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

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

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.

McFarlane’s comments, combined with growing political momentum to invest in these freeway projects, motivated activsts to air their concerns during public testimony at the TriMet board meeting. McFarlane’s comments also prompted a letter from a new coalition of nine major nonprofit groups — including AARP Oregon — that our region would only support a funding package that included as much active transportation investment as freeway expansion investment. That letter garnered a highly supportive response from the entire Metro Council.

On Wednesday, after hearing nearly an hour of public testimony from people concerned about McFarlane’s comments (and a range of other issues), McFarlane was given a chance to respond.

“I want to defend myself as being Neil McFarlane the freeway builder,” he said. “As the guy who’s been responsible — at one level or another — for five of our region’s six light rail lines and probably more active transportation investments than just about any other agency.”









“The next thing I’m going to talk about might surpise you a little bit coming from the transit guy here.”
— Neil McFarlane during a February 20th speech at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum

He went on to say that his remarks in the Tribune were true, but they were taken out of context. “It was a recognition of a need of a comprehensive transportation solution for this region.” McFarlane urged people to watch a recording of the video available online. “I’d encourage anyone to watch the tape,” he said. “In this era of false news reports, fake news, and alternative facts, I encourage people to look at the original source.”

McFarlane told his board and members of the public that his February speech also mentioned “the importance of sidewalks and active transportation improvements”. “I was just outlining a package,” he reiterated, “Not prioritizing one over the other.”

Since we also reported on his remarks, I went back and listened to the original source. McFarlane is right that he did talk about other things besides the freeway expansion projects — but those comments were not made in reference to a forthcoming funding package. In the part of his speech that dealt with the need to raise funding for transportation projects he only spoke about the SW Corridor transit project and the three freeway projects (I-5 at the Rose Quarter, I-205 at the Abernethy Bridge, and Highway 217 on the west side).

Here’s the relevant part of his February 20th speech:

“The next thing I’m going to talk about might surpise you a little bit coming from the transit guy here. I want to talk about the need to begin to address … there are three big bottlenecks in this region that it would be really nice to make some progress on… we’re hoping that the state legislature will add these priorities in the next year…What we’ve mapped out is a strategy to fund those four big projects.”

McFarlane said he is “optimistic we can get this done.” He said TriMet and ODOT have worked in tandem in the past. “On Highway 26, we built the light rail line and ODOT widened the highway… This is the way we have done things.”

You can watch McFarlane’s speech at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum here and his defense of those remarks on TriMet’s YouTube channel.

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

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

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

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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.

Thursday’s data was the first to reveal whether the recent gas price drop has reduced bike commuting nationwide.

That’s according to the Census Bureau’s annual commuting estimates, released Thursday.

The number of low-car Portland households, those with more adults than autos, was stable for the fifth year in a row. At least 24 percent of all Portland households remain in this category, and they account for 49 percent of household growth since 2005.

Bicycle commuting surged in many U.S. cities, most dramatically in Portland, during the gas price spike of the 2000s. More recently, the drop in gas prices has led to a rebound in driving. Thursday’s data was the first to reveal whether that shift had also reduced bike commuting.

It didn’t.

That’s good news, Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

“Portland is growing, but our roadway space is not,” she wrote. “If we want to avoid choking on congestion, we have to reduce our reliance on single occupancy vehicles. That’s why I am heartened by these latest Census numbers.”

Bike commuting rates hold steady nationwide

big five bike commuting

Bike commuting trends in the country’s five bikingest large cities.
Data here, via Census Bureau American Community Survey. Charts: Michael Andersen.

Portland’s estimated bike-commuting rate was 7 percent in 2015, statistically equivalent to the 7.2 percent estimate from 2014.

That makes it nearly certain that the 2014 surge in bike commuting — 5,000 new commuters, ending a five-year plateau — was no polling fluke.

Also in 2015, Portland’s bike-commuting gender balance ticked closer to parity, reaching 37 percent female. The national figure is 29 percent. Portland’s ratio was 29 percent in 2005 and has been trending mostly upward since.

Elsewhere in the country, bike commuting rates were mostly stable in 2015. Nationally, they remained at 0.6 percent, continuing a four-year plateau.

What might be called the “Big Five” bike commuting cities — Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Washington and Seattle — all held more or less steady. Of that group Minneapolis saw the biggest uptick, cracking 5 percent biking for the first time.

Among the nation’s biggest cities, Chicago continues to show the steadiest growth. Powered by major bike infrastructure investments, the city (which happens to be Treat’s previous employer) doubled bike-commute rates over the last decade and is up to an estimated 1.8 percent bike commuting.

New York City and Los Angeles both posted 1.2 percent in 2015, continuing their plateaus of the last few years.

Driving hits a new low thanks to public transit rebound

drive-alone decline

Data here, via Census Bureau American Community Survey.

Thursday’s figures brought TriMet some of its best news in 10 years.

Portland’s regional transit agency has had a rough decade. First, the new Yellow and Green MAX lines delivered no large payoff in ridership; later, an 11 percent service cut during the Great Recession sent wait times upward, especially at bus stops.

In Portland, transit commuting slipped to a long-term low of 11.1 percent in 2012. Until today, it seemed as if that might have been the start of an indefinite downward shift.

But things seems to have turned around in 2015, at least among Portland commuters. An estimated 13.4 percent of Portlanders got to work by mass transit last year, well up from an average 11.8 percent over the previous five years. If the trend holds, it’d bring mass transit commuting back to 2005 levels.

alternative transport

Data here, via Census Bureau American Community Survey.

Thanks to the transit increase and to a smaller rise in foot commuting, Portland’s drive-alone commuting rate slid to 57.2 percent, probably its lowest level in decades.

Alan Lehto, TriMet’s director of planning and policy, said Wednesday that he wasn’t sure what had driven the apparent rise in transit commuting by Portland residents.

“There’s not one obvious thing to point to,” he said. “We’ve clearly made some improvements in service throughout the city.”







TriMet service finally surpassed its 2009 levels this year, Lehto said. But he said most of those bus frequency improvements were midday, not during rush hours.

Oddly, though, he said it’s midday TriMet service that seems to be struggling most for riders lately.

“Our overall system annual ridership is pretty much the same this year as it was last year, and it’s been running in the same range the last few years,” Lehto said.

Lehto said the agency is “doing some more analysis” to study its current ridership strengths and weaknesses.

This is a sign that Portland policy is working – but a course change is being planned anyway

I-5 at Rose Quarter

Widening Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter would cost an estimated $350 million as of 2013.

Portlanders’ continuing decline in driving to work, in the face of a strong economy and falling gas prices, follows decades of investments by the state and city in non-car transportation like bikes, buses and light rail.

At every level, Portlanders have elected politicians who say they support lower driving rates, especially within the city.

Thursday’s Census figures are the latest sign that this is working. Each of the last eight years, drive-alone rates have fallen by eight-tenths of a percentage point on average. If that continues, by 2025 less than half of Portland commuters will drive alone.

But the state and city are currently planning a major investment in driving.

The agencies are beginning a push toward funding what would be the biggest freeway capacity expansion within Portland city limits in many years: new lanes on Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter.

A major goal of that $350 million project, of course, is to make it easier for more people to drive on Portland’s freeways during rush hours.

The Rose Quarter freeway widening might wind up as a piece of a possible transportation bill under discussion for 2017. It’s also possible that Measure 97, the corporate sales tax on November’s ballot, could accidentally send the state transportation department enough new money that it wouldn’t need to ask for a gas tax hike.

In any case, Treat focused her statement Wednesday on helping people escape congestion without setting aside more urban space for driving.

“Portlanders continue to get out of their cars and into alternative modes of transportation,” she said. “At PBOT we will continue to do our part to support these important trends. We will continue to work on initiatives like Biketown, the Central City Multimodal Project, making freight delivery more efficient and Vision Zero to make it easier and safer for Portlanders to get from place to place.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – mike.andersen@gmail.com

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

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

Portland bike traffic-8.jpg

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.

A portion NE Holladay Street in the Lloyd District will also be closed to all users.

It’s all a part of TriMet’s Better Transit initiative. They’ll be upgrading tracks and signals in an effort to make MAX rides smoother and more reliable.

As a bicycle rider, here’s what you need to know:

– The work will require “significant MAX disruption” and TriMet is asking their customers to “rethink their commutes.”

– Because of reduced frequency of the Blue, Green, and Red lines, trains will be very crowded. It’s likely that some riders will use bicycles, so there will also be more people in the bike lanes.

– TriMet is encouraging people to use other modes of transportation and says “This may be the time to try Portland’s new bike-sharing program Biketown.”

– Don’t plan on bringing your bike on-board MAX during this time. There won’t be any room and TriMet has the right to ask you to get off and ride to your destination.







Here are the specific lane and road closures to be aware of:

– NE 1st Avenue will close between Multnomah and Holladay streets.

– The left lane on NE 1st Avenue between Oregon and Holladay streets also will close, forcing a right turn only on green as well.

– The north sidewalk between NE Wheeler Avenue and 2nd Avenue will close. Crosswalks across NE Holladay Street will close on both sides of 1st Avenue and the west side of 2nd Avenue.

– The crosswalk on the east side of Wheeler Avenue also will close for a time. When it is closed, pedestrians will have access to a temporary crosswalk on the west side of Wheeler.

– Pedestrians and cyclists should use extreme caution when traveling in the area.

– Shuttle bus operations will require two lane closures in the Rose Quarter and Lloyd Center areas during the MAX disruption.

– The northbound right lane on North Interstate Avenue between Drexler Drive and Multnomah Street will close to autos. The lane closure allows shuttle buses to stop against the curb and cyclists to pass on the left of buses. Flaggers and TriMet staff will be on site to ensure safe movement of buses and bikes. Buses operators, cyclists and TriMet riders should use extreme caution in the area.

– Near the Lloyd Center MAX Station, NE Holladay Street between 11th and 13th avenues will be closed to autos and cyclists. Shuttle buses will use this section of Holladay to pick up and drop off MAX riders.
These closures begin Sunday, Aug. 21 and run through Saturday, Sept. 3.

Visit TriMet.org for more information and please keep us posted about conditions as you ride through the area in the coming weeks.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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People keep talking about a regional transportation ballot measure for 2018

People keep talking about a regional transportation ballot measure for 2018

build-funding-timeline

The region’s biking and walking goals (green line) are far cheaper to build than its auto or transit goals, but at the current rate they won’t be built until 2209.

As Oregon legislators start talking about the statewide transportation bill many hope to pass in 2017 (look for some reporting on that soon), others are starting to think locally, too.

We’ve heard from various sources recently that some people in the Portland area are looking toward November 2018 as the right moment for a region-wide bond measure for transportation. The idea is to create a burst of new money for public transit, roadways, biking and walking.

How much of each, you ask? Those negotiations would probably get underway over the next year.

Oregonian reporter Elliot Njus offered some details at the end of an article last month about a public vote in Tigard this fall that will decide whether the city allows or blocks a new light rail line.

The entire Metro region, including Tigard, could be asked in 2018 to vote on a bond measure to pay for a suite of transportation projects, including Southwest Corridor light rail. The measure would likely also include money to fix freeway bottlenecks and for bicycle-pedestrian projects.

Regional leaders have discussed measures modeled after successful efforts in other cities, including a $930 million property tax levy approved by Seattle voters last year.

Bottomly said regional leaders are discussing what such a measure might look like in Portland.

“You have to find that magic point where it’s big enough that people see value but not so big that it’s unaffordable,” he said.

(The hyperlink is our addition.)







This news may not come as a surprise to people reading between the lines of news bits like the time, back in February, when regional government Metro helped pay to bring Denny Zane up for a local talk. He was the political organizer behind Los Angeles County’s big transportation ballot issue.

For people who’d like to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation, regional ballot measures have a lot of promise in Portland. That’s because the metro area is both far more left-leaning than the rest of Oregon and far richer, meaning that a relatively low rate can go a long way.

Because Oregon’s constitution prohibits any fees on auto ownership or use from going to off-road projects, any regional tax that went in part to light rail would probably have to come from property, income, payroll or (gasp) sales taxes. Each would have its own obstacles.

Portland progressives killed a proposed payroll tax hike for bus service earlier this year, saying among other things that an income tax would be fairer. The most recent ballot measure for transit in the Portland area was a property tax bond measure renewal campaign by TriMet, in 2010. The regional transit agency pitched that measure as a way to upgrade its bus fleet for an aging population; it failed 54 percent to 46 percent in the teeth of the recession.

It might also be possible, of course, to craft a measure that would simultaneously tap multiple types of tax for different purposes.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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

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

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:







Distance from the center has always been a statement about power, even if its significance has flipped every 50 years. In the 1960s, when power and wealth were fleeing the city, a five-digit house number meant you were remote and secure, while the historic inner city (except for a few enclaves) meant abandonment and crime. But the 2010s are more like the 1910s. A century ago, confident money built the fine Victorian and Craftsman homes of the inner city. Today, again, money rushes inward, pricing the inner city out of the reach of the artists and working people (including my own parents) who made it so interesting fifty years ago.

The marks of this pulsing oscillation are brutally obvious if you go inward or outward, but if you follow an orbital path, as the 75 does, you encounter more subtlety. History and power flow across the 75 more than along it, but as they do they surge and eddy in fractal patterns, even as a few rocks standing firm against their current.

It’s short. It mentions the Springwater Trail at one point. Just read it.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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As TriMet puts another $2 million into WES, some imagine the bike trail that wasn’t

As TriMet puts another $2 million into WES, some imagine the bike trail that wasn’t

Waiting for WES

WES at Beaverton Transit Center.
(Photo: Thomas Le Ngo)

TriMet’s Westside Express Service commuter rail line, built for the equivalent of $178 million in 2008, is getting some new investment.

The line between Beaverton Transit Center and Wilsonville costs TriMet $135,000 per week to operate and serves something like 900 to 1,000 people per weekday.

That comes out to a cost of $14.83 per boarding in April, compared to $2.68 per boarding of a frequent-service bus line or $2.36 per MAX boarding.

The Oregonian reported Monday that the regional transit agency was agreeing this week to spend another $2 million to buy and retrofit two rail cars from Texas:

The agency cites “expected demands for the growing WES service,” even though ridership on WES has been slipping for the past 2 1/2 years. Weekly trips peaked at 10,700 in October 2013, and the count has held steady just above 9,000 in the last year. The Orange Line, the least busy MAX light-rail line, gives more rides on an average weekday.

TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said in an email the slump in ridership reflects low gas prices.

“Conversely, when we see high gas prices, we see ridership increase,” Fetsch wrote. “We need to plan for ridership growth.”

In October 2013, when gas cost about $3.50 per gallon in the Portland area, WES ridership topped out at 10,700 boardings per week, the equivalent of 1,070 round trips per weekday. Operating costs that month were $12.16 per boarding-ride — still about five times more than the cost per ride of a frequent-service bus line.







TriMet cut bus service hours 12 percent during the recession. That’s been restored somewhat, but as of its 2015 fiscal year it hadn’t yet returned regional bus service to 2009 levels. The agency is preparing a series of significant upgrades to bus service, including in the southwestern part of the metro area served by WES, but those aren’t running yet.

TriMet might be right that a WES ridership boom is coming, or that new vehicles will be needed whenever its ridership grows. And even if it were clear to everyone at this point that WES was a bad investment, it’s already been built. So maybe the agency is making the best of a bad situation.

But as the region tries to balance the amount of money it spends on new public transit with other options, WES doesn’t strengthen the argument for rail transit through suburban areas. At least, that’s the position of Keith Liden, a local planning consultant who wrote us Wednesday to bring the Oregonlive article to our attention:

I love the concept behind WES, but it really highlights the problem (again) with how we allocate transportation money. Transit is especially dependent on supporting land use and infrastructure to make it cost-effective. However, too many of the WES stations are not easily accessible by foot or bike, and there’s not enough density/mixed-use nearby. The article suggests to me that TriMet is in denial regarding station area land use and accessibility by talking only about gas prices. It would be better to spend the $1.5 million partnering with station area jurisdictions to address the land use/access deficiencies.

If we made a capital investment in a Springwater Corridor West, instead, we probably would have over 9,000 cyclists per week at greatly reduced cost. Our region needs to spend less time chasing windmills and rainbows and focusing on more basic and cost-effective transportation solutions – one of which is spelled b-i-k-e.

Regional Flexible Fund adopted spending categories (2019-2021).(Chart by Metro)

Regional Flexible Fund spending categories (2019-2021) adopted last week.
(Chart by Metro with text box added)

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Reminder: TriMet MAX repairs will cut service, crowd trains for two weeks

Reminder: TriMet MAX repairs will cut service, crowd trains for two weeks

unnamed

Grounds for repair on First Avenue.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

As we reported last month, the next two weeks will be good times to bike or bus all the way to work rather than trying to get a bike on MAX.

That’s because MAX track and pavement repairs on First Avenue downtown that start on Sunday will scramble service on every line in the system, increasing wait times between trains by 25 to 35 percent and cutting system capacity 30 to 50 percent.

In short: good luck finding a free bike hook, or even squeezing your bike on the rush-hour trains at all.

The good news is that after the work wraps up by Saturday, May 21, MAX trains will move faster and First Avenue in Old Town will be far more pleasant to bike across, improving connections to the Steel Bridge and Waterfront Park.





“This is our oldest section of the MAX,” TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt said last month. “You reach a time in any light rail system that you need to do this work, and our time is now.”

The Red Line will not serve the west side of the metro area at all; instead, Blue Line trains will run every 10 minutes during rush hour, and every 15 minutes other hours, between downtown Hillsboro and Galleria on the west end of downtown Portland.

Red, Yellow and Orange trains will share the transit mall. The Green Line will run between Rose Quarter and Clackamas Town Center only. A fleet of temporary shuttle-bus lines will serve SW 2nd and 3rd Avenues, getting people closer to the closed MAX stops on 1st. Here’s an animation explaining the various changes:

You can also see a summary of the changes here and learn more about the repair project here.

Biking is always the most reliable and predictable way to get around town, but MAX is usually a close second. For the next two weeks, nothing will compete with the humble bicycle for getting around the city.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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With bike sharing two months away, TriMet links ticketing app to Lyft, car2go

With bike sharing two months away, TriMet links ticketing app to Lyft, car2go

IMG_0182

A screenshot from TriMet’s ticketing app.

The more seamlessly mobile future we’ve been talking about since November has started to arrive.

On Thursday, TriMet announced that you can now begin the process of hailing a Lyft or reserving a car2go using their TriMet Tickets app.

“More options, including BIKETOWN bike sharing, are expected be included in the future,” the regional transit agency wrote on its website.

This is a milestone for two reasons: first, it seems to be the first time any transit agency in the country has offered this kind of service, which envisions transit users not as monomodal drones who only get around by train or bus but as actual humans who are constantly using different tools for different jobs.

Second, it’s a real-life step (though a small one) toward the vision spelled out by cities like Helsinki to “make car ownership pointless” within a decade by creating a single, connected “mesh” of options that can whisk you around the city as efficiently — more efficiently, actually — as owning a car and taking it everywhere with you.





The TriMet Tickets app now lets you check to see how far away the nearest Lyft and car2go rides are, then sends you to those apps if you want to complete the purchase. Unfortunately, there isn’t a multimodal trip-planning option. And even more unfortunately, there isn’t a way to book whatever trip you need without downloading three separate apps, creating three separate accounts and entering your credit card information three separate times.

That sort of integration will be a major hurdle. If Portland can score $40 million next month from the federal Smart City Challenge, we’re likely to make a lot of progress toward it.

The new feature isn’t very easy to find in the app. You have to activate the menu and then select “More Rides Nearby,” which is explained only with an icon of a bus and a plus sign.

The app update released this week by Moovel (a very promising Portland-based company that we wrote about last month) also fixes some nagging problems with TriMet Tickets, making it easier to use quickly and efficiently. If the TriMet ticket app’s functionality improves as consistently as its interface has, we’ll be on track for meaningful improvements to mobility in Portland.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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TriMet’s draft Bike Plan will be unveiled next week

TriMet’s draft Bike Plan will be unveiled next week

TriMet's new Bike Plan website.

Screen grab of TriMet’s new Bike Plan website.

The TriMet Bike Plan has been in the works since last July and now the agency is ready to share the first draft. TriMet has announced four open houses and a new online comment system that will give you the chance to share your feedback.

Here’s how TriMet describes the plan:

TriMet is creating a Bike Plan to serve as a roadmap to help guide future investments in biking infrastructure and amenities. The plan is focused on making bike and transit trips easier, safer and more convenient for more people. As biking extends the reach of transit, improving bike access to transit stops and stations, expanding parking options, and accommodating bikes on board buses and trains helps keep our region moving, reduce congestion and helps keep our air clean. The goal of the plan is to make bike+transit trips easier, safer and more convenient for more people.

And here are the details on all four open houses:

Portland
Monday, May 2
5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m.
Oregon Rail Heritage Center
2250 SE Water Ave.

Beaverton
Tuesday, May 3
5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m.
PCC Willow Creek Great Room
241 SW Edgeway Dr.







Gresham
Wednesday, May 4
5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m.
East County Health Center Blue Lake Room
600 NE 8th St.

NE Portland
Thursday, May 5
5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m.
Velo Cult
1969 NE 42nd Ave.

The plan is scheduled to be finalized in June of this year. The draft plan will be available for public comment on TriMet’s website on Monday May 2nd.

TriMet says the new bike plan is part of their comprehensive “Making Transit Better” initiative.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Yikes! Bikes almost roll in the way of buses, trains in close-call videos

Yikes! Bikes almost roll in the way of buses, trains in close-call videos

Sometimes we all make mistakes. TriMet wants more people to think about the fact that some mistakes can be fatal.

It can be difficult to talk about this subject without blaming the victims of traffic violence. To its credit, the video TriMet released today focuses on examples of people who are acting both illegally and at least a little recklessly rather than (as the New York City transit union did recently) condemning people simply for not being cautious. There’s a big difference.

“These aren’t meant to shame anyone, but to show how dangerous a lack of awareness is,” TriMet wrote on its website.







The next question, of course, is what to do about such behaviors. Unfortunately, there will always be people who act recklessly, even around (not to mention with) giant motor vehicles. That’s why transit agencies need experienced and well-trained operators like the ones in these videos.

But it’s also why we need to remember, when we build our streets, that design shapes behavior.

The reason people too often disregard the bike signal on SW Moody is that TriMet ordered it to be red at times that don’t make any sense.

One of the clips here is on the west landing of Tilikum Crossing, where TriMet staff have personally insisted on having the north-south bike signal turn red even when people are merely walking across Moody Avenue east-west without crossing the bike lanes. The result is that for many people biking north-south on Southwest Moody, the red bike signal often seems meaningless — which encourages people to disregard the red light when it actually matters.

This was a decision TriMet made. Does TriMet accept its consequences?

In another clip shown above, people nearly walk their bikes in front of a train at what looks like an Orange Line MAX station. If TriMet had installed swing gates that force people to dismount from bikes before crossing train tracks, that’d probably makes people less likely to bike thoughtlessly in front of trains — but it’d also makes people less likely to bike, and it seems unlikely that the mediocre bike traffic across Tilikum Crossing is good for TriMet in the long run.

Close-call videos can be perversely interesting to watch. But let’s hope TriMet’s managers are putting a little more thought into this problem than just hitting the “repeat” button and shaking their heads.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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