Author Archive | jhowell

What If the SW Corridor Started on the East Side?

sw_corridor_modified - Copy

click map to view full size

Extending the Yellow Line south to Tualatin should be considered in the SW Corridor Plan. It would provide a north-south rapid transit alternative to I-5, which is becoming increasingly congested. The line would extend 19-miles between Vancouver WA and Tualatin with at least 24 stations providing connections to rest of the transit system.

I propose it traverse the central city on the east side and south waterfront thus avoiding the slow downtown operation that plagues the Blue and Red Lines, and serves OHSU with a deep tunnel station similar to the one at the zoo.

Note:Building a tunnel for light rail is not necessarily more expensive than building it on the surface. Land values can drive the cost of surface construction to great heights. The 2.9-mile Robertson light rail tunnel through the West Hills, with one subway station, opened in 1998 at a cost of $184 million. That underground work would be about $290 million or $100 million a-mile in today’s dollars. Compare this to the 7.3-mile Milwaukie Line, now under construction above ground, costing $1.5 billion or $200 million a-mile.

Following is a brief description and map of the line.

Segment 1 – Rose Quarter to OMSI
This 1.7-mile segment could run on the surface along Water Avenue or on a structure above the UP Railroad tracks on First Avenue. It should have three intermediate stations at the bridgeheads for connections to all the eastside bus lines that cross the Willamette.

Segment 2 – River Crossing
This segment, with a new platform adjacent the OMSI MAX Station, shares the new Willamette River Bridge and South Waterfront Station with the Orange Line.

Segment 3 – Marquam Hill Tunnel
This 2.8 mile-long tunnel would have an east portal immediately west of the South Waterfront Station and a west portal at Burlingame. It would have a deep station to serve “Pill Hill” and a Hillsdale Station to provide a connection to the frequent bus lines on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

Segment 4 – Burlingame to Tigard Transit Center
This 4.2-mile segment could run on the surface along I-5 and Barbur Blvd. It could have three or four stations. They would be at Burlingame, the Barbur Transit Center, and one at SW 72nd and Barbur Blvd. The line would enter the WES right of way at the Tigard Transit Center. An alternate alignment could be in a tunnel between The Barbur and Tigard Transit Centers with a subway station at PCC Sylvania.

Segment 5 – Tigard to Tualatin
The possibility of adding a 3.8-mile section of electrified track in the Portland and Western and WES rights of way in order to extend MAX south to Tualatin should be considered. MAX could possibly share the WES platforms.

Should Streetcars Run on the Transit Mall?

eastside max sup. w streetcars

Are streetcars a better fit for the transit mall than light rail trains? Streetcars are smaller, slower and more appropriate for downtown, frequent-stop, circulator service. They would be safer than long light rail trains, intermixed with buses and private vehicles, which will also run on the mall when it reopens.

The current plan is to route the I-205/Green and the Interstate/Yellow Light Rail Lines on 5th and 6th Avenues. These are large high capacity regional trains that, unfortunately, will be forced to snake up and down the Transit Mall slowly, causing unnecessary travel delay for north-south inter-regional passengers. This is similar to the delays now experienced by east-west passengers as they creep through downtown on the Blue and Red Lines.

The Yellow Line would be faster and attract more passengers if it did not detour across the Willamette River in order to slog though the downtown on the transit mall. If it stayed on the eastside where it would provide rapid regional north-south service, streetcars could fill the void on the mall. A streetcar loop on 5th and 6th Avenues would provide more efficient frequent circulator service than would large light rail trains.

In the future, this loop could be extended north via Station Way to connect to the streetcar system in the Pearl District. This would allow streetcars to operate between the Pearl District and Portland State via Union Station and the Transit Mall.

Streetcars, MAX Trains and Buses – Three Modes – One System

seventh ave alignment w max

click image for full size view

The streetcar system, promoted as a development tool, is supposed to be a local circulator with frequent stops and yet it will run without a stop for two-thirds of mile, across the Broadway Bridge between the Pearl District and the Eliot Neighborhood.

On the other hand, light rail is supposed to function as a high capacity regional system, (Metropolitan Area Express) but is being forced to function as a streetcar, creeping along downtown city streets with stops every few blocks.

It appears that each mode is being planned without much consideration of the other, with little thought given to developing a coordinated synergistic system.
Some serious thought should be given to the big picture.

Following is an example of how the three modes, coordinated as a single system in the central city, could provide better service than if developed individually.

  • The Transit Mall could accommodate buses and streetcars. It is a more appropriate venue for frequent streetcar service than it is for long regional MAX trains.
  • Streetcars routed via Station Way and over the Steel Bridge could provide additional service to the Pearl District and new service to the North Riverfront area.
  • Streetcars could serve the Rose Quarter and connect the Lloyd District to both the Transit Mall and the Pearl District.
  • The Yellow MAX Line could then extend south to Milwaukie on a direct eastside alignment, providing efficient transfers to eastside bus routes while avoiding two river crossings, awkward junctions at the Steel Bridge and a slow slog through downtown.
  • The eastside streetcar could be routed over the Hawthorne Bridge and serve the Keller Auditorium area while providing a critical link between the greater eastside and South Waterfront.
  • The Ross Island Bridge could be upgraded to provide bike, pedestrian and bus access to South Waterfront.
  • The huge capital cost of a new light rail bridge and the expense of laying tracks over the recently refurbished Broadway Bridge could be avoided.
  • The money saved would be better used to extend the Yellow MAX Line to Hayden Island and to extend streetcar service to Lake Oswego.

    The attached map shows these modified river crossings. It also illustrates a north-south streetcar alignment through the eastside that incorporates the following advantages.

  • Seventh Avenue, less intensely developed, provides more opportunities for new development than MLK/Grand.
  • The Seventh Avenue corridor now lacks transit service whereas MLK/Grand has excellent bus service (148 trips a day) with the MLK #6 corridor bus route that connects Hayden Island to the transit mall and PSU.
  • Lloyd District would be better served with two-way streetcar operation on Seventh Avenue, which is a two-way street. It would be more intuitive and easier to understand than the proposed split operation, with streetcars going in one direction on a two-way street and the other direction on a one-way street, with two blocks between tracks.
  • The Seventh Avenue streetcar bridge across Sullivan’s Gulch could also provide a desirable bike and pedestrian link. Perhaps the old Sauvie Island Bridge could be recycled for this purpose.
  • The Seventh Avenue alignment eliminates time consuming streetcar turns at Grand and Broadway, and at Oregon and MLK.
  • The streetcar on Seventh Avenue would have less negative traffic impact than on the very busy MLK/Grand couplet.

A Hosford-Abernathy-Brooklyn (HAB) Railroad Cut

hab rr cut - blue river

As the planning for the Milwaukie light rail line is refined, those responsible should consider other long range improvements that might be needed in the corridor so as not to require costly and disruptive changes to the line in the future, otherwise known as “Strategic Planning”.

From SE 3rd to SE 17th Avenues, the proposed line runs parallel to the Union Pacific Railroad, the only rail line that connects the Pacific Northwest with Southern California with freight and passenger service. It will never be abandoned but, in the future, will have to handle many more trains than it does today and will probably require additional tracks.

This rail line is a major blight on the adjacent neighborhoods. The grade crossings at SE 11th and12th Avenues are major bottlenecks that will only worsen as more trains are added. Back in the 1970s, when Powell Blvd was dropped into a dismally designed underpass in order to relieve traffic backups on Powell, the street connections between the Hosford-Abernethy and Brooklyn neighborhoods were severed and the needs and safety of pedestrians and bicyclists were largely ignored.

Some day these shortcomings should be corrected and foresight is needed to minimize the cost and impacts of these future remedies.

A solution to this problem is to drop the grade of the railroad though this corridor so all at-grade crossings would be eliminated. Powell Blvd would no longer have to be in a ditch and local streets would again connect

It takes about three-quarters of a mile to drop the rail line down the 30 feet needed to run under 11th, 12th and Powell and the same distance to return to the surface. (See attached map.)

It would be infeasible to construct this cut at the location of the existing tracks because rail service cannot be interrupted for any extended period of time. The cut could be built immediately south of the line and connected up at each end (SE Clay Street at the north and SE Holgate at the south), at which time the existing track could be removed.

This leads back to light rail. Since property will have to be purchased to construct light rail, it would be prudent for TriMet and the City of Portland to purchase and reserve a corridor between the UPRR and the light rail line to construct a rail cut to accommodate the needs of future freight and passenger service.

Three Line Streetcar Service

Jim Howell has an alternate notion of how to operate the Streetcar Loop. He’s paired it with a Hawthorne Bridge crossing, but I don’t know why it couldn’t work with a more southernly crossing, or indeed, before the crossing is created.

If streetcars were routed over the Hawthorne Bridge and south to Harrison, as I have suggested earlier in conjunction with an eastside routing of the Milwaukie/Interstate MAX, the streetcar system could operate as three overlapping lines as shown on the attached map:

“A Line” – the existing Northwest/South Waterfront line, “B Line” – An eastside/downtown loop and “C Line” – An eastside line that connects to both the Northwest and South Waterfront neighborhoods.

If each line were operated on 12-minute headways, a streetcar would pass any stop every 6 minutes and a passenger could travel to any destination on the entire system without a transfer.

3 line streetcar system