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Buses at forefront as PBOT unveils “Enhanced Transit Corridors” plan tonight

Posted by on June 21st, 2017 at 12:59 pm

PBOT staff have already identified several transit lines they’d like to enhance.

While Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and his four commissioner colleagues try to justify plans to spend half a billion to widen I-5 through the Rose Quarter in an attempt to “fix congestion”, staff at the Portland Bureau of Transportation are looking at a much more sensible approach. They want to make buses work better.

With the boom in Portland’s population, people are starting to notice that one of the big losers are buses that share the same lane as private automobile users. Mass transit doesn’t work well when it must share the road with private transit. It’s that realization that spurred creation of the new Portland Bus Lane Project activist group this past spring. And it turns out PBOT has been thinking along the same lines.

The city’s Enhanced Transit Corridors plan is ramping up and the first public open house is tonight from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at Metro HQ (600 NE Grand Ave).

The goals of this plan (below) and the projects PBOT wants to build once it’s done are very encouraging — especially in the context of the state transportation package which often feels like it’s mired in a 1960s auto-centric perspective:

Why this plan:

– We need to do more to support transit in Portland.
– Buses are a “work horse.” Some bus lines carry as many riders as MAX and Streetcar lines.
– Data shows that buses are getting stuck in traffic and trips take longer.
– New growth is happening in areas in need of better transit service and access.
– However, ridership is not growing adequately to support growth and the City’s policy goals.
– We have limited sources of revenue. We need to identify priorities on where to start.

Here are a few slides from a recent PBOT presentation:

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PBOT defines enhanced transit as something in the middle of the transit spectrum that sits between a regional bus line on one side, and light rail and other forms of high capcacity transit on the other. In a presentation to the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission about this plan last week, PBOT’s April Bertelsen said (in a nod to our housing policy debates), “While we’re figuring out what ‘middle housing’ is, we’re also figuring out what middle transit is.”

Based on a toolkit PBOT has already developed, “middle transit” is like a high-powered bus line that stops short of being the type of full-fledged bus rapid transit (BRT) systems we see in places like China and Colombia. Their enhanced transit corridors will have things like bus-only lanes, traffic signal priority, fewer and more efficient stops, better bikeway integration and more.

Working with TriMet data, PBOT has already identified several corridors they’d like to move forward with. They want to gain funding to plan for changes to line 72 (between Killingsworth and 82nd), 12 (NE Sandy Blvd), and (MLK Jr. Blvd to Jantzen Beach). The idea is to get a list of projects into the City’s Transporation System Plan and Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan.

If this “enhanced transit” becomes a real thing — the impact to the bicycling environment could be profound. With better transit we’ll see fewer cars which leads to safer roads, stronger community connections, more efficient mobility for everyone, cleaner air, and more bicycling and walking.

PBOT needs your ideas and feedback on their work so far. They hope to bring an initial recommendation to city council on July 13th and have the plan completed by winter 2018.

Learn more at tonight’s open house and check out the city’s website for all the details.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Matthew in Portsmouth
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Matthew in Portsmouth

Cue the outrage from motorists affronted by the possibility that their individual trip as sole occupant of a large SUV should be considered a lower priority than a crowded bus during peak hours.

9watts
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9watts

“With better transit we’ll see fewer cars”

not so fast.

I like a focus on making transit better (and I hope that this means learning from others who have working systems rather than inventing new wheels), but that is a far cry from fewer cars, which, incidentally Roger Geller admitted we hadn’t actually pursued yet, even though we were supposed to also be doing that.

https://bikeportland.org/2015/09/17/progress-for-portland-surge-of-5000-new-bike-commuters-bring-city-rate-to-7-159171#comment-6553747

Spiffy
Subscriber

you referenced your own comment in another article that reference another article… which doesn’t state that we haven’t pursued fewer cars… unless that statement is in the 2030 Portland Bike Plan…

better transit means it will work for more people who currently drive and some will switch to transit… it was one of many reasons I switched… if transit wasn’t good enough to get me where I needed to go on time then I wouldn’t use it as my primary means of transportation as I do now…

9watts
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9watts

“One culprit all three panelists pointed the finger at was the allure of single-occupancy vehicles, a.k.a. cars. Geller said the City hasn’t made good on promises in its Bike Plan for 2030 that passed four years ago. “Our policy says that we need to make bicycling more attractive than driving for trips three miles or less. We haven’t really done that yet,” he acknowledged. “It’s really easy to drive a car in this city.”

from here: https://bikeportland.org/2014/09/23/panel-ponders-portlands-slide-cycling-superstardom-111205

All I’m saying is that buses and LED light bulbs and Energy Star refrigerators and hybrid cars and BPA-free water bottles are all just objects. They may be slightly better than something else, but we should be wary of counting on them to solve the problem for us. For this to come about we need to remain vigilant, pay close attention, expect countervailing trends, etc.

bikeninja
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bikeninja

Lets do it, pay for it with peak demand tolls and keep cranking them up till the car volumes drop to a reasonable level. A win win, enhanced bus lines for all and fewer cars wrecking the planet.

9watts
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9watts

Yes, when are we going to see explicit policies that pair a prioritization (see above) with a penalization? I can think of so many examples from PBOT where prioritizing (bikes on Foster, 28th) was scaled back because of perceived slights to the almighty auto. Or where the effort was scrapped altogether (Barbur, Sandy) because of perceived infringements on the almighty auto.

The city wide speed limits recently discussed here are a wonderful counter example, and I’m sure there are others, but I just want us not to lose sight of the fact that to actually make inroads we sometimes have to do both.

Social Engineer
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Social Engineer

What does this have to do with prioritizing bus service to make it faster and more reliable?

9watts
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9watts

I was responding to bikeninja’s comment that in my view went an important step further toward accomplishing what Jonathan’s statement I quoted above promised.

rick
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rick

The 56 needs the service for the Scholls / Barrows corridor.

Tom Hardy
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Tom Hardy

Better public transit is part of a package to get less (fewer) cars. Better transit will also make it safer for more short or commuter bicycle traffic.
1. Part of this package is the MAX style and streetcars.
2. Part of the package is Bus ONLY lanes without zigging in and out for drivers on break or lunch. If they are on break or lunch they must be able to pull out of the bus lane into a stopping area.
3. The 20 MPH limit on all traffic with the exceptions of freeways which will be stop and go.
4. Once bus lanes are emplimented then the autonomous computer drivers can be installed. Busses are big enough to bully the SOV/SUV vehicles. This will make them stay in their own lanes.
5. Once cell phone useage is outlawed in moving vehicles ( with exception of police pursuit) then cycling will then be safe enough on the basis the cyclist must be able to ride at traffic speed in the traffic lanes, not the 4-6 MPH range this person has noted in several group rides.

Spiffy
Subscriber

I always ride at traffic speed, because I’m traffic…

no way I could keep up 20 mph though… that’s the max speed of my bike and I have to be pedaling quite fast to get there…

Social Engineer
Guest
Social Engineer

This city is sorely missing a transit-oriented blog in the wake of Portland Transport’s quiet death 2 years ago. It’s sad that Seattle Transit Blog (undoubtedly the best city-specific transit blog in the country) is now the go-to place for Portland area transit news. Unfortunately, this is not a topic that the typical BikePortland reader/commenter is going to have much interest in discussing or advocating in favor, but it absolutely deserves support from urbanists who care about housing affordability, social justice, and reducing SOV mode share (and all of the positive benefits that come from doing so).

Toadslick
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Unfortunately, this is not a topic that the typical BikePortland reader/commenter is going to have much interest in discussing or advocating in favor.

Speak for yourself. There are many BikePortland readers like myself for whom bicycling is one component of a multi-modal car-free or car-lite lifestyle. And BikePortland regularly has articles that concern bus, rail, and pedestrian infrastructure that generate many comments and discussions.

Honestly, on what basis are you even making this statement?

Social Engineer
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Social Engineer

The many arguments I’ve seen (and some I’ve been involved in) on this site that devolve needlessly into pitting modes against each other whenever transit is mentioned. Like Buzz’s comment right below.

I’ve also had people openly question the benefits of providing transit-only lanes, hiding behind the argument that “more data is needed” to confirm that making transit faster and more reliable would indeed convince a nonzero amount of SOV commuters to switch modes.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“devolve needlessly into pitting modes against each other whenever transit is mentioned”

Perhaps.
But there are also inherent tradeoffs, incompatibilities, zero sum aspects between infrastructure investments that benefit biking and transit, or would you disagree?

portlandurbanist
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portlandurbanist

I absolutely and completely agree. Why do we not have anything comparable to Seattle Transit Blog? It and BP are on my daily read list. Wish we had something similar here in Portland focused on transit and land use like STB

emerson
Subscriber

I’m totally interested!

Spiffy
Subscriber

transit is my primary mode of transportation and I’d love to see more transit news on here…

my priorities are in this order: people, then buses, then bikes, then separated rail, then other rail, then truck freight, then passenger cars…

Mike Sanders
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Mike Sanders

In DC, where many local streets have bus lanes, bikes are allowed to use the bus lane as long as they yield properly to buses going in and out of bus stops. Bus/bike lanes should be prominently signed, preferably overhead, with lots of police enforcement. Conservatives who claim that streetcar/MAX cannot be considered to be part of any future transit plans are delusional. We must expand streetcar/MAX lines. Expanding freeway lanes is not the answer. And expanding ped/bike trail networks have to be part of the plan, too. The Green Loop around downtown would be a great start.

Buzz
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Buzz

I can almost guarantee that cyclist infrastructure will be compromised and/or lose out to transit infrastructure if this comes to pass.

Also, regarding bike/bus lanes – TriMet has a long history of refusing to share it’s transit-only infrastructure with cyclists in Portland – at least since the DT transit mall was first built and probably longer.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Like, for instance, the Eastside approaches to the Tillikum Crossing? ;-(

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Etc etc…

portlandurbanist
Guest
portlandurbanist

I totally and completely agree. Seattle Transit Blog is such a great resource and I have always wondered why we in Portland do not have a camparable site about transit and land use, like STB.

rick
Guest
rick

A moratorium for drive-thrus is needed on BH Highway and Pacific Highway !

cam
Subscriber

I found that the map at the head of this article to be unreadably fuzzy. The picture info says that it is a .jpg at 800 x 624 pixels, scaled to 740 x 577 . Is there a better image somewhere? (Also, why is there scaling to such a curious number, 92.5% of the original size?)

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

It’s really not complicated. Buses need more priority which translates to space.

Space now occupied largely by private vehicle storage.

At some point PBOT needs to get real and stop pretending they can work around all the parking. Some of it has to go. The bizzare contortions required to placate parked cars like NE 28 greenway are a pointless embarrassment.

I’m also worried as the last major transit project, the Orange, was a blank slate and we ended up with the design disaster that is OMSi to Divison. The whole project is littered with horrible trade offs often as a result of trying to keep parking.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I know I’m in the minority, but I think shared lanes with speed bumps and curbside parking which narrows the right-of-way is a preferable solution overall to dedicated bicycle and motor vehicle lanes. Slowing traffic is a net win for everyone (including the businesses), and the presence of parking allows an enhanced pedestrian environment by buffering against street noise, and allows the addition of features like curb extensions and room for street-seating and bike corrals.

Increased pedestrian activity will lead to further slowing of traffic and create a virtuous cycle. This is exactly what has happened on Division, which is a lot tamer than it once was. It could happen more dramatically if there was an expectation that cyclists would be in the lane rather than a couple of blocks away.

So I think NE 28th is a win, even if PBOT felt they needed to create a roundabout route for cyclists rather than just sending them all down 28th.

Spiffy
Subscriber

Division was one of those odd streets with prime-time driving lanes that were parking off-hours… it was an easy sell to tell businesses and residents that they were taking away one lane to give them more parking… it’s rare to take away a lane and give parking in return…

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

I agree that parking may promote a more preferable walking environment, but unfortunately not everyone can get what they want.

Traffic congestion is caused by too many people in cars trying to go too far on too few streets. One of these things has to change massively. We ain’t building more streets and redesigning the city around walkability is taking decades… so what can we do now?

People are fed up with the level of congestion and asking them to walk, let alone bike, is not a real option. The second best thing to SOV is safe, fast and reliable transit.

We need to make our existing streets work harder and move more people via bike and bus. This will require removing parking from major transit corridors like Sandy, Division, Burnside, outer Powell. Streets like 82nd, inner Powell need major redesigns.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I agree that we can’t have everything. I’m saying it is preferable to have an enhanced pedestrian environment and slower traffic speeds than a worse environment, bike lanes, and faster traffic speeds.

If the walking is pleasant, and the cycling is safe (due to lower traffic speeds), then perhaps more people will choose alternatives to driving.

I generally agree with you about parking removal on the larger corridors.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Definitely a bigger bang for the buck than widening I-5. Which, again, won’t do anything to reduce congestion, because the congestion isn’t caused by insufficient lane capacity. It’s caused by four major exits – I-405, Broadway, I-84 and Belmont/Downtown – all crammed into a stretch of freeway barely a mile long. All the mixing and weaving of people getting on and off is what causes the backups. You could add three lanes each direction and it would do very little to reduce congestion there.

Meanwhile, enhanced buses work. I hear a lot of purity-talk about whether improvements constitute “real” BRT or not, but the bottom line is all of these make a difference:
– Sure, dedicated lanes are great (even if they’re just for short stretches through congested intersections), but you can still get big benefits without them.
– LRT-style boarding: raised platforms, payment on the platform before boarding, simultaneous boarding through two sets of extra-wide doors.
– Reduced stop frequency (usually 1/2 mile intervals).
– Improved signal prioritization.

In the Twin Cities we had our first aBRT (arterial BRT) line open last year, which doesn’t have dedicated lanes except at a few key intersections, so it doesn’t meet the purists’ BRT definition. But does include the other improvements mentioned. And I will tell you that it is night-and-day better than riding a regular local bus. The existing bus line that it augments is basically no faster than riding a bicycle, except on the uphill sections. The new A-Line was way, way faster than bicycling, and it doesn’t hurt that the buses are also more comfortable than traditional ones and equipped with wi-fi, and the stations are much nicer than regular bus stops.

These are things that can be done on almost any local bus line for relatively modest cost. The A-Line has been a smashing success in terms of ridership. While our next major light rail line is in question due to state and federal politics, aBRT is moving forward. We’ll get a second line next year, followed by basically another new line every year beyond that.

Other things TriMet could do:
– More express (limited-stop) buses at rush hour. Seattle does this on a number of their lines: you take the #65, it stops potentially every block. You take the #65E – which runs regularly along the exact same route – and it stops every mile or two. This is really cheap to do.

– There are already quite a few miles of potential bus-only lanes already built in the Portland area, but not used. They’re called freeway shoulders. Here in the Twin Cities we have hundreds of miles of bus routes that are allowed to use the shoulders whenever there is congestion. It took a bunch of work in the legislature to get it approved, but it works great. I live 6 miles from downtown Minneapolis in a neighborhood not unlike Montavilla. The local bus to downtown takes an agonizing 35-40 minutes, but at rush hour I can hop on the #553 express, which jumps on the freeway and gets me there in under 15 minutes – regardless of whether or not the freeway is jammed (which it often is). A bus line that left downtown Portland and took the Sunset and 217 to Beaverton TC – using shoulders if needed – would likely beat the MAX out there. Not saying that would be a great route to do, since the MAX is already there, but there are other Portland area freeways that have shoulders and could benefit from this strategy.

Beeblebrox
Guest
Beeblebrox

Right on! Jonathan, I nominate this for Comment of the Week.

Charley
Guest
Charley

This would be great! I’m still bummed that it’s not going to happen on Powell, though. In my mind, the Powell is still the perfect venue for BRT, and I don’t know why it’s not still on the list.