Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Portland Public School System

Students should definitely be considered the customers of the school system. Parents are the legal guardians of those customers, and along with local businesses and taxpayers in general, are the shareholders in the system.

Regarding the latest from the Portland Public School System: Merging all elementary and middle schools into a citywide network of K-8 schools actually sounds like a great proposal. I attended the Metropolitan Learning Center in NW Portland from 5th through 10th grade, and the presence of kids of all ages definitely made that school feel more like a family, it created more community, and it expanded the range of options available to all children (library, swimming pool, etc.) I understand why high schools need to generally be separate from K-8 -- that's the only way that the district can reasonably supply the foreign languages, science labs, etc. that high school students require.

However, I think that many high school students are, by the completion of the 10th grade, ready to begin working at the college level, and often those last two years of high school are sort of wasted, in terms of academic progress. I think Oregon needs to seriously consider making it more of a mainstream option for kids to go to college after the 10th grade, both by establishing early admission programs at some of the institutions of higher learning across the state (or starting a new institution, along the lines of the Evergreen State College, perhaps to be located in Astoria), and by making the option to leave high school after the 10th grade more generally available and acceptable within the high school environment. As in, if students perform at a high enough level (measure by their GPA, standardized testing and SAT scores, I imagine) while in grades 7-10, then they will have the option of going to college after grade 10 if they so choose.

Finally, when it comes to school consolidation... I sure hope the school district is using GIS, preferably ArcGIS with Network Analyst. Somebody needs to make a map of Portland, with all of its K-8 schools. They then need to plot quarter, half and one-mil walking distance buffers around each school. If the walking buffer of any school is completely overlapped by the buffers of the surrounding schools, then it might make sense to close it. However, if a school's buffer is not overlapped by any surrounding buffers, then under no circumstances should it be closed! This would do WONDERS for easing parents concerns, easing traffic congestion due to parents driving kids to school, and empowering students to walk and ride their bicycles to their neighborhood school!

OK, I think that's it for now.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Regional DMU Network for Portland, OR & Vancouver, WA

OK, so I've got another proposal for the Columbia River Crossing:

A regional commuter rail network, based initially on DMU technology. The relevant two links would be Vancouver to Washington County, and Vancouver to Downtown Portland.

This would not replace light rail, but rather supplement it.

Gee, I must be a DMU fan, this is the second time in as many weeks that I've brought up the topic.

The Vancouver to Washington County connection would utilize abandoned rail ROW that runs from near the west end of the St. Johns Bridge to the Beaverton/Hillsboro area, and would require extension track, bed and trestle reconstruction. I bet that DMU passenger service between Washington County and Clark County could be initiated for a fraction of the cost of a new freeway, and if everybody is right about the volume of traffic between those two points, it would do quite well.

Of course, there is the matter of the spectacular railroad trestle that burned to the ground about a decade ago, which would need to be re-built along with much of the rest of this line (if, in fact, any of the rails/trestles/tunnels are still serviceable). However, the fact that the ROW exists already should still bring the cost of implementing a new service in this corridor way down.

Perhaps DMU service could be implemented before light rail service; in this scenario, the Portland to Vancouver run might ultimately be replaced by light rail into downtown Vancouver... or it might remain as a more expensive (fare-wise) express service.

It would be interesting to determine if a stop near St. Johns might be possible for both of these services, as the only interim stop between Portland and Vancouver.

Longer-term, this basic network could add routes to Columbia County (St. Helens & Scapoose), to McMinnville, and out the Gorge to Hood River & The Dalles.

The era of building freeways in Oregon is over. We now need to think of better ways to get people around, for less money and less damage to the natural landscape. Putting old railways back to use to serve new markets is an example of the type of innovative thinking that will cause Oregon to emerge as a leader in the 21st century.