This isn’t really new, but Clark County’s high capacity transit study concluded last year and advocated three BRT lines and other improvements by 2030,  with two of them running substantially in an exclusive lane.  The study did not include the controversial Columbia River Crossing in its scope.  According to spokesman Dale Robins, “One of the main assumptions of the Clark County HCT Study is that [light rail over the Columbia river] would exist as part of the region’s HCT system.”

He added:

C-TRAN is leading the effort to determine which HCT corridor of those identified in the Clark County HCT Study should be the first to be implemented. They are currently in the process of developing a 20-year transit plan, which appears to give priority to the Fourth Plain corridor [depicted above]. C-TRAN is seeking funding for an Alternative Analysis in their preferred corridor and hopes to get started on that process in the near future.

It’s not entirely clear what the revenue source would be, but last year the legislature passed SB 5540, which allows a Sound Transit-style 0.9% sales tax to pay for HCT corridors.  At the time we interpreted that as a bid to allow MAX expansion, but it may very well be used to extend lower higher-quality bus service further into Clark County.

If you read Section 2 of the law you’ll find all sorts of tax constraints that make this a bit more restrictive than the RTA law that authorized Sound Transit.   In particular, C-TRAN cannot go to the voters to fund this until July 1, 2012.  It’s also a one-shot deal; by law, they can’t go to the voters for part of the authority and then have a second measure to use the rest of it.

Estimated costs and ridership, from the Executive Summary:

clark hct

38 Replies to “BRT in Clark County”

  1. Sorry but I have reservations about whether this would be a worthwhile investment in Clark County. I grew up in Vancouver and still visit there occasionally.

    East Vancouver, strung out along the Fourth Plain and Mill Plain corridors is the very definition of sprawlsville. Nothing even approaching an “urban center.” Just cheap condo projects, strip malls galore, typical suburban apartment “home” complexes, chain restaurants, single-family developments, etc. etc. No visible evidence that anyone in Clark County has clue one about what Transit Oriented Development is.

    Yes, they build sidewalks along the arterial streets, but you almost never see any pedestrians, except a few transit-dependent people, probably going to/from their $10/hr jobs in the strip malls.

    1. Your description is charitable. My wife and I frequently visit her parents in Battleground, northeast of Vancouver. While I enjoy visiting them, it is depressing to watch the agricultural lands being converted into sprawl. I’ll bike just about anywhere, but there is NO way I would try to bike from their home to anywhere. It’s a 50mph road with absolutely no shoulders.

      Even sadder: On our last visit we stopped by a new development on the East side of Battleground that was relatively pedestrian friendly, had bike racks everywhere, denser condos and town homes, with several interesting shops, a couple of restaurants, and the local library. The bus to Vancouver even stops there – the #7. It looks promising except that it was all carved out of a former farm: http://j.mp/7QFYvO (Note Google maps showing the Library in the middle of a field) It’s also an island of relatively intelligent development in a sea of stupidity. (I’m talking about the development, not the people, BTW)

      Lately, every time we go to visit, I crave the bike and transit scene in Portland so I drive 30 minutes to one of the Park & Rides in Portland. The drive through Clark county ending with a public transit ride in and around Portland provides an amazing contrast in smart vs. backward development.

    2. Maybe build the transit then transit-oriented following is what they’re going for with this plan. It looked like in part of the video a rendered building literally sprang up!

      1. But those buildings “springing up” look just like prototype suburban office park structures, each surrounded by free parking for everyone working or visiting there. I saw NO urban centers or hubs or transit-friendly neighborhoods in that video.

      2. They sure looked similar; you’re right. The margins looked really green though – maybe they’re just the same buildings with the parking repurposed as lawns now that there’s BRT in the future.

  2. VeloBusDriver,

    smart vs. backward development.

    I’m interested in hearing what exactly you mean by that comment.

    As it rings similar to Michael Debell’s characterization of monorail opponents as “curmudgeonly”, I’m wondering if you’re coming from the same place – i.e. the idea that someone lacks vision because they don’t share yours.

    1. …well, maybe I should have said “smarter”. Portland isn’t perfect – I know that. However, by smart vs. backward development, I really mean the ability to comfortably live without having to own an automobile if you choose to do so. The area of Clark County I am describing is one horribly designed development after another with little, if any, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. It’s been built on former farms, it’s energy intensive, expensive to maintain, and gets clogged with traffic. The homes aren’t even particularly appealing as they are packed in and provide small yards. They are cheap but I suspect they won’t prove to be very durable and probably will seem very expensive as oil prices climb. There are bike trails along newer roads, many of which are quite pleasant. But they are aimed at recreational cyclists and not particularly useful for utility cycling. Virtually none of the neighborhoods I’m referring to are walkable.

      I live in a low-density suburban area so I’m not suggesting that everybody has to live in an apartment, town home, or condo. Those areas should, however, provide *at least the option* of not using a car. My area is relatively bikeable and near the I-90 trail so I can head to Mercer Island to shop. It’s not perfect and we have a long way to go, but the option exists and is quite viable.

      If wanting development to include facilities for walking and biking makes me “curmudgeonly” then sign me up.

  3. First, I’m no huge fan of BRT, but I have to say that:

    “At the time we interpreted that as a bid to allow MAX expansion, but it may very well be used to extend lower-quality bus service further into Clark County.”

    does not really sound too… optimistic. I *assume* you meant that these bus lines would not be as high a level of service as MAX, not that these bus routes are “lower-quality bus service.”

    Second, so because these areas have a lot of low density strip malls means that transit riders in those ares are chopped liver and deserve no further investments? Unless C-Tran is particularly stupid, I doubt they would be proposing additional development of a transit corridor that doesn’t already enjoy significant ridership now.

    Additionally, assuming that the land uses that are there now are frozen and will never change is to be short-sighted of how cities develop. Those very same strip mall areas also represent land that is not performing to its highest possible value. It is doubtful they will remain in their present condition and form over the long-term, especially if a new fixed-guideway transit line is installed adjacent to them.

    1. Suburban strip malls really are prime redevelopment properties, particularly those that are losing out to newer developments. Look at Bellevue, Walnut Creek, CA, etc. With good planning they can become very attractive places.

    2. Why don’t you ack C-TRAn what they’re thinking re this type of BRT improvement? I suspect even they will admit they are serving only transit-dependent riders in east Vancouver, at least during non-commute hours.

      Yes, development changes over time, but I detect no movement in east Vancouver/Clark County to change it to anything resembling TOD. There’s a lot of vacant farmland between Vancouver and Camas that was opened to development with the SE 1st boulevard — a fully modern suburban arterial plunked down on rural farmland, and I expect that will fill up with more of the same long before the older sprawlville is ready for redevelopment.

      Fixed-guideway transit lines are no guarantee of TOD — look at all the vacant land around LRT stations in California and other western states.

      Achieving TOD (or whatever you want to call it) depends on a combination of factors including enlightened developers and property owners, a growing economy, supportive zoning and development codes, and enlightened civic leadership. NONE of these factors is at work in Clark County, to the best of my awareness.

    3. Alexander,

      You’re right, it should read “higher-quality”. Either a typo or a freudian slip; I’ll let you decide. :-)

  4. Well my two cents is why does Vancouver still act like it is completely it’s own little city and not the suburb of Portland. BRT in general maybe more cost-effective, but conceptually shouldn’t we be pushing for a integrated system across the entire metro area. the last thing we need is a inter-modal transfer. the BRT corrider, at least the main line should be LRT. Eeven if it means taking the MAX and seperating it organizationally from Tri-Met or having some very odd fare structure. Though really when you think about C-tran is the major exception (outside these cute little shuttle services in wilsonville and like) to Tri-met being the sole transit provider for the whole metro area.

    1. Well Vancouver being in a different state might have something to do with it. Multi-state transit agencies can be a pain to set up and govern. For the parts of the Portland Metro that are on the Oregon side of the river it is fairly easy for the state government to force everyone into Tri-Met (though that isn’t exactly the case Tutalin and Wilsonville are served by SMART).

    2. why does Vancouver still act like it is completely it’s own little city and not the suburb of Portland

      Probably that little Columbia River thingy. And the state line thingy. And a few other thingies.

      1. Remember, Vancouver is a tax haven of sorts for some folk who LIVE in WA but work in OR; and then there are those who live and work in WA but SHOP in OR to avoid sales tax. And rather conservative/libertarian from what I hear.

      2. Lloyd,

        It’s no “tax haven”. Those of us who live in Vancouver and work in Oregon pay exactly the same Oregon Income Tax as Oregon residents.

        It is good on property taxes though. The same size home in equivalent repair will pay about 1/3 less in property taxes than they do in Oregon. That’s mostly because the valuations and hence fewer “per thousands”, but the mill rate is a bit lower as well.

    3. Vancouver has to do its “HCT” with its own transit agency as if it’s not part of the Portland Metro Area because it knows that it’s not going to be able to come up with the cash to extend light rail along these corridors, so this is what it’s doing.

  5. the fact that vancouver wa is even considering improved transit is remarkable. this would be a good feeder line for a MAX terminus in downtown Vancouver. even if MAX was extended beyond downtown vancouver, it would follow a different route utilizing primarily the freeway right-of-ways of SR 500 and I-205.

    nc3d does excellent renderings

      1. Oh yeah I saw that they did that with Fresno and Transbay Terminal and a few other stations. It’s pretty cool.

  6. Well, I finally get to post on something about my own city!

    Vancouver is very much a mongrel these days. It used to be sinewy industrial place, but now it’s increasingly dominated by BYOM (Bring-Your-Own-Money) refugees from Southern California and the Bay Area. I call it “The Closest Place in Washington to Orange County®”. And not just because of the propinquity, Dobie Gillis.

    People here call the Max “Loot Rail” and wail about “Yellow Line Rapists” regularly. Now that the Regional Transportation Council has definitely ruled out LRT as the trunk technology for Clark County, the “Loot Railers” have shifted their focus and are starting up their Mighty Wurlitzer against “taking away two lanes from Fourth Plain” while predicting traffic Armageddon. On a street with a massively underutilized freeway eight blocks to the north and parallel and also underutilized Mill Plain a mile to the south. (editorial note: Yes this is the same Mill Plain as the one east of I-205 that you may have had the misfortune to drive on, but it’s as different from it as night and day. The same nice boulevard atmosphere but one fourth the number of cars.) The good citizens of the city proper recently elected a new mayor primarily on the platform that he would force Salem and Olympia to forgo tolling the CRC. Riiiiiggghht! Vancouver has a whole cutlery factory of “not the sharpest knife in the drawer”.

    But on this I think the preponderance of the evidence goes with “Don’t bring Max to Downtown Vancouver”. If the two-and-a-half mile stretch between the Expo Center Station and Clark College were urban arterials or even greenfield construction with grading, bridging and roadbed stabilization it would be a no-brainer to extend Max. Even with the peculiarities of cross-state operation.

    But it’s neither of those topographies. Instead there is a half-mile wide river in the middle of that distance. It averages about thirty feet deep, has significant barge traffic, is subject to tidal effects, and booms when the rains fall on melting snow. The difference between building the CRC with Max versus building the same bridge without Max is usually quoted at about $700 million, or nearly $200 million per mile.

    Since there can be no more than ten or twelve trains an hour on the Yellow Line because of the chokepoint at the Steel Bridge, the maximum peak hour peak direction capacity would be about 4,800 people. While that’s respectable, it also has to be 4,800 people between Albina/Mississippi and the Interstate Rose Quarter station. There are a large and growing number of people in northwest Portland that use the Max either directly or via transferring from the “peninsula” area. And Interstate Avenue is targeted to become much more dense in the city’s plans, and is actually doing so. And when there’s a station on Hayden Island more of the residents there will use Max than use the #6 now.

    The upshot of that is that at least half the capacity of the Yellow Line must be reserved for Oregon side usage. That means that it’s only 2,400 people per hour in the peak direction crossing the bridge with that twelve train limit. And the trains can’t get longer because the blocks in downtown Portland barely fit two cars at the stations between two perpendicular streets as it is.

    It’s true that having the Max come across the river would certainly make transit access to downtown Portland more reliable for people able to use it, but that’s not that many people. I expect that if it is built Downtown Vancouver will gentrify and start to look more like Beaverton. Fifteen thousand people might live within walking distance of the three stations in the MOuSe (Minimum Operating Segment) in 2030 if Max comes over the river.

    But even if LRT could handle the increased load, not many people are going to choose to drive to a P&R, get on the C-Tran BRT to the Mill Plain “interceptor” station and then ride to downtown Portland on the Max making thirteen stops before the Steel Bridge. They’ll continue to take the express buses which will run much more smoothly if the CRC is actually built.

    During the middle of the day when the expresses don’t run (except the 105 to the two-soon-to-be-three P&R’s along I-5) folks going to Portland will certainly appreciate the superior performance of the BRT service on Fourth Plain. But that isn’t that many people. Today there are four #4 Fourth Plain buses that cross the river every hour. During the non-peak portions of the day each trip across the bridge carries from ten to twenty-five people. It’s certainly much cheaper to run the BRT’s across the river than to build that fixed guideway facility.

    So, there is likely to be insufficient demand to justify fixed rail service for a long time, the voters in Clark County are actively hostile to light rail, and one could fund a lot of bus hours for a long time on that $700 million.

    Buses can do the job for Clark County for the foreseeable future.

    1. it makes a lot of sense to terminate MAX at a downtown/regional center and at the hub of the c-tran local system, whish is downtown vancouver. expo center is a terrible terminus, even jantzen beach isnt great either. i’m indifferent on extending MAX beyond downtown vancouver. in my opinion the portland-vancouver market should be served by both rush hour express buses, and MAX/C-tran local. then again i’ve lived in portland 8 years and have only been to vancouver a few times and only downtown.

      1. Poncho,

        Of course it makes a lot of sense to terminate Max in downtown Vancouver in theory. You’re right: it’s a regional center. I even said that in the post:
        “If the two-and-a-half mile stretch between the Expo Center Station and Clark College were urban arterials or even greenfield construction with grading, bridging and roadbed stabilization it would be a no-brainer to extend Max.”

        The problem is it costs too much for the benefit.

        The BRT’s can be extended to Delta Park, running in the side lanes between SR14/Downtown and Marine Drive, with bus-only slip ramps on both sides between Victory Blvd and Marine Drive like the bus pads along 101 north of the GG Bridge. To accomplish that northbound, one would have to move the northbound exit to Marine Drive over a few yards to the east. It would merge with the “coil” on-ramp northbound from Marine Drive just beyond the ramp meter. Some sort of detector in the jump lane could hold the ramp meter so that the bus has unimpeded flow into the Marine Drive to Hayden Island side lane. North of the North Portland Harbor bridge the northbound lanes will angle westward so that side lane will lead into the new four or five lane crossing. There will be plenty of capacity to absorb the northbound BRT’s.

        Now it’s true that some — perhaps $200 million — of the 3/4 of a billion extra for extending Max to the MOuSe is consumed getting Max from Expo Center onto Hayden Island. Oregon will still want to do that so it’s not all going to be saved.

        I’m having a hard time believing that this thing gets any kind of passing score from the FTA. Say the actual Columbia Crossing and MOuSe are $500 million. That’s a lot of buckos for a capacity of 2,500 people per hour in the peak direction. If it weren’t for Patty Murray it would be laughed out of the room.

        Personally I’d say it makes more sense to spend that money on a tunnel for Bellevue which will serve a lot more transit riders and trigger a lot more TOD.

      2. For clarity, the sentence “It would merge with the “coil” on-ramp northbound from Marine Drive just beyond the ramp meter. Some sort of detector in the jump lane could hold the ramp meter so that the bus has unimpeded flow into the Marine Drive to Hayden Island side lane.” should have read “The northbound slip ramp would merge …”.

        Indefinite antecedent.

      3. I didn’t have time to read through Anandakos’s novel but the current light rail terminii are three Park & Ride structures in the pre-automobile age plat. That’s really, really bad urban design by C-Tran/Tri-Met/City of Vancouver. It’ll boost ridership but the plan is clearly to have people drive in to use it rather than develop around the potential stations.

    2. I thought some of the Federal funds for the CRC project were contingent on providing BRT or light rail facilities over the river? Also hasn’t Oregon made it fairly clear that some sort of transit facilities are required for their participation in the project?

      As for tolling haven’t both state DOTs made it fairly clear that without tolls the project isn’t happening?

      I don’t really have a dog in this fight other than as a Washington taxpayer I want to keep the statewide fund contribution as low as possible.

      BTW given the heavy rail infrastructure in the area I’m actually really surprised there isn’t commuter rail crossing the river and serving areas along the N/S mainline and to the East along the BNSF tracks on the North bank of the river.

      1. Chris,

        Yes, FTA is supposed to cover about 2/3 of the transit related costs. Those would be forfeited if Max is not pushed across the river. But, just because it’s “Federal money” doesn’t give us carte blanche to waste it. I think it’s a waste because the Yellow Line is not up to regional metro standards and there can only be twelve trains an hour unless the Blue/Red main line is removed from the Steel Bridge, presumably by tunneling.

        So far as Oregon’s demand, yes that is correct. But with a caveat. They will not support a five or six lane bridge without a fixed guideway facility. I believe they would be willing to support a four lane each way bridge with peak hour peak direction HOV facilities, because it matches the freeway capacity to the south. One of those four lanes in each direction would be downtown/SR 14 to Marine Drive only.

        If you look at the traffic flows, more people get off at Hayden Island southbound in the morning than get on there and far more get off at Marine Drive than get on. There are also a few hundred vehicles per hour that exit at Victory Boulevard as well. I have to admit that I don’t know with certainty that they net out to one full lane, but I expect they come very close. So really the freeway would be delivering two lanes of general purpose traffic to Victory Boulevard and one land of HOV. That matches exactly the capacity from there to the split at I-405.

        It’s true that leaves little room for people from North Portland to get on I-5 between Lombard and Going, but the distance is less than two miles so the congestion is pretty manageable. Portland is planning to widen I-5 between Broadway and I-84 and that will eliminate a bottleneck at least as bad as the one being swept away at Victory Blvd. From Going south I-5/I-405 will provide five full lanes of through capacity, which matches a four lane CRC nicely.

  7. Oh, and one more thing: the only line shown in the ridership projections that Martin included that’s actually included in C-Tran’s planning for 2030 is Fourth Plain.

    BRT on old Highway 99 and “BRT-lite” on Mill Plain are nowhere to be seen. Even the Salmon Creek to Gateway “BRT on the right shoulder” service with no capital cost other than the buses themselves and signage and striping allowing the shoulder operation is not planned to be funded for operation north of the NE18th Park’N’Ride.

    1. well i’m just saying going to downtown not to clark college, (though i realize the high costs are in the river crossing) everything outside downtown vancouver can be served by buses feeding into the downtown hub where one can hop on a MAX train. now its max to expo center/delta park, a bus between delta park to vancouver hub then a local bus to some place in vancouver.

      yes its expensive, its also what makes the most sense from a travellers perspective. i dont understand why in the US we get so stingy with transportation investments that they are almost ineffective. we sit back and watch other nations, even third world nations, pass us by on transportation. we seem content with a crumbling overburdened 50 year old road system. it would have been cheaper decades ago to have I-5 end at the columbia river and have everyone get on ferries to cross the river, but luckily they had the foresight and willingness to build a bridge.

      1. Poncho,

        It doesn’t make the most sense from the traveler’s perspective, except people who actually board Max from a walk. For them, it’s a win, because they don’t have to transfer. But for every one coming down the BRT’s it’s pretty much a wash. They have to transfer at the Mill Plain interceptor station or at Delta Park. If they transfer at Mill Plain they’ll have two additional stops, at Jantzen Beach and Expo Center, plus the slow curves leaving Expo.

        If they’re transferring at Delta Park during the peak hours, yes, they’ll be subject to traffic congestion and the unreliability of the side lane between downtown and Marine Drive. But relatively few people will be transferring from the BRT’s during the peak. Only those from the mid section of Fourth Plain and Mill Plain and those south of 39th Street in the old Highway 99 route.

        Of course those people count, but many of those who live along the BRT routes who want to go to downtown Portland will drive to a Park N Ride and take an express bus during the times it’s available for two reasons. It’s only seventy-five cents more expensive although that could change of course. But more importantly, it’s waaaayyyyy faster than the Max with 13 stops between Mill Plain and the Steel Bridge. Especially if there are HOV priority lanes on the CRC.

        There’s no doubt it’s more expensive for C-Tran to provide the express service, but I’d bet a significant piece of change that at least 25% of express bus riders will refuse to ride Max every day if. I ride it out to Nike from downtown Portland and love it. But I pony up the extra seventy-five cents each way to use the expresses, because they get me home with much less hassle and without the slow ride down Interstate Avenue.

        If they had express trains from Clark County stopping only at Hayden Island, Lombard, Overlook and Interstate Rose Quarter it might be different. But the Yellow Line is a milk run. It’s too slow and limited a route to be a “regional metro”.

        And as a technical issue, the MOuSe is the Minimum Operable Segment according to those in the know. Apparently there’s no place that the City will let them put in the holding tracks short of the location by Clark College. Also, there’s supposed to be a big P’n’R garage there. Personally I think it will be lightly patronized except by people heading to Swan Island. And then only if there’s frequent shuttle service directly to Prescott.

      2. It’s the MOuSe (Minimum Operable Segment). To make the thing worthwhile there has to be a gigantic Park’N’Ride garage to fill the trains at rush hour. There’s no place other than the old welcome center that has both enough room and decent freeway access.

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