Last night’s final meeting of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Community Advisory Committee was subdued. Part wake, part anecdotal post-mortem, this group of citizen-volunteers had met monthly for almost two years, and they parted without the satisfaction of knowing how their project had gone awry, or even the possibility of hugging one another other over a beer.
Metro and TriMet offered SW Portland a pair of fancy skiis, when what they needed was some socks, boots and gloves.
The closest they got to electoral insight came from Tyler Frisbee, Metro’s Policy and Federal Affairs Policy Manager, who summarized the election results. She noted that voters in all three counties had rejected Metro’s measure 26-218 but that “We had stronger support along areas where some of the major corridors were. So, stronger support out along TV Highway. Frankly, not great support from Southwest Portland.”
TriMet’s SW Corridor Communications Coordinator Joshua Mahar explained that TriMet plans to “sleep” the light rail project in early 2021, but also mentioned that “we talked to the Federal Transit Authority and discussed that it was still very prudent” to get the federal environment impact statements “completed and in the books” because “it would make any portion of this project, I believe, eligible for federal funding at a later time.” And, “In terms of project buttoning-up, a lot of what we’re doing, our team, is trying to get everything into a place where we can put it away, but it’s also very easy to take back out.”
Several meeting participants noted that a Biden administration might offer a more favorable climate for funding infrastructure and transportation projects.
If TriMet or Metro intend to ever revisit this project they should carefully consider that a majority of Southwest voters rejected this measure, despite being the recipients of its most expensive project.
After contacting several SW Portland transportation activists, I got the sense that the light rail project never had a strong, homegrown constituency. SW Portland has been underinvested in for decades. It has the least sidewalk coverage of any Neighborhood Coalition in the city — over 65% of its arterials and collector streets lack sidewalks — and its stormwater infrastructure is inadequate to support improving that network. It doesn’t have a connected bike network, large swaths of southwest have no bicycling facilities at all. Several advocates spoke of not having the basic infrastructure needed to safely reach a light rail on Barbur Boulevard. Others feared that the the project itself would divert funding from more modest needs, like bus service, or that it would suck the oxygen out of the room for future infrastructure funding.
In the end it feels like Metro and TriMet offered SW Portland a pair of fancy skiis, when what they needed was some socks, boots and gloves.
There is an upcoming Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project Steering Committee meeting on Monday, November 16th, from 9-10 a.m. More details at TriMet.org.
— Lisa Caballero email@example.com
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.
I live in SW an usually support these type of transportation funding proposals but a payroll tax (that exempted Tri-Met and other public employers) which literally increases the cost of private employers to have employees did not seem like a good idea when unemployment is high and likely to go higher. Now would be the time to increase the incentives for employers to hire and keep staff instead of what this measure proposed. Also the complete lack of greenhouse gas reduction in these times made it an easy no vote. Personally I would like to see this sort of thing funded by increased fossil fuel taxes on consumers and freight. Those sorts of taxes would make fossil fuel transport more expensive and that would create the right incentives.
I still have yet to hear a coherent explanation for why TriMet/Metro proposed a MAX line over a significantly-cheaper BRT line here. All of the benefits, none of the drawbacks.
However, before anything else is done, I’d like to see every major street have sidewalks. It’s the absolute bare minimum and it’s almost criminal negligence how few there are currently in southwest. In the many cities I’ve been to, I’ve never seen anything comparable to the lack of infrastructure we have here in southwest, an entire city region completely lacking basic infrastructure.
Every time PBOT announces that they’ve implemented a new “experimental” design that they’ll apply for 2.5 blocks in inner gentrified Portland and then completely abandon, remember this: people are dying on the east side, where they’ve been pushed to, because they don’t have sidewalks or crosswalks or both. We can navel-gaze endlessly about how we’re not “really” a Platinum Bike City or whatever; meanwhile we have 59 miles of unpaved streets and no plan to fix this. Our MUPs are cluttered with seemingly immovable trash, tents and hostile persons; every natural space is filled to the brim with more of the same. Welcome to Portland, The City That Works! Nice slogan we got there. Too bad it only applies to lining developers’ pockets with sweetheart redevelopment deals and sugarcoating it to the public with shiny new streetcars, MAX and sky trams.
In my (perhaps unpopular) opinion, the inner Eastside, Downtown, and inner Northwest should receive zero investment until the Outer Eastside, North, and Southwest Portland are brought up to better standards. And that doesn’t mean stuff like light rail, it means stuff like, as you mention, paved roads and sidewalks. It’s pretty obvious that Eudaly liked to shout “equity!” while simultaneously doing nothing about it.
Then you must be doubly blessed you’ve never explored North Carolina. Most cities out here stopped building sidewalks in the 1950s – the theory being that everyone should be driving everywhere. It wasn’t until the 2000s that most cities here realized the error of their ways and have since been building sidewalks, but only on arterial streets, and only when they get big federal grants. It doesn’t help that all our arterial and most collector streets are owned, funded and operated by the state DOT (as is also the case in Virginia and West Virginia), but they only build stroads – the local jurisdiction must build and pay for any sidewalks on those roads.
Can’t say I’ve ever been to NC! Sounds like NCDOT is just as regressive as UDOT. I honestly kinda find it funny when people complain about ODOT, because while they’re not perfect, they’re sure better than most state DOTs from what I’ve seen. But I guess unlike NCDOT, UDOT only controls a relatively small number of roads, similar to ODOT, so there are alternatives available and the bigger cities generally do a good job about making roads friendly to transit and active transportation.
I personally thought BRT would be better, the LRT alignment was surrounded by light industrial not housing and didn’t service downtown Tigard well. Here’s a memo on the topic which seems to highlight the high operating costs of BRT but it really seems to lack any sort of lifecycle analysis to bring clarity to the reader. I’d also love to see the cost comparison without the baseline costs of bringing Barbur up to standards ect. https://www.oregonmetro.gov/news/light-rail-or-bus-rapid-transit-southwest-corridor-new-memo-weighs-differences
Staten Island lacks many sidewalks in NYC, but they do have many trails.
Light rail is a useful development tool for an up-and-coming city of 300,000 – 500,000. But Portland is now in a bigger league, 650,000+, and it really needs to up its game on mass transit. Proposing yet another light rail line on Barbur is simply underwhelming. Aim big, build a subway, or a continuous gondola, or an overhead maglev.
SW is a pretty hard nut to crack, and I’m not sure TriMet is up to it; sorry, I don’t want to pay through my property taxes! Propose a new sales tax to fund it, and lower the income tax at the same time and I am all for it! Most of the recent arrivals to the Portland Metro area are used to paying sales tax, it’s only the minority of old native Oregonian curmudgeons who oppose it anymore. But they are also accustomed to driving and the density required for light rail is never going to exist in SW PDX, people aren’t going to bike to the stations on the narrow roads and hills, and building a bunch of park-n-ride garages just means more construction, congestion and subsidizing driving habits. And please tell me how would this be any better than the failed WES?
Six percent sales tax on everything but health care and prescription medicine. Cut property taxes. Enact a wealth tax. Let’s go!
There is a wealth tax and it is called Oregon’s death tax.
Many people move to Oregon specifically because there is no sales tax – it sure beats Nebraska any day, and it’s more affordable than New Hampshire. Sales taxes aren’t illegal in Oregon – the state legislature passed the needed enabling act years ago and Ashland OR has a local sales tax – but they are VERY unpopular in statewide votes, usually 80% against. But Portland could impose a Portland-only sales tax, or Metro for that matter, because I know y’all love paying taxes…
We have a state income tax. Washington has no income tax, but a sales tax and substantial property taxes. Just to pick another major city for comparison to be fair: I think sales tax in Seattle is around 10%, which is similar to our state income tax, but property taxes are lower.
I’m not sure what the answer is for funding, but a 6% sales tax on top of the state income tax and high property taxes seems unreasonable.
I am not sure how many times I have said this to people who make this comparison, but, I. Do. Not. Spend. All. Of. My. Money., hence why a sales tax is far superior. Now, I agree that 6% is insane on top of all of that other stuff, but there has to be a middle ground for generating additional revenue and continuing to put it all on the backs of those with high incomes and consequently the greatest ability to leave, seems imprudent at best.
Sales tax is wonderfully regressive. It’s a great way to put the burden on the working poor who do have to spend all their money.
WES needs to go beyond Wilsonville and go to downtown Salem’s waterfront.
To respond to the 1st comment, TriMet contended that labor is one of the largest operational costs, and a MAX train holds more passengers than a bus or BRT resulting in lower operating cost (in theory at least). The catch is, of course, the train needs to be full. for the math to work. Another part of the argument was that 50% of the capital costs to build the line would be bourn by the feds, but the O&M was TriMet’s responsibility.
As a long-time SW resident and active transportation advocate, I was really excited about the SW Corridor project when it started, but realized at the beginning that as the 7th light rail project in the region, it didn’t have the highest potential due to its low density suburban character. However, I felt that if done thoughtfully, it could still be a success.
Then as cost considerations forced the route to miss the important Portland destinations including OHSU/Veterans Hospital, Hillsdale, Multnomah Village, and PCC for legitimate cost reasons, the line became less compelling because of reduced accessibility. But I continued to hope that with a serious plan and strategy to connect the MAX with these destination centers and surrounding neighborhoods with 1st class pedestrian and bike facilities, it could still be a success.
Unfortunately, the project went a different direction by:
1) Obsessing over vehicular throughput on Barbur and other major streets (12 of the 23 Draft Environmental Impact Statement documents pertained to traffic analysis) and glossing over walking and bicycling.
2) Making no serious strategic attempt to connect the missed destinations and surrounding neighborhoods to transit with good pedestrian and bike facilities. Instead, the project focus was on park & ride. Mostly eyewash and wishful thinking was applied to pedestrian and cyclist access needs.
I certainly can’t speak for other SW residents, but I reluctantly gave up on this project because it was clearly going to be very expensive without corresponding benefit.
Thanks; the operational cost is a fair point that I hadn’t thought about. But yes, as you mention, without the connections to OHSU, PCC Sylvania, or other destinations there’s no way I could see the line attracting the ridership to fill the trains if they want to keep the line at frequent service.
Your experience parallels mine. I was excited to have practical transit to SW, but was primarily excited about protected bike lanes. Once I began to see designs that excluded protected infrastructure, I became less attached.
The thing I really liked about that light rail route was that if it were built, it would take other SW routes that I thought would be even worse off the table.
TriMet and Metro are so out of touch with the community that it’s getting quite SAD. As a transit fanatic living in Portland, observing cities like Seattle and Austin, TX pursue much more visionary projects with voter backing, I’m just… Grumpy about all this.
Seattle Recently built an underground downtown freeway and people were complaining of fumes when it opened. Those complaining of fumes were the ones in cars.
If Metro offered a bond package that focused on a $10 billion subway system from the airport through downtown to Pill Hill then out to Beaverton and Oregon City, I’m convinced a majority of voters would have voted for it, even though it wouldn’t really be either affordable nor particularly cost-effective. People like things that are visionary and pie-in-the-sky, including freeway bypasses, stadiums, highway tunnels, and other infrastructure of dubious value. They don’t like projects that are modest and doable.
I voted no, despite being FOR the light rail. For those who say ‘the density isn’t there,’ it WILL be… some 10% of America – not 10% of Georgia, or Arizona, but America – will be moving, many to the PNW, to escape climate change (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/15/magazine/climate-crisis-migration-america.html). All that light-industrial turned to housing means a light rail will be needed to unclog I5 and Barbur. However, what was also needed was a way to get those from new housing UPHILL from this corridor to it, and they simply failed to do so. You can’t reduce carbon emissions by making parkNrides your status quo. Or not connecting to OHSU and PCC. Or worrying about commuters on Barbur having one lane (take the train!). Or increasing suburban sprawl by fixing highways elsewhere to make traffic easier! So yes, please bring up light rail again, with adequate connections for all of those who lived off of it. Or re-plan SW as a region of small neighborhoods with services, so residents don’t need to commute for work, etc.
As for sidewalks in SW, it will never happen; PBOT has flatly said so. Why? Because the sewers out there can support EITHER the sewage from the projected 40% housing growth in SW, OR the stormwater runoff from new sidewalks, but not both… so they went with the growth, and pedestrians sharing shoulders with bikes, unprotected from all those new residents’ cars. It would take a huge bond to fix those sewers, and that’s outta PBOT’s hands. What they CAN do is stop pretending the best solution is no solution. SWIM is a great start, but the city needs to allot more money to programs like that. This isnt a case of taking money away from the east side needs, or equity issues (SW has plenty of equity issues, it ain’t all Dunthorpe) – it’s a case of expecting some 70K people to move to a region, give them no way to get around except cars, and then expecting to meet your Carbon, Vision Zero and transit goals. Lunacy.
Rail spine that has numerous bus lines, sidewalks and bike lanes leading to it should be the starting point for the next project.
Might actually pass…
I don’t understand this argument that sidewalks cannot be built unless storm-water facilities are built with them also. Was this same argument marshaled when the streets were built and paved? I doubt it. It’s like the streets for cars were built according to one set of rules but sidewalks and bike lanes need to satisfy a much more rigorous set of rules. Why?
It’s more like streets and sidewalks built today need to satisfy a much more rigorous set of rules than those built in the 1970s, 50s, or 20s.
If we were building streets for cars today without regard to runoff, you might have a point.
I think your question may be rhetorical but–
We’re currently stuck with pedestrian and bike routes that are mere accessories of car routes. Sidewalks aren’t improved separately because now a sidewalk is just a part of a street. Since sidewalks need streets they also imply storm drains and so a sidewalk in front of one house costs about $20,000. It’s kind of circular. Too bad we can’t build sidewalks in the past.
All new infrastructure built today that creates impervious surfaces has to manage the run-off, regardless of the mode that infrastructure accommodates.
as others have noted, regulations regarding runoff have tightened, and the latest BES rulebook is very strict. add 500 sq ft impervious and you have to manage the runoff. conditions in sw mean runoff can’t often be swaled or retained, so down a pipe it must go. the city has decided that the sewage capacity can’t deal with extra impervious cover ‘unrelated’ to new construction, so to speak, so no new impervious cover for sidewalks or bikes. that includes no paving existing gravel shoulders. city also says constitutional ‘takings’ law means they can’t make a developer do diddly, anyways. several large developments in SW have been exempted from new sidewalks due to this… i know hillsdale has some examples. ironically, there have been a number of homes built by individuals which HAVE been forced to put in sidewalks and paved shoulders, as well as piping to sewers. bit of a double standrd, that!
Developers have it pretty good in this town. Both the establishment at city hall and the fringe left out on the street seem to be on their side.
Real BRT would be a great alternative, but will never actually happen because of BRT creep, especially as long as ODOT owns Barbur. What we would end up with is a mildly more frequent and effective Barbur bus, like the Division Transit Project. And no change to driving capacity. “BRT” in the US is almost never true BRT.
My hope for the future of this project is that the most important connection (ie to OHSU) will be built as a part of the downtown tunnel system connecting Lloyd, Goose Hollow and PSU/OHSU. Right now the MAX system is impractical for commuters traveling through downtown/Lloyd. A connection along Powell and a downtown tunnel should be the top priorities.
My hope for the future of transport projects is that we DO NOT prioritize most important destinations first, like OHSU. We do not prioritize safe routes to school. An equitable approach is that everybody needs safe routes to everywhere. This is defacto ‘trip’ prioritization schema devalues work trips in regional transport models and the low income people who have to use public transport.
The west side Max is impractical for commuters because the original design has too many stations too close together to be TIME efficient. We had the same design flaws in the SW Corridor.
I see this loss as a win for parking reform. Park and Ride Max Stations is the losing design strategy that needs to be abandoned. We are done over engineering freeways interchanges with Max Stations. It doesn’t matter how many public meetings held if the original corridor alignment was agreed upon by a JPAC committee that needs to be completely gutted. First off I think Jessica Vega Pederson needs to resign as MultCo representative on JPAC. She led this entire miserable consultation process. She doesn’t have the transport engineering chops nor the integrity to continue as chair of JPAC. Jessica please step down from transport leadership. She talks the talk on climate change but doesn’t deliver community solutions. There are POC who fight for inclusive changes, then we have a Jessica who tends to run an exclusive inner club that is not really open and receptive.
So Roberta I agree in theory, having grown up in E Portland where sidewalks and bike paths were pretty sparse and +35mph is the norm. Safe routes to school should be the top priority. I think we can ask for both. Having a functional train system downtown means building a subway. The West side does have stations too close together. But it is also held up by surface activity (eg construction, cars). A reliable, and practical subway from Lloyd to Goose Hollow means the difference between +20 minutes and <10. Seattle's bus tunnel turned subway is now the most important part of its system.
Bus number 8 gives a connection seven days per week.
All of Southwest region needs a ban of new construction of new drive-thrus. It needs rerouted buses ((2014 TriMet sw service plan) and rebuilt paper street trails and boardwalks and new sidewalks and street lamps.
I’m a resident of SW Portland and I’m looking forward to all of the good ideas for improving transit in SW Portland in future – since this one obviously wasn’t good enough (or maybe too good, as Lisa implies). In the meantime – for the next 20-30 years – people will continue to drive in this part of Portland, since bus service is so scattered and irregular, and cycling facilities – even walking facilities – are largely nonexistent. The many old people who live in SW, who are used to driving everywhere, won’t change their behavior, and now neither will young people who move here.
I’ll be very interested in seeing PBOT’s new plans for dealing with the two Barbur bridges that are such an impediment to cycling. I had understood that PBOT was counting on the SW Corridor project to replace the two bridges and add cycle lanes. Now that the project is dead, what’s the new plan?
We need a new plan for sure, the problems that motivated the various parts of Measure 26-218 still exist. What we don’t need is a long and complicated process that ties every project into one grand structure that has to stand or fail as one. Serious question: what door can we knock on to get our needs met in a timely way?
MAX has moved a lot of people and changed the landscape to some degree but it has manifest problems. Trains need a big swath of a particular type of terrain and there are only so many places you can put them. If existing light rail lines aren’t meeting ridership projections it may not be sensible to keep building the next least uninteresting project.
Could we try something different? I hear and believe that there is a strong equity argument for investing on the East Side (further East than I am at this moment). However as a bike partisan I believe that SW Portland beyond I-405 is less permeable to bikes than almost any place East of the Willamette.
I’d like to see about five percent of the cost of a light rail line put into building a continuous, grade separated, signal priority, maintainable bikeway through the SW corridor at least to the Portland city limit. A bikeway has simpler alignment and grade requirements than a rail line and it has the potential to replace a similar number of car trips. A bikeway can be 10 meters from a house without shaking the foundations or waking the occupants. Bike riders don’t need feeder bus lines or parking structures at the station. They don’t need the station. They might like a bathroom here and there, that would be about one percent the cost of a train station.
I have in-laws that live near the PCC Sylvania campus, a few blocks off Capital Hwy. I’ve stayed there in the past and have commuted to work downtown via public transportation. It was hard. The walk from their house to the nearest bus stop takes about 7-10 minutes. Then the route to downtown isn’t too bad, but still takes a good 20-30 minutes, then I had a 5 minute walk to my work. So the minimum time to get to work was 32 minutes, it was usually more like 45. It was a heck of a lot cheaper to ride the bus than drive and park at one of the Smart Parks, however it was not nearly as comfortable. The bus ride home in the evening took usually an hour, which was on par with the drive home, but it’s hard for the bus to compete with the individual space a car brings.
I’ve also done the same trip by bicycle and I don’t wish that upon anyone that doesn’t have to. I suppose if you wanted to replace your workout with the ride then fine, but I never enjoyed how exhausted I was at the end of the ride.
And now for my in-laws, they would never take the bus or a Max if there was one. They’re liberal and open minded but they’re so used to driving. I imagine a lot of the neighbors are the same way. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone waiting at the bus stop other than me and I rarely witnessed someone riding their bike on Capital. I have to say, it’s just not a part of Portland where people walk, ride, or take transit to their destinations. It’s too hilly, people’s incomes are too high where they can afford to drive and park, and the overall culture is more car-centric. My in-laws voted no on the transportation measure because they think the Max is too expensive and no one would ride it to shop at a luxury mall with a bunch of Teslas parked in the parking lot…
I must add that the Park and Ride on Barbur was always full and that was my favorite way to get to work. So there must be lots of people commuting by bus considering the parked cars in the lot.