Today’s “Car Street,” Tomorrow’s Rapid Transit

Last week Portland’s Metro released a High Capacity Transit study, which identifies the region’s next priorities for rapid transit.  Rapid transit, as explained here, encompasses high-frequency services that serve widely spaced stations rather than local stops.  It’s typically implemented by “metro” heavy rail, light rail, or Bus Rapid Transit, though the first of those is unlikely at Portland’s scale.  The official US term is “high capacity transit (HCT),” a term I like less because it’s more removed from the customer’s point of view.

Since we all look at the pictures before we read the words, here’s a picture of the long term Portland vision (click, as always, to enlarge):
Portland HCT plan
I want to notice a couple of really smart things about this plan, plus a curious one:

First, the sequence of priorities here is very much related to the willingness and ability of the cities to contemplate major increases in density.  The red and orange lines are lowest-priority because they require the biggest transformations in urban form, and require these of outer-suburban cities (such as Forest Grove, Troutdale, and Damascus) that haven’t tried to do serious urban density yet. These rankings imply a linkage between the land use choices a suburban city makes and the quality of transit service it can expect.  This is an absolutely crucial mode of thought for rational long-range transit planning.  The long-range decisions that do the most to drive transit’s success are land use decisions, not transit planning decisions.
A second smart idea is a Green Bridge, a term I borrow from Brisbane, the pioneer in this field.  The line crossing the river between Milwaukie and Lake Oswego would be on a bridge reserved for transit, bicycles and pedestrians.  The nearest bridge for private cars would be a couple of miles further north (the rebuilt but still two-lane Sellwood Bridge).  Green bridges are a great way to use a natural obstacle to create a huge travel time benefit for sustainable transport modes.  Brisbane already has one green bridge and two others are being pondered.
(Portland, I should note, is planning its first green bridge, near downtown, as part of the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line.  It sits in an area that already has lots of bridges, so it won’t be as much of a travel time benefit for transit over driving. It will get three important bus lines out of some serious traffic and take them closer to important dense growth areas on both sides of the river, while also serving light rail and the Portland Streetcar.)
Third, the north-south green line on the west side of the city is the higher-priority Beaverton – Wilsonville corridor.  This corridor already has commuter rail, running at 30-minute frequencies and only during the commute peak.  A less clear-sighted urban region would have assumed that because there’s some rail service there, there’s no further rapid transit need.  In fact, there’s a potentially strong market, especially if the downtowns of Beaverton and Tigard grow denser in response to their light rail services to Portland.  Metro has made clear that the current peak-only service can’t be the last word.
Finally, the curious thing:
The other two “next priority” radial corridors (green on the map) are Powell Boulevard extending east from downtown and Barbur Boulevard extending southwest.  The intriguing thing is that in the planning of the last few decades both of these boulevards have taken on a particularly car-oriented character.  This is clearest in the case of Powell, the green line extending east of the city.  While the streets parallel to Powell, such as Hawthorne and Belmont, have been developing urban neighborhood centers and a much more pedestrian-friendly character, Powell has been the places where car-oriented businesses (gas stations, tire shops, car repair etc) tend to gather.  Powell is also the widest of these streets, the one still designated as a US Highway, and the one that carries the most freight.  So it’s interesting to see the high-quality rapid transit service go that way.
The study is circumspect about questions like whether you would take away traffic lanes and what redevelopment would occur.  But the map is clearly making a strong statement.  In the back of some planning minds must be the idea that Powell is a relative blank slate — that even this, the only car-oriented street left in this part of the city — doesn’t need to be car-oriented forever.

7 Responses to Today’s “Car Street,” Tomorrow’s Rapid Transit

  1. Cascadian July 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    As a Seattleite, I really envy this plan.

  2. EngineerScotty July 17, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    A few other interesting things to note:
    1) Powell Boulevard (US 26) has a lot of room for a potential light rail line because it was the planned route of the Mount Hood Freeway, whose cancellation led to the funding of the initial blue line. Right now, the street is paralleled in many places with a small frontage road which provides parking and such–this was land acquired for the Freeway, then no longer needed.
    2) The city of Damascus is an interesting case. Damascus was an unincorporated community until a few years ago, when it was designated an “urban reserve”, to be rezoned for high-density. Residents there, who like the quasi-rural character of the area, responded by incorporating–FTMP with the intent of opposing any density increases. So far, such efforts have been successful; Damascus is still mostly rural. The line east from Clackamas Town Center might make sense today out as far east as Happy Valley.
    3) The two yellow corridors at the south end of the map (one along I-205, the other across the “green bridge” and through Lake Oswego) are probably mutually exclusive–they are two different ideas of how to serve a significant number of commuters who live in Clackamas County (in the southeast) and work in the high-tech centers of Washington County (in the west). Right now, such commuters are poorly served by transit of any sort.
    4) One of the “high capacity corridors under advancement” (meaning the work is being planned and expected to start, though no spade of dirt has been turned yet), along the west side of the river, isn’t Light Rail–it’s the Lake Oswego extension of the Portland Streetcar. While this would be a “rapid streetcar” line–few stops, and the vehicles would travel near 40MPh–it isn’t MAX. (On the other hand, MAX when it travels through downtown, behaves much like a streetcar–slow– despite having an exclusive lane.)

  3. August 26, 2009 at 3:51 am #

    Custom street cars are really normal purchased cars, whatever the brand, which are then customized according to the ‘visions’ of their owners.

  4. divisas forex February 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    hello thank you . very good info !!!

  5. EngineerScotty February 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    As an update to this story. While it isn’t official, the Barbur Boulevard corridor (the green line heading southwest of downtown) has been selected as the “next” transit corridor to be developed.
    It’s an interesting choice. There are numerous high-value transit destinations along the inner part of the corridor (the OHSU Marquam Hill campus, the Hillsdale neighborhood, the Portland Community College Sylvania campus, the Washington Square shopping mall, and downtown Tigard); however geography is difficult. Both college campuses are located on hillsides–do you tunnel under these hills to serve them, provide shuttle service between the transit line and the campus, or do something else?
    Beyond Tigard, though, you’re dealing with sprawl of the worst kind. OR 99W is a major freight mobility corridor, and the primary road link between Portland and much of the western Willamette Valley and central Oregon coast. It’s also a major tourist gateway. Past Tigard, it’s a rural expressway, but between downtown Tigard and King City, it’s a long collection of strip malls and auto-oriented businesses. And Tigard residents, when recently polled, seem to like it that way; and would prefer to widen the highway than to augment it with transit. (The same poll demonstrated strong resistance to infill or to increased densities among Tigard residents).
    My guess is that a MOUS will be built, probably out to Tigard and no further.

  6. EngineerScotty February 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Some local press coverage here.

  7. dejv February 1, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    EngineerScotty: actually, streetcars/LRVs are pretty good at hill climbing, if they have enough weight on drivers and good traction control. AFAIK, PCCs of Pittsburgh used to climb 12.0 % grade with 100 % weight on drivers and now thirty years old Tatra K2 with 60 % of weight on drivers still climb this 9.5 % grade on daily basis.