jarrett walker

Is it time for more bus-only lanes in Portland?

by on May 11th, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Hawthorne Bridge traffic observations-3.jpg

TriMet buses idle in congestion on the Hawthorne Bridge heading into downtown Portland.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“It is time for @trimet and @MultCoBridges to open the outer lane on Hawthorne for transit only. This is utterly absurd.”
— Alan Kessler on Twitter

Transit riders all too often forgotten victim of Portland’s congestion crunch. While we frequently hear tales of woe from people who drive in the daily gridlock that plagues much of our city, for some reason the news media and politicians don’t have the same empathic ear for people who use buses.

Since buses (and to a lesser extent streetcar and MAX trains) share the same lanes as cars and trucks, these (potentially) efficient and egalitarian workhorses of our transportation system are made to wait behind single-occupancy cars. This is infuriating to many transportation reform advocates, urban planners, and people with a grasp of basic mathematics.

Traffic in Portland is especially bad this year not only because driving is still way too attractive (it’s free, perceived as very safe, and often the fastest option), but also because of numerous construction projects. Case in point is Multnomah County’s project on the Morrison Bridge which prompted The Portland Mercury to report that it would “ruin your summer” if you drive. “Your options,” they wrote back in March, “Begin riding your bike, or figure out at whom you should direct your outrage.”

A graphic on the Portland Bus Lane Project website.

Unfortunately, if traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge directly south of the Morrison is any indication, it looks like way too many chose the latter option.

The result has surely caused outrage — but it’s not just people in cars that are mad. The daily backups on the Hawthorne leading into downtown frustrate transit fans too. One of them is Alan Kessler. Kessler is a lawyer by day and transportation reform activist on the side. He’s an active volunteer with Bike Loud PDX and other groups. On May 4th he was biking westbound on SE Madison approaching the Hawthorne Bridge and posted a video to Twitter with the message: “It is time for @trimet and @MultCoBridges to open the outer lane on Hawthorne for transit only. This is utterly absurd.”

https://twitter.com/alankesslr/status/860193953127071744

Kessler’s tweet sparked a robust discussion. So much that he’s decided to start a grassroots campaign to see if the idea has legs.

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Since his tweet, Kessler has launched the Portland Bus Lane Project. So far it consists of a website and an email list. A meet-up of interested activists is being planned2. He’s also invited Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson to meet him outside her office just a few blocks away from the bridge to take a closer look at the issue.

“Watching buses idle with a few dozen cramped people inside while another dozen individuals in cars block their path is just absurd,” he shared with me a few days ago. “The idea that this is a system that someone designed, that so many people subject themselves to daily, and that is killing our planet. It’s absolutely absurd.”

Hawthorne Bridge traffic observations-6.jpg

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This hierarchy was adopted by city council as part of Portland’s Transportation System Plan.

Kessler points to Portland’s adopted planning documents that are supposed to prioritize transit above single-occupancy cars. “But this is a painful example of that not happening,” he points out. And he’s not just thinking about the Hawthorne Bridge. Bus-only lanes have been pushed for by Kessler and others on Outer Division for many months now. Metro and TriMet tried to create “bus rapid transit” on the Powell-Division Corridor last year, but were too afraid to constrain single-occupancy vehicle capacity to do it and the plan fell apart.

“If transit really is at the top of the inverted pyramid [a reference to Portland’s “transportation hierarchy” adopted in the Comprehensive Plan], and cars are at the bottom, then it should be easy to find the room to make this happen.”

What might happen to all traffic on the Hawthorne if we made this switch? It’s hard to say because don’t have precise figures about the current split of cars and buses. Two years ago, in a story about how biking and walking traffic was bursting at the seams of the Hawthorne Bridge’s sidepath, we reported that about 10 percent of all the traffic on the bridge is bicycle users, another 10 percent are on foot, and about 30 percent are in transit vehicles (leaving about half inside cars). A former member of the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee told us, “We would like to see the council consider the possibility of lane reallocation.”

“I am certainly not against bus priority on the bridge, but I have always felt that Southwest Madison and Main are the more severe problem.”
— Jarrett Walker, transit consultant

Jarrett Walker of Human Transit, a highly regarded bus and transit consultant, told us this morning that attention should be paid to the streets that lead up to the bridge. “Bus only provisions are needed especially for bottlenecks. The urgent problem is often on the bridge approaches rather than the bridge itself,” he said. As an example, he added that MAX light rail on the Steel Bridge is “reasonably reliable” even when it mixes with other traffic. That’s because the bridge itself isn’t where congestion happens and the MAX has a dedicated path on the approaches.

“I am certainly not against bus priority on the bridge, but I have always felt that Southwest Madison and Main are the more severe problem,” added Walker.

If you’d like to get involved with Kessler’s project. You can sign up for his email list at Portlandb.us.

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

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The story of today’s Portland in the path of the No. 75 bus

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on June 21st, 2016 at 9:49 am

riding against the grain

Screengrab from bus75.org, photo by Geoffrey Hiller.

We don’t often publish transit-only posts, but we’ll make an exception for this one.

Portland-based photographer Geoffrey Hiller is working on an all-year project to document the life of Portland through the lens of a single bus line: the No. 75 that runs between Milwaukie and St. Johns via Chavez, 42nd and Lombard.

For a post yesterday, he recruited Portland-based transit consultant and writer Jarrett Walker (who happened to be a teenage intern at TriMet in the 1980s, when the 75 bus was created) to write about the ways the 75 reveals this moment in Portland’s ebbing, flowing life.

The result is a short illustrated essay that is, somehow, both about our city and about good public transit network design. It’s something to behold:

[Read more…]

As big bike investments loom, the debate goes on: Which neighborhoods need most?

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on August 4th, 2015 at 9:58 am

SW Portland bikeways-2

Southwest Portland’s bikeways need huge work. But is that work more important than improving areas that have immediate ridership potential?
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The debate is familiar. But lately, we’ve been hearing an interesting twist to this story: there might actually be a way to resolve it.

Portland is getting ready for a burst of its biggest biking investments in years, and it’s prompted a creative proposal for confronting one of the stickiest issues in local politics.

The city is preparing to put $6 million toward its first high-quality downtown bike lane network. Next year, a $5.2 million upgrade of Foster Road will make that highway-style street much safer to walk, bike and drive on between SE 52nd and SE 90th. Another $4.2 million will create a 130s Greenway; another greenway running east from Gateway Transit Center; and bike facilities on Division Street as far east as 130th. The $2.4 million 20s Bikeway Project is being built piece by piece.

[Read more…]