TriMet

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.

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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Beyond vandalism, Biketown faces ridership test ahead of summer season

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on April 11th, 2017 at 10:58 am

Biketown bike share -14.jpg

Biketown is popular with tourists, but the system needs more annual members if it wants to flourish.
(All photos by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland’s bike sharing system could have a bumpy road ahead even if political vandals decide to leave it be.

Annual members

A comparison of three bike share systems.

  • Biketown Portland: 2,837 (after nine months)
  • Pronto Seattle*: 2,878 (after nine months)
  • Capital Bikeshare Washington D.C.: 16,000 (after 12 months)

*Pronto has ceased operation.

Biketown launched nine months ago next week with 1000 bikes and 100 stations. Thanks to title sponsorship from Nike, it was one of the country’s largest bike-share launches — double the station and bike count of Seattle’s Pronto system when it launched in 2014.

Pronto, which like Biketown was operated by New York-based Motivate Inc., turned into the country’s highest-profile bike-share failure to date. Plagued by low ridership and a series of financial missteps and miscommunications, it shut down at the end of last month.

And though Portland’s Biketown is a very different system with a different price structure, its annual membership numbers for year one are on a very similar trajectory to Pronto’s.

[Read more…]

At TriMet board meeting, GM defends his advocacy for freeway expansion projects

by on March 24th, 2017 at 5:11 pm

At the TriMet board meeting on Wednesday, the agency’s General Manager Neil McFarlane pushed back against claims that he’s a “freeway builder.”

Last month we shared news (first reported by The Portland Tribune) that McFarlane advocated for three freeway expansion projects in the Portland region during a speech to the Washington County Public Affairs Forum on February 20th. The comments were met with strong criticism by transportation reform activists who felt the leader of our region’s transit agency should not be stumping for projects that expand urban freeway capacity and make driving easier.[Read more…]

45 days later, TriMet still has no estimate for re-opening of Lafayette Street bridge elevator

by on March 22nd, 2017 at 5:09 pm

“Temporarily.”
(Photo via @marneduke on Twitter)

An elevator on a bridge needed for cycling over light rail and railroad lines in southeast Portland has been closed for nearly seven weeks now. And TriMet, the owner of the facility, still isn’t sure when it will re-open.

On February 20th we reported that the elevator at the Rhine-Lafayette Bridge was broken. TriMet said moisture had gotten into the elevator shaft, causing the brakes the fail.

After posting our story we heard from several readers who were frustrated about losing such an important connection. As you can see in the map below, the railyard splits two neighborhoods and there are very few ways to get across it. While there are stairs with a wheel-gutter, the gutter is hard to use and for many people there are too many stairs to manage carrying their bike safely.

“This bridge being out is a significant impediment for those of us who use it to head North-South — makes my quick 15 minute ride from Sellwood to inner Clinton area twice as long and even longer if I’m headed further north,” wrote reader Carrie. “This whole thing is ridiculous. They tore down the old bridge because, well it was sketchy, but because it wasn’t ADA compliant. Then they build this new one, can’t afford(?) to build one at Harold or Reedway, and yet can’t maintain it and so now anyone who can’t do stairs, or can’t carry their bike up/down stairs (and it’s kind of scary to come down the stairs in the dark rain shouldering your bike) are screwed — there’s no where nearby to get from point a to point b.”
[Read more…]

Activists will speak out against GM’s support of freeway expansions at TriMet board meeting

by on March 17th, 2017 at 10:35 am

Jessica Engelman of BikeLoudPDX.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The thought of our regional public transit agency advocating for urban freeway expansions — including one in Portland’s central city — does not sit well with many transportation reform activists.

After TriMet GM Neil McFarlane told an audience last month that “It would be nice to make some progress on” three freeway “bottlenecks” in order to “keep our region moving,” volunteers with BikeLoudPDX decided it was time to speak out.

The plucky group is planning to attend the upcoming TriMet board meeting. They want to tell the people who appointed McFarlane that some Portlanders don’t think he should promote a billion dollars of regional transportation funds just to make driving easier.
[Read more…]

Help TriMet make transit better

by on February 28th, 2017 at 1:56 pm

Bus and bikes

As transit goes, so goes biking.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Like flowing water that takes the path of least resistance, so too will people when deciding how to get from point-A to point-B. Unfortunately in Portland today, driving a private car is still way too cheap and easy so it’s not surprising that the majority of people still prefer to drive.

To get the transportation results we need in order to save lives, save time, save money, and save our health; we must make options to driving more attractive. In Portland that means we must get more out of our significant investment in transit.

While they’re good at chasing mega-projects (including ones that have nothing to do with transit), TriMet is not doing enough to make bus service great. The result is fewer people taking transit — and more importantly, more people opting to drive.
[Read more…]

TriMet’s Lafayette Bridge elevator in Brooklyn neighborhood closed for repairs

by on February 20th, 2017 at 5:06 pm

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The bridge is a vital biking and walking link in southeast Portland’s Brooklyn neighborhood.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The elevator of the carfree Rhine-Lafayette Bridge in southeast Portland is out of order and TriMet says they aren’t sure when it will be back online.
[Read more…]

TriMet now one of four transit providers that are also NACTO members

by on October 12th, 2016 at 2:23 pm

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) was formed as a counterweight to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The group exists to promote more progressive and innovative street designs that reflect how Americans actually want to live in cities.

NACTO has 49 member cities and just announced three new transit agency members. Portland-based TriMet is one of them. Check the full press release below…

NACTO Welcomes New Transit Members, Reinforcing Transit’s Central Role on City Streets
New Transit Members in Seattle, Portland OR, and Miami-Dade County Join Peers in New York City and San Francisco

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) today announced that Seattle’s King County Metro, Portland’s TriMet, and Miami-Dade County have joined NACTO as the association’s newest transit agency members, weeks after New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) joined the association. These four major transit providers join NACTO’s 49 member cities across North America working to build sustainable, equitable streets and transit networks.

As more people are choosing to live in cities across North America, cities and transit agencies are partnering to move more people in less space, and make sure all neighborhoods have the streets and transit access that they need. NACTO’s recently-released Transit Street Design Guide, created by this unique coalition, shows how putting transit at the heart of street design greatly expands the number of people a street can move, and unlocks street space to create more vibrant places for everyone.
[Read more…]

Portland’s new surge in bike commuting is real – and it’s gas-price proof

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on September 15th, 2016 at 12:52 am

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Rush hour on Williams Avenue in May. Once again in 2015, 7 percent of Portlanders said their main commute to work is by bike.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Gas prices? What gas prices?

The great gasoline plunge of late 2014 hasn’t cut the rate of Portlanders biking to work, at least not in 2015.

In fact, drive-alone commuting among Portland residents hit a modern-day low last year — the fifth such record in six years — and public transit commuting jumped to a modern high of 13.4 percent.

[Read more…]

How TriMet’s project in the Rose Quarter Transit Center will impact your ride

by on August 19th, 2016 at 10:50 am

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A busy bikeway cuts right through the middle of the Rose Quarter Transit Center.
(Photo: J Maus/BikePortland)

If you bike through the Rose Quarter Transit Center be advised that starting this Sunday August 21st and lasting two weeks until September 3rd, TriMet is embarking on a major construction project that will close streets, change lange configurations, and put work crews and vehicles all over the place.[Read more…]