The FX 2 – Division project will improve the reliability of bus transit—and people’s lives
The future of transit has arrived. The long-awaited project to make bus transportation more efficient, reliable and safe along Portland’s Division Street corridor opened on September 17th. TriMet’s Division FX is a national example of how cutting-edge technology and human-centered design can significantly improve the transit experience.
Located on one of the city’s highest ridership bus lines, Division FX is part road improvement, part bus rapid transit, part cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, part safety project and part neighborhood revitalization. It’s work that is leveraging the most advanced signal technology available to deliver better buses to residents living in one of the city’s most diverse—and historically, most dangerous—arterial corridors.
The Division FX project started as a transit project, designed to improve bus reliability and performance along 15 miles of Portland’s Southeast Division Street. And it does improve transit capacity and efficiency in a significant way: buses are longer, with room for 60 percent more riders; bus stations are elevated for quicker boarding; multiple-door boarding means briefer stops and stations are located where rider demand is greatest.
DKS Associates has been working on the project since 2015, which was then known as the Powell/Division Transit and Development Project. In this first phase, in addition to providing transportation planning and traffic engineering services for a high-capacity transit service connecting Mount Hood Community College to Portland State University via the Tilikum Crossing, DKS and the consultant team worked with TriMet, ODOT, Multnomah County, and the cities of Portland and Gresham to identify options for improving transit service and reliability.
The second phase of the project started in 2019, with DKS providing corridor planning, operations modeling, roadway design and fiber optic network design, in addition to helping design and implement the next generation transit signal priority system (Next Gen TSP).
The Next Gen TSP system is the centerpiece of Division FX and accounts for some of the project’s biggest impacts. The cutting-edge AI signal technology speeds buses through their routes, eliminating delays and improving the reliability of bus service for some of the city’s most transit-dependent neighborhoods. Next Gen TSP uses cellular technology to collect data to track the location and speed of buses, allowing the system to adapt the phasing of traffic signals to give an edge to bus riders and pedestrians.
“Next Gen TSP reduces the variability of bus arrivals and departures, and improves the on-time performance at bus stops. That increases trust among riders that the bus is going to be there,” said Adrian Pearmine, National Director for Smart Cities and Connected Vehicles at DKS who was the consultant Project Manager for this portion of the project.
Next Gen TSP signals are a significant upgrade to current TSP systems, which use infrared emitters inside buses and receivers on top of traffic lights and only work when a bus is near a signal. Because the performance data of multiple buses is constantly tracked and processed in cloud servers with Next Gen TSP, the system can speed buses through corridors while learning over time about optimal timing for bus stops and signals, improving the reliability and performance of bus transit, and most importantly, improving the passenger experience, shaving up to 20 percent off of average commuting times.
For Robin Tlehhema, Transportation Engineering Associate who was the traffic signal design lead for the project, the completion of Division FX is deeply personal. The project relied heavily on input from communities in some of Portland’s most transit-dependent and disenfranchised neighborhoods, where the reliability of transit is crucial to everyday life, and when a late bus means you cannot get to work or pick your child up on time. Tlehhema lives in one of the neighborhoods served by Division FX.
“My son’s elementary school is on this bus route and school field trips use transit rather than school buses for most destinations within Portland. However, the nearest bus stop wasn’t safe enough for my second grader’s class to use. His class had to walk to a stop further away from the corridor to take the bus for a field trip downtown. Then return using an even further bus stop to be able to safely cross the street and get back to the school,” said Tlehhema. “Today, that bus stop—and so many other bus stops—are completely safe for a class of second graders. We helped design a roadway for the people who live along Division, not just for the cars passing through.”
Tlehhema said that deep listening to community members throughout the project’s life cycle about how transportation and built environment improvements can impair or benefit people’s lives morphed the project into something better. “This project includes things like additional street lighting, improved pedestrian crossings and green stormwater management—the on-the-ground improvements that often are not included in transit projects, but that make using the transportation system safer and more equitable,” said Tlehhema.
Safety was a priority throughout the development of this project, located on one of the city’s high-crash corridors. According to Randy Johnson, DKS’ transportation and transit operations lead, that meant reordering who had priority on the road, with buses, bicycle riders and pedestrians given the first priority for movement, and car drivers coming second.
“Paying attention to simplicity and safety was key throughout our work,” Johnson said. “It is all about access for people: wider sidewalks, more comfortable and safe cycling, lower speeds for cars and buses with signal priority to speed them through. While challenging, we were able to make this corridor work better for all users, despite the complexities and limited right of way. We were able to be creative in our approach, maintaining mobility while making it safer.”