Transit Spectrum

There’s an interesting post on Intermodality that places the idea of ‘Rapid Streetcar’ on a spectrum from buses up through Light Rail.


16 responses to “Transit Spectrum”

  1. The primary local alignment getting consideration for “rapid streetcar” is along the old SP ROW along Highway 43 between SOWA and Lake Oswego. There are significant differences between the table presented by the linked webpage and reality for the proposed streetcar extension:

    1. To call the 0$ capital cost for maintaining the 35 and commute hour 36 “lowest” is a bit of an understatement.

    2. The speed limits for the bus either match or exceed those for the streetcar along the entire route which is why the bus will remain faster than the streetcar outside of peak commute hours. [For example, the bus speed limit through Dunthorpe is 45 mph while the lifetime allowance for streetcar riders through the Elk Rock Tunnel at that speed is about 40% of one trip.]

    Anyone who has any doubt about this can simply look at the posted schedules on TriMet’s website and compare them to the projected 24 minutes for the streetcar between PSU and Lake Oswego on the peak southbound run. The northbound streetcar run, which was not discussed by Metro in its analysis, will take longer because of the Bond Avenue loop.

    The areas of Lake Oswego and West Linn which are served by the 35 & 36, as well as the areas served by the Sellwood Bridge, are growing much more slowly than the Metro area as a whole. Accordingly, trip times and ridership for those routes have been exceptionally stable over the years and there is no creditable evidence whatsoever that these will change significantly in the foreseeable future. Yes, there have been more than a few Chicken Little prognostications but, again, absolutely no creditable evidence whatsoever that rapid streetcar on this alignment will offer better service than the existing bus service, especially after the latter gains the long promised frequent service designation.

    3. Residents living along the ROW in Johns Landing, Riverwood, Dunthorpe, and Briarwood neighborhoods disagree in fairly strong terms with the conclusion that the streetcar “…makes surrounding areas more desirable to live, work, and spend time in.”

  2. Residents living along the ROW in Johns Landing, Riverwood, Dunthorpe, and Briarwood neighborhoods disagree in fairly strong terms with the conclusion that the streetcar “…makes surrounding areas more desirable to live, work, and spend time in.

    then why would they choose to live next to a rail line that has been in constant use since the 1880s?

  3. Jon wrote: why would they choose to live next to a rail line that has been in constant use since the 1880s

    Normally, I’d agree with that statement – if you choose to live next to a railroad, stop bitching about it.

    However, the Jefferson Street Branch, a.k.a. the Willamette Shores Trolley line, isn’t a railroad that has been in “constant use” since the 1880s.

    In fact, it was legally abandoned in the early 1980s.

    Southern Pacific sold the right-of-way to a few governments. But some landowners then sued, claiming that since the railroad right-of-way was given to the railroad under a land grant, it has to be used or the land reverts to the adjacent landowners.

    THAT, my friends, is the reason that the trolley that runs on the line today, runs. Not because it’s cute, or fun, or even popular. If that trolley doesn’t run, then the right-of-way vanishes, forever.

    Look at the properties that are adjacent to that railroad. Under normal circumstances, many of those homes – yes, HOUSES – would NEVER be allowed to be built that close to the railroad. The railroad passes some 15-20 feet away from condos in Johns Landing. The railroad tracks cross over individuals’ driveways. And these aren’t cheap manufactured homes, they are multi-million dollar homes, owned by folks that can put up a legal fight.

    Even I agree that the route makes sense for rail-based transit, and I’d even like to see Streetcar make it south to the OPB complex and Willamette Park. It just makes too much sense. (This, coming from someone who wants to abandon all rail projects for ten years and start a massive bus investment project.)

    But, south of Willamette Park…there is very, very small ridership potential; no benefit over the bus system, and you’re just asking for a huge legal fight – and huge property acquisition costs. Some of the photos I’ve seen of the Streetcar on top of this alignment – double-track, with platforms – it’s amazing what you can do in Photoshop. It’s not quite so easy in real life.

    Let’s face it – the majority of people in Lake Oswego aren’t going to use transit, no matter what form it is, even if it’s 100% 24 karat gold, and you must prove a minimum net worth of $1 million before you’re allowed even on the station property. The Macadam/Highway 43 corridor is one of the lowest traveled corridors (state highways) in the Portland metro area; has little potential for growth, and the 35 bus line isn’t exactly a crowded bus (not to mention it’s one of TriMet’s best performing bus routes for schedule adherence). TriMet is in no rush to make the 35 a Frequent Service line, either.

  4. huge property acquisition costs

    Where? The right of way is already in public ownership and most of the line can operate on a single track. In Lake Oswego, it can mostly run in public right-of-way. I can see some minor costs to double-track a few short segments and buy property for station platforms, but that’s about it.

    I have no sympathy for the property owners. They bought property with a rail line running right through the back yard. It’s not like they weren’t on notice that rail would be running through there from time to time, or that rail traffic might increase in the future.

    south of Willamette Park…there is very, very small ridership potential

    I expect there’s significant ridership potential between Lake Oswego and downtown. Probably more than for the bus, given the irrational bias of a lot of potential transit riders against buses. There won’t be many trips beginning in the stretch between Willamette Park and Lake Oswego, though. There likely will be very few stations south of Willamette Park. (I’d want one at Elk Rock Gardens, though.)

  5. erik, i understand your points but theres no denying that the tracks are in use and have been in use, true not an official railroad but a vehicle does fairly regularly run on the tracks. the tracks were never ripped up and then relaid. proposing re-establishing transit in this corridor would be a very different issue had it been shut down and abandoned with no trolley.

    i just have a hard time giving up this valuable piece of transportation infrastructure which has been preserved for 20 years because some people just assumed years back that the line would be shut down despite its use.

    whats the real difference between the operation of the willamette shore line and that proposed for portland streetcar on this line? WST really is just a simpler operation but otherwise essentially the same. they both use a rail vehicle operating on the line to get from sowa to downtown LO. what we are talking about is really just improving the WST to portland streetcar standards and running the cars all the way into downtown portland at a more regular schedule.

    south of willamette park it is all about serving downtown lake oswego, serving dunthorpe is just because the line passes through it.

  6. Jon is not alone. A lot of people honestly believe that because we own the ROW and because it was purchased with the purpose of eventually becoming the base for rail transit between Portland and LO that we should use it for that purpose. The question really should be: What is the best use we can make with the property?

    I wouldn’t be so concerned about the project if we could keep the existing bus service. The streetcar extension is being sold as a replacement for buses between LO and PDX, not as an additional resource. And as a replacement, there is absolutely no question whatsoever that it will degrade service in terms of total trip times and convenience for most riders.

    It is also true that the portions of the ROW which are as easements rather than actually owned by the local government consortium are restricted to rail use. However, we own most of the ROW outright and there is nothing to prevent us from buying the rights to add other uses to the easements.

    Two possible alternate uses of parts or all of the ROW:

    1. Bus guideway. For example, the section from Briarwood Rd to B Avenue would bypass the most significant traffic getting into LO. It would require ramps from 43 to the ROW and signaling changes on 43. It would only need to be a one lane guideway for use during commute hours.

    2. Pedestrian/Cyclist pathway. (Cue Terry) No safe, direct, and reasonably level route exists for pedestrians and cyclists between PDX and LO. The best we have now would be along Terwilliger to Pill Hill and beyond, which isn’t a direct connection to the Sellwood Bridge, Johns Landing, or SOWA. Metro estimated in its analysis that such a trail would cost about $7 million without but about $50 million with a streetcar extension.

    Except in legal terms, it seems awfully unrealistic to compare a few leisurely runs in a historic trolley a few days a week part of the year with at least five runs at much higher speeds every hour every day each way from about 5:00 AM to about 1:00 AM year around. Yes, we have a legal right to do so, but shouldn’t we have enough respect for those people not to do it unless the project really brings significant benefits to most riders? Since as proposed it won’t, we shouldn’t.

  7. If we are to adopt the standard that passenger rail service shouldn’t be expanded on existing ROW if some percentage of property owners adjacent to that ROW object, do we also apply the same standard to freeway and roadway widening projects?

    (Before anyone brings up the Mt. Hood freeway as proof we already do this, those opponents were objecting to the destruction of entire chunks neighborhoods, structures and all, not increased service on existing ROW which removes few, if any, structures.)

    Were the homeowners immediately adjacent to I-5 given the opportunity to veto the Delta Park widening project currently under way? Were farms along I-205 near Stafford Road given a chance to oppose the recent addition of 2 completely new lanes?

    (Personally, I’m OK with both of those freeway projects, although the ramp configuration on the Delta Park I-5 widening project is going to create new problems.)

    Will property owners along I-5, say between the Fremont Bridge and the Interstate crossing be given serious stakeholder consideration in future CRC decisions?

  8. Should be easy enough to buy out condo owners who object to Streetcar in John’s Landing with generous offers, then resell units as affordable housing.
    Dunthorpe is another kettle of fish. Tax dodgers all, these residents have deep pockets and many lawyers. Let them duke it out with the City of Lake Oswego.
    In the meantime, Portland has plenty of Streetcar projects to construct.

  9. Should be easy enough to buy out condo owners who object to Streetcar in John’s Landing with generous offers, then resell units as affordable housing.

    I’ve thought about that as well… if we truly believe that streetcar infrastructure improves property values along the line (I do), then it would be a simple money-where-mouth-is proposition to buy out those who wish to leave at fair market value, even kick in some extra for moving expenses, and then resell at market rates at a profit after the line is operational and property values adjust upward.

  10. The two words that stood out like headlights in the chart for both bus and streetcar were “slow” and “unreliable”. Both were very, very apparent over the last couple of weeks with the crush of snow and ice.

  11. Both were very, very apparent over the last couple of weeks with the crush of snow and ice.

    The streetcar actually did quite well during the storm… almost as reliable as the Aerial Tram, which provided the only practical access to OHSU and Marquam Hill at times.

  12. R A Fontes wrote: 2. Pedestrian/Cyclist pathway.

    Frankly, this is a much better use of the ROW south of Willamette Park, joining up with existing off-rail trails north of Willamette Park (plus a potential bike path on the Sellwood Bridge). Of those, this assumes that a streetcar would serve the route from Willamette Park north.

    The only problem is losing the easement (based upon use for rail purposes only). But I bet if these Dunthorpe homeowners had a choice of a quiet bikepath or Streetcars every 15 minutes…they’d overwhelmingly choose bikepath. However, with more recent rails-to-trails laws that favor railbanking, I see a solution to be easier than property acquisition costs and construction impacts for a double-track streetcar line.

    Not to mention…MUCH cheaper. This is one place where I’d actually favor a bike path, even if subsidized by road users (if for nothing else than the simple fact that bikes on Highway 43 in and of themselves constitute a safety hazard, simply due to roadway geometry.)

  13. well a streetcar line would be a private right of way with no trespassing while a bike path would obviously be open to anyone at all times… sketchy stuff happens in secluded areas away from the street, the difference is in one case people have a right to be there and in the other they would be trespassing. personally i’d take the rail line where the public is in an enclosed vehicle passing through, do you really want public access with people walking between your garage and house (as is the case with at least one property on the line)?

  14. An adjacent walking/biking trail would very likely be a part of a streetcar project on this ROW, so it’s not really a choice between rail or peds/bikes.

  15. OK-
    I got it,

    PORTLAND TRANSPORT,could actually be a curriculum in transportation planning.

    Or better yet, PORTLAND TRANSPORT can start its own “mail order degree” program!


    How come this blog is not affiliated with some institution of higher learning in regards to transit planning and issues?

    Certainly enough technical information available here.

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