Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Safeway Store

Here is a photo I took while in Portland last week.

This is one of three stores that Safeway has opened that service the urban area.

While some stores have a difficult with the concept of a pedestrian friendly store, it is nice to see that one chain has been making them work.

I shopped at this one and the one in the Pearl District along with checking out some locally owned competition.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Airport Cul-de-sac's

Jarrett over at the Human Transit blog talks about Cul-de-sac's and the difficulty in trying to serve these with transit. In his presentation at Railvolution he also showed how hard it is to service points off the main route.

Airports can often be a form of Cul-de-sac's that can be difficult to service with transit. If you look at most of the airports currently served by or to soon be served by rail transit such as Salt Lake City or Denver, you will see a design that is basically a Cul-de-Sac: you have travel to it from one direction but you have to turn around to get out of the complex.

Last week I flew into Portland and took their excellent light rail service from the airport however, Portland is a perfect example of this principal. The Red Line ends at the airport and without a major reconstruction of the airport and/or the line itself, the line can never reach beyond the airport terminal itself.

This is true of many of the cities that currently have rail service to their airports including Philadelphia, Portland, Chicago (O'Hare), the new line to Denver, the future extension of the Washington Metro system to Washington Dulles, Baltimore and St. Louis. The Airport TRAX line in Salt Lake City will also be a dead end line.

There is a couple exceptions to this rule which includes the SeaTac in Seattle and Chicago-Midway (although both currently end at the airport stations there is planned extensions of both routes). However both of these stations are located at the far end of the parking lot and customers face a long walk to the actual airport terminals. I rode to SeaTac yesterday and despite the fact I walk a couple of hours a day, walking with luggage from the Link station to the airport terminal then to the respective gates can be a grueling experience.

The one exception to the above is Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington where the Washington Metro system is able to service the airport terminals and then continue on.

One of the worst example of providing service to an airport is the San Francisco BART line. First have the line to the airport plus a line that serves the vitally important connection to Caltrain at Millbrae. However, neither station has performed to potential due to the way the lines were designed.

As Jarrett pointed out, trains can either serve the airport, then reverse direction and head to Millbrae, or they can split with one train serving Millbrae and another the airport, or you can have option 2 with a shuttle between the two stations. Every time the schedules change at BART they seem to try something new and nothing seems to work.

Airport lines can provide a important multi-model connection to major airports. However, transit systems must also take into consideration if they are serving a cul-de-sac and whether those precious dollars could be better used for a line that can be expand to more areas in the future.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Portland Day 6 and Day 7 to Seattle

Today was the final day at Railvolution and the my final day in Portland.

There was two workshops today and I attended the one discussing employment centers near TOD and an introduction to complete streets. The first session had some good information from Los Angeles on the concentration of employment on the subway the sea which was followed by a presentation from a Bellevue, Washington planner discussing how that city is planning to develop two station areas beyond the downtown alignment controversy.

The session on complete streets showed what states have passed legislation mandating complete streets (which also points out how little is being done about it). The session also talked about some of the difficulties being experienced getting road engineers on the program because it isn't part of their "little black book".

Finally I went on my final mobile workshop of Railvolution which discussed some successes and difficulties of developing suburban TOD in the Portland area. We had the opportunity to check out several TOD projects and I will be discussing what was talked about on those tours and some of the things that was not talked about.

That finishes up my time at Railvolution and Portland. On Friday I head up to Seattle on Cascade Talgo operated by Amtrak. For anyone who has not had the opportunity to ride the Talgos in service in the northwest I highly recommned it.

Upon arrival in Seattle I had the opportunity to take my first ride on Link light rail but it was only through the downtown tunnel. From there I picked up a rental car since I will be heading to areas with poor transit service during the week and non-existant service on the weekends.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Portland Day 5

The day at railvolution started off with the Community Streetcar Coalition meeting. The big news coming out this meeting was that Utah will receive a $26 million tiger II grant for construction of the Sugarhouse Trolley. So not only will we have four TRAX lines and another commuter rail line opening by 2015, we should have our first modern streetcar in the next couple of years.

In addition $200 million in new start money will be freed up with the cancellation of the ARC tunnel project that would link New Jersey and New York. The tunnel has been very controversial with even rail advocates on opposing sides of the issues.

I went to several outstanding sessions including the Impacts of Streetcars on Neighborhoods and Development, Biketopia which had some great information on how biking can effect development, Partnerships and Streetcars plus Blogging for rail.

Finally the head of the American Public Transit Association gave a speech on the status of transit today.

Portland Day 4

Today was the first full day of workshops at Railvolution.

It opened up with a meeting of the National Assoiciation of Public Transit Advocates meeting which seemed to focus on what the Arizona Transit Association is doing with a grand they recieved from APTA.

Next up was the opening Plenary which featured Gordon Price who is a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancounver, BC on why we need Portland. He did a presentation on what Vancouver has learned from the Portland and what it could do better. Then Congressman Earl Blumenauer who is one of the biggest advocates of livable cities.

On the workshop side I attended the Workforce Housing: The Missing TOD Link, Introduction to Station Area Planning and Livable Communties + Commuter Rail: Can We have both. One of the problems sometimes with these workshops is that you look at the discription in the program and what is being talked about is different than what the program seems to indicate. This happened the last time I was at Railvolution in Miami at the only workshop I could attend after doing my own presentation.

One of the best events of the day was the Networking Event and I attended the one put on by Jarrett Walker who writes the excellent Human Transit Blog. After the session I had a much better idea of where Jarrett is coming from and he has also given me some great ideas for future posts.

Finally there was a filmfest held at the Bagdad Theater in the Hawthorne district of Portland. The Hawthorne district is an ecletic streetcar era shopping district. The theater is an old time theater that is now not only a theater but sports a pub in what was the lobby of the classic theater. Many of the films came from Street Films out of New York which does many excellent presentations.

The first full day of Railvolution was outstanding and I look forward to going to more excellent workshops today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Portland Day 3

Day 3 in Portland was a very busy one. I was hoping to attend one of the morning mobile workshops but they where all filled up but as it turned out I would have some personal business to take care of so it all worked out.

I started off by getting up very early and catching the first route 20 bus to the Beaverton Transit Center. My purpose in this early morning jaunt was to ride WES which is Tri-Mets new commuter rail system from Beaverton to Wilsonville which is the first true suburban to suburban commuter rail system (unless you want to count some of the Conneticut DOT shuttles such as Danbury but thier primary purspose is to connect up with the New Haven to New York commuter trains).

I could have caught the first train after my bus arrived but I wanted to get some OJ but despite the early morning time (6:00AM) there was a good crowd getting off the train and a few people getting back on.

I caught the train that left at 6:28AM. There was a fully seated load getting off and a few people getting on. There is only 3 mid route stations but most of the passengers would board at the last two of those stations which suprised me. By the time we arrived in Wilsonville there was a full seated load. The Wilsonville station is kind of isolated but it does have connecting bus service to the state capital of Salem so many may have been state workers.

WES operates with DMU's (Diesel Multiple Unit) cars made by the late Colorado Railcar. These are the only DMU's that meet the current Federal Guidlines to operate on regular rail lines and fortunately despite the demise of Colorado Railcar another company US Railcar is taking over production.

The WES maintenance facility is located next to the Wilsonville station and I could only see one spare DMU car along with two RDC cars which are 50+ year old DMU's that the private railroads used extensively with the decline of passenger rail service in the 50's and 60's.

Leaving Wilsonville for the trip back we had a half a car load seated which comprised mostly of women which is unusual for commuter rail. However, the numbers evened up by the next stop at which time we had standing room only conditions. There was one lady talking loudly to a couple of friends who took up two seats so no one else could sit down next to her and a guy behind me who I saw later at Railvolution who made it clear no one was going to sit next to him. Some people are just down right rude and very inconsiderate.

The train remained SRO until we arrived Beaverton. I will discuss in more detail WES once I am done traveling.

My first Mobile Workship of Railvolution was in the afternoon and was "Portland's Maturing Streetcar Neighborhood's" which discussed how the Pearl District and its surronding neighborhoods came to be and we had question and answer sessions with one of the architects, devolopers and business owners that made the streetcar and the neighborhood successful.

One of the biggest surprises was the developer responsible for making the Pearl District what is is today was actually a suburban developer originally that is now solely focused on urban development.

Once will do several articles in the coming weeks going into more detail of what I learn at Railvolution and how it can apply to other cities across the nation.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Portland Day 2

Today was spent more time on foot than on transit taking time to check out near the downtown area. I had the opportunity to check out south, west and north of downtown including the Pearl District. However, I did make some trips on MAX and bus service.

Yesterday I missed riding the new Siemens S70 cars (or are they S90's?). These are the newest cars in the Tri-Met system and will soon be in service in Utah. However, today I finally was able to ride them not once but twice.

Riding both the older Siemens low floor cars that Tri-Met purchased for the opening of the westside line back in the mid-1990's and these new cars are better than comparable low floor buses and don't seem to suffer from the same downsides as on the bus side except for lower capacity.

One interesting aspect of the Portland cars is that only one side of the car has a operator cab. Since Tri-Met runs nothing but two car trains due to how short their blocks are, it made since to save the money and increase capacity by doing away with the second cab controls.

Tri-Met is able to save money by not requiring all the controls and electronics that are required in a cab and increases capacity in the car. UTA does not have this option since they can run up to 4 cars in rush hour but at other times can run anywhere from one to three cars. It is interesting to ride in an area that would be a operator cab if it was operated by any other light rail system.

Tomorrow I hope to have the opportunity to ride Tri-Mets WES commuter rail line in addition to going to my first Railvolution event which is a mobile workshop on Portland's maturing streetcar neighborhoods. It ought to be very interesting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Portland Day 1

This blog is being made from the city of Portland, Oregon as I spend a couple of days in the city before attending Railvolution which starts on Monday.

The entire time I am in Portland I will be using Tri-Met bus and rail service to get along. I wish I could say that the trip started on transit but I needed to be at the Salt Lake airport at 6:30am and that is an hour before the first UTA route 550 gets to the airport so I had to use the Express shuttle to reach the airport. Hopefully once TRAX is operating they will have earlier service for those taking those first flights of the morning.

After arriving in Portland I made the short walk over the the MAX station which is located near the baggage claim area of the airport terminal. It has been 6 years since I was last on the Red Line from the airport and there has been many changes. Back then the train didn't allow passengers off at the Mt Hood station, but today there has been a large amount of development along the line, sadly much of it auto centric such as IKEA and Target but there is also some hotels locating along the line and promoting their access to MAX.

At the Gateway Transit Center I transferred to the Green Line since it is the only MAX line I have not ridden. The train I caught from Gateway came from the Ruby Junction carhouse on the far end of Blue Line in Gresham so there was not many passengers.

The Green Line epitomizes why freeway transit lines don't work well. Except for the SE Main station which serves Mall 205 which is also an auto centric shopping center, most of the stations are difficult to reach and have difficult access from street level. The one exception is the SE Flavel station which is at street level and has bus service directly in front of it. However, the most of the high density residential development in the area is actually located on the opposite side of the freeway from MAX with the freeway creating its usual wall between neighborhoods.

The final station is at the Clackamas Town Center Mall. However, to reach the mall you have to pass a multi story parking garage which also houses the bus stops of the transit center and then the main mall parking. Once again the transit center is on the mall property but does not integrate with the mall. Hopefully over time mall management will see the opportunity of blending the mall with the transit station.

I then headed into downtown Portland on the Green Line while I had been down the transit mall in a bus a few years ago, today I rode light rail down the famous transit mall. I was hoping to ride the new Siemens S series cars that Portland has and will soon be in service for UTA but every train I rode had the older Siemens low floor cars.

I also had the opportunity to ride the Portland streetcar on the short stretch that I have not previously rode from Riverplace to the current end of the line at SW Lowell. I was hoping to ride the Willamette Shore Trolley along the proposed route of the Lake Oswego Rapid Streetcar but their website said they have mechanical problems that will have it out of service until sometime in December.

I also shopped at the Safeway Store at Jefferson and 10th which is on the streetcar line. This store is actually a pedestrian friendly store. Despite what Kroger says, a pedestrian friendly store can be built and be successful.

Portland is an outstanding town to explore by transit and by foot and I will be doing more of that tomorrow.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Heading to Railvolution

A two-car train of Siemens S70 light rail cars...Image via Wikipedia
On Saturday I will be heading up to Portland to attend Railvolution. The entire time I am in Portland I will be using Tri-Met or walking.

I will try to blog on a daily basis on my experiences riding the system, some thoughts on the Portland area and the different sessions I will be attending.

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