My (non-)Trip on Streetcar

I had a first last night. The Streetcar was too full to get on board.

It was about 5:30 at 10th and Couch, trying to get back to Northwest. The train was shoulder-to-shoulder and about three people got off. About 15 people were waiting to get on, and about six of us wouldn’t fit (I wound up walking a few more blocks and catching the #77 – got to walk by Jameson Square, where the fountain has just been turned back on – so it wasn’t a total loss).

Time to buy another car or two and get those headways down to 10 minutes (or less)!

28 responses to “My (non-)Trip on Streetcar”

  1. Chris,
    what headways will Streetcar be running when the extension to Gibbs and the Tram opens? Don’t you have three new cars arriving soon? I love the Streetcar. People should check out the report on the Streetcar website on Development Oriented Transit…its an amazing story. Last, it looks like the Eastside extension is definitely getting traction; is it time to talk about a time frame and opening date?

  2. Lenny, the operating funding agreement (between City and TriMet) for Gibbs supports 12-13 minute headways. We will have enough vehicles to operate at 10 minutes to Gibbs, but once we open to Lowell, that’s no longer true. The locally manufactured prototype car would probably enable us to run 10 minute frequency to Lowell, so it again comes down to operating funding.

    We’re still working on a 2009 opening date for the Eastside, as you say, the pieces are starting to come together.

  3. Chris,

    That’s great news! And people thought that the Streetcar would be under-used….

    I may have asked this before, but I don’t recall the answer: Do you have any more details to post on either the prototype car or the eastside extension?

    I seem the recall that one plan was for the eastside extension to boost headways in the downtown corridor to close to a streetcar every 5 minutes, by having some of them peel off to the South Waterfront and others cross the river to the Eastside.

    BTW… will the streetcars use the Hawthorne Bridge, which was specifically retrofitted to accommodate them, or is it way too soon to say?

  4. Chris, Don’t think the streetcar will be less crowded with closer headways. Usually the oposite occurs – but that’s not bad.

  5. I have to agree with Jim.

    Many more people will take advantage of the streetcar with sub 10 minute headways.

    Who wants to wait 20 minutes for slow local transit. Legs work better.

    But as soon as the streetcar has reasonable headways I bet it becomes much more popular.

    I hope that with the eastside streetcar there are multiple routes rather than just a large loop. It would be great to have a crosstown track via the Hawthorne plus the Caruthers/Steel bridge loop. Imagine, portland would actually have a center oriented mass transit system rather than just a suburban rail system!

  6. Plus, from what I’ve heard, we have around 3-5 thousand units of residential under construction/to be completed in the Pearl & downtown in the next 2 years. Thats a lot of new riders!

  7. On the note of capacity, does the company we bought the streetcar from make triple articulated trams? Maybe we should be building those instead of the current version… just a thought!

  8. To answer a few questions posed here:

    1) The eastside project should be having public hearing on the alternatives analysis study later this Spring to arrive at a locally preferred alternative. Then we have to lock down the funding commitments for the local match before we can apply to the Feds for the Small Starts money Earl helped get into the last Transportation Bill. The real question is how far can we afford to go on the first bite: Oregon St., Morrison St. or OMSI…

    2) No updates on the domestic car since I last commented on it

    3) Longer cars are certainly available on the market. I think a simplier step might be connecting multiple cars into a train. That would require a conversation with the neighborhoods along the alignment, since I think we promised at the start of the project that we wouldn’t do this because of livability issues, but they might have a different view now that they’re more comfortable with the result!

    Also, with either multi-car trains or longer vehicles, we’d have to re-engineer the stops, which would mean more parking removal, never a popular topic.

  9. Chris-

    I wonder if Tri-Met can put a clause in their RFP for the new streetcar, that preference will be given to companies within 50 miles of Portland? Without specifically naming a company, that might limit the competitors to companies that would not only contribute directly to the Oregon economy, but would build local expertise on streetcar construction and reduce shipping costs.

    Of course, learning from the USSLRV debacle would be key. We wouldn’t want the Oregon streetcars to turn out to be lemons!!

  10. Garlynn –

    Why limit it to 50 miles? Why not just “State of Oregon”… if a qualified contractor in the state wants to bid on it, why shouldn’t they?

    I personally don’t favor the practice of over-defining a contract so that only one preordained bidder could possibly provide a product.

    – Bob R.

  11. Streetcar is full. That’s good. Now can we start charging everyone who rides it, even within fareless square?

  12. Is the east side extension going to actually charge? I love riding the streetcar but I’d rather pay for it via farebox than force the population to pay for it via imposed taxes. Maybe it’s just me but only about 3% of the population has probably even ever stepped on the streetcar. Lots of people only ride it because it’s directly free, and only indirectly costs them money.

    Plus that would actually provide some economically realistic rider statistics than what are currently available. Saying that ridership is high is a false premise. 90%+ of the population basically pays people to ride on the streetcar, which really isn’t a very honorable or honest way to create ridership.

  13. Adron, most of the Eastside Streetcar will not be fareless (unless fareless square undergoes a major expansion, which I think is unlikely). But the current estimate is that it will generate something like 9500 new daily riders.

    Streetcar works because it’s convient, neighborhood-friendly and a better experience than the bus. Have the same fareless district as TriMet is certainly part of the convenience.

    As to the likelihood of the Eastside extension, the first critical funding step is for the local property owners to sign up for a Local Improvement District. That’s the first indication that the community thinks it’s important, and nobody else will put money on the table until that happens. The letters of intent are starting to pile up…

  14. does anyone see any likelihood of the streetcar being extended up mlk into northeast, possibly up alberta even? it could loop around at the end, down 33rd past new seasons, and then back through the fox chase neighborhood to alberta.

    i remember awhile back reading about folks along ne broadway discussing extending the eastside line up that street (a fine idea), but it seems like mlk is crying out for a streetcar line asap. most of the pdc projects up there are either stalled or delayed, and i’m amazed that i’ve heard no one suggesting putting a line in, which would help calm traffic and spur development.

    potter has said he wants to make mlk a street worthy of its name. the mlk streetcar would be a good start.

  15. I would like to see a streetcar replace the #14-Hawthorne someday.

    Historically, there was a once a streetcar on Hawthorne out to 53rd or 54th, which then headed south toward Lincoln and then up to 60th.

    A streetcar on Hawthorne could actually improve the pedestrian and automotive environment over the buses currently in use.

    Hawthorne has very, very narrow lanes (9ft). There is no room to widen lanes without eliminating on-street parking. Sidewalks are already relatively narrow for the amount of pedestrian traffic in the area.

    The current standard 40ft buses are just too wide to safely operate in mixed traffic on Hawthorne. On more than one occasion, I have witnessed buses narrowly avoiding squeezing a pedestrian against a parked car. On more than one occasion, an oncoming bus has crossed the center line into opposing traffic and I’ve had to swerve to avoid it, and frequently buses will cross over the lane marker, squeezing cars in the left lane over the center line.

    The fact that there are so few accidents overall along Hawthorne is a testament to the alertness of everyone involved, bus drivers, pedestrians, and motorists.

    However, a streetcar would solve a lot of these problems. By operating on fixed rails, a streetcar will never swerve into an adjacent lane. Painted lines and different paving materials ensure a clear delineation between access to parked cars and moving transit vehicles. All-electric operation is considerably quieter than buses and would improve the business and residential environment.

    I propose that the streetcar run the same route as the #14, with station stops in the far side of intersections. (For example, an eastbound streetcar would stop on the east side of intersections, not the west side as might commonly be expected.) This type of operation would permit the right-hand lane to remain unblocked for use as a right-turn lane for bikes and motorists.

    I would further propose that the right-hand lane be delineated as a through-lane for transit and bikes, but right-turn-only every few blocks (at streetcar stops) for motorists. Through traffic would remain in the left lane. By having clear purposes for each lane, traffic weaving patterns would be reduced.

    All of this presupposes, of course, that the first east-side streetcar extensions utilize the Hawthorne bridge.

    – Bob R.

  16. Commissioner Adams is working on launching a city-wide rail plan project to get at these kinds of questions.

    Without trying to steal his thunder, there is a group actively advocating for a Lloyd to Hollywood extension. If you wanted to work on a concept of connecting town centers in the Metro 2040 plan, you could head out MLK on your way to St. Johns.

    I don’t hear a lot of SE neighborhood leaders talking about Hawthorne, but rather about Belmont or Division (or further south). Part of the question is where do you want to help trigger development. Hawthorne is already pretty thoroughly developed.

  17. Also, to Bob’s point about bridges, the initial eastside effort will go across the Broadway Bridge and then head south. The big question is where do we come back across the river to complete the loop. The preferred option would be the new Caruthers Crossing that’s part of the Milwaukie LRT plan. If that doesn’t come off, then the Hawthorne Bridge would be the fallback. The return crossing is NOT budgeted in the financial planning (read LID recruitment) effort going on right now.

  18. Chris –

    Yes, I agree that Hawthorne is already well developed, however the #14 goes out Foster as well. There are numerous redevelopment opportunities along Foster which might be served well by a streetcar.

    Further, the streetcar (in my opinion) should not be viewed only as a development catalyst, but also as a way to upgrade to higher-quality service in existing heavily-used transit corridors.

    – Bob R.

  19. You know, the streetcar may be a catalyst, but there ARE other factors coming into play for redevelopment. Primary among them is location – the Pearl district was just the absolute perfect location for something to not happen.

    The further you go out, who knows whats going to happen? Gateway seems like its about ready to explode, but you really don’t have the density in other parts of Portland, at least to support massive amounts of high-end retail.

    I’d think you would probably get a lot of mid-sized buildings going up along a line, like we’re already starting to see, ala Belmont Street Lofts, Hawthorne Lofts (or whatever they’re called), and a few others… which would infill the area nicely.

    Transit should also serve existing areas – Chris, I agree – Hawthorne would be an excellent corridor to streetcar-ify.

    Alberta service would be nice, too… though I would hate to see a dupliaction of service sbetween the streetcar & MAX. Which is why I hope they never put the MAX stops too close together. =

    Maybe the streetcar & MAX should intersect more often – it could act as a feeder along, say, Alberta or Killingsworth, allowing people to transfer to the MAX and get downtown really fast? I’m sure theres lots of demand for E-W travel in NE/NOPO.

  20. Last time I say this, I guess. I think Milwaukie to Portland would be better served by a two route streetcar line than one big MAX route. But I suppose Tri Met is going ahead anyway.

  21. Streetcar is great for moving a limited number of people relatively short distances. MAX does a better job where longer distances and more people are involved. The Milwaukie line will be pretty fast as it will go alongside McLaughlin for much of the way, but it loses some of the local connections that Streetcar provides. Residents of SE Portland got Metro to put MAX back on the South Corridor study, so they are or were pretty determined to see it done.
    MAX is a hybrid between streetcars and subways; flexibility is its strength…a virtual streetcar in Lloyd and downtown, as fast as subway out the Banfield, and something in between on E. Burnside and N. Interstate. The same technology in Germany goes underground into city centers, but let’s not get into a subway discussion here again.

  22. Justin,
    Why replace the 72 Killingworth with a streetcar? That bus, the busiest in the system, connects Alberta & Killingsworth (PCC/adidas, Swan Island, etc)to the Yellow Line. 72 runs every 15 minutes or better 7 days a week, with peak hour service every 10 minutes. Hard to beat.

  23. I think the Eastside/MLK streetcar will be a great start. Of all the roads in Portland, MLK is the one most in need of redevelopment.

    After that line is completed, I’d definitely like to see transit-oriented streetcar lines feeding into the MAX system. Alberta…Belmont/Division/Hawthorne…Capital Highway…Hall Blvd in Beaverton…NE Broadway…39th…

    And once there are a few streetcar lines, it doesn’t cost much to creat alternative routes that maybe use multiple tracks…say a route that travels down Alberta and continues on 39th and comes into downtown via Hawthorne. Lots of possibilities!

  24. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love Streetcar and am looking forward to the Hollywood extension up near where I live.
    Note that the most promise on the eastside is where PDOT years ago put in couplets to “keep traffic moving”…Williams/Vancouver (to Killingsworth), Broadway Weidler (to 24th and beyond), Belmont/Morrison (to 24th and beyond).
    These are also all old streetcar lines as are Hawthorne (might work) and Milwaukie (just two lanes).

  25. Right ET,

    I was surprised at how many Seattle people had a fear of commuter rail ruining their neighborhoods. (I worked and lived there, 1998-2002, until the Seattle Marina fire) We have always seen soaring property values when a line goes in. Even the gold-plated Interstate line. I feel some MAX routes are overreaching, as the cost goes to $100 million per mile. If we could get streetcar production here (along with design, and engineering) I think we could bring the costs in line for that system so that it remains affordable. I think we could also increase the capacity. Anything’s posible, when we really have to…..

  26. Lenny:

    Yea, I think the MAX should act as more of a light-METRO system, while the streetcar is a circulator.

    My suggestion for Alberta was an E-W line, maybe connect from 33rd to St Johns by PLU?

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