Standing Room Only

Portland Streetcar does a ridership sample each quarter. We were all a bit overwhelmed when the summer counts came back and said we had 7800 riders each weekday.

Hold on to that hanger strap, the fall (Sep-Nov) counts are in and we’re at 9,000 weekday riders. Saturday ridership is down slightly (6,600 down from 7,600 in the summer) and Sunday is holding steady around 3,000.

What to attribute this to? The RiverPlace extension clearly has an impact, demonstrating the n-squared nature of networks. The value of a node in the transportation network varies as the square of the number of nodes (a theory originating in computer networks). Add more nodes and ridership should go up geometrically, not linearly.

There is also a virtuous cycle at work here. We built the Streetcar to enable high density residential development. Now those developments are filling up, generating ridership for the Streetcar…

History suggests the winter counts will go down, but then we’ll come back with more growth in the summer. Next summer will see the opening of the Gibbs extension, triggering the n-squared rule again…

18 responses to “Standing Room Only”

  1. The few times I have taken the Streetcar past PSU down to Riverplace, it really empties out at PSU. Do you have the numbers for the new extension? But regardless, congrats on the fall numbers.
    My wife rode it…two stops…for the first time last weekend and seems game for a little tour through our old NW neighborhood via Streetcar.
    She tells me I can ride transit for the rest of my life, but I will never catch up with her. She rode four different lines from home to school in Frankfurt a/Main.

  2. Chris,

    This is what we have needed all along! I hope that if and when production of streetcar units comes to Oregon we will analyze both the vehicle and the construction process and see how this can be made even more affordable, so that even less densely settled communities will find it is a helpful and affordable solution to them.

    BTW, I wish you would put in another plug for the upcoming UN-HABITAT World Urban Forum in Vancouver, BC. I have beeen following these since 2000, and we won’t have another one this close for many, many years. So I am trying to find Northwest organizations concerned with urban issues who could jointly participate in an informational booth. I will have to decide soon whether to rent a $1000, 10 X 20 booth for the five day exhibition period in June.

    So if you could post another bug about it, Here are some links:

  3. 9000 riders a day? Keep it up Portland Streetcar, wait, go for more! Say can it handle 10,000 a day? I heard that Tacoma LINK was being attacked as a shuttle that nobody would ride, and when it hit and surpassed the 2010 projection for daily ridership(2000 a day) in only 3 weeks, the critics then attacked it saying since it was a free ride, that did not count. Say, what was the long-term projection for the Portland Streetcar by now on daily riders?

  4. We have already added an extension to the system, and will open another extension this summer, so I don’t know that any of the original ridership predictions would have much validity. We did receive an incremental appropriation from our City Council to add more service hours that was conditioned on continuing to increase ridership, and we have already blown away those predictions.

    Capacity is largely an issue of having vehicles on hand (3 more are now under construction for the new extension) and the budget to operate them.

  5. I have noticed on Skoda’s Website that they are developing a 5 section tram for Prague, Wroclaw(Poland), and Sardinia. I wonder if that could be adaptable for streets in the US, specifically the Pacific Northwest?

    Critics are picking on the S. Lake Union Line up here, and are also suggesting that the currently suspended Waterfront line is not worth reviving. The S. Lake Union line will serve a growing neighborhood, but is accused of being too short. I say they are right on that, but to rectify that, build North to the University of Washington, and South to King Street Station.

  6. Evergreen TF,

    I think you are right on. Having spent four years in Seattle, I would agree that connecting the U.W. all the way to the to the train depot would be critical for the succcess of such a project. Nothing is worse than to get something partly right. What route through downtown would you think best? Too bad you could not connect it to the Waterfront line, but you might need a cable car! Students would probably be your biggest rider-base, so going through UW is essential. This could also provide a station for a later link of LRT to Everett.

  7. We saw a number of 5-section trams in Amsterdam. Deploying those in Portland would require a very different strategy for our stop platforms. Today we design them in about the same form-factor as a bus stop. To make a five-section tram work in a manner compatible with ADA, we’d need a much larger platform, which would necessitate removing more parking in most cases.

  8. Streetcars once ran on the surface in Downtown, 3rd Ave is relatively flat Northbound, Southbound it has a big dip, but that could be alleviated by running Contraflow on Prefontaine Place. On Capitol Hill in Seattle, there is an athletic field at 14th and Jefferson that was once a bus barn, and before the conversion to trackless trolleys, it was a streetcar barn. It is interesting, and the cars went the long way, because James St and Madison were Cable Cars.

    Also, LINK LRT construction seems to have gone into overdrive now, Lander and Royal Brougham Stations are rising in SODO, the tunnel retrofit is progressing fast, and had technology not changed and the rails been properly insulated, it may have only taken months, not two years to retrofit it for Light Rail.

  9. Evergreen TF,

    While supportive of alternatives to cars and freeways (I just found a copy of the old 1990 Transportation Plan, by Robert Moses, that would have effectively dissected this town) I think perhaps the primary criticism of commuter rail is the federal subsidy. I think this wil be a heightened issue, given the condition of the US budget at present. Nevertheless, counteracting the cost of federal subsidies, is both the preservation of neighborhoods from autoroute expansion and the development potential along rail routes. I was always surprised that there was so much fear of a LRT depreciating RE values, in Seattle, when I had observed the very reverse occurring here.

    LRT routes SHOULD be carefully evaluated to place them where ridership will be maximized. Otherwise, a bus is far less expensive: I have questions about some of the proposals here. I think in the overall American experience with LRT there are successes and there are failures. One formula to evaluate could be riders per mile. See this link:

    The Boston “Green Line” is a hands down winner. Salt Lake City, apparently, did not do so well. I think Seattle would really benfit, but it is important to get people to want to use it.

  10. Just think of the value of the property underneath the I-5 freeway on the eastbank of the Willamette across from downtown. Sunset Highway and I-405 virtually destroyed Goose Hollow; same for I-5 and Lower Albina. Not to mention the old ramps connecting the Ross Island bridge to Front Avenue in Lair Hill.
    Freeways destroy neighborhoods; streetcars build them. Its an easy choice if its your neighborhood.

  11. I was just by our LRT Construction sites in my neighborhood, and they are hard at work. Neighborhood residents wanted a tunnel, and it held it up for a few years, but the surface alignment is now under construction. Target date for service start-up is 2009, but at the current rate of construction, and if the Tunnel Retrofit and Beacon Hill Tunnel get done early, there could be a small chance of an early opening in 2008.

    In Tacoma, Sound Transit is considering two options for extending Tacoma LINK to the west, both call for getting to Tacoma Communinty College, but one is more of a streetcar, the other will be completed to Central Link standards. Cost is one factor. ALso, Pierce Trransit Route 1 passes within blocks of Tacoma Dome Station, and at least three rush-hour trips divert to it, to drop-off and pick-up commuters, as that is where SOUNDER commuter trains terminate. SOUNDER is a good service, and is an option for Weekend Games during Mariner and Seahawks Seasons, They run two Gameday trains for the Seahawks.

  12. Lenny,

    I was just thinking about this I5 rerouting proposal last week. It’s too bad that the I-405 could not be double decked. Seattle has that for weekday use. Then Interstate traffic could be changed to that route. But this would require major reworking of that freeway. The idea of tearing down the Marquam bridge and running I-5 underground (and through a tunnel under the Willamette) seems pretty spendy. Don’t we have a lot of other priorities; such as getting people out of the cars locally through making the public ride pleasant?

    I would like more of those funds to trickle down to improving my neighborhood…..and I bet a lot of other Portlanders would, too.

    Does anyone have a monetary figure on what this I-5 project would cost? And how much more if it can not be done until the next decade?

  13. Ron,
    did you see Steve Duin’s column this morning?
    The land values under and adjacent to I-5 along the eastbank will be huge once the freeway is gone. ODOT can recoup some of the costs just by selling that land to developers.
    Currently I-405 has two through lanes, I-5 has two and I-205 has two or three…not sure. Why not add a through lane each way to I-405…I think the cut is wide enough… and to I-205. We remove I-5 altogether with no net loss of through lanes for in town and bypass traffic. I-405 becomes I-5.
    You still have to deal with the UPRR mainline, but Jim Howell has worked out in detail a tunnel arrangement that’s within RR specs. Also, replace the Marquam with an arterial/lightrail bridge; it would provide better connections than the existing freeway does for local trips.
    Let’s do it!

  14. One can definatley see the benefits of light rail system like MAX because a vast majority of the lines have lanes and rails devoted soley to light rail. However, the streetcar is a huge waste of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars (probably even more than that). The streetcar does nothing more than a bus could do. If there is heavy traffic in downtown, the streetcar is stuck in that same traffic just as a bus would be because it runs soley on automobile lanes. Yet another absolute WASTE of taxpayer dollars! If anyone can explain to me how having buses run the same route would be more cost effective or time effective I’m willing to listen.

  15. Peter, the Streetcar has catalyzed $2.4B of private development along its alignment. Buses simply don’t do that, nor do they delivery the same quality of rider experience that Streetcar does.

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