Nederlands: Luchtfoto van Nederlands hoofdkantoor Bosch Rexroth (Photo credit: Wikipedia) One of the most difficult jobs of effective transportation planning, is the compromise between creating good environments for active transportation and transit ...

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  1. Mixing Active Transportation, Transit, and Freight Service
  2. Anniversary Missed...
  3. What makes a Successful Public Space?
  4. Can Alternatives to Owing a car be made More Convenient?
  5. Is it the Pathway or is it the Urban Fabric?
  6. More Recent Articles

Mixing Active Transportation, Transit, and Freight Service

Nederlands: Luchtfoto van Nederlands hoofdkant...
Nederlands: Luchtfoto van Nederlands hoofdkantoor Bosch Rexroth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most difficult jobs of effective transportation planning, is the compromise between creating good environments for active transportation and transit while at the same time taking into considerations the need of freight carriers such as trucks that provide an important economic tool for many communities.

A great example of the problem areas for this compromise is in industrial areas. Industrial areas see a large amount of freight traffic (hopefully both on rail along with trucks) but you also need workers in industrial areas but they can be extremely difficult to serve with transit. Many transit advocates don't see the need for industrial areas and would love them to just go away. The problem with this line of thinking is that industrial areas tend to be the best sources of jobs that can lift people out of poverty. They provide a good paying jobs that do not require a college education.

The question is how do you serve industrial areas with transit and consider the last mile problem? One of the problems with transit service in these areas is that most of the ridership occurs only during shift changes which means if the industrial area is the primary point of travel for a transit line, it will only be busy during certain times of the day and run empty the rest of the time. There is a couple of solution to this problem.

One is to ensure that the industrial area is not the primary destination of the transit route. For example TriMet route 16 in Portland travels through the Northwest  Industrial District but also serves downtown, the St. Johns area, Linnton and Sauvie Island. Two other routes the 15 and the 77 do terminate in the area but they are long routs and the industrial district makes up only a small portion of their total route mileage.

A second solution is to provide a shuttle service to the industrial area from a major transit stop. Companies such as Intel and Nike provide shuttle services from MAX light rail stations in Portland to their transit unfriendly campuses. Another example is the Burbank, CA Metrolink Commuter Rail station that sees a large number of company vans providing service from the train station to their offices although in this case they are not in industrial unfriendly industrial areas. In the cases cited the service is only provided by a specific company for their employees. A third example is in the Chicago Suburbs were employers pay the PACE transit agency to provide shuttle service from train stations to their businesses and these can be used by anyone willing to pay the fare.

Another problem presented by industrial areas is access by active transportation such as walking and bicycling. While few people will probably walk all the way to the industrial area from their homes, they may have to walk a distance from the bus stop to their place of employment and many times there is few if any sidewalks. A bigger problem is the conflict between trucks and bicyclist. Industrial areas can be congested with truck traffic that makes it dangerous for bicyclists. Trucks are large and have a hard time seeing cyclist in their mirrors. The best solution in this case is to provide dedicated infrastructure for bicyclists so they are separated from the trucks but not may not always be possible.

When bicyclists and trucks do have to share the road one of the most dangerous times is when a truck is making a turn because once the cab of the truck is at an angle it is very difficult for the driver to see what is on his right side. While there is no fail safe solution to this the problem, there is some relatively inexpensive things that can be done to increase safety. One would be to install mirrors along driveways giving truck drivers an additional way to see in their blind spots and the other would be put up more signage warning bicyclist and trucks of the dangers. A final idea would be an educational campaign that would teach both truckers and cyclists how to be safer around each other. The problem here is reaching the large number of long distance truck drivers who may come into the area only occasionally.

Industrial zones are important part of our economy but create unique transportation challenges especially when trying to serve them with transit and adding active transportation. It can be done but it takes cooperation from all parties to make a system that works.


Anniversary Missed...

A couple of months ago a major anniversary took place that I let pass by without any fanfare mainly because how busy I have been over the summer and continue to be. The anniversary that took place on August 4th when this blog turned 10 years old.

Back then it was called Transit in Utah and was started to discuss transit issues in the Salt Lake region and other parts of Utah. Having been a transit and rail passenger advocate for many years, it was an opportunity to discuss some of the things I have learned over the years and saw as opportunities to improve transit service.

As the blog matured I became interested in how land use and transportation have interacted over the years and how we have ended up with the land use patterns we have today. I have also become very interested in Urban Design and how our built environment works and doesn't work.

It only took a short time for this blog to start focusing on issues outside of Utah considering I have plenty of transit experience outside the region having grew up in Pasadena, CA and having lived in Spokane, Seattle, and Charlotte over the years. However, it took until 2011 when I moved to Portland to officially change the name of the blog to something that more reflected what this blog is about.

Sadly over the last few months I have not been able to post as frequently that I would like and cannot see that changing before next June at the earliest. I have plenty of ideas for stories and will try to post when time allows.

Thank you for reading over the years and I hope you will stay tuned for the articles to come.


What makes a Successful Public Space?

Hotel Portland, since demolished
Hotel Portland, since demolished (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Pettygrove Park in Portland, Oregon. ...
English: Pettygrove Park in Portland, Oregon. Created by Lawrence Halprin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Occupy Portland protest at Pioneer Co...
English: Occupy Portland protest at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Oregon on October 6, 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What makes a good public space? One that people want to use and is used by a large number of different people? The Project for Public Spaces is a good source for information about what a successful public space should have, today I am going to look at two public spaces in the city of Portland Pettygrove City Park and Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The latter one is known as Portland's "living room" while the other languishes despite being close to office buildings and residences.
Pettygrove Park is the oldest of the two public spaces having been created during the Urban Renewal period that went from 1949 through 1962. Pettygrove Park and its environment pretty much shows everything that went wrong with the Urban Renewal projects.

The Park sits in the middle of several super blocks that broke up Portland's well known short blocks, to the west sit suburbs in the sky high rise apartment complexes that have no street life and office buildings that turn their backs on the square. The park sits between two pedestrian right of ways that also represent the failures of Urban Renewal projects because the pedestrians streets have no activity centers located along them.

I pass through Pettygrove Park at least twice a week and often four or more times a week when Portland State University is in session. Despite being located on the border of the school, several office and residential  buildings there is rarely more than a few people near the square, most of them usually just taking a smoke break from the nearby office buildings or walking dogs if they live in the surrounding residential.

While I pass through this park many times I never find a reason to actually stop here and stay. While there is a few benches around the number of seating areas are limited and for those looking for a quiet place it works beyond that there is little activity to bring people here. Even during the middle of the lunch hour few people walk the 3 blocks from the 4th avenue food cart area to this park, even at its peak it feels like an empty place.

On other hand while there is no residences near Pioneer Courthouse Square (although a new project is now being built a block away), the square is surrounded by activity including a major transit node with stops on three sides by Tri-Met's light rail lines. There is also two major retailers nearby with Nordstrom's and Macy's with Pioneer Square Mall located only a block away on SW 5th. The park was opened in 1984, after being a parking lot for many years after the Hotel Portland had been bulldozed.

If you pass Pioneer Courthouse Square you will usually find people in the square. There is plenty of informal places to sit and do a variety of activities. Along the east side of the square that faces Pioneer Courthouse is a low wall that just invites informal sitting. I will often sit along this wall, eat my lunch, read a book and observe the variety of people walking by. In addition there is a three food carts located in the square so you do not have to travel far to get something to eat although I have to admit I have never actually bought food from these food carts as I prefer some of the other carts that are a few blocks away.

It takes more than a spot of land to create a successful public space. Pioneer Courthouse Square has become the major focal point of downtown Portland while Pettygrove Park languishes despite being close to Portland State, residences and offices. However, Pioneer Courthouse Square is design to take advantage of its environment while Pettygrove Park sits largely ignored by neighboring buildings. Once again the Project for Public Spaces has a great listing of elements that are needed to create a great public space.

Can Alternatives to Owing a car be made More Convenient?

TriMet bus parked near MAX tracks (helping out...
TriMet bus parked near MAX tracks (helping out on opening day) in Portland, OR. Public domain photo, taken by the poster. Category:Transportation in Portland, Oregon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Honda Civic Hybrid used by Zipcar, a ...
English: Honda Civic Hybrid used by Zipcar, a carsharing service. Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Public bike sharing station (Bicing) in Hospit...
Public bike sharing station (Bicing) in Hospital del Mar, Barceloneta District (Barcelona, Catalonia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you like me and have a large number of the chain store loyalty cards attached to your key ring that your rarely if ever use? One of the reasons that the stores use these cards is that their marketing people tell them that a customer that if a person has a loyalty card they will more likely shop at that store when they have a choice.

The problem is you get so many of these cards and many of them are nothing but a program to get access to your information so they can target even more advertising your way. There is not a benefit for you as a consumer to have these cards unless you actually get something for your effort.

Now if you could just carry one card that would work in all the stores and you could benefit from it by the total dollars you spent maybe it would be worth something but then again that would require the stores to work together which is not going to happen. In other words they companies want you to have the cards so they can target more advertising at you, but the programs are so cumbersome that many people don't want anything to do with it.

The reason I bring this up is that we have a similar problem when it comes to alternative transportation modes such as transit and vehicle sharing whether it be bicycle or auto sharing. Each of these systems are an integral part of creating an alternative transportation system and are interrelated but each of theme operate in their own little world with their own system and not integration.

For example here in Portland to ride Tri-Met I need one fare or pass, to get a car share I need a either a Zip Car membership or Car to Go, and once a bike sharing system is actually operating in the city you will need another membership for that. In addition you do not have a one stop shopping center on line for all of these services either, you have to go to different websites to get all the information you need. In other words the system is not easy to use which reduces the usefulness of the system for many people.

Now imagine a system where you only needed one card to ride your transit, then pick up a car share when you needed it or rent a bicycle for that final mile to your house or business? You can also use the same card to access parking lots and pay tolls which makes life a lot less complicated because you do not have to worry about buying your transit pass and joining a car share and a bicycle share in different transactions with different cars.

Planning magazine from the American Planning Association recently had an article that described a system just like that is being used in Germany. In one of the major German cities there is now a universal transit card that works for transit, parking lots, car sharing, bicycle sharing and tolls. You simply pay a monthly fee just like you would with a current transit pass and it allows you to not only allows you to use the transit system but also allows you to use car and bicycle sharing with a certain amount of time allowed each month. Using a system like this you could have different levels of travel allowances much the same way some transit systems such as Sound Transit has different amounts of passes depending on how far you need to travel on a regular basis.

While this type of system has the potential to create more transit and sharing trips by making the system much easier to use, the difficulty is that you are dealing with both public and private organizations that have their own self interest in mind and often have tunnel vision when it comes to cooperating with other organizations. One only has to look to any city with more than one major transit system to see a lack of working together. While we have seen the implementation of fare cards that be used on different transit carries, there is still little integration of schedules, services, and information. While there has been some progress over the years such as on line trip planners that have multiple transit agencies information in them, there still a lot more that could and should be done.

If we are to get more people thinking about getting out of their automobiles, it is necessary to make transit and its support systems easier to use and more convenient.

Is it the Pathway or is it the Urban Fabric?

TriMet is looking at closing a pathway that connects the Willow Creek Transit Center which is located just northwest of the intersection of 185th and Baseline on the MAX Blue Line. The reason behind the possible closure is because of crime and drug problems along the path so I decided to take a look at the situation first hand to see what the problems truly are here.

First here is a Google map of the area:

View Larger Map

The pathway in question goes south from the transit center to Baseline Road.
Looking from Transit Center toward Baseline Road
The picture above is looking from the Willow Creek Transit Center toward Baseline Road and instantly you can see two major problems with this pathway. The first is that there is high walls on both sides blocking views of anyone along the path and the second is that there is very little lighting along the path. In addition there is a child care facility to the left of the photo which is only open at certain times of the day and there is a single family residence located to the right of the photo.

Looking back toward the Willow Creek Transit Center from Baseline
The next picture is looking back toward the transit center from Baseline and once again you can see the problems along the path. Once again you have the fences which creates a canyon affect which is just asking for problems in addition to the bushes on the right that even further block the view of the path. While you want tree canopy to shade pathways and make them more walk-able in this case they combine with the high fences to further hide the pathway from the public.
Looking west along Baseline
Looking east from along Baseline

Once you get off the pathway you have more issues once you get to Baseline. The road is wide with narrow sidewalks and very few streetlights. As can be seen in the upper photo looking toward the west where most of the residences are you have fences that put even fewer eyes on the street. Looking east you have a child care place that is very auto centric and turns its back to the transit center then empty lot on one side of the street and a shopping center.

The problem with closing the path is that for people to residences located on either side of Baseline there it leaves a long walk. From the transit center you will have to travel out of your way and head north to Edgeway then head to 185th then south to Baseline with both of those streets being very pedestrian unfriendly. While walking is fine for many of us, we also have to take into consideration the elderly and those with limited mobility that will have a more difficult time reaching the center. The other alternative for these people will be to take the infrequent 88 bus that travels a short distance on Baseline to reach the transit center.

The problem here is not the presence of the pathway but the Urban Environment around the pathway or the lack there of. The pathway design creates a canyon and walled off effect that means that there is not eyes on the pathway. The solution is not to close the path but to find ways to make it safer which will require rethinking how it is laid out and the visibility onto it. Unfortunately it is just not the path that is the problem, the area around Baseline is auto-centric suburbia where pedestrians come last.

Hopefully a good solution can be found. 

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