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’s Light Rail Advocates

There are a number of people types when it comes to light rail in Portland. I’ve set out to put together a view of those types. First off, I’ll describe the two types I find myself fitting into.

Backbone Advocates” – Ideal: Light Rail is a great arterial back bone for a transit system.

These advocates see light rail as a great core service provider for moderate to heavy use lines. They’re often likely to want light rail (LRT) over bus rapid transit (BRT) in almost every scenario. The key reason, is because growth can congregate around light rail far better than almost every other bus option. A backbone advocate is also dramatically less likely to use a bus over or in lieu of light rail.

Cycling Transit Advocates” – Ideal: Light Rail are useful, buses are a pain, I’d rather just bike.

Ok, this category I fall into a lot. Buses are effectively useless and dangerous to cyclists. More so than the tracks in the street. Buses have been the vehicles that have killed almost a dozen of cyclists over the last decade. Many of them children, 5-12 years old. Beyond that, the bus carries two cycles at the most. None of the bus drivers barely know a thing about placing cycles on board. So effectively a bus carries 2 cycles, light rail – a one car train – can carry 4 on racks, and almost a total of 4-6 in between the entrances in the open area for a grand total of 8-10 per car. Most light rail runs with 2 cars, giving a total of 16-20 bikes per train. Buses can’t even remotely touch this. The last fact is simple – streetcars and light rail don’t merge onto you when you’re biking. That makes the rail based streetcar or light rail option the only real transit option for cyclists.

Derp Advocates” – Ideal: Light rail is nifty, I like the way it looks.

These advocates love light rail. They’re not sure they know why they like light rail, but they like it. They like how it feels and they feel X, Y or Z about it but usually can’t back up any of those reasons. These are the people that vote for light rail, and want it because it’s green or it looks pretty or some other non-functional, not really true reason to want light rail, but they love it anyway. These advocates are useful for their votes for light rail, but politically they’re as detrimental to light rail as any other thing someone may advocate for. Basically these advocates are the urbanized version of a dumb red neck that thinks the highways are part of the free-market.

Numbers Advocate” – Ideal: I can statistically prove why light rail is the superior option.

These advocates don’t care about passion or how one feels about something, they’re here to prove everybody else wrong and those that oppose light rail just can’t do simple math. They’re often harsh and introverted to the extreme. These advocates are huge political help when light rail comes up against the “it’s too expensive” or “it doesn’t carry enough people” or whatever other nonsense someone comes up with. These advocates are the ones who do analysis on every single thing they can find. Very useful for bringing up the argument of what light rail really does for a city, but not someone to advocate in front of the camera.

Car Hater Advocate” – Ideal: It aint a car, build it. End of story.

This advocate is simple. Sometimes a cyclist, sometimes a curmudgeon, or whatever they may be they are against anything car related. They often have a host of reasons, all very legitimate, but something society just can’t face no matter how true they are. This advocate doesn’t care how expensive a line gets, doesn’t care if it messes up existing traffic, and only cares about getting the line built. These advocates are politically damaging but often bring with them a number of other staunch advocates in the above categories.

Common (Wo)Man Advocates” – Ideal: I’ve analyzed what data I could find, looked at the benefits and negatives and this seems like a great option.

These advocates are the most important, politically and for ridership reasons. They are the people who will be the core ridership of the line and also will make a line politically feasible or not by discussing and carrying on conversation to build political momentum for a line. They may come to community meetings, they may not, but they’ll be talking about light rail at coffee shops, in the office, over the water cooler and anywhere else the topic comes up. They’ll talk about the pros and cons of the line and say they lean toward building light rail and riding light rail.

I Hate Traffic Light Rail Advocate” – Ideal: If they build other stuff for other people to ride on then I won’t have to deal with as much traffic when I drive.

This is the hypocrite, yet very important ally in the battle to get light rail transit systems built. These advocates, albeit horribly misguided in their notions of what does or doesn’t create traffic, are key in winning votes to get light rail built. Even with the facts around human behavior and induced demand, these advocates have some odd idea that transit will resolve the idiocy and failure of auto dependent roadways.


So this is kind of the bullet list of light rail advocates. Are there others? What’s your take? In a subsequent entry I’ll post the light rail haters list. It’ll follow the same basic premise. If you have any suggestions for those, let me know your feedback on that too, it’d be much appreciated!  😉

The Countdown to Rapid Ride’s Newest Lines C & D is OVER!

D Line is now open and running to Ballard, giving real connection frequency and time to that town center.


C Line is now open and running to Fauntleroy and West Seattle. Both I’m thinking will rock – possibly surpassing the other lines already in service in large part.

Both of these lines connect some of the most active and vibrant parts of not just Seattle, but the entire Seattle Metropolitan area! I’ll be up to give em’ a good test ride soon!

That’s not it from Seattle King County Metro either, they have a couple more left. The E and F Lines are still in construction and final planning. To keep up with these lines and the others check out the Rapid Ride Blog.

Learning From Each Other

Trimet, which considering comparative performance, does a great job comparative to King County Metro on a cost basis. Crazy you say, crazy not I say. They carry less per capita in their city core (i.e. the city itself, not the metropolitan area) than Trimet does, yet Metro does so at almost 2x the price per passenger as Trimet. Even though I think there isn’t much Trimet should imitate from Metro, there are two things I absolutely think they should invest in. These two things, would be easy investments since our neighbor Seattle has so much experience with them and has done most of the research and data gathering around it already.

  1. The first one is easy. Let’s get trolley buses back. Trimet’s diesel buses are nasty, especially those older buses. The older buses, based on what information I’ve been able to gather are dirtier than people riding in a bunch of huge SUVs. They’re barely worth running from an environmental pollution perspective. We need to toss those puppies in the recycling bin and get on board with the some trolley buses. If we’re really serious we’ll get trolley buses that can serve in my second suggestions…
  2. 60 ft BRT buses and some BRT routes to go with those buses! I love the light rail and over time the light rail will save the city a huge sum of money over BRT. But right now we need increased capabilities on the #72, the #9, and many other routes. Matter of fact, let’s toss WES and replace it with a nice clean BRT that can be bumped up to serious rail service – ya know – when Portland is like 4 million people. (whenever that happens)

These two things I know have been on the table and off the table, and overall Trimet has done alright. But they really need to start looking at some of these options. Once the city has a complete north, south, east, and western build out of light rail it is time to build up those rail lines even more by interconnecting them with BRT routes. Then the BRT routes can be shifted over the years as the BRT routes are bumped up to LRT or such. But for now, let’s get some serious frequency and capacity along the core routes of the city and build out those areas even more.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I’m not going to complain like some of the light rail haters do and bus lovers gushing over buses do, but overall, Trimet should put a little emphasis on the services around the light rail.

BRT Hittin’ The Road

Looks like some of the sweet new buses are rolling between Bellevue and Redmond. This means I’ll have to head over to the east side and check out this line. It looks like, at least to me, it’ll be a lot more interesting than the A-line route.

The BRT Blog reports “B-Line Bus Sightings Begin“.