadway?

NOTE: The Oregonlive also published a wrap up with some good quotes from attendees @ http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/02/city_asks_residents_where_do_w.html

Metro Doing a Good Job on Los Angeles Transit

There’s a million reasons why I’ll likely never live in Los Angeles, but I do indeed like to visit. Whenever I visit I don’t stay in some hotel and do the tourist thing. I usually get an airbnb (even though I’ve heard that’s illegal in a number of cities like Los Angeles) or stay with friends in the area of my travels. It’s better, in my opinion, to stay where the heart, passion, art, music and life of a city are versus in some stoic and staid hotel that is disconnected and segmented from the people and life of a city. While amidst the heart of Los Angeles here’s a few observations, thoughts and general adventures from the last few days.

Where Did The Sleuthing Occur?

Some basic geographic context here…

  1.  – Los Angeles Union Station, more below the map.
  2.  – Where I resided in an artist’s loft for the weekend.
  3.  – The Spring Street & Main Street Bike Lanes. The location of the recent battle with the movie industry scouts (yes, they’re idiots and that out of touch with American cities these days) over the green in the green bike lane in the street ruining their shots! Here’s a few choice write ups and videos of the film industry whining away. Contrary to their nonsense, I guess they’ve missed the fact that green bike lanes exist in almost EVERY MAJOR CITY IN THE UNITED STATES NOW! I always knew hollywood was out of touch with the country, little things like this just further prove it.
Los Angeles, Click for actual Google Map.

Los Angeles, Click for actual Google Map.

Riding the Coast Starlight one arrives at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. This is a beautiful station located just across the street from the original old city of Los Angeles. This old city happens to be a public space and tourist attraction of sorts these days. Union Station is an amazing place, with a large waiting room, an underground tunnel that connects all of the track platforms and over 60,000 passengers a day through the station. It serves several Amtrak, Amtrak California and Metrolink trains along with light rail Gold Line Service with a subway connection to the Red and Purple Lines. The connections in Union Station are great. Being able to get almost anywhere in the Los Angeles area from the station with maybe one transfer.

Light Rail

The light rail of the Metro System is nice, the light rail vehicles (LRVs) are smooth riding, fast accelerating and decelerating, and have good visible for the ride. Beyond that they run most of the light rail lines at bout 10 minute headways, making it very easy to use to go back and forth for errands. Another thing I took note of, at least on the Gold line, is that the cars are well maintained and generally kept clean.

Buses

The metro buses are an extremely wide range of vehicles. From buses that look like they’re dated from the 60s or 70s to extremely modern buses, Metro has them all. Most are kept clean, and the modern sleek BRT style buses operate quickly and frequently. Overall, they’re pretty nice, the frequency is pretty solid and the BRT routes of the Orange and Silver line are exception. I will make the standard complaint about buses that, the ride quality even on these BRT lines isn’t very good compared to the light rail ride quality. I’d still be hard pressed to do anything on the bus besides listen to headphones. Contrary to the light rail, which I routinely read, work on a laptop, listen to headphones or even carry on with fellow passengers. All easier or possible on light rail while much more difficult to impossible while riding the bus.

That’s it for now. In just a few hours I’ll have episode 3 of Transit Sleuth TV up and live, so keep reading and watching. More to come!

References:

A West Side Re-Exploration of Orenco Station & Neighborhood

Paul Peterson @emptefilms & I @transitsleuth went out to Hillsboro to check out how Orenco Neighborhood (town?) has developed. You can read more about Orenco Station via the Wikipedia Page. As described on the wiki page, “is a neighborhood of the city of Hillsboro, Oregon, United States. The planned urban town center was designed as a pedestrian-friendly, high-density community built in conjunction with TriMet’s Westside light rail. It was built on land formerly owned by the Oregon Nursery Company, land home around the turn of the 20th century to Orenco, a company town. During the Great Depression, the company went out of business, and much of the nursery land became vacant until re-development began in 1997. Orenco Station is near the intersection of NW 231st/NW 229th Avenues and Cornell Road, centered on the Orenco Station MAX stop.

There’s also a basic web presence at http://www.orencostation.net/ that provides some current commercial information about the neighborhood.

The stop that anchors the entire neighborhood is simply named the Orenco / Northwest 231st Avenue Stop. The station has a park-and-ride lot with 180 free parking spaces (for 24 hours at a time) and bus connection to line 47-Baseline/Evergreen. The station also includes bike lockers and bike racks. A block north is the site of the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market’s seasonal Sunday marketplace and the core of the Orenco Neighborhood.

Keep reading and subscribe to the blog (RSS) or the video channel, an upcoming episode of Transit Sleuth TV will have more about Orenco and the development there.