|Detailed route map of 15-Belmont/NW 23rd, prior to service cut. Courtesy of TriMet.|
By now, Portland readers have probably heard quite a bit about the controversy surrounding TriMet's sudden decision to eliminate the NW Thurman branch of the 15-Belmont/NW 23rd line, due to stated safety concerns. Residents along the affected stretch of Thurman are understandably upset about no more bus service (for some, the cancellation means a 3/4 mile hike to the nearest bus); and some have suggested that this is little more than a PR move, not a legit safety issue--as busses have been running this route for a long time without any major incidents.
I have serious questions about the lack of notice given to the public--it wasn't cool. If this was done on advice of TriMet counsel, they should definitively say so. (On the other hand, I wondered over at portlandtransport.com if this might be a stealth service cut designed to save money; as TriMet appears to be simply routing all 15s on the Montgomery Park branch instead, it appears this is not the case--service hours are not being reduced). TriMet appears to have gotten the message, and has announced plans to re-open the line starting Monday. (If it isn't obvious, this post has been in the works for a few days...)
But this post isn't about the Terrible Thurman Truncation of '10. It's about a possible solution to this problem, and to other problems, such as discussed in this post.
A possible solution: A "micro-route"
Over in the same portlandtransport.com thread, I made the following suggestion:
The details of the proposal don't matter much here--the 18th/19th routing and the PGE Park connection are features designed to provide service on a currently un-served street, and a connection to MAX; on further reflection a route down Everett/Glisan to Union Station might work better, simply because that routing provides a place where busses and drivers can take breaks. (There's no room around PGE Park to park a bus for a spell).
My proposal would be to create a new line, which starts at PGE Park (where one can transfer to MAX or one of several other bus lines), takes 18th/19th to Thurman, and then heads up into the hills to the turnaround. And operate it with the paratransit vehicles. This line would be a short enough line that you don't need a full 40' bus, and the smaller vehicles, I would think, would alleviate the safety concerns. And add service to 18th/19th.
|30' busses (courtesy Wikipedia)|
Hence the micro-route,
What is a micro-route?
A micro-route is a route which is shorter than standard routes. Micro-routes will often have the following attributes:
- Short overall length, with a round trip time of an hour or less (and often a fraction of an hour). A practical limit on standard bus service is no more than two hours or so from one end of the line to the other, with layovers at either end. With longer routes, reliability suffers, and you start running interfering with the driver's breaks. One-hour-each-way routes with a branch or loop (or both) at one end, such as the 15, are also common--the 15 lays over at Gateway TC but not at Montgomery Park. With a micro-route, on the other hand, the route is run multiple times between breaks. A bus running a Thurman/Union Station route could probably run the entire route 4-5 times in a two-hour span.
- Difficult geography which makes the use of full-size busses impractical. This can be narrow roads, steep hills, tight turns--or politically-powerful NIMBYs terrified that a 40' bus rolling past their driveway is going to bring about Armageddon. (Don't laugh).
- Connection to a transit center, both to provide a layover point, and due to attribute 1, it is expected that many riders of the micro-route will transfer. Scratch that--it is expected that most of the micro-route riders will transfer; many micro-routes function as de-facto shuttle services.
- A reasonably predictable and continuous load pattern, so that passenger capacity isn't an issue (or if it is, can be dealt with by modest increases in frequency). This is especially important for minibuses, which may not be configured to permit standing room.
|Green public light bus (Wikipedia)|
Hong Kong is an example of a city where such arrangements are commonplace. In Hong Kong, in addition to the regular bus service, one encounters minibusses known as public light busses. These busses come in two colors, green and red. The red public light busses operate like jitneys or share taxis, and aren't relevant to this post, but the green ones operate fixed schedules just like regular bus service, simply with smaller vehicles. Hong Kong bus operators also operate some of the "franchised" (full service) lines with two different vehicle sizes, with double-decker busses serving the busier routes, and 40' single-level busses serving he smaller and shorter ones.
In both cases, these smaller types of busses serve generally short routes, connecting (for example) a transit center or marketplace (these things generally come together) with a housing estate (a common term for a large apartment building or other residential complex) or a small village communtity, both of which are abundant in the rural parts of the region. The service that they often run is shuttle-like in nature, in that there are two distinct clusters of stops (often a single stop) on either end of the route, without much in between. The primary franchised bus lines generally serve provide bidirectional service along a linear corridor, just like the vast majority of the bus lines in Portland do.
Where might such service work?
Besides Thurman, where the motivating factor is a geographical limitation, where else might similar types of service work in the Portland area?
- Office park circulators. One big issue with suburban office parks is that they are difficult to serve with traditional transit service. They are often spread out over a large area, have tons of parking lots, and may contain streets that are difficult for large busses to maneuver on--and serving them adequately with mainline bus service often requires deviations which are annoying to the bulk of the riders, and inefficient to the agency. The Cornell Oaks subdivision mentioned in this post (currently served by the 67 but not for long) is an extreme example of this, but many other examples abound. Certain runs of the 43-Taylors Ferry, which nominally runs from downtown to Washington Square, venture west of the Square to run around the various industrial parks along SW Nimbus Avenue in south Beaverton, in a circulatory fashion. This little jaunt has nothing to do with the primary corridor served by the line. So, given that--why not disconnect it from the 47 and instead run a circulator service from the mall to the various office parks strip malls, and other commercial centers immediately surrounding it? In addition to the high-tech businesses on Nimbus, it could also serve the strip malls and big-boxes on Cascade Avenue, the Tigard Medical Mall and Lincoln Center on Greenburg, and even venture over to the Tigard Triangle to hit Costco, Freddies, and the like. (Many of these retail outlets employ low-wage workers who would benefit more from improved transit than would high-tech office workers along Nimbus).
- Shuttle service. Many shuttle service connecting transit corridors with off-corridor destinations already exist, albeit provided by folks other than TriMet. The shuttle from PCC-Sylvania to Barbur TC is one example--you can take the 44, but the shuttle provides additional frequency. (You have to be affiliated with PCC to use it, however). But there are other examples of major destinations with inadequate transit service. Meridian Park Hospital, for instance, is a major full-service hospital surrounded by the usual assortment of clinics, doctors offices, and other ancillary medical services--but other than two 76s per hour, doesn't get any transit service. Kaiser Sunnyside Hospital is in a similar situation--although the Green Line terminates a short distance away, the pedestrian exprience in the area is unpleasant, and the nearby bus services (155, 156, and 157) are all astonishingly infrequent. Most other major Portland hospitals (OHSU, Emanuel, Good Sam, St. Vincent, Adventist) have one or more frequent service lines passing by the front door.
- Other geographically difficult areas. Portland is perhaps fortunate, compared to cities such as San Francisco and Seattle, in that early city planners didn't ignore topography when creating the street grid--Portland has no local equivalent to Lombard Street in SF or Broad Street in Seattle. As a result, most of the area is reachable by bus, and the areas which aren't are in many cases not sufficiently inhabited to merit bus service. But there are a few places which come in mind. Were the Lake Oswego Streetcar project to be built, a line connecting it (in Riverdale) to Lewis and Clark College might be useful; but the most direct route up the hill is bus-unfriendly.
I probably should add that the suggestions made above, are made as examples as much as anything--whether or not these would be productive lines (or be of sufficient importance to be funded in a limited-funding environment) is questionable. TriMet has, I'm sure, considered many of these ideas. Certainly, I wouldn't advocate cancelling any existing services in order to provide these. But in the future, if gas were to become expensive and transit to become a first option for more resident, many of these routes might make sense.