Sellwood Transportation Projects

The Sellwood neighborhood has been in the news several times recently with regards to transportation issues. The bridge committee recently recommended four bridge designs and four alignments for further study. Theresa Pucik, the vice chairwoman of the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League, was quoted in the Clackamas Review recently decrying the planned location of the Bybee Blvd MAX station, citing safety concerns due to the lack of visibility and accessibility from nearby streets and likening it to the NE 82nd Avenue stop. Now Sellwood is in the news again, and although there has been no formal proposal, this time in a piece titled “Transit plans take long road,” the Portland Tribune reports that the possibility of a streetcar may be complicating two other projects in the area with regional implications.

The idea of extending the Portland streetcar to Sellwood is complicating two significant transportation projects – dealing with the aging Sellwood Bridge and creating a transit line between Portland and Lake Oswego.

No one has formally proposed building a new Sellwood streetcar line.

But city transportation Commissioner Sam Adams is interested in extending the streetcar service throughout Portland and believes the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Sellwood might be a good candidate, along with such east-side areas as Hollywood and Hawthorne.

However, in spite of stating that there are “complications,” it goes on to say:

This is not yet much of a concern for the Sellwood Project Advisory Group, a panel of regional elected and transportation officials working on the project to repair or replace the bridge.


Despite the large number of remaining options, a streetcar line could theoretically be included on all of the designs under study, said Mike Pullen, a spokesman for Multnomah County, which owns the bridge.

Pullen said that because a streetcar weighs only as much as a large truck, the rehabilitated or replacement bridge would not have to be strengthened beyond current thinking. And because no stops would be required on the bridge, the line could be run within the existing two-lane width.

“We’re not actually planning for it, but there’s nothing we’ve done yet that would prevent it,” Pullen said.

Complications, indeed. The article goes on to mention that the streetcar/enhanced bus options for Highway 43 were recommended for further study, but makes no mention of specifically how the not-yet-proposed Sellwood streetcar is complicating that project beyond a vague “those working on the Sellwood Bridge and the Portland-to-Lake Oswego transit project are trying to avoid making any decisions that would preclude a new Sellwood streetcar line.”


The committee also agreed to study two designs for a separate bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists: cable-stayed and stress ribbon. No cost estimates are yet available for such a bridge.

There has been quite a lot of talk going on lately about Sellwood. What suggestions do you have for Sellwood’s transportation future? Should we be considering an east-west one-way couplet between 99E and the infamous bridge? Should the bridge alignment remain on Tacoma Street? What type of streetcar route would really help Sellwood businesses and residents? Should said streetcar cross the river to tie in to the proposed Portland-Lake Oswego line to the future Portland-Milwaukie MAX? Or perhaps along Bybee out to the Reed College area? How do we best address perceived safety concerns for the Bybee Blvd or even the Tacoma Street MAX station?

Continue reading Transit plans take long road

18 responses to “Sellwood Transportation Projects”

  1. Why build a separate bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists? IIRC, Jim Howell’s rehab suggestion was to put a pedestrian/bicycle deck on the truss. Why isn’t that being looked at? I’m all for more bicycle facilities, but creating an entire new bridge seems like a real waste of transportation dollars when a bike path could be added to the existing one.

    As for a streetcar, I’m skeptical. Does Sellwood have anywhere near the density OR the development potential to support a streetcar line?

    If we do look at a Sellwood streetcar, I’d consider looking at the line along the east bank from OMSI to the Sellwood Bridge. There’s really nothing along the way, but the track already is in place and carries nothing but occasional excursion trains. There could be a single-track express from OMSI to the Sellwood Bridge (probably with a stop at Oaks Park) and then into Sellwood along Tenino and/or Umatilla. But still: how much is in Sellwood, or how much could be there, to justify that kind of transportation investment?

  2. I don’t know about any more streetcars.

    With the current hype about fare evasion and transit security, it seems doubtful that the ‘honor system’ method of collecting fares can be planned into any more routes. Clackamas County and Gresham are already looking into ways of changing MAX station designs to incorporate turnstiles… I wonder how that would work at a streetcar stops every five blocks?

    Maybe we should just stick to buses.

  3. “Why build a separate bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists?”

    I have to agree. If we are going to build a bike/ped only bridge, I wouldn’t put it right next to a bridge that we are already replacing, I’d put it someplace else. My personal choice would be Kelly Point Park to Sauvie Island, but both north and south of the Sellwood bridge along the river are suffering from connection problems… (That is assuming that the new Sellwood bridge could have a ped/bike deck, and that it wouldn’t add that much to the costs…)

  4. “There’s really nothing along the way, but the track already is in place and carries nothing but occasional excursion trains.”

    Those are active freight tracks.

  5. Those are active freight tracks.

    I was unaware of that. I’d thought the freight traffic on that corridor was long gone. All the times I’ve walked or ridden the bike path, I’ve never seen anything but the excursion trains. Obviously, if it’s still in freight use, it should remain so.

  6. I really believe that placing the bike and pedestrian deck below the lanes of motor vehicle traffic on the Sellwood Bridge is a bad idea. A separated path such as this will have many of the same safety and security issues that the existing grade separated MAX stations have.

    SE Tacoma Street is a challenging corridor in many regards. On the plus side, the area closest to the existing Sellwood Bridge has seen a renaissance of sorts in recent years as a number of new and expanded businesses have opened up. I would hate to see this new vitality curtailed through road expansions or relocations.

    However, the area between SE 17th Avenue and McLoughlin Boulevard just isn’t living up to its potential. I think that this could be resolved through a mix of targeted sidewalk improvements, zoning that allows more mixed use development, and a new streetcar line in the area.

    Although I support streetcars in general, I feel that there are limited opportunities for such lines in this part of town. There just aren’t that many undeveloped parcels to spur development on. However, a short extension along SE Tacoma has some potential. Such a line could provde a needed connection between the proposed Lake Oswego Streetcar and the Milwaukie MAX. Transit riders would no longer have to go downtown in order to travel between Sellwood and Lake Oswego.

    As for MAX, public support for a station at SE Bybee is clearly on the wane. There are concerns about security at a grade spearated station. I also wonder how buses can stop on the Bybee bridge without backing up car and bike traffic. The area residents that I have spoken to in recent months favor a station at SE Harold Street instead.

  7. I don’t really know what sort of development you expect between 99E and 17th on Tacoma, those are largely occupied single family homes, unless you’re talking about tearing out houses for commercial development. There was room on Tacoma west of 17th for business development because there were more commercial/industrial sites. It’s not as if the houses on that stretch of road are abandoned.

    The Streetcar doesn’t have to be built in places where development potential exists, even still Sellwood doesn’t seem like a good match, especially after the Milwaukie MAX gets built. Life has gotten quite a bit better around here since we went from three lanes to two on Tacoma west of 13th, I don’t see any reason to screw that up.

  8. Transit riders would no longer have to go downtown in order to travel between Sellwood and Lake Oswego.

    They don’t as long as the Sellwood Bridge could carry buses. A streetcar isn’t needed for that kind of a connection.

  9. In 2004 there were 94 buses a day that crossed the Sellwood bridge. Then they changed the weight limit to 10 tons, and since a bus weighs 19… (One of my coworkers used to take the bus, but that change added half an hour to his commute, so now he drives…)

  10. I think a Sellwood Streetcar makes sense given that its likely the streetcar will at least make it as far south as the Sellwood bridge as part of the L.O. study.

    All that is needed then is a relatively short branch off the WST line to run over the new Sellwood bridge and along Tacoma Street to a terminus at the proposed Tacoma Street MAX station (at McLoughlin). This distance cant be much more than a mile and is pretty much a straight and simple shot down Tacoma Street.

    In doing this, it would pretty much completely replace the old 40 bus route. And there would be no bus and streetcar service overlap because it could replace Tacoma Street bus service in Sellwood.

  11. check the traffic counts on the existing Sellwood Bridge, pretty low… actually who needs a new Sellwood bridge?? Maybe the dozen or so LO residents who work on th east side, but they can use the Ross Island or another bridge, tear down the existing bridge in the near future and do not replace…

  12. Multnomah County says the average is 30,000 vehicles per day, which is in the ballpark of (and may actually exceed) the Broadway Bridge and the St. Johns bridge, at least according to various web sites I was able to search quickly.

    – Bob R.

  13. I was unaware of that. I’d thought the freight traffic on that corridor was long gone.

    See here:

    Drive (or walk or bike) down to S.E. Ochoco Street and McLeod Street, you’ll see the locomotive shops and usually a number of refrigerated boxcars parked there.

    Now, to argue against my personal opinion, it would be quite feasible and easy to build a new railroad track on Ochoco Street EAST across McLoughlin Boulevard to connect with the UP mainline – this would result in a new spur line that is less than one-half mile long. Because of the frequency of rail service it could easily be operated at night-time or off-peak hours, and since only a few cars are handled at a time the delay on McLoughlin would only be about a minute or so – not much longer than a standard traffic light cycle.

    This would free up the OPR “mainline” along the Springwater Trail for other uses (i.e. a diesel railbus operation, a Streetcar, etc.)

  14. Multnomah County says the average is 30,000 vehicles per day, which is in the ballpark of (and may actually exceed) the Broadway Bridge and the St. Johns bridge, at least according to various web sites I was able to search quickly.


    Here’s your “official” answer courtesy of the City of Portland.

    (For whatever reason Multnomah County doesn’t do traffic counts on the Willamette River Bridges; at least they do not post the Sellwood Bridge counts on their Traffic Counting website.)

    For those who don’t want to click through, traffic on the Sellwood is DOWN:
    March 2000 – 31,340 ADT
    May 2000 – 37,122 ADT
    May 2001 – 38,311 ADT
    May 2005 – 31,707 ADT
    Oct 2006 – 29,731 ADT

    In comparison, the Broadway Bridge carried 27,259 ADT in 2005; the Burnside 39,085 in 2005, the Morrison 49,709 in 2005, and the Hawthorne 29,412 also in 2005.

  15. Extending the streetcar line across a new or rehabilitated Sellwood Bridge, while structurally feasible, would not serve a transit need that could not be served by buses at a much lower cost.

    The real need is direct transit service between Regional Centers in Clackamas and Washington Counties. Currently the only practical travel option in this corridor is by car. TriMet should establish a frequent cross-town bus route, after the bridge is fixed, in the Johnson Creek Blvd./Tacoma St./Taylors Ferry Rd. corridor between Clackamas Town Center and Washington Square. It would provide the local Sellwood to Lake Oswego Streetcar transit connection while providing a viable alternative for inter-regional commuters now clogging up Johnson Creek Blvd. and Tacoma St.

    Such a route would make transfer connections with about 30 other bus routes, 2 MAX lines, the L.O Streetcar and WES and would probably rival the ridership on TriMets’ other very successful cross-town routes.

  16. The real need is direct transit service between Regional Centers in Clackamas and Washington Counties.

    Jim, I hope you’ll monitor the Streetcar System Plan process to make sure we evaluate the numbers around this point correctly!

  17. One possible use for the OPR mainline might be to share it with a “historic streetcar” service. Right now, the Willamette Shore Trolley runs vintage trolleys that tow (or push) their own diesel generators. Once the Lake Oswego Streetcar goes in, that service will end.

    Hypothetically … suppose the City of Portland were to contract with the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society to run an East Willamette Shore service. Relying mostly on private sponsors for start-up costs and some limited public funds, the City could pay to retrofit some of the OERHS classic streetcars with on-board fuel cells. They could be hidden under the floor or beneath the seats or someplace else inconspicuous. No, it’s not historically authentic, but fuel cells would eliminate the need for overhead wire.

    Again relying on a combination of public money and private donations, set up a streetcar barn next to OMSI or at Oaks Park. It would house and display a (hopefully) growing collection of historic streetcars that are rotated out to service.

    Run the self-powered streetcars from OMSI to the Sellwood Bridge, with side tracks at the three stations (OMSI, Oaks Park, Sellwood Bridge). They can be scheduled around the freight trains, and normally would run every thirty minutes or so.

    Make the fares part of the Portland Streetcar system. Hopefully, private sponsors of individual cars and volunteer operators could defer part of the operating cost.

    If demand is there, run a loop track into Sellwood and add a couple more stations there.

    This wouldn’t be a high-volume service, and would be more recreation/tourist oriented than for commuting. But it would connect to MAX and the Portland Streetcar at the north end, and potentially to a couple of bus lines at the Sellwood Bridge, and would be the ONLY mass transit access to Oaks Park, and could support shopping and dining excursions to Sellwood. Plus, tourists would ride it just to ride it, because historic streetcars are pretty cool. So maybe it could work.

  18. Wow: a lot to cover here.

    First: converting Tacoma into half of a couplet? No way I can see this working, since a block on either side is completely residential and the redesign a couple of years ago is fully satisfactory.

    Streetcar service to Sellwood:
    If it were deemed desirable, what would make the most sense to me would be a relatively short line that connects the LO alignment with the future Milwaukee line. Assuming there is a station at the Bybee overpass (and there ought to be; see below) I would imagine a very valuable connection being via Tacoma, left on 13th, along 13th until it turns and becomes Bybee, and along Bybee until just short of the overpass. Have the tracks turn left off Bybee and build a terminus just north of the west end of the overpass, so that transfers (via a pedestrian bridge?) don’t block traffic on the overpass. But this is all just fantasy anyway…

    The Oregon Pacific right-of-way is indeed still an active freight line and is undesirable for transit use due to the fact that it is quite isolated from almost all residential and commercial activity (aside from the very south end, where residents of Sellwood south of Tacoma as well as residents in Garthwick could be served).

    Whether there is a need for a Sellwood streetcar depends on what kind of service it would be. Based on my proposed route it could be useful in bringing more people to Milwaukee MAX who live too far for comfortable walking to the station, as well as a direct, largely separated ROW (west of the Sellwood Bridge, that is) access to downtown, SoWa, Johns Landing, etc. True, development potential might not rival other routes, but I’m one who still believes in the transportation function of streetcars (shock and horror, I know!). And it’s not because I’m biased; it’s because I use one every day.

    Now the issue of the station location: there is no spot that makes more sense than Bybee. It is the only location that is centered in the residential areas of both Sellwood and Eastmoreland as well as the only connection between the two–the rest of the space between them is guarded by the golf course and is thus inaccessible. The Harold St. location is very inferior and wastes half of its potential catchment on Brooklyn Yard, the industrial areas surrounding it, and the golf course.

    The safety issue is greatly exaggerated and can be resolved through good station design and proper security measures, as has been demonstrated the world over on countless grade-separated systems which work fine in far more dangerous locales. One design feature that would do a great deal to improve both actual and perceptual safety is to have a pedestrian bridge on the “non-overpass” end of the platform, so that no one is ever “trapped” there. Additionally, in comparison with, for example, 82nd Ave. on the Blue/Red Lines, the railway tracks here are not like a “moat”, meaning there is a direct line-of-sight into the golf course parking lot.

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