Written Comments for the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP)

This comment pertains only to the Transit Service Strategy. I propose that an additional project be undertaken within the timeframe of the RTP. I assume that this project could be funded by a grant. I know of no American city that has undergone a wholesale re-design of its transit routes.

I believe that 2040 is a great plan, and that it deserves a great transit plan to go with it. A transit plan with more reach. The same cognition that brought us to the regional and town center concepts brings me to community centers.

A map at your RTP hearing showed community bus routes as largish arrows going outward from selected places as an indication of a commitment to identify and introduce community bus routes over time. (Great!) To me, however, these buses would not just be going out into the "the community" (some amorphous entity) but would be passing through at least one community center on their loop from the regional or town center. To me, a community center is something like the business district at the intersection of Terwilliger and Taylor's Ferry. A dense portion of any Main Street could be a community center, and so on.

If you can accept the concept of a community center, I claim that we should be able to build a transit system based on regional, town, and community centers. The TRIMET 1998-2003 Strategic Plan includes the caption The region's transit map will increasingly look like an airline's map of America, with many hubs. The body of the plan admits that there needs to be very different transit patterns.

I therefore propose a project to design a whole transit system map starting from nearly scratch. The goal of this project would be to develop a system map so strikingly familiar that most anyone's response to it would be I could get around in that system.

The project would start by developing a mathematical model with the usual inputs such as the regional roadway network (neighborhood collectors and larger), rail stations, transit stations, bus stops; various kinds of travel data such as workers commute to jobs, students to schools, errand, shopping; et cetera. The model would generate optimal transit basins (a tree structure) but would also include connecting routes to adjacent communities and towns from each community, town, and regional center. Optimality would be determined by minimizing some results, such as travel time, while maximizing other results such as coverage area. Perhaps some research group has already developed such a model.

One of the sets of parameters for the model would be an inventory of resources available to operate the transit system -- drivers, buses of all kinds, max trains, and so on. If constrained to existing resources, the result would be a corresponding finite system coverage (i.e. depth or reach into the community). Countering that would be projected ridership to help pay for it. Subsystems could be operated and supplemented by local service districts, perhaps an obstacle present in the the current operational guidelines.

With the stability of regional and town centers, the upper levels of the system structure would not change overnight, while community centers could be added easily. Capacity should be able to be added or reduced (reallocated) as needed. The system would be scalable, so that links could be upgraded to the next level of service. The new system would start operation within existing resources and would reward those in areas where use is high as part of the system feedback. This is common transit planner practice.

People must also be a part of this process. First approximations of a Portland metro area system transit map would be reviewed by planners and refined by exploring various What if's, by upgrading, downgrading, and/or adding hypothetical new links. For example, consider a restricted one-lane alternating link used by a shuttle operating at 5 minute intervals.

Then the map would be shown to an advisory committee. (You'd have people begging to be on that committee). Iterate the model if needed. Then show the map in a series of open houses. Iterate. You need to have input from people throughout the region because people can tell you immediately if it will work for them, and what to do to improve it.

The public would of course have to understand that this would be an experiment, and that the map might change radically between iterations. But I think that the public would understand just from looking at such a map that there are underlying principles at work. If a given system has overall integrity, it would be hard to criticize the fact that for some riders a particular trip downtown might take three minutes longer (whatever) when in fact they might also be able to go quite number of other places practically unreachable under the current system.

I have hardly hinted at the many ways such a system would be different from the current set of legacy routes, but I must close now.

Some may reject this project based on the perception that adding a new transit link is not to be considered at this time. If the introduction of a link such as example above would make the overall system perform where needed, it should not be overlooked in a 20 year plan because of some broad current state legislation or city guideline.

Many of you will reject this project because (while not described explicitly above) it depends on transfers for moving people around the region. I can only say then that all attempts at configuring a system to serve more than just corridors will fail without the intelligent, planned used of transfers. It is no wonder that users feel transfers are to be avoided in the current system. Going from one point to another within the current system, there is no consistency in dwell times between possible transfers. Minimum transfer times cannot be programmed into a system where that has not been a design parameter.

The real truth is that people don't mind transfers so much if they are safe and comfortable. To that I would add predictable, i.e. the dwell time is known, or if there is going to be a delay in boarding time (either in originating or transferring) the length of the delay can be known. This can be accomplished via the judicious use of information technology. (Remember this is a 20-40 year plan). I most likely would not mind if my connection was going to be 15 minutes late -- if I knew that, and did not have to wait at the stop -- I could go have a beer or latte with that time. At least I would not be chained to the stop. There are all kinds of things people could do with that information.

All people need to be encouraged to use transit. The TRIMET system, and the few things I see in the current RTP are going to attract the public marginally at best, in my opinion.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment, and for your time. I would appreciate any thoughts you may have.

John Miller, Portland, Oregon
john at timehaven.us

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