Public transit and crime issues discussed by Midway business group

Does it seem as if bus service in outer East Portland is being cut back? Is TriMet ready for snow? And, is crime, overall, really up? Find out the answers to these critical questions right here …

Tom Mills, from TriMet’s service planning division, says bus service has been cut, due to the agency’s budget woes.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Twenty business and community members learned more about TriMet’s service to outer East Portland, and got a crime update from the Portland Police Bureau, at the October meeting of the Midway Business Association (MBA).

After introductions, MBA’s President, Bill Dayton, owner of Pizza Baron, introduced Tom Mills and Michelle Wyffels from TriMet’s service planning division.

The newly opened MAX Green Line is doing well, Mills began, “We’re seeing about 17,000 rides a day throughout the system. The Holgate Boulevard Park & Ride is about half full. We’re also seeing strong bus service. More people ride the bus than ride light rail.”

In outer East Portland, TriMet bus lines 4, 9 and 15 are designated as “frequent service” routes, he added.

Cuts mean longer waits and more crowded buses
“We have had to cut back service,” Mills admitted. “TriMet experienced a $31 Million budget deficit. Even with some staff layoffs and executive furloughs, we’ve had to cut back on service, but outer East Portland has not been affected at this time.”

However, starting on November 22, TriMet will change the frequency of bus service, Mills added. “The timing of ‘frequent service’ lines will now be every 17 minutes.” He explained that this means that a bus an hour will be taken “out of the rotation”, making remaining busses more crowded. “As things get better, we will add back more frequent service first. Lower ridership lines will be restored later.”

TriMet’s Michelle Wyffels tells Midway Business Association members that the agency only put bus shelters at locations where high numbers of people catch the bus.

Bus shelters on high ridership lines
Asked why there seem to be so few bus shelters in outer East Portland, Michelle Wyffels pointed out that there are 274 bus stops in the system. “When considering adding amenities, we look at the number of boarding riders. 18 stops in outer East Portland have 100 or more riders a day. There are 42 shelters out here.”

In addition to looking at ridership figures, Wyffels said they also consider the area. “We look to see if it is safe to place a shelter in a location; and that it doesn’t interfere with businesses. Sometimes we ask property owners’ permission to locate them on their property.”

Powell Blvd. Light Rail?
Asked if outer East Portland is likely to see a MAX Light Rail line on SE Powell Boulevard, Wyffels said, “Barbur Boulevard looks more likely. There would be massive outreach before any such decision would be made. Powell is being looked right now at for faster bus service.”

Mills added, “While TriMet runs our light rail system, we don’t decide where it goes. It is considered a regional asset; this is a process done by Metro. Once they determine candidate areas for light rail, we go through an empirical process and look at costs, environmental impacts, and community input.”

Speaking of Metro, Mills said that the regional government just released its High Capacity Study, and express bus service for Powell Boulevard, with few stops between stations, upgraded busses, and more stops, are in the offing. “It’s not going to happen right away; this is 10 years out.”

Decries lack of ‘frequent service’
Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association Chair Mark White commented that TriMet provides no frequent bus service there – one of the physically largest, and one of the most demographically poor, neighborhoods in the city.

“Our bus line 9 is a frequent-service route,” Mills replied, “but only to 92nd Avenue. And, every other bus turns around and heads back downtown. We have aspirations to make it [a frequent service route] all the way out to Gresham. It is in our Five Year Plan.”

White responded, “Here, we don’t have curbs, sidewalks, and road improvements. Look at it as investing in our neighborhood.”

“Our ridership is good, in spite of the lack of pedestrian improvements,” Mills rejoined. “Everyone wants better bus service. We are pulled in many directions. We don’t have the money.”

Mills says bad weather does slow service, but that TriMet and City agencies are getting better at coordinating snow removal services for critical bus lines.

Snowstorms do slow service
Asked if TriMet is better prepared for winter weather, Mills said he’s not on the agency’s Snow and Ice Team.

“Last year,” Mills commented, “it was the worst storm we had in 30 years. The City of Portland does not have the plowing equipment other cities do, because of infrequent winter storms. We had trouble with operators getting from their home to the bus barns. In heavy snow, we chain up the busses for safety, but it means they must drive slowly, impairing our service.”

Mills apologized for the inconvenience, and added, “As taxpayers, we don’t want our agencies to spend money on an event that occurs only every 30 years.”

Questions mass transit public safety
Portland Police Bureau Officer Robert Slyter asked why the garbage cans at SE 132nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard often overflow.

Wyffels said, while she’s not involved in bus stop maintenance in her work, “Trash cans are a magnet for household garbage, in the bad economy.”

Dayton asked Captain William Walker, Sgt. John Scruggs, and Officer Slater if crime has increased along the MAX Green Line.

“It hasn’t been a problem on the district level.” Slyter responded. “We roll through the Holgate Park & Ride looking for car prowls, and staying visible.”

Capt. Walker added, “There are camera systems along the line and a Transit Police station for policing the Green Line.”

New crime ‘hot spot’ an ‘eye-opener’ for cops
Turning to police calls in general, Capt. Walker noted that while the area at SE 122nd at E Burnside Street has had continuing incidents, the corner of SE 122nd Avenue at SE Powell Boulevard has become a trouble spot. “Statistically, we’ve had 500 calls for service there. It’s an eye-opener for us. A lot of it revolves around the bus stops in the area, but it also involves drug activity, fights. and ‘shots fired calls”.

Sgt. John Scruggs says, statistically speaking, crime is down in outer East Portland.

Looking at the latest crime report, Sgt Scruggs noted that, year-to-date, crime is down by 12% in outer East Portland. “Violent crimes, like homicide, are down by 50%. Robbery is even with last year; but there has been a 4% increase in Larceny/Shoplift.”

Seeing there were 30 burglaries in Powellhurst-Gilbert, Neighborhood Chair White asked why the rate was higher there – by ten in October – than in other areas.

“We don’t know why,” Scruggs replied. “It could be the bad economy, but all predictions are that we’d have a major increase in shoplifts – and that hasn’t happened. It could be that the neighborhood is mostly residential, and people being away at work make this an easier target.”

Will Johnson Creek flood this year? Come find out!
Come by and visit the Midway Business Association on November 10, and hear Marie Johnson from the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Johnson Creek Watershed Team talk about the potential for flooding this season. Members of the Foster Area Business Association are specifically invited to attend.

Visitors ARE welcome, and the presentation is free (but you pay for your own lunch). Their meeting runs from 11:45 AM until 1 PM at Bill Dayton’s PIZZA BARON Restaurant on SE 122nd Avenue, just south of Division Street. For more information, go to

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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