It's easy to forget when the bus pulls up or the MAX doors slide open: These transit connections don't create themselves. They come from hard work.
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From a line on a planner's map to a service that connects real people, a transit project is touched by hundreds and even thousands of community members, planners, engineers and leaders who shape every piece of its route, design and operations.
This month, greater Portland’s next major transit investment passes a major milestone on its journey to becoming a reality that people use every day.
Metro has been leading the planning and engagement effort for the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project – creating a faster, more reliable bus between Portland and Gresham – for more than three years. Now, as has long been the practice, Metro will hand off major design, engineering and outreach work to TriMet, the agency that will one day build and operate what's now known as the Division Transit Project.
As the milestone passes, here are some numbers that define the project’s journey – and its potential.
See a map
See a map of the proposed Division Transit Project's potential route and station locations.
The Division Transit Project will provide improved bus service in place of the 4-Division when it opens in 2021.
The 4 is a workhorse of a line, one of the busiest bus lines in TriMet's system with nearly 10,000 boardings and deboardings every weekday. During rush hour buses often run at full capacity.
It serves a vital transect of the Portland region's eastside, including rapidly densifying neighborhoods in inner Southeast Portland, the resurgent Jade District around 82nd Avenue, diverse but neglected neighborhoods east of Interstate 205 and the commercial heart of Gresham, Oregon's fourth-largest city.
60 percent (and 60 feet)
The new articulated buses on the line will hold around 60 percent more riders. They’re 60 feet long – 20 feet longer than a regular bus – bending with an accordion in the middle. These longer buses should mostly end the problem of packed buses passing by riders and make the ride more comfortable. Passengers will be able to board at more than one door, making the entire boarding process much quicker.
Working in partnership with C-TRAN, TriMet test-drove one of these longer buses on inner Division in August 2016. A video is above.
The bus will provide a faster trip because of quicker boarding and less stopping and also a variety of operational tricks, such as getting more green lights by communicating with traffic signals and jumping ahead of congestion using shared right-turn/transit lanes at some intersections. Many of these details will be designed in the next phase of engineering.
Planners have proposed 38 stations on the line, roughly three every mile. They chose station locations based on where most riders get on and off today's bus, as well as input from community groups and the public.
More than three-quarters of today's bus riders should see a station in the same general location as their current bus stop. And all but 1 percent of riders will find a station within a few blocks of their current stop.
The stations are designed to fit their neighborhood. East of 82nd Avenue, where Division is wider, bus stops will be highly visible and separated from the sidewalk, with room for riders to wait and longer buses to stop. Those stations will have expanded weather protection, seating and lighting.
West of 82nd Avenue, stops will be more modest to fit into the narrow streetscape, but will also feature better weather protection and better visibility. And throughout the line, it will be safer to walk or use a wheelchair to get to a station, as crosswalks are upgraded to current standards.
When the new line opens, it will replace the 4-Division. Instead of using the service hours from 4-Division to operate the new transit project, TriMet will make a bigger investment and reallocate those hours to other bus service in the Powell-Division corridor.
That will give the agency around 1,400 service hours to reallocate to other lines in the corridor – spreading the investment to improve the bus network and serve more transit riders – even in neighborhoods not on Division Street.
TriMet could devote some of those hours to improve service on other existing lines. It could also add some long-awaited north-south bus service in East Portland, which currently has no north-south service for 60 blocks between 122nd Avenue and 182nd Avenue.
Exactly how those hours will be reallocated will come from a community process closer to when the line opens. Sign up with TriMet to stay informed.
The neighborhoods along Division Street include some of the most diverse populations in the region. Particularly east of 82nd Avenue, where 35 percent of residents within a half-mile of the transit project are people of color and 20 percent speak limited English. (Across the Portland region, 28 percent of residents are people of color and 8 percent speak limited English.)
Recognizing the uniquely diverse populations in the corridor, Metro and the other project partners undertook a cross-cultural engagement strategy. The public agency partners worked with community organizations such as the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and Russian Speakers Network to develop and execute community engagement strategies that gave many people who are often not fully included a chance to share their thoughts, experience and insights.
Several open houses were held in multiple languages, while focused discussion groups engaged speakers of Spanish, Russian, Tongan, Chinese, Vietnamese and Bhutanese. Other focused discussion groups included African immigrants and African Americans. Project staff also engaged with the community at cultural events ranging from the Jade District Night Market to Division Midway's Festival of Nations to a Native American powwow.
The Division corridor sees a lot of crashes. And people walking are particularly at risk. Sixty-four people were killed or seriously injured by motor vehicles while walking within a half-mile of Division between 2007 and 2014, the last year full data was available. That’s more than 10 percent of the region’s total for that period.
The toll has continued to increase in the corridor in 2016. In December 2016, after two people were killed crossing Division in East Portland within hours of each other, the Portland City Council passed an emergency ordinance to immediately fund $300,000 for community safety education and also pledged to speed up other actions to reduce vehicle speeds and complete several already-funded safe crossings on outer Division.
Making a safer Division is a key benefit of the Division Transit Project. With the line will come safer crossings and wheelchair-accesssible ramps along much of Division where community members say they are sorely overdue.
But safety concerns extend well beyond Division to many other wide roads with speed limits at 35 miles per hour or faster, where people are often driving even faster. Project partners have created what they call a "corridor-wide strategy" to reflect their commitment to safer transportation throughout Southeast Portland, East Portland and Gresham.
The strategy lists dozens of planned projects for safer walking, biking and driving. For instance, ODOT plans safer crossings up and down Powell Boulevard and along 82nd Avenue. The Portland Bureau of Transportation plans to create several new north-south bikeways with safe crossings of Division Street. Gresham plans new bike and walk connections, and a new active transportation plan.
Some of these projects are funded and will be built well before the transit project opens in 2021.
11 classroom destinations (and many more places to go)
There are 11 high schools and colleges within a half-mile of the route, if it uses Tilikum Crossing. For a population that faces some significant economic disadvantages, many hope the investment will get more people to and between places of learning and job training, such as Portland Community College's newest campus at 82nd and Division.
But this is just one of many types of major destinations the line will serve. Customers and workers can use it to get to several major commercial areas along the line, including the popular restaurant and shopping row on inner Division, multiethnic stores and restaurants in the Jade District and Division Midway, the busy Gresham Civic Center shopping center and downtown Gresham.
There are tens of thousands of jobs in the corridor itself – and of course, with faster trips to downtown Portland and Gresham, many more jobs are now easier to get to on time. Additionally, as TriMet seeks to improve other bus lines on the eastside once the new transit line opens, more jobs north and south of Division should also be in easier reach of transit riders.
Key to the project's story: An unprecedented 22-member steering committee that guided the planning process and major project decisions.
Most transit project steering committees consist of elected officials and other executive-level representatives of official project partners – in this case, Metro, TriMet, Portland, Gresham, Multnomah County and the Oregon Department of Transportation. But more than half of the Powell-Division project's steering committee represented neighborhoods, educational institutions, students and public interests, such as equity, health and the environment.
Throughout the planning process, the committee sparked creative ways of engaging the public and pushed planners to think through the potentially far-reaching impacts of the transit investment. They pushed hard on behalf of their constituencies and placed equity and opportunity squarely in the forefront of the project goals.
The committee also pushed for the creation of "local action plans" by Portland and Gresham to protect housing affordability and promote equitable economic development as the project is built and operated. It’s one of the ways that the Powell-Division project has been about more than a transit line.
82nd Avenue + Highway 26
Many on the steering committee and in the public once preferred that the line travel up inner Powell Boulevard, also known as US Highway 26, then use 82nd Avenue as a crossover for the half-mile to Division Street. Local businesspeople, residents and advocates hoped that rapid transit on 82nd in particular could help the Jade District improve economic opportunities and help its diverse population, including many elders, get around more safely and easily.
Despite their strong support early on, 82nd Avenue and inner Powell proved to be unworkable for a project of this scope, budget and timeline. Planners found in spring 2016 that the crossover would require costly and complicated engineering, and multiple building tear-downs the public said they wanted to avoid. Moreover, the out-of-direction travel and heavy congestion on both 82nd and Powell meant that route likely wouldn't result in time savings compared to the 4-Division.
In short, that idea brought a lot of potential pain with little gain – and likely a hard time convincing the federal government to select the project for funding. As a result, a "Division-only" route advanced as the preferred route. Projections show it will indeed provide a 15 to 20 percent time savings over the 4-Division, possibly more during rush hour.
But planners and leaders maintain 82nd and Powell haven’t been forgotten. As part of the Corridor-Wide Strategy, Metro is committing to advancing the thoroughfare for consideration for the next round of regional high capacity transit lines, including the possibility of running MAX or bus rapid transit there. In the near-term, TriMet will explore how to improve service on the 9-Powell, such as potentially running more rush-hour buses or some limited-stop service. Meanwhile, ODOT will soon build more than a half-dozen safer crossings on both Powell and 82nd Avenue.
Through the planning process, a lot of potential budget numbers were discussed, but they ultimately came down to this.
After the steering committee decided early on that it wanted a project that could be built relatively quickly and with relatively little impact on existing homes and businesses, planners advised that a Federal Transit Administration grant program called "Small Starts" would likely be the best option.
Small Starts will pay for up to $100 million of a transit project. But it's a competitive program, with cities all around the country jockeying for funds to build their desired transit project.
Based on the rules of the Small Starts program and the amount of money local partners looked likely to be able to commit to the project, TriMet planners determined that a $175 million budget put the project in the most competitive position for federal funding while also meeting the steering committee’s goals.
That determination came relatively late in the planning process, however, forcing some difficult decisions including no longer being able to extent the project as far east as Mt. Hood Community College. Instead, TriMet and Metro worked with college officials and Multnomah County to create a plan for improving bus service to the campus from Rockwood and downtown Gresham in the near term.
140 events (and counting)
Over the last few years, the project held about 140 open houses, meetings, focus groups and other community engagement events throughout the corridor, attracted thousands of comments and responses to surveys and interactive maps, and engaged scores of people on the street – youth, business owners and many others.
All that work was one reason the project was awarded national "project of the year" honors from the International Association of Public Participation in 2015.
And the public's voice will continue to be very important as TriMet takes the wheel of the project. Learn more about how to be involved here.
Follow the full story
Read a full history of the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project, from its very beginnings through today, via Metro News archives.
Visit the archives
How did you participate in the Powell-Division project? What worked well? How could we improve? Tell Metro