A streetcar in Hillsboro?

One of them things that make you go hmm…

The Oregonian is reporting on some planning work being done between TriMet and the city of Hillsboro, on the city’s plans for the Amberglen development. Amberglen is a proposed high-density community in eastern Hillsboro, in an 600-acre area boxed in by the MAX line, NW 185th, NW Walker, NW Cornell, and NW 205th. The area–currently occupied by OHSU’s west campus (formerly OCATE), a few office parks, and a lot of vacant land, is in an ideal location for intense, high-density development. Two MAX stops serve it, the Tanasbourne neighborhood is immediately to the north, and lots of intense development also exists around Willow Creek. There’s a fair bit of density to the west in the Quatama neigbhorhood (and a recently-cleared trailer park just to the south, along Baseline).

Naturally, with such major development in the works, it’s only natural that the city get involved with transportation authorities, including TriMet, to plan necessary infrastructure and services to support the project. But the item in the Oregonian‘s reporting that got lots of tongues clucking this evening, was the S-word.

You see, a Hillsboro planning director noted that one preferred transit option would be a streetcar (one that “moved faster than you can walk”–one wonders what that could refer to?), connecting with MAX at the Quatama stop, heading north bisecting the planning area, and then turning west to serve other points in Hillsboro. One idea had the streetcar turning west on Cornell; another had it continuing north to Evergreen (which would allow direct service to the Streets of Tanasbourne mall, and the new Kaiser hospital being built immediately to its north, and which opens this summer).

Needless to say… with all the recent service cuts, and the ongoing dispute between TriMet and its union, the notion that Hillsboro (which recently got into a spat with Beaverton about which city is should be forced to build moreis not providing enough affordable housing, and has managed to annoy Metro with its desire to California-ize its arterial streets) ought to be building streetcars strikes some, including myself, as impolitic.

A few thoughts:

  • Other interesting ideas have been proposed for the area. Here’s a proposal for so-called Personal Rapid Transit, apparently developed by a vendor of PRT systems. Whether planners are entertaining such an idea, I have no idea (but doubt it), but there you go.
  • In fairness to TriMet, I have yet to see any indication that TriMet is on board with this idea. TriMet’s Sean Batty noted the agencies were cooperating and that TriMet was “treating it seriously”, but didn’t say much more than that, at least not to the Oregonian reporter.
  • Both TriMet, and the city of Hillsboro, have had quite a bit of discussion of bus service improvements in the area*–and a good argument can be made that improving bus service ought to be a first step prior to putting rails on the ground. Other than MAX itself, there is no frequent service anything in the immediate vicinity (the only frequent service bus that’s even close is the 57). And other than the 52, which runs along 185th, N/S connectivity in the area is poor. One short-term suggestion, which I’ve made before and will make again: rather than ending the 88 at Willow Creek TC, have it head west on Baseline, north on 205th, right on Amberglen to Stucki, ending near the new hospital and a connection with the 47.
  • A major problem with streetcar circulators in general is that they can interfere with a bus grid–if you are going to put a streetcar in with a grid, ’tis better if the tracks form a component of the grid, rather than meandering in a circle around it. A more interesting idea for a streetcar line (and I offer this as a better alternative, not as something that I think that should be built–unless Hillsboro is coming up with all the money to build it, I can think of better uses for regional capital dollars) would be a line starting at PCC, running down the median of 185th, then west on Rock Creek Boulevard, south over US26 on a new structure extending NW 194th (this overpass could carry cars as well, and certainly with bike lanes, but no interchange with the freeway), then south on Stucki through the area, connecting with MAX at Quatama–then probably south to Baseline, west to Cornelius Pass, and then south to the South Hillsboro development–the city of Hillsboro’s other big future development project. That would be a useful N/S corridor, particular if it got some decent priority treatment. But of course, it would be useful to see a) some actual development in these areas, and b) running bus service along the corridor might be a good starting point.

Overall, this appears to be planner-musing (and possibly trial-balloon launching), not something that is likely to happen in the near future. Hilllsboro still has quite a bit of planning to do, both in Amberglen and in South Hillsboro; and neither of these places will be built out until developers feel it is worthwhile to build. (Of course, developers have a well-deserved reputation for liking streetcars over bus service…) TriMet probably ought not be committing any of its resources to a new streetcar line–in Hillsboro or anywhere else–until it has other aspects of its house in better order. That said, there is a N/S corridor here with a lot of potential, particularly if the development does occur.

*depending on union cooperation.

20 Responses to A streetcar in Hillsboro?