Division Street's transit future is on a bus.
An advisory committee of leaders from Portland, Gresham and East Multnomah County voted Monday to move forward with a bus-only study of high capacity transit on the Powell-Division corridor, dropping streetcar and light rail as an option for further consideration.
The unanimous vote came as committee members said they were focused more on a project that could be built soon and require substantially less private property acquisition and roadway impacts than a rail project.
For more than a year, Metro has been studying the Powell-Division corridor, which serves more than 18,000 bus riders daily. The area has the region's highest transit ridership: More than 15 percent of commuters from East Portland take transit to work.
It also has the longest commute times: The average transit rider living east of Interstate 205 spends about an hour, each way, getting to and from work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Committee members weren't eager to dump rail off the table. They asked questions about equity and about the corridor's long-term needs.
"Why not light rail here, when that was the answer in other places?" asked Raahi Reddy, secretary of the board for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.
Metro project manager Brian Monberg said the study has focused, so far, on what transit option could fit into the existing transit network – one that includes the MAX Blue Line about a mile to the north.
Johnson Creek Watershed Council director Matt Clark wanted to know more about the long-term impacts of a bus-only option.
"I wouldn't want to have something 30 years from now, where I wish we'd chosen rail," Clark said.
"We're confident the range of bus options can meet the ridership in this corridor," Monberg said. "How does east-west transit complement existing rail and allow us to invest in other north-south connections?"
Not everyone was eager to move forward on Monday. Portland Bureau of Transportation director Leah Treat was one of two committee members who suggested further discussion before moving forward with the bus-only option.
"I don't think we fully understand the impacts of gentrification of light rail vs. BRT (bus rapid transit), but I suggest we consider putting more focus on that," she said. "I don't see intentionality in our discussion around equity issues in this conversation," she added later.
East Metro Economic Alliance board president Matt Wand said he felt that the discussion with community members – the basic setup of the project's steering committee – was "the essence of making a decision on equitable terms."
"Looking backwards, I honestly don't believe it would have been possible for Eastside light rail to have been built if this process had been engaged in the early 1980s," Wand said. "If you look at Rockwood, they didn't want it. What could possibly be less equitable than imposing a decision on a community without asking them? From my perspective, we've done the things we need to do to get here to this point."
The committee also voted unanimously to focus on a transit route that would use Powell Boulevard in inner Portland, then jog north to Division Street somewhere between 52nd and 92nd avenues, before heading east to Gresham. The route could then extend as far east as the Mt. Hood Community College campus near Troutdale.
The latter part was crucial for several committee members, particularly Gresham city councilor Lori Stegmann.
"This plan doesn't make sense to me if we're not connecting to Mt. Hood (Community College)," she said.
Similarly, several committee members said they wanted to make sure the Portland Community College Southeast Campus was connected to the line.
"Now that we've taken light rail off the table, we have to talk about how we maximize economic development opportunities in the corridor," said APANO's Reddy. "PCC, the work we've been doing in the Jade District – there's a bunch of economic opportunity for leveraging this project."