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‘Rapid’ bus plan on Powell-Division stalls after it turns out not to be rapid

Posted by on March 18th, 2016 at 10:53 am

full route

Until now, this has been seen as the preferred route for an express bus line.
(Map: Metro)

A $200 million project to improve bus service and change zoning through Southeast Portland and Gresham is in limbo after project managers realized that it wouldn’t actually make it faster to ride the bus.

“What we’re all finding is that having a BRT that is mostly sharing the roadway is extremely complicated.”
— Elizabeth Mros-O’Hara, Metro

The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project remains alive. Next week, regional agency Metro will start publicly discussing options to change it. Among them: splitting the project into two phases, changing the route, or dedicating parts of a travel lane to bus traffic on inner Powell Boulevard, 82nd Avenue or outer Division Street.

On Jan. 20, we reported that Metro, TriMet and the Oregon Department of Transportation were not considering a dedicated bus lane on 82nd Avenue, and that as a result the proposed “bus rapid transit” would actually travel more slowly there in 2035 than the #72 bus does today.

Wonk Night on 82nd Ave-7.jpg

Elizabeth Mros-O’Hara speaking
at a recent BikePortland event.

The next day, TriMet staff contacted Metro staff to warn them that this was also the case for the full length of the project.

Even using 2015 levels for auto traffic, riding the #4 from downtown Gresham to downtown Portland is 8 to 11 minutes faster than riding the proposed “bus rapid transit” would be, Metro spokesman Craig Beebe said Friday. This is in part because of the half-mile southward jog from Division to Powell and in part because without a bus lane, the buses (which would have a capacity of 86 or so) would be stuck behind cars.

“What we’re all finding is that having a BRT that is mostly sharing the roadway is extremely complicated,” said Metro planner Elizabeth Mros-O’Hara. “Going into it, I think we had the perception that we would be able to design our way out of those chokepoints.”

She added that the BRT plan would save time on certain shorter segments of the route, but that the general lack of time savings made the transit portion of the project “not very compelling.”

near woodward

A draft rendering for one possible design of the proposed Woodward Street station, halfway between Powell and Division near Fubonn (pictured in background). Anticipated auto congestion is not pictured.
(Image via TriMet)

In any case, Beebe said the information may delay the project by years.

After the Jan. 21 memo, Metro canceled a planned Feb. 1 meeting where the project staff had been planning to ask the project’s steering committee for a final sign-off on the route. That conversation has been postponed until March 28, when the steering committee will meet to consider various major departures from the previous plan.

“It’s the first type of BRT in the region; we want to get it right, and we want to get something built that makes people’s lives better,” Beebe said. “I think it’s good when a project really takes some more time to really explore what the options are.”

Six alternative options for the project

82nd-ma

82nd Avenue today.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Part of the reason to change course is that the Powell-Division project has been hoping to get dollar-for-dollar matching grants from the federal Small Starts program. That could bring in up to $100 million.

But getting that federal grant requires the Powell-Division project to be more attractive than other grant applicants around the country. And Beebe said that a project that wouldn’t generally make transit faster isn’t likely to get federal transit funding.

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Instead, the project faces several options. Here are the ones being discussed so far, as described in a document that was circulated to project steering committee members this month. (Update: here’s a slightly revised version of the document released Friday.)

The project could scrap its aspiration for federal funding and just improve bus service on the #4 and the #9.

4 9 service

The project could save some time by further reducing the number of bus stations along the route, though this wouldn’t save enough time to make buses travel faster than they do today.

wide station spacing

The project could spend vastly more money or political capital and create dedicated bus lanes either by knocking down buildings along the corridor or by dedicating existing travel lanes to buses only. A few notes on this scenario:

• Though this memo lists “bicycle” traffic as the first victim of “major impacts” from repurposed lane scenario, Metro says this phrase referred to the fact that people biking north and south would get longer red signal phases and to the difficulty of fitting bus lanes into the corner of 82nd and Division.
• The actual primary impact of this scenario, of course, would be that it would increase auto travel times.
• The project has never examined the possibility of a freight-and-bus-only lane, so that’s not considered here.

(Update: The version of the document released Friday in response to this story simply warns of “significant impacts to traffic” — though that seems to imply that people in buses are not “traffic.”)

dedicated transitway

The project could create bus lanes on a few key portions of the route. This, too, would be far more expensive and/or politically difficult.

exclusive transit lanes

The project could break into two phases (each of which might go in for its own Small Starts grant) first making changes to Division east of 82nd and then making changes to 82nd and Powell west of 82nd.

phased project

The project could break into two phases, first making improvements to Division and then making improvements to Powell.

phased project 2

The direction of the project from here will be decided by its steering committee, which includes citizen volunteers, advocates and public employees.

“We are definitely not coming to the table with the answer,” Mros-O’Hara said.

Heidi Guenin, an equity advocate who sits on that committee, said in an interview that it’s important to remember that the project has always been about land use as well as transportation, and that a two-phase approach — first inner Division, then inner Powell — would both prioritize poorer neighborhoods and also give the region a chance to apply anti-displacement policies thoughtfully.

“It’s running through some of the most vulnerable parts of Portland and of Gresham in terms of housing,” Guenin said. “If there is a viable project in the smaller corridors, I think that could make a lot of sense and would allow us to more clearly focus our money on the places that really need it.”

On the other hand, she said, there’s also a risk that the second phase of the project might never be built — which would reduce the current pressure for 82nd Avenue or inner Powell to be rebuilt from highways into streets and to pass from state to city control.

“This stuff has to get figured out,” Guenin said. “Maybe not in this timeline. But soon.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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rick
Guest
rick

ODOT knows protected bike lanes

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I don’t see the point of calling something BRT if it doesn’t have a dedicated lane, because it clearly won’t work. Since they were arguing about if the bus would be allowed to stop in the lane rather than pulling out further delaying travel times on 82nd I am not holding out much hope for this project being worth using.

soren
Guest
soren

Fixed it for Metro:

Using existing lanes would have major impacts on automobile traffic.

Adam
Subscriber

Coulda seen that coming… This project has been doomed from the beginning ever since they decided not to affect parking or car capacity. The idea that we could have “designed our way out of those chokepoints” is laughable. This project should have been light rail, but in trying to save money, we really just ended up wasting money on the futile pursuit of improving transit while not affecting SOV driving at all. The only reason the bus is slow is because of all the cars. Remove the cars and the bus improves.

I seriously hope that Metro and TriMet take this project’s failures under serious consideration when deciding upon BRT vs LRT for the SW Corridor project.

Chadwick F
Guest
Chadwick F

So BRT is cars, huh? Clever.

Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

If you want to think big- consider that we could just take a street (maybe 1 block over) and say this street is now BRT only and close it to all traffic. There is a lot of public right of way. We’re only considering 2 streets instead of the larger picture here. Because residents want to mostly keep the status quo and politicians want to keep them happy.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

When it was a $50 million project and outreach was done at SE Uplift I said we needed dedicated ROW to 82 nd to make this work. When they came back at $150 mil I said the same thing. Always…not enough $$ for it.

Please, can government transportation agencies start listening to feedback? I am getting tired of saying I told you so.

RJ
Guest
RJ

We need to be looking at this at more of a macro level instead of just trying to design our way around particular congested intersections, etc. The big picture is, much of our city’s east side, particularly inside of I-205, is built out. That doesn’t mean it won’t get more dense — there will be lots of redevelopment, but it will pretty much all be happening on existing taxlot footprints. The point is, our transportation rights-of-way on streets like Burnside, Stark, Belmont, Hawthorne, Division, Powell, are pretty well defined and are not going to change. The question then, is: what’s the best use of this fixed amount of east-west right-of-way?

Shouldn’t the proportion of fixed right-of-way by mode reflect our transportation hierarchy? Leaving alone the question of bikes and peds (just to simplify), shouldn’t we be prioritizing the mode that carries up to 86 people in a single vehicle rather than having it endure the same delays as SOVs? People who chose transit for whatever reason — because they can’t drive, because they’d rather read a book or catch up on news/email/social media during their commute, because they feel good about commuting in a socially responsible way — shouldn’t these people be given positive reinforcement with a better service? Shouldn’t we be looking for ways to encourage MORE people to choose to commute this way? Because right now our streets are evidence that we live in a city that values SOV capacity and private automobile storage over good, reliable transit service — to say nothing of protected bike infrastructure and all the usual stuff people go on and on about in these comment threads.

“An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.” – Enrique Peñalosa

Jacob
Guest
Jacob

Isn’t this obvious? If you don’t give the bus priority (i.e. exclusive lanes) in the places with heavy traffic, it’s going to remain stuck in that traffic.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

This is what I’ve been ranting all along. BRT is a huge win on paper- it costs less and provides equivalent (or even better!) service than light rail. But it doesn’t work politically- there are too many ways to neuter it. There’s a huge difference between BRT and bus service, but BRT gets chipped away until it is bus service with different branding.

It’s hard to do that with light rail. You can require too many at-grade crossings but it doesn’t have to compete with car traffic or ODOT’s machinations.

People
Guest
People

The project “answers” seem to have ignored the amount of people transported as opposed to a singular bus versus car versus truck. Since more people fit in a bus, dedicated bus lanes could feasibly transport more people in less time (because the buses could drive without congestion) as compared with the amount of people in single car (in stop and go traffic).

Perhaps the question is: which people do you want waiting more? People in a bus? Or people in a car?

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

“What we’re all finding is that having a BRT that is mostly sharing the roadway is extremely complicated,”

That’s because BRT on a shared roadway isn’t BRT – it’s a gimmick.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

This reminds of the “priority triangle” that is supposed to help make these very decisions: Peds>bikes>Transit>freight>SOV. Except when you are acturally trying to plan a really transit projects then it is sorry peds and bikes, no impacts to freight and SOV and transit is status quo or worse! Please take a lane and convert it dedicated transit. Or reconsider trains.

Matt Youell
Guest

I want a subway.

Tiago DeJerk
Guest
Tiago DeJerk

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the original plans did not include at least one dedicated bus lane. After all, this is the city that believes that calling a street “Bike Boulevard” or “Neighborhood Greenway” is a substitute for infrastructure. BRT can only be sustainably “rapid” if there are dedicated lanes for the buses.

Ovid Boyd
Guest
Ovid Boyd

I truly believe there needs to be an east-west Max line across the Southeast and Northeast. A bus lane, which won’t even be a bus lane in most places, is just not very forward thinking.

Al M
Guest
Al M

Trimet capital projects department, which sucks about $10 million a year out of the general fund, just isn’t thinking big enough

Light rail to Mount Hood!

Think of the development possibilities!

Stacey&Witbek is ready to go!

KEEP THE MONSTER ALIVE!

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Hah! That headline made me laugh-choke on my tea! 🙂

Once again, very thankful for the reporting here. I’m all for the “better and more 9 & 4!” solution. Also the ‘sacrifice a car lane to bus rapidity” solution. The idea of an actual BRT on Powell with dedicated bus lane makes me giddy.

charlietso
Subscriber
charlietso

Does the analysis on traffic impact take into consideration that with a dedicated bus lane and faster bus travel time, BRT can achieve enough mode split to minimize car traffic congestion? If the the analysis assumes that the number of cars on the road stay the same, then of course taking a way a lane will significantly impact traffic congestion.

Also, I wonder if the project team has looked at how many people can be moved through the Powell-Division Corridor instead of how many cars. Sure, with a dedicated bus lane, traffic may get worse, but that might actually increase the number of people traveling through as more people find taking the (real) BRT is better than driving.

The results of any analysis depend on the input and the assumptions used by the analysts. Until planners and engineers are willing to prioritize moving people instead of cars, transit and active transportation projects will continue to be dwarfed by this perverse obsession with preserving of auto capacity.

David
Guest
David

Instead of using 82nd as the job route, what about either looking at options along 205 to make the job or even make part of the MAX tracks multi-transit use for that short section? This would shave several minutes off the route without impacting existing streets too much.

J_R
Guest
J_R

How about adding swing gates at a few more MAX crossings and stop sign enforcement at Ladd’s Addition to see if those would help speed up bus traffic in the Division and Powell corridors?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I think it is actually quite simple. The only way a BRT along Powell can work is by removing an auto lane. Period.

Well, you could go under (subway) or over (monorail), but those are radically different projects.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

This corridor should be LRT, and Trimet and the region should shelve the project until they can fund a proper rapid transit line.

– LRT would tie in with existing tracks: the orange line on the west end, the green line at I-205, and the Ruby yard in Gresham. Building LRT on Powell opens up several opportunities: re-routing the Green line on Powell for faster trips downtown from Clackamas. With the re-routing of the Green Line, a new line can be created between the airport and Clackamas TC. This does two things: 1. relieves congestion on the busy I-84 MAX line and the Steel Bridge. 2. Enables one-seat rides from Clackamas to PDX and to downtown.

– Increased operational efficiency for the Orange line. The new Powell line would enable trains from the Ruby yard to get to Milwaukie faster.

Starting on the west end, the line would T off of the Orange line just after Clinton, and travel on the median of Powell until just before 26th, where it would run elevated to 39th. Yes, elevated running is expensive, but only two elevated stations would be needed for the entire line (26th and 39th). From there it would median run on Powell until I-205, where it would T into the existing Green line tracks. The Powell line would continue north and use the existing Division stop before turning east below the grade of Division, and re-emerging just after I-205, where it can run in the median all the way out to the terminus in Gresham. There would be a small spur line at 202nd using an existing ROW so trains can access the Ruby yard from the south.

The beauty of this plan is that it can be built in 3 phases if needed. The Clinton to I-205 segment, the I-205 to Ruby segment, and the Ruby to MHCC segment. With strategic use of surface running and elevated segments, Powell can be kept at 4 lanes (although turning options would be restricted in many segments).

An example of elevated light rail:
http://www.alexblock.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/VTA-San-Jose-1-1024×450.png

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Maybe cut it down to about 3-5 stops in that 13 miles. And take a couple lanes off of powell, because there’s a big highway for cars about one mile over.

kittens
Guest
kittens

I don’t know what changed in America in the last 30-40 years to make it nearly impossible to “think big” about infrastructure. We’ve had waves of democratic and republican ascendancy, higher then lower taxes, regional governments, growth boundaries, economic booms, busts, white guys then slightly less white people in government and yet here we are in 2016, unable to figure out how to move people in a suburb of Portland.

My knee jerk response is to blame leadership for not being leaders, just following the will of the loudest voices which will always be NIMBY types. But weren’t they the ones which saved us from the Mt. Hood Freeway? On the other hand, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right?

The BRT Powell/Division project as conceived was doomed from the start because they didn’t actually want to do the hard work of disrupting property owners or prioritize anything, really. In the end that’s what all transit infrastructure projects inherently do; show favoritism for transit over other uses because it serves more people, better.

Sigh….this all leads me to a very dim view of the future and current political rigor mortise we find ourselves in. 🙁

Spiffy
Subscriber

they could have kept the BRT on division and made a dedicated lane if they hadn’t removed the 4-lane configuration on the inner sections below 60th…

and they could have their dedicated lanes on 82nd if it wasn’t controlled by ODOT… we could all have a lot of nice things if it wasn’t for ODOT…

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

After Trimet and ODOT get done with it it will be just painting with no structure difference but it will still be a #200 million dollar rat hole.

eawrist
Guest
eawrist

Early on in the public outreach process half of the people surveyed were interested in a MAX for at least part of the corridor. No substantive information was given on LRT, nor was there any serious consideration of it. Improving bus transit is nice, but it will do very little to compete with SOVs. This project should have included the possibility of light rail for at least the section from SE 11th to I-205, which would have an effect on numerous bus and MAX routes in SE/NE. The planned narrow Powell corridor will have very little effect on other lines. It really was doomed to be insular, hence fairly worthless, from the start.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

the TCRP 2007 Report #118 on BRT Practitioner’s Guide (aka BRT 101) bluntly states that a project is NOT a BRT project if it it “just [an] express service along a bus lane or busway.”

http://www.tcrponline.org/PDFDocuments/TCRP_RPT_118.pdf

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

I’m thrilled that Trimet is taking a step back to figure out what to do. How many government agencies around the country would have kept going simply to expand their budgets, etc, leaving their taxpayers with a boondoggle?

I also love Chris’ LRT idea, above.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Light rail has massive up fron capital and business costs. People forget the business that suffers during construction that literally rips up existing streets. Brt construction is minimal and relatively cheap. Electrifying the brt gives you the best of both worlds.

Going on farther, putting a protected bike lane next do the brt is even better. People know that but instead want to cling to their fantasies. One camp wants to have super expensive rail everywhere, and another wants their cartopia.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

So 82nd is the problem, and all plans continue with 82nd?

I don’t understand the fascination and reasoning with 82nd being the crossover. What’s wrong with the 50 or 52 which would give direct access to Warner Pacific and Franklin HS which are much bigger transit orientated destinations than a small shopping mall and a strip mall.

What about bus only streets by the 205 off ramps between Division and Powell?

I’m all for spiffing up 82nd, it’s my hood – but it simply won’t and improve travel times. At rush hour traffic moves at a walking pace through here.

Other than the whole thing being a half-@ssed plan to begin with (no dedicated lanes) keeping it on 82nd is the biggest problem.

Beeblebrox
Guest
Beeblebrox

Elevated light rail down the middle of Powell Blvd would not only be awesome, it would also be a great response to the failed Mt Hood Freeway.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

High Capacity Transit (HCT) without ROW is a fraud. Glad the plug was pulled on this project, but why did it take so long? How many miles of bikeways could have been built with the dough wasted on staff?
In heavily traveled corridors it makes sense to consolidate transit riders into larger vehicles, as operators are the cost centers of operations. Rail can accommodate more riders than bus, so the choice is pretty obvious.
I think Chris I is spot on re his suggestion of LRT out to the Green line via Powell. Doesn’t ODOT own all that parking on the south side of Powell east from 50th or so (except for my wife’s dentist office!) to around 82nd? So the challenge is between the existing Orange Line at 17th & Powell and 52nd, or less 2 miles. Elevated trackways seem to work in Vancouver BC; why not inner Powell. Beyond the Green Line, Division has enough ROW.
The BRT thing has always looked to me like a simple failure of nerve at Metro & TriMet. HCT on the cheap just does not work.

Ben
Guest
Ben

This is infuriating as resident of SE near Powell…and also having just spent time in Seattle where everyone was out in droves celebrating the new light rail stops all the way to UW with expansions under construction.

Not sure why these engineers don’t consider alternate traffic flows. 2 lanes of vehicles plus one of BRT in the AM running towards downtown, and vice versa going out after noon. Reduce down to one lane for the traffic heading the opposite direction in traffic. That would be the cheapest fix, although they really need to just muster up some balls and reclaim some real estate in the inner Powell area to make it work (like the closed-down Wendy’s?!), while also utilizing elevated tracks before the market drives it to be astronomically expensive. This project has been shot from the get go, as it seems they’ve always been planning on having the rapid bus sit in the congestion between Powell/26th and SE Milwaukie. Not sure how signals would ever fix that pinch point under the train overpass. I remember one gentleman on the Powell bus screaming one morning at 7:15 as we sat motionless under the overpass, “I pulled the cord almost 30 minutes ago! When can i get off?”

Ridiculous that they spent all that money on the bridge without a proper plan for buses to even access it.

Adron @ Transit Sleuth
Subscriber

This whole project has become absurd, mixing buses, whether 60 foot or 40 foot or whatever are still going to be delayed, stacked, and whatever. If one names the issue this line would have it.

Also, Beebe states this would be the first BRT (me: faux BRT http://transitsleuth.com/2016/02/11/transit-projects-faux-brt-a-summary-of-the-situation/) in the region. That is incorrect, the first faux BRT is being built on Fourth Plain which is in this region, at least it is in the metro area. There are also decades of experience to learn from in other regions to get this done right (Orange Line in LA is done properly). We should be looking at a good implementation of this instead of the completely broken and misguided effort that is currently on the board.

The solution is very easy: strike a lane from auto use (center or outter, both have been done) and enable that lane for bus ONLY use.

In almost every one of these transportation issues we have in Portland, the solutions are easy, the first step is to always remove priority from cars or remove the cars and enable a more efficient higher throughput capacity mode. Otherwise we might as well just get used to the auto-congestion, because that isn’t going to get any better, only worse.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

You’re right; it is illogical. The numbers quoted above (if they’re right) are *overall* system emissions costs, including lots of near-empty buses running around outside peak times.

What matters for an individual trip is the incremental emissions added by your trip. If you drive, emissions (if you drove an average vehicle) would be 371gm/mi, so for 3 passengers about 124 gm/pmi.

If the 3 of you hop on the bus the incremental emissions are effectively zero, because you’re getting on a vehicle that’s driving anyway, and not putting another vehicle on the road.

So it’s still better to take the bus.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

One other thing to consider, people. Powell is US 26, a National highway. Renenber, ODOT says that it’s “the main highway to Madras” and therefore, no bike lanes allowed on Powell. Would they allow elevated MAX on Powell? Keep in mind that NYC’s Airtrain to / from JFK Airport is elevated alongside a major Intersfate freeway corridor, which could be the model for elevated MAX service on Powell. If ODOT says no, then the MAX must go out Division, which is being rebuilt with new buildings along it at a record setting pace right now. A lot of that development might have to be removed for a MAX line. You can imagine the NIMBY screams under that set of circumstances.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Congratulations, GlowBoy! You are one of the few that understands this! How many times have you seen “emission calculators” that use system numbers as if they applied to individual trips? Have you ever seen one that did not conflate these?