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The case for streetcar as pro-bike infrastructure

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
hassalo
The Lloyd District’s new “bikescraper”: also a streetcarscraper.
(Rendering: GBD Architects)

Though the experience of China, Japan and Northern Europe makes it pretty clear that you can’t have a great bike city without also having a great mass transit city, streetcars are the one transit type that seems to rankle bike-lovers.

Maybe it’s the rails that turn traffic lanes dangerous for biking. Maybe it’s that streetcar projects often underinvest in adjacent bike improvements. Maybe it’s that streetcars are deeply controversial in the public transit world, too.

But there’s also an argument that streetcars are actually the very best sort of public transit at improving biking. On Portland Transport Monday, local streetcar and biking fan Chris Smith laid it out.

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Photos and notes from my ride on the new streetcar line

Thursday, September 6th, 2012
Riding the new streetcar line-9
I got a new view of the Pearl District today from inside the yet-to-be-opened eastside streetcar line.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

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Guest Article: Getting creative to move a pole on the Broadway Bridge

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012
Broadway Bridge pole
It will be moved.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

[Publisher's note: As an update to a story we covered several times last month, I've accepted a guest article from Chris Smith explaining his successful effort to have a streetcar pole on the Broadway Bridge moved out of the way of bike traffic. Smith is a well known (and quite busy) citizen activist who also happens to be a member of the City of Portland's Planning and Sustainability Commission, the founder of the Portland Transport blog, member of the Portland Streetcar Inc. board of directors and much more.]

Chris Smith

Today, I’m celebrating, because it looks like we’re going to be able to move a streetcar catenary pole (a pole that holds up the overhead wires) that has been impinging into the bike facility on the Broadway Bridge since this summer.

But I want to be clear about what I’m celebrating. I’m not celebrating a win for cyclists over streetcar. That would be the wrong lesson to take from this. I’m celebrating the ability of people of good will who don’t always share the same perspective to work together to achieve good outcomes (Congress, take note).

“I’m not celebrating a win for cyclists over streetcar. That would be the wrong lesson to take from this.”
— Chris Smith

This was not simple, and for a while I thought there might be no feasible way to move the pole, which is why, in conjunction with the BTA, I put a formal request for mitigation on the table as an alternative (download a PDF of that request here).

So how are we going to do it? The key challenge (acknowledged by a number of folks here in the BikePortland discussion who have looked at the bridge structure) is that the structural foundation for the pole is constrained by where the edge of the bridge structure is. The answer is to use the same foundation bracket, but then shift the pole horizontally from the anchor by a little bit (it will be more in ‘the shadow’ of the street-light pole on the sidewalk).

A number of folks noted that a similar “cantilevered” approach was used on poles on Weidler. In this case, the sidewalk is much more shallow. So instead of the large brackets used on Weidler, we’ll use a 2-inch thick metal plate with welded bolts (see diagram below).

Diagram of new pole location.
(Click to enlarge)

Secondary Effect # 1
The thin plate will sit on the surface of the existing the sidewalk. So we will need to increase the sidewalk height to match. This will require tapering the sidewalk gradually over a number of feet east and west of the pole. The plate itself will be flush with the new sidewalk grade and textured to keep it safe for people walking and cycling over it.

Once moved, the streetcar pole
will be in line with the
existing light pole (red).

Secondary Effect #2
Because the pole will now be much closer to the curb than standards provide for, we will need to place a bollard in front of the pole. This is to protect the pole if an auto ever jumped the curb. But the bollard will also be in line with the existing light pole, so it does not reduce the usable path.

Tertiary Effect
But we’re not done yet. No good deed goes unpunished. Because we’re raising the grade of the sidewalk, the railing on the river side of the sidewalk will no longer be tall enough above the sidewalk surface to meet standards. So we will fabricate and attach an extension to the railing on the two sections nearest the pole.

Impacts
Because of the extensive modification of the sidewalk adjacent to the pole and bracket, we’ll need to close the north sidewalk for about two weeks. The work will be funded from the Streetcar Loop project budget.

I’d like to thank my colleagues at Portland Streetcar who were willing to keep looking for solutions, ultimately threading the needle through all the constraints and regulations, and the members of the community who helped keep focus on the need to address this issue. Together we’ll keeping making Portland a better place for users of all modes of active transportation.


Thank you Chris Smith for not being afraid to stand up and make this happen. Citizen activist Joe Rowe also deserves our thanks for his persistence and effort in bringing this issue to the fore. — Jonathan Maus

Pole update: Streetcar Director weighs in, County doesn’t like it either

Friday, January 27th, 2012
The pole has narrowed the busy entrance onto the Broadway Bridge.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

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The Oregonian’s commute columnist weighs in on Broadway Bridge pole issue

Monday, January 23rd, 2012
A new pole for the streetcar (marked
with orange/white stripes) has
narrowed the entry to
the Broadway Bridge path.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As the story unfolds about how and why Portland Streetcar Inc. installed a utility pole on the Broadway Bridge bike/walk path, it is becoming more clear that they made a bad move.

We’ll have more to share on this story in the coming days; but for now, check out what The Oregonian’s “Hard Drive” columnist Joseph Rose thinks about it (taken from a news roundup he published today):
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Streetcar project puts pole on Broadway Bridge path – UPDATED

Friday, January 20th, 2012
A new pole for the eastside streetcar project has been placed at the mouth of the Broadway Bridge.

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Newly striped bike lanes on NE 7th through Lloyd District raise eyebrows

Thursday, September 8th, 2011
PBOT has striped a new bike lane on NE 7th which puts bike traffic in between moving cars, trains and parked cars.
(Photos © J. Maus)

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‘Track-straddling’ on Lovejoy, bike access issues persist

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
Due to the presence of new streetcar tracks, people on NW Lovejoy routinely drive in the bike lane.
(Photos © J. Maus)

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Streetcar construction comes with detour, closure of bike lane on Weidler

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

A traffic advisory has just been released by Portland Streetcar Inc. and the City of Portland warning of traffic detours and a bike lane closure due to Streetcar Loop Project construction on Weidler, MLK, and Grand that is set to begin this Tuesday (1/4) and last for four weeks.

The work zone will be on NE Weidler from N. Ross to NE 1st Ave (see detour map below)s. For four weeks, NE Weidler will be narrowed to two vehicle lanes and, according to Portland Streetcar, “Due to the narrow roadway conditions, the bike lane on NE Weidler must be removed.”
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Observing the track straddle phenomenon on NW Lovejoy

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
To avoid driving on streetcar tracks, most people opt to straddle them, which causes them to drive on and/or in the bike lane.
(Photos © J. Maus)

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