Access vs. Mobility in the Streetcar Loop

There was a request in the open suggestion thread to review the “Northrup Loop” option for the Streetcar Loop connection in the Pearl District, so this post will give it a shot.

As part of the Streetcar Loop now pending approval for Federal funding, the Streetcar will cross the Broadway Bridge and connect with the existing alignment somewhere on or near Lovejoy St. Exactly how we make that connection has several complicating factors, including:

  • The desire of the neighborhood to improve traffic circulation by making several pairs of coupleted streets, including a Lovejoy/Northrup couplet.
  • The need to have a turnaround opportunity in the Pearl to send vehicles back to the east side without going all the way to Market St. (currently the first available turnaround).
  • Respecting the needs of cyclists, for whom the Lovejoy ramp is a major entry point into the district.
  • Connectivity for vehicles dispatched from the maintenance facility to get to the east side (and for future service from NW 23rd to the east side).
  • Transit needs of the development now happening north of Lovejoy (which will be taller and denser than south of Lovejoy)
  • Travel times
  • Cost
  • Retail needs (read on-street parking)

Here is a PDF file with maps (532K) of the two options under consideration. The choice has received much discussion at the Project Committee, Pearl District Transportation Committee, Streetcar Board and the steering committee that oversees the Federal application.

The eastbound connection is straightforward: a switch at 10th and Lovejoy will allow the northbound Streetcar to turn right onto Lovejoy and east across the bridge.

The two options being considered for the westbound connection are:

“The Northrup Loop” (2nd page of PDF), which is currently be carried as the base option (despite what this revision of the maps says), and which would have the Streetcar come west off the bridge and turn right onto 10th and join the existing track on which it would turn west onto Northrup. A new switch and track segment would be installed from Northrup onto 11th and the vehicle would cross Lovejoy and join the currently alignment heading south on 11th into downtown. An additional switch/turn would be installed at 11th and Lovejoy to provide a turnaround back to the east side.

“The Lovejoy Option” (1st page of PDF) would avoid the northward turn and simply turn left from Lovejoy, joining the current track on 11th. A turnaround would then be installed on Hoyt St.

Note that in both options, in order to preserve the ability to convert Lovejoy and Northrup into a couplet, the Streetcar on Lovejoy is in a curbside lane (not the auto lane) which would become a “contra-flow” lane in the event that Lovejoy is converted to eastbound-only traffic in a couplet.

The “Northrup Loop” is strongly preferred by the Pearl District and Northwest District for these reasons:

  • It provides downtown travel options for development in the blocks north of Lovejoy.
  • It allows for direct travel to and from NW 23rd to the east side for future service.
  • It minimizes removal of on-street parking.

The “cons” for this approach are:

  • Costs $3-4M more.
  • Adds 2+ minutes of travel time for passengers from the east side.
  • If services opens with a turnaround in the Pearl, the transfer from east side service to downtown service will require walking several blocks to make the transfer.

The debate seems to be coming down to the additional access provided by the Northrup Loop versus the travel time difference and awkwardness of the temporary transfer. The funds for the more expensive option have already been budgeted from the Urban Renewal district, so cost is not a primary argument (the Urban Renewal funds cannot be used in other parts of the alignment, they can only be used inside the district).

The transfer issue can be mitigated in two ways:

  1. Find the operating funding to run the initial service all the way to PSU.
  2. Install the Hoyt Street turnaround in the Northrup option (more cost).

The debate will probably go on for a couple more months, but for the moment the Northrup Loop appears to be the preferred option.

For my part, I think the additional access (and future system flexibility) provided by the Northrup option are the key factors. The additional access outweighs the delay in travel time (i.e., mobility) in my mind.

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