Archive | Streetcar

Jasmine Block Double Tracking Underway

Saw cutting and road closure is underway along SW Montgomery adjacent to the Jasmine Block in SW downtown as work has begun on the double track work associated with completing the loop. I was on my way home from grocery shopping with my family last night when I noticed the familiar orange barrels accompanied by saw cut pavement.

SW Montgomery Construction

SW Montgomery Construction

This morning, I checked in with streetcar construction updates to learn the timeline on this work. According to the update, work should be completed by September 28th, just in time for fall term to begin at PSU with the only major headache occurring from September 15th to 21st where service will be suspended from SW Clay to the South Waterfront. Shuttles will serve this stretch while new switches are installed.

Since I live in this area, I should be able to provide some updates with photos as work progresses. Chris posted some material on this section last November which provides some critical background on why this work is occurring and just how it will look once work is completed.

What the Streetcar Haters Skeptics are Missing

There have been several critiques recently, dismissing streetcars as slow transit.

I think that misses the point of streetcar, at least as we have deployed it here in Portland. Streetcar is transit that emphasizes short trips.

That’s very much in line with the ‘Healthy Connected City’ plank of the Portland Plan, which envisions Portland as a city of corridors and centers that provide most of the daily needs of citizens within an easy walking or biking distance. The development pattern that streetcar incentivizes, and then serves, very much supports this vision.

The other point that’s missed is that streetcar exists in the context of a larger transit system. Certainly you could not and should not build a transit system entirely of mixed-operation streetcars.

In Portland, the regional transit system has a hierarchy of three levels of service:

1) Local Bus Service

2) Frequent Service Lines (bus)

3) High Capacity Transit (LRT, Commuter Rail, future BRT)

Streetcar wouldn’t make any sense if there were not the other options to move from the streetcar districts to other places (there are lots of intersections between streetcar and the HCT and frequent service lines).

And I would note that from my home, I have the option of either streetcar or a frequent service bus to get downtown (roughly covering opposite right angles of a rectangle) and they take about the same time. Streetcar is really not slower than a bus in a dense urban environment.

There’s also been some debate about where streetcar falls in this service hierarchy. Some of our planning documents lump it in the Frequent Service category, and there’s some logic to that as the operating costs and other characteristics are similar. But I think mixed-operating streetcar is really in a category by itself that I’d be inclined to label as “High Capacity Local Service“.

Some of the criticism of the DC streetcar has been focused on replacing bus service. We have largely not done that with streetcar in Portland, it’s been complimentary to the existing bus lines (some of which have been reconfigured slightly to take advantage of this). Replacing a purely local bus might work with streetcar, but probably not if the bus operated over a much longer route. Replacing higher classifications of transit service with mixed-operation streetcars would likely be problematic. Portland will probably be faced with this temptation as we expand the streetcar network. I hope we will choose carefully and wisely.

The question has also been raised about how “future-proof” these streetcar investments are? I would suggest that the future opportunity is to convert these lines to dedicated right-of-way by removing auto use from the alignments. The VMT goals in Portland’s Climate Action Plan would hint in that direction.

So I rise today not in support of slow transit, but in support of short-trip transit!

Streetcar Loop Milestone

It might be masked a bit by Rose Festival, but Portland Streetcar hit an important milestone today!

The “CL” line (the “loop” to the east side) is now running at the same headways as the “NS” line on the west side (about 4 minute shorter headways at peak service).

The important benefit of matching the headways is that in the shared route portion of both lines (10th and 11th from Market to Lovejoy), we can interleave the vehicles evenly, resulting in effectively doubled frequency for customers on that part of the system (7 minutes at peak).

In a little over a year when we “close the loop”, this double-frequency zone will extend all the way from South Waterfront to the Pearl.

It just keeps getting better! BTW – for the skeptics, ridership on the CL line has approximately doubled since it opened, and overall system ridership is very close the 16,000 riders/day on weekdays.

Passing the Streetcar Baton

Yesterday Willamette Week announced the retirement of Rick Gustafson as the Executive Director of Portland Streetcar, Inc.

This morning, as a member of the PSI Board, I had the chance to vote for his successor, Dan Bower, who for the last several years has been the leader of PBOT’s Active Transportation group.

Streetcar has many parents, but Rick has been the through-line, chief strategist, and finder-of-money for the life of this project. I’m sad to see him go.

But this is an important step in the evolution of Streetcar as an agency. Rick has always been part-time in the role, on a consulting contract. Dan will be a full-time employee of PSI. This marks a maturation of the role and the organization.

I look forward to working with Dan as we continue Streetcar as a transformational tool for Portland and the Region.

Streetcars as Part of the Transit Network

Curtis Ailes has long been a Portland Transport correspondent, living in Indianapolis. He and his family have recently moved to Portland and we’re happy to welcome him to the region and to Portland Transport!

Recently, a tectonic jolt rocked the transit blogosphere as The Atlantic Cities’ Eric Jaffe penned a column supporting the notion that streetcars in America are not part of the traditional transit network. Jaffe presented data suggesting that low ridership share of streetcar lines (as a percentage of total network ridership) supported this notion. Portland was not spared the brunt of this conclusion with Streetcar contributing a meager 3.5% (approximately) to the regional fixed route network. Certainly, when viewed through this frame, the thought makes a lot of sense.

But is this a suitable validation of the core question? Are streetcar systems “failing” as transit simply because they are not generating huge ridership numbers? Is the data being sliced the right way?

A look at Portland’s Streetcar ridership shows an increasing trend in boardings over time with no major dips. Analyzing the data a bit further, as of Q4 2013 daily weekday boardings are averaging over 13k (Q2 2014 has improved to 18k/day).  Contrast this with MAX which came in at 108k, and streetcar, if counted as part of the system, would count 10% of the system’s boardings.

I thought that digging a little further and comparing Streetcar’s contribution vs other individual MAX lines made sense as well. According to data obtained from Trimet by PT’s Bob Richardson, and based on 2012 data (the latest detailed data he was able to obtain), Streetcar contributed just 7% to the 2012 numbers. Streetcar easily contributes more than WES, something we all know, but falls below the other MAX contribution to the network. However, if we compare the growth of streetcar in just one year, total share has grown 3% and if the latest jump in ridership from 13k to 18k are to be believed, that share continues to grow, even as total MAX ridership dips.

So what can we conclude? Streetcar while not as big a contributor to the total rail network as individual MAX lines is showing impressive year over year growth while MAX ridership has flattened. From this point, you can suggest causes for this however you want. City Center densification? CL contributions (even if it is chronically delayed)? Whatever story we craft, streetcar ridership growth is robust.

Anecdotally speaking, as a newly minted resident of Portland, my family and I have relied heavily upon the streetcar for daily functions. We use it get groceries & to run errands. We use it to explore new neighborhoods. We use it to stay dry when getting from one place to the next. As a long-time observer of transit systems nationwide, I can attest to the first hand usage of Streetcar as a crucial part of the local transit network versus a tourist attraction. An inspection of the data supports this.

data_snapshot_streetcar_as_transit