Tag Archives | transit perceptions

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?