In the news

… and I’m using “news” in the loosest sense of the word, as it’s part news, part other stuff found online. In no particular order:

Are light rail riders more fit?

From PortlandAfoot, this article makes some interesting claims, such as stating that light rail riders are 81% less likely to become obese. Digging a little deeper into the article, a few things caught my eye. The authors of the study interviewed people at two timepoints – from July 06 through February 07, and then later between March 08 and July 08 after a light rail system was  constructed in Charlotte, NC, and took a number of self-report measures including BMI. The study seems to be based on the idea that people who walk from home to a public transit station and then from their arrival station to work are, by default, getting more activity than people who drive door-to-door in their private vehicles. This makes sense, but I also noticed that they drew comparisons between the 26 people in their sample who commuted daily on the trains and the 275 people who did not. They weighted the samples to account for the difference in the size between these two groups of people, but I’d be curious to see a more balanced study with equal numbers of riding and non-riding participants – that 81% less obese statistic seems rather inflated. No pun intended.

Orange Line Artists

The Oregonian reports on the five artists selected by TriMet to create four public art installations on the Milwaukie Line for a quarter million dollars apiece.

Giant belgian endive created by one of the selected artists for another project

There were a lot of negative reactions from the public, generally stemming from the fact that none of the five artists are local – rather disheartening after many claims from TriMet about how the Milwaukie Line would create jobs, letting us work under the assumption that that meant jobs for people in the area, not a million dollars going out-of-state. TriMet Public Art Coordinator Michelle Traver stated that because the Milwaukie Line is funded by federal money, they could not limit the selection of artists to the Portland area. Frequent Oregonian commenter SP Red Electric (who also comments here) questioned that, pointing out that TriMet did not buy buses with the federal stimulus money received in 2009, and justified that by saying that the buses were not made locally and wouldn’t benefit the local economy by putting Oregonians to work. So why is the federal art money different?

This is a fair question. I checked to see if it was addressed anywhere, and I found where Caroline Young, Executive Director of Communications at TriMet, told Portland Afoot that TriMet decided to spend the federal stimulus money on local construction projects to create jobs for Oregonians, rather than buying buses that would create jobs for people in Minnesota (where New Flyer is located). So far it doesn’t appear that SP Red Electric has received a response to his question about spending priorities or requirements for use of federal money, but I’m curious about this now myself.

And if we’re going to outsource the art at all, let’s let the Swedes have a go at it. Check out the amazing artwork in a Swedish subway system.

More Swedish subway art here.

Bus/MAX ridership levels

KPTV reports that “More People Riding MAX; Fewer Taking Bus“. This is not, technically speaking, correct. Directly from TriMet’s performance dashboard:

Boardings on MAX & Bus

There are easily more boardings on bus than MAX, though MAX ridership has increased slightly from this time last year, whereas bus has decreased slightly from this time last year. Considering the multiple cuts to bus service, as well as the free ride area in downtown Portland being changed to free rides on rail only, this is not surprising – less service offered on bus and increased service offered on MAX means ridership patterns are going to match.

And while we’re on the subject of TriMet’s dashboard, I need to say how much I dislike this “graph”:

Cost per boarding ride – but it’s really two charts, not just one

These graphs should not be stacked – it’s deceptive. Glancing at this, it looks like WES costs about twice as much per operating ride as bus, but look at the vertical axis on the graphs. On the bus/MAX graph, the range in dollars from the bottom to the top is $4 – the same distance covers $30 on the top graph, so you can’t accurately draw comparisons between the two to get an idea of the relative costs of each mode of transportation. If we really wanted to compare these, they’d all go on one graph with an evenly spaced vertical axis.. kind of like this:

I threw this together making guesses at what the boarding costs were in each month – the shape of each is roughly the same as the charts provided by TriMet, even if the values aren’t exact. But it shows more clearly the differences in operating costs of each mode – nearly negligible between bus & MAX, but a huge gap between those and WES.

US News says Portland is best city in US for public transit

US News recently came up with their list of the top 10 cities in the US for public transit, with Portland at the top of the list. Hat tip to Al M for two very interesting points about this.

1. It doesn’t say TriMet is the best transit system, it says the city of Portland has the best transit system. This is a subtle, yet important difference. The service in downtown Portland is amazing – four light rail lines intersect bringing riders to Gresham, Hillsboro, the Expo Center, PDX Airport, and Clackamas, more than 20 bus lines service the area, and the streetcar runs through there. If all you need is to get from one part of downtown to another, it’s generally easier to do on TriMet than it would be to drive your own car. But leave Portland and go to the west side, or Gresham, or Boring, and the quality and frequency of service drops sharply. So to that extent, yes, the recognition of the excellent service in Portland is fair.

2. The rankings take into account per capita spending on public transportation, number of safety incidents per million trips, and the number of trips taken per capita. I really like that this is part of the criteria for the rankings. Yes, there have been individual bad drivers at TriMet (and they’re the ones that get the media coverage, like the Kindle driver), but on the whole the operators and system are very safe.

This video showing a day of TriMet service (very similar to another simulation I’d written about last year) has been making the rounds online recently. Consider that there are this many moving TriMet vehicles every single day, yet incidents involving a collision, though devastating, are extremely rare. I think that’s extremely impressive, and good press for us.

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One response to “In the news

  1. Some of those pictures are from the Tbana subway route in Sweeden which operates the Bombardier C20 train which is the route and train that gave me the idea to build my own MAX simulator because the interior of the cab and passenger compartment look similar to those of MAX.

    Check it out if you get a chance!

    Matt

    PS I’ll email you an update on my route soon! :)

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