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Light rail project funding gap could impact bike parking, access

Posted by on September 15th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

The Rhine Pedestrian Bridge over
the Brooklyn Yards might not
get renovated after all.

TriMet’s $1.5 billion Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project is facing a $200 million budget gap and cuts currently being considered could impact bike parking and bike access. The gap is due to an unexpected announcement by the Federal Transit Administration in July that they’d only fund 50% of the project instead of a 60% share that all previous light rail projects have gotten.

At last night’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, PBOT project manager Art Pearce said they’re just now starting to identify pieces of the project that can be cut. While TriMet executives look for additional funding, Pearce and other project partners from around the region are going through the project with a fine-toothed comb to find areas that can be cut back or deferred completely.

A slide of cuts and deferrals as presented by Art Pearce last night.

As presented by Pearce last night, among the cuts being considered are removing planned viewing areas from the design of the new Willamette River Bridge, not doing planned upgrades to the Rhine Pedestrian Bridge, not replacing the Clinton Station Pedestrian bridge, and taking 20% out of the planned budget for bike parking.

Without improved biking and walking facilities on the Clinton Station and Rhine bridges (which are just a few blocks from one another), non-motorized access to the new light rail line would be negatively impacted. As for bike parking, there are 383 additional spaces proposed in the project. The total loss of spaces would depend on which type — lockers, staples, and so on — are chosen to be part of the 20% budget cut.

In a telephone interview today, Pearce said finding the cuts is a balancing act. “We’ve been working to identify cuts we think we can live without, things we think we might be able to make happen in other ways.” Pearce was referring to his hopes that “at some point… as development happens” they’ll be able to address the Rhine Pedestrian Bridge, which is a dilapidated structure with stairs only that was initially planned to be renovated to include easier access for people on bicycles.

TriMet plans to roll out more details on proposed cuts at a Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting tomorrow night. Dan Blocher, TriMet’s Executive Director of Capital Projects will address the committee. If you’d like to weigh in on these cuts you should consider attending. The meeting is at St. Philip Neri Parish (2408 SE 16th Ave) from 6:00 – 7:30 pm (agenda and more details here).

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  • Madrick September 15, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    You state “the Clinton Station and Rhine bridges (which are just a few blocks from one another)”. While this may be true looking looking at it from a map, these two pedestrian bridges serve distinctly different areas of SE Portland. Once you take into account Powell Blvd and other infrastructure which makes the flow of bike and ped traffic in this area difficult anyone can see how these are more than “just a few blocks from one another”.

    The conceptual design report for this project stated that both of these existing pedestrian bridges were going to be replaced and relocated. It will be an opportunity missed if these don’t get done during the build out of the light rail.

    The CDR also states that the Powell Blvd over/underpass will get long overdue bike and ped improvements at 17th… let’s hope this part does not get axed.

    I think it would be a lot cheaper if they just used the right of way this project would use and build a new bike/ped trail. Then put “park and bike” facilities at Park Ave and Tacoma St and connect the soon to be complete Trolley trail with inner SE. It would connect to the Springwater Trail and we’d have a new North/South bike super highway!

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  • RyNO Dan September 15, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    That is really disappointing.
    These crossings are an embarassment to inner SE Portland. The railroad dices up our neighborhood. These crossings should be made extremely helpful for cyclists/peds.
    Didn’t a young man perish here not long ago trying to bypass the facility ?
    And (remind me) I believe the mayor made an appearance suggesting improvements.
    I would like to thank whoever worked to get these changes on the schedule.
    But we should not have to rely on some federal grant for these improvements to occur. Thanks for the update.

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  • jim September 15, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Can’t BTA pay for some of this?

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  • Thomas L. Ngo September 15, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    The Rhine pedestrian bridge would be upgraded if the Southeast Corridor Project were to be funded.

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  • Andrew September 15, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    This is the kind of stuff that makes me wish bike advocates could talk about the real cost of Light Rail and streetcar. For $1.5 billion we get a nice 7.3 miles of light rail to Milwaukee. Which is nice, don’t get me wrong. And yet it’s not even a fast connection to the city (look at the details, it’s only a medium justification under federal standards for the project). How is this supposed to compete with the convenience of car commuting again?

    Isn’t this just repeating the mistakes of the west side max where suburban commuters don’t have adequate park and ride to actually use the max?(Sunset TC fills up super early, and good luck taking the bus with all the service cuts)

    Instead for just over a third of this project we could fund all of the 2030 bike master plan. And without the legacy costs of (expensive) trimet employees. Why should cyclists get behind this proposal exactly? What does this do for us? More max trains without enough hooks for bikes during peak hours? An extra bridge that we can’t access due to these cuts of railyard overpasses? No thanks.

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  • Steve B. September 16, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Andrew, you raise some good points. Unfortunately, funding massive bike projects is considerably more difficult than funding a shiny new light rail line, particularly on the federal and state level. If we had a 50% federal match on bike projects, we might be well on our way to building out the BMP!

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  • Steven Vance September 16, 2010 at 2:22 am

    As long as they give enough space for future installations of bike parking, I think this would be a fair thing to cut.

    What cannot happen is building in such a way that makes future enhancements (of any kind, bike parking or not) more difficult and expensive.

    For example, the viewing area on the bridge. If the public has indicate this is a high priority, then perhaps the bridge can be built in such a way to accommodate its future construction.

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  • Red Five September 16, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Times are tough. Many have made sacrifices in this economy and you can’t always get what you want. Deal with it. I live in a part of Portland that is pretty much ignored by Sammy and his crew.

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  • Robert September 16, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Imagine the CRC getting underfunded or going over budget just 1% and the detriment that would have to other projects in the region.

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  • Elliot September 16, 2010 at 9:35 am

    It’d be nice to put all these cuts in perspective. Each line item looks the same on a a PowerPoint slide full of bullets, but I’m sure the dollar figures they represent are very different.

    Exactly how much can we save by cutting bike parking? Jonathan reports 20% of the original budget for bike parking will be cut, but what was the original budget? $1 million? (That would be 383 spaces at $2611 each… a bit pricy, but it could be in the right ballpark if the spaces are mostly lockers). So, by cutting bike parking 20%, we can save $200,000 out of a $200,000,000 budget gap. That’s 0.1%, one thousandth of the gap.

    I understand everyone should pay their share when cuts like this are going around, but this smells more like a political offering to me. If you cut park and ride space, people will throw a fit unless you cut bike parking too. It has emotional appeal, but doesn’t make sense economically. If MAX can serve four people arriving by bicycle for the same price as one person arriving by car (a very conservative estimate), why would we want to cut any bike parking at all?

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  • Jim Labbe September 16, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Thanks for covering this.

    I am no transit expert but why not hold off on the very expensive rail-pedestrian bridge to South waterfront which is already served by street car? The new bridge has got to be a big portion of the overall cost of the Orange line. Perhaps the line could be built to the Rose Quarter instead and still connect to the inner east side’s many bus, street car, bike and pedestrian connections.

    Given its route, the elements that support multi-modal connections- including adequate bicycle facilities- seem critical to the long-term success the Orange line. They should be the last not the first thing on the chopping block.

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  • GlowBoy September 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Losing the Clinton and Rhine bridge renovations really stinks. These are extremely dangerous bridges, and to your point Ryno Dan (#2), MORE THAN ONE young person has been killed by a train while crossing the tracks within a block of the Rhine bridge.

    As Red Five not-so-diplomatically pointed out, money is tight and we can’t fix decades of poor infrastructure design overnight. Still, it usually makes sense to fix things where you’re performing the products, and this is the perfect time to fix those awful bridges.

    Jim Labbe (#11), sending the new MAX trains over the Steel bridge to the Rose Quarter and then south across the Central Eastside to Brooklyn and Milwaukie would probably add 15-20 of travel time each way. Requiring people to transfer from a cross-river train to the Orange line at the Rose Quarter would be even worse. There’s no point in even building a southbound rail line unless it can leave downtown from the south side and continue east and then south from there.

    I do agree that cutting multi-modal connections is a bad idea.

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  • JayinPortland September 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    RyNO Dan -

    Yes, a Cleveland High senior was killed by a train at Rhine in 2007 walking across the tracks in order to avoid using the bridge. The memorial is still there.

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  • Diane Goodwin September 16, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project still includes $35-$40 million in active transportation investments, exceeding local standards for bike parking. The new bridge also includes 14-foot bike and ped paths in each direction, by far the best bridge paths in the region. Ensuring good bike and ped connections are essential to good transit and that will continue with PMLR.

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  • Paul September 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

    While the proposed infrastructural improvements would be spectacular, I think a different point of view remains unexpressed here. It’s not particularly difficult to get around this area, and the renovation/replacement of the Rhine and Clinton bridges would eliminate a shabby-yet-functional aspect of the neighborhoods.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think everything needs to be coated in a layer of new shininess.

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  • Byron September 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    It would be a real shame to see the accomodation for a future Harold Street station eliminated. How much more will it cost to come back in and retrofit later? Would make an excellent bike crossing point from the Reed and Woodstock neighborhoods to Sellwood and downtown. Sorry to see the Tea Party and their obsessions with deficits hitting the federal $$s for this worthy project.

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  • Rob September 19, 2010 at 11:48 am

    The rail projects to date have very expensive materials and finishes. I have seen bricks and curbs downtown on the route replaced at high cost when routine maintenance was needed. How many elements could be off the shelf, rather than custom designs? I would prefer the bike and pedestrian functionality over high cost and maintenance materials and finishes. It can look great with wise design!

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  • Seth D. Alford September 20, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Andrew @5 had it right, except he doesn’t go far enough.

    7.3 miles of light rail for $1.5 billion isn’t nice. It’s sucking up money which could potentially be used to help bicycle infrastructure elsewhere in the region. I’d much rather see these funds go to replacing the Sellwood bridge, which would include new bicycle lanes; adding the missing bike lanes on the Barbur bridges south of Terwilliger; making the bike lanes continuous on Hall Blvd at Allen; and fixing the Beaverton-Hillsdale/Oleson/Scholls intersection, also known as Crash Corner. All 3 of BH, Oleson, and Scholls now have bike lanes on them. But the bike lanes disappear through the BHOS intersection.

    1.5 billion for 7.3 miles of light rail is (if my spreadsheet is correct) $205,479,452.05 per mile, or $38,916.56 per foot, or $3,243.05 per inch. Yes, I know, that costs includes stations, railroad crossings, etc.

    None of those alternate projects would add any more rail which I and others who post on this blog regard as hazardous to bicycle travel. Even the city or Portland itself thinks that rail is potentially hazardous to bicycles.

    I wish we had a functioning BTA, that was really interested in putting bicycle transportation first, and which would strongly oppose any more rail projects in this region.

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  • Seth D. Alford September 20, 2010 at 6:07 am

    Here’s the correct link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/49622638@N00/5008310686/

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