By Don MacGillivray

The Rose Lane Project is an innovative way to improve bus and streetcar service in Portland.

Adopted by City Council in February, it will create a network of priority transit lanes, signal improvements and a variety of other tools to make commuting by bus faster and more reliable for the 100,000 people that use over 45 bus lines.

These small-scale improvements will be quickly implemented over the next few years. The projects include: 1) painting and signage to allow buses to get ahead of traffic, 2) platforms at transit stops so buses are able to stop in travel lanes and 3) adding short left-turn lanes at intersections so buses won’t be delayed by drivers.

Public transit is an equitable, sustainable and efficient way to move people in cities. With the growth of the City of Portland, there is an increasing need to move people and goods more efficiently within the existing street grid.

Delays experienced by the growing population of bus and streetcar riders now amounts to 4,700 hours every day. This Project prioritizes these transit systems to improve speed and reliability.

Last fall over 20,000 people reviewed the Rose Lane Project and about 2,000 provided their comments. About two thirds identified themselves as transit riders and the others as users of other transportation options.

Those that used transit as their primary mode of transportation thought the Project changes would be improvements. Those that rarely used transit were concerned about how these changes would impact their auto, bicycle and sidewalk use on these streets.

When asked about the locations of improvements, downtown locations received the greatest response. Other major streets in inner neighborhoods of central Portland were also suggested.

People that rode transit agreed that improving travel time, frequency and reliability were the most important ways to upgrade transit. Those that did not use transit said they did not use it because travel times were too long and that transit did not serve their desired destinations.

Many North American cities have found that transit ridership and performance are increased by similar projects. Excessive traffic congestion leads to transit unreliability with delays and longer travel times which cause missed transfers and late arrivals. Transit that is not efficient and dependable reduces ridership.

Portland’s transit system must improve to attract more drivers from their cars and onto buses. The goal is to increase public transit trips by 25 percent within the next 15 years and the Rose Lane Project is a major step in this direction.

At the end of last year, pilot projects were installed on three streets in Central Portland. These were on: SW Madison, NW Everett and along the Burnside Bridge. The improvements have reduced transit delays by allowing buses to travel faster and more reliably through downtown toward their destinations.

Phase 1 of the Rose Lane Project consists of 29 street improvements implemented over the next two years.

Each improvement will be tested, monitored and refined over the first few months of deployment, after which adjustments will be made to improve their performance.

The development of Phase 2 projects are underway along other corridors throughout the city. The plans include the project scope, cost and pilot projects and results will be reviewed by city leaders. Implementation will begin after the completion of Phase 1. Public education and awareness programs will inform riders of the changes and advantages to the transit services provided by TriMet.

Transportation emissions have risen in recent years as driving rates have increased. They now contribute 42 percent of the local greenhouse gas emissions that come primarily from automobile exhaust.

To reverse this trend, Portland’s daily drive-alone trips must be reduced by 25,000 each year. The Rose Lane Project is in response to the American Cities Climate Challenge that seeks to reduce carbon emissions in 25 of the largest cities in America.

A significant benefit of the Project will be to improve the mobility of low-income commuters and people of color. The travel time for African American commuters is 20 percent greater than for all other commuters.

Delays and unreliable service caused by traffic congestion disproportionately impacts many disadvantaged riders because of their dependence on transit as a primary means of long-distance transportation. Rose Lane will significantly help riders to reach their destinations on schedule.

According to the National Transit Database, the Greater Seattle area is the leader in the growth of transit ridership. Seattle offers frequent and reliable bus and light rail travel options for commuting to and from downtown.

In 2017, their record was 122.2 million riders that made 191.7 million trips. Of Seattle’s downtown morning commuters 75 percent utilize buses, trains, vanpools, bikes, walking or telecommuting while only 25 percent drive alone in their automobiles. Additionally, King County has 1,600 active Metro vanpools and vanshares carrying 11,000 registered riders annually.

The Rose Lane Project Report is available on the PDOT website at portlandoregon.gov/transportation/80076                                 

Photo by Don MacGillivray of the intersection of SW Main St. and SW 1st Ave.