Streetcar in Vancouver, USA?

One our readers, who in fact suggested the idea in a comment himself, passed along this article from the Columbian.

Apparently Vancouver leaders are thinking about a Streetcar as a catalyst for their waterfront development.

17 responses to “Streetcar in Vancouver, USA?”

  1. This Columbian editorial favorably follows up on a Vancouver streetcar line idea:

    In our view: Streetcars? Here? – Thurs, Aug 16

    Even the distant past could be a source of transportation solutions in Vancouver

    How could a mode of transportation that became obsolete 81 years ago be considered a part of Vancouver’s transportation future? What kind of rear-view-mirror visioning is that?

    In the case of Vancouver city councilors researching the possibility of reinstituting streetcars, the visioning is not flawed. It’s creative.

    On Sept. 17 the council members will venture to Portland to ride and research the bigger city’s streetcar system, which carries about 10,000 passengers each weekday on a downtown loop that includes Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, the Pearl District and Portland State University. On Friday, the nonprofit streetcar system will extend the loop to a total of eight miles, reaching to the South Waterfront area.

    Would such a system work in Vancouver? No one knows … yet. And we would hasten to add that, until answers to two key questions (What will it cost? Who will pay for it?) are known, no decisions can be expected. For now, though, the idea of streetcars in Vancouver is worth researching for the following reasons:

    When the 29-acre waterfront property at the old Boise Cascade site is redeveloped – hopefully in the next few years – local residents and visitors will enjoy significant new opportunities to connect with the Columbia River. However, street access likely will be limited as city officials and developers explore ways to penetrate the railroad berm. To consolidate travelers onto streetcars might be a transportation tactic that would help overcome the access challenge. Consider, too, the fact that inclement weather could make streetcars a more desired way of getting to the new waterfront area than walking.

    Also, what’s wrong with reliving the past? The fact that Vancouver stopped using streetcars back in 1926 could be sufficient reason to bring them back even if just for nostalgic reasons.

    Because Vancouver’s – and Clark County’s – transportation challenges are varied and daunting, providing multiple forms of transportation just makes good sense…

    Vancouver city councilors are commended for thinking outside the box and exploring all possible transportation solutions.

  2. This is great news.

    Vancouver, USA needs streetcars. It needs SOMETHING, rather, and streetcars might be just the kick-start necessary to make that other SOMETHING happen.

    Look at it this way, Oregonians: To the extent that Vancouver remakes itself as an essential, interesting and desirable destination/place to live in its own right, Vacounverites won’t need to travel quite so much into Oregon.

    Not that we don’t love `em, but, you know, everybody should have someplace nearby that they can go that is interesting. You shouldn’t have to cross a state line.

    So, Go, Vancouver, Go — build yourself a streetcar system, and let it be successful!

    And, you know, order the streetcars from Oregon Iron Works, please. :-)

  3. It will be interesting to see what routes (if any) emerge from this discussion. There’s potential for a loop circulator that includes the Amtrak station, downtown, Fort Vancouver, and the waterfront — and a connection to MAX when it eventually crosses the river.

  4. Vancouver, USA needs… SOMETHING….
    (Jason slaps his hand on his forehead) – they do have that elusive *something*, it starts with a “C” and ends with “TRAN.” Yes, I’m aware that it’s currently bus-only service, but that qualifies as something. Many have gotten over the idea that they have to be riding a rail vehicle of some sort, and have realized that its not as bad as it first sounds.
    I’m not saying they shouldn’t consider streetcars, light rail, commuter rail, particle transporters, or whatever; but it should be their decision. Yes, we’re allowed to help them make that decision, but let’s let them make it.
    There’s potential for a loop circulator that includes the Amtrak station, downtown, Fort Vancouver, and the waterfront…
    That’s interesting, since the waterfront portion of the 3-City Center was almost eliminated due to low ridership. The announcement that Fred Meyer was closing their store at 4th Plain and Grand, in favor of a new store near Pearson Airpark and SR-14 made them change their mind.

  5. Most of Vancouver’s buses routes aren’t that amazing though. They don’t have anything that rivals the 14-Hawthorne, or 72-Killingsworth/82nd in terms of ridership/frequency, their 2 best bus routes are just barely “frequent service” quality by Portland standards. As such, I’m not seeing Vancouver’s streetcar being used as a replacement to for those routes because ‘they are so full and it would be cheaper to run a streetcar,’ but more of a ‘development tool’ anyways…

    And I don’t see them running streetcar tracks down Fourth Plain or Mill Plain anyways, but they may have more vision that I’m giving them credit for. Ripping up major roads to run tracks down them, (a la Interstate MAX or CEID streetcar,) strikes me as a more Portland type thing to do, and the people that don’t like that sort of thing have tended to move to Vancouver…

  6. A relatively short E/W streetcar line that ties the Amtrak station and the old Boise Cascade property along the river to downtown and the Historic Reserve makes a lot of sense. Downtown Vancouver’s streets are very wide, and there was not much traffic, foot or otherwise, so a streetcar could be easily accommodated. The Historic Reserve is a real regional treasure.
    MAX when it gets there will, I expect, follow a N/S alignment at least as far as Uptown. If I were a developer of the old Boise Cascade site, I would push for a streetcar, much as Homer Williams did in the Pearl District.

  7. I find a bus ride nowhere near as comfortable as MAX light rail. Thus, I estimate the distance the average transit user can bear on light rail is double the distance bearable on a bus. Were MAX to reach Vancouver, Washington residents travel via mass transit throughout the metropoltan region is increased exponentially. To oppose MAX into Vancouver is a disservice.

    I have to ‘disagree’ with Lenny that MAX in Vancouver should be aligned N/S. Because the larger amount of population growth and development is in east Clark County, MAX extension from downtown Vancouver should proceed east to Vancouver Mall. I favor the VA Hospital/Clark County College route, but from there a route option along St Johns Road to SR500 still seems more promising than the current route along the east side of I-5. I think some number-crunching is going on within the planning, a park-n-ride quota rather than bus-to-rail rider estimation.

  8. The earlier comment made it sound like there’s nothing at all up there except driving, which isn’t the case. I’ve been on standing room only 40-ft. buses on Saturday evenings in a community where some think all the local routes could be served by vans and even Volkswagens on weekdays only. I’m not kidding.
    Matthew, I 100% agree with the comment about Vancouver not having a Hawthorne Blvd. or 82nd Ave., and would’ve cited those same exact routes, but not everywhere has those type of environments to begin with, Portland is just fortunate enough to have both of them.
    Technically, they have one route that could be considered frequent service – 4-Fourth Plain. 37-Mill Plain and 71(37)-Highway 99 are being upgraded to 15-minute service 6 days a week Oct. 1, but Sunday service will still be every 30 minutes.
    I could’ve also mentioned that down here, TriMet route 83-OMSI was nixed due to ridership, but its one of the main destinations being discussed on the proposed Portland Streetcar loop – similar to the Vancouver waterfront destination comment.
    And I don’t see them running streetcar tracks down Fourth Plain or Mill Plain anyways…
    Me neither. Maybe they’ll decide to put light rail down one of those (its been done on maps for several years), but that’s a huge maybe.

  9. I think Lenny was talking about a MAX N/S alignment in downtown, which would make for a nice local transit network when combined with an E/W streetcar line. (Did I get that right, Lenny?)

    As for MAX, I think Vancouver/Clark County ultimately should go for three lines: North to Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek Park & Ride; East to Vancouver Mall (and possibly on to Clark County Fairgrounds); and a line up I-205 from Gateway to Vancouver Mall.

  10. I was over to the Vancouver city council meeting two weeks ago and implored them to not waste the excellent opportunity they have in their western waterfront on the Columbia. I told them that a lot of people in Portland didn’t believe five years ago that the Pearl or South Waterfront would undergo such a huge transformation as it has. Now it is Vancouver’s turn.

    I also suggested that the CRC project was a waste and instead to focus on the BNSF corridor. Need to get back to them soon. Vancouver is already making some impressive changes. The beauty of the BNSF corridor is that, right now, there is very little there– so it is ripe for an urban renewal project. OTOH, the present downtown of Vancouver has some historicity to it, so I would rather not see the expansion of the I-5 and any supplemental bridge take out those properties.

    A streetcar would be better in Vancouver, if they can afford it. I have reservations about a Clark County MAX—since Clark Co is so low density I wonder if it would really attract that many riders.

  11. If Vancouver approves and builds a MAX extension, they’d have so many Portlanders visiting and leaving money behind, Vancouverers wouldn’t have to make any more sales tax-dodging raids. And though there’s plenty enough regular commuters, midday riders, joy-riders and air travelers who’d opt for taking the MAX, there’s bound to be more with growth.

  12. I think there is a lot of support in Vancouver for getting MAX across the river. There is a lot of opposition in rural Clark County. And there is some healthy skepticism of some of the more ambitious proposals for an extensive light rail system to support the sprawling development around the city. Without the land use component to encourage transit friendly compact development, MAX can easily become what someone called “urban jewelry”, an expensive status symbol serving little real purpose.

  13. My suggested N/S MAX alignment was just up to UpTown or Clark College…after that its anybody’s guess, but probably both a N line and a NE line would make sense at some point.
    re density & development. Remember that the Westside MAX was built intentially thru some under-developed areas so that they could be built out with more density along the line. Its worked to some extent.
    The real challenge is getting zoning fixed along the MAX lines, and look at Portland (see today’s Trib). We are finally dealing with that more than three years after the Yellow Line opened. Should have been done as soon as the alignment was fixed in ’99.

  14. Lenny –

    My fear is that people are assuming parallels with Washington County that I don’t think are really there. The leadership in Washington County had a commitment to increasing density. Clark County does not. Washington County has more jobs than people, the opposite of the Clark County. Washington County had an established transit network which, for all its weaknesses, is much more robust than Clark County.

    I am not saying Clark County shouldn’t have light rail or that it won’t work there. But there needs to be a real commitment beyond liking the idea of light rail as a means for other people to get to work in Portland.

    They need to make a real commitment to concentrating their own employment in areas that can be served by transit. And they need to take control over the auto-dependent housing development that has created the traffic problems across the river to begin with. Without a land use plan that really supports it, MAX is a poor investment.

  15. If Vancouver approves and builds a MAX extension, they’d have so many Portlanders visiting and leaving money behind, Vancouverers wouldn’t have to make any more sales tax-dodging raids.
    Probably wouldn’t do much good. Because they can drive to Jantzen Beach (and now Cascade Station), some still will. Gateway isn’t too far away from them, either. Those of us from Oregon can just show some Oregon ID and pay zilch on everything except services.
    If anyone has any ideas besides setting up domestic checkpoints, I’m sure both Vancouver and Clark County would like to hear them. (Also, I’ve always thought it was strange the Washington State Dept. of Revenue office is in an out of the way space on the backside of Vancouver Plaza.)

  16. *Whoah*, should probably clarify that I’m referring to the sales tax (not the purchase price!), and that’s how almost all public transit is funded in Washington State.

  17. I’ll say this: Get Max to downtown Vancouver, and you’ll have riders. Both ways. Replace duplicate bus service, and you can improve the demanded services, and maybe others. Won’t people start wanting it if it’s a good option for them?

    Open the door, people will use it. I’d love to take a bus to the Max to a bus to home. Or a bus to Max to bus to work. But, I can’t. Right now it’s bus to bus to Max to bus to bus to long walk. That’s not productive.

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