Welcome to the week.
Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers have come across in the past seven days…
Recipe for low-car life: Driving less is imperative for our survival as a species and this article from Angie Schmitt is a wonderful summation of how to do it — no matter where live. (Vox)
USA’s (carfree) main street: It was cool when Pennsylvania Ave in Washington D.C. got it’s own, center-running bike lane. It would be much cooler if it went completely carfree. (Greater Greater Washington)
Cars as appliances: The auto industry has found a new way to integrate their products into peoples’ lives: As a power generator. Ugh. (Washington Post)
Vision Zero for buildings: Too many drivers are running into homes and businesses. A review of fire department records in Seattle showed that it happened once ever 3 and 1/2 days in 2022. (Seattle Times)
Toxic traffic: A new study shows that even relatively low levels of exposure to traffic pollution can have a negative impact on your brain and its author say, “if you’re walking or biking down a busy street, consider diverting to a less busy route.” (University of British Columbia)
Dubai’s green ‘Loop’: This city in the United Arab Emirates wants to build a 60-mile long, fully-enclosed biking and walking highway to reach a goal of 80% bike/walk mode share by 2040. Your move, Portland! (Arabian Business)
A Major documentary: “Whirlwind” is the name of an in-progress documentary that will finally tell the story of famed Black bicycle racer Major Taylor — if its creators can raise enough money to finish it. (Cycling Weekly)
Commute benefits: Researchers found that many people who’ve moved to remote work miss their car commutes because of the liminal space it provided between work and home. (The Conversation)
(Fre)e-bikes: This program that used grant funding to give free e-bikes to residents of the Wilmington neighborhood in Los Angeles is likely going to be a blueprint we see all over America in the coming months and years. (LAist)
About those freight train delays: In another good episode of KGW’s ‘Driving Me Crazy,’ they take a closer look at the annoying delays caused by freight trains in inner southeast and what might possibly be done about it. (KGW)
Thanks to everyone who shared links this week.
An incredibly minor and esoteric nitpick to the car free/light article. They refer to Washington DC as a “legacy” public transit system but it was built in the 70s (the first section opened in 1976), and the original planned system was completed in 2001. Whereas NYC was largely built out between 1920 and 1940 with a few minor expansions in the 80 something years since the unification of the 3 different operators.
I guess the reason for bringing this up is that when the DC Metro is referred to as “legacy” (especially compared to the NYC Subway), it makes it seem like US cities are incapable of building quality public transit systems in the automotive age. We have built transit that can (and does) compete with automobile induced sprawl.
But the systems that actually do this are not light rail! The MAX will never compete with the freeway system – it’s simply too low capacity, too slow, and too infrequent. When local and regional planners in Portland refer to the MAX as “high capacity transit” they are being deceitful and/or ignorant of what that means (not to mention the streetcar and the FX with both unbelievably call themselves high capacity transit). A typical DC Metro train (8 cars, ~175 people/car) can carry ~1,400 people, and they run in the ballpark of 100 trains per day on the busier lines – enough to carry of around 140,000 people. Meanwhile, in Portland a MAX train (2 cars, ~165 people/car) can carry ~330 people, on 80ish trains per day – a total of 26,400. That is 5% of the capacity of a real metro system!
When people talk about “non-legacy” rail transit, they are almost always referring to light rail systems that can not hold a candle to a proper rapid transit system (and therefore can’t really compete with a highway either). If Portland wants to have great transit, we should really be planning on how to make the MAX an actual rapid transit system – grade separation downtown and longer trains. Every expansion to the system that fails to address those issues is probably a waste of our time.
Max may have the capacity to carry 26,400 passengers daily but I know from frequent sightings of mostly empty Max cars that they actually carry many fewer than that. Most buses I see (including FX) are also pretty empty, though I imagine there are still a few route/time combinations that have higher demand.
To make transit more “rapid” (especially downtown), it probably needs to go underground, and I don’t see the interest among residents or businesses to pay for that.
TriMet needs to figure out how to rebuild ridership, because I don’t think the system as it is is sustainable, economically or environmentally.
Everyone I’ve ever talked to about the downtown MAX tunnel is incredibly on board with it. As a stand alone project, it would probably be one of the most popular in the region.
You need to get out of downtown more.
Most people I talk to about it like the idea as well, but I only talk about it with people who like to talk about those things, and those people love ideas like this.
It would be a very expensive and potentially disruptive project, and with declining ridership, I don’t see how proponents would push the project forward.
Recall that the last transit bond failed solidly.
While the MAX out of downtown headed to Beaverton at 4:30-4:45 is regularly fairly crowded, gone are the days when I’d worry about being able to get on a train if I was at Providence Park or Goose Hollow.
Not only are the cars less full, if you wait for the red-line (8 min) you will find a nearly empty car – only the Blue Line seems to get the heavier traffic.
That said, even pre-COVID you only had to really worry about 7-9 and 4-6 (inbound/outbound). But, even with the “mostly empty” cars running a single rider trip on MAX had a cost of $2.30.
Any system with enough capacity to handle rush hour is going to look really empty at 4am.
If TriMet wants those riders back they need to improve reliability (I still lose 30min on a trip at least twice a week) get rid of the campers on early morning trains, remove the tweakers running up and down the aisles, getting undressed on the car and smoking meth on the car and also enforce really basic courtesies (such as not playing loud music on the train, not blocking the stairs with everything ranging from electric motorcycles to several bags of cans, not crowding the door and shoving people backward – that got a guy kicked in the knee and smacked in the face with my front wheel)
If Trimet wants to attract more riders they need to move away from the model they currently use which primarily focusses on serving downtown commuters, and they need to drastically lower – not raise – fares.
Indeed — I was just pointing out that the theoretical carrying capacity cited in no way reflected how many people use the service.
Capacity seems like a low priority compared to controlling the antisocial element using the service. Respect The Ride.
I mean we could always build elevated tracks too. Works great in Chicago, and would (should?) be way less expensive.
TriMet ridership is pretty meh these days, but that doesn’t really change the capacity of the rail system as a whole. If we run 400 something trains per day (currently scheduled for 409 on weekdays) that sit 330 people, that’s enough to carry around 270,000 people per day. Which is roughly the same as just one line of the Chicago L or DC Metro, and just that alone is incredibly disappointing.
Like I realize this isn’t exactly related to recouping ridership, but it’s worth asking why TriMet (and by extension Metro) haven’t pushed for really any projects that alleviate the major capacity constraints on MAX in the 40 years it’s existed for. The Steel Bridge and the size of the blocks downtown are hard capacity constraints that our public agencies haven’t even floated ideas for solving – but they still have an active website for the SW Corridor project that the voters rejected.
They absolutely have floated ideas for eliminating the Steel Bridge. The technical parts of that study would have been funded under the Metro Transportation bond.
I mean the fact that this project isn’t the highest priority project in the entire region is telling. A Montgomery Park streetcar extension ranks higher on the high capacity transit corridor tier list. Metro has no respect for the public if they consider a streetcar (that runs 4 times an hour) a high capacity transit project. Granted the rankings by tier (especially for the first 2) are more reflective of if planning has started or not – but still.
I could really go on and on about the flaws in basically every transit project that’s been done in Portland lately. But if the FX buses they are planning for 82nd and TV Highway aren’t “real” BRT, I’ll be extremely disappointed. Metro and TriMet sold the Division Project on the back of “BRT” and delivered something that has almost no features of a Bus Rapid Transit service. No off board payment, hardly any dedicated ROW, no level boarding. It’s plainly not BRT, and if Metro really considers a bus that’s a little bigger (with signal timing and all door boarding) to be high capacity transit…. I dunno well probably nothing will happen. But certainly it will be impossible for Portland to sell itself as a “transit focused” city with a straight face.
comment of the week! Oregon, Metro, TriMet, City of Portland all need to get real about our transportation situation and STOP believing their own hype/bullshit. blumdrew’s summary of our transit situation in Portland is succinct and accurate, but seemingly ignored by Trimet and Metro. It is like former Gove. Brown and now Gov. Kotek referring to themselves as “climate leaders”! Step one is acknowledging the problem, step 2 is working on a plan to address the problem, and step 3 is implementing the first steps. I have not seen Oreogn leadership make it to step one in over 5 years.
DC Metro rail carried 228k per day on average in all of 2022, down from 625k prior to the pandemic. Capacity is obviously the least of any current systems concerns.
DC Metro’s 2020-2022 issues honestly were only tangentially related to COVID. They had to pull almost their entire fleet out of revenue service for almost all of 2021, and they haven’t returned to peak service on their highest ridership line (Red) yet. 228k per day is more than 5x the ridership the MAX gets too, so again the point is that we simply do not have high capacity transit in Portland.
None of this should matter without discussing per capita capacity and the density of the metro. For what its worth, Portland has 2.5mm people in 6,600 square miles compared to DC with 6.36mm people over 5,500 square miles and Chicago at 9.4mm people over 9,600 square miles. So, DC is about 3x as dense as Portland and Chicago is 2.5x as dense. There is a reason we don’t have comparable service, it is because the structures of our city isn’t comparable to those.
I mean it’s relevant to know how many people a rail service could theoretically move – it’s a metric for comparing two systems. It’s not the entire picture, and I’m not claiming that it is.
The point is that if TriMet wants to claim to be a “world class transit system”, it should do things that world class transit systems do.
The reason we don’t have high capacity transit in Portland is because we haven’t built it. Plenty of cities smaller than Portland have metros (just not in North America – unless you count Cleveland which you shouldn’t based on when the RTA actually built the Red Line). Genoa, Glasgow, Catania, Shiraz, Bresica, Nizhny Novgorod, Lausanne. The list goes on.
Many of the cities you listed long ago banned free on-street parking and ether required permits or didn’t allow for on-street parking at all.
Would we, assuming all rational parties, want to spend funds on transit in the most judicious manner possible? So, given that our current transit modes don’t approach anything close to capacity, why would we spend the inevitable billions of dollars for a metro, just to say we have a “world class transit system”?
I mean the most impactful use of funds in the region is almost certainly on grade separating MAX through downtown. Assuming we agree that’s a good project, the added cost of having platforms long enough to fit 4 car trains would be fairly insignificant and would allow for a much more robust future system. A 4 car train would have essentially the same labor cost (marginally higher due to the increased overall maintenance cost because of having to physically own more rolling stock), but double the capacity – which is a primary benefit of having a rail transit system in the first place.
Saving 10-15 minutes on a trip through downtown would immediately make the MAX way more competitive at a regional level, especially for trips between East Portland and Beaverton/Hillsboro. And having something closer to a metro than a tram would have so many more benefits than just being able to “say we have a world class transit system”. More reliable, less expensive to run, much faster, fewer bottlenecks, more frequency, to name a few.
When Washington DC started building its system the MSA had a population of 2.8 million, so a little less than 1.4 times as dense as what were are currently. To me it makes sense to upgrade and expand the system now, knowing that we’re likely getting denser in the future.
It looks to me like the USA is following in the footsteps of Italy and Japan but with a far more dysfunctional sociopolitical system.
We are? We may have population growth, but I highly doubt Portland will see the density that necessitates a metro system or much of an expansion of the current light rail system. There are tons of stops that still don’t have any density surrounding them. Build that out, fill the trains, then maybe we have something worth expanding.
The other “BIG” regional transport topic that the Portland leadership (business & governmental) needs to grasp collectively and communicating is where should the future high / ultra high speed rail station be…most likely not PDX Union Station AND that any PNW regional route up to Seattle needs a Clark County [Vancouver – VAN] stop vs the planned bypass+ a slow bus connection.
The most recent data shows that Vancouver “VAN” has the fifth most boardings/ alightings of any Cascades station, and almost more than #4 Tacoma and way more than most other station locations. See WSDoT graphic from 2019. [Plus this would help support making make West Vancouver more car-lite, per Portland’s collective mantra.]
I wouldn’t worry too much about future HSR in the region. It seems extremely unlikely.
Vancouver will hopefully have 6 Cascades round trips after 2025, on top of the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder.
I mean I don’t have much hope for HSR in the Japanese sense – I can’t imagine anyone convincing the state of Oregon to build a “new main line” (Shinkansen). But there’s no reason we shouldn’t be pushing for higher top speeds on the already existing infrastructure. Most railroads ran passenger trains far faster than the typical top speed (79 MPH) these days until a crash in Naperville in 1946, and currently signalling systems are usually the primary reason why train speeds are restricted to 79 MPH.
It might take an act of divine intervention (or nationalization!) to get that level of signalling on the UPRR mainline in the Willamette Valley, but it would be something that would make passenger rail much more competitive with cars and planes. And something to lobby for – the railroad safety act in 2008 that required PTC could be amended to merge the somewhat different PTC/ATC/Old Signalling requirements imposed by the ICC in the wake of the Naperville crash. Maybe I should be writing this in an email to my representatives though.
I agree, and by banning free on-street parking and requiring permit parking citywide, Portland could rapidly increase demand and use for transit. The more the city makes driving inconvenient and uncomfortable, not to mention expensive, the more likely residents and visitors will seek alternatives such as bike share, walking, transit, and so on.
Such as the suburbs.
This only works if the product of “Portland” has some intangible scarcity that is not available anywhere else. Not to beat a dead horse, but I think those days are over.
Based on what I’ve seen it’s more profitable to run a restaurant, cafe, art gallery, clothing shop, brewery, bar, convenience store, food truck or movie theater on NW 21st, NW 23rd, Hawthorne, Division, Belmont, Mississippi, Burnside, Division, Clinton, Ankeny, (lower) Sandy, Broadway, Williams, Vancouver, Glisan, Dekum, Foster, Woodstock, Milwaukie, Bybee, SE 13th, SE 28th, Alberta, Fremont, or Lombard than it is just about anywhere else in the region. Portland is a great city (still), with tons of great things to do. Just go out there and find it for yourself and stop reading the news about how the city is dying – it’s just not.
I want to point out that it’s actually more like 19%, not 5%. Maybe my calculator was broken 🙂
came here to complain about that. thx
I’ll only get behind tunneling MAX downtown if it means that Yamhill, Morrision, 5th, and 6th get rebuilt as bus-only streets with dank bike lanes.
You won’t hear me complain about that 🙂
Comment of the week.
As to the Green Loop, I’m not sure if anything being planned in the UAE should be emulated or glorified here. We simply don’t have the money or the “bonded labor” to accomplish it.
An excellent point regarding the UAE record on human rights and modern slavery however, you have to applaud the creativity and the vision to propose such a thing. That is refreshing when our local politicians are reluctant to publicly consider more green paint for fear of offending the trucking industry and the Portland Business Alliance. You cannot get a majority of Portland City Council to agree on humanely removing and relocating houseless camps off of bike paths.
I agree, the idea and planning is stunning. I’m concerned that totalitarian regimes are coming up with amazing ideas and as you say, we have a hard time slapping paint down. I had to refresh my memory on what “kinetic energy” is and the Loop seems like a great idea. I imagine the UAE would keep it clean as well and not tolerate any of the things our government tolerates here.
The major successful bike cities typically have a Strong Mayor form of local governance PLUS a visionary mayor… The cities with weak mayor / strong city manager (or other forms of ‘progressive era’ governance) tend to do ‘well’ the typical things…like adding more car capacity, paving streets, and other mid-last-century status quo / small tweak items (street rain gardens, bike boxes, etc.).
Perhaps the only visionary major project that the City of Portland has accomplished in the last 20 years, post Eastside Esplanade, has been the Big Pipe Project, but I would say that does not count, as such projects though major are outside of most peoples’ ‘mindsight’…being underground and did not require most folks to deviate from any existing collective daily behaviour.
Sometimes, creativity isn’t a good thing. That project looks insanely expensive, and all of that glass-enclosed space in the middle of the desert looks like a nightmare to cool.
I don’t think this Loop project will ever be built, personally.
I agree that labor conditions in the UAE (and elsewhere in the Gulf) are reprehensible, but imagine how bad conditions must be at home that make working under those conditions seem like the better option.
The people working there do so voluntarily and generally know what they’re signing up for. The best way to end poor working conditions in the Gulf might be to reduce poverty in the subcontinent, where many of the laborers come from, so people will have alternative ways to provide for their families.
“yes yes, slavery and monarchy, but you have to hand it to them they have vision”.
There is nothing refreshing about it.
There’s not much more to say about the labor issues.
The climate may be what is moving this proposal. In very few years it could be really hard to be outside in the summer there.
Yes, much of the wealthy middle east is one big ‘work camp’ [>80% of the population (brown, blue, pink, white, and gold collar workers) works to serve the indigenous population]…but these workers still deserve green / active options to get around. And there can be opportunities for local innovations…I think it was back in 2009 when Dubai – as part of their first bike plan – first worked on the concept of climate controlled bikeways.
PS. I cycled, walked and bused around much of the old Abu Dhabi (when I worked for Alta Planning in 2010) as it was faster than driving due to the congestion and on-street parking fight. Since then the UAE have also built a national rail system.
Nice to chat with someone who’s been to that part of the world. I was just north of Baghdad during 2009 and can completely understand why they would want an enclosed, controlled space. Hot, lots of air particulate, sand storms on the best of days had me wanting something like a green loop even back then.
I figure if Qatar could build an a/c open stadium, then why not a green loop?
The question is how many resources will they use up to support modern lifestyle in an inhospitable land and should we look at Nordic countries and their petro money who do the same, but in the frigid cold?
UAE emissions per capita are roughly 3 times that of Norway, and that will only grow as the earth gets hotter. They even manage to beat out the US, which is impressive.
That’s a great find! I was surprised to see the US is number 13 in per capita emissions and that 7 Gulf countries do worse than us. Not surprised at all to see Qatar was number 2 though. A little thrilled that Canada does worse as well. Nothing like some friendly Americas competition.
Speaking of Major Taylor, this is a terrific biography. I highly recommend it.
It’s farcical that Bike Portland is Ugh-ing the use of existing batteries (that mostly sit unused) to reduce load during periods when more electricity is produced by fossil fuels (e.g. peak hours in the morning and evening).
When the power goes out, is it better to plug my fridge and freezer into a fully charged EV, or should I fire up the gas-powered, CO-spewing, fairly noisy (American made) generator, as I do now? I think my neighbors would prefer the former.
The big battery argument just might convince me.
The “Ugh”, I presume, is because this is a way to both greenwash and entrench car dependence. “Oh yeah, it’s actually good for the planet to deepen your investment and dependence on every single person having a car, because we can use it as a battery”. Just because it has this one unintended side benefit of working as a way to smooth out power demand, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Or not all good.
Besides, if there are ever enough cars doing this out in the wild to make any meaningful difference to the grid, the benefit of the battery to smoothing demand will be outweighed by the massively increased demand they put on the grid when they’re charging. And the way to meet that demand will be either more fossil fuels (bad obviously) or more green energy sources (good but then in need of storage).
It’s a hell of a lot more nuanced than “batteries just smooth out demand and nothing else happens”.
Agree. The language used in the article, not distinguishing between generator and battery, is absolutely pushing that narrative. Focusing on how you have this “emissions-free backup generator” without acknowledging that drivers must charge their cars at home, (presumably overnight outside of peak usage hours) or at charge stations (presumably inside of peak hours) is not a good take IMO.
I agree that a society (USA) with 1.9 automobiles per household is obscene* but even under a best case scenario we would expect to see at least 1 automobile per household in the next several decades (e.g. the rate in the Netherlands).
If one dispenses with a reactionary bias against energy storage#, the use of batteries (that mostly sit unused during their lifecycle) to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is an unambiguous moral good.
“will be outweighed by the massively increased demand they put on the grid when they’re charging”
Many EVs will be charged via locally generated energy (e.g. residential and community solar) and large areas of our grid already have an overabundance of renewable energy during non-peak hours:
*Ironically, the OP’s household has at least 2 automobiles and one of them is a recently purchased urban assault vehicle. Ugh.
#The idea that battery technology is static and irrevocably based on lithium in the medium- to long-term is both ahistorical and reactionary.
This is one of the many reasons that driving an ICE vehicle is fundamentally immoral (evil).
It should also be noted that this is not conceptually novel — there are many dozens of studies that address the impacts of particulate/tailpipe pollution on brain health.
A recent review:
Oh my god the car was the missing “third place” all along. Cry/laugh.
I recall reading a thing or two about people that had kept up or developed “commute” habits as they started working remotely, riding before and after work to maintain a mental buffer. Makes me wonder if they kept at it.
If you ever speak to someone who has an hour+ commute each way and says “it isn’t that bad”, you realize that for many Americans, the car absolutely is their third place.
Seems to me that a lot of folks have an emotional connection to the “safe space” a car provides. You can’t exactly have a breakdown on the bus after a stressful day at work. You can I guess, but the social pressure is there not to.
Following up on the Angie Schmitt article (car lite in the Midwest)…she also wrote a new book…looks like a timely one to read, buy or borrow from the library. Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in Americahttps://islandpress.org/books/right-way
Back to the topic of bike innovation and governance:
“The total length of cycling tracks constructed in Dubai is 425 km [264 miles] as of 2020. RTA plans to build more cycling tracks that will increase the length of the network to 668 km [415 miles] by 2025.” – Khaleej Times
This is a pretty amazing feat of traffic engineering and planning considering that RTA in Dubai had about ~0 miles of anything bikeway related in 2008 let alone bike tracks/ PBLs.
They definitely have the imagination and the means. Interesting to think what Portland could do with plenty of money to throw at multimodal transportation rather than throwing money into the ever expanding “non-profit” black hole?