Streetcar Plan Outside-In

Yesterday, City Council adopted the Portland Streetcar System Concept Plan on a 4-0 vote.

But at the beginning of the hearing Mayor Adams expressed his “legislative intent” that we seriously look at building the system from the outside in, rather than from the central city outward. Neighborhood representatives from places like St. John’s, Hazelwood, and Powellhurst-Gilbert supported this in their testimony, pointing out that Streetcar is an excellent tool to help create 20-minute neighborhoods.

The Portland Plan will need to do some significant work to make these outer corridors viable, but if we can pull that off, this could be truly transformative for these outer neighborhoods.

21 responses to “Streetcar Plan Outside-In”

  1. A quick question: do streetcars play into the transit corridors v. transit centers debate, or is this more for light rail systems? If the former, will the goal in starting streetcar systems apart from downtown be to create corridors or centers within those areas?

  2. i don’t see any references at all to an “outside-in” mentality in the plan at all. more specifically, it gives priority to the routes which will generate more ridership which happen to be closer in to downtown. is this going to change?

  3. Allan,

    Because the concept plan describes existing conditions, it can appear that inner city lines have more priority because the existing zoning and ridership conditions are currently more supportive.

    But, if in the actual implementation and coordination with the Portland Plan, we correct for the deficiencies in the outer areas (and make a real priority of it) then working from the outside in could provide a better ROI, both socially and from a development and ridership standpoint.

    Mayor Adams’ “legislative intent” is exactly that type of action/implementation.

  4. I definitely think that it’s a good idea to consider lines outside the central city for the streetcar. Lombard Street in St John’s seems like a great corridor to start with to connect the Yellow Line to that area.

    Another obvious route that strikes me would be to extend the LO Streetcar (once built) to Bridgeport Village and ‘downtown’ Tualatin. It would allow for better access to WES by LO residents, as well as allow for a future connection to Sherwood if the 99W MAX line gets built.

    Definitely I could see Hawthorn getting a line connecting to the Eastside Streetcar as well, as well as extending up MLK to Lombard to connect with the aforementioned Lombard Streetcar. It’s a bit over a mile East of the Yellow line so they wouldn’t really compete with each other, and could be a nice catalyst for the underdeveloped properties along the MLK corridor.

    It would be even more interesting if Beaverton or Hillsboro would look at using a streetcar as a local connection to MAX as well. Even just a starter loop from the MAX via Hall and Watson could be interesting to study and see if the ridership would be there (or if the development potential) could make it pencil out.

    Have any of Portland’s suburbs (other than Lake Oswego and Vancouver) even discussed adding streetcars?

  5. Dave,

    A line between Lake O and the 205/217 corridor (whether it be WES, Barbur MAX, or just destinations like Bridgeport Village) would be nice–but make it MAX, not the streetcar. It’s far enough and “regional” enough that light rail is probably a better solution. Country Club and Boones Ferry roads runs too fast for mixed-traffic streetcar, and if you are widening the road and putting tracks in the median (or doing something even more exotic), MAX is probably a better bet long term.

    Ideally, the LO Streetcar line would be MAX instead as well; but apparently running MAX down the Jefferson Branch would be a lot more problematic than streetcar service. The recently-published corridor strategy indicates that if MAX comes to LO, it would be connected somehow to the Tigard/Durham/Tualatin area, and would connect to Milwaukie MAX via a bridge.

    I might mention too that the Portland Streetcar System Plan only looks at things within the city limits of Portland–the LO streetcar is an exception due to the existing right of way.

  6. Someone’s been rattling my chain…

    Any kind of rail connection between downtown LO and 217/Bridgeport/Tualatin etc. would need to be an extension of a major eastside rail project. There isn’t enough of a market within LO to justify it and Portland to that area will be accommodated with whatever HCT project we get along I-5, Barbur, etc.

    LO has had the 37 bus to Bridgeport/Tualatin park and ride for years, and you might remember that it was one of the lines that was on the chopping block last spring because of low ridership. It got saved by going to a 90 minute headway along with the 36. There is exceptionally low density along much of the route with a golf course, schools, and large lots. My wife used to commute on it to the Kruse/Meadows office park area and would consistently be with very few if any other riders. (She would still have to walk over a mile to her building on Meadows because of poor connections with the 38.)

    I still believe that the best transit solution along these lines is a MAX extension from Milwaukie on another expensive purpose built bridge with bus and pedestrian/cyclist capability. The trip time to downtown Portland would beat streetcar. It would be cheaper to operate than streetcar because the extension is less than half the length of the WSL route. The 78 could be extended across the river and would see a jump from PCC Sylvania students alone. Once in LO, it could be extended along Country Club/Boones Ferry or the PWR. Either would be problematic, but there would be a big payoff if solid transit systems on the east and west sides could be connected directly.

    The unfortunate part is that we’re going to extend the streetcar first and then be stuck with exorbitant costs to provide a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists between here and Johns Landing.

  7. Inner/outer, whatever, but let’s start on extending Streetcar up Broadway/Weidler to Hollywood now.
    Plenty of capacity…at least to NE 24th, can accommodate bikes as well by continuing in the left lanes of both streets to that point. B/W is a couplet that needs calming, that has capacity, that has already seen higher density development, and is zoned for a whole lot more.

  8. Why would the Streetcar need to run up Broadway/Weidler? I used to ride the 9 bus for a number of years. There are several bus routes on Broadway and I don’t see why a streetcar is needed at all on a route that already has adequate bus service.

    I looked at the streetcar report Chris linked to and here’s what it said (page 7)

    “There are additional benefits from investment in streetcars instead of buses. These include (numbers are added by me):

    1. Streetcars are flexible; not one size fits all.

    2. Economic analysis has shown a high return on the capital investment of streetcars (140:1 in
    downtown Portland and 9:1 projected in east Portland).
    3. Streetcars encourage development and transit use.
    4. The streetcar will play an important role in the City’s Peak Oil Strategy; however, it is only one mode of an integrated transit system that will be needed. Other transit modes may include expanded LRT lines, bus rapid transit and electric trolley buses.”

    My responses:

    1. What does Point 1 even mean? They are flexible? Even if this is a euphemism, I have no idea what the word means in this context. A bus can run with just as much schedule flexibility as a streetcar. A bus can even take a detour if there is an accident on the route. A streetcar can’t.

    2. It is difficult to determine exactly what causes development. Correlation does not equal causation (my age continues to grow along with the population of Portland. People are not moving here because I am getting older and I am not getting older because more people are moving here). Also, if the streetcar is intended to be a cause for development, then the return on the streetcar investment needs to be compared with the returns of other forms of urban renewal investment. Just stating that it’s 140:1 in downtown and 9:1 on the East side doesn’t mean anything. These numbers need to be compared to other alternatives. If something else would be 18:1 on the Eastside, than it is a better investment to spur development.

    3. See 2 above for development. The argument that the streetcar increases transit use might be true in cases like the current streetcar, in which it is basically free to ride and is serving areas that had very poor public transit options prior to the streetcar. If the streetcar were to run down Sandy Blvd, or Broadway, which already have transit options, then the marginal increase in future ridership would need to be examined based on the cost of implementing and operating the streetcar. If ridership goes up 3% for a $300 million investment (just numbers I pulled out of thin air) then it probably is not worth $300 million. My point is that the streetcar increases ridership where there was none before, but there is no proof that putting a streetcar into an existing bus line would increase ridership to the extent to justify the investment.

    4. Another great way to get around Peak Oil is to use Biodiesel. Another is to continue to invest in battery technology development so that eventually all vehicles do not need petroleum. I have no idea as to what sources of energy will propel vehicles 50 years in the future, but using Biodiesel right now solves the Peak Oil problem immediately.

    I just don’t see why the investment in the streetcar is needed when there already is an adequate bus system in place.

  9. Please tell me the planned LO Streetcar is not going to run on Macadam, it sure sounded like that is the latest plan according to a recent update. I could not think of a worse idea when there is a perfectly good existing private right of way.

  10. Both the Willamette Shoreline and ‘hybrid’ options for the LO Streetcar will go into the EIS study process. The two versions of hybrid options have the Streetcar in Macadam in the Johns Landing business district (to serve the businesses there) and otherwise in the existing right-of-way.

    There is very strong neighborhood preference for the hybrid option, both from the business community that wants service and the condo owners who want the Streetcar away from their residences (the right-of-way runs as close as 10 feet to some condos).

    The history of Streetcar in Portland suggests that local interests almost always prevail in this kind of issue.

  11. Good God!
    Waste another billion on ineffective transportation, increase congestion, decrease Portland’s cost effectiveness, and encourage development of industrial areas to drive out more family wage jobs.


  12. “Just think, we will be the only city in the world where the GOOD OLD DAYS CAME BACK TO LIFE!

    The tourist possibilities are endless!”

    >>>> I have a feeling that’s why the mayor of LO is so gung-ho on a streetcar line coming down there. Well, if you really want tourism, do the line with Tampa-style ‘birneys.’

    Just don’t try to justify an obsolete mode of transit as an contemporary mode.

  13. I’m not completely sold on the LO Streetcar as anything other than a tourist/excursion vehicle either (though extending it further south into Johns Landing and perhaps even across the river into Sellwood might be viable). If the goal is to have a transit link between PDX and LO, why not run WES-style vehicles on the existing tracks linking PDX-Milwaukie-LO, which would have the additional advantage of continuing southwest to Lake Grove, Tualatin, Sherwood, etc.

    OTOH, the Lombard/St Johns corridor looks pretty promising. And if it’s coupled with converting Lombard to a primarily residental/commuter thoroughfare while shifting freight traffic to an upgraded Columbia Blvd corridor, all the better.

  14. There’s a HUGE problem with Portland’s streetcar.

    The average speed is only 5MPH! Other similar systems can manage 14mph. Why is Portland’s so slow, and what can be done to correct this travesty?

  15. There are two primary factors that govern the rate of progress of the Streetcar:

    1) The number of passengers that get on and off.


    2) How far apart the stops are spaces.

    I assume you don’t want us to discourage passengers (we could run much faster empty), so I’ll focus on the second factor. It’s a tradeoff between access and speed. In the original alignment there was a very heavy bias towards accessibility, with stops about every two blocks in downtown.

    While I think access is a very good thing, there is a general recognition that we may have gone overboard. The extensions to RiverPlace and South Waterfront have a wider stop spacing and you’ll see this replicated in the Loop on the east side, where stop spacing will be more like 3-4 blocks.

  16. A third ‘primary’ factor: alignment type.

    Almost all the current track is on shared alignment with regular traffic. We can expect much faster average speeds (including stops) on the exclusively aligned extension beyond SOW; just not the 24 to 30 mph predicted by project analysts. Those are MAX speeds alongside freeways or beyond 185th in Washington County.

  17. The Streetcar vehicles have a top speed of around 40MPH or so–they cannot travel at freeway speeds, even on an exclusive ROW.

  18. “1. What does Point 1 even mean? They are flexible?”

    Well, the six-times-articulated streetcars in Budapest are certainly flexible! :-)

    I think what it really means is that you can size them to match demand (one-car streetcars or trains of them) and they can both run in slow, in-traffic running and in fast, exclusive right-of-way. Theoretically buses can do this, but busways are an expensive waste of money because they wear out fast, plus which buses are unpopular and uncomfortable *especially* at high speeds.

    Now, Portland may have bought vehicles with a top speed of 40mph, but they really don’t have to do that next time they buy streetcars; 60mph streetcars are cheap and straightforward to purchase. There is no fundamental technology difference between MAX and Streetcar.

  19. I don’t see how Streetcars have a flexibility advantage over buses. While Streetcars come in many sizes, so do buses. No streetcar is going to be moving in traffic at a high speed – the max speed limit on surface streets in Portland is 35 mph (is there a street with 40 or 45?). I ride a commuter bus from Clark County from time to time and we hit 60 mph with no problems. The new C-Tran buses are very quiet, are not “stinky with exhaust” and have excellent AC and are comfortable.

    I don’t see why a more expensive permanent investment should be made in streetcars when the current bus network in Portland operates fairly well. I’m not anti-streetcar; I’m anti-“replacing something that works with something that if even if it is better is only marginally better and is not worth the extra investment cost”.

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