Tag Archives | Streetcar

On the Impending Transformation of Transportation

Brian Davis is Portland Transport’s newest contributor. Brian is a Transportation Analyst at Lancaster Engineering, a MS Candidate at PSU where his research involves strategies for increasing sustainability in urban freight, and a carfree resident of downtown Portland. Welcome, Brian! – Chris

I’m excited to be joining the discussion at Portland Transport at the onset of a defining era for transportation in Portland.

Our city–and to varying extents, our region and our country–was largely designed to be experienced and accessed primarily via the automobile. By some metrics, this has served us magnificently–the economic growth realized during the American automotive century is unprecedented, and the car has connected distant cities and communities in a way no other mode can claim. By others, it has failed us miserably–our automotive dependence has dirtied the planet, car travel remains ridiculously unsafe, and ironically, the car has isolated the very communities it helped to connect to one another from the people speeding through them.

That we’re moving from car-centrism to a more multi-modal model of mobility is now manifest, and it is happening partly by choice and partly by necessity. The choice predates the necessity, and in Portland it was made in earnest in the 1970’s, when we decided the funds for one freeway would be better spent on a rail line, and the space devoted to another would be better used as a park. Over the years this sentiment has grown, and the first sustained declines in miles driven have recently come about as the smartphone continues to challenge the car’s prowess as a means of socialization and a symbol of status and freedom. The necessity of our paradigm shift owes to the fact that the population of our “magnet city” continues to grow, but we have little remaining roadway capacity, little money for new roads, and little space left in which to build them.

I live, work, eat, play, and otherwise spend most of my time in downtown Portland, and one of the exciting things about life here is that this neighborhood will be the epicenter of much of the transportation-related change that’s coming. While I certainly wasn’t thrilled at the decision to eliminate the free rail zone (or the fareless square that preceded it, for that matter), I think transit is still a good value and I continue to rely on it. I’m curious to see whether I’m in the majority here, or whether travel behavior changes drastically in the central city as a result of the new fare structure. And though many pooh-pooh the streetcar’s use as a transit alternative, I’ve long argued that it’s plenty useful to those of us that spend a lot of our time along its route. By extending it across the river, you’ve increased the number of people who fit that description, and therefore the streetcar’s utility. This is an experiment in urbanism that hasn’t really been tried yet, and whether it can duplicate the developmental magic it worked in the Pearl, with increased ridership as both a cause and an effect, will be fascinating to see.

Most exciting to me is the fact that Portland soon (and at long last!) will be joining the list of cities with a robust bike sharing program. Bicycling in Portland has become part of the city’s culture and identity. Its precocious infancy made weekend warriors into weekday riders, and slowly but steadily more and more people took to the blue lanes and yellow bikes. These days, there’s more denim than spandex cladding those on two wheels, and “bike infrastructure” has gone from meaning a white stripe and a stencil, to traffic-calmed greenways and bike-specific signals. It’s clear, however, that we have a long way to go to fully mature as a bike city; those “grown-ups” are cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, where people of all ages, genders, and income levels ride on separated infrastructure comparable in quality to what’s provided for cars. Indeed, Portland is a city firmly mired in its “bike puberty.” We have our awkward moments, we have not yet become fully comfortable in our own skin, and–to take the analogy way too far–we have plenty of zits crying out for peroxide (or perhaps thermoplastic), but the elegance of Alice’s Future City is beginning to become apparent beneath the spotty complexion.

Having lived and biked in Washington DC before its CaBi bike share program was launched, and having visited frequently since, I can say unequivocally that bike share revolutionized cycling in that city. Bike sharing will give Portland a needed push forward as well. One of our metaphorical pimples is the lack of bike infrastructure downtown, and the fact that the heart of our city has some of the most limited bike access is certainly suppressing ridership among the “interested but concerned.” As or bike share program grows, so too will ridership of all sorts, and the financial case for good downtown infrastructure will in short order become too clear to ignore. When we cut the ribbon on the two-way cycletrack on Broadway, complete with its green asphalt, dedicated signal phases, and the ample bike parking demanded by the street’s business owners, that’s when you’ll know Portland has grown up.

So it’s a transformative time, to be sure. I look forward to joining all of you in overthinking it, overanalyzing it, and geeking out about it in ways that make mere mortals question our sanity. I hope I can add a useful and interesting perspective to the discussion, and look forward to continuing to learn from all of you as I have for the last several years as a reader.

Streetcar/Bike Conflict Averted

We reported here a few weeks ago about a conflict brewing between bike lanes and streetcar tracks in South Waterfront. It was also blogged about in other places.

I’m happy to report that City Council adopted a resolution this morning with a new concept that has the support of representatives of all the modes. The solution, arrived at after intensive discussions between PDOT and stakeholders over the last several weeks, has two prominent features…

We reported here a few weeks ago about a conflict brewing between bike lanes and streetcar tracks in South Waterfront. It was also blogged about in other places.

I’m happy to report that City Council adopted a resolution this morning with a new concept that has the support of representatives of all the modes. The solution, arrived at after intensive discussions between PDOT and stakeholders over the last several weeks, has two prominent features:

1) To accomodate the narrow envelope where the Streetcar track slab can be placed (it’s constrained between a sewer line, gas line and high-pressure water main) the curb lines were altered, resulting in a 10-foot sidewalk on the west side of the street, mitigated by expanding the sidewalk on the east side to 15 feet. This shift, in combination with some lane width tweaking, allows the preferred placement of the bike lane on the right, while still preserving parking.

2) To avoid the “Lovejoy problem” of running the bike lane through the Streetcar stop, the lane will actually run around the platform to the right and will be much more clearly indicated as a travel lane, and should be clearer to both bikes and pedestrians.

Here’s a full cross-section diagram (PDF 137K).

I’d like to thank everyone who kept hammering at this to make sure we did not get a substandard solution, and particularly Commissioner Adams for his leadership on this (and Tom Miller, Sam’s chief of staff for his personal involvement).

As I testified at Council this morning, this is a harginger of a systematic conflict between right-side bike lanes and right-side running rail transit. While in Europe we saw many examples of center-running streetcars, center-running has challenges with pedestrian and ADA issues. If Portland is going to simultaneously seek Platinum status and expand its rail transit system, we’re going to need to work out systematic design solutions to these conflicts.

Academic Research on the Portland Streetcar

It’s not every day that you get to read a master’s these about your favorite transportation project.

So I settled down over the weekend with a cold beverage and all 210 pages of University of Calgary student Tom Gardiner’s thesis: Understanding Perceptions of the Portland Streetcar System. Even better, Tom’s thesis focuses in on my neighborhood in NW Portland…

It’s not every day that you get to read a master’s these about your favorite transportation project.

So I settled down over the weekend with a cold beverage and all 210 pages of University of Calgary student Tom Gardiner’s thesis: Understanding Perceptions of the Portland Streetcar System. Even better, Tom’s thesis focuses in on my neighborhood in NW Portland (since unlike the Pearl, the NW District was an established neighborhood long before the [modern] Streetcar came along – so perceptions of changes can be assessed).

For those of you who want the Reader’s Digest version, there’s a PowerPoint Presentation (26MB). If you want the deep read, it’s all here in PDF form.

This tome was not a surprise. I visited with Tom on a couple of occasions while he was here in Portland doing the research. He even mentions me in the acknowledgements (I’m blushing).

Tom surveyed both residents and retailers about their impressions of the Streetcar. I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to hear that the overall impressions are very positive.

What I found most interesting is where there were divergent opinions. Here are a few of the highlights:

– Most participants felt that the Streetcar had no impact on traffic. However, some felt that getting stuck behind a Streetcar slowed things down. Others felt that this was useful traffic calming. [We did in fact design the Lovejoy Street flow to use the Streetcar as a traffic calming tool.]

– There were some negative comments about parking, with some respondents complaining of losing a few spaces due to the platforms, and others concerned that the Streetcar exacerbated the ‘park and hide’ behavior of downtown commuters who park the neighborhood.

– Residents were more likely than retailers to believe that Streetcar was impacting the land uses in the neighborhood. There was some belief that new retail on 23rd north of Lovejoy and on Thurman was driven in part by the Streetcar.

– Only a minority of respondents felt that Streetcar was causing an increase in density in the neighborhood (the survey was done before the Vaux Condos were under construction).

Tom suggests a number of recommendations for consideration in future development:

1) Configure tracks with pullouts so that cars can pass Streetcars loading at platforms.

2) Increase speed by spacing stops more widely apart and use signal preemption to get the vehicles through intersections more quickly [we already do the latter at some intersections, including NW 23rd and Lovejoy].

3) More fare monitoring to increase the percentage of passengers who actually pay outside fare-less square.

4) Work on affordable housing to offset gentrification the Streetcar may be promoting.

5) Do a parking study [I won’t even start on that one!]

I wonder what Tom’s PhD research will be about?

All Aboard!

www.flickr.com

Ostrava Boardings portlandtransport’s Ostrava Boardings photoset

One of the implications of the ubiquity of streetcars here in the Czech Republic is that they are more casual about their platforms.

In the first photo you can a large group crowding on what is about a four-foot strip of pavement next to the center-running streetcar rails. I believe the shift was just getting off at a nearby factory. There appear to be police present to help with crossing of what is a fairly busy arterial street.

In the second photo there isn’t even a platform. There is simply a zone striped yellow with the word “TRAM” in the travel lane. When the vehicle shows up, riders cross the street to board it. I assume that regulations require car drivers to keep clear of this zone when a streetcar is present.

A far cry from all the design standards for MAX stations and Streetcar platforms in Portland!

First Full Day in the Czech Republic

www.flickr.com

First Full Day in Czech Republic portlandtransport’s First Full Day in Czech Republic photoset

Today was our first full day in the Czech Republic and perhaps this is a good time to review the purpose of our trip. We (a delegation from Portland Streetcar, Inc – of which I am a board member) are here to inspect three new cars under construction. They will be used to expand Portland’s fleet to 10 cars when the new extension to Gibbs St. opens in 2006. Currently we have a fleet of 7 and run up to 5 at a time to RiverPlace. With Gibbs we will need 7 cars running at peak times (8 if we can find operating funding to get headways down to 10 minutes, or if we are successful in funding a further extension to Lowell St.).

The delegation consists of Commissioner Sam Adams (shown here at the Prague Central railway station); his chief of staff, Tom Miller; Rick Gustafson, Executive Director of Portland Streetcar, Inc. (show below to the right of Josef Hušek, chairman of the Inekon Group (more about them in another post); Carter McNichol, construction manager for Portland Streetcar (to the left of Josef); Gary Cooper, a City of Portland employee who acts as maintenance supervisor for the Streetcar; Denny Porter of LTK, vehicle consultant to Portland Streetcar; and yours truly.

BTW – that’s a casino behind Josef and Rick at the railway station.

The group took a train this morning to Ostrava, where the vehicles are actually being manufactured. More on this tomorrow, when I’ll post about the plant visit. We were briefed on the progress against the schedule. The most significant issue is that this is a new Streetcar design, slightly different than the cars running on Portland’s streets right now (another post coming on that topic too). The new design was to have its qualification testing on a vehicle order for Washington, D.C., but D.C. has had delays in obtaining the right of way for its streetcar project and has delayed their vehicle order.

Nonetheless, Inekon tells us they will still meet our scheduled delivery. And the Portland Streetcar team tells me that starting operations on schedule in September ’06 is not in jeopardy.

A little bit on Ostrava. It’s the 3rd largest city in the Czech Republic, and about a 4-hour train ride from Prague, near the Polish boarder. It’s an industrial city with a focus on metallurgy and coal mining. There are also a number of nuclear plants in the area (our hotel is called the Hotel Atom)!