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TriMet work on 1st Ave will mean smoother pavement and crowded trains

Posted by on April 4th, 2016 at 4:35 pm

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Damaged track switches on 1st Avenue.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

“The trains will be so crowded that cyclists will be waiting to get into a train.”
— TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt on MAX overcrowding during the project

Here’s the good news: the badly worn pavement on NW 1st Avenue, an important but unpleasant biking connection to the Steel Bridge and Waterfront Park, is about to be fixed.

Here’s the bad news: the repair project will snarl TriMet’s entire light rail system for two weeks next month, cutting the frequency of every MAX line and leading to extremely crowded trains that will probably be unable to fit bikes.

That’s why TriMet is urging people to avoid taking bikes on MAX during the repair work, May 8-21.

Instead, the agency suggest that people leave their bikes at MAX stations or at home, shift their commute hours or else simply avoid the MAX.

“This is our oldest section of the MAX,” TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt said Monday. “You reach a time in any light rail system that you need to do this work, and our time is now.”

The section of rail, switches and pavement to be repaired or replaced runs along 1st Avenue from the Morrison Bridge north to Davis Street. The switches (which let trains switch between tracks as needed) and a curved section of rail near the Morrison Bridge have been worn from 30 years of use.

After the work is done, the pavement should resemble 11th Avenue in the Lloyd District, where TriMet did similar track work in 2014 and which is now much more pleasant to bike across.

Because the Red and Blue MAX lines run on 1st Avenue, the track work will force many trains to turn around in odd locations, a time-consuming process that will force the transit agency to reduce frequencies throughout the MAX system. The Orange Line, for example, will remain on its usual route but will run every 20 minutes during rush hours instead of every 12 — a 40 percent reduction in total seating capacity.

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The Yellow, Green, Blue and Red lines will see similar frequency cuts.

“With the reduced frequency, the trains will be very, very crowded,” Altstadt said. “Our concern is that the trains will be so crowded that cyclists will be waiting to get into a train.”

bikes on max

Don’t count on it.

The Red Line, meanwhile, will not serve the west side of the metro area at all; instead, Blue Line trains will run every 10 minutes during rush hour, and every 15 minutes other hours, between downtown Hillsboro and Galleria on the west end of downtown Portland.

Red, Yellow and Orange trains will share the transit mall. The Green Line will run between Rose Quarter and Clackamas Town Center only. A fleet of temporary shuttle-bus lines will serve SW 2nd and 3rd Avenues, getting people closer to the closed MAX stops on 1st. Here’s an animation explaining the various changes:

You can also see a summary of the changes here and learn more about the repair project here.

Altstadt said Monday that she believes most of the crossings of 1st Avenue will remain open to people biking and walking during most of the project.

“Currently it looks like the only streets that will be affected that cross 1st Avenue are Couch and Ankeny,” she said.

All of these transit changes will make biking relatively more efficient, which in some ways fits well with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s Bike More Challenge, which this year is being held in May for the first time. Unfortunately, it also means that new bikers will have a harder time leaning on overcrowded MAX cars for parts of their journey.

“Several voices were considering is it going to be so packed that we should really ban bikes,” Jeff Owen, TriMet’s active transportation coordinator, said Monday. But the agency decided against that.

“It’s really going to be congested,” Owen concluded. The bottom line is that bike-and-MAX travel should become a “last option” for riders.

“We hate to say ‘consider other transportation options,’ but this is just a necessary project,” Altstadt said. “We just need to get through this two-week period.”

biking to train

Ahh, that’s better: NE 11th Avenue after its 2014 repairs.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

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

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44 Comments
  • Avatar
    B. Carfree April 4, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Over-crowded less frequent trains will discourage new-arrivals, and even some longer-term folks, from committing to public transit. Getting them on-board after a negative experience will be challenging. I hope TriMet is up to the challenge. Of course it will be helped by our now-increasing car congestion.

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      Mossby Pomegranate April 4, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      People before bikes.

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    rachel b April 4, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Agree w/ B. Carfree–it’s already completely unappealing to use mass transit for those on the outside looking in at the already-packed trains and buses. This certainly doesn’t help. 🙁 We’re not doing nearly enough to entice commuters to ditch their cars. A clean, consistent, reliable system with capacity + would do wonders for Portland’s traffic situation.

    MAX sometimes feels like it’s made of spun sugar or something. Something impacts service every other week.

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      Sigma April 5, 2016 at 6:55 am

      Spun sugar that lasts for 30 years before maintenance is required?

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        Champs April 5, 2016 at 11:07 am

        Not far into the past, MAX was regularly delayed because of signal or switch issues on the Steel Bridge. TriMet is finally pulling itself out of a few maintenance deficits but MAX still has several issues.

        Hot weather: trains don’t run at full speed on 90°F+ days (28 of them last year). Explanations are never satisfactory when compared to Phoenix or Dallas.

        Network capacity: MAX cannot run (many) more trains through downtown. It also can’t add a third car to its trains because Portland city blocks are too short.

        Downtown service: slow, at street level. Elevating the tracks is expensive and quite possibly controversial.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. April 5, 2016 at 11:12 am

          MAX must run slower on 90ºF+ days because the overhead catenary wires are calibrated for a specific temperature range. They are weighted to maintain a taut wire, but too hot or cold, and they will expand/contract and sag. It’s physics. Light rail works above 90ºF in Phoenix because the catenary is calibrated for a higher (but the same range) temperature. So their system will fail at a higher low temperature.

          Unfortunately with global warming, 90ºF+ days are becoming far more common than they were 30 years ago.

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          Champs April 5, 2016 at 11:14 am

          And of course the Steel Bridge is a single point of failure capable of shutting down the entire system.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. April 5, 2016 at 11:28 am

            Even more of a reason for a MAX line down Powell to connect Tilikum Crossing with the rest of the eastside system.

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              Chris I April 5, 2016 at 7:26 pm

              Yep! If Trimet ever had to shut down the steel bridge or section along I84, the Powell line could support reduced service levels on the blue and red lines.

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          was carless April 5, 2016 at 2:10 pm

          Subway time!

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        rachel b April 5, 2016 at 11:53 pm

        All I know is that–in my attempt to use MAX to get to work and back regularly–it is not so regular. My entirely subjective view, formed after enjoying several unanticipated long waits/walks/tardinesses in all kinds of weather. Have learned that if I want to get somewhere more or less on time, take the 4.

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      Gary B April 5, 2016 at 11:22 am

      OK, but I’m not sure what they’re supposed to do about it. The work has to be done.

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    J.E. April 4, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    At least they’re getting this done before prime tourist and move-to-town season, which starts in June.

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    John Lascurettes April 4, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Next up (I hope) the intersections of the Streetcar and MAX lines at SW Morrison and SW 10th (and less so at Yamhill and 10th). The pavement is so chewed up there, it’s precarious to even use the crosswalks on foot on Morrison.

    Here’s a google street view that doesn’t quite do it justice. https://goo.gl/maps/QtESrufLMUz

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    Social Engineer April 4, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    A little pain for a lot of gain. To people complaining about this, when is TriMet supposed to fix the problem? This area has been a nightmare to bike through because of the deteriorated conditions. Good on them for not skimping on needed maintenance (ask WMATA how that is going).

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      Granpa April 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      Exactly! You need to break some eggs to make an omelette.

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        rachel b April 4, 2016 at 8:14 pm

        Agreed, Granpa and Social Engineer–it’s just that MAX is so constantly eggy, it makes for a very unreliable commuter tool. I just wonder if they could figure another way to do the repairs, maybe in the middle of the night or something. They’re way too cavalier about disrupting MAX service and inconveniencing people who depend up on it for unreasonably long stretches of time.

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          Gary B April 5, 2016 at 11:24 am

          They’re presumably pulling up track and dong concrete work. It’s not something you get to do in short shifts.

          That said, I get it. Other issues with reliability lately put matters like this in a different light.

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            rachel b April 5, 2016 at 11:58 pm

            Good point, Gary B–I didn’t think of that.

            [While I’m here, the fussy editor in me will fix my own sentence (above):
            “They’re way too cavalier about disrupting MAX service, and inconveniencing people who depend up on it, for unreasonably long stretches of time.”

            Ah, I feel better now. 🙂 ]

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      • Avatar
        Ron April 5, 2016 at 11:23 am

        Mmmmmmm, omelettes…..!

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          rachel b April 5, 2016 at 11:55 pm

          🙂

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    Chris I April 4, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    These streets should be done in concrete. And for those complaining, remember that maintenance like this is important. We don’t want to end up like DC Metro or BART.

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    noah April 4, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    They’re turning the Blue Line back to Hillsboro at SW 9th. So they are going to do a reverse move up Yamhill Street, run the train through the yard, then and do another reverse move down Morrison Street to serve Galleria/SW 10th? And they’ll do that every 10-15 minutes all day? Wow, exciting times for foamers.

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      Chris I April 5, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      It seems like it would make more sense to add a turn back track at SW First and Morrison. This would add operational flexibility for the blue line, allowing Trimet to run more trains in the West side line, since the Steel Bridge is the bottleneck.

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    Ted Buehler April 4, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    “the repair project will snarl TriMet’s entire light rail system for two weeks next month”

    Yet another reason why, ultimately, the cost of enabling people to commute by bike for a lifetime is much lower than the cost of putting them on a bus or a train.

    Bike commuters save government both money and headaches in so many ways.

    Ted Buehler

    BTW, I’ve sent in a couple comments to TriMet asking them to repair the potholes crossing the tracks on Couch and Davis. I guess “rebuilding” is one way to repair potholes. I wish they had taken better care of the pavement in its last years so it wouldn’t either force me slow down to a crawl or pound my bike and joints on a crazy-rough crossing…

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      Dan A April 5, 2016 at 8:29 am

      I made the mistake of crossing the tracks on Couch at a normal speed this morning. Nearly ate it.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. April 5, 2016 at 9:58 am

        Yikes. This is part of the reason why I now run 45c tires on my commuter.

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      borgbike April 5, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Ditto what Ted says about 1st and Couch and Davis. Those crossing are a wreck, especially on bikes.

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    Tom April 5, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Why not provide bike specific shuttles from some of the stations to get people over the hill.

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    Joe April 5, 2016 at 8:57 am

    ive waited 5 trains to catch one before. :/ maybe 6

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    Joe April 5, 2016 at 8:59 am

    people before bikes? huh.. lol

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    pdx2wheeler April 5, 2016 at 9:52 am

    No pain, no gain. It’s a universal law…

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    oliver April 5, 2016 at 9:57 am

    The entrance to Waterfront Park from Couch Street east bound is also woefully sub-standard, and creates conflicts with pedestrians crossing/waiting to cross in either direction.

    There should be curb cutouts inboard of both of the existing curb cuts.

    http://bit.ly/1SNzdBO
    http://bit.ly/1RCnkiZ

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      Dan A April 5, 2016 at 10:08 am

      The sign indicates left turn or right turn only. To go straight (into the park), legally, do I need to use the crosswalk? I’d rather just take the lane.

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        oliver April 5, 2016 at 11:01 am

        That’s a good point, I think that these signs are for motor vehicle traffic only as waterfront park is car free. Also, the way the curb cutouts are designed I believe there is no choice but to use the crosswalk, at least for a few feet.

        I also prefer to take the lane here because because of the tendency for some drivers to push right up to the curb while they’re waiting to turn as well, and also not wanting to impede motor vehicle traffic waiting to turn right while waiting at the red light.

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    Julia April 5, 2016 at 11:48 am

    If riders don’t have a bike, I wish they would sit down (and totally get up again for a senior or someone who needs the seat) and clear out of the way. They are taking up space by standing!

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    Trikeguy April 5, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Sigma
    Spun sugar that lasts for 30 years before maintenance is required?
    Recommended 10

    From my TriMet newsletter (2/3/2016). 1 in 5 trips accords pretty well with my experience.
    ——————-
    We know that MAX on-time performance, our measure of reliability, isn’t what it should be. At the beginning of the year, about one in every five trips was delayed — we know how frustrating this can be, and the impact it can have on your busy schedule.

    Our teams are working hard to chart a new course. We’re addressing many areas that affect MAX’s reliability, with the goal of raising on-time performance to an average of 90 percent.

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      Oliver April 5, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Funny thing. Remember when none of the ticket machines downtown worked? I guess it would have been 7 or 8 years ago. It seemed then that the train times were always spot on. Particularly after the yellow line moved to 5th/6th.

      For the last year or so though, they’ve seemed rubbish, and I think they’ve gotten worse since the Orange line opened. Which kinda makes sense, since the train doesn’t start downtown anymore.

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      Sigma April 5, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      That’s exactly my point. Reliability has fallen a lot, so they are performing much-needed maintenance on the portions of the system that are now 30 years old. Why are people surprised by this?

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    Todd Boulanger April 5, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Anyone know why TRIMET (and PBoT) uses asphalt in between and around the LRT tracks vs. a fully concrete crossing? Mixing both materials makes for a more difficult repair and increases the frequency too. (Chris got a 411 on this?)

    Any idea if TRIMET has vetted the repairs with input from the PBAC, per minimizing the bike gap at tracks? (Ian any idea?)

    And with these work zones and bike restrictions…were will the bike detours (with parking restrictions) and emergency bike parking be added?

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    bikeninja April 5, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    I stopped trying to take my bike on the blue line westbound about 2 years ago because it got too crowded during rush hour. Mostly I flex my work hours to head west after 6:30 if I need to do it with my bike, so this won’t be that big a change as far as bikes go because there hasn’t really been room on the train during rush hour anyway.

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