Where Does The Money Come From?

I’ve mentioned in the past that cities should think of things from more of a systemic mindset. Currently however that’s almost completely impossible considering how funding and Government is organized in the United States. Even within groups things are pitted against each other that shouldn’t be. Let’s take a look at some.

For Oregon the main transportation organizations that handle budgets, building, and planning are ODOT and Trimet. You might thing, oh, but Trimet is Portland’s transit system. Well, this is true and false. It’s actually headed up by a board and the Governor who mandates much of how they operate. It also is responsible for transit over a three county area: Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington. Portland, actually has little control over anything Trimet does besides some tactical issues around capital project design and maybe funding some of the service. Most of the service falls on the back of income taxpayers. Actually about 78% falls on the backs of the income tax and those who pay it. Only about 22% of operations comes from fares. The remaining bulk of capital projects, which is as much or more than operational costs, rests primarily on state budgets, federal injections of cash, and incurred debt on the back of tomorrows taxpayers (i.e. bonds/loans and related funding structures). Here are some of Trimet’s budget documents.

ODOT is funded out of the gas tax and other miscellaneous funds. The bulk of their money going to road construction and encouraging auto-dependency. Some minor funds go to freight, passenger rail, and related matters. Keep in mind, ODOTs bucket for auto related things is the vast majority of their budget. Here are some quick links to ODOT budget information.

Let’s not forget the feds. The Federal Government provides a large influx of transportation infrastructure spending. Also, they spend the largest amount on auto-related transportation infrastructure and auto-dependency programs (i.e. subsidies for parking, funds for roads, etc) The Federal Government also gets a large chunk, but not all of their money from the federal gas tax. Here are some of the documents if you want to educate yourself on the Federal Budgets and funding from the FHA (Federal Highway Administration).

The other parts of Oregon’s transportation, since almost half the population of the state lives in the Portland metro area, is PBOT, or the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Here are some of the budget documents of their’s.

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.

Putting it All Together: Bike, Coffee, Life

December 28th, just a few days from the final night of 2014, I’ve set off for a ride around Portland. This year has been a tumultuous year of firsts and a year of frustrations. I deemed it a day I’d wrap up, before the final week of 2014, with one of the activities I unquestionably love combined with enjoying one of the things I love: biking and coffee.

I set off about noon from home. I turned from Park Avenue down on to Salmon and to the Waterfront. There to the Steel Bridge and up the switch back into the Rose Quarter area and on into Lloyd Center.

Before leaving Lloyd Center I cut over onto Multnomah. It seems, the permanent nature of the Multnomah Cycle-track is always a little less then permanent. As I rode along, the bus stop at the intersection on the corner of the movie theater parking lot had multiple cars swerve into and out of the cycle track and bus stop dedicated space. It’s part of the problem when only mere paint is what separates the two spaces. As I rolled on, even the space with the flimsy plastic bollards had been breached. The bollards that had protected the area had been knocked off of the surface of the street and placed to the side of the road near the sidewalk under a tree. Three of them sat there useless, dismembered from the road surface. I rode on. Continue reading →

National Transit Ridership

Cycling at 6% of Commute, Transit at 8% and … Blagh, Blagh, Blagh…

Let’s talk numbers and the real world. I’m going to lay out a few things in this post.

  1. Why the way we measure auto versus cycling versus transit versus walking commutes in metropolitan areas is an absurd, myopic and broken way to set policy around roads and systems in which modes are used on those roadways.
  2. Why the 6% bicycle commuting number is barely the tip of the iceberg of cycling in Portland.
  3. Why measuring commutes for the entire metropolitan area is counter productive for the city of Portland the surrounding cities of Hillsboro, Gresham, Beaverton, Tigard, Milwaukie, and other places in the metro area.

#1 – Measuring The Commute for the Metropolitan Area

The way urban planners, traffic engineers, and others measure the daily commute is usually by modal splits. What that means is each mode is assigned the percentage of the trips taken with that particular mode.

Let me detail the current way this is measured with an example. There are 2,314,554 persons in the metropolitan area of Portland. At the current labor force participation rates in the Portland metropolitan area we can safely assume that about 50% of these persons would be commuting to work. That gives us about 1,157,277 persons traveling to a place of employment and back every day.

Based on the 1,157,277 daily commutes in the metropolitan are of Portland, at 6.1% the area has about 69,436 people cycling to work everyday. Just think about that for a minute, that’s a sizable number of people bicycling. But is this an honest measurement of Portland commuting as a city? Does the metropolitan area really represent the city? Does that 69k+ people represent cyclists in Portland?

A quick side note…

For the actual city or Portland the population is 609,456 with the commuters coming to about 304,728. Here’s a map of the actual city of Portland, note the red outline around the city.

The City Limits of Portland

The City Limits of Portland

I won’t write about these numbers just yet, but I’ll bring them back up further along in this blog entry.

Is Gresham Portland? Is Hillsboro Portland? Is Salem Portland?

Let’s dive in on what exactly the metropolitan area actually is, then we can look at how ridiculous this measurement really is. Here’s a map of the metropolitan area of Portland.

The Metropolitan are of Portland

The Metropolitan are of Portland

Do you see how big that red area is? That is the metropolitan area of Portland. Does this strike you as a bit odd? Based on what is included in that area, the 6% measurement is absolutely amazing. It’s super impressive when the area is, by a huge order, completely suburban and rural areas that happen to all fit inside of this giant metropolitan area. Wikipedia even has a completely stand alone page dedicated to Portland’s metropolitan area (as it does many other metropolitan areas). This is the normal area that many statistics are derived for policy and decision making at federal, state, county (parish), city and even at the neighborhood level sometimes.

The metropolitan area of Portland includes;

  • Vancouver, Washington @ 161,791 people
  • Gresham, Oregon @ 105,594 people
  • Hillsboro, Oregon @ 91,611 people
  • Beaverton, Oregon @ 89,803 people
  • …and many others.

The 6% number is completely irrelevant, as are any modal splits, based on the metropolitan statistics for each of these cities. Including the city of Portland itself at 609,451 people. So why do we measure at the metropolitan level and then attempt to make quotes and other speculations or even decisions for our city this way? It’s a very valid question considering how often many of the cities surrounding Portland and Portland itself make decisions based on these metropolitan measurements.

There is some use of these statistics that are valid, but time and again they’re brought up to say “the majority of people drive” and “nobody rides bikes” and “barely anybody walks” when that might be true for some auto-dependent neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington but it is absolutely not true for the actual city of Portland. So why hold Portland to the condemnation of the metropolitan area’s statistics? It comes up all the time, people making pro- or anti-biking arguments based on the 6% number. Sometimes people even compare the 6% metropolitan number to the plan to get 25% mode share in Portland (the city) by 2030. Who’s kidding who, we aren’t getting anything positive out of the suburbs in this regard, they’re going to still be polluting the inner city with their commutes and killing each other with their cars by the time Portland gets to 25% mode split.

One last reason to toss this whole metropolitan area focus, especially for the 6% cycling mode split, or the 81% automobile mode split, or whatever number you’re comparing. Let’s get down to the business of the actual communities. Portland is not Gresham, Gresham is not Vancouver, and the others’ are not this or that part of the city. They each have different metrics. But the city of Portland itself has a bicycling mode split for transit that is huge and one for cycling that is also much higher than the metropolitan area. The city of Portland also has a minority use of single occupancy vehicle trips. This might be painful, but give this report and good review. Yup, that’s 43.9% auto use for trips in the CBD. CBD stands for central business district. That’s down from 58.4% in 1994, a pretty damn good improvement. In the CBD transit usage is at 44.5% of trips, up from 33.6% in 1994. These are the types of numbers we actually need to look at to determine goals, not the misleading data of the metropolitan numbers.

#2 – Tip of the Iceberg of Bicycle Usage

I’ve talked about the absurdity of following metropolitan numbers in determining policy in Portland, now I’m going to take a stab at this 6% nonsense. The 6% number is great for the metropolitan area, like I was saying, that’s an impressive achievement when you factor in all of the blatantly hostile areas where some of the riders come from. As anyone who rides regularly knows, a bike lane right beside 30mph+ traffic is tantamount to insanity. There is zero comfort when you know one cell phone talking motorists swerves a little and your life is over. The vast majority of our roads and ways to get into and out of the city of Portland area are still these types of roads. There are very few dedicated paths or cycle-tracks that would encourage the mythic 60% “interested” population to jump on a bike and ride into town. Albeit among all of this frustration with the current 6% number being stagnant for several years now, there are a few trends that lead me to believe that this 6% isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s my list of why the 6% number is illegitimate at this point:

  1. The first reason, goes back to the first thing I wrote about in this blog article – metropolitan numbers aren’t representative of the area we’re trying to measure, which notable is the city of Portland, not the metropolitan area. So let’s measure Portland, not Gresham and Hillsboro and the other areas. PBOT and the city have almost zero net impact on how those cities determine and act to improve cycling, so we really should focus more specifically on Portland’s numbers instead of the averaged number across the entire metropolitan area.
  2. Who’s ridden across any of the bridges that have cycling measurements lately? Notice how on Hawthorne this year (2014) the same drop off didn’t occur in cycling commuters during the winter time as in previous years (2013, 2012, 2011, etc)? It looks like, and I’m waiting to get hold of the actual data, that the drop off was only about 10-30% off of the peak summertime commuters instead of the traditional 40-60% drop off! That’s huge. If that is being maintained, it would appear that somehow there are more consistent riders – which wouldn’t show an actual increase, but it would also lead to a ground swell of advocates that are really holding to it. But that leads me to the next observation…
  3. Who rides around on the east side on weekends or during the week? Ever noticed how there are steadily more and more cyclists going about their business on the east side during the day? I did a couple of measurements: 34th and Clinton, 35th and Hawthorne, 35th and Belmont and Going at the 15th Street Diverters. At each of those locations I saw a steady increase in ridership over the year that I was riding across these areas during the day to do business. I’d stop and count for 15 minutes at a set time each day. After the year and numerous measurements I saw an increase of about 15-20% at each intersection. Even though the results weren’t done in a rigorous way, I did follow a scientific approach. Even without the rigor, and doing this out of pure curiosity, I can’t really ignore them since they were consistent over time.

The simple observation is this. Something is happening within the biking movement in Portland, and it isn’t a decreasing bike share of commuters. There is instead a ground swell of advocacy, an increasing frustration with the speed infrastructure is being built and the kind, and there is a growing love of biking among many in the city. They may not be bike commuters yet, but there is a huge percentage of people out there biking in other ways, and the simple fact is we aren’t measuring them, even though they should indeed count!

#3 – Why measuring commutes is … not a good measurement!

I’ll dive straight into these reasons.

  1. Commuting makes up a trip to work and a trip from work. That’s it, two trips. The average household makes 9 trips per day (see references below, there’s tons of data on this). Why is the measurement we use that dictates the vast majority of transportation policy dictated off of trips that only make up 2 our of 9 trips a day for a household? Fortunately in many cities, the cities take it upon themselves to determine what these other trips are and focus on these trips instead of commutes. However much of US policy at a federal, state, and even many cities, is entirely focused on commutes first.
  2. Commutes leave out everybody that’s not in the workforce, which in the Portland metro is hundreds of thousands of people, and even in the city limits of Portland itself is over a hundred thousand people. That means transportation policy dictated by “commuting data” leaves out an absolutely massive percentage of people. Are you a stay at home mom? Generally not included. How about a student in school? Yup, you’re not really included either. How about a retired person or someone looking for a job? Nope, you’re out too. That’s just absurd.
  3.  The ideal commute is not having a commute. We as a society often encourage remote worker situations, which completely removes someone from commuting. However a remote worker still makes the average number of trips based on household data. This means we’re pushing for people to work from home, remove themselves from the commute, but ideally we’d shift away from the daily commute dogma altogether! So why do we use it as the core policy planning and decision making metric? If anything we should take hold of the data from the OTHER trips and work with that data, the 7 instead of the 2. One might say it’s because everybody commutes and it is the easiest and most problematic event of the day – being it causes rush hour. But really, think about that for a minute and why do we still encourage rush hour with such zeal and gusto? If there’s a problem with the game, maybe we need to change the game!

Summary

Data is a fickle thing. There’s a reason the saying, “lies, damned lies, and statistics” exist. Numbers and data can be used to derive solid, intelligent, and wisely built solutions to problems. But they can also be used to do the exact opposite. When we discuss things we need to form real stories and cast out the absurd misinformation that is spread around by using single metrics. Stories need told with multiple measures identifying the full point of view of individuals in society. A single metric never produces an intelligent and well structured system of solutions, it just leaves us behind.

I’d like to see us move forward more in the United States. Understanding the systemic nature of measurements (the Research Center OHAS 2011 summary is a good starting point) and how they interact and work together will help us actually do that. Cheers, and happy number hunting!

References

2035 Comprehensive Plan

Get Involved in Helping to Plan the Future of Portland! The Comprehensive Plan 2035…

The 2035 Comprehensive Plan is currently being commented on for the city of Portland. The idea is to go to the plan site located at http://www.portlandmaps.com/bps/cpmapp2/. The main page when you arrive will look something like this…

View the Map

View the Map

Click on “View the Map” and the map will then render. Zoom in to the area you’d like to leave comments, such as your neighborhood. You’ll see color coded spaces within the various areas of town that are up for rezoning and new possibilities. This is where we, the citizens come into play to give input and help provide direction to our city.

Continue reading →

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 Milwaukie Light Rail Bus Planning

In the coming months Trimet is going to be putting together a bus plan for the redundant service along the new corridor. The simple reasoning is that buses cost more to operate over time than light rail, a lot more, and the ideal situation is to get as many people to take the light rail and operate feeder service to get people to the light rail. This is a tricky process, here’s a few of the reasons why:

  • Some bus lines would be more logical, like the #33, the stop in Milwaukie or the last stop of the PMLR line and transfer all passengers to a waiting MAX train. The MAX won’t have traffic to battle, will have an easier and faster ingress trip and egress trip out of the city. Timing the connection with the #33 will be really easy, as the service can now operate as an extension of the light rail service instead of fighting with traffic on McLoughlin (the bulk of its trip between Portland and Milwaukie). So a large part of the #33 route could be canceled, saving millions per decade and putting that money into other bus operations and capital such as the #33 between Oregon City and Milwaukie.
  • Other bus lines get tricky, the #19 for instance will cross over (with its current route) the new MAX at one of the stations. But the route on either side of that serves people that may or may not be going downtown. Beyond that, making connections with the MAX is more difficult because of its less than frequent service and which direction would connect with which MAX? The #19 wouldn’t just be merely an extension, but instead would act largely like a feeder. An example would be, if someone got on in the suburbs, instead of riding the whole route it would be faster to deboard and alight the coming MAX train, that would arrive in town faster and more reliably than the #19 bus would. This route then becomes a question of, “what to do?” Increase service? Leave it untouched? Decrease service between X & Y points, increase service immediately between MAX connection points to enable better connector service?
  • #31 and #32 both come from various parts of the metro area and converge on McLoughlin, again making for a perfect direct connection with the MAX. However both buses are arguably faster during low traffic times and slower during higher traffic times. Both bus routes are generally low ridership, so connecting the transfers to the MAX might behoove costs, but maybe not ridership. It however could have the opposite affect on ridership and increase. Would having the end points connected between Clackamas Town Center (where one of the buses goes) vs. where the other goes be improved if we bumped up service levels and connected it reliably to the MAX line going in? What would be the loss vs. the gain of doing so? Whatever the case, it isn’t smart continuing to run these two routes as is when the MAX line offers a lower cost option than running the bus just for the few riders that do take it along the McLoughlin Corridor – in this case, one would logically try the increased connector service but eliminate the service along McLoughlin into downtown. This would create a two-seat (ie. a transfer is required) ride to downtown but it would make for a dramatically more cost efficient ride if the ridership stays relatively the same on these routes or slightly increases. If it increases dramatically it would still be best to transfer riders to the MAX instead, as more service could be provided overall.

Have you thought much about how the service will change, what might change, or thought about getting involved? If any of these buses are ones you ride you should check out the upcoming bus service planning around the opening of the PMLR line. You can’t wait and expect to make a difference, you have to get involved now! Here’s a list of the lines that will be affected with the opening of the PMLR in 2015 (and possibly sooner even).

  • 9-Powell Blvd
  • 17-Holgate/Broadway
  • 19-Woodstock/Glisan
  • 28-Linwood
  • 29-Lake/Webster Rd
  • 30-Estacada
  • 31-King Rd
  • 32-Oatfield
  • 33-McLoughlin
  • 34-River Rd
  • 35-Macadam/Greeley
  • 36-South Shore
  • 43-Taylors Ferry Rd
  • 66-Marquam Hill/Hollywood
  • 70-12th/NE 33rd Ave
  • 75-Cesar Chavez/Lombard
  • 99-McLoughlin Express
  • 152-Milwaukie