By Don MacGillivray
In a few years SE Powell Blvd and Division St. will soon be the region’s first high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route between Portland and Gresham. The goal is to design a new 15 mile transit line in 2015, begin construction in 2018, to be completed within two years.
The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project grew out of the High-Capacity Transit System Plan approved by Metro Council in 2009. It will connect a southern route with businesses, educational institutions and many residential homes in a diverse and growing area. Bus Rapid Transit is working in 160 cities around the world and in the United States.
Better transit is a major need of many of Portland’s commercial and road corridors. An additional east/west transit link through east Portland has been discussed for many years. Division to the east of 82nd is the optimum corridor for increased service, but Division west of 82nd has only two lanes and less physical space for BRT.
It is critical to provide a service that is fast, frequent, reliable, attractive, comfortable, easy to use, and less expensive than the typical bus, light-rail, or trolley line. It will not require rails or wires, only a dedicated bus lane to be taken from one that already exists. The details of the design are yet to be determined.
The project is being fast-tracked because planners need to coordinate with other transportation plans in Portland and Gresham so opportunities aren’t missed.
The #9 bus line that serves Powell Blvd. has a respectable daily ridership of 10,000 riders per day (2012 data) while the #4 bus line that serves Division St. surpasses that of the #9 line with an average of 17,000 riders (2012 data) per day. The number 4 line is so well-used that it rivals that of the MAX Yellow Line.
BRT is intended to address many traffic issues of this corridor while helping encourage new development and increase transit use.
Currently during times of high street usage, the current buses lose time. Over half of their time is spent by idling in traffic, waiting for people to get on and off the bus, and waiting at signals. Actual driving is only about a third of the total travel time.
The design of the BRT system would give more roadway space to the buses, improved stations, and priority at traffic signals to make it more efficient.
The line is expected to run along Division St. from Gresham to SE 82nd Ave., where it will turn south and go on to Powell Blvd. to continue on downtown.
Stations may be located in the centers first identified by Metro in 1995 in its 2040 Growth Concept. Improvements will be made where congestion can be alleviated.
Along or near the route are: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Fred Meyer headquarters, Mt. Hood Community College, Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center, the Vista Business Center, three Multnomah County health centers, and Cleveland, Centennial, and Gresham high schools. The route will include sidewalk and bicycle improvements.
Metro recently awarded Portland and Gresham a joint grant to work together on a concept plan for the corridor.
Portland is also looking at possible land-use changes in the corridor as part of its ongoing state-required comprehensive land-use plan update.
The Powell-Division Bus Rapid Transit line is being developed by Metro, Portland’s elected regional government.
The steering committee will be co-chaired by Metro Councilors Bob Stacey and Shirley Craddick with twenty other community leaders from various participating community organizations.
Brian Monberg, is Metro’s principal regional planner in-charge of the project.
Metro will receive public comments and additional technical information throughout the year. A series of workshops will be held by Metro in beginning in February with a steering committee being formed in March to help the transportation designers with their work.
The politics and discussion of the new Bus Rapid Transit line will continue through 2015 and hopefully the outcome will be to the liking of everyone.