AORTA Testimony on Eastside Transit

Delivered May 10th at the public hearing on the Eastside Transit Alternatives Analysis.

AORTA asserts that all reasonable alternatives for an eastside circulator have not been fully analyzed. The Draft Evaluation Report states in Chapter 2, regarding the No-Build Alternative (page 2-1 paragraph 4), “A ‘best bus’ alternative with further bus system enhancements would not garner public support because it would not have the level of demonstrated economic development impacts that would [be] realized with streetcar”.

We don’t exactly know what the “best bus” alternative is but we suspect that it does not include a trolleybus system, which could demonstrate a similar level of economic development as a streetcar system.

Trolleybuses operate under a fixed guideway and can be valuable land development tools. A trolleybus system is fixed in place and the investment in the power wires gives it the same sense of permanence as streetcar wires and tracks but without the much higher track work costs. Trolleybuses, like streetcars, are quiet and non-polluting. Modern low-floor articulated trolleybuses are similar in capacity, access, acceleration and ride quality as streetcars. If a trolleybus system is given the same preferential signaling and curbside amenities, and operates with frequent all- day service, it will attract ridership similar to that of a streetcar system.

Following are some of the advantages of a trolleybus system (see attached map) over a streetcar system for an eastside circulator:

  • Costs much less to build (no tracks; no bridge needed over the UPRR)
  • Can cross the Hawthorne Bridge and the UPRR railroad tracks at grade
  • Can be built sooner (does not need Caruthers Bridge to complete loop)
  • Can operate more compatibly with heavy traffic on streets like MLK, Grand, Broadway and Weidler
  • Can respond more effectively to congestion and traffic blockages, since trolleybuses can move one lane over when needed
  • Can provide as fast, or faster, travel times between major destinations
  • Serves the Keller Auditorium area
  • Directly serves Union Station
  • Connects to the North Mall
  • Possibly lower operating cost (no track maintenance)
  • Possibly higher ridership (accesses additional important destinations)

A supplemental Eastside Transit Alternative Analysis that includes a trolleybus system is needed in order to evaluate all reasonable alternatives for this project.

Since the estimated cost of the full loop streetcar systems range from $187 to $204 million, $50 to $66 million short of any identifiable revenue, and cannot be completed until a new bridge across the river is built, there is time to do the supplemental analysis.

Jim Howell , Portland Chapter Chair


14 responses to “AORTA Testimony on Eastside Transit”

  1. I am troubled about development (being increased housing) driving out family wage jobs from this area. We are losing too many good jobs already.

    As to a trolly. Cost matters. Especially when we are still cutting police, fire and schools.

    But the real problem with alternatives to rail is that they cost less and thus don’t spread as much cash around to favored developers and campaign donors. (Which is why I am starting to be a believer in public financed elections)


  2. the zoning in the Central Eastside is such that housing will only be developed in a narrow corridor

    Zoning can, and likely will, change. Putting a streercar circulator through the middle of the Central Eastide almost guarantees the focus will move away from industrial development that creates blue-collar jobs.

  3. Mr. Howell,
    Are you aware of any studies that show the ridership catchment of relatively-analogous streetcar and trolleybus operations? I am well aware of the technical and performance differences between the two modes, but have not been introduced to any research that shows their respective abilities to attract passengers. Of course, modern-day trolleybus use in the U.S. is so limited that I would be surprised if any such conclusions could be made. What can be learned from trolleybus operations in San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle, Boston, or Philadelphia (or world-wide, for that matter)?

    While I am initially skeptical that a “traditional trolleybus” could perform as well as you suggest (I don’t necessarily agree that the trolley wire is as intuitive an indication of permanence as are tracks, and buses are typically far less comfortable for riders unless investment in the pavement is made, thereby eroding much of the cost savings desired), one that has distinctive styling and a positive image would certainly go a long way toward those goals (but PLEASE not one of those tram-on-tyres imitators like they have in Nancy–don’t insult the public’s intelligence by assuming that an attractive bus must be disguised as a tram).

  4. Ross, I’m a little more hopeful about the zoning than you are. I think policymakers recognize the need for a location for non-office employment near the city center. Central Eastside does that now, and could do it more intensely with high-quality transit service.

  5. “I am troubled about development (being increased housing) driving out family wage jobs from this area. We are losing too many good jobs already.”

    The biggest thing here isn’t that transit will provide, create, or push out blue color work. Portland currently is seen across the nation as a great place to work and play, but a very bad place to start a business because of the high costs. If Portland wants more blue color and related work than it needs to get it’s act together with this cost of startup expenses. …and that does NOT mean to subsidize businesses somehow, it simply means get out of the way and leave them be. Maybe a 5 year land and income tax abatement? Anyway I’m sure there is more than one solution, but transit isn’t going to hurt or help the inflow of actual “new” employment.

    Even the current streetcar has mostly just incurred some construction jobs for the new buildings, but it hasn’t been able to be correlated to the creation of any steady and permanent blue collar work.

    Simply put, if you want more blue collar work, you need to push the socialism out of power. It’s bad for business. Matter of fact check the most current Forbes, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Currently the number one city for start up costs, business expenses ongoing, and other related costs is Albequrque New Mexico. Go figure! I wouldn’t want to live there but if you’re going to make some cashola with a business, that’s the place to be right now.

  6. Adron, my theory is that Streetcar will intensify whatever you drive it through. In the Pearl, the market was building residential at the time, so it intensified residential. I think in the Lloyd it will intensify office development and some residential. I’m hopeful that in CEID it will intensify non-office jobs.

  7. I think policymakers recognize the need for a location for non-office employment near the city center.

    I think the policymakers realized that putting a parking lot next to light rail station two blocks from a freeway connection is a bad idea too. That didn’t stop them from approving Natures on Interstate.

    I am just doubtful that they will stand in the way if Homer Williams buys a piece of property in the central eastside and wants to put a high rise of expensive condos with views of downtown. The best you could hope for is that they make him call them “artists lofts”.

    I think it is very difficult to turn down a development that is ready to go for one you hope will happen in the future. The Cascade Station is another example of that.

  8. The post mentions an attached map, is there an online link to this? I would like to see exactly what is proposed here as a trolleybus is less restricted to inclines and obsticles than a streetcar, but less mobile than a regular bus.

  9. i am very interested in this electric trolley bus proposal.

    my only concern is all the out of the way looping like by omsi and by union station. maybe omsi can be left out of the ETB plan and served by light rail only and union station could be served by stops on the west end of the broadway bridge with stairs down to union station from the ramp above, then have the trolley buses just continue down the lovejoy ramp into the pearl.

    Also maybe a small trolley coach system could be installed in portland along hawthorne, nw 23rd, belmont, sandy blvd somewhat like the proposed system in the early 80s.

    has there been any consideration of an east side streetcar line that doesnt cross the river and just runs north-south down mlk/grand between rose quarter/lloyd and omsi thru the central eastside and operating much like a crosstown line?

  10. Chris says “Ross, I’m a little more hopeful about the zoning than you are. I think policymakers recognize the need for a location for non-office employment near the city center. Central Eastside does that now, and could do it more intensely with high-quality transit service.”

    If the Marquam and I-5 were removed, as many would like as a part of our “master transit plan” wouldn’t that open the door for the Eastbank to become a clone of downtown? Then the light industrial jobs would be headed to extinction. But that seems to be what many folks are supporting (Not me.) Such as River Renaisance and Ray Whitford.

    So what is it going to be? Preserving industrial jobs—or—an Eastside downtown over top of a west coast version of “The Big Dig?”

    As far as trolley buses—I’m sure they would cost less (which is good) but if you are not going to have the Streetcar why not just stick with existing transit? I like the streetcar, but assuming it becomes locally produced, would like to see some drastic rethinking. It seemed accoeding to the meeting rumors that it was going up in cost, too. This why a coordinated plan would help around here: we’re tearing up streets now (like Front Ave. or Burnside) and will probably tear then up again, soon. If a streetcar track was going in, just one tear-up, would be sufficient, thank you. Hey, reinforced concrete is expensive!

    So if the Streetcar were produced here this is my wish list: 1. Lighter vehicle. Why should it weigh 32 tons? Hurricane coming? 2. Modular track; prefabbed and quicly placed in the street (hopefully while the street is being reworked)
    3. More passenger capacity. It seems that the big doors remove a lot of seating–but I guess standees or bicycle racks fill that space in. Other posssibilities are an upper level (partial), or a fourth section, as long as overall weight is not exceeded. 4. Faster speeds. I have always understood that current Streetcars can go 45 mph (or some metric equivalent) but the speed is governed down for inner city apps. How fast would WestShore be, going through Dunthorpe?

    But, maybe these would require radical reengineering–of the railbed, too.

  11. Ron, I think you could do high-value development (e.g., condos, etc.) on the waterfront while still leaving employment east of there.

    Standing room gets you more overall capacity on the Streetcar than more seats. The assumption is relatively short trips. For LO we might want to have more seats.

    The way to really boost capacity is to engineer the loop so the car always runs in one direction. Then you can eliminate the doors from one side and the cab from one end. We saw vehicles like this in the Czech Republic.

  12. I agree that we need to be careful about putting the streetcar thru the eastside and preserving industrial land. The NW land was turned into the Pearl District and I know that they are talking of using other industrial lands for non-industrial uses, including Linnton.

    As for the trolley bus proposal, another issue I have is that it leads to a fractured transit system–one with too many modes. First it was light rail, then streetcar, frequent bus, now trolley bus and I know rapid bus has been mentioned.

    And on the last comment, for those who havent read the other blog posts, TriMet is planning to do exactly that with their next MAX trains.

    If only they kept the streetcar and/or trolley bus system that Portland used to have…

  13. And on the last comment, for those who havent read the other blog posts, TriMet is planning to do exactly that with their next MAX trains.

    Jason, at the most recent I-205 MAX CAC meeting, I asked a TriMet representative if the new LRVs just announced will be for the green line only, or if they will be distributed throughout the existing lines.

    I was told that, at least after the grand-opening has worn off, the new LRVs would indeed be operated on the existing lines as well. This is good news, because the blue line at peak hour will need the extra passenger capacity immediately.

    – Bob R.

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