Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Three Interesting Cherriots Studies - One in Progress, Two to Come

The Cherriots Board meets tomorrow on the 27th and there are a number of interesting things percolating over there.  Studies on improving service in West Salem, a Strategic Plan for Rideshare, and the on-going System Analysis stand out.

Remember when the temporary transit mall was an actual place?!
The Long Shadow of the Third Bridge

Not on the agenda, but perhaps most relevant, is a series of just-announced meetings for a project  called "capturing the ride." These will take place in April, and there will doubtless be more to say, but Cherriots has recognized that
Current fixed-route transit service provided by Salem-Keizer Transit is inefficient in the low-density neighborhoods of West Salem, South Salem, and Keizer.
And so there will be community meetings in each area towards
finding substitutes to fixed-route transit that would increase ridership while increasing efficiency.

Through a five month planning process, Paradigm Planning will...explore mode and route options in order to produce a plan that provides innovative and feasible alternatives to current transit service that will meet the needs of the community. Paradigm will also determine underlying barriers that have prevented transit use and provide an additional set of recommendations to help increase ridership specific to the study areas.
It's not clear whether Cherriots hired consultants or whether this is some super-duper student project. The project team describes themselves as:
Paradigm Planning, a group of Portland State University Masters of Urban Planning students interested in transportation, land use, and community engagement. We volunteer our time and skills to work with community members to develop useful transit systems that balance the need for efficiency, coverage, and convenience. Our team is made up of six members with diverse backgrounds.
But it doesn't really matter. Either way the project can be enormously useful - if they don't succumb to study churn. And West Salem in particular is key.

We have seen how the Salem River Crossing team concluded that transit is powerless to reduce congestion on the Marion and Center Street bridges. As has been noted several times the TSM/TDM analysis of transit was profoundly flawed and, by a straw man argument, concluded transit was helpless to alleviate congestion (more here and here):

Sloppy or Intellectually Dishonest?
This is right at the faulty foundation of the whole chain of argument for the Third Bridge.

The meetings and analysis in West Salem could offer an opportunity for Cherriots to reassess this faulty analysis and develop a more sophisticated understanding of current barriers to transit use in West Salem and develop a corresponding service plan that will concretely reduce the number of bridge crossings.  Or to put it another way:  It should be easy and convenient for State workers and others who work downtown to take transit instead of drive-alone trips across the bridge.

The meeting is on Wednesday, April 9th at 5pm at the West Salem Roth's.  (There are also meetings in South Salem and Keizer, but the West Salem one is obviously the most important.)

Back to the board, trying to mobilize Cherriots for a more vigorous critique of the Salem River Crossing was perhaps something of a missed opportunity this summer.  At the same time, Cherriots has shown a striking timidity on the matter, looking like they fear - but fear what?  We already have mediocre service, so what is the actual threat of regional "partners" pulling funding?   Can they really make it worse?

Well, the discussion of the MPO agenda earlier this week touched on the way that the "consensus" model of decision making at SKATS and MWACT, two regional bodies that administer State and Federal funding, requires unanimity, and the threat of dissent by a single representative can kill or significantly alter a project.  This policy probably helps cooperation on mainstream projects, but for transit and other interests that have traditionally been on the margin, the requirement of unanimity hinders leadership and neuters programming:  Unanimity ensures that marginal things stay on the margins.

Cherriots letter on the Salem Alternative
Letter from July 15th, 2013
Reprinted in Board Packet, December 9th, 2013
Since Cherriots must "play nice," here's the letter on the Salem Alternative in which Cherriots asks - pretty please - for:
  • A new park and ride
  • A new and improved West Salem transit center
  • Signal Priority for buses
  • And bus queue jump lanes
These are mostly derived from recommendations in the Alternate Modes Study. Ultimately I do not believe these made it into the form of the Salem Alternative that was adopted by the Oversight Team last month.

Here's the formal motion in support of the Salem Alternative, adopted at the January 13th meeting last month:

Formal Motion in Support of Salem Alternative,
January 13th, 2014
Note that still "it would be up to the Oversight Team to decide whether the District's [Cherriots] change was significant enough to have input to change the policy statement." Disrespect, as they say.

The bottom line is:  We need more assertive leadership from our transit agency, but at the same time, the deck is stacked against them and changes in governance policy may be necessary.


There's also a report on Cherriots RideShare, but the discussion may use statewide data, not Salem-Keizer or even Marion-Polk data. There's no discussion of deltas or trends, unfortunately, just bare numbers.  (There are more reports out there, and they might merit a separate post sometime.  It would be interesting to see more on the "bike trips" component, as this is year-round reporting, not just a single month's worth as with the Bike Commute Challenge.)

But hey, that's I-5 in north Portland!
Does this have anything to do with Salem?
Drive Less Connect Numbers for Q1, 2013-14 year
Drive Less Connect Numbers for Q2, 2013-14
RideShare also passed on from ODOT "80 high quality bicycle lights with the stipulation that the lights should be given to low-income individuals who may not be able to prioritize the purchase of safety lights." Though they don't specify the programs, it sounds like they went to programs like the Y's Second Chance Bike Recyclery and the Evergreen Church Hub program.

Finally, RideShare will be developing a Plan and this looks promising:
In late 2013 we issued an RFP for a consultant to work with the Rideshare program on developing a strategic plan for the program. We selected Alta Planning as the consultant and we are in the process of determining the final scope of work. Already determined is the inclusion of input from the Salem-Keizer Transit Board as well as a variety of other regional stakeholders.
RideShare is poorly funded, but it has also seemed like the program lacked some focus, and it is not difficult to imagine that a Strategic Plan will help it maximize the bang-per-buck. Alta has focused primarily on bike planning - they helped with Bike and Walk Salem - and hopefully the plan will include significant support for bicycling.

System Analysis

Finally, while it has been impossible to get the RFP for the System Analysis the Jarrett Walker is conducting, the first change order is posted. Apparently the original contract was for $99,997, and Change Order #1 is for $10,098. It has three parts:
  • Task 1 will provide an addendum to the Existing Conditions Report detailing information about CherryLift activity to include origin, destination, and travel pattern.
  • Task 2 will provide a report for public consumption of the January 30 Stakeholder Workshop.
  • Task 3 will provide additional narrative descriptions of GIS data used in the project for future planning use.
(Additional consultants are called out in the Change Order, and it's nice to see a former staff member of the BTA, who now has her own consulting gig, on the list!)
Last month as part of the analysis, Jarrett Walker met with business leaders, electeds, and advocates to discuss Cherriots service.  One of the chief topics was the trade-off of frequency (time) versus coverage (space). Walker has a blog, Human Transit, and he discusses here the framework for the way he sees the trade-offs. As you can see, the second item in the Change Order will be a formal report on this meeting.

There's probably other stuff too. Transit has not been a focus here, and if you know of something interesting or noteworthy, drop a comment!

The Cherriots Board meets Thursday, February 27th at 6:30 PM in Council Chambers at City Hall, 555 Liberty St. SE.


Anonymous said...

Well, the flip side of the consensus model is that Cherriots might have more leverage than they think. What if they held out on big carhead projects and extracted concessions for more multi-modalism?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Ah, you may be right! Interestingly, the MWACT agenda just came out, and the commission will be looking at the ConnectOregon V applications, one of which would help fund selection/design of the South Salem Transit Center. So that would be the kind of project on which Cherriots might be especially solicitous of the interests of other commissioners in order to ensure support for their own project. (Over the weekend or early next week there will be a note on that agenda.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Mobile users still seem to be having difficulty, so still tinkering with those settings.)

In the meantime, from over at Love Salem, Walker sends this comment:

"What really has to happen is for Cherriots to stop clinging to the fixed route mentality and large bus system, and instead become a hybrid bus system/rideshare coordinator, taking advantage of the wonderful tools now available cheaply to enable community-based ridesharing services.

That is, Cherriots Can operate major roads with professional drivers on large buses for as many hours as they can afford, inheriting the ADA mandate that goes with them (and that is eating the system alive) but they could also extend a lot more effort in providing rideshare coordination — even medical rideshare coordination for persons with disabilities.

Instead of making a new competitor start up, and pay the overhead costs of the new building new systems and new tools, Cherriots should take over and commit to being a premier provider of rideshare services and the Cherrylift services, and extend them 24/seven to all parties in Salem and work to extend ridesharing throughout Salem and make it a easy-to-use, safe system for everyone.

One piece that could be started now is a single payment pass that works for parking, transit, and rideshare services. The smartphone technology is there now, and a simple swipe card for those without smart phones does the same thing. It lets you add value, and pay for services throughout the day.

-- Walker

Agree that in so many ways, Rideshare really is a Cinderella, and we should allocate a lot more resources towards it and towards improving it!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Via email, Capturing the Ride send some additional notes:

Most important: SWAG possibility!

They've got an online survey and you can win some swag. Click here.

They also clarified that the project is a "capstone" project in the Urban Planning masters degree program at PSU and while quite serious and professional in spirit, it is fundamentally academic in nature and for credit rather than for hire.

They also highlighted Flexible Transit as a concept to investigate closely, and without delving too far into the google, here's a Transportation Research Board study, Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services, which identifies a range of hybrid services between fixed-route and on-demand configurations. (For a bike blogger, it was a new term!)

Walker, it looks like they're traveling down just the sort of path you suggest - though perhaps not quite as far as you wish.

Anyway, lots of possibility here, and it will be interesting to follow!