December 2014 Open Thread

A few items for your consideration:

43 responses to “December 2014 Open Thread”

  1. Chris! Can you provide an update on the Streetcar CAC and the discussion about a future streetcar network expansion strategy? I’ve been hearing some rumblings about big decisions related to long term citywide priorities being made by a less-than-open subcommittee process.

    • Nick, this relates to the Project List that will be part of the TSP/Comprehensive Plan. A joint subcommittee of the Portland Streetcar Inc board and the Streetcar CAC have been meeting to prepare a recommendation about what future lines should be considered for inclusion on the project list (I was part of the subcommittee, although I did not vote since I will vote on this in my PSC role). The result will be a letter that goes to Planning and Sustainability Commission and City Council and will be considered alongside other public input. The “open public processes” are the PSC and City Council hearing and decision processes. The letter from PSI/CAC is just one voice.

      I believe the CAC discussed this at their meeting this afternoon, and that is in fact an open meeting.

      So come to the PSC hearing on the TSP early next year and tell us what you think!

  2. Without dedicated lanes & associated infrastructure, the BRT system may be nothing more than a glorified bus route with fewer stops. Also consider that cities across the globe have been reevaluating there transit needs & desires once BRT was implemented. Several of them are in process to convert such lines to rail including Brampton ON just north of Toronto.

  3. Curitiba, Brazil intends to convert its BRT lines to light rail as they have the resources. Why run a vehicle that can carry 100 at most when there are vehicle available that had handle 4 times as many?
    re the TSP and Streetcar CAC…we voted to recommend: 1. Macadam extension as a capital project; 2. Potential NW extension alignments need to be worked out with all parties there asap; and 3. all alignments noted in the 2009 Streetcar system plan be included in the City’s study of transit system needs. Full text should be available on

    • Lenny,

      Any chance a streetcar line could be placed on Sandy Blvd? You don’t need to lose the 12 bus that already runs along there. There is built in demand since that is one of the frequent service routes that Tri-Met offers. In adition, Sandy as wide as it is could be redesigned to have a dedicated transit lane each way to make it safer for padestrians.

    • Lenny,

      I would assume from the name that the Macadam extension will run on Macadam, rather than the former Willamette shore trolly RoW. My understanding is that Tri-Met already owns the trolly RoW through John’s Landing, so why not use that instead of Macadam itself? Also, how far south would the extension go?

      • While I only hinted at it a the CAC meeting, I think a streetcar through John’s Landing is just another amenity that exacerbates the stark issue of “two portlands”. And, building an extension in the Pearl/NW really shouldn’t be a priority either.

        It’s a bit serendipitous that the Oregonian published this today:

        The John’s Landing census track has a median income of $81,338 (city average is in the low 50k range) and a non-white population of only 16% (compared to around 30% in the rest of the city and 40+% in East Portland census tracts). Likewise, the census tract around the Conway property has a median income of $79,265 and only a 7.9% non-white population.

        So, I guess the question is – are we conflating “streetcar ready” with “white and upper middle class”?

        • It’s a good thing the streetcar isn’t simply a toy for the “white and upper middle class” because the median income of the Pearl is around $32k. Speaking as a resident here, Northwest (especially north of Lovejoy) is a relative transit black hole that needs better service. Whether it is bus or streetcar (and I have my own opinions on this), isn’t the main issue, but we need something to serve all the new units planned or under construction. It’s an issue of livability and safety because practically speaking these apartment dwellers cannot take all of their non-local trips by car.

          • And what”s the commitment to making some of those units affordable? Is there a development agreement? What percentage will be affordable to folks making less than 60% AMI, or less than 30% AMI?

            I generally defend streetcar service in NW Portland because I know the folks that live at NW Towers, Marshall Union Manor, Gallagher Plaza, etc. And I know how streetcar has improved their lives. But, I’m still suspect of the equity or utility of a streetcar spur that’s being constructed to serve a census tract that doesn’t have the same mix of incomes, where the development is being motivated by bringing a New Seasons into the area, and where there’s no clear strategy for creating a mixed income community, maintaining affordability and/or diversifying the available housing stock by say – creating some affordable family sized units.

      • The original plan for the streetcar as I recall was to use the Willamette Shore row to Lake Oswego, but it was killed by Lake Oswego officials. So instead Macadam became the route of choice either for bus or streetcar service.

        • Well, since the streetcar will never go to Lake Oswego, but just a mile or so farther through John’s Landing, LO’s objections are moot. Single track with sidings for a mile is not a bad thing. It puts the stations much closer to the offices and keeps people from having to cross Macadam in the morning.

          It probably wouldn’t even be too expensive to upgrade it. Maybe a LID would be in order so other city priorities don’t have to be sacrificed.

          I will say, though, that extending the streetcar into SoWa has been a SPECTACULAR success!

          • Curious – what was the basis for Lake Oswego’s rejection of the streetcar in the first place? Enlighten me please.

          • I believe the $500 million price tag had something to do with it. For far less money, LO could have a single track, 2-mile long MAX spur branching off the Orange line from Milwaukie.

            • There’s no way that a “two mile long MAX Spur” that is largely a bridge over the Willamette River, would be “far less money” than $500M. In fact, it’d probably cost $500M. Maybe $400M.

            • $400m is $100m less than $500m, or 20%, which I, and most people interested in infrastructure costs, wouldn’t mind calling “way less” than $500m. That would buy you an entire streetcar extension, or 20-30 extra vehicles, or whatever pressing need, or a tax reduction, or sidewalk safety improvements, let’s all argue about how to allocate a spare $100m, please!

          • Even the original plan of going to Lake Oswego including a Macadam routing of the streetcar: 1) Residents along the waterfront didn’t want to see trains on the tracks; b) businesses along Macadam wanted the streetcar to stop at their front doors.

            The big problem the LO Streetcar had is that it planned to replace the #35 bus, but actually offered WORSE service to Clackamas County commuters: A forced transfer at Lake O, no speed improvement over the existing bus, and no service to the Transit Mall (other than connections at SoWa or PSU).

            While extending PMLR across the river might be possible, I haven’t heard of a detailed study of the cost, nor does there appear to be be any political support for that whatsoever. But building a new bridge would be highly useful…

          • Never say never. As the economy picks up, traffic on Hwy 43 is getting worse again, and if the Wizer block development puts 300-400 new apartments in downtown Lake Oswego, that could be a catalyst for the type of dense development that creates a real need for a high capacity transit option in that corridor.

            As someone who takes the 35 through Johns Landing daily, streetcar through that neighborhood really ought to use the Willamette Shoreline ROW. Aside from the fact that (IIRC) the value of the right of way can be used as the local match for federal funds, at all the places where stops would be placed (Hamilton, Boundary, Pendleton, Nebraska, Nevada), the right of way is literally one block west of Macadam.

            As for an extension of Milwaukie MAX to LO, I can’t image that costing much less than a streetcar extension. I’m assuming it would parallel the Tillamook Branch ROW, which runs on a pretty narrow ledge on the east side of the river before using a fairly impressive bridge — and extensive trestles on both sides of the river — to get to LO. My point is that’s going to be some pretty extensive construction, not to mention the right of way acquisition.

          • Tim,

            I say “never” because a streetcar is sadly ineffective for serving Lake Oswego. It would forever have to be single track most of the way and very slow because there are many blind intersections in the area just south of the tunnel.

            Now I honestly believe that if it were built the people in those wealthy neighborhoods above the river would absolutely love having it. However, they don’t think so today and wouldn’t until it was actually built, and I expect their “influence” in the Lake Oswego City Council is rather larger than their population would warrant. So it will never be built.

            But extending it down to about OPB is a no-brainer. The right of way is there, there is lots of office development already and increasingly residential and entertainment as well. It’s only a mile and a half at most, so it doesn’t have to go fast to be popular; it won’t have “through riders” itching to speed things up. It gets riders off of Macadam and puts them closer to their destinations.

            The “businesses along Macadam” that Scotty mentions, at least, the ones along the west side who would be disadvantaged are mostly strip mall bupkies businesses catering to autos. Yes, the ROW shortcuts away to the east between Flower and Hamilton, but the “bulge” between the tracks and Macadam is filled with sizable buildings.

            This can probably be done for $15-20 million and another car. There is still a little buildable land in the bulge and some of the buildings existing between Macadam and the ROW to the south of the bulge are ripe for replacement.

            Do it. It’s a good investment for the city.

            • “there are many blind intersections in the area just south of the tunnel”

              Did you mean “north of the tunnel”? I looked at Google maps, and south of the tunnel looked pretty clear as far as intersections are concerned. North of the tunnel looks like the track may cross a fair number of private driveways.

              As for the single track issue, I’d be curious to see how single track with limited double tracking (at stations, at least, and maybe double track segments between a few select stations) would do in terms of reliability. For example, if there was double tracking from Bancroft to Hamilton Court, single track through Johns Landing, double track from Willamette Park to the Sellwood Bridge, single track to the tunnel (maybe with a siding in Powers Marine Park), double tracking south of the tunnel along Fielding Road, plus double tracking around each station … would that allow sufficiently reliable two-way service on, say, twelve to fifteen minute headways? Especially if the stations were spaced out a half mile apart or more?

              The proposed line to Lake Oswego was a joke. Too expensive, and, as Scotty pointed out, made for a slower trip than the existing bus. But I wonder if a mostly-single-track line would affordable enough to build and reliable enough for commuting?

            • Douglas,

              I don’t think you can make it fast enough. If you were running PCC’s it would probably work; they could FLY! But the Inekon’s are limited to 25 or 28 miles an hour and it would be a long ride from LO to downtown, especially with all the stops that a streetcar would make.

              Seriously, just extend it a little way on down the existing ROW with as little impact as possible and use it as a development tool. With the streetcar being a local circulator through John’s Landing the 35 could get a stop diet and move along more smartly for the long distance riders.

            • I thought the Inekons could do up to 43 mph (source). I know they’d be limited to much slower speeds when passing through residential areas — really, the Powers Marine Park segment is probably the only place it could open up and really fly. Against that, it would probably need to creep through much of Riverwood.

              In terms of the number of stops, I was thinking more of a “rapid streetcar” concept. Lake Oswego, Riverwood, Sellwood Bridge, Willamette Park, two or three stops in Johns Landing, three stops in SoWa, then shortcut from SoWa to downtown using MAX tracks and a new three-block track segment on 1st Avenue from Lincoln to Harrison. Eliminate the 3rd and Harrison station (it’s redundant with the 1st and Harrison station anyway) and that’s a pretty quick trip from SoWa to PSU.

              I have no idea if the ridership is there or if single-tracking would still allow for reliable frequent service. But it seems to me to be a question worth asking.

        • Streetcar is a useful tool for linking dense neighborhoods, but not so much for connecting suburbs to downtown, which is why I didn’t shed many tears when LO Streetcar was taken off the table. I could get behind a suggestion made in previous thread comments to use the same type of double-decker bus on Macadam that Snohomish County uses; it’s higher capacity than a regular bus and has enough of a novelty factor to attract (and hopefully retain) more riders.

          Regardless of what mode ends up being implemented in this corridor, a retooling of the pitiful LO Transit Center is a must.

  4. It seems to me that the Portland Streetcar System Concept Plan (104 pages) answers some of the questions posed above. This a link to it:

    Since this is an open thread, there is a rumor that I would like validated or squashed: TWO streetcar drivers have told me that there is the possibility that streetcars will start using the Tillikum Bridge before MAX does. According to driver #2 this is because the city wants to begin major work on the Broadway Bridge which could cause shutdowns. Holding back the process would be getting the stops ready, training the drivers, and installing some sort of signaling device in the streetcars.

    This rumor may be a total joke but why would two different drivers give me the same story.

    • The County will in fact be doing work on the Broadway Bridge. I have not heard any discussion of using the Tilikum as an alternative, but I guess it’s not impossible that someone has explored the idea.

    • Hello, John –

      Your question was brought up by Julie on your behalf at yesterday’s Streetcar CAC meeting.

      The answer is that streetcars will begin testing/certification across the crossing before the official bridge opening date. This could happen theoretically as early as May. However, no passenger service is planned (or thought to be allowable).

      As to whether or not streetcar will beat MAX to be the first test vehicle across the bridge, I don’t know. Perhaps TriMet has to finish up other parts of the Orange line before they can begin full testing?

      The first time the general public will have early access to the bridge will be on the date of next year’s Bridge Pedal event. In the afternoon, after the Bridge Pedal, the bridge will be open to the public.

      Incidentally, TriMet will be testing out the full bridge accent lighting system for the next few nights, if you want to try and catch it:

          • OK, I’m not sure that’s happened yet. And it’s a pretty safe bet that when it does, it will be made known.

            And getting a little more serious, what needs to be done on the Broadway Bridge? I remember there being major work necessitating detours on it not that many years before the streetcar construction happened.

            Also, it doesn’t seem to make sense to run an isolated service on the east side and force people to transfer from buses (back) to streetcars instead of just having the buses serve the rest of the route.

    • Two board members voted no, one of which was Dr. Allen T. Bethel–apparently because he disliked OPAL’s campaign tactics.

    • I also think the unique site could make the market even more interesting, if slightly constrained. I agree the impact on MAX needs to be assessed.

  5. Seems like Uber has a lot of support *because* the existing taxicab cartel sucks a lot.

    This dynamic has happened elsewhere (Seattle), and I can think of some other cities where it needs to happen (Albany, NY, where the taxi drivers are infamous).

    The perception which the locals have in all of these places is that taxis aren’t currently really regulated — that they don’t even do what they’re supposed to (pick you up quickly and take you efficiently to your destination at a standard rate of pay).

    Given this situation, where “no real regulation” seems to be the status quo, of course people are happy to let new unregulated services like Uber into the market. It seems like the only regulations are designed to protect the cartel.

    If the regulations were protecting the customer, rather than protecting an incompetent cartel, then people would support the regulations.

    • There’s a big difference between poorly functioning regulation of taxis and the deregulation Uber wants. Taxis won’t always go to poor neighborhoods, but they’re supposed to and can be punished if they don’t. Uber has no responsibility to do this. Taxis are not allowed to jack up rates at the precise time people really need them–like during a storm. That’s Uber’s business model. Taxi drivers have to be trained and insured, Uber has fought that requirement every step of the way. If you’ve got a regulatory system in place it can be reformed and improved.

      Uber has demonstrated in many ways that is a lawless company–the city of Portland is doing the right thing by suing them.

  6. The only reason streetcars were considered for LO was the publicly owned ROW that is sitting there waiting to be put to use. If a smaller light rail operation (i.e. streetcars) won’t fly, then what? Trail? Not sure the rail easement would hold for that purpose at some points along the alignment. Maybe an augmented “tourist trolley?” Its a cool ride!
    re streetcar extensions. They really can only go where there is strong community support, especially non-residential property owners who are willing to form an LID for a good portion of local match. That appears to be possible in Macadam as well as NW; maybe someday out Broadway/Weidler to Hollywood. Its how the whole thing got started.
    The demographic issues are better addressed by actively expanding affordable housing where streetcar now runs and would run in the future. Not always easy, but easier that than getting a streetcar line to every corner of town. URAs are required to spend 30% of their resources on affordable housing. The North River District has over 2000 units so far; South Waterfront needs to be pushed to hard to make more workforce and otherwise affordable housing part of the story down near the city’s largest employer, OHSU.

    • URAs are required to spend 30% of their resources on affordable housing. The North River District has over 2000 units so far; South Waterfront needs to be pushed to hard to make more workforce and otherwise affordable housing part of the story down near the city’s largest employer, OHSU.

      That is part of the river district plan as the So Wa neighborhood fills in with new development. The metropolitan housing rule requires affordable units in any new construction or in a separate structure so long it is in the same neighborhood.

  7. The SW Corridor Steering Committee has decided to engage in further study to make a mode determination (bus vs LRT) before advancing the project to the DEIS stage.

    (This seems to make the anti-LRT folks in Tigard unhappy, who are calling on Metro to cancel the entire project and just widen OR-217…)

  8. The “build more roads to reduce congestion” nonsense is back on the table, at least momentarily. MPAC and TPAC have passed resolutions urging the Metro Council to elevate the priority of roadway improvements in the region’s Climate Smart Strategy, the Council takes up this issue today.

    Generally, support for more roads is coming from–unsurprisingly–suburban locales with lower-quality bike, ped, and transit facilities (much of Clackamas County, as well as the City of Hillsboro). While they do have a valid point that their existing non-auto facilities are in such poor shape that piecemeal improvements to these facilities are likely to bring about much improvement (network effects have yet to kick in, and these places are largely auto-dependent)–building more roads is not going to help the problem. Congestion relief doesn’t bring about reductions in tailpipe emissions, as more cars fill the additional road space. You have to start somewhere….

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