How Fast Is That Streetcar Anyway?

The perception has been shared here and elsewhere that the Streetcar is slow. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that a person walking can keep up with the Streetcar.

First we need to look at the purpose the Streetcar was constructed for. It was designed to be a circulator in the city center, not a commuter service. As such, it is geared toward frequent stops and short trips. This is the reason that stops are spaced relatively closely together. The emphasis is on convenience rather than speed. If we are successful in funding an extension to Lake Oswego, we will clearly be designing to a different set of goals and design parameters like stop spacing will look much differently.

It turns out that the biggest variable in the Streetcar’s progress through downtown is time boarding and de-boarding passengers. As the passenger count has risen to 7,800 per weekday, this has required the operations staff to sharpen their focus to keep service on-time, and sometimes we are challenged during peak periods.

Other important considerations include signal timing. For example, in the burn-in process leading up to opening the extension to RiverPlace, we were able to work with the signals engineers at PDOT to reduce the average Streetcar wait at the Naito Parkway signals from 45 seconds to 15 seconds.

So how fast is the Streetcar? Well, I can’t keep up. I often get downtown by walking along the alignment until a Streetcar catches up with me (something I can do without risking it catching me between stops by using the NextBus signs in the shelters). If I just miss the train at 23rd and Marshall, the next train (13 minutes behind) will catch me somewhere between Johnson and Everett.

In fact, the published schedule for Streetcar shows a 22-minute trip from PSU to NW 23rd, a distance of 2.4 miles. That works out to 6.5 miles per hour. Googling ‘typical walking speed’ produces estimates of 2.5-3.5 mph.

How does Streetcar compare to a bus? Let’s look at a side-by-side comparison. Both Streetcar and the #15 go from downtown to NW 23rd and Lovejoy/Marshall. Unfortunately since neither system publishes schedules for every stop, we’ll have to take approximate comparables:

Streetcar from Central Library (10th and Yamhill) to NW 23rd and Marshall: 17 minutes (3pm)

# 15 from 5th and Washington to NW 23rd and Lovejoy: 17 minutes (at 3pm)

In the morning, the bus shaves a few minutes off this, presumably because traffic is lighter, while Streetcar keeps a more constant schedule (different operating practices on scheduling), but you get the idea, the difference is measured in deltas of a minute or two.

By the way, the power-to-weight ratio of the Inekon vehicle is actually better than that of a MAX car, so watch out when we get on the open stretches to Lake O!

Let’s call it a Streetcar Named [Relatively] Speedy.

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