What the Streetcar Haters Skeptics are Missing

There have been several critiques recently, dismissing streetcars as slow transit.

I think that misses the point of streetcar, at least as we have deployed it here in Portland. Streetcar is transit that emphasizes short trips.

That’s very much in line with the ‘Healthy Connected City’ plank of the Portland Plan, which envisions Portland as a city of corridors and centers that provide most of the daily needs of citizens within an easy walking or biking distance. The development pattern that streetcar incentivizes, and then serves, very much supports this vision.

The other point that’s missed is that streetcar exists in the context of a larger transit system. Certainly you could not and should not build a transit system entirely of mixed-operation streetcars.

In Portland, the regional transit system has a hierarchy of three levels of service:

1) Local Bus Service

2) Frequent Service Lines (bus)

3) High Capacity Transit (LRT, Commuter Rail, future BRT)

Streetcar wouldn’t make any sense if there were not the other options to move from the streetcar districts to other places (there are lots of intersections between streetcar and the HCT and frequent service lines).

And I would note that from my home, I have the option of either streetcar or a frequent service bus to get downtown (roughly covering opposite right angles of a rectangle) and they take about the same time. Streetcar is really not slower than a bus in a dense urban environment.

There’s also been some debate about where streetcar falls in this service hierarchy. Some of our planning documents lump it in the Frequent Service category, and there’s some logic to that as the operating costs and other characteristics are similar. But I think mixed-operating streetcar is really in a category by itself that I’d be inclined to label as “High Capacity Local Service“.

Some of the criticism of the DC streetcar has been focused on replacing bus service. We have largely not done that with streetcar in Portland, it’s been complimentary to the existing bus lines (some of which have been reconfigured slightly to take advantage of this). Replacing a purely local bus might work with streetcar, but probably not if the bus operated over a much longer route. Replacing higher classifications of transit service with mixed-operation streetcars would likely be problematic. Portland will probably be faced with this temptation as we expand the streetcar network. I hope we will choose carefully and wisely.

The question has also been raised about how “future-proof” these streetcar investments are? I would suggest that the future opportunity is to convert these lines to dedicated right-of-way by removing auto use from the alignments. The VMT goals in Portland’s Climate Action Plan would hint in that direction.

So I rise today not in support of slow transit, but in support of short-trip transit!

93 responses to “What the Streetcar Haters Skeptics are Missing”

  1. In some ways I think the Portland Streetcar is a victim of its own success. There’s so many people getting on and off at every stop that it becomes a major source of delay. Buses can be faster when they’re skipping past several stops in row because no one is riding.

  2. I’ve been chastised on twitter for using the term ‘Haters’. Fair enough. As someone who tries to promote civic (and civil) discourse, I should know better. Title amended.

  3. I’m glad to see this post, Chris. While I am personally on the fence regarding the utility of streetcar (It seems like it has a place in a multi-modal transportation system but holy cow the costs are high), the anti-streetcar position is gaining so much traction that I worry the debates are losing some nuance. Some of the bus-versus-streetcar musings I’ve read lately seem to occur in a fantasy world where there’s no stigma around the bus, where Margaret Thatcher never knocked it, and where developers see the same promise in locating along a frequent service bus line as they do in locating along a streetcar line. While I wish this were the case, and I think it’s the intellectually correct position, it’s simply not true.

    I wonder if part of streetcar’s image problem comes from the difficulty of measuring the ROI from a development perspective. Streetcar is expensive, certainly, but what are we getting for that investment, and who’s getting it? For this reason, I like Novick’s idea of asking the PDC to kick for streetcar, acknowledging that much of the return comes from streetcar-oriented development (Is that a thing?). The streetcar has, so far, seemed terrific at promoting the sorts of development patterns along its line that you folks who planned it were hoping for. The question in my mind is whether it’s the best use of public infrastructure spending in an era of constrained resources. Maybe this is an area ripe for exploring public/private partnerships?…

    • The need (and competition) for GTR (General Transportation Revenue) is fierce, and it’s a real image problem for Streetcar to be chewing up several million dollars a year for operations (we do NOT take Streetcar capital costs from GTR). However, the extra use intensity generated in streetcar districts does increase parking revenue, and I think we could make a straight-faced argument that we’re generating enough lift to fund operations. But I don’t expect that to fly politically.

      If we can adopt a street fee, I’d love to see a surcharge on the fee for streetcar districts to pay the difference between the cost of running a regular bus line (which TriMet is essentially funding with it’s contribution) and the cost of running streetcar. This would sweep a lot of equity issues off the table.

  4. If the Portland Streetcar were designed to function as a reliable and useful transit service, which would mean exclusive lanes where needed and the very high frequency that’s needed to be relevant to short trips, it would be a much better exemplar of the outcomes you describe. Unfortunately, most details of our streetcar’s design not only lack those features but in some cases preclude them without an extensive rebuild. Nor does anyone have any idea how to run enough frequency to make good use of exclusive lanes, given the astronomical cost of the vehicles.

    I am struck also by how often the streetcar is promoted as having a valid role in the context of an imaginary abundance of transit alternatives, as you do here. This is the dream-city language of development marketing, and it is utterly divorced from the realities of transportation in this city of limited resources and narrowly focused leadership. Portland is a city where the citywide transit system was utterly devastated by budget cuts in the late 2000s, and where the transit agency’s level of service, in the most optimistic of scenarios, will take years to get back to where it was 10 years ago. Remember, the all-day frequencies on many major Portland bus lines are worse today than they were in 1982.

    Meanwhile, Metro studies show that abundant frequent transit service is the most important thing we could do to change our emissions outcomes.

    So I evaluate the streetcar in the context of the real world of transit scarcity, not a fantasy world of transit abundance. In this world, it is in direct competition for resources with services that are far more useful to people who have to travel beyond their walking distance, including but not limited to the low income people who are being exiled from walkable areas all over the city. From this perspective, the huge investment in the Portland Streetcar is inseparable from the utter wretchedness of transit east of I-205, where the need is most acute, and indeed the dismal state of the Portland bus services even in areas that are redeveloping. These outcomes are all part of the same set of City priorities, and I believe the net effect of those priorities has quite possibly been bad for our sustainability outcomes, not just for environmental justice perspectives.

    if the Portland Streetcar had at least been useful as transit — faster and/or more reliable than bus services that could be deployed more widely at the same price — you might have justified it as a demonstration project that would eventually be extended across the city. But because of its unique combination of inner-city exclusivity AND functional uselessness, it is failing to inspire outside the circles of the already-converted.

    As you know, Chris, the recent PBOT survey found that streetcar expansion is one of the absolute lowest priorities of Portland residents. You can’t begin to build a case until you grapple with why.

    • I’m curious:

      One of the main criticisms of mixed-traffic streetcars (and rail in general) is that they cannot maneuver around obstacles; both short-term obstacles like cars waiting at a red light (or waiting to turn at a green but yielding to a pedestrian), or cars parking in those areas where there’s a parking lane to the right of the streetcar–and potential long-term obstacles like an incident on the tracks (or close enough to the tracks that the police close down the line).

      How often is Portland Streetcar impacted by these?

      One thing TriMet does, that I like, is its performance dashboards. MAX reliability, in particular, has lately been well below what one should expect of an exclusive-ROW rail system; a lot of this appears to be related to aging infrastructure (switches that fail, transformers that blow). TriMet publishes this information for all of the services that it oversees directly (bus, MAX, WES, LIFT), including one service (WES) where operations are contracted out to Portland and Western Railroad. But it doesn’t publish this information for the Streetcar (despite being the contract operator for PSI, and undoubtedly having the data).

      I’d love to see as much transparency coming from PSI as we’ve been getting from TriMet in recent years (and TriMet is indeed improving on this score).

      Another concern I have–mainly with some of the proposed expansions–is that they partially cover existing bus lines. A major complaint with the LO Streetcar project is that it would partially replace the 35, requiring commuters from points south of downtown LO to transfer–and to a service that was slower than the bus it replaced, and didn’t go down the transit mall. I could likewise see a streetcar to Hollywood on Broadway impacting the 77 (would it end in Hollywood, turning the Halsey line into a MAX feeder rather than a route that runs through downtown? How would an MLK streetcar extension impact the six? How would a Hawthorne streetcar impact the 14?

    • Jarret,
      I find your analysis spot on. This nuanced critique of the streetcar’s pros and cons is much appreciated.

      As a former resident of East Portland, what many neighborhoods in this city need is functional transit, i.e. rapid, frequent etc. (competing with SOVs will be the best way to get people into transit).

      One example of the 2035 plan I do not support concerns the MLK streetcar extension to Killingsworth. While I find the streetcar useful for development, a mixed-traffic line down MLK would likely be much slower than the #6. MLK has fantastic potential, but a streetcar will not serve as a viable transit option to downtown. If the MAX were routed off the Yellow, up the 405, and over to MLK, this would serve as a viable option (competing with SOVs) for commuters to downtown. This does not preclude a streetcar. Extending the streetcar from Broadway to Fremont would provide short distance travel and development up MLK.

      The streetcar has its place, certainly. But it is not useful for commuting (having taken the NW streetcar for a couple years, I was consistently annoyed by its uselessness). We need to look at the streetcar not as a second best or substitute to light rail (they have little in common), but as a mode for very specific environments.

    • I’m sorry, Jarrett, but you can’t claim “functional uselessness” for something people actually, you know, use.

      I have a lot of problems with streetcars in general and Portland’s in specific — and actually I agree with you about exclusive lanes.

      However it seems to me that these debates end up becoming a ludicrous polarized mess. It is however unnecessary, foolish, and discrediting to bundle genuine criticisms of the mode — of *any* transit mode — with a complete dismissal of that mode as “useless.” Unless one wants to don the hair-shirt of an iconoclast, anyway.

      Couldn’t we finally have an actual debate about the merits of Streetcars that acknowledges what works about them so well — and the reasons they are growing across the nation — as well as their deep flaws? Couldn’t we then learn from them? *That* would be progress — not position-taking.

    • I have a difficult time understanding how a system that gets 17,500 riders a day on a route that’s only 7 miles long can be described as not “reliable and useful transit service”. Clearly people are using it, and in numbers not seen on any of the other bus routes serving the same areas.

      • I have to 2nd this opinion. As a new family in the region, and one who uses the streetcar every day, we find the streetcar to be HIGHLY functional. We also use the bus and the MAX and do not discriminate across modes.

        The notion of comparing East Portland to downtown is one that I find to be troubling. I only say this because while it may be “cheaper” to live in East Portland when it comes to rent, this comes with the trade off of a poorly designed land use pattern which will take decades (if ever) to fix and using Jarrett’s own logic of efficient transit, would we still accomplish an agreeable success if we were to boost high capacity transit?

        Is the debate between downtown and East Portland simply about rents? Or is it deeper and involves people’s disdain with city folk and such and people are choosing these areas because they don’t want to be close to vagrants, and other city folk? I find this notion to have some merit.

        Also, where you locate comes with a choice. If you WANT to live closer to downtown where one can take advantage of more transit options but fear the cost trade off, there are ways to make it happen. I find that to be a choice individuals or families have to make on their own when it comes to evaluating how much you want to pay.

        I certainly pay a boat load to live in the center city and while there are some living accommodations myself and my family would rather have, we also enjoy the extra money we aren’t spending on owning a car and upkeep.

        Bottom line, there are tons of people using the streetcar. People are voting with their feet. The data supports it. In a world of constrained finances, I sure don’t mind the money going towards operating it.

        • The whole East Portland issue is a bit off topic to the question of streetcars, but some info for Curtis:

          East Portland, generally referring to those parts of the city east of I-205, has long had many neighborhoods which are economically depressed. It is served by different school districts (David Douglas, etc.) that generally have a poor reputation compared to Portland Public Schools. (The reason for this is historical; many of these communities were independent before being annexed into Portland, the corresponding school districts were never merged). The Oregonian has a long-running series on the problems facing the part of the city–and a fair part does indeed have to do with the political class neglecting an unfavored quarter. No member of City Council has ever resided there (at least not for a very long time); as Portland’s council is filled by at-large, first-past-the-post elections, nothing guarantees that East Portland (or any district) gets reputation.

          And the infrastructure is a mess. Portland has long had a policy of not using general fund dollars to pave unimproved streets, instead requiring neighborhoods to pay for this; many streets out there are gravel roads. There are several good E/W bus corridors (77, 20, MAX, 9, 4), but N/S connectivity is bad, partially because suitable streets are limited. And as the neighborhood has a bad reputation, there’s (so far) not been the demand for new housing that would lead to improvements. (Of course, “improvements” usually means “gentrification”, especially if you rent).

          It would be unfortunate to dismiss East Portland as just another suburb. The construction of I-205 in the 1980s ripped it apart from the rest of the city. Due to its (incomplete) grid layout, and it lying between central Portland and Portland’s largest Oregon suburb (Gresham), it is “on the way”; it’s not the sort of cul-de-sac hell in which reasonable transit service cannot be economical. But it’s full of poor people–including quite a few with conservative-leaning political attitudes–so it’s not hard to wonder why it hasn’t seen the same civic improvements that the rest of Portland has seen.

          • Engineer Scotty,
            Great synopsis of E. Portland. However, I find it directly relevant to the streetcar. Surely the funding sources are multifarious, and don’t come from the same places, but the planned Powell-Division Corridor does is in fact affected by the planned streetcar routes.

            I apologize for the slight tangent here. It is unfortunate that the streetcar, which serves inner neighborhoods, takes priority over something that has the potential to dramatically alter the nature of inner and outer SE. There has been little talk of anything but light BRT on Powell, which may not do much to serve people in SE and E. Portland. Were we to focus on a MAX instead of several streetcar lines, we might have an incredible transit service, several new lines that connect OMSI down Powell to the Jade District and down to Clackamas or along the existing line to Gresham. This would change a vast number of neighborhoods that have little access to frequent service, allowing each to develop into liveable neighborhoods. Instead, the debate centers around access to another type of transit (in addition to frequent service) for those in neighborhoods such as Kerns and Irvington.

            • I think the biggest obstacle to i.e. light-rail down Powell, is not competition for funding from Streetcar. Proper light-rail would require one of the following:

              * Grade separation (an el or a subway), very expensive.
              * Knocking down lots of buildings to clear a right-of-way.
              * Closing 2 lanes of traffic on Powell.

              In addition, either of the second two would be disruptive of the pedestrian environment if the LRT is to run at top speeds greater than ~25-35MPH (which is about what Interstate MAX runs at).

              Of course, many of us wouldn’t mind option C, but seeing as Powell is a state highway, it’s unlikely to happen.

      • The snide condescension towards streetcar proponents within these comments is quite palpable. For someone who makes his living on selling his service planning expertise to transit agencies – based in Portland no less – there is an awful lot of local context missing here. Little things like not knowing the difference in the alignments of the 15 bus and the NS Line streetcar are disconcerting, but there are bigger issues at stake.

        First of all, maccoinnich is entirely correct – you can’t call something useless if people are using the service in droves, to the tune of 16,000 per weekday according to http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/pdf/combined_ridership_graphs_20140430.pdf. And that’s with ridiculous 19 minute headways in the morning before 10 AM. That suggests that even with all its faults, people are using the Streetcar, perhaps because TriMet has failed to provide (or has ruthlessly cut) any potential alternative services. But for all your well-known opinions on the perceived uselessness of streetcar as true transportation, it’s surprising that you wouldn’t call out the lack of basic transit service in one of the densest and rapidly growing areas of Portland north of Lovejoy Street. After all, remove the streetcar line from Portland’s transit map and what else do you have?

        Second – it isn’t fair to dismiss the role of the Pearl in an urbanizing Portland so haughtily as you seem to do here. The Pearl is (mostly) an EX zone, which means that the neighborhood has the highest zoning and FAR capacity of anywhere in the city and are in a position to absorb growth in a way that lessens development pressures on established single-family neighborhoods in close-in NE and SE. Those frequent transit corridors elsewhere across the city won’t reach their potential as long as nearby neighborhoods find a reason to stonewall every project above 6 stories, or above 4:1 FAR. Personally, I think that the Pearl and other brownfield/grayfield sites that lack historical context, such as the Conway development, should be adding far more density than what is happening on the ground now, but that pertains to a lack of vision and/or money.

        Third – all those flaws you describe of streetcars are mostly mode-agnostic (with the exception of not being able to move around obstacles – a fairly rare occurrence) and are the product of a lack of political will. Enhancements like dedicated lanes, more aggressive signal priority, and fewer stops would help improve travel time reliability. Your prediction of the development outcomes of the Pearl sans streetcar is speculation, and to wit I would speculate that ridership of a mixed-traffic bus following the NS Line alignment would likely not get anywhere near the ridership of the streetcar.

        • EngineerScotty,

          So you’re certainly correct from 17th through about 36th. It is, luckily, the only narrow stretch. This is a nice handout that has the width in parts of Powell.


          ROW would have to be acquired for that part (or some sort of elevated design used), some buildings demolished, and that would cost a lot, no doubt. But keep in mind this is one of the only MAX corridors in inner Portland left other than the SW corridor. Most other expansions would be likely outside the city center.

          According to Metro’s own document, it would be feasible to keep four lanes of Powell, however and have ROW for a MAX for the entire length. Much of Powell has adjacent parking lots. 39th is 7 lanes wide, for example.

          Although I find the MAX speed at 25-35 a bit slow on Interstate, while on my bike, I cherish the crossings. There is no way cars would stop for me otherwise. Instantly Interstate is safe. Powell would have a dramatic decrease in pedestrian injuries were a MAX designed as it was on Interstate.

          But I think it is indeed Political will and funding used for other projects that keeps this from happening.

          When I look at the 2035 planning map, I see a couple well-to-do neighborhoods getting a lot of money, enabling people to move short distances on a streetcar, even though they already have frequent service as well as mixed-use development.

          When I look at this map…


          …if a Powell MAX were built, I see a dozen neighborhoods connected to each other with a mode of pragmatic transit they might be able to use to commute daily as well as something that might start to make their neighborhoods somewhat independent. Those benefits outweigh most streetcar lines.

          • Your plan would be a huge boon to the Main Street Station area. Folks could get to it from the east and west rather than just the freeway corridors.

            What about the possibility of a subway just between the junction with the Orange Line and 38th, with a cheap Forest Hill style (no mezzanine) station at 26th for Cleveland High School, Fred Meyer and the somewhat developed area there?

            For less expensive tunneling it might make sense to deviate from the Powell right of way between 38th and 28th by following Rhine west from 38th and Powell, diagonaling across the land behind the Parry Center, under Waverleigh Boulevard, the athletic field, and continuing west under Waverleigh to 28th.

            To solve the problem of the transition between a subway and the existing Orange Line tracks I’d suggest that the junction be in the street just south of the Rhine Street station at Lafayette. The tracks could enter the subway between 17th and the railroad tracks then diagonal under the Fred Meyer parking lot and Powell City Park to a station at 26th for Cleveland High School and the Fred Meyer offices.

            The result of these deviations from the Powell ROW is that the only subway construction under Powell itself would be between 26th and 28th and right at 38th.

            • Apologies. I forgot to specify “cut and cover subway”.

              Yes, I know that bored tunnels are almost as cheap as C&C and sometimes cheaper when there are lots of utilities to move. But buy using these deviations the utilities would be nearly non-existent and most of the right of way disturbed is already city or state owned.

  5. Jarrett, you’re conflating two separate issues:

    – where transit investments are needed in Portland right now
    – whether Streetcar is effective

    There’s no question we need to significantly improve Frequent Service in East Portland, and I wouldn’t propose operating funding for new Streetcar service until that’s in much better shape (and much of the 2008/9 reduction in service HAS been restored already).

    A big part of the disagreement you and I have is about our definition of effectiveness. Your yardstick is about how many people are moved how far how fast. My yardstick includes the value of creating two new dense urban neighborhoods out of brownfields (certainly streetcar was not the only tool employed, but it was an important one) and counting how many people we provide with access to the destinations they need. You give us no credit for causing those destinations to be closer than they would be absent a streetcar environment.

    I’m not convinced about the need for dedicated lanes (although in the post I speculated that we’ll eventually restrict auto usage of the existing routes). As another commenter pointed out, passenger loading/unloading (which we do through three doors, not the single door used on a TriMet bus) is a bigger factor slowing down service than conflicts with autos are.

    And as someone who uses the Streetcar several times per week, I DO have abundant transit choices. Streetcar intersection MAX lines at three different points, and that will increase to five points when the Milwaukie line starts up. And there are numerous intersections with Frequent Service lines.

    • Chris.

      Your summary of my views is entirely false. We agree about the sustainability value of dense urban development, but the notion that these require streetcars that average 6 mph, come not very often, and are highly prone to disruption, is not only untested and heavily contradicted by the urban redevelopment that’s happening all over the city. We will never know how fast the Pearl would have developed if it had had good frequent bus service in many directions; my hunch is that it would look much as it does now. In any case, far more urban development is happening along Frequent bus lines (and lines that desperately need to be frequent, like MLK) than will ever happen in the Pearl. I understand that the mega-investors who are driving Pearl and South Waterfront feel entitled to elite transit services, but that’s a very small part of how a sustainable city is actually built.

      You falsely accuse me of caring about “how many people are moved how far how fast”. That’s an old-fashioned definition of “mobility” and I’ve been against that metric for as long as I’ve been writing. See here for example: http://www.humantransit.org/2011/01/transits-product-mobility-or-access.html (For a while, I was trying to rescue a more nuanced definition of mobility, but I’ve given that up and now call what I care about “access.” “Abundant access” means “how much of my city is readily available to me via transit plus walking? That’s a measure of your freedom as an urban resident.

      The real question is whether transit should be liberating to people who need or want to travel beyond their walking range, and whose lives feature hard deadlines and limited time. The US streetcar-stuck-in-traffic, as modeled by Portland, is uniquely bad at that. Robust frequent bus networks, protected from traffic congestion and upgraded to rail as capacity requires, are the way to actually maximize access for a fixed budget. Every dollar we spend on slower-than-walking streetcars is also a dollar we spend on forcing people in other parts of Portland to buy cars, because although the live in places where transit could succeed, it’s not important to us to reward that development with liberating and sustainable access.

      Finally, Chris, let’s distinguish between abundant access and abundant “choices”, as you are conflating two ideas that are mathematically opposite. The fact that you have a choice of two transit services to go to the same place is an inefficiency. If you cared about getting downtown on a deadline, you’d be far better off with one service that ran twice as frequently. In my planning work, we routinely increase ridership — and the necessary conditions for urban redevelopment — by replacing two infrequent routes with one frequent one. For example, before 1982 someone living at SE 20th & Alder had a “choice” between walking to a mediocre infrequent bus on Stark or a mediocre infreqeunt bus on Belmont. In 1982 the Stark bus was removed and the Belmont bus was made twice as frequent. People can get where they’re going faster precisely because they no longer have a choices between two mediocrities. Instead, they have one choice that actually works.

      • Jarret, apologies if I’ve over-simplified your position. Fundamentally I think you and I disagree about how directly the type of transit service affects the pattern of development. What you describe as ‘indirect’ in your blog post, I can see in operation every day and appears very direct to me!

        I also think you’re mis-characterizing the level of duplication between the Streetcar and the #15. They intersect at exactly two points (I’m fortunate to live at one of them). In-between they service two different and equally dense neighborhoods. I was only comparing them because they travel at approximately the same speed.

        You and I don’t disagree about the need for a strong grid of frequent service. My point is that streetcar is an overlay on that grid, not a substitute for it, for the benefit of creating and serving a particular kind of high density district. Which brings us back to our difference about the directness of the relationship between transit service and development type.

        People who are in the streetcar district have not lost the benefit of the frequent service grid (which of course could be stronger). They still very much benefit from it.

        If we had not built streetcar, would the frequent service grid have grown more quickly? Maybe. But we’d also have 10,000 households that would live in a more dispersed pattern that would be harder to serve with transit.

        I’d love to have a beer sometime and see if we can agree on some common metrics and methods to measure the effects we both have strong beliefs about.

      • One important distinction to make, though, is between capital and operating costs. Streetcars have similar operating costs per passenger as busses do, and being larger-capacity vehicles, can actually be cheaper to run per passenger, if it runs full (and the N/S line frequently is; the current CL line is another matter). PSC is not a cash-sucking monstrosity like a certain commuter rail line I can think of–in fact, its op cost per unlinked passenger trip ($1.39) is actually quite good. (See this paper for an interesting compare of several streetcar systems in the US).

        The more important question is–should we spending capital dollars on mixed-traffic streetcars–a technology best suited to circulators or short linear corridors through dense urban areas–or on other improvements (rapid transit, capital improvements to the bus system, maintenance projects, improvements to fare and communications infrastructure, etc)? The original Streetcar line was largely paid through LID financing, and that bet has largely been successful, so that was found money. If neighbors/developers in another neighborhood want to buy themselves a streetcar line and are also willing to put major skin in the game, I don’t object to them doing so. On the other hand, assuming highly-fungible general-fund dollars (including federal matches from Uncle Sam), I can’t think of any streetcar projects I would put in the list of top ten regional transit needs.

        Higher priority capital improvements in my mind, ignoring politics and in no particular order: Southwest Corridor, Powell/Division, BRT or BRT-lite in corridors such as the 75 (82nd), the 57 (TV Highway), the 76 (Hall Boulevard), the 54 (Beaverton/Hillsdale), the 6 (MLK), the 75 (Cesar Chavez), and the 33(McLoughlin south of Milwaukie); electronic fare collection, Yellow Line to Vancouver, cleaning up the Steel Bridge mess, and improving MAX speed downtown.

  6. Portland’s streetcar is, on one hand, particularly vulnerable to fleets of autonomous low speed vehicles, such as Google’s 2doorable-mobile. Such vehicles would have total operating costs of 15 cents per mile according to Columbia University’s Earth Institute study of Ann Arbor.

    Streetcar trips are slow – really – and short. As riders migrate from TriMet to AV’s, the district will have a more difficult time subsidizing its own services and, at the least, probably insist that streetcar fares match its own. AV’s will eliminate the need to pay for parking putting a lot more stress on GTR. Current streetcar ridership is heavily dependent on ultra-cheap fares, especially for OHSU & PSU ID card holders.

    On the other hand, streetcar ops require just a tiny fraction of Portland’s budget. The city could offer free or almost-free rides in perpetuity if it decided that it was a critical service. As a stand-alone agency, TriMet doesn’t have that luxury.

  7. While we’re on the topic of the value of streetcar for short trips, local circulation, and supporting/redeveloping land uses, may I make a pitch for having streetcar as a key part of the burgeoning 82nd Avenue planning.

    Despite the claim that Division is the busiest stretch in the trimet system, I believe the stretch along 82nd Avenue deserves that title. The current ridership on 82nd *today* exceeds the projections for almost every single Streetcar System Plan Corridor in 2035.

    The 82nd bus line is packed with short trips today. All day, everyday, people are hopping on and off to shop along the spread out 82nd commercial district. Hop off to walmart, hop back on. Hop off to fubonn, hop back on.

    82nd is classified as one of the Comp Plan corridors. What does that mean in the context of the current comp plan work, TSP update, and future 82nd planning?

    • I completely agree with this as a regular user of the 72. Adding streetcar to 82nd would allow the 72 to run more efficiently and provide more mobility. The streetcar would serve the high demand for local circulation along 82nd.

      • Right now, the Portland Streetcar Plan includes a proposal for a streetcar line, from Lents to Gateway, IIRC: It would start in Lents town center, run west on Foster, north on 82nd past Eastport Plaza and Fubonn and PCC, turn east on Market IIRC, skirt Adventist Hospital, and then head north up to Gateway. In other words it would be a local circulator that essentially connects the Green Line to itself, and ties a bunch of neighbohood town centers together with shopping.

        It wouldn’t do much, necessarily, to “improve the grid”, as it would be a somewhat circuitous route that’s generally pointless from end-to-end, but useful for segments thereof.

        How does that, in your mind, trade off vs, say, an 82nd Streetcar that goes from Clackamas TC up to somewhere in NE Portland (say to Cully or even to PDX–the E/W section of the 72 could be extended to Parkrose TC or further in this scenario), or to a BRT upgrade (signal priority, 10-minute service or better, multiple doors, offboard fare collection, bus lanes where practical) of the 72?

        • It would be nice if they would go as far north as Glisan along 82nd just to tie in the Montavilla Community Center and access to businesses in Montavilla along Stark, Burnside and Glisan. It could connect back to Adventist along 99th/96th.

        • How about a streetcar from Lents MAX station following Foster to 82nd, along 82nd to Sandy, and then along Sandy to Park Rose TC? Connects to MAX and (potentially at least) multiple bus lines at each end and serves a long stretch of 82nd.

          I don’t know about the grade of the hills at Madison High School and at Sandy, though. They might be too steep for streetcars.

          • The Lents Town Center is located 10 blocks east of 82nd – as is the MAX station. Also, the spot under 205 between Foster and Woodstock is the best opportunity for a yard/barn.

            I also predict that if you ran a streetcar up Foster and turned north at 82nd rather than going all the way to Lents Town Center, and preferably 101st – you’d have a lot of very unhappy residents of Lents to deal with.

            As far as service to Parkrose goes – I think LTC to 122nd then north to Sandy and west to Parkrose main street / Parkrose TC is a better option and reflects the travel patterns in East Portland better.

            These two alignments coupled with turning the 72 and the 71 in to BRT alignments would be transformative improvements for East Portland.

  8. “And I would note that from my home, I have the option of either streetcar or a frequent service bus to get downtown (roughly covering opposite right angles of a rectangle) and they take about the same time. Streetcar is really not slower than a bus in a dense urban environment.”

    If only the Pearl had such ready access to this “frequent service bus”. Those of us in the north end of continually feel stuck in a transit desert. Streetcar is fine for short trips as a circulator, but for longer distances it lacks much utility.

    It all goes back to the streetcar’s existential crisis – is it transportation or is it a development tool? Depressingly, the City seems steadfastly focused on the latter goal when improving efficiency and reliability should be a larger goal.

    • If only the Pearl had such ready access to this “frequent service bus”. Those of us in the north end of continually feel stuck in a transit desert. Streetcar is fine for short trips as a circulator, but for longer distances it lacks much utility.

      It seems that a major problem is lack of access to the Transit Mall and the many transfer opportunities there; as the Streetcar runs parallel to the mall for its entire length, until crossing it at PSU, reaching any of the bus lines on the Mall (or MAX) requires a bit of a walk.

      Would a bus that came every 15 minutes or so and ran the same route provide better service?

      Or would running Streetcar tracks down Hoyt, and switching the N/S line to the mall rather than 10th/11th (the loop can stay on the existing route), improve your level of service? (I’m ignoring several technical issues here, including the platform gap that would exist with Streetcar trying to stop at MAX platforms, and differences in signalling and control).

      Depressingly, the City seems steadfastly focused on the latter goal when improving efficiency and reliability should be a larger goal.

      This seems to be a bit of a cultural gulf between the City and TriMet. (Re)development generally assumes new service to places which are new and/or expanding, which may result in less useful service in the places where people already live, and have no more development potential. If such development induces people to move into the city from the ‘burbs, that’s good. But if it has the opposite effect, that’s not so good.

  9. The real problem is that it shouldn’t take a streetcar to get areas like the Pearl District developed. We don’t show travelers and developers how it’s far more efficient and lower cost to live where you can walk to the grocery store or the bank. If we did, there wouldn’t be the argument that a streetcar is needed to attract development and instead developers would want to try to fit as much development onto the land as possible on their own. Then there could be a rational discussion of whether or not a streetcar is the most suitable transit service and best uses capital and operating revenues. See http://www.rosecitytransit.org/mystuff/other/subsidies/

    • Maybe it “shouldn’t” but it seems to be the case that in the Portland Metro Area, development occurs alongside passenger railroad tracks. Other places get left behind.

        • That’s true, but it’s generally about the only major exception. I think that development happened there because the neighborhood already had good bones for it and there is lots of shared housing, producing a density-positive population.

          But yes, it is certainly somewhere that’s densified in the absence of passenger rail tracks.

          My guess is that the developers hope they’re coming soon.

          • Mississippi, Alberta, Williams — major exceptions. Williams is currently rippling with development and the City is responding with new striping (one travel lane) and a left-hand wider bike lane.

            • Don’t forget MLK, Hawthorne etc. These absolutely clear exceptions, where a streetcar had nothing to do with development, should be an exclamation mark in the process of streetcar planning.

            • Right! But as soon as you recommend that they put a line on a designated streetcar corridor that isn’t already developing they pull out the excuse that the market isn’t ready.

            • So far, the places that have gotten Streetcar, with possible exception of the sections west of I-405, generally have very high residential density, with >4 story buildings commonplace, and including high-rise construction–or are zoned for such. (I’m ignoring places where the line passes through areas that are predominantly commercial in nature).

              Hollywood itself has similar density, but there’s a good 20-block stretch of Broadway/Weidler (east of NE 17th or so) that is dominated by single-family homes. Plus, between Grand and 16th, there are many multistory apartments–but also many surface parking lots.

              Perhaps development of Streetcar in this corridor (or any corridor) should be deferred until a) the whole shebang is zoned for high-FAR mixed-use development, and b) developers actually manage to buy up a block or two and plan to build such development on it?

            • Except some of those places ‘got streetcar’ before the density got built. The funding commitment for the NS line was made in 2007, before much of anything was built in the Pearl (and in fact the agreement REQUIRED Hoyt Streetcar Yards to build at higher density).

              South Waterfront is similar.

            • The Pearl, as others have noted, was “easy”–it was a transformed brownfield, close to lots of downtown amenities, and with no existing NIMBYs to oppose dense apartment construction.

              If a Streetcar extension were to be laid down Broadway/Weidler–how much upzoning (let alone redevelopment) do you think would occur? How far would be a reasonable band for an upzone–everything between the Banfield and, say, NE Hancock?

            • Scotty, I think that misses the main point of Streetcar a little bit.

              Yes, we might do some upzoning in that corridor. We’d look at it block-by-block to do the right things.

              But the main benefit we’ve seen from Streetcar is how much of the density developers actually use.

              The key measure of density is FAR (floor area ratio), the amount of buildable space compared to the size of the lot (to be completely simplistic, if the building covered the entire lot and you built 3 stories, that would be a 3:1 FAR).

              In central city development, we’re seeing developers put up stuff that is averaging about 50% of the allowable FAR. Within a block or two of Streetcar, that jumps to 80-90% of available FAR. That’s a huge difference!

            • Sean, Jeff,

              MLK has not developed nearly as much as has Interstate Avenue. And the “development” along Alberta and Williams is just walk up neighborhood activities, not genuine densification. There are no new four to six story apartment buildings along them.

              Those have all gone in along Interstate, because of MAX.

              Now don’t get me wrong. I very much like what’s happening along all three streets in northeast Portland. Those new activities are great amenities to the neighborhood.

              But it’s not the sort of development that rail brings.

              And just for the record, the Yellow Line is pretty much midway between “freeway MAX” (including the westside extension even though there’s no freeway alongside) and modern streetcar. The 2/5 mile station spacing allows it to serve as the sole carrier on that street, so it’s a bit like a big streetcar.

            • Sean,

              As for Hawthorne, it has developed for exactly the same reasons as has Division a half mile to the south. It runs through the same neighborhood of large old houses largely used as shared housing by young professionals. There is already relatively high density which attracted frequent bus service and the city had already up-zoned the arterials. Developers saw a need and filled it. To loud squawks from some of the SFH owner occupants by the way.

              Streetcar certainly isn’t the only way to get density, but as Chris points out — with statistics to back it up — you get more density more efficiently with rail than with buses.

            • Anandakos, you need to get up to Williams and Mississippi more often. There are a good many apartments and mixed use buildings being built at a rapid rate even if none are 4-story — which seems pretty arbitrary as a definition of development. Since when do new retail stores and restaurants not count as development?

      • by “shouldn’t” I meant that encouraging (denser) development shouldn’t be a driving argument why streetcar mode is picked. The mode should be picked based on transportation merits.

        • Why not, if it works and it’s the city’s stated goal to increase density?

          I don’t mean that flippantly or negatively. I’m really interested in why you would think that shouldn’t be a consideration? Transportation and development are joined at the hip. Might as well get them walking in step, no?

          • Development should definitely be a consideration of what kind of transit is picked (after all, amount of development means amount of potential ridership), it just shouldn’t be considered on a higher level than cost effectiveness and other transit factors.

            Instead of “We want denser development here, let’s build a streetcar so we can encourage it”, it should be “developers want to build dense development here, is having a streetcar serve it the best use of limited financial resources, and the most suitable transit mode?”

            • Ignoring streetcars for a second, here’s a though:

              Many residents along Division have been complaining about upzoning and apartment construction, pointing out that such increases competition for various resources, including on-street parking.

              As it stands, zoning is a City responsibility and service allocation a TriMet responsibility; but what if the two agencies better cooperated in policies of “OK, we’re going to upzone Division Street. To mitigate the effects on existing neighbors, and to serve the additional demand, we’re also going to improve service frequency on the 4”.

              TriMet’s getting better at responding to changes with its SEPs, but it’s still rather slow at making service changes–they typically only come when a major project opens (PMLR next year) or when budget troubles hit.

            • I don’t think there has been any upzoning on Division, but I could be wrong. I think all that’s happened is developers have started taking advantage of the zoning that already existed.

            • Correct. The zoning on Division has been in place for a long time. The economics and ability to finance apartments without parking tilted post-recession.

  10. Soon there will practically be no where to live in Portland except for corporate built housing. High rents and higher prices, thanks to the density crowd.

    • No, Ron, not “thanks to the density crowd”. Thanks to modern media, Beervana, the Portland Music scene, Intel and Nike, OHSU and all those tech startups in north downtown.

      The “density crowd” could beat its gums all day and well into the night 24/7/365, and if people didn’t want to come and live in Portland, they’d be blowing smoke.

      Portland is the alternative to Seattle — which is really expensive — for a lot of people, myself included. We’ve got everything they have except Puget Sound, MLB and the NFL. And mind-boggling traffic; bad as ours is, Seattle’s is epic! in both the traditional and modern senses.

      What’s not to like about Portland? Face it, dude, you’re lucky you already lived here when it was discovered.

    • If you want to see high prices, check out San Francisco. Once cheap enough that hippies and such liked to settle there, now being overrun by Silicon Valley nerds (I’m a nerd, I can say that!) living in the City and doing the reverse commute down to the Valley. And full of strict land-use controls that prevent much new construction, wouldn’t want to spoil the neighborhood.

      Result: Housing there is ex-PEN-sive.

      Aside: I saw on Zillow someone offering a 4000 sf house near Weidler for only $600k or so… I wonder what’s wrong with it; that’s a STEAL if you have that kinda money. :)

  11. How much land is being rezoned—-and are the rezonings aimed at density levels that a family could not tolerate—such as a 400 sq. ft apartment?

    Actually to be close to Nike and Intel, Hillsboro would be the choice.

    There are developers that make their decisions upon what trade publications tell them…..not by how much beer is available. Why isn’t Milwaukie Wisconsin going up real fast? Anandakos, if you have Portland-envy so bad, why haven’t you moved across the river? You could get away from Vantuckians. Probably now you can’t afford it anyway—-and all that there is, is corporate built housing. So looks like you’re in permanent-commuterville.

    You can support the Western Arterial highway, though, since commuterville distance would be about 2/3 of what you have now. And with the river crossings needed, why not put in some underwater turbine generators to take advantage of the Columbia’s current, and charge up C Tran’s hybrid buses?

    • Ron,

      You didn’t get the post at all. It was about why people — specifically young professionals who want the urban lifestyle — come to Portland, not at all about why developers do things. They’re just following the demand as good capitalists do.

      So far as why I live in Vancouver, you’re exactly right. We got a nice house with a smallish but shady yard for $135K in 1995. We would have paid $200K for the same house in Portland. Plus I was close enough to retirement that the lack of a state income tax on non-Oregon earnings was attractive.

      Plus I like the quick access to U-picks.

      But even though Clark County is still semi-rural up north, I get to have all the amenities of Portland with a simple bus ride to the MAX when I want to go. And, since I live in the 49th LD I don’t even have to deal directly with the lunatics over here very often. Sure, they affect my life indirectly through King David, but it’s a pretty light yoke all in all.

      So while I do have a little “Portland envy”, I wasn’t lucky enough to have been here and have bought a house in East Portland while they were still cheap as you were. And now you spend your days bewailing the fact that your house is now worth five or six times what you paid for it, because Portland got discovered.

      • “But even though Clark County is still semi-rural up north, I get to have all the amenities of Portland with a simple bus ride to the MAX when I want to go”

        Which is essentially the same reasoning that Madore and Co. are promoting the East County bridge” “With a simple car trip, we can get in on tax free Oregon shopping, and we don’t have to pay Oregon income tax on our military retirements. Nyaaah!”

        • Did I say anything about shopping in Portland? No. I only do so when Clark County does not have the items I want, typically sound gear for our church.


          • The reasons I go to Portland are mostly for arts events and better restaurants. Obviously, I used to go to work there and sometimes in Washington County, too, and I started driving to MAX at Delta Park as soon as it was opened and when 99th Street TC opened switched to the C-Tran expresses.

            You’re pissed at me because I stand up to your rants about the young professional people who have come to Portland, but you refuse to admit that their influx has benefited you personally enormously. Anyone who has owned a home in Portland since 1990 has experienced an increase in valuation far in excess of general inflation. Even the folks in Lents and east of I-205.

            I think they’ve also benefited the city by their willingness to patronize non-chain restaurants and support the local craft brewing industry. But that’s just a personal opinion. The economics can’t be denied.

            If you don’t own a home (and if you’ve lived here as long as you claim to have, I’m sorry you missed out on an extraordinary opportunity), then you are in a bad situation as a craft builder. You’re right that only “corporate” construction — by which I gather you mean apartment buildings — are being built in the city. Most of those projects are completed not by union hall hires but by crews run directly by the developers.

            But the lack of individual house construction is not the “fault” of progressive young people coming to the city. And it’s not the fault of those dastardly “libruls” in the city government. They’d love to have SF home renovation and replacement at the same level it was before the Great Recession.

            No. It is directly and unequivocally the fault of the 1% and their lackeys in your fang-and-claw Party of No who wrecked and continue to block the reconstruction of the middle class economy,

            • Not just apartments, single family homes, in the form of condos are corporate built also.

              In fact I see zero homeowner construction (including as general contractor) except in ADU type construction. My parents built their own house on SE 122nd, which is the only way they could get a start. There was nothing coming from their ancestors (although my mother claimed to be related to Boston high society, via the “Walker” family). But they had some Norwegian carpenter friends, so they got it done, and traded into other houses later.

              Those opportunities are becoming much scarcer, single lots are harder to find and, now, will be further out from the city center. So that type of do-it-yourself survival is getting much harder to do. Inability to save for a down payment has always been the bane of renters, and I was just looking at HotPads and a lot of small rentals are in the 1200-1400 range. More than that in the Pearl, too.

              So just admit it. In the city of Portland pulling yourself up by your bootstraps by constructing your own home is practically impossible. If you went to Victoria BC you would have the equivalent “cultural advantages” so there is no inherent benefit to having a city this size.

            • So just admit it. In the city of Portland pulling yourself up by your bootstraps by constructing your own home is practically impossible. If you went to Victoria BC you would have the equivalent “cultural advantages” so there is no inherent benefit to having a city this size.

              And why do you suppose that is, and what should be done about it?

              Ban developers from building?

              Reserve a certain number of buildable lots for “build-and-occupy” only?

              Destroy Portland’s cultural instutitions so that we’re once again a backwater like the 1970s that nobody wants to move to, so the housing market collapses and developers (and their margins) are priced out of the game, but a guy with a hammer and a pickup truck might be able to turn a cheap lot into a house?

              Why is “skilled craftsmen can’t afford to buy a lot and build their own house on it in the middle of the city” a problem that public policy needs to address?

            • I can’t argue with your basic premise. You are correct about the economic changes you outlined. But attacking people who move here and fuel the changes — which implicitly is what you do by sneering at them — is about as effective as a dog baying at the moon to make it go away.

              It’s just economics. In our lifetimes the United States has nearly doubled its total population while decreasing its population in truly rural places. Ergo, everyone is more tightly jammed together on an ever shrinking portion of the land mass.

              John Bailo up on STB says that the Tri-Cities should become the “next Seattle”. Well, there’s a problem with that: it’s not very nice there while it’s very, very nice in Seattle — and here in Portland too.

              Just last week we visited my daughter and her family in Livingston, MT, driving the Lewis and Clark Trail (US 12) both ways. It is beautiful drive and I have to say that Walla Walla and Missoula are both beautiful old cities with lots of potential.

              And a GODAWFUL number of bugs!

              They didn’t bite — they were mostly moths and grasshoppers — but they were everywhere, including right in front of everyone’s faces. Not pleasant.

              Now don’t laugh; I don’t mean to imply that Portland’s lack of noxious insects — when was the last time you had to leave your patio because of them — is the “real” reason that people are flocking here. It’s not, but it is one of many.

              We don’t have suffocating humidity or a long freezing winter (we have a long dripping winter, but everybody gets out and does stuff in spite of the rain). We have mountains an hour away and an ocean two. Even with the Sunset, 217, the Banfield and I-5 parking lots, we don’t have unbearable traffic.

              Once modern telecommunications and the internet backbone made doing business in one place as convenient as another, the barriers holding people in the midwest fell and they started moving east, south, and west, according to temperament.

              People don’t have the same set of skills their parents had. We — and especially the younger folks — can do things our parents (their grandparents) didn’t dream possible, but that generation could fix their own cars, build a usable shelter and make it in the woods. It’s a different world today, and the old one is not coming back absent a complete economic catastrophe.

              Yes, we have lost much freedom with our increased concentration, but people over the millenia have seemed to prefer living in cities to being spread out and isolated. Cities can be larger now because of electricity, internal combustion, and sanitation. But it’s still the same old story: “How ya’ gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

              Portland is a little like Paree.

            • So this means you are a champion of corporate built housing, and no other alternatives? That’s the Real World result.

            • Again, Ron–what do you think should be done?

              Should housing be subsidized in some fashion?

              I understand your complaint–and there is a valid complaint; housing has gotten expensive. But that’s because there is high demand for it, and there’s only so many buildable lots in the Portland metro area.

              If the problem is “housing is expensive”, then the options available to fix that problem are:

              * Increase the supply
              * Lower the demand
              * Regulate the price
              * Some sort of rationing, so that housing is a less fungible good.

              Given that the amount of buildable land that is close in is finite (and scarce), the only way to “increase the supply” is to build up, and cram more housing units in a given plot of land. Or we could build out (sprawl)–that said, there are plenty of buildable lots in the ‘burbs, and a lot in Sherwood is not a direct substitute for a lot in Sellwood.

              “Lowering the demand”–discouraging people from living here–is the Tom McCall approach, but I’m not sure we want to go that way either. I like living in a city with decent cultural attractions, great food, good jobs in high-tech, and lots of natural beauty nearby.

              Regulating prices–mainly through rent control–is something that is done in other places, but there’s not as much of here. A big problem is that new rent-controlled (or price-controlled) properties simply don’t get built.

              Rationing–keeping builders from buying up all the lots–might be an interesting tack, and it would be good for those who can roll up their sleeves and swing a hammer, or have the means to hire a general contractor. On the other hand, it would reduce economies of scale and probably drive prices up, not down, if every house is a separate project.

              Simply declaring a moratorium on new construction will make prices go UP, not down–unless you think all the hipsters will leave Portland in droves and go to Seattle instead…

            • Ron,

              I’m sympathetic; truly, I am. One of my five times great-grandfather was Daniel Boone’s brother Israel. He died before Daniel and Squire Jr opened the Wilderness Trail, but Daniel reared his kids. So I have a family history of “elbow room” and rebellion. There is a lot to regret about the passing of the old America.

              But it’s gone, even in places like O’Neill, Nebraska and Beckley, West Virginia. You can find some traces of it in places like that, but for the most part we all eat the same food from the same dozen companies, drive the same cars, watch the same television on sets from the same six manufacturers.

              Housing is if anything one of the least consolidated industries, but I understand that you miss the opportunity to put your craftsman’s mark on a new building. That’s admirable, but like Scotty says, there’s not much that can be done to change the trend. He gave a good summary of the possibilities.

      • “You didn’t get the post at all”

        No, you didn’t answer whether there would be much alternative to corporate built housing. As much as you indulge in blasting people who are not in the “secular progressive” mentality, I would think at least you would have concerns that we are approaching zero options, but to rent— or buy from a large corporation. Apparently you are a flaming pro-capitalist when you want to be. God knows what joys you as a Vancouverite get out of your voyeuristic fascination with Portland. I don’t obsess about La Center or orchards or whatever. All I want is some opportunity—-I’m no corporate climber or Trust fund kid. Actually grew up in a SEIU Local 49 member household, so it’s not your damn business what I buy, or own or did.

  12. check out the streetcar evaluation model report from Metro from yesterday’s technical advisory committee meeting (starts on page 5 of the PDF):


    it is about a tool they developed to assess the development impact of a streetcar line corridor. apparently they’ve run it on hypothetical lines on Broadway/Weidler, 82nd, Macadam, and the Amberglen area (if I remember correctly). I have not read it fully, and just have a limited understanding of the tool. I am very curious to see the outcomes for each of the corridors studied.

    there’s a draft urban growth report in there, too. if you’re really bored.

  13. A few thoughts in summary:

    1) Mixed-traffic streetcar is inappropriate as rapid transit or over long-haul routes, and suffers a few limitations (due to the fixed guideway) compared to local bus service. This is less of an issue if faster parallel service is available.

    2) It is an appropriate technology choice when the following conditions are met:

    * The route is a circulator or shorter linear corridor (no more than a few miles).
    * The street is such where interference from traffic is less likely to be a concern.
    * The route won’t cannibalize or otherwise interfere with existing bus service.

    3) In addition, it probably is not justified unless at least one of the following is true:

    * Neighbors/developers in a particular corridor are demanding “luxury” transit service, and are willing to pay to build it (through a LID, higher fares, or other means).
    * An existing bus corridor is filled to capacity, and the higher capacity of a streetcar will result in potential operational improvements
    * A community is going to be (re)developed at a significantly higher density, and zoning changes are made to reflect that.

    The original streetcar line, including its extensions to SoWA, mostly satisfies these criteria. It’s a reasonably short corridor, there are bus alternates (though a transfer downtown is needed), it doesn’t run on heavily-trafficked streets, and it provided a new service route. It was financed through a LID, the neighborhoods along the line are high density.

    The Eastside line, less so. The Broadway Bridge and MLK/Grand are major thoroughfares, the entire route duplicates existing bus service (except for the bridge cross the UPRR tracks to OMSI), it was financed with more general-fund dollars, and redevelopment has been slow (inner SE is neither greenfield nor brownfield, so redevelopment will require demolition).

    The LO line, likewise. It would have cannibalized the 35 and replaced it with poorer service; it would have run partially on Macadam, a perpetual traffic jam during peak times, south of Taylor’s Ferry it was essentially functioning as a poor-quality rapid transit line. Neighbors in John’s Landing weren’t eager to welcome either new development, or permit use of the existing trackage, and the 35 isn’t even a frequent service line, let alone something that requires additional capacity.

    • EngineerScotty – to the best of my understanding of the funding breakdown in this document (http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/pdf/loop_fact_sheet_and_map_201102.pdf) no citywide General Fund dollars were used for the Eastside streetcar line. $15.5 million came from a Local Improvement District. $27.68 million came from the PDC, presumably Urban Renewal money that can only legally be spent in the district it was raised in. I’m not sure what $3.62 million “regional funds” are, but it doesn’t sound like Portland General Fund dollars.

      $6.11 million was from Systems Development Charges, which admittedly could have been used on other transportation projects in the city. However, based on the number of apartments being built along the route of the CL line (even excluding the 3 new towers under construction in the North Pearl), the city should have already recovered over half that SDC money. For this reason, I would disagree that redevelopment has been slow. There’s a 600 unit project under construction in the Lloyd District. There’s a 21 story building at the Burnside Bridgehead in for building permit right now, which should break ground any day now. The goat blocks project, which will have hundreds of new units, is only 5/6 blocks from the streetcar line. It’s possible that these projects would have happened anyway, but given these lots have all been vacant for at a decade or two, it doesn’t seem that likely. With no change in zoning, we’re suddenly seeing 200′ towers pop up on the eastside. I think it’s fair to give the streetcar some credit for that.

      • TIF (the $27.68M from PDC) is essentially a carve-out from the general funds of the City, County and School District.

        Now you can assume that once the district is formed, the money is going to be spent on something, and not doing streetcar would not have given any money back to the general fund. Also, the assumption is that the investment generates increase in property value that more than compensate the general fund in the future, but the future can be a long time away.

        But we have to acknowledge some connection to the general fund.

        • The CL traverses the River District URA, the Convention Center URA and the Central Eastside URA. These were created in 1998, 1989 and 1986 respectively, long before the financing for the Eastside Line was assembled. Had the TIF money not been spent on the Streetcar it could have been spent in these districts on storefront improvements, new sidewalks, development loans, new parks, or any of the other capital projects the PDC engages in. It could not have been spent on Fire, Police or Schools, so I think it’s fair to say that General Fund money wasn’t used.

  14. Anandakos said And the “development” along Alberta and Williams is just walk up neighborhood activities, not genuine densification. There are no new four to six story apartment buildings along them.

    You have got to be kidding. Three 4-story apartment buildings have opened on Williams in the past few years, 3 are under construction (one of which has a tower crane and underground parking!), and another 3 (at least) are in permitting. Altogether about 2,000 new housing units will come online, just between about Cook and Skidmore, during this building cycle. There is also a series of 3 five-story office buildings currently under construction at Fremont. That is an *unprecedented* level of densification for a corridor in this city. It makes what is happening on Division look small time.

    • Not “unprecedented”, unless you consider South Waterfront to be outside the city. But I’m glad that all the restaurants and bars along Williams will have a good clientele that doesn’t have to drive there.

      The reason for this redevelopment, just like that along Division, Hawthorne and Alberta — even MLK which used to be Union — is that this was when the area was originally developed a streetcar corridorso there are lots of attractive one- and two-story brick buildings to give aesthetic “bones” to the neighborhood. So, you know what, the development is still the result of a streetcar.

      Does that mean that they should have modern streetcars put back on them? Probably not for any single line and certainly not for all of them together. But like today, they demonstrate that streetcars do a better job than buses of focusing development.

  15. Chris – a little off topic, but I recently came across this old blog post where you said that closing the loop would require 20 or 21 streetcar vehicles (http://portlandtransport.com/archives/2010/09/streetcar_to_hi.html#comment-34971). There are 16 vehicles in the fleet now, right? And no plans to order any more? So my question is – are streetcars going over the Tillikum crossing from the day it opens? And what’s the service frequency going to be like on each line? I would guess that we wouldn’t be going to all the effort of rebuilding the Jasmine Block track if not, but I can’t understand how the full loop can served if we don’t have enough vehicles.

    • I believe the 20/21 number may have been for 12-minute headways.

      At current headways we need 17 vehicles to reliably maintain service (that means having some spares). We’re actively working on financing and purchasing the 17th vehicle and definitely plan to be operating when the bridge opens in September ’15.

      Given that we opened the CL line with zero spare vehicles for several months, I imagine we’d commence service even if we only had 16 vehicles, but we wouldn’t enjoy it…

      • Got it, thanks. Glad to hear the streetcar will be going over the bridge from day one. I’m guessing that even if you had 21 vehicles, there isn’t the funding for 12 minute headways on both lines anyway?

        Will the 17th vehicle come from United Streetcar? How long does it take to build a single streetcar? And do they have any other work at the moment, after Tucson?

        (Sorry for the twenty questions.)

        • Correct, we couldn’t pay the operators to run at 12 minutes given the current projected budgets.

          Yes, the 17th vehicle will come from United Streetcar, we have an option based on our prior order. There’s a deadline by which we have to commit to have it for opening, but I don’t recall what it is. And I don’t know what their current order backlog is.

          • At least it should run every 15 minutes at that date. Any greater headway than that and I would consider it a joke.

            • Statistically speaking, late nights, sunday evenings, etc become low ridership times. It doesn’t make sense to pay for high frequency (Trimet and the city know this as well) so streetcar, like buses and MAX have decreased frequency.

              Thus, the whole system is “a joke”?

            • I’m curious where the CL cars are going to have operator breaks/recovery time. There’s no obvious place in the loop that’s not likely to have through ridership.

              Has that been decided?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *