Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ridership numbers

From Oregonlive.com, "TriMet bus ridership plummets in December under force of recession"

The dismal economy continued to eat away at TriMet ridership in December, despite a boost in MAX commuting from the three-month-old Green Line.

TriMet recorded 7.6 million trips on buses, MAX and WES during December, a 6.5 percent decline from December 2008. Bus ridership saw the most dramatic drops, with rush-hour trips plummeting more than 20 percent and total weekday trips down nearly 12 percent.

Any worries that riders wouldn't use the Green Line continues to be erased. Weekday trips averaged 15,900 and weekend trips averaged 19,900 on the new line, TriMet says. But those numbers were among only a few bright spots in the ridership report.

"The ongoing recession and double digit unemployment is still impacting" bus and WES commuter rail trips, said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch. "Consider 55,000 jobs lost in the region and then look at the rush hour numbers."

Fetsch said it's still unclear how the current drop in ridership compares to past recessions, such the ones in 1982 and 1992. "The general rule is we always mirror the economy and then lag six months," she said.

MAX ridership, meanwhile, was up slightly with the expansion of the PSU-to-Clackamas Town Center Green Line, which opened in September, Fetsch said. Light rail ridership saw an average of 107,800 weekday trips and 32,600 rush hour trips, increases of 1.3 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

"If we didn't have the Green Line, everything would be down," Fetsch said, adding that many Green Line riders are likely choosing MAX over buses in high transit areas near 82nd Avenue.

Meanwhile, the $161.2 million Beaverton-to-Wilsonville Westside Express Service wrapped up its first year of commuter rail services with more bad news.

During its first week of operation in February 2009, ridership totaled about 1,700 trips. It has dropped steadily since. TriMet said last summer that it likely wouldn't meet its goal of 2,400 weekly trips by year's end. In December, the number had dipped to 1,075.

Go to the Hard Drive commuting blog to get a detailed breakdown of December TriMet ridership numbers and comparisons with other transit systems in other U.S. cities.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


From KPTV.com, "Attackers Hit, Bite Woman On MAX Platform"

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A woman was left with bruises and bite marks after being attacked by three people on a MAX platform in northeast Portland.

Kayla Clarks said she was with her roommate, Kailee Wheeless, at the Gateway Transit Center on Northeast 99th Avenue just before midnight Thursday when two women approached and grabbed the sunglasses off Wheeless' head.

"I, like, turned around and I was like, 'Hey, that's not cool. You need to give them back,'" Clarks said.

The two women, joined by a third attacker, started to hit Clarks and shoved her to the ground, the assault victim said.

"And they all started kicking me in the head and stomping on my head. And then I got up somehow and we were knocked to the ground again and then they dragged me towards a metal poll and my head was knocked into a metal pole," Clarks said.

During the struggle, Clarks said one of the girls bit her, leaving marks on her arm.

Her purse was stolen during the attack.

Police officers took at least two people into custody but Clarks believe two men who were with the attackers have her purse.

Wheeless said she screamed at the attackers to stop.

"And I watched them slam her to the ground and they started to kick her and one of them had one of them had her by the hair while another one kicked her," Wheeless said.

Clarks said she's thankful she wasn't hurt worse.

"But, it was pretty brutal. I don't think I deserved it in any way," Clarks said.

Anyone with information is asked to call Portland police.

From theoutlookonline.com, "Gresham man killed at City Hall MAX station"

A man crossing the MAX tracks who was struck and killed by a train at the Gresham City Hall station Monday morning has been identified as a Gresham resident.

Jose Lopez Rodriguez, 55, was on the north side of the platform, which is located just south of Gresham City Hall and east of Northwest Eastman Parkway, when he was hit at about 8 a.m.

The man was on the platform’s east end closest to Northwest Eastman Parkway when he ran southbound across the MAX tracks to catch an eastbound train, said Mary Fetsch, TriMet spokeswoman.

A westbound train coming into the station at the same time hit the man. He died at the scene. It is the second time a pedestrian has been hit and killed at the station. In June 2003, 16-year-old Gresham boy, Aaron Wagner, was hit and killed by a train at the City Hall stop while crossing the tracks on his bike.

His mother, Darla Sturdy, lobbied the state Legislature for changes at MAX crossings. The Legislature passed a law requiring TriMet to commission an independent study, complete with findings and recommendations, regarding the safety of pedestrian crossings on the light-rail line. Many of the more dangerous stations were located on the eastside, as they are the oldest in the light-rail system.

Based on the study’s findings, TriMet plans to make crossing improvements at approximately 60 locations, Fetch said. Improvements vary from channeling pedestrians to creating Z-style crossings that orient pedestrians so they see trains coming from both directions.

The study found that the City Hall station could benefit from a Z-style crossing, which TriMet plans to create, Fetch said. The transit agency has already installed additional warning signs, lights, audible warnings and fencing/railings at the station, she added.

No texting

From Oregonlive.com, "Under pressure, TriMet gets tough with operators on cell phones"

The general manager of TriMet said Thursday that bus and train operators caught texting or talking on their cell phones while on the job face immediate termination as of Jan. 1.

Prompted by an Oregonian investigation into distracted driving by TriMet operators, Fred Hansen announced the stiff new disciplinary policy in a letter to employees. It goes into effect the same day as Oregon’s statewide ban on using handheld mobile devices while driving.

“Compromising safety and distracted driving is not worth the risk,” Hansen wrote.

In the past two years, TriMet has fielded more than 530 complaints from riders and other motorists about operators talking, texting and even playing games on their cell phones while driving, according to records obtained by the newspaper.

During that time, however, only two drivers — including one in recent weeks — have been disciplined for violating the agency’s ban on using cell phones while driving.

Until recently, TriMet gave operators a pass on such complaints until they had received more than three. And while most buses and trains are wired with multiple surveillance cameras, none record driver actions, making it hard to prove violations.

“Without video or pictures,” said Josh Collins, manager of communications at TriMet, “it can make it hard to get past ‘he said, she said.’¤”

As of Jan. 1, Oregon motorists caught talking or texting on handheld mobile device while driving risk a $90 ticket. Washington already has such a ban. The only exemption: Professional drivers in an emergency.

During an investigation scheduled to be published in this week’s Sunday Oregonian, it became clear TriMet hasn’t given the new Oregon law much consideration.

Initially, the agency insisted its drivers may even be exempt from being pulled over by police.

But after further questioning, Hansen shifted from a reluctance to change disciplinary policy to pledging that any TriMet operator found guilty of violating the new law would be fired.

TriMet already requires the devices to be stowed away in a bag or pocket. Drivers aren’t allowed to pull them out and use them until they’re stopped for a layover break. “The policy is very clear,” Hansen said.

Still, judging from the more than 530 complaints fielded by TriMet customer service dispatchers since September 2007, many drivers aren’t bothering with that precaution.

According to the complaints, drivers have been so distracted by their phones that they missed stops, ran red lights, weaved, waved people onboard without checking fares, hit street fixtures and nearly hit pedestrians.

TriMet also said one operator hit a vehicle while using his cell phone, although it was a minor crash.

The agency currently uses “progressive discipline” with operators, counseling them and giving them written reprimands in attempt to correct the problem. But as driving while texting and talking moves from a TriMet violation to an illegal activity, Hansen said the behavior will become one of the agency’s “deadly sins”

In a phone interview Thursday night, Hansen said there’s a strong possibility the Amalgamated Transit Union 757 might file a protest. But as director of the agency, Hansen said he has the authority to initiate policies that protect public safety.

“There is solid research as to why driving while distracted is a serious issue,” he said in his letter to employees, citing a recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study showing motorists using cell phones are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.

He also noted that TriMet policy, unlike the new Oregon law, will continue to ban hands-free cell phone conversations.

“TriMet’s policy goes further than the law,” he wrote, “since we do not allow either handheld or hands free cell phone usage.”

Extending Bikes

From Bikeportland.org, "New Fed policy would fund more bike projects around transit stops"

The Obama Administration has taken a solid step in matching their “livable communities” rhetoric with action. A new proposal from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would increase the radius around transit stops and stations where bicycling and walking infrastructure could be funded. The proposal showed up last Friday in the Federal Register and bike advocates and planners in the Portland area are already getting excited.

Current FTA regulations regarding what type of biking and walking projects can receive federal funding are vague and are limited to a “catchment area” (a defined area around a transit stop or station where biking and walking trips come from) that has never been geographically defined.

As the law stands now, in order to be eligible for federal funds, a transit agency must prove that a bike/ped facility has a “functional relationship” to the transit stop or station and that it must not extend beyond “the distance most people can be expected to safely and conveniently walk to use the transit service.” That distance has typically been set at a mere 1,500 feet. Now the FTA says that distance is too short; and they’ve also clarified the language around bike projects as well.

Here’s the proposed policy:
“… all pedestrian improvements located within one-half mile and all bicycle improvements located within three miles of a public transportation stop or station shall have a de facto physical and functional relationship to public transportation.”

This proposed policy change is music to the ears of Michelle Poyourow with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). She said she’s been meeting with TriMet project staff over the past nine months to try and figure out why it’s been so hard to invest in bike lockers and bikeways to encourage more people to bike to transit. “One of the big problems I identified was this issue with the catchment area, which is just so small.”

Poyourow said one local example of how this new policy might help a bikeway project get funded is with the new Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line. That new line is being built an easy pedal away from the Springwater Corridor Trail. She said it also might help bring some bike parking to the Tacoma transit center, which already has plans for 800 car parking spaces.

Poyourow said the BTA will submit a formal comment to the FTA in support of this new proposal. “I’m delighted to see this happen. Someone else noticed the same thing we did… this is just fantastic.. this saved us a step.”

TriMet also plans to send in comments to support the new policy. Bike planner Colin Maher told us during a phone interview this morning that they’re “excited” to see the FTA acknowledge the value of bike access to transit.

Maher pointed out that a survey they completed in June 2008 showed that the average distance people bike to a transit stop is two miles, which would be well within the FTA’s new project funding radius. While Maher says TriMet is in support of the new policy, he said it’s still too early to tell what the implications might be.

Download a PDF of the FTA’s Policy on Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements. (pdf)

Wired needs to calm down.

From Wired.com, "Why Portland’s Mass Transit Rocks"

Portland, Oregon is routinely ranked among the best transit cities in the country. The accolades certainly are deserved. Commuters are swept quickly and comfortably from almost anywhere to almost anywhere on a system that is reliable, convenient and bicycle friendly. It should be a model for other cities.

There’s no end to the things that make the system, called TriMet, awesome. Its customer interaction system is amazingly useful and includes a real live person to help plan trips if you call during business hours. Its iPhone app should be widely duplicated. The Fareless Square, which allows people to ride for free downtown or just across the Willamette River, lets people move quickly and easy around downtown. The Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) rail system seamlessly transitions from inter-city streetcar to intra-city commuter rail and remains best method of transport anywhere. And the system actively looks for ways to improve, regularly handing out surveys to get feedback from riders.

Your intrepid Autopia contributor sold his car and spent a full year in Portland, relying on TriMet to get around . Though TriMet offers a fantastic, comprehensive transit system, there are a few tweaks, minor and major, that could bring vast improvements.

Like most mass transit, TriMet shuts down for the night. Many people who work or revel at night live beyond the core of downtown, and TriMet’s relatively early closing time is a real limitation. Even those living in relatively accessible neighborhoods have to head home before the buses stop at 12:30 a.m. The MAX stops running an hour or so later, but those living beyond walking distance of a station face a long walk or a cab ride. There’s no shortage of taxis, but running even a single bus hourly on major routes could improve late-night and early-morning ridership greatly. Imagine the money and carbon emissions that could be saved.

Another problem is many riders simply do not pay to ride because the stations are open and fare inspectors rare. As structured today, Portland cannot actually force people to pay before entry because there is no barrier between station and sidewalk, so perhaps the best option is to extort a whole lot of money from somewhere and make MAX free. It probably wouldn’t cost much more than it does already. It also isn’t unusual to see people simply wave an expired ticket in the general direction of the driver as they get on. There are even fake ticket rings, but who needs them when the ticket you bought last week will probably do the job. It would be interesting to know what fare jumpers and expired tickets cost the system, but to my knowledge no one’s published such a study.

Another issue is that the three different transit systems don’t have standardized tickets. Bus use different tickets than MAX, which uses different tickets than the other regional systems like the Westside Express Service light rail. It’s all a little neurotic.

Portland’s extensive route system is in some ways lacking. East Portland, which is densely populated, could use a streetcar like the one downtown. If it could make an extensive loop, starting at the Rose Quarter Transit Center, swinging up through North Portland, down through the Hollywood Transit Center as far south as Division Street, nobody in Portland would ever use a car again. An East Portland streetcar is in the works, but it is not particularly extensive and thus not particularly useful.

The new MAX Green Line, which runs north to south, is too far east to be useful to people on their way to main commercial areas and too far west to pick up many commuters. It runs largely along an existing highway, which not only brings little incentive for commuters along the route to ride the MAX but virtually guarantees there will be little development of the type that MAX has brought in the suburbs.

MAX connections to the north and south, which do not currently exist, deserve a serious examination. The proposed Columbia River Crossing almost certainly will have a MAX line. Fantastic. Get it built, then build a MAX network over the river in Washington and link it to the local bus networks. Commuters on I-5 are stuck in continual gridlock, and during rush hour the highway barely moves. They will take mass transit given the chance, which they are currently not afforded.

High-speed rail is coming. Portland is on a designated high-speed rail corridor stretching from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Seattle, Portland and further south. There are currently trains running, but trips to Seattle and San Francisco take so long it’s tough to justify the journey. There is even an airline flying between Portland and Seattle every hour, a role perfectly suited to high-speed rail. If a reasonable downtown-to-downtown service can be built, air traffic between the two cities will evaporate.

Portland’s transit system is held up nationally as a model network, as it should be. All things considered, it’s a great system. It can stand to be improved. A truly comprehensive system would make it a standard for the world.

Climate Change and Bridge Height

From Oregonlive.com, "Rising water worries prompt cruise boat to seek higher bridge clearance"

The big season for Willamette River cruises on the popular Portland Spirit is December, when holiday lights make the city sparkle at night.

But the big season for heavy rain starts around that time, and the Portland Spirit now worries the rains will be so sudden and so great -- courtesy of global warming -- that the river will rise to levels that make it impossible for the boat to find clearance under bridges.

Why the concern now? TriMet wants to build a new light-rail bridge across the river between the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the emerging South Waterfront area, and the Portland Spirit says it won't be high enough to guarantee passage. The Spirit's owners demand a higher bridge now to protect their cruise interests later.

Welcome to Business Planning 101 in the new warmer day.

High winter waters already keep the Portland Spirit from passing below Sellwood Bridge several times a year, says Dan Yates, president of the cruise company. And plans call for a replacement Sellwood Bridge to be built at the same level as the cracked 1925 bridge it will replace.

The new TriMet light-rail bridge, however, may be built at about the same height as the Sellwood, potentially cutting off the Portland Spirit from the waterfront landing where it boards passengers. Or so says the Portland Spirit, which also eyes an industry trend to install wind turbines atop the ship -- a feature that would only make the ship taller and require more clearance.

"This is pretty much the life or death of the company," Yates says. "It's just going to be a long-term death."

TriMet, for its part, says the bridge should be 58 feet above the water in December's worst conditions -- optimal height for the Spirit and other river users. Anything higher could require that train approaches on either side of the bridge be raised as much as 10 feet above ground, forcing an awkward design for a station planned at the Oregon Health & Science University campus in South Waterfront. That alone could cost millions of dollars.

Concern by a small cruise line about the effects of global warming may sound far-fetched. But the issue of clearance for navigation has legal standing and has already played into decisions that will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

TriMet confirms that Portland Spirit's concerns already have in part shaped TriMet's planning of the $110 million light-rail bridge. And Yates has shown a willingness to sue to defend his interests from the city and other local agencies.

TriMet planners this week said it's important to include potential effects of climate change in planning the agency's new bridge -- and their studies show the bridge can accommodate Portland Spirit even with a 3.5-foot rise in river level.

"This is all a very reasonable and a good check on all of our engineering decisions at a very critical point in the project," says Neil McFarlane, TriMet's executive director of capital projects.

There's no doubt that Portland Spirit has a legal right to clear passage through the Willamette, says Austin Pratt, bridge administrator for the 13th Coast Guard District, based in Seattle. The General Bridge Act of 1946 requires bridge builders to accommodate the "reasonable" needs of navigation – both present needs and future needs, Pratt says.

Requiring a bridge in Portland to be tall enough to allow passage for a 200-foot-tall oceangoing container ship would probably not be reasonable, Pratt says. But building an obstruction to frequent commercial users of the river -- even a marina that houses tall sailboats or a cruise line with a handful of boats -- would also be unreasonable.

Though the Coast Guard didn't require it, TriMet planners hired a local consulting firm to help study potential climate change-induced river level rise. The firm, Parametrix, found a potential river level rise of 1.9 to 3.5 feet.

TriMet initially expected its bridge would need to rise 43 to 53 feet above the water during average periods. The bridge needs to be as low to the river as possible, to provide a gentle slope for light-rail trains, streetcars and pedestrians to cross.

TriMet says its forecasts show the Portland Spirit should be able to fit below its bridge year round. Even the taller Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, which is operated by the same company that owns the Portland Spirit, should make it through year-round, says Rob Barnard, TriMet's director for the light-rail project.

But if the Portland Spirit adds a 10-foot-tall mast and 10-foot-tall wind turbines, as Yates says it may soon, then the boat might be too high to pass a handful of times in the rainiest winter months, Barnard says.

That's not good enough, Yates contends. The cruise line's lifeblood is the booking of weddings and other private events years in advance. A last-minute rush of water from a warmer climate's erratic storms could lead to disastrous last-minute cancellations.

"I need certainty, this is why it's so important to me," Yates says.

Climate change means a world of uncertain, erratic events, and TriMet and other large institutions are right to try to plan for it, says Bob Doppelt, director of the Climate Leadership Initiative at the University of Oregon.

"This historic planning for infrastructure really is no longer relevant for climate change -- that's the biggest issue," he says. "You've got to say look forward rather than backward and say, 'What are the most likely scenarios?' and plan for them."