Monday, August 29, 2011

Introducing new blog series "The Portland Transit Authority"

Blog Note:
While TCC is a Washington non-profit that works to increase transportation choices for people across the state, we also recognize that we do not live on an island. The impacts of transportation and land-use policy decisions do not end at arbitrary political lines. We cannot advocate for high-speed rail if it doesn't extend into Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR. It is impossible to talk about growth and traffic in Spokane unless you acknowledge a lot of people commute from Idaho to Eastern Washington. In this vein, we are starting a new series on the blog looking specifically at transit issues in Portland titled "Portland Transit Authority". The author is Zef Wagner, a former Seattleite and TCC intern who is living in Portland studying urban and transit planning. His blog series (which we will generally post every other Monday ) will get past the broad statements that transit in Portland is perfect and will dive into transit issues in the Rose City with a level of nerdyness that many of you will enjoy and hopefully with enough explanation that the average reader can understand. So regardless of where you live, we encourage you to join us as every couple of weeks we put our soccer rivalries aside to explore the world of Portland's public transit. Thank you Zef for contributing to the blog and I hope you all enjoy!

We all know Portland has an amazing public transit system, right?:

"US News ranks Portland No. 1 for public transit"
--The Oregonian

"Portland is widely considered one of the nation’s leaders in public transit."
--US News and World Report

"Portland’s transit system is held up nationally as a model network, as it should be."
--Wired Magazine

These breathless exclamations of Portland's transit excellence are commonplace, but many dispute this rosy image:

"Was that u.s. news 10-best transit cities list based on anything?"
--Human Transit

"Bus service hours fell 13.3 percent from October 2008 to October 2010."
--Portland Afoot

"These cuts result in a heavier burden on the growing number of people who depend on public transportation."

"Many TriMet riders have seen their service degrade over the years, despite billions of dollars being spent on new investments."
--Portland Transport

So who is right? Let's take a look.

Portland certainly does have an impressive rail system, with over 50 miles of light rail, a downtown streetcar line, and a commuter rail line carrying people all over the 3-county region. Portland's 11.5% transit mode share, meanwhile, is quite high compared to most other cities of similar size (though notably far below Seattle's 19.5%). TriMet, the sole transit agency for the region, has invested billions of dollars in rail expansion over the last 25 years and has recently started construction on yet another new light rail line. A major streetcar extension is also under construction, with another in the early planning stages.

This flurry of rail expansion contrasts with a series of major bus service cuts over the last several years. Like most public transit agencies, TriMet has seen a decline in projected revenue due to the recession and has cut service accordingly. Both bus and light rail have seen major cuts in frequency, reducing the value of Portland's normally excellent grid-based network, which relies on easy connections between transit lines to function as designed. The cuts have also forced TriMet to redefine their lauded Frequent Service network from its previous level of "every 15 minutes, all day, every day" to "every 15 minutes during morning and afternoon rush hours on weekdays." That's a major shift from a network designed for people using transit for all kinds of trips to one designed mainly for downtown commuters.

The latest blow came late last year when voters rejected a $125 million bond measure meant to replace much of TriMet's aging bus fleet and improve bus stops throughout the region. This rejection may be a sign that TriMet is in the grips of the infamous "transit death spiral," in which service cuts lead to reduced public support of transit, which in turn leads to lack of funding and further service cuts.

Since my recent move from Seattle to Portland I have been fascinated by the contrast between this city's outsized transit reputation and the reality of the actual transit system. Portland is a transit leader in many ways, with its willingness to make major capital investments in both long-distance light-rail and local-circulator streetcar, but like many cities it has been plagued by a lack of operations funding and a loss of public trust.

My goal with this series will be to explore the reality of public transit in Portland and highlight major transit-related projects and issues that Portland is wrestling with during these difficult economic times.

Buses in need of replacement are a huge part of Trimet's system. Picture Courtesy of

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tacoma Tomorrow: Suburbs Have not Supported Transit in Over 10 Years

Chris Karnes over at Tacoma Tomorrow is diving into a series of posts about past election results for transit in Pierce County and what the agency needs to do in order to be successful going forward.

In his most recent post Chris looks at Pierce Transit election results between 2002 and more recent transit elections (2007, 2008, 2011).

The data is conclusive, Pierce County voters have not changed in the last 10 years: Tacoma, Lakewood, and Downtown Gig Harbor and Puyallup continue to to say yes to to transit, while voters in the suburbs and exurbs continue to say no.

Results from Pierce Transit Prop 1 - February 2002
Pierce Transit Prop 1, Feb 2011.  Red = Failed Transit votes in 2007, 2008, 2011.
Chris goes on to point out what has changed:

In the last ten years Pierce County's unincorporated population has mushroomed.  In South Hill, the population increased 65.8%.  Tacoma's growth rate hasn't kept pace, only increasing a paltry 2.5%.  So generally speaking, that's a lot more no votes than Tacoma's urban pro-transit voters can handle.

If voters in the suburbs say get rid of transit funding in 1999 and then reject additional transit funding in 2002, say no again in 2007, no in 2008, and no in 2011, why should we expect a yes under any circumstances?

The whole thing is well worth a read.  While you are there, make sure to read his earlier post on the 163 transit hostile districts in Pierce County and the need for Pierce Transit to shrink its service and taxing area to be successful in the future.

To add my own two cents, we cannot stay in a world where the urbanized, high-transit use areas of Pierce County have sub-par transit service due to a lack of political will to pay for transit in the exurban and rural areas of the county.  In the last 3 years Pierce Transit has cut around 43% of their transit service, which is unacceptable in the short and long-term.  Buses stop running at 10pm and high ridership routes like the Route 1 are often overcapacity and delayed (I know this from experience and Piece Transit's data backs this up).

We need great bus service in Pierce County to keep people moving and get our economy back on track.  In order to restore bus service Pierce Transit needs to get the rest of its sales tax authority.  In order for this to happen they need to cut out the low ridership, high service cost, transit hostile parts of the county.  To be clear, a new and improved smaller Pierce Transit would not be "Tacoma Transit" as some have claimed.  The Pierce Transit of the future could provide great bus service to places where transit is cost-effective and works (i.e. Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup, Sumner, South Hill, Gig Harbor, Dupont, Parkland, Spanaway, and Fife) and at the same time only impose taxes on communities that receive bus service; a win-win scenario for transit supporters and anti-tax exurbanites alike!

Monday, August 22, 2011

520 Bridge Will Be Closed This Weekend

This Friday night the 26th at 11pm, 520 will close from 405 to Montlake until the following Monday morning, the 29th, at 5am. Expect delays and congestion in surrounding areas.

More info at

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Join TCC & our Clark County Partners for a Kick Off to Preserve Buses Next Tuesday!

One of our top priorities over the past few years at Transportation Choices has been and continues to be saving bus service across Washington State.  The transit funding crisis is hitting almost every single transit agency in Washington State as well as across the country.

Thankfully C-tran in Clark County has one of the lowest sales tax rates in the state for medium and large sized system and still has sales tax authority left.  For a .2% sales tax increase (2 pennies on a 10 dollar purchase) Clark County voters will have an opportunity to stop drastic 35% cuts to their communities' bus service.  

TCC is a proud endorser of the campaign and we've been helping the campaign, Preserve Our Buses, all summer.  Next Tuesday at 5:30pm is the official campaign kick-off.  If you are based in Portland of Vancouver please consider joining us for this exciting event.  If you don't live in the area but care about saving bus service across Washington State you can donate to the cause by clicking HERE.

, August 23th, 5:30pm
The Atrium, 606 Broadway, Vancouver

Please CLICK HERE to RSVP. If you can’t join us consider donating to the campaign online. Every dollar you invest in this campaign will help us keep buses running on our streets.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

You Did It: Buses Saved in King County

Last night, the King County Council saved Metro!

The councilmembers who voted in favor of the congestion relief charge were Bob Ferguson, Larry Gossett, Jane Hague, Kathy Lambert, Joe McDermott, Julia Patterson, and Larry Phillips.

Councilmember Larry Phillips championed the cause to save metro by proposing the initial congestion reduction charge at the County Council. Thank you Larry Phillips, Executive Constantine, Joe McDermott, and the other five other councilmembers who voted in favor to save Metro buses. This was not an easy vote to take and we appreciate your leadership.

Send a thank you letter to the councilmembers.

We're in this situation because of out-dated state law that restricts local voters to only fund their transit service with the sales tax -- a funding source that is regressive, volatile, and declining.

Luckily the state legislature recognized this problem for King County Metro and gave the County Council a temporary stop-gap measure to adopt until the state comes up with a longterm, statewide solution.

The council has adopted the stop-gap measure, so let's take this time to celebrate and to thank our councilmembers.

Send your thank you letter now!

This wasn't possible without you. Together we signed and sent more than 15,000 petitions and letters. We made hundreds, maybe thousands, of calls into the councilmembers. And we stood in a two-block-long line for two hours in order to testify at a public hearing.

So, even more than a thank you to our councilmembers, this is a big thank you to you.

Together we saved our buses!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Breaking News: Deal Announced to Save King County Metro

You did it!
The King County Council heard your testimony, read your emails, and saw your petitions. Thanks to you and a broad coalition, a deal was announced today to save King County Metro! 

Councilmembers Hague and Lambert joined the five members of the County Council who already agreed to adopt the congestion relief charge. This gives us the votes we need to save metro for two years! For a full rundown of today's exciting announcement visit this Seattle Transit Blog post or read our live coverage of the event on twitter (@transpochoices)

Our work is not yet done!
An agreement has been made to pass the congestion relief charge next Monday, but we need to turn out transit supporters to that hearing to make sure the County Council takes the final vote to save metro. Please join us at Monday's hearing to see this exciting deal through!

The hearing is on Monday August 15th from 1:30-3:00pm at the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Ave. Join us on Monday in the final step to save King County Metro!

Thank you for all that you do!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rally this Saturday to Preserve Buses at the Clark County Fair

TCC is helping the preserve our buses campaign hold a rally this Saturday at the Clark County fair to build support to saving bus service.  If proposition one passes this November in Clark County all of the revenues will be use to save existing bus service, nothing else!

Currently for just $2 you can take the shuttle right to the entrance of the fair, save a dollar on admission, and another six dollars on parking.

However, if Proposition 1 fails, the shuttle along with lots of other C-TRAN services will be cut.  Please join TCC & the Preserve our Buses campaign for a rally:

Saturday, August 13th, 1pm
Clark Co Fair Grounds, NE entrance (Blue Gate)
17402 NE Delfel Road, Ridgefield, WA 98642

To RSVP please click here. For info on taking the shuttle to the fair click here. Together we can work together to preserve our buses in Clark County!

Is the Federal Gas Tax on its Way Out?

The infrastructurist reported earlier this week that the federal gas tax is set to expire in September.
Under normal circumstances Congress would reauthorize the gas tax so the federal government could continue to help states fix their crumbling bridges and highways.  But in this crazy time, you never know what Congress will do.

The federal gas tax is a primary source of funding for transportation for state and the federal government. Since 1993, Congress has not raised the gas tough enough to even keep up with inflation.  As a result, America’s roads and transit systems are falling into a state of disrepair. If the gas tax are about to expires states would have to make up for the loss by increasing their own gas tax in order to maintain their infastructure.

A scary scenario and the article is worth a quick read.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Council Report Shows Strong Support for CRC

Via Metro Matters:

A King County Council report indicates that almost 5,000 people have testified at hearings on the Congestion Relief Charge, with less than one percent opposing it. Along with 10,000 petition signatures, this is a huge outpouring of support.

The council will make a final vote this Monday, the 15th. They are no longer taking testimony, but the public is welcome is to attend.

Thanks to anyone who has attended a hearing, signed a petition, or called their councilmember!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Transportation as a Civil Rights Issue

Transportation is becoming one of the biggest issues in modern life. But how the funding is used to expand public transportation it’s a big concern for everyone but especially  for low-income workers and people of color.

Recent research shows that Americans make about 10.5 percent of all trips on foot, but only 1.5 percent of federal transportation funds are located to retrofitting roads with sidewalks and crosswalks, while 80 percent of federal funds go to highways.  Besides that, the cost of owning a car ($9,500 dollars per year) can eat up half the income of a family living in poverty. This wired article titled, “Transportation as a Civil Rights Issue” dives into the findings of the recent report on this topic done by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.  It is a must read.

Link to the report is here.

Seafair I-90 Bridge Closures

The I-90 bridge will be closed the next few days at the following times:

Today - 1:15pm-2:40pm
Friday - 12:45pm-2:40pm
Saturday - 12:45pm-2:40pm
Sunday - 12:45pm-2:40pm

Friday-Sunday there will be shuttles from the Othello station to the Hydro course.

Click here to see if your bus route is affected by Seafair.

More at Seattle Transit Blog.

Our Summer Happy Hour is Tomorrow at 4-6pm!

It is finally summer in the Puget Sound – or at least trying to be.

To celebrate the sporadic sun, instead of having our regular Friday Forum, we will be holding a Friday happy hour. Please join our members, supporters, & future members for this social event! It will be a great opportunity to bring together our friends, celebrate successes for the first half of the year, and catch up with all of you. Also, if you haven’t met our new Membership Manager, Carla Saulter (a.k.a. BusChick), you can do so on August 5th over a cocktail!

Last but not least, we will be announcing some exciting news at the event.

The event is free (though donations are always accepted), and TCC will buy appetizers, but you are on your own for drinks (unless you can get a friend or stranger to buy you one, of course).

WHAT: TCC August Happy Hour
WHEN: Friday August 4-6pm: drop by whenever you can
WHERE: The Triple Door Musicquarium Lounge 216 Union Street, Downtown Seattle

Please RSVP here so we know how many people to except!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Carla Saulter Featured in Family Transit Workshop this Saturday!

King County's get in motion campaign is hosting a family transit workshop with TCC employee and transit rockstar Carla Saulter (buschick) as the headliner. 

Don't miss this exciting education event!

Learn about what to carry, how to
know where the bus is going and
when it will arrive, how to keep
kids entertained, and more!

Details: This workshop will be a casual, kid-friendly discussion
group with healthy snacks provided. Free family Zoo passes (good
for 2 adults and 2 children) will be given to the first ten families
who arrive. All participants will receive a family transit guide to
take home.

When: Saturday, 8/6, 10:00 – 11:30 AM
Where: Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP)
722 18th Ave, Squire Park