Talking About the Tram

The Tram is being talked about everywhere today. There is a Steve Duin column as well as a long piece by Ryan Frank on the history of the project in the Oregonian.

And of course Jack Bog is blasting the project, while Portland Architecture is (at least partially) rising to its defense.

About the only place where you’re not hearing about the Tram is here at Portland Transport. I’ve written no specific pieces on our latest mode of transportation.

Why not? I’m deeply conflicted about this project. While I believe it’s going to become a signature transportation tool for our city, and part of an overall transportation system I’m very proud of, I have a lot of reservations about how it was done.

I was not impressed with the way neighborhood concerns were handled, and clearly the budget development process, and the way it was presented to the community, were – to be charitable – inadequate.

So I’m on the back benches on this one, gritting my teeth waiting for the pain to be over, but hoping for a good long-term outcome.

16 responses to “Talking About the Tram”

  1. The pain will be over when the PPS, teacher’s advocates (a polite phrase of SEIU), and the legislature actually starts criticizing these projects that drain statewide education coffers to create political monuments that don’t contribute to the community.

    NOTE: I also have yet to hear whether this tram will have a bicycle friendly rack on the outside. HOW DARE THEY!!!

  2. For a city without a research university…a show-stopper for economic development in the 21st century…the quibbling for the tram budget seems foolish. Looking at the big picture, OHSU had better be a big part of our future, or that future will be bleak. Connecting OHSU to South Waterfront is just a no-brainer.
    Its ironic, but a lot of the tram costs are due to design that was driven by neighborhood concerns. The tram is a clear case where the greater good trumps the neighborhood. Sorry. And many of the opponents are the usual suspects who oppose any public investment in anything.

  3. FYI –

    I emailed the tram project coordinator and asked him for the operating parameters of the final tram design. Here are the stats from his reply:

    • The Tram is designed to be operational up to 50mph wind speeds.
    • Completion date: Fall 2006
    • Cars: Two 79-passenger cars, both ADA-compatible and able to roll on/off bikes
    • Capacity: 980 people/hour in each direction
    • Speed & ride time: 22 miles/hour; 3 minutes
    • Frequency: Departs every 5 minutes during peak hours less during off peak
    • Operating hours: Still being finalized but anticipated at 6am-10pm weekdays with some reduce hours on weekends.
  4. The real tragedy with the Tram is that the City of Portland quashed any attempt to propose alternative technology. Jim Howell’s tunnel/elevator proposal was published in the Oregonian and a neighborhood resolution asked that it be analyzed. The City refused to do so.

    For about the same amount of money as the final price of the Tram, Portland could have gotten a facility that would actually function as part of the regional transit system. It looks as if the Tram will actually increase the demand for parking in South Waterfront, by folks who work up on the hill. A people mover would have served the Ross Island Bridge transit corridor and the Barbur Blvd transit corridor (where light rail will someday be built), and could have greatly reduced demand for parking in both South Waterfront and Pill Hill. The Streetcar does not provide adequate connectivity between South Waterfront and the regional transit network.

    My estimate is that the right facility would have carried at least 10 times the ridership that the Tram will, with much lower operating costs, and no disruption to the intervening neighborhood. Existing horizontal people mover technology, such as is used in the Detroit airport, would provide quicker travel time than the Tram. Remember, the entire Robertson Tunnel between Goose Hollow and Sunset Transit Center only cost $90 million, including the Zoo station and elevators.

    The reason this alternative was not even costed out is purely political – this was a done-deal dictated by the OHSU President and Board – they demanded a Tram. Ironically, a facility that is integrated into the regional transit system would have been eligible for Federal funding for 40% or more, so the local cost could have been less than what the Tram will cost us.

  5. Looking at the big picture, OHSU had better be a big part of our future, or that future will be bleak.

    While that may be true, there are an awful lot of smart people who seem pretty sceptical that Portland is going to become a biomedicine center. If the idea it will turns out to be mostly the hubris of OHSU leadership, we are going to have wasted an awful lot of public investment.

  6. My understanding is that a Tram ride will be a trip in TriMet zone 2, so if you have an all-zones pass you’re all set, otherwise it’s a zone 1/2 ticket.

    FYI, the Streetcar stop at Gibbs (where the Tram lands) is the first Streetcar stop (in the southern direction) that is outside fareless square. RiverPlace is fareless, Gibbs is not (the I-405 freeway is the southern border of fareless square).

  7. I would like to know why the bid on the cost to build the tram was not locked in. Shouldn’t the contractor ‘eat’ any increased cost of materials? These are contingencies that most contractors factor into their bids. If for some reason, materials go exhorbitantly high, too bad.

    Not knowing who the contractor is I suppose they might abdicate from the project, and hope to dodge a lawsuit. Maybe the city left a loophole with respect to such contingencies as increased material cost? Normally, a contract is a contract.

  8. The Tram is in my opinion something in which it was long over due. When it is completed, it will make a huge impact. Providing just another mean of transportation to the Water front. Boosting the need to develop this part of Portland and extending the OHSU campus.

    I am sure about the cost is nothing to be concerned. If anything, it should not be any more than riding in zone 2.

    But it should be paying for itself by all of the jobs it will create, the benefits it will provide to the OHSU Hill and any advances they make with their assistance.

    When it all is completed, it should be very exciting what happens.

  9. Doug,
    I was aware of Jim Howell’s tunnel idea…he wants a subway downtown as well. But I’m not ready to go into a tunnel…I like the view from MAX on the street and am sure the view from the tram will be breathtaking. Not that that is a justification for its construction.
    putting a relatively few public dollars on the tram (just a “rounding error” amount for any freeway interchange project) is really just a side bet. Will it play out as some hope? who knows, but OHSU is the closest thing we have to a research university… its our ticket win or lose.
    Already the promise of the tram has put a lot of private and semi-public dollars in play in South Waterfront.

  10. I do hope they let us take skis on the tram. If we ever get a good winter here, it will offer a nice 600 foot elevation drop over 4000 feet. I nice run with some good steep pitches at the top.
    I can’t wait!

  11. Lenny,

    I think you missed my point. I don’t care if the tram is above or below ground. In fact, one of the losing contenders in the design competition recommended a transit connection at the west end of the Ross Island Bridge. Bypassing Barbur and the Ross Island corridor means that there is virtually no transit benefit from the Tram.

    Will anyone transfer from TriMet to the Streetcar to take the Tram to Pill Hill? Will anyone transfer to Line 8 in order to take the Tram to South Waterfront? I expect not. So how do we justify using “energy tax credits” to pay part of the Tram cost?

    This is a classic case of form overriding function.

  12. Doug,
    You are right…an intermediate station at Barbur makes transportation sense, and the 8 bus will remain the key transit link from Downtown to OHSU.
    The Tram is more analogous to the sky-bridge over to the Veterans Hosp…a transportation link, but for a limited public. It will accommodate new trips generated by South Waterfront itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *