Recently another article came out via OregonLive, “Most metro-area residents live in suburbs, but wish they didn’t: study“, that actually reflects something interesting about our living style here in Portland. The key measurement I’ve noted is that this article differentiates between town center neighborhood living versus suburban living. This is one of the biggest differentiators that often doesn’t come up between suburban and urban living. You see, town center living is dramatically more comparable to urban living versus suburban living.
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…
- – Los Angeles Union Station, more below the map.
- – Where I resided in an artist’s loft for the weekend.
- – 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.
- Is Spring Streets Green Bike Lane Really a Problem for the Film Industry?
- Using Editors to take the Green Out of The Bike Lane (This really shows that the whiny post edit video movie industry types are a bit overzealous in their whininess, as Damien Newton points out by removing the green in about 2 minutes)
- Green Bike Lane Paint Fight Pits Producers Against Cyclists
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.
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.
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!
Currently I’m in Los Angeles sleuthing about. This is a mere 5% of the video I’ve collected so far, a little transit, a few bikes, some trains, a bit of Los Angeles, a sausage and more. Know where the sausage place is, because it was great, totally worth a visit when you’re in LA! So here’s a short sneak peek of upcoming Transit Sleuth TV footage… enjoy! Remember, episode 3 is coming out this Monday at 7:30am.
A short summary…
After a trip to Santa Barbara for a business meeting I headed back to Los Angeles on the 1:50pm departure of the Pacific Surfliner from Goleta, California. While waiting the Coast Starlight tore by at 79mph, which was pretty cool.
After the trip back to Los Angeles, upon arriving at Los Angeles Union Station I started walking from there to my hotel I’m staying at. However at the cross roads of 1st & Alameda I decided to cross back to the Metro Gold Line Little Tokyo Arts District Station and ride north to Pasadena. I traversed the ramp and swiped my transit Tap Card.
Once upon the Gold Line I actually went the wrong way first, but simply took a walk around and then boarded the next train going the right direction. Here’s a montage video of the trip to Pasadena.
…that’s it for now.
A number of days ago I posted a poll (which if you’d like, I’m still taking feedback and collecting it together). In it I asked a few questions about Trimet, how it is doing as an agency, and a few other simple questions. I’m going to produce a shiny report in the near future with the results, but for now, as previously promised here are my answers.
Do I think that things could be better in transit for the city of Portland?
Do I think TriMet is doing a good job as a whole with the revenue they take in and from taxes?
Compared to other transit agencies around the United States, they’re doing one of the best jobs in the United States. Compared to the Canadian cities or even to the United States of the past? I think Trimet is making the exact same mistakes that are forced upon every major US city today. Transit agencies are setup to beg for funding while roadways are setup for automatic subsidies. There’s an obvious and outright discrimination to any mode or thought that a United States Citizen would do anything besides drive. This is reflected in the regulatory and nightmarish transit policies and monopolistic practices that transit agencies are setup with throughout the United States, which also pushes their costs up to often absurd levels. Throw in a heavy dose of monopoly Union control over the agencies, a lack of any clear competitiveness except to beg for money, and transit in the United States is ripe for inefficiencies on a grand scale. Overall though, I find that it could safely be said, that under Government monopoly operations transit is about 20-40% more expensive than private operations. To summarize, do I think we could get more for our tax dollars? No. Do I think we could get more as consumers of a service? History would say yes and I side with history.
Who do I think is responsible for the problems (if you think they have issues) at TriMet?
Let me create a list:
The Federal Government and many of the absurd standards and regulations they’ve set on transit. The vast subsidies that control the transportation industry in the United States (which also in many ways has almost destroyed the transit aspect of it) and give little freedom to cities, businesses or individuals to truly setup and operate transit agencies in general.
The State has poor management over most of the roadways it controls in Portland. Namely 82nd and Powell are a mess and there is little Portland – even though these are obviously Portland roadways now – have almost zero control over what to do with or how to remedy these massive traffic problems. Trimet, or anyone in the city for that matter, can’t run BRT, light rail, or for that matter many more buses than already run on the street. For this, ODOT shares a large part of responsibility in our transit mess. If they build the monstrous CRC then ODOT will absolutely be responsible for creating one of the largest nightmares in Portland’s history.
Portland Leadership (Mayor, etc) is not even attempting to make Trimet run lean. Not that the leadership should, it isn’t technically their responsibility. It is however in their best interest to make Trimet and leaner, cleaner transit machine to improve the livability of citizens in the city. Overall, I blame the leadership at this level only a small bit.
PDC, the Portland Development Commission and let’s include the Metro Committee or whatever they’re called has a huge say in how things are developed, what will be developed and how it will be developed in Portland. This inherently bleeds over to Trimet in a large way. I however, happen to agree with the PDC in most cases and actually support it’s existence. I support it for one reason, I’ve seen the opposite of it in other cities and it causes absolute havoc. It is why Portland can act and act quickly, with a clear mission, toward improving livability and other things throughout the city. Many cities in America cannot do this and it shows in the fact they’ve allowed their downtown cores to be decimated, their suburbs to sprawl for hundreds of square miles, their tax bases to disappear and the cities to almost falter except for the existence of some tall buildings. It is indeed sad. So do I blame the PDC? Yes, but I generally blame them for much of the positive focus and clarity around Trimet’s actions and work with the city to build roads, stops and other amenities that benefit cyclists, pedestrians and dramatically increase safety for both of these peoples. Almost inadvertently auto safety has increased through a byproduct of a lot of these designs.
Trimet, we now get to the people that are responsible for the agency itself. At least, responsible for a 90% of everything about the agency. The other part is of course the Union. The union provides Trimet the workforce that drives the buses, MAXs and because they forced the city to use the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) labor, the streetcar. The WES is however serviced by the freight railroad that actually owns the track and trackway, the Portland & Western Railroad. Trimet is also largely responsible for many of the issues, and I’ll even admit that they could stand to replace many of the buses that have been neglected over the years. Some of those buses really shouldn’t be on the road anymore, it’s time to recycle them. I also think it is a problem, however it is somewhat small, that Trimet actually manages capital projects, which seems smart and not. The reason it is smart, there is no closer entity to the problems the capital projects will solve than Trimet and why it is not smart, is because Trimet’s main onus of operandi is to run transit services. The operational needs of services provisions should one up the project management of these projects. Fortunately, this is again a small overall problem. In the end, it’s a boost to the overall local economy for the duration of any capital projects, whether roadway, rail or otherwise.
ATU Trimet Union is another huge candidate in the overal scheme of things. They have poor leadership (DUIs and other absurd dishonorable actions on their member’s part are more frequent than one would like to admit, I personally have even received, albeit forgave, a death threat from ATU Members). Do I support unions? These days not particularly. Have I supported and are there situations I might support Unions? Yes. Do I support the ATU right now? Not really, they’ve screwed up far more than Trimet has, overreached their bounds, and battled to get the drivers so much that it makes the labor cost for basic transit service fairly unreasonable – but NOT something the drivers shouldn’t deserve and expect – the Union has just gone about it in a horribly inefficient way and setup Trimet so that the only real option is to start fighting them over costs. This is bad for EVERYBODY involved. The Union, its members, the customers of Trimet and the citizens of Portland.
Do you know about, what they’re for, and how the PDC (Portland Development Commission), City of Portland Mayor, Commissioners, City Council, etc work?
Yes. See above. I often get involved when I can and when I find the issue is truly important.
What would be the #1 thing that TriMet – or any entity – in Portland should do to help improve transit in the city?
This list is huge. The biggest win for the United States and especially Trimet could receive is a dramatic and immediate reduction in road subsidies from the Federal Government and a removal of the arbitrary regulations around road building and Interstates. Setting up where money is allocated to cities based on density, number of people and prospective service while reducing the subsidies and zoning encouragement for large sprawl and allow local cities and states dictate how they will build out their infrastructure, systems and related networks. The only large scale infrastructure the Feds have ever accomplished was the Interstate System, which displaced hundreds of thousands of minorities through eminent domain destroying vibrant downtown cores of once majestic cities and then in turn lumping the costs of almost the entire system on the states even though capital outlay was primarily funded through central planning and implemented in an authoritarian way (yes, those of you that are confused, the Interstate System is indeed an example of how Communism and Socialism can work, if that’s what you consider a success).
Simply put, getting the Feds out of our pockets and out of the decision making in Portland would be the greatest boon for cycling, transit and general livability this city could imagine.
The second best thing, which is probably more reasonable, is to expect a more balanced approach to city building. Even though Beaverton, Hillsboro and Gresham don’t pay in remotely close to the amount that Portland proper pays into the transit budget, they should however be built up further around core city center concepts. For the next 5 years, I’d say the metropolitan area should allocate 80% of all funds for transit, livability improvements, bikeways and related funding to the outer city centers (those stated) and the micro-town centers throughout the metropolitan area. I also agree, that bus line amenities and capital outlay and improvements should continue and be a larger part of the city budget. Trimet should focus more on operations around Light Rail and Buses, connecting and getting the frequencies more closely spaced to make the system easier and easier to use. I do NOT think we should lose focus on building out a core backbone in the system with light rail, if anything we should INCREASE spending to get core backbone with LRT and also BRT, but not wimpy piece meal BRT. If we’re going to do BRT half way, I say skip it and sink the capital for light rail now. BRT that isn’t dedicate ROW is a joke. Seattle is proving that for us right now, as I type this, at how poorly and catastrophically bad it can go for a city. Fortunately they’ve spent almost nothing for it (except they’ve had to further cut core services to make sure they could meet their Federal match for it).
Overall, do I think Trimet is doing a bad job? Considering their regulatory, legal and budgetary restrictions, no. Do I think their doing the best job or even close to the best job they could? no.
So there you have it. My two cents, the Transit Sleuth
Yes transit could improve in Portland. Trimet, PDC, the ATU, Portland Leadership, and especially the Federal Government all play a part in the issues that exist with getting better service. Do I blame any single entity entirely, no.
Do I think things will improve over the next 3-5 years? No, primarily because I don’t think the economy will dramatically improve for 3-5 years. However, until the Feds straighten their nonsense out, this 3-5 years could drag on much longer. But time will tell and there is no point on dwelling.
In the end, I hope for improvement. But in the meantime I’ll keep on contributing, being involved and living as best as I can.
Happy riding, cycling and walking! Cheers
Time for some more cutting, straight from Metro… 😦
Public Hearings on Transit Service Cuts
Due to the dramatic recession-driven drop in sales tax revenues, Metro Transit is facing a $60 million annual deficit between revenues and the cost of providing current levels of transit service. To close this budget shortfall, King County has a choice of cutting 17 percent of transit service—taking the system back to 1996 service levels—or preserving current service levels by enacting a $20 congestion reduction charge on vehicles in King County.
The Metropolitan King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee will host three special evening hearings to hear public testimony on the proposed transit service reduction and the Metro Transit budget crisis. These meetings are an opportunity for you to learn about the proposals and weigh in on the future of Metro transit.
The meetings will be held in Kirkland, Seattle and Burien:
Date Location Wednesday, July 6, 6:00 p.m. Kirkland City Council Chambers
123 Fifth Avenue
Tuesday, July 12, 6:00 p.m. King County Council Chambers
516 Third Avenue, 10th Floor, Seattle
Thursday, July 21, 6:00 p.m. Burien City Council Chambers
400 S.W. 152nd Street
In the past two years, Metro Transit has transformed its operations to hold off these cuts and wrench every available dollar out of the agency for service, including:
- Achieving new scheduling efficiencies;
- Eliminating more than 100 staff positions; deferring planned service expansion;
- Reducing operating reserves; and reducing its capital program.
In addition, riders are sharing the pain: since 2007, Metro has raised fares four times, an increase of 80 percent. Metro’s employees were also part of the solution: negotiating cost-cutting labor agreements that will reduce Metro’s costs by $17 million per year.
Despite these fare increases, budget reductions, and operational efficiencies, it is not enough to cover the anticipated shortfall and we are now nearly out of tools to save our system. The savings and efficiencies created by Metro over the past few years save approximately $147 million per year, but the drop in sales tax revenues means Metro still faces an operating shortfall of $60 million a year each year from 2012 through 2015.
The State Legislature authorized a tool that is available to King County to help maintain Metro service at its current level: a temporary $20 Congestion Reduction Charge on vehicle licenses for a two–year period ending in mid-2014. County Executive Constantine has sent that proposal to the County Council as well as two other pieces of legislation:
- An ordinance approving a Congestion Reduction Plan, a prerequisite for Council action on a Congestion Reduction Charge.
- An ordinance cutting 100,000 hours of Metro bus service effective February 2012 and directing Metro to plan for reducing bus service by an additional 500,000 service hours in the 2012-2013 budget.
Metro Transit service is critical to the economy of King County, providing approximately 110 million rides annually, taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road each day, and helping people get to and from some of the largest employment and activity centers in our state. More information about Metro’s financial crisis and the Congestion Reduction Charge is available at this link.
Ok, this sucks. Straight from Metro.
County Executive calls on County Council to enact two-year funding for Metro or face 17 percent service reduction
King County Executive Dow Constantine this morning asked the King County Council to make important decisions about the future of Metro Transit: approve a two-year, $20 congestion reduction charge to help maintain Metro service near current levels for two years, or begin the process of reducing the transit system by 17 percent.
The poor economy has hit Metro hard, causing a drop in Metro’s funding from sales tax. Over the past four years, Metro has cut costs, raised fares four times, dug deeply into reserves, found new operating efficiencies, canceled the purchase of replacement buses, and negotiated cost-saving contracts with its employee unions. These actions have generated nearly $400 million to narrow Metro’s budget gap for 2008-2011 and about $143 million annually for the years ahead—but Metro still faces an ongoing shortfall of $60 million per year.
The two-year congestion reduction charge would be $20 a year on vehicles licensed in King County. The proceeds would be used to preserve transit service while King County works with regional leaders, legislators and the Governor on a long-term funding solution for transportation needs.
In case the congestion charge is not approved, the Executive also asked the Council to authorize a reduction of about 100,000 annual bus service hours in February 2012. This would be the first in a series of reductions totaling 600,000 service hours that the Executive would ask the Council to authorize for the next two years if new funding is not approved.
These reductions would shrink the Metro system by about 17 percent, leading to the loss of an estimated 9 million passenger trips annually.Overall, a reduction of this size would affect 80 percent of Metro passengers—meaning four out of five bus riders would have to walk further, wait longer, make an extra transfer, stand in the aisle, or even see fully loaded buses pass them by.
Other areas have balancing budgets at this point? Why is Seattle still getting hit so hard? Can we stop serving the areas that barely use transit and bulk back up where we get real ROI already?! This is insane.
The other question I have though, is what in the world is this $20 congestion charge? How would it be applied? It appears that this isn’t a concrete idea or maybe somebody knows something more about it?