Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Charlie and the MAX

Since fares are going up again  September 1, and in honor of Neal McFarlane officially taking over the helm of TriMet--it's time to recycle a little ditty posted to last year--updated (and up-spiced) to take recent events into account, and to better reflect (ahem) the local culture.  It's a satire of the infamous folk standard "M. T. A.", transplanted to the Portland area.  The song, originally written as a campaign tune for a left-wing Boston mayoral candidate, later became a big hit in 1959 for the Kingston Trio.  The band changed the name of the candidate in their version to avoid the appearance of endorsing a socialist politician, a big deal in the Red Scare area (even for a folk act).  Nowadays, the fare card used by the MBTA (as Boston's transit agency is now known) is called "CharlieCard" in honor of the tune.

The Portland version takes a bit of artistic license:  MAX uses of proof-of-payment rather than fare gates, and a zone system rather than any sort of exit fare collection.  And I doubt that bojack will be running for mayor, though the fireworks in City Hall were that to occur would be spectacular.  [Image courtesy of the Kinsgton Trio].

But anyhoo, here goes:

Let me tell you the story of a man named Charlie
And how he slipped through the city's cracks
He put two thirty in his pocket, kissed his live-in-lover
Went to ride on the Tri-Met MAX
Charlie bought himself a ticket at the Gateway Transit Center
And he changed at Pioneer Square
When he got there the inspector told him "one more nickel"
Charlie could not pay that fare!
And did he ever return, no he never returned
And his fate is still unlearned
He's doomed to ride forever on the rails of Portland
He's the man who never returned
Now all night long Charlie rides through the station
Thinking "What will become of me?"
"How can I afford to see my dealer in Gresham?
Or my bookie in Milwaukie?"
Charlie's girl goes down to the Rose Quarter station
Every day at quarter past two
And through the open window, she hands him a latte
As the train comes a-crawlin' through
Now commuters of Portland, isn't a scandal,
That the people have to pay the tax?
Fight the fare increase, vote for Jack Bogdanski
Help get Charlie off the Tri-Met MAX!
Or else he'll never return, no he'll never return
And his fate will be unlearned
He's doomed to ride forever on the rails of Portland
He's the man who never returned!

Transportation values, missions, and anti-missions

Here in Portland, there's a transit advocacy organization called OPAL (Organizing People/Activating Leaders), which recently called for a major shift of the priorities of TriMet: away from future development of rail, and towards improving bus service.  There are numerous similar organizations in cities around the country; the most (in)famous is probably the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union (though the latter organization takes many far more controversial positions than does OPAL).  The point of this post is not to praise or criticize either organization, but to examine something more fundamental.

What OPAL is calling for is more than a simple change in funding allocation or transit planning strategies: they are calling for a realignment of TriMet's fundamental mission.  From OPAL's website:  "We need TriMet to prioritize working-class Portland, people who depend on our public transportation for access to the necessities of life."  OPAL, and similar organizations, believe that social and/or economic justice (in practical terms, ensuring that adequate transit service is provided to the poor), ought to be one of TriMet's fundamental missions, if not the fundamental mission.  While TriMet certainly does provide transit service to low-income neighborhoods, it would be difficult to argue that service to the poor is its primary mission.


In prior articles, the concept of transit values has been discussed--these are attributes of a transit system from which customers, or the public, derive some benefit.  This article discussed and critiqued a University of Florida paper which sought to apply Maslow's Hierarchy to transit, this one responded to comments on the first (and to related articles elsewhere), and this one gave a detailed list of twenty-odd transit values, without regard to importance.  The values listed in the latter paper were sorted into four broad categories suggested by Cap'n Transit; they are repeated here:
  • Availability values:  Geographic coverage, temporal coverage, capacity, special accomodations.
  • Value values:  Marginal cost, access cost, external costs, reliability, trip time, frequency, risk of accident, risk of crime.
  • Amenities values:  Ease of use, understandability, ease of payment, en-route hassles, comfort.
  • Glamour values:  Aesthetic/novelty issues, social status, self-actualization. 
Whereas values all are specific attributes of a system, the mission(s) of a system (and of the responsibly agency) are the overall statement(s) of goals which the system is intended to accomplish.  Whereas values reflect the how, the where, and the when; missions are the who, the what, and the why.  In the context of transit agencies, the "what" is more or less the same--provide transit to the public; missions differ in the question of why the service is provided in the first place, and who should benefit.  A mission, then, is the justification for the transportation service.

..and anti-missions
An anti-mission, if I may coin a term, is the same thing as a mission--a set of goals which the agency seeks to accomplish--but it's one that would be embarrassing to the agency if published.  Few agencies actively seek out anti-misisons; but they are a common result of political pressure from various factions, of self-aggrandizing behavior by public officials, and in some cases, of corruption.  In some cases, a goal or set of goals which are seen as beneficial in one locale may be seen as detrimental in another.  The origin of the term anti-mission is explained at the bottom of the post.

It's also important to note that many agencies operate under constraints which prevent them from fulfilling their mission.  Budgets must be balanced; credit, while available, is often limited in scope and hard to get, and few agencies have carte blanche to raise additional revenue through taxation.  An agency's service footprint and revenue base may contains extensive areas of low-density sprawl which are difficult to serve efficiently, yet which must be provided service to maintain the revenue source.  Even things like fares may be outside an agency's control.  In addition, many external funding sources, in particular those in Washington DC, come with numerous strings attached; and cash-strapped transit authorities are generally more than happy to jump through the hoops necessary to bring home the dollars--even if requires doing projects in a manner that's outside the mission.  It is useful to distinguish constraints from anti-missions.  (One minor issue I have with organizations such as OPAL is that they frequently make demands of agencies which cannot be met without a radical restructuring of an agency's external environment--but offer little assistance with the work of performing that restructuring, instead taking a "that's your problem--you figure it out" approach.  Sometimes it's an effective form of advocacy, but I often wonder if there aren't other ways to improve the situation for transit).

With all that in mind, we will now consider various missions and anti-missions (they are not identified as such--that is left as an exercise for the reader), and a rough ranking of the values implied by the mission.  This article is US-centric, unfortunately.  This article also generally assumes operation by a public entity, ostensibly for the common good--for private, for-profit operators, the only mission that truly matters is "make money", and the rest is an exercise in marketing.  :)

So, without further ado, the list.

Comprehensive transit

The first mission we consider consider is comprehensive transit--transit for transit's sake, if you will.  Many like to consider this mission the gold standard, asserting that its aims are based entirely on technocratic principles, rather than political compromises, interest-group politics, and other well-know attributes of the sausage factory.  Comprehensive transit advocates generally pursue the values in the order set forth by Cap'n Transit:  Availability, Value (to customers), Amenities, and Glamour concerns are last.
The problem with the "comprehensive transit" mission is that it's expensive to implement--and thus unrealistic in most places where there isn't widespread public support for transit.  (There is, in many places, widespread public support for road construction, and thus many state DOTs do get to build "comprehensive systems as a result--a state of affairs which has got us where we are today).  As a result, agencies typically find themselves pursuing one of the other missions (or anti-missions) listed in this article.

Social/economic justice

Next up is social and economic justice.  In support of this mission, transit is deployed as a tool to primarily benefit traditionally-disadvantaged communities, such as the poor or minority groups.  OPAL and BRU are both pursuing a social and economic justice mission (among other things), and take umbrage that TriMet and LACMTA don't necessarily share their priorities.
Values emphasized by this particular mission include low cost to users, good geographical coverage (emphasizing targeted neighborhoods and common destinations of the target groups), excellent temporal coverage (many of the working poor have jobs outside the normal daytime office shift), adequate capacity, and reliability and frequency of service.  End-to-end speed is less of an issue, as is service to wealthier communities.  Amenities and Glamour are unimportant.  Many who advocate for social and economic justice are suspicious of capital-intensive infrastructure projects such as rail of any sort (other than as a capacity improvement along an overcrowded route), viewing these as attempts to cater to constituencies other than the poor or minority groups the agency ought to support.

Low cost transit

A mission which is superficially similar to social/economic justice in its values, but antithetical to it in its motivations, is the low cost transit mission.  Here, the point is to provide the minimum level of service necessary to keep people on society's margins off more expensive forms of public support--or at is commonly (and indelicately) phrased, to get the poor to their jobs so they don't go on welfare.  Many on the political right advocate this mission, and view transit as a necessary evil, rather than a valuable public good in its own right.
Low-cost transit advocates generally emphasize Availability issues such as coverage and capacity; and like social justice advocates, don't give a rip about Glamour and Amenities.  Where they differ is in the Value category--whereas social justice advocates care about service quality; the low-cost advocate wants to minimize social cost.  Many transit systems in the US (including the vast majority of small-city systems) are of this sort--both due to conservative politics, and also due to transit-unfriendly land uses, which make any other sort of transit prohibitively expensive.  Given that, an aversion to capital costs or infrastructure of any sort causes low-cost advocates to invariably prefer local bus service (or BRT where demand warrants the additional capacity) to anything more expensive.

The environmentalism mission is concerned, first and foremost, with improving environmental outcomes--lowering emissions and other forms of pollution (whether from vehicles or from energy sources external to the system), lowering energy usage, etc.  Environmentalist advocates generally view comprehensive transit as an import goal.  Zero-emissions vehicles are highly desired--a category which includes human-powered transportation, as well as movement away from combustion-powered vehicles.  Reducing automobile trips, and opposition to the private automobile in general, is an important concern.  In some cases, this is combined with social justice issues (OPAL also lists the environment as a key concern); in other cases, environmentalist transit goals may be motivated by a bourgeois constituency.

Externalized public costs such as pollution (and avoidance thereof) is the paramount concern; public costs captured as taxes, not so.  Spending money on zero-emissions or high-capacity infrastructure is a common desire.  Other Value attributes are also important, as are some Amenities and Glamour attributes--as reducing auto trips is a concern, advocates of environmentalist transit frequently seek to attract choice riders.  Bourgeois advocates who are highly motivated may care less about comprehensive coverage, and neglect "social service" transit in favor of more productive routes--resulting in less comprehensive coverage. 

Urbanism and community-building

The urbanism and community-building emphasizes the importance of land-use for transit outcomes, and the importance of transit in building liveable communities (by which is meant, among other things, urban land-use patterns such as high density and mixed use--and generally excludes much of suburbia).  Transit is seen as an important part of the urban fabric, rather than as a service to be laid down on top of an already-built environment.

Urbanist transit values often express a preference for local forms of transit rather than regional ones; in many cases, trip-elimination rather than trip-accomodation is seen as an important goal.  As a result, geographic coverage may suffer--the urbanist is generally not concerned with providing suburban service at all.  Transit-oriented development (service to new communities designed to be transit-friendly, rather than to existing settlements) is also commonplace.

Like environmentalism advocates, there is a bourgeois faction to urbanism; which is often criticized for advocating "Starbucks urbanism" and neglecting the needs of the poor.  This faction tends to place higher value on Amenities and Glamour, and has developed (at least in the US) an affinity for local-service, mixed-traffic streetcars, often on the grounds that busses will not attract ridership (due, of course, to insufficient Glamour).  And with any sort of community-building or renewal project, especially those geared towards upper income levels, gentrification remains a key concern.

Premium service
The premium service mission is all about attracting choice riders who are extremely concerned about Glamour issues (particularly social status).  In many ways, this mission inverts the traditional hierarchy and stands it on its apex.  Premium-conscious riders view not mixing with the "wrong" crowd while on the bus or train as a key issue (often justifying it on safety concerns), and often view Amenities as important--in particular creature comforts, and other enhancements such as on-board Internet service.  Ticket price is often less of an issue, though performance factors and safety remain important.   Many Availability issues are unimportant however--limited geographic coverage (excluding the "bad" parts of town) is seen as an advantage, and high capacity isn't important to an exclusive audience.  Many Premium riders prefer rail (though not always), and seating configurations are often optimized for maximum seated capacity rather than accommodating large numbers of standees.

Some transit agencies have discovered that offering such services at elevated prices is often a politically and financially sensible thing to do (assuming local traffic conditions are such that driving becomes an unattractive option).  In the Portland area, both WES and C-Tran's express routes to Portland have been accused of targeting a luxury market (in the former case, bypassing a frequently-crowded parallel bus line).  The travel industry has engaged in such price discrimination for years, of course.

Political patronage

OK, this one's an obvious anti-mission.  Unlike other missions on this page whose political acceptability may depend on political context, virtually no transit agency will fess up to making choices designed to benefit political sponsors--at least not unless they can plead coercion.  (And in some cases, agencies with noble intent may indeed be forced to accommodate rent-seeking power-brokers in order to remain intact).  But it happens--and in some cases, in broad daylight.

When political patronage is an agency's mission, it seeks to benefit a wide variety of political backers:  agency managers and politicians looking to pad their resumes with ribbon-cuttings, developers and landowners, vendors, tradespeople, and trade unions looking to have public money thrown their way.  Few of the traditional customer-focused values truly matter; as neither the customer nor the public is the intended beneficiary; whatever values are politically popular will be offered up as justification.  In general, though, the values which are cited include things like geographic coverage, capacity, and performance--all of which benefit from new infrastructure.  Glamour issues are frequently cited as justification as well; builders of such projects will often cite the environment, or the alleged unpopularity of the lowly bus, as a reason for building more expensive forms of infrastructure.  It is common for those pursuing a political patronage mission to pretend to be environmentalists and/or urbanists, and sometimes difficult for outsiders to tell the difference--however, the difference does exist.  (One thing to look for:  are the proponents of development actually interested in operating the new service, or merely in its construction?)

Labor patronage
In some ways, this is a subset of the political patronage mission discussed above, if one views transit unions as a "patron" in the same way as one might view developers or construction firms, then this becomes same racket, different customer.  However, I'm treating labor patronage--where a key part of a transit agencies goals consist of providing high paying jobs to its employees--differently, because transit agencies in the thrall of labor act differently than those in the thrall of outside capital interests.  (Note that labor here only includes an agency's own employees; not outside bargaining units such as construction unions--they are dealt with in the political patronage mission).

Whereas political patronage agencies are very infrastructure focus, agencies patronizing their own labor unions focus on operations--though again, not on providing service to the customer or the general public.  Values which are cited include high availability and frequency--providing extensive coverage to all parts of the region at all times of the day.  Reliability and end-to-end speed frequently suffer.  Infrastructure improvements are frequently regarded with suspicion--construction of rail, for example, may be seen as a plot to downsize the workforce rather than as a strategy for improving the overall capacity or performance of the system.  Local bus service is the mode of choice.  Amenities and Glamour are generally unimportant.

In some cities (San Francisco comes to mind, where Muni's well-documented practices which result in lousy service nonetheless enjoy extensive political support), labor patronage is an open goal of a transit agency--however in many places, this is too regarded as an anti-mission.  Whereas agencies pursuing a political patronage mission may instead pretend to be environmentalists or urbanists, agencies captured by labor unions instead frequently emulate a social justice agenda.  (A common accusation against BRU is that it is a front for bus drivers--the organization does tend to side with transit unions in labor disputes).


Tourism and special event coverage are seldom a fundamental mission for an urban transit agency--the bulk of the riders on a system will be local regulars--but it is an important mission for some parts of some transit coverage.  Extra transit service for local events, such as football games, generally doesn't differ much from regular service, but tourist-oriented service may be another matter--and given the propensity of tourists to throw cash around, offer an excellent opportunity for price-discrimination.

Tourist-oriented service can be divided into two types--transit which is used by tourists to get places, and transit which frequently is the destination.  Many cities operate special services, often branded differently, for ferrying tourists between lodging and popular destinations.  And a few transit systems--ranging from well-known attractions like the San Francisco Cable Cars or the Seattle Monorail, to small-town operations like the Astoria Riverfront Trolley--are destinations in themselves; with tourists paying for round trips to nowhere (many of these also serve a useful transit function for locals as well). 

In either cases, important values for tourists are ease of use/navigation, novelty or aesthetic values, safety, and comfort--though on "vintage" services, the latter is optional.  Coverage and other Availability issues generally are not important.  Tourists, being unfamiliar with a city, will not appreciate having to memorize a transit map or a timetable to get around; nor are they likely to be in possession of a transit pass or exact change (unless in whole units of the currency).  This is an excellent way of practicing price discrimination, BTW--the cash fare on the SF cable cars is much higher (US$5) than for other Muni services, and transfers are not accepted; but there's no extra charge for passholders. 

Our final mission occurs when a public agency decides to operate like a private one, and uses its position to engage in rent-seeking.  Many transit agencies have monopolies on general-purpose transit within their region, and power to set fares--most of them set fares well below cost in order to attract ridership.  Some, though, will actually attempt to profit from operations.  Rent-seeking agencies are most likely to be found in cities whose socioeconomic or land use patterns encourage high degrees of transit use (and there's a large captive audience for whom switching to autos is not an option)--and where there is a great deal of corruption in the wider political culture.  Rent-seeking agencies need to provide sufficient Availability to make the service tenable--but beyond that, aren't keen on providing any other types of value to passengers--especially things which might threaten the operation.  Rent-seeking behavior can originate from a variety of factors--agencies which are dramatically underfunded; agencies explicitly chartered to earn revenue for a parent organization; or simple corruption. 


One final note, on the genesis of the term "anti-mission".  In my field of professional expertise (computer programming), there was a movement in the 1990s known as the "design patterns" movementEarly research on the topic was done by a pair of Oregon-based programmers, Ward Cunningham and Kent Beck (the former of which designed a novel web-based collaboration tool hosted at his software consulting firm in furtherance of the effort--the first wiki).  The seminal work in the field was Design Patterns:  Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software, written by a quartet of computer scientists known as the "Gang of Four".   The work on patterns, and much of the terminology, was borrowed from a similar concept in the field of architecture--specifically Christopher Alexander's opus A Pattern Language.  In programming, a "design pattern" refers to a program fragment or structure which is beneficial and commonly repeated, but which is difficult to capture as a class or function or other programming abstraction.  (If any other programmers are reading this, apologies for being rather imprecise).

Not soon after the Design Patterns book was published:  AntiPatterns: Refactoring Software, Architectures, and Projects in Crisis, which instead of cataloging useful ideas, instead documented bad ideas which were commonly found in practice--a notion known as an anti-pattern.  Anti-patterns are patterns; they're just ones that are bad for you.  And so it is with anti-missions, my humble attempt to repay the fields of public works for a quite useful notion.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Driverless metros: All they are cracked up to be?

For many transit activists, the "gold standard" of rapid transit is the driverless metro.  While expensive to build, driverless systems are held to have a significant advantage over human-operated systems--the absence of a driver, and his/her salary and benefits.  In the developed world, it is typically the case that a) labor is the predominant cost in transit operations, and b) most transit systems have a farebox recovery ratio of less than 100%--these two factors combined produce the result that in many systems, the limit on how much service can be provided isn't the amount of rolling stock or the capacity of the infrastructure, but the amount of operating subsidies which are available.   By greatly reducing the operating subsidy (or in some cases, creating lines which turn a profit), a transit agency can offer much more frequent or comprehensive--and therefore more attractive--service.

The problem, of course, that driverless metro is expensive to build, and politically difficult to boot.  Current automatic train operations systems are designed for a protected right-of-way--which generally means grade-separation.   Allowing the public to cross the tracks seriously complicates things.  And the driverless control systems themselves are expensive to design and install.  An additional issue in many large cities, where the expense can be justified, is that transit unions are often sufficiently powerful to prevent driverless metros from being installed (labor is generally opposed to such systems, for obvious reasons)  A third issue is public skepticism of the control technology--after the 2009 accident on the Washington Metro red line, blamed on a failed train-detection sensor (since repaired), the automatic train operation system has remained turned off.  (The DC metro was never driverless, as operators were present on the train even when the ATO systems were enabled; but the switch to full-time manual operation has lowered system throughput).    Despite the stated advantages of the technology, there are at present less than two dozen fully driverless rail systems in operation worldwide.

Say what?

However, the benefits of driverless metro, once installed and operational, are generally considered to be axiomatic by transit activists.  Which is why I was astonished to find British Columbia transit activist "zweisystem", one of the contributors to the Rail for the Valley blog, make the following claim on a thread on the Transport Politic.

Jay, SkyTrain, being driverless doesn’t mean there is no one present on the metro system. Vancouver’s SkyTrain system has a large cadre of attendants who are on the train and at stations to maintain the integrity of the metro system. Added to this, we also have the SkyTrain police to counter increased crime on the metro system.
All driverless transit systems also maintain a Small army of electrical specialists, technicians and operators to keep the metro in operation. Unlike LRT, which has drivers, which can deal with small problems, on a driverless or automatic transit system, when a problem arises the metro stops until someone tell the computer it is safe to proceed. Sometimes this means an attendant must walk along the guide way to ensure there is no problem with the metro and is very time consuming.
SkyTrain has more employees (and higher operating costs) than LRT systems and what was once the flavour of the month in the 1980′s, is now reserved for the most heavily used metro lines in the world, where there are cost benefits with automatic operation.
Those who keep on proposing automatic metros for minor transit lines, really don’t know what they are talking about.

The thread was about Seattle's Link system, a light-rail system which is fully grade-separated (but not driverless).   Zwei seems to be making two separate claims here:
  1. The overhead of maintaining a driverless system cancels out any cost reduction from not having to pay drivers, except at very large scales (which the SkyTrain system allegedly doesn't meet)
  2. The lack of drivers makes such systems (or at least SkyTrain in particular) less reliable, as many contingencies that could be handled by an on-board operator instead require a more difficult manual intervention, resulting in greater disruption of service.
Zweisystem is a bit of a controversial figure in many transit forums; generally due to his dogged opposition to SkyTrain expansion in the greater Vancouver.  His opposition to SkyTrain stems from a variety of factors, but a significant complaint seems to be that BC authorities are spending a disproportionate amount of transit dollars in the metro Vancouver area, and neglecting the Fraser River valley east of Surrey.  Furthermore, zwei claims that the expenses involved with SkyTrain leave little money for improving transit elsewhere in the province.  Zwei frequently calls official TransLink statistics into question, and there have been other accusations of the system being the beneficiary of pork-barrel politics.  I agree with zwei that commuter rail would make sense in the Fraser valley, should funding be available.  Not being a British Columbian (or even a Canadian), I am neutral on the question of what provincial funding priorities for the province ought to be.

However, zwei's anti-SkyTrain advocacy frequently morphs into a general anti-metro (and pro-surface rail) position, independent of any specific application.  Zwei has published numerous articles on the railforthevalley blog which underlie his claims:  Several may be found here, here, here, and here.  I generally consider such blanket praise (or condemnation) of a particular technology to be questionable--so with that in mind, let us consider each argument in turn. 
    Does driverless cost more?

    Zwei's first claim is undoubtedly true if rephrased:  Driverless systems incur a significant overhead--the staff needed to maintain the control systems and infrastructure (computer systems, track sensors, on-board control equipment).  Some of these duties are essentially fixed, and other duties scale with the amount of trackage and rolling stock.  There is some level of service--I don't know what, and it depends on many local factors, in particular the state of the labor market--below which driverless operation would be more expensive than manual operation, even if the capital costs could be ignored.  This is true for many technology choices--there's a service level below which manual grade-separated metro doesn't make sense; there's a level below which surface rail doesn't make sense--and there's a level below which even plain local bus service is inefficient (and paratransit or dial-a-ride service would be more economical).  This analysis focuses entirely on operational efficiency, it should be noted, and not on the quality of the service to passengers.  (Were transit agencies to focus entirely on financial metrics, the logical outcome for most of them would be to cease operations altogether--obviously, not a desirable outcome for many reasons).

    Some of the other roles zwei mentions--police, security, station attendants--perform functions which generally aren't performed by drivers on manually-operated rail systems.  MAX operators, for instance, are not charged with duties such as customer service (beyond dealing with on-board incidents), fare collection/enforcement, giving directions, etc--they are focused on operating the trains.  In addition, many of these roles, even if assumed to be required for a driverless system, scale with the amount of trackage or stations, not with the number of trains in service.

    An important question to ask in any analysis:  What is the marginal cost of train service?  In other words, assuming that the rolling stock and line capacity exists, how much does it cost to add an additional train?   

    Zwei uses, for the foundation of his claims, an 1989 paper written by Gerald Fox (a fellow who was involved with the design of MAX) entitled A Comparison of Some New Light Rail and Automated Guideway Systems (abstract here, full paper appears to be unavailable in electronic form).  The abstract, unfortunately, doesn't shed any light on the situation--it claims that LRT "may" offer lower operating costs than driverless systems, but not stating under what circumstances this is true.  Given the advances in computer and control technology which have occurred in the two decades since the paper was written, and the changes in the labor market (public sector wages are generally higher compared to private-sector wages than was the case in 1989), what was true back in the 1980s may no longer be true in the 2010s. 

    What about SkyTrain?

    Zwei is fond of comparing SkyTrain to C-Train, Calgary's excellent light-rail service, and one which has similar levels of ridership despite operating in a city half the size of metro Vancouver.

    Currently, SkyTrain's Millennium and Expo lines operates peak service at 108 second intervals over their combined segment--a figure which is likely the capacity limit of the existing infrastructure.  That's 33 trains an hour.  C-Train's peak service frequency over its combined segment through downtown is less--presently 5 minutes (12tph), with plans to reduce peak headways to 3 minutes (20tph); the minimum possible headway is 2 minutes.  Both systems peak headways are excellent; at these frequencies, adding trains becomes more of an issue of increasing capacity rather than improving service.

    However, there is a significant difference in off-peak service:  C-Train service frequencies reduce to 3-4 trains per hour during the off-peak hours; whereas SkyTrain's service frequency, on the Expo and Millenium Lines, never drops below 7.5 tph.  Operations in off-peak hours aren't constrained by capacity; they're generally instead constrained by cost and staffing issues. 

    SkyTrain's Canada Line is another matter, unfortunately.  Despite also being driverless, this line's peak headway (8 minutes) is no better than the off-peak headway of the other SkyTrain lines; and headway along the branches increases to 20 minutes during late-night hours.  South of the Bridgeport Station, the line splits into two branches serving Richmond any Vancouver International Airport, respectively; these branches include significant single-track sections.  OTOH, the decision not to run trains more frequently during off-peak hours is curious.  Unlike the Expo/Millennium line, which runs diagonally across the street grid for a considerable distance, the Canada Line is much shorter and runs parallel to numerous city streets with excellent bus service.  

    Is driverless less reliable?

    Zwei's second claim--that driverless metro is less reliable compared to other types of transit--also flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  Zwei argues that driverless metro systems experience a longer recovery time from minor incidents (such as a passenger maliciously or accidentally pressing an alert button without a genuine emergency onboard), which could be handled more expeditiously with operators on board--turning them into major events affecting the system as a whole.  (In particular, he suggests that many incidents require manual intervention from inspectors who must travel down the trackways on foot to reach a stopped train).  Unfortunately, no reliability or availability statistics are provided by Zwei to support this claim.

    Assuming zwei's observations are true (which, if they are, might be an issue with the particular implementation of SkyTrain--minor incidents which could be handled by an onboard operator can generally be handled remotely, including closed-circuit communication with passengers; and true failures of the trains, signals, or tracks are generally beyond the capability of a driver to resolve), one must balance these against the issue of human error causing a service disruption. 

    This paper reports on Paris' experience with driverless systems, and claims that the driverless portions of the Paris Metro have availabilities of 99.2-99.5%, with a significant part of the disruptions which do occur being caused by passenger misconduct.  Paris opened its first driverless line (a rubber-tired metro) in the 1990s, and has been converting many of its existing rail subway lines to driverless operation over the years; and the experiences of both the operator and the public has generally been positive.

    The preceding observations don't take into account the issues with surface-running rail; where service disruptions caused by collisions, track blockages, etc. are more likely to occur.  (Surface rail cannot be made driverless with the current state-of-the-art in control technology).

    In many ways, this line of argument is a common one in the transit industry--more complicated (and expensive) systems which are capable of higher performance under normal circumstances, are frequently held to be more subject to severe service disruptions than are systems which are lower-tech or more distributed.  Similar arguments are frequently made in support of busses and against rail--busses can simply drive around any incidents; whereas major incidents on rail lines often take the entire line out of service (and typically resort in the deployment of busses to ferry passengers around the affected section of track).


    There are many valid criticisms to be made of TransLink, and of BC provincial government.  There are also many valid criticisms to be made of the SkyTrain system.  However, the more general conclusion that metros are bad (driverless or otherwise), except in cities of New York or London scale, doesn't seem to hold water. Is Portland "ready" for a system such as SkyTrain?  Probably not--out transit patterns are too downtown-focused, and the Portland metro area is too auto-centric outside the inner city.  If the population continues to grow, and the newcomers are accommodated by increasing density rather than by sprawling outwards, then maybe--but today, the present system is probably adequate.  (Conversion to a more metro-like system will probably occur in phases, such as construction of a downtown tunnel to bypass the slow slog through downtown streets that MAX presently makes).  But for other cities which more transit-friendly densities, fully grade-separated metro is an option that makes sense; and driverless operation then becomes an option worth considering.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    Lake Oswego transit DEIS slips to September

    Earlier indications from Metro would be that the DEIS for the Lake Oswego transit project would be coming out soon ("summer"), appear to be off the mark.  Today, Metro issued a statement setting forth a new timeline for completion of the DEIS work, and selection of the locally preferred alternative.  Metro also published a fact sheet giving more details. 

    According to the new schedule, the DEIS will be published in September, at which point there will be a 45-day public comment period, with the LPA selected in the November-December timeframe. 

    According to some commenters here who have been following the project closely, some of the published data in the current planning documents has run aground on the sharp rocks of reality--one hopes that the DEIS will reflect these findings.  (And one hopes that the public comment period isn't entirely for show...)

    Just the facts: A comparison of Portland's rail systems and two West Coast metros

    Given that there's been much discussion of the different kinds of rapid transit systems (and rail systems which aren't rapid transit), today's post is a comparison of 5 west coast rail transit systems.  The first three are the three systems present in Portland (MAX, the Streetcar, and WES); the other two are two "true metros"--the subway system in Los Angeles (the LACMTA Red and Purple Lines), and Vancouver's SkyTrain system.
    Rather than engage in analysis or discussion--today, it's just the data, presented in a table with a font that's probably too small for anyone to read.  Blogger doesn't seem to do scrolling tables, and my HTML chops ain't that great... I do embedded systems, not web programming, so sue me.  :)
    A few notes:
    • For Portland, under-construction projects (the Streetcar Loop, and the Civic Drive MAX station) and planned projects (Columbia River Crossing MAX extension, Milwaukie MAX, and the Lake Oswego Transit project).  Only existing routes were looked at for the LA and Vancouver systems.
    • The BRT and light rail systems in LA (Blue, Green, Gold, and Orange lines) were not considered.
    • SkyTrain uses two different propulsion technologies--linear induction on the Millennium and Expo lines, and "standard" motors and drives on the Canada line; for table entries related to rolling stock, only the linear-induction vehicles are considered.
    • Some data I couldn't find (I'll do some more research later to try and fill in the gaps).  Some data probably has errors or is out-of-date.  If anyone has any corrections, please post 'em in the comments.
    • Nothing should be inferred from the fact that I chose two "full metros" to compare with Portland's systems--the reason I did so is because Portland doesn't have a similar system locally.  In this post, I make no comment, pro or con, whether a full metro line or system would be appropriate here.  Both LA (the city itself, not the greater metropolitan area) and Vancouver are significantly denser than Portland, and Vancouver doesn't have freeways in its downtown area.
    In addition to the links in the table (and numerous documents hosted by Metro, Portland Streetcar, and TriMet), a few other documents used are:

    SystemMetropolitan Area Express (MAX)Portland Streetcar

    Westside Express Service (WES)Los Angeles County Metro Rail Red LinePurple Line and Vancouver SkyTrain

    City of Portland/
    Portland Streetcar, Inc.
    TriMetLos Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority LACMTA)TransLink
    OperatorTriMetTriMetPortland and Western RailroadLACMTA

    Began service19862001200919931985
    Service hours7 days7 days/wk, 16 hours weekdaysM-F, mornings and afternoons only7 days, 20 hours weekdays7 days, 20 hours weekdays

    Peak time headways3-5 minutes on combined sections13 minutes30 minutes5 minutes<2 minutes
    Communities served
    Cedar Hills
    Oak Grove
    Vancouver, WA

    Lake Oswego
    Los Angeles, CA
    Hollywood, CA
    Vancouver, BC
    Richmond, BC
    New Westminster, BC
    Burnaby, BC
    Surrey, BC

    Number of lines
    (under construction)
    12 (excluding LA light rail and BRT)3

    Number of stations
    (under construction)

    Route miles of revenue track
    (under construction)
    52 miles (83.7 km)
    10.2 miles (16.4 km)
    3.9 miles (6.3 km)end-to-end14.7 miles (23.7 km)17.4 miles (28 km)

    42.7 miles (68.7 km)
    Service typeLocal/Rapid TransitLocalCommuter RailGrade-separated metro (subway)Grade-seperated driverless metro (subway, elevated)
    Right-of-wayExclusive (some street-median running, some grade separation)
    Shared with busses on Transit Mall
    Mixed trafficMixed passenger/freight railGrade-separated

    Stop spacing (typical)Average: 3300' (1km)
    Yamhill/Morrison: 1100' (330m)
    750' (230m)3 miles (5km)1 mile (1.6km)0.9 mile (1.5 km)
    Average speedBlue Line: 20MPH (32 km.h)
    Red Line: 25 MPH (40 km/h)
    Yellow Line: ~15MPH (25 km/h)
    Green Line: ~20MPH (32 km/h)
    Transit Mall: 7.8 MPH (12.5 km/h)
    Goose Hollow-Rose Quarter: 7.3MPH (12km/h)

    6.9 MPH (11.1 km/h)24.1 MPH (38.8 km/h)~30 MPH (50 km/h)28 MPH (45 km/h)
    Track configurationDual track (one small single-track section near Gateway)Dual/single track, continuous loopSingle-track with sidingsDual trackDual track, single track near Richmond and airport
    Fare collectionProof-of-payment, some secure platforms; ticket machines at platformsProof of-payment, ticket machines on board

    Proof-of-payment, ticket machines at platformsProof-of-payment, ticket machines at platformsFare gates
    Proof-of-payment, ticket machines at platforms
    FRA compliantNoNoYesNoNo
    Rail gaugeStandard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)

    Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)
    Power source750VDC overhead catenary750VDC overhead catenaryDirect-drive dieselThird-rail electric650VDC third-rail electric, linear induction
    Rolling stock (typical)Siemens S70 (Avanto)Skoda 10T

    Colorado Railcar/US Railcar DMUBreda Costruzioni Ferroviarie A650Bombardier ART Mark II (linear induction)
    also Hyundai Rotem (direct drive)
    Vehicle weight

    49.75 tons (45.1 metric tons)31.75 tons (28.8 metric tons)88 tons (79.8 metric tons)41 tons (37.3 metric tons)26.5 tons (24 metric tons)
    Vehicle top speed65 MPH (105 km/h)43.5 MPH (70 km/h)90 MPH (150km/h)70 MPH (113km/h)56 MPH (90 km/h)
    Vehicle width8' 8" (2.68m)

    8' 1" (2.46m)10' (3m)10' (3m)10' 6" (3.2m)
    Vehicle length95' (29m)66' (20m)85' (26m)75' (23m)57' 9" (17.6m)
    Minimum radius of curvature59' (18m)59' (18m)

    250' (76m)largelarge
    Vehicle platform typeLowLowHighHighHigh
    Articulated carsYes (2 sections)Yes (3 sections)No

    Married car pairsNoYes
    Passenger capacity per vehicle (seated/total)68/17230/14094/24659/16941/164
    Consist size1-2 cars (usually 2)1 car only1-2 cars2, 4, or 6 cars

    2 or 4 cars
    Crew size on board11210
    Operating cost/mileUS $16?US $50

    Cost/boarding ride~US $2?~US #$20

    Boarding rides/weekday (2009)107,600 (excludes Green Line)12,5001,200154,355344,800

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Funding and the either/or fallacy

    There's been a fascinating and extensive debate over at on competing proposals for how to improve transit along the Broadway corridor in Vancouver, BC.  Broadway street is a major east-west thoroughfare through the heart of the city (which is to say not through downtown, as downtown Vancouver is at the city's northern edge, across False Creek),  presently served by extremely-crowded bus lines.  This is one place where a legit claim can be made that rail is absolutely needed for capacity reasons.  The two competing visions for the corridor are a network of surface rail lines, on Broadway and the surrounding streets, presumably running in a dedicated right-of-way; or an westward extension of the Millennium Line of Skytrain.  While I lean towards the Skytrain solution, this is a Vancouver issue so my opinion on the matter is neither particularly strong nor particularly relevant.

    What becomes apparent from listening to the debate, though, is that the two solutions are designed to serve different needs.  Skytrain supporters are interested in comprehensive regional transit; they want to get from UBC to the Canada Line or to Vancouver's eastern suburbs quickly.  Surface rail supporters are interested in community-building; they want to improve the quality of their neighborhood.  (Similar debates occur in Portland with regard to MAX and the Portland Streetcar--and ironically, the pro-surface-rail proposal sites Portland Streetcar as a model).  But not only are the two solutions designed to serve different needs, there's no inherent incompatibility between them.  There's no particular reason that Vancouver couldn't extent the Millennium Line all the way out to the University, and build streetcar lines to replace the busiest bus lines.

    Except for money.

    One big problem with these debates is many of them assume, a priori, a world of limited funding. Of course, that's a valid assumption in most cases (it is the world we live in, after all), but it often has the affect of chilling debate by forcing advocates to stake out either/or positions: In the present instance,  its either surface rail down Broadway or SkyTrain; but "both" appears to be out of the question. In Portland, we see calls to postpone or kill the Milwaukie MAX line not because the project lacks merit, but because many would rather use the money for something else they consider more important--such as preserving and extending bus operations.  Rather than viewing MAX as an important part of the transit system, it's viewed as a threat to other needs, and vice versa.

    But obviously, we cannot pretend that we live in an unlimited-funding universe.  There will always be more worthwhile projects to pursue than money to pay for them--and that would remain true even if transit were funded as it ought to be.

    Professional planning agencies have to deal with this as part of their jobs--and they have fairly effective methodologies for racking and stacking projects:  Rather than taking an either/or point of view, the potential projects that can be done are each considered and ranked.  Projects aren't ranked in isolation--in practice, there are far too many interdependencies to do that effectively--but they do specify different funding scenarios, and list which projects have to get done even in a limited funding environment, vs which ones only get done if money falls from trees, vs which ones aren't worthwhile in any case.

    The advantages of doing business this way are obvious:  For one thing, you don't alienate potential allies quite as quickly.  For another, this allows all the needs of a region to be given fair consideration.  For a third, if the homework is done properly, and there are high-priority projects which nonetheless can't fit into a limited funding scenario, it gives leaders and activists a stronger case to seek out additional funding.  It's hard for an activist to make the case that we need more money to build whatever, when the same activist has been busy denouncing whatever as a ridiculous boondoggle--when he's not really opposed to the project on its own merits; but simply wants to preserve the funding for something else.

    [Edited for links and minor additional commentary]

    The Columbia River Crossing, and the role of state DOTs

    [Image courtesy of CRC]

    This blog, so far, has avoided serious comment about one of the most controversial projects being considered for the Portland metro area--the Columbia River Crossing.  Recently, I wrote about a blog comment concerning the advisability of adding MAX service to the project, in order to make a point in the bus/rail debate, but I haven't blogged about the CRC itself.  Now, it's time to correct that oversight.

    The CRC project organization, which is jointly run by the Oregon and Washington Departments of Transportation (ODOT and WSDOT), recently published a proposed design for a replacement of the Interstate Bridge (an ancient pair of drawbridges which carry Interstate 5 over the Columbia River).  The price tag for the proposed design:  over US$4 billion.  Hardly anybody on either side of the river likes the proposed design, especially in the two cities (Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA) which are directly affected by the project. 

    The proposed design

    The proposed design includes the following features:
    • Rebuilding I-5 to modern design standards for about 5 miles--essentially from the Interstate Ave. interchange in Oregon, up to SR500 in Washington; this requires construction of quite a few C/D lanes and braided ramps and such.
    • Three "through" auto lanes, and three "auxiliary" lanes, in each direction across the main span.  The auxiliary lanes are lanes which sooner or later you'll have to exit if you use them (though the freeway is always 8 lanes wide through the project area, except at the ends), while the "through" lanes are continuous.  On the main span of the bridge, all six lanes in each direction are on a single carriageway; there is no segregation into highway and C/D lanes.  (A recent revision to the proposal includes only 2 auxiliary lanes per direction rather than three, but keeps some of the other controversial features of the project)
    • Below the highway lanes will be a facility for pedestrians and bicycles, and two "transit lanes", which will contain light rail.  (AFAIK, it will be trains only; not a combined rail/bus facility like the Caruthers bridge which is part of the Milwaukie MAX project).
    • The impacts on Hayden Island, an island in the Columbia (part of Oregon, as it is south of the main channel) will be particularly server.  The I-5 interchange on the Island will be kept, but significantly redesigned.   Rather than the treacherous "trumpet" interchange (with short ramps) that currently sits there, a braided ramp confiuration will be added, which will also include ramp structures crossing the Columbia Slough for accessing Marine Drive and OR99E.  The effective footprint on Hayden Island will be 22 lanes.  As is the case today, road access to Hayden Island will require use of I-5. (The picture at the top of this post is an illustration of what this might look like--it appears that a giant aircraft carrier was parked in the middle of the island).
    What's wrong?

    Most people in the community recognize the need to do something.  The Interstate Bridge is functionally obsolete.  It's a major bottleneck for traffic, especially during the afternoon commute.  The connecting ramps are dangerous, particularly the onramps from Hayden Island onto I-5 north, and from SR14 onto I-5 south.  The pedestrian facilities on the existing are downright scary; there's no dedicated transit infrastructure at all, and the bridge must occasionally lift for river traffic.   And the combination of the drawspans of the Interstate Bridge, and the BNSF rail bridge a short distance downstream, make river navigation difficult for large vessels.  There's also some structural concerns:  although the bridges are not yet structurally obsolete, extensive work would be needed to bring them to modern structural standards.  There's a large consensus that the status quo is not acceptable.

    But there's little agreement among local stakeholders (even ignoring the DOTs for now) on what needs to be done.  There is rampant sticker shock at the $4 billion pricetag on both sides of the river; and calls to scale back the design--but the sticking point is just what ought to be removed.

    We don't need no stinking freeway

    Many in Portland's transit and urbanist communities view the Interstate Bridge as an important chokepoint with which to discourage automobile use, and don't want to see any highway capacity added, other than what's absolutely necessary for safety.  Portland's urbanistas, while disliking suburbia in general, hold special disdain for the community across the river which is often derisively called "Vantucky" (and worse), and viewed as a gaping loophole in Oregon's land use laws (and Metro's implementation thereof).  Expanding freeway capacity into The Couv (what Vancouverites often call their city--a term which has the added benefit of only referring to Vancouver, WA and not Vancouver, BC; a persistently annoying ambiguity in the Pacific Northwest) would only encourage more urban sprawl across the river, they say, and the sort of capital flight that has devastated many cities elsewhere in the country.  (More than a few would be happy if the Interstate Bridge were to fall down into the river).

    Another concern that Oregonians have, and one less politically sensitive, is the concern that widening the bridge will simply move the southbound bottleneck on I-5 a few miles further south, into downtown Portland--necessitating a costly rebuild of Portland's downtown core.  (In the Rose Quarter area, I-5 reduces to only two lanes in each direction).   And the eastbank freeway, as I-5 is known in downtown, is highly unpopular, and a favorite target of urbanists who would prefer to see it buried (or removed altogether).

    We don't need no stinking tolls

    Across the river, many in Vancouver naturally resent being viewed as Portland's Oakland.  Vancouverites, like many suburban-dwellers, don't consider their chosen lifestyle to be illegitimate in the least.  Many consider the problems of cities to be the problems of cities--not their concern.  And many in Vancouver are openly skeptical about Portland's famously liberal political consensus (and recently, famously dysfunctional city politics).   They aren't terribly interested in Portland's transit system or enviro-urbanist agenda--and are primarily concerned about the cost of the project.  This is especially important on the Washington side since tolls are a significant part of the proposed funding package.  Vancouver residents enjoy an advantageous tax situation, in that Washington has no state income tax (and very low property taxes), financing government primarily through sales taxes; whereas Oregon has no sales tax.  Thus many Vancouverites cross the river to shop in Oregon.  (Many also work in the Beaver State; though those who do are subject to Oregon state income tax).  Tolling is seen as an unfair surcharge on those who live on the north side of the river; and thus many Vancouverites see reducing the scope of the project--and thus the cost--as a key priority.  (The recent mayoral election in Vancouver turned on the question of bridge tolls; with the incumbent mayor losing re-election to a candidate who focuses on the issue of tolling).

    The prospect of tolls also brings about concerns that traffic would be simply shifted to the Glenn Jackson bridge instead; particularly N/S through traffic, and traffic from the E. Vancouver area.    Tolling I-205 was proposed as a solution to this issue (the Glenn Jackson bridge, about seven miles upstream, is not part of the project); however it seems to be the opinion that this is not legally permissible.   This state of affairs in Clackamas County, to Portland's south, worried.

    The result of this is that many in Portland want to see the highway features of the design reduced in scope.  A popular alternate proposal is for a seismic retrofit of the existing bridges, removal of many of the interchanges (including the dangerous Hayden Island ramps), and construction of a "supplemental bridge" which would connect Vancouver's downtown street network with Hayden Island and Portland streets such as MLK and Interstate, and provide transit, pedestrian, and bicycle facilities.  Many in Vancouver, OTOH, want the highway capacity, and would just as soon jettison the light rail lines--noting that the tracks would only go a short distance into Vancouver.

    The devil's in the DOTails

    If the issue were merely a disagreement between two cities (located in two different states) on urban vision, that would be one thing.  But the two state DOTs, who are responsible for maintaining I-5 and have been managing the project, seem determined to build a big megafreeway.  A common allegation is that the acceptance criteria set forth in the purpose and need statement were carefully crafted to exclude any solution other than a big megafreeway, and as a result--a big megafreeway is what the engineers came up with.   And now, the DOTs are (allegedly) playing "chicken" with the project--claiming that it's too late to make any material changes, lest the funding window for federal dollars close (the project is slated to receive funding from USDOT's Corridors of the Future program).  The city of Portland, in particular, is calling that bluff; and actually hired its own engineering firm to review the project.  Metro has been challenging the state DOTs in unusually blunt language as well, with outgoing Metro president David Bragdon suggesting that the CRC project team "get real". 

    The project's design is severely constrained by several other factors:  the need to maintain a Columbia River shipping channel compatible with the BNSF rail bridge a short distance downstream, and the need to not affect the flight paths going in and out of Pearson Airpark in Vancouver (and to a lesser extent, PDX).   Until recently, Portland mayor Sam Adams also stressed the need for a "signature design" (a demand that the bridge be architecturally significant), a position that struck many as self-aggrandizement and placement of form over function--especially given the height restrictions which prevent the construction of towering arches or suspension systems.  (The proposed design, with box/girder construction, has also been criticized for being ugly).  As Adams has been politically weakened by a sex scandal, this concern has faded to the background, but still lingers.

    A major issue with having state DOTs maintaining urban infrastructure, is that many of them are institutionally programmed to the "mobility" side of the mobility-access continuum.  Despite the multi-modal nature suggested by the name "department of transportation"; the primary responsibility for DOTs in most US states is building, maintaining, and regulating highways, often focused on smooth and timely passage of freight.  Other modes of regional or long-haul transportation--aviation, railroads, and navigation (whether on inland waterways or at sea) have long been primarily overseen by the Federal government, as are interstate motor carriers.  Local transportation links (including transit), on the other hand are generally handled by local communities.  Building highways is what DOTs are best at; and this role emphasizes throughput and mobility over local concerns such as access and community integration.  A big problem with freeways, generally, is that many of them don't really serve the communities they pass through; instead they simply disrupt them. 

    It should be noted that this state of affairs exists despite having relatively transit-friendly administrations in Salem and Olympia.  Democrats occupy the governor's office in both Oregon and Washington, and control the legislatures of both states as well.  While both states have bicameral legislatures (the norm in the United States); both the upper and lower legislative houses in the two states are allocated based on population, not political subdivision.  (Many state Senates, as well as the US Senate;The US Senate assigns equal representation to political subdivisions regardless of population; a state of affairs which allows rural interests to dominate; for example, Alaska and New York each have the same number of US Senators--two). 

    The good news

    This project is a classic case of the paralysis that can result when state-level entities such as DOTs manage urban infrastructure projects.  The CRC is a particularly complex case, involving DOTs, MPOs, transit authorities, counties, and cities from two states and not just one.  Given that the project crosses a navigable waterway, is in close proximity to two airports, and even lies adjacent to a national park facility (Fort Vancouver); there are numerous Federal agencies involved as well, including several beyond the usual suspects.  There are many different players, all with different goals for the project, all playing hardball, and no supervising organization with the capability (or the authority) to solve the political conflicts necessary to generate reasonable requirements that are acceptable.   (Kind of reminds me of healthcare reform, actually).  Right now, many of the parties are perfectly happy to not cooperate, and to threaten to block any proposal which doesn't meet their specific needs.  (An ODOT official was actually quoted stating that Portland wouldn't be permitted to expand light rail across the Columbia unless as part of a larger highway project; and of course many in Portland hold the same attitude in reverse towards freeway expansion).

    Whether this circle can be successfully squared remains to be seen.  The good news is that the DOTs are starting to get the message, so there's hope that a reasonable design can be produced.  OTOH, even if the DOTs let the two cities and their respective MPOs take the lead, there's bound to be friction given the apparent clash in values.

    [Edited for correction as noted in comments]