Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Case for a Large Hotel in Portland's Rose/Lloyd District

This post is in response to the Willamette Week editorial, "Ill-Starred," that makes the case that the reason why Portland, an NBA city, has never hosted the NBA All-Star Games (in 35+ years of having an NBA team in a league with only 30 total teams) is related simply to one fact: It doesn't have a large enough hotel to host the 800+ people who the NBA would need to host adjacent to the stadium.

This got me thinking that Portland is also not really taking full advantage of the Oregon Convention Center, also due to the lack of an adjacent large hotel that would allow it to attract the sort of large conferences that make the circuit of places with these facilities.

You know, as somebody who goes to conferences sometimes, I wish I could go to a large conference in Portland. The Convention Center actually *is* large enough to accommodate a large conference (10-12,000 people or so). However, there is no appropriate mix of nearby large hotels to support such an endeavour. There certainly is no single large (800+ room) hotel.

Let me be straight: I don't really like large hotels. I don't like the rich Republicans who run them; I don't like their exhorbitant rates; I don't like their rather white-bread cuisine; I don't like the generic stamped-out-of-a-moldness of their rooms.

However, I think that it would do Portland good to have a large hotel in the Lloyd District/Rose Quarter area, or preferably, a cluster of large hotels. It would be *best* if they were locally-owned, so that *all* the profits stayed within the city. It also would be best if they didn't drive the other hotels in town out of business (maybe their high rates wouldn't be such a bad thing, actually...).

This NBA All-Star Game issue is just another reason why such a large hotel/cluster of large hotels would be a great addition to the city, a boon to tourism, and allow for the possibility of attracting larger conferences and other events.

Why are these events good? They DO boost the economy. Sure, no sales tax, but those dollars brought here stay here, for some time, recirculating around within the local economy. Might be a while before they end up in the tax coffers, but they help the small businesses out for a while in the interim. Plus, I do believe Portland has a hotel tax, so the fact of having a large hotel or cluster of large hotels would in and of itself boost the tax base.

I don't think Portland is a po-dunk town (as one other commenter of Willamette Week's article suggested); I think it's a major cosmopolitan city that goes rather largely under-appreciated outside of Oregon and the West Coast, mainly because most people outside of this region *haven't been here yet*. More large hotels, as inherently evil as they may be in some respects, certainly could do a lot towards alleviating that problem.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sharing the BART tube with Commuter Rail

In reading Wikipedia's entry on railroad switches, I found the following quote rather inspirational:

"A gantlet track can also be used when two railroads of different gauges share right-of-way; the standard-gauge Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad used the wide-gauge Erie Railroad's tunnel through the New Jersey Palisades in this way before the DL&W built its own tunnel."

Gee, so... in the SF Bay Area, BART has a tunnel. Which is nearly at capacity, not because of the physical limit on the space between trains, but because of the physical limit of the stations at each end only being able to hold one train at a time.... basically, headways through the tunnel are limited by the time it takes a train o slow down, stop, open doors, load/unload passengers, close doors, and move on. Two to three minutes or so, it how long I believe this takes.

One potential solution to this problem, which I believe Portland, OR is attempting to enact to solve the light rail capacity problems over the Steel Bridge, is to build a wye and two sets of stations on either side of the bridge/tunnel.

BART pretty much hosed this option for themselves using BART technology by locating their wye after West Oakland station, and not accommodating a wye prior to Embarcadero Station.

However... with Caltrain being planned to extend underground to within two blocks of the tube entrance in San Francisco, it would make potentil sense for Caltrain and BART to share the tube underneath the Bay, using a gauntlet track construction to accommodate the various gauges and kee the Caltrain cars away from the third rail. Caltrain could enter the tube just after Embarcadero, then exit where the tube crosses the grade prior to West Oakland (and from there be given the option of its own split, to either Jack London to the south or Emeryville to the north).

Operationally, it might be tricky to run Caltrain and BART through the same tube, EXCEPT that I believe BART trains may actually be slightly longer in length with 10 cars. There may be a height issue through the tube for the double-decker Caltrain rolling stock, but that might just be a matter of only running lower-height-profile rolling stock on transbay runs.

Anyways, it is definitely a point worth considering.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The OregonBike

There's a good discussion going on now over on the blog, where Bob R. said:

"What would really give bike commuting as serious boost among the general populace would be to promote a simple, durable commuter bike for under $500 (even under $400 if it can be managed.) Something with fenders, a unisex design, a comfortable adjustable seat, and easy shifting."

This was in response to a post about Portland's announcement of its mission to achieve Platinum certification (it currently has Gold) as the most bicycle-friendly city, anywhere. It's attempting to get 15% of its trips to be made by bicycle. In response, Trek has produced a new model of bicycle, called the Portland, which retails for about $1500.

I agree completely with Bob's comment, which was in essence that $1500 was a bit steep for most Portlanders, and that there needed to be a good mike for the masses. When I was in Amsterdam, I noticed how the same bike was *everywhere*. It was called the AmsterBike, and it was what most people rode in the central city.

Of course, the AmsterBike was really heavy, like 45 pounds or so, which doesn't matter because the tallest hills in Amsterdam are the ones that you climb as you go over the little bridges arching gently over the canals. And, I don't know exactly how much an AmsterBike actually costs, as I only rented one for $6/day, rather than purchasing one.

Still, it seems like some Oregon-based bicycle manufacturer could probably provide some living-wage jobs for some employees, and some affordable, good-quality bicycles for the riding population, by stepping up and designing an OregonBike that would be light enough to make it up most hills, cost $400 or so, have fenders and a rack, rechargeable lights, and either be unisex or have enough models in the same price range that it didn't matter.

Any entrepreneurs care to step up and fill this market niche?



Thursday, February 02, 2006

Outrage over... cartoons. (?)

So, it seems that certain individuals within the Muslim world are aghast at a series of cartoons that depict the prophet Muhammed in a less than flattering manner.

One quote attempts to make the case that, if it were Jesus being defamed, the Western world might react differently:

"Freedom of speech has its limits when it concerns others... How would it feel if Jesus Christ was the one insulted instead?"
Randa Ahmed Essa, Egypt

In fact, according to this story at, Jesus has been insulted by a new comic book, entitled The Life of Jesus. And indeed, the article concludes that the book is jumping off the shelves, this in a country where the population is predominantly Christian (or at least, more Christian than Muslim).

Apparently, the Muslim world has trouble comprehending what us Westerners mean when we say "Freedom of Speech." This is the freedom to defame leaders, to poke fun at deities, and to laugh at current world events.

In fact, I thought that some of the cartoons were actually rather funny. See for yourself:

Insensitive to another world religion? Perhaps. But, learn to laugh. In this country (the United States), people make fun of one another all the time. I could see myself having laughed at this cartoon that implicitly compares the Unibomber to back-to-the-land environemntalists back in the 90's. Similarly, what conservative wouldn't at least chuckle at this liberal cartoon site?

Frankly, on this one I must say that I'm going to come down on the side of freedom, liberty, and the free press. At the same time, people do have the freedom to peacefully assemble and express their viewpoints, so if some people in the Arab world would like to come together to express their outrage at these cartoons, sure, that's perfectly OK. As long as it ends there, and nobody, you know, does anything drastic.

And, I sense that some people in the Arab world share this viewpoint. According to that same British (BBC) article, "In Jordan, an independent tabloid, al-Shihan, reprinted three of the cartoons on Thursday, saying people should know what they were protesting about."


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Comments on the Oregon Transportation Plan

principal planner for the 2006 oregon transportation plan update


Hi Michael,

First off, the plan looks great, and I support Investment Strategy 3, with the addition of a north/south rail transit super corridor (to complement an east/west transit super corridor).

Specifically, however, I would like to recommend that the State, in partnership with regional and local jurisdictions as well as the private sector and community groups, take a *strong* look at constructing a new multimodal rail system to serve the major north/south and east/west axes out of Portland (that is, Astoria to Pendleton via Portland, and Portland to Medford/Ashland via Eugene, in addition to examining the Eastern Oregon corridors). While the road system in the state is in fairly good shape (certainly better than that in most states), the rail transportation system could be better.

I would use Switzerland as the example, where in addition to roads connecting all towns, rail systems connect most towns, and most trains are electric. The trains tend to carry both passengers and freight, and most destinations are accessible by foot, bicycle or connecting transit from the train station.

How would this work in Oregon?

As with Switzerland and Germany, there would be commuter-level service on specific links in the system (Astoria to Portland, The Dalles to Portland, Grants Pass to Ashland, Portland to Salem, etc.) with multiple a.m. and p.m. peak period trips. The backbone of the system would be twice-daily service throughout the state on most other links. Certain backbones would have priority for upgrading of the trackbed to high-speed standards, with the ultimate goal of 200+mph service on the main north/south and east/west spines, with the potential for service of up to 100mph on the feeder lines made possible by improved trackbeds and tilting/high-speed rolling stock. Small freight would travel with the twice-daily service; large freight would, as now, travel in separate trains.

Around each station in the system, Tax-Increment Financing would collect the improvement in tax collect as a result of the upgraded transit service, and in addition to user fees collected from passengers and freight, provide all of the operating expenses for the system, as well as contribute to capital cost recovery and debt service on bonds needed to build the initial infrastructure.

Public/private partnerships would allow increased development intensity around each station to proceed in tandem with station construction/expansion/upgrade, and commencement of service (or improved service in areas that already have some service).

Statewide growth management goals could be achieved by allowing existing communities with struggling economies to host new transit-oriented growth. Astoria, for instance, could build more housing for commuters near its transit station, and an upgrade rail connection would allow them to commute into the Portland market in well under an hour, while saving money on housing costs. Astoria would reap the benefit of hosting families with greater income, contributing tax revenue and cashflow to the local economy; Portland would benefit by having Astoria take some of the burden of providing market-rate workforce housing. In time, the hosting of more knowledgeable workers could allow Astoria to develop a more intensive local knowledge-based economy, and even eventually play host to an expansion of the state higher education system.

Oregon's congressional delegation could lobby for federal support to assist with constructing interstate links to connect this with systems elsewhere, but the main bulk of the system would be an in-state effort, with the state reaping the rewards.

The existing rail network ROW would provide most of the ROW necessary for the upgraded system; existing operators would be encouraged to participate as willing partners, rather than risk condemnation and state takeover of their facilities.

Oregon may double its population over the coming century. By beginning to invest now in this expanded rail/public transportation system, it can easily accommodate the transportation needs of this growth without needing to make significant changes or expansions to its highway system, as well as meet its environmental and sustainable growth objectives.

Finally, with the aging of the population over the coming decades, more and more people are going to need mobility without needing to use cars, as they lose the ability to drive. Building this sort of integrated rail/public transportation system will allow Oregon's aging population to travel and live with grace and dignity without needing the automobile for long- and medium-distance in-state trips.

This is not a pipe dream. This is the future of Oregon's transportation system, and it is the natural conclusion of the policies quoted below, as laid out in the current draft of the OTP.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this matter.

Sincerely yours,
~Garlynn Woodsong
6610 SE 50th Ave
Portland, OR 97206

Selected Policies from the current draft of the Oregon Transportation Plan:

POLICY 1.1 – Development of an Integrated Multimodal System
It is the policy of the State of Oregon to plan and develop a balanced, integrated
transportation system with modal choices for the movement of people and goods.

Plan and develop a multimodal transportation system that increases the efficient
movement of people and goods for commerce and production of goods and services
that is coordinated with regional and local plans. Require regional and local
transportation plans to address existing and future:
a. Centers of economic activity,
b. Routes and modes connecting passenger facilities and freight facilities,
c. Intermodal facilities, and
d. Major intercity and intra-city transportation corridors and supporting
transportation networks.

Promote the growth of intercity bus, truck, rail, air, pipeline, and marine services to
link all areas of the state with national and international transportation facilities and
services. Increase the frequency of intercity services to provide travel options.

Develop and promote inter and intra-city public transportation.
• Optimize existing services and find innovative ways to augment public
transportation infrastructure and travel options to levels appropriate to the
community size and to an effective network of connections.
• Where opportunities for coordination with other transportation service
providers exist, work to integrate programs and align investments of service
providers involved with the design, delivery and funding of mobility
services. Focus on mobility management and customer needs.
• Use information technologies to effectively link customers and
transportation services, and support local transportation options programs
including individualized marketing programs.
• Promote frequent public transit and passenger rail services as a method to
increase ridership and decrease travel times, especially during peak travel
periods and on heavily traveled highway corridors.

Develop and manage the transportation network so that local trips can be conducted
primarily on the local system and the interstate and statewide facilities can primarily
serve intercity movement and interconnect the systems. Develop, maintain and
improve parallel roadways, freight rail, transit, bus rapid transit, commuter rail and
light rail to provide alternatives to using intercity highways for local trips where

Support intercity, interstate and international rail and air services to facilitate business
and recreational travel.

Promote tourism via air, bicycle, motor vehicle, rail and ship. Support connections to
hiking trails.

Encourage the sustainable development of land with a mix of uses and a range of
densities, land use intensities and transportation options in order to increase the
efficiency of the transportation system.

Promote location efficient incentives in Oregon to help increase the opportunities for
individuals and families to purchase homes and businesses within areas well-served
by transit.

Increase the diversity of funding sources to provide greater stability, predictability
and flexibility for funding transportation facilities and services.

Fund projects through public/private partnerships that balance statewide
environmental, land use and economic goals and state, regional and/or local plans.

Examine mechanisms to fund major capacity-adding and related transportation
facilities that raise revenues including but not limited to tolling, congestion pricing
and capturing increases in real estate value resulting from investments or potential
investments. Funding mechanisms may include system development charges, tax
increment financing and other forms of value pricing.

Passenger and Freight Rail
While private firms own and operate rail short lines and mainlines for freight, Amtrak
operates passenger rail services. The state supports two daily round trip rail passenger
services from Eugene to Portland and connecting bus services with state general or
lottery funds. Oregon has five programs for rail improvements based on revenue from a
corporate income tax on private rail operators. State funds have also been used to upgrade
the Union Pacific rail infrastructure to better support passenger rail services.
Ensuring that Oregon’s rail system can efficiently move freight into and out of ports and
into and out of the state is a state concern. However, the level of future investment in
mainline railroads in Oregon is dependent on national rail company investment choices;
short line rail operators lack sufficient revenue to make capital investments. Elimination
of bottlenecks at river crossings and mountain tunnels may require more resources than
private sector rail operators can currently afford on their own. While common in other
states, public investments in privately owned systems have been limited in Oregon. State
funding for passenger services and rail improvements depend on biennial legislative
appropriations. The lack of a long-term funding source creates an obstacle to long term
investments and expansion of rail in Oregon.

IV-10: Investment Strategy Level Three includes major investments in new infrastructure. Some
of these investments would be financed from traditional sources, while others would be
funded in part through mechanisms such as value capture, including tolls.

Investment Strategy Level 3: Adding and Expanding Facilities

Intercity Bus and Rail:

Add two round trips to rail
service between Eugene and
Portland. Add Eastern Oregon
Rail and commuter rail
between Wilsonville and
Salem after 2020.

Capital costs are estimated to
be $116 million, with
increased operating costs of
$7.5 million annually.

Funding source: State general funds and fares

Convenient rail alternatives
attract intercity passengers,
improve auto/rail/bus mode
split and improve intercity
passenger access, especially
to Eastern Oregon after 2020.
The technical analysis for OTP development supported the following potential
investments. This list is not inclusive:
• Build a north-south highway and rail super corridor.
• Preserve and extend highway, public transportation and rail options in east-west
and north-south corridors.
• Expand public transit services.
• Create second day rail freight service to Southern California.
• Expand regional air services, especially air freight services.

O ...let's go do
O something
O i n t e r e s t i n g
O .garlynn.g.woodsong.