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R A Fontes
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We could argue timetable or desirability all day and not come to an agreement. So let's consider just a level four world. If it's dominated by personally owned autonomous vehicles (AV's), unshared beyond the household unit, then we could very well find ourselves with a massive increase in VMT and even more growth in VHT as up to half of all vehicle trips could be deadheading between missions. We would then have to work even harder to make sure that public transit were attractive and available to take up part of the load. Alternatively, if the Earth Institute's "Transforming Personal Mobility" is anywhere close to being on target and shared AV's at an unsubsidized total cost-per-mile of 41 cents or less were a smartphone swipe and less than a minute or two away, then it's over for transit as we know it. Transit could still be an effective tool during commute hours, as circulators in congested areas, or in certain specialized situations. The centuries-old model of fixed-route, fixed-schedule, fixed-price transit just isn't where it's at.
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Yes, Portland "directly subsidizes half of the operations of the Portland Streetcar", but that is supposed to be temporary. Its latest agreement with TriMet calls for the transit district to pay 85% of all operational costs after fares and promotions once TriMet gets its own financial mess in order. The agreement also permits TriMet to veto any proposed streetcar expansion. Through the last fiscal year, streetcar farebox recovery was only about 3% because of ultra-low fares and the "Free Rail Zone (FRZ)". The system was actually making twice as much from advertising and promotions. Operational farebox recovery on TriMet services averaged 40%. The FRZ is gone - affecting both streetcar and TriMet's own light rail - but streetcar continues its fire-sale fare policy. Just last year it made a deal with Portland State University to give all of its staff and student I.D. holders unlimited rides for what amounts to less than $2.25 each. Is TriMet really going to pay 85% of streetcar subsidies without requiring either that streetcar riders pay their fair share or that Portland to make up the difference?
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Maybe one way to envision an evolutionary path towards a robocar future would be to look at some developments in the automobile's past: 1. electric starters 2. automatic transmissions 3. automatic chokes 4. anti-lock braking systems 5. electronic stability control 6. cruise control 7. adaptive cruise control 8. lane departure warning 9. self-parking technology 10. GPS 11. signalized intersections None of these were developed specifically as an evolutionary step towards robocars, but their general concepts fit in to various computer controlled transportation scenarios. On narrower lanes: While standard lanes are 12 feet, Oregon's Department of Transportation does have provisions for 11' and even 10' lanes. Robocars' ability safely to use narrower lanes comes from precise computer control more than vehicle size. Trucks and emergency vehicles will continue to need at least 9' lanes. One likely source for additional lanes is the elimination of a lot of on-street parking. On driverless transit: Yes, transit operators should be among the first to adopt robotic technologies and costs will drop. However, once robotic "Zipcars" and autonomous taxis are ubiquitous and competing directly with public transit, taxpayers will wonder if further subsidies are justified. Car2Go offers trips at $.35 per minute. A robo-SmartCar would undercut transit for a trip from the supermarket for one passenger, and be a lot more convenient. Imagine a robo-Prius offering a trip for up to five people for that kind of price.
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The Lake Oswego streetcar extension is not a done deal. Three years ago, all seven Lake Oswego City Council members were project supporters; now there are just four. Opponents have high hopes in winning a majority in the November 2012 election. The main issues for Lake Oswegans concern local costs and difficulty of integrating the proposed high density development, particularly regarding traffic. There are real concerns all along Highway 43 about the degradation of transit service that streetcar would bring. It would be slower, less convenient, and more costly to operate than bus, and some riders between Lake Oswego and Portland would lose service entirely. Clackamas County is a member of the intergovernmental consortium which owns the right-of-way. In its draft resolution supporting the project and on behalf of concerns raised by West Linn, the County requires that corridor bus service be maintained and expanded. The reality that we need bus service if we want decent corridor transit, whether or not we have streetcar, belies a fundamental project claim. Foothills development proponents are also backing away - at least to a degree - from the claim that streetcar is a necessity for its project. The party line is now that while streetcar would be more attractive to developers, viable development would still be possible without it, but possibly at a smaller scale.
Perhaps the most significant misunderstanding about this project is that "no transit improvement at all", as Mr. Libby characterizes it above, is an option. It is not. The FTA's official label "no-build" actually refers to no-build beyond budgetary constraints. In other words, what local jurisdictions would do on their own without extra feeding time at the federal trough. In this case, Metro's Regional Transportation Plan and TriMet's Transit Improvement Plan include the provision to bring the route 35 bus up to the Frequent Service standard. Metro project number 10940 allocates $3.6 million 2007 dollars for the capital expenditures necessary to provide 605 more service hours each week, more than doubling the route's capacity. Besides 15 minute headway, Frequent Service includes bus stop improvements, signal prioritization, and surgical stop consolidation. It significantly shorten bus trip times, particularly outside of peak. While streetcar and the pathetic official proposal for "enhanced bus" would take access away from current riders while adding costs and increasing total trip times, only no-build improves service for each and every rider without exception. Portland Streetcar Executive Director Rick Gustafson pointed out at the recent Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce project debate that streetcar is not a tool for eliminating traffic congestion but one for development. He specifically acknowledged that streetcar added 14,000 cars to Portland streets. The proposed Foothills development which proponents say is fostered by streetcar will definitely add thousands of motor vehicles to Highway 43 in Lake Oswego, bringing its traffic volumes up to those of Canyon Road in Beaverton and 99W in Tigard. No thank you.
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Apr 14, 2011