The City plans for streetcar: What’s at stake for bikes?

Buses, cars, big-rigs, trucks, light rail, bikes, pedestrians — Portland’s roads are in high demand, and it’s about to get even more crowded.

Bicycle Master Plan ride #3

Ahh, streetcar tracks.
(Photos © J. Maus)

In case you haven’t heard, the City of Portland is expanding our streetcar system. They’ve just announced a series of workshops to gain community feedback and to present which routes they’re considering as part of their “big picture” Streetcar System Plan.

I’m all for mass transit — after all, having more people in streetcars means less cars on the road — but I also know that any additional use of the roadway, especially one that requires dedicated infrastructure (that likes to gobble up bike tires), needs to be planned for in a way that doesn’t negatively impact biking conditions.

You might think that the City’s streetcar planners and bikeway planners are walking hand-in-hand, joined together in common cause for a more sensible transportation future — but that’s not exactly the case.

A major story about the city’s streetcar plans made it’s way into the Oregonian today and there was no mention of how the bike network might be impacted.

Unfortunately, in the past years, bike advocates have cried foul at how streetcar plans have been carried out with less-then optimum results for cyclists. The fact is, streetcar infrastructure will alter the roadway in a major way and bicyclists must speak up and be a part of the planning process to make sure it co-exists with both the existing and future bikeway in a sensible, safe, and efficient way.

To get an idea of what’s at stake for cyclists, check out the map below. The lines in green are routes that PDOT is still considering as streetcar lines:

A quick once-over reveals that many of those streets currently have bike lanes or are designated as official city bikeways. Will the streetcar network be designed to play nicely with bikes? That will be (mostly) up to Portland Streetcar Inc. (PSI).

“The highest concentration of cycling in Portland occurs in old Streetcar neighborhoods. Now we’re going to create new Streetcar neighborhoods and main streets.”
–Chris Smith, Chair of Portland Streetcar Inc. (and City Council candidate)

PSI was selected back in 1995 as the developer of Portland’s streetcar system. They work with PDOT to design, build, operate and maintain streetcars. They also have a Citizen’s Advisory Committee that is chaired by none other than blogger, activist, biker, and City Council candidate Chris Smith. I asked Chris for some insight on the streetcar/bike equation.

Smith is an ardent streetcar supporter and he says that while they offer “great potential for bikes,” he also admits that they present challenges.

On the plus side, he says that more streetcars will bring a “less auto-dominated environment,” to our city. Chris also says that streetcar development leads to denser, more well-connected neighborhoods — exactly the type of context where bicycling thrives.

chris_Smith.jpg

Chris Smith

Or, as he puts it, “The highest concentration of cycling in Portland occurs in old Streetcar neighborhoods. Now we’re going to create new Streetcar neighborhoods and main streets.”

But Chris also points out that “physical interaction issues” exist between streetcars and bikes. He’s referring, of course, to something many of us are all-too familiar with — getting our tires caught up in streetcar tracks. To minimize this and other conflicts with bikes, Chris says PSI is learning new design methods that improve with each new extension they complete.

To develop bike-friendly streetcar designs, Chris says, “we still have a long way to go, and we need people who are passionate about both modes to help us figure this out.”

That’s where you come in!

Consider attending one of the upcoming workshops to learn more about streetcar plans and to weigh in with your concerns and feedback.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Dag
Dag
16 years ago

I bet we\’ll see a full system of bike boulevards long before we see streetcar tracks on most of those streets. In my view, bikes should have totally separate main thoroughfares from other modes. Of course bikes have to mix with cars on side streets, but we shouldn\’t have to go far on the same street as the streetcar. I hate NW Lovejoy.

BURR
BURR
16 years ago

Vicky Diede is not a friend of cyclists. There has been a huge rift between the streetcar developers and the cycling community since day one of planning for the first streetcar route.

jleiss
jleiss
16 years ago

I just got back from Vancouver, BC, where they have electric-powered buses: cheaper to build than a streetcar but still a permanent investment of infrastructure; quieter and cleaner than a bus, but no tracks to get caught in. I think it sounds like a good way to go.

DJ Hurricane
DJ Hurricane
16 years ago

The expansion of the streetcar system is going to be a great thing for Portland.

It seems like the problem that streetcar tracks make a street very difficult to ride is solved by separating the streetcar routes from the dedicated bike routes.

The streetcar routes should go on high traffic roads, so people in their single-occupancy vehicles can easily see a more community- and environmentally-friendly, and less expensive, transportation mode.

G.A.R.
G.A.R.
16 years ago

What is the problem with rubber tires?

joel
16 years ago

first offf, let me be clear: I LOVE STREETCARS. it pains me to look at old photos and maps showing the streetcar networks that used to exist in american cities. swapping to buses, in my eyes, was/is one of the worst public transit decisions ever.

but yes, get those streetcar routes on major traffic roads, have them replace a lane of car traffic – but at the same time, proliferation of streetcar tracks will have people paying attention to them, thats for sure. in cities like amsterdam and toronto, where ive spent ample time riding amongst significant downtown streetcar lines, cyclists have adjusted admirably, and ive very rarely seen crashes due to the tracks.

had we not torn out the streetcar tracks to begin with, it wouldnt seem like such an adjsutment 🙂 wed all be really really good at crossing tracks 🙂

plus – as opposed to cars and buses, you KNOW where a streetcar is, and where its going. its a moving obstacle on a fixed path – no chance of it changing lanes into you and the like… 🙂

M8Adam
M8Adam
16 years ago

I have to argue that switching to buses was a very practical decision. I\’m an urban studies major at PSU focusing on city planning and I\’ve had the streetcar vs. bus discussion in several classes. Buses are more economical and they can be diverted to alternate routes. It might seem like they pollute more, but consider where all the electricity powering the streetcars is coming from (coal-fired power plants) and it\’s not that big a difference.

Don\’t get me wrong, I too pine after the days when Boise/Eliot and Hawthorne were streetcar suburbs, but honestly buses are a better choice. They just don\’t look as nice.

M8Adam

Chris Smith
16 years ago

There\’s no question that the design of the initial Streetcar alignment was not nearly as sensitive to bikes as it could have been.

But we\’ve been learning. The Harrison St. extension with center platforms works very well with bikes, and in South Waterfront we experimented with a treatment that runs the bike lane behind the Streetcar stop with grade separation and that seems to be working very well.

As we plan for the east side of the Loop, we\’re looking at opportunities where we can enhance bike connectivity as we put the Streetcar in.

The cooperation is getting better and better and I hope the bike community will help by getting involved in the system plan effort.

Paul
Paul
16 years ago

Most power in the northwest is not coal – its largely hydro, which has its issues.

But the benefit with electric power is that you can switch the generation without switching out the transportation technology. So the carbon argument does work out.

My main challenge on streetcars is that they are poorly implemented as transportation tools and are rather redevelopment tools. But streetcars do get one demographic on transit (and out of cars) that buses will never attract.

mmann
16 years ago

I\’m with DJ Hurricane. I think streetcars could be a great addition to Portland\’s transportation picture. I also think they\’d work well on busy, business-centric streets that are already poor bike thoroughfares – think Hawthorne/Belmont/Stark, etc. All these streets have close proximity bike routes that make access to them easy for cyclists. My hope would be that the streetcars would encourage cyclists who don\’t already to use the safer routes. I\’m thinking of those who insist on using Hawthorne for east-west travel when much safer (and more scenic) routes exist a couple blocks north or south.

Randy
Randy
16 years ago

What\’s safe, sustainable, and least polluting? It\’s bike, work together, and ride in Puddletown. The current bus model is not sustainable: it tears up the streets for bikes and the diesel exhaust creates alot of air pollution. We need to de-bigbox this town – bikes shops, small farms, and grocery stores on every corner. Then people won\’t need cars.

BURR
BURR
16 years ago

I love it when cyclists themselves encourage the banning of other cyclists from public streets leading to our city\’s main commercial destinations.

The streetcar should not be expanded on the east side until a viable flange-filler material that is cyclist-safe is available and approved for use. Center platforms would be a step in the right direction.

bikes on the cars?
bikes on the cars?
16 years ago

I don\’t go on the westside much, so I\’ve never actually been on a streetcar in pdx. Can you take a bike on the streetcar? Is this an option being considered on the new streetcars?

mmann
16 years ago

Burr,

Who said ban? Not me, and I don\’t see it in any of the other post either. By all means, those who want to ride on streets with tracks should have the right to do so. I\’m just saying that IF streetcars go in, put them on the narrow, busy traffic streets without bike lanes.

Stacy Westbrook
16 years ago

How about if street car tracks just don\’t run parallel to bike lanes? On a wet day, even taking a wide turn, my tires still slipped on the tracks and I wound up with a concussion. I\’d love to see street cars on the east side, but probably not on the bike boulevards.

BURR
BURR
16 years ago

the city should be working to make all public streets safer for cyclists, not less safe.

BURR
BURR
16 years ago

and not just some streets.

Paul
Paul
16 years ago

I live on the west side. The street car is a JOKE. You can walk faster than this thing. They are a costly waste. Mass transit is great, the street car is not. Too bad our MAX is more like a street car and not a high speed subway like major cities. Then we would really have something worthwhile. Let\’s start thinking big, Portland.

wsbob
wsbob
16 years ago

(About buses:)\”They just don\’t look as nice.\” M8Adam

They don\’t look as nice? That\’s their least offense. They also don\’t smell as nice or ride as smoothly. They\’re noisy too, not that the streetcar is very quiet(it would be nice if it was a quiet as the MAX).

Buses might pencil out better on paper, but I think people will prefer to ride a streetcar. It may be slower than some people can walk, but there\’s a whole lot of people that need or prefer to ride.

What about a hybrid street car? It would take it\’s power from the overhead lines until it got to a secondary route point, disconnect from the overhead lines and drive off on battery or an internal combustion engine to deliver passengers on its route where overhead lines weren\’t installed.

Seth Alford
Seth Alford
16 years ago

I\’m with BURR on this one. For example, before the street car, SW 10th was ride-able. With the street car, I find SW 10th much more bike hostile. Putting a street car on a street goes a long way to effectively prohibiting bicycles on that street. Bike tires get poor traction on wet steel tracks. This is an issue even when riding across tracks on a street which intersects a street car (or light rail or regular railroad) line.

The bicycle community should be against any further rail transit development. I continue to be disappointed that the BTA (\”Opening minds and roads to bicycling\”) does not do more to oppose these proposals.

Furthermore, a street car is much more expensive than running buses. Think about how many miles of bike lanes or bike boulevards could be built with the money street cars (and other rail transit) consume. For example, the PDOT map shows a street car going down Barbur. I\’d much rather see the existing gaps in the bike lanes on Barbur filled in.

G.A.R.
G.A.R.
16 years ago

wsbob #19 suggests that if the street car is slower than walking then maybe instead of replacing cars it is replacing slow walking. This is a valid point, though wsbob might not have intended it. I think this really is the demographic the streetcar addresses. Few people in a hurry take the streetcar. It is not for them. To avoid delays you need either a deicated lane (Max) or rubber tires (bus). It is for redevelopment (Paul #9 #18) and for people who accept its slow pace.

Regarding the \”hybrid streetcar\”, like all heavy vehicles (too heavy to pedal) the streetcar should have regenerative braking. As far as going off-grid I\’m not so sure. Why would we build tracks and no power source for them. Sounds zany. Or is this a rubber-tired streetcar (my favorite) like the trolleys in Seattle? Now we\’re talking bike-friendly AND eco-friendly! Sorry rail fans, but this is a bike blog. Rails are nasty.

BikingViking
BikingViking
16 years ago

I\’m with Stacy (post #15). I took a header on SW 4th last week when I wasn\’t paying attention and my front tire got caught in the tracks. I go over those damn tracks every day, but the one day I wasn\’t being vigilant…

As long as streetcar tracks are laid down on main roads than bikes rarely use anyway, we should be able to coexist quite nicely. Especially if bike paths do not cross intersections where the streetcars turn. Hawthorne would be great, as there are bike routes a few blocks on either side.

As for speed, the Oregonian article mentioned that east side streetcars are likely to be much faster due to the traffic patterns. There was something mentioned about a dedicated lane and speeds reaching 45 mph. I don\’t know if I want a streetcar reaching that speed on Hawthorne, but it\’s nice to know the capability of it being faster than walking is there.

Qwendolyn
Qwendolyn
16 years ago

The street car is a JOKE.

I agree. I am one hundred percent for mass transit. But it should be pragmatic, not something built for the sake of nostalgia.

The streetcar is not practical.

Jasun Wurster
Jasun Wurster
16 years ago

Anyone have access to what the per rider subsidy for: Street Car, MAX and Bus?

Laura
Laura
16 years ago

I\’m with GAR and others. Seattle\’s dual-power buses are a great, trackless solution. Also, I noticed that the streetcar project eliminated much of SW Portland as viable because of the steep slopes. For years, Seattle has used the electric \”trolley\” buses on the steep slopes (Queen Anne, First and Capitol Hills) because their engines are more efficient at hauling up (and regen. braking down) the hills.

hickeymad
hickeymad
16 years ago

How cool would a streetcar up Sandy Blvd be? By themselves, streetcars would slow traffic, increase pedestrian access and walkability, and in turn result in an increase of neighborhood service-type businesses (instead of auto-centric businesses like gas stations and 7-11 stores). I believe cyclists can adapt to the challanges of street-car tracks without much difficulty. Sandy is already cyclst un-friendly, and a Sandy Blvd streetcar would only make cycling easier and safer.

DJ Hurricane
DJ Hurricane
16 years ago

I think the bottom line here is that Portland is getting more streetcars because they do facilitate the kind of growth that is best for the City and there is no reason why bikes and streetcars can\’t co-exist.

Sharing the road means just that, sharing. The real threat to sharing, and to safety – and hence to more bikes on the roads – is the illegal and irresponsible behavior of some drivers. That\’s where we should focus our efforts.

And, I have tested it: The streetcar from downtown to NW is indeed slower than walking at times. But many people do not want to walk (or bike), and if there is no streetcar, the chief alternative for most of those people is a single-occupancy vehicle. There is no doubt that the streetcar takes cars off the roads. And that\’s good for biking.

Spencer
Spencer
16 years ago

With all this discussion, how much is this new rail network going to cost? What is the cost benefit relationship between busses. Don\’t forget that busses burning biodiesel are much cleaner than with diesel.

I live in St. Johns near the proposed Lombard street car route. The problem is transit time. Downtown to St. Johns via bus is 30 to 70 min. depending upon which bus route I take. I just don\’t see the street car improving transit time despite the 45 mph argument. The problem is that both modes are always having to stop all along the way. Biking for me is usually faster than all but the express (16) bus for my 9 mile, one way commute.

I think the Maxx is a good idea for a trunk line, but the street car to serve the areas adjacent to trunk line jsut doesn\’t make economic sense. Also, does this mean a loss of the bus routes?

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
16 years ago

I think the biggest issue with streetcars is funding. They are a much more expensive \”alternative\” transportation solution than bikes.

Unfortunately bikes are completely outgunned when it comes to getting money for major projects.

Bikes have no deep pocketed money interests behind us (like the developers and contractors behind light rail and streetcar).

Where is the TriMet or Portland Streetcar Inc. for bikes?

Why should the cheapest, cleanest, most fun mode be left out of the party simply because we don\’t have big money behind us?

TriMet and PSI get to implement projects that cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the name of alternative transportation… yet bikes fight and scrap and have to defend even a few thousand dollars.

I think we need an agency similar to TriMet, but whose primary mission is to develop, implement, and improve our regional bikeway network.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
16 years ago

I would also love to see a cost/benefit analysis done that compares bikes, cars, light rail, bus, and streetcar.

Duncan
Duncan
16 years ago

To all those who \”cant bike across a street car track\”: What? I mean I have got caught going parallel to the tracks on occasion, but never perpendicularly.

I think that would be great To have a street car network- each rider is ONE LESS CAR on the road, and while I agree the tracks can be an issue, they are a static issue- I know where it is all the time. It isnt like some cell phone-talking, gum chewing teenager right hooking me when I least expect it.

and spencer- I bet that the streetcar to Max on interstate to downtown will be faster, at least nicer.

And someone said that Seattles busses are great? Why then does Seattle have the 5th worst traffic in the country? Because there transportation options suck!

Moo
Moo
16 years ago

I think the streetcar is first and foremost a goofy photo-op for tourists and secondly for the lazy penny-loafers from the Pearl. When the transit mall comes back, the streetcar will seem even goofier.

dsaxena
dsaxena
16 years ago

I say bring the street cars on. I visited Melbourne, AUS a few months ago and they had street car network that connected the city and provided service every 3 minutes during peak hours.

The one major difference there is that in the major areas, the streetcar is on a completely separate lane on which cars cannot drive and they have priority at lights. Our street car (and light rail in downtown) needs be designed the same way or it becomes fairly useless in my opinion. When I lived in NW, I could walk to downtown faster then the street car during peak hours….

woogie
woogie
16 years ago

As someone who dealt with street cars growing up in Toronto I can see that they get a thumbs up when it comes to quaint, but thumbs down when it comes to value.

Sure they run on electricity but think of the costs needed to get the electricity to the routes, that infrastructure is expensive and need upkeep.

The rails themselves pose even more problems. Road maintenance and infrastructure maintenance (think of all the utilities underground, sewer, phone etc) becomes more difficult when having to work around the rails and can cause major disruption because the route cannot be moved to a street that is not undergoing construction. Rail maintenance itself causes long periods of roads being in disrepair due to the nature of the construction.

Toronto also runs their streetcars on two lane roads in the left hand lane. When the cars stop to load or off load, both lanes of traffic must stop, that includes cyclists. This slows any movement on these streets to a crawl and adds to the overall pollution problem by causing more cars to sit longer idling.

The better solution, which is also used in Toronto, is buses powered by natural gas. No smell, reduced pollution over diesel buses, and the flexibility of not being tied to the rails if a route change is needed.

Is compressed natural gas ever mentioned as an alternative fuel?

DJ Hurricane
DJ Hurricane
16 years ago

Bikes have no deep pocketed money interests behind us (like the developers and contractors behind light rail and streetcar).

You just nailed it. This is why we are fighting on the margins for some public funding to create minor engineering fixes in the wake of our fellow cyclists\’ deaths and the streetcar folks are getting dedicated rights-of-way throughout the City. This is an issue that deserves much greater focus from the bike community.

Kris
Kris
16 years ago

Great discussion topic…

I lived a good part of my life in European cities where streetcars (or what we called \”trams\”) where a major part of the urban transit grid. I definitely see their value, both as an environmentally friendly mode of public transit and as a neighborhood redevelopment tool (which is not per se a bad thing), though I see some differences in how they are implemented here vs. there.

In Europe, trams are typically running on busy arterials (think Broadway, Burnside or Sandy) or on wide one-way streets, often with a dedicated right of way and with greater distance between stops. I am with Paul and others that the slow pace and frequent stops of the NW streetcar (and downtown MAX) is problematic if you have to get somewhere in time or in a hurry, making it a non-starter for a fair chunk of the urban commuter crowd or \”people on the go\”, who often will revert to their car to run their downtown errands.

Personally, I think that the rubber-tired trolley buses are a much overlooked option, both here in Portland and in many European cities. From my experience in Seattle and Vancouver BC, they are much more versatile than streetcars (especially in mixed traffic), more bike-friendly (no rails to get caught in), relatively quiet, and definitely environmentally friendly.

BTW: my fast-route morning commute gets me into town over NW Lovejoy and the narrow space between the rails and the parked cars/boarding platforms makes this street (at least westbound) not very bike-friendly. I always wonder why they didn\’t turn NW Lovejoy and Northrup into one-way streets when they put in the streetcar, at least the section between NW 23rd and I-405. That would provide plenty room for a center platform and more space for bikes.

Stripes
Stripes
16 years ago

It makes me uncomfortable to see bikes being pitted against streetcars like this. We need BOTH transportation options if we are to have a walkable and bikeable city.

The streetcar has been a great means for creating more transit-oriented development, and thus increased urban density here in Portland, which translates into a much more walkable and bikeable city, with services like grocery stores, dry cleaners & coffee shops closer together.

I realize there is the danger of wiping out if yr not careful, & boy does that suck! But it\’s my understanding that these potential streetcar lines will be laid down on the more **major** arterials – the Burnsides, the Broadways, the Hawthornes.

Why any cyclist in their right mind would choose to ride for a prolonged period of time on any of these major streets, when every single one of them has a direct and fast bicycle boulevard between one and three blocks parallel to them (Ankeny, Tillamook & Salmon/Taylor, respectively) beats me.

maxadders
maxadders
16 years ago

Will west-side yuppies feel safer in a shiny orange pseudo train than the #6 bus? You bet. Watch them stream into Alberta (where one of the lines under consideration goes) and drive out first the working class and then hip young people with even more condos and upscale \”we\’re-almost-retired\” entertainment.

Yes, what we need is a direct connection between the people with money and the neighborhood their developer buddies are bulldozing.

bs
bs
16 years ago

One point I see repeated over and over is how everyone should get out of their car and ride a bike, screw everything else. That may be a harsh interpretation but the attitude definitely exists in a large group.

That is not realistic. Can you see a grandma using a walker getting on a bike? No. This just one example of why a streetcar is useful. No step up to get in and she can still use her walker to maintain balance. Let\’s see her maintain balance on a bike.

Public transit needs to accommodate many different people. Believe it or not some people simply will not get on a bike. Many people won\’t use them to commute because they are in \”business attire\” and showers aren\’t available at work (and not every business will offer showers).

The streetcar is viable. The first implementation is meant to provide local transport between the South Waterfront and the Pearl through downtown. Because it is designed for local trips it has frequent stops and moves slow. Other routes intended for longer trips will have less stops and higher speeds.

It takes time a patience to develop a public transit system, especially when it needs to be shoehorned into an existing city. Get involved, work with the designers to provide input. Just bitching and doing nothing doesn\’t solve any problems or making any changes.

Stripes
Stripes
16 years ago

Also, regarding the whole buses versus streetcar debate…

One very interesting thing that I read a few years ago, and that is backed up annecdotally here in Portland, is the issue of transportation \”snobbery\”.

I know it seems incredible, but please bear me out. There are a lot of people out there who would willingly hop on a beautiful, modern, clean streetcar, yet who would feel very reluctant & uncomfortable & embarrased at taking the bus. I know, go ahead and laugh, but it\’s true. This is one big reason that rail, light rail, and trams have been invested in so much in many European countries. It may be much more of an initial investment in terms of construction, but they prove to be better drawing ridership than buses when they begin operating. Put simply, streetcars don\’t carry the stigma that buses do. The \”loser cruiser\” label, if you will.

If we want to get those 71% of Portlanders who currently drive to work every day to take public transit, there is evidence out there that they will far more likely make the switch if they have the option to hop on a streetcar two blocks from their house on Belmont, rather than if they have to hop on a bus two blocks from their house.

GLV
GLV
16 years ago

#20 \”I find SW 10th much more bike hostile.\”

I disagree…I find that riding in between the tracks is a great option, because it is among the only stretches of road in downtown that isn\’t filled with potholes.

Citizen Gregg
Citizen Gregg
16 years ago

I personally like riding my bike on the streets where the streetcar runs. Cars like to avoid the steetcar lane because they don\’t want to get stuck and the streetcar is one of the few vehicles in Portland I know can\’t cut me off.

Chris Smith
16 years ago

TriMet and PSI get to implement projects that cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the name of alternative transportation… yet bikes fight and scrap and have to defend even a few thousand dollars.

Two thoughts on that:

1) Streetcar has successfully attracted significant investment because our political leadership sees a clear payback – a $100M investment in Streetcar has leveraged $3.5B in private investment in development along the alignment. We need to begin making the case that cycling also generates economic value and TELL THAT STORY.

2) Why make it an either/or? I\’d love to move us into a mode of planning \”car-lite\” corridors that COMBINE coordinated investments in bikes and streetcars (either on parallel streets or on the same street in those cases where we can make them work well together.

Think about it – both bikes and Streetcars have the same end goal – reducing reliance on the auto and creating livable, safer neighborhoods.

We are much stronger together than making our cases separately!

Kris
Kris
16 years ago

I agree with Stripes (#39) that buses often have a social stigma. But some of that has to do with the design of the buses and the boarding infrastructure. If Trimet would invest in low-floor bus models with level boarding platforms – so people can walk or roll on the bus, instead of having to climb on it – buses would be much more inviting for hop-on/hop-off type of use.

Further, I agree with Jonathan and wished that cyclists had a much stronger representation in the transit debate, at par with agencies like Trimet and PSI. I know that many folks at the BTA and PDOT are doing a great job in getting our voices heard, but at the end of the day it seems like money still speaks the loudest… however, that\’s where we need to get officials elected who really get it when it comes to the role and power of bicycles and who won\’t be swayed by Trimet/PSI (or other special interest $$) to divert from that vision. Here is to hoping!

LE-OH!
LE-OH!
16 years ago

I live on the website too, and my biggest issue with the streetcar isn\’t the tracks- living among them for a while, you get used to them and you either learn to always cross them as perpendicular as possible (slowly and carefully, especially in the rain) or to just ride in the adjacent lane if you need to go quicker. The slow service can definitely be attributed to most of the line/stops being in downs. But the biggest issue is actually the service itself- the streetcar is altogether useless and awful after, say, 9pm. One of my biggest gripes with Portland\’s mass transit system is that there are no viable options available for the late night crowd, and in my opinion, that\’s one of the biggest factors holding Portland back from attracting a bigger, better nightlife, and placing itself amongst much larger cities. Imagine if this is the only city in the U.S. outside of New York where after hanging out all night at the bar until last call, there\’s no worries about drunk drivers or anything on the road because the streetcar/MAX runs until 3am. Putting them in the fun neighborhoods such as Alberta and Belmont/Hawthorne is going to help a lot, and is going to be great for commuting, but there could definitely be some benefit in adding on a lot more service, and later service, to the lines. The other day, around 9:30pm or so, my girlfriend and I were trying to flag down the streetcar around PSU to take to the Pearl to go to Powell\’s- instead, it just flew RIGHT past us, and I don\’t think that\’s the first time it\’s happened, either. Want to get more cars off the road, especially at such a dangerous time as night? Implement more transit options at night, and it\’d be great. And I don\’t even want to hear that crap about \”safety concerns\”- please, the subway runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in New York City and that is a much more dangerous city than Portland. If they\’re concerned about there not being enough ridership at those times, there\’s no reason why they can\’t reduce the number of streetcars at that time on each line, either. Every 20-30 minutes instead of 10-15.

Oh, and to answer a question up above, bikes can go on streetcars for the most part, but if they\’re too crowded, say, at rush hour, forget about it. Most of the time, people on bikes take the streetcar to avoid climbing uphill (especially novice commuters on heavy mountain bikes), which I suspect will be a large attraction in having the Hawthorne line since most people I know absolutely hate the climb uphill from the bridge and like to take the bus instead (or worse yet, drive) as a result.

Pete
Pete
16 years ago

I see DJ Hurricane noticed Jonathan answered his own question in asking \”Why should the cheapest, cleanest, most fun mode be left out of the party simply because we don\’t have big money behind us?\”

I don\’t know much about transportation infrastructure, but power and its transfer is a big factor in cost/benefit analysis (and cost projections). On one hand generating and moving energy to the streetcar has growing costs, while clean bus technologies continue to be developed (at what rate/cost though?). Pollution also weighs in; it\’s my understanding most NW energy is from the natural gas- and coal-fired plants in eastern Oregon whereas a large portion of our hydro power is sold to California (which they oversold last summer, resulting in more gate openings screwing up river currents we windsurfers play on, but I digress).

Bicyclists, on the other hand, can be powered by good food and locally brewed beer.

wsbob
wsbob
16 years ago

re; my post #19; I definitely meant a streetcar with rubber tires. I should have said electric bus. The thought I had was that an electric bus that could draw power from overhead lines, but also had batteries to power the electric motor or an auxiliary internal combustion motor could more efficiently service routes off of a main line.

It\’s a very myopic complaint that the streetcar is slower than some of the people making that complaint can walk. Take a look at yourselves: A great percentage of the public is not able to walk as you do, due to age, health, safety and convenience related reasons.

Matt Picio
16 years ago

With all due respect to Chris Smith, streetcars will not bring a less auto-dominated environment to our city. They will provide more options, sure, but the majority of commuters will continue to use the automobile due to the flexibility it provides. The main factor to reduce car use is cost – when cost is high enough for less convenient options to become more viable, then those options will become more popular.

Likewise, denser, more well-connected neighborhoods are not what we want inside of 39th Avenue. Inner Portland is dense enough already, and has a wonderful mix of housing stock, both in terms of age/style and density. Metro Portland doesn\’t need more growth. In fact, we need to discourage growth and move towards a steady-state, sustainable metropolitan area.

In all likelihood, most of the streetcar options are not going to happen in the near term, unless Portlanders want to foot a greater portion of the bill. The economy is tanking big time this year, and FHWA funding will dry up over the next 2-5 years, killing or severely limiting a lot of new construction projects. (Possibly even the CRC if construction doesn\’t begin before the administration starts looking for high-cost programs to axe)

Streetcars are a great option, but the trackage is expensive and not amenable to rerouting. I\’d rather see hybrid busses like Seattle has in the downtown core, with the ability to switch to electrical power in the inner city. It\’s quicker and cheaper to string new catenary wires than to lay new track. In a climate of reduced funding, cheaper, more flexible solutions will be the order of the day. Hopefully Tri-Met and PDOT will come to realize this before too much money is spent on a less-flexible, immovable system.

BTW, if the streetcar is substantially cheaper than a hybrid bus fleet, would someone please point me to the hard numbers that prove it? Thanks.

Stripes (#37) said \”Why any cyclist in their right mind would choose to ride … any of these major streets, when every single one of them has a … boulevard … parallel to them … beats me\”

Look on a topographic map – Belmont, Hawthorne, et al are shallower grades than Salmon, Harrison, or Clinton. Sometimes it\’s easier and faster to ride the major streets. Also, if your destination is on one of those streets, and you can\’t remember which cross street gets there, it\’s easier to ride Belmont than to go parallel and backtrack once you\’ve accidentally passed your destination.

bs (#39), talking about grandma w/ a walker using streetcar: why can\’t she use a hybrid bus? Streetcars will never have the service frequency or flexibility that busses have. The streetcar is a future solution to today\’s problems. By the time it\’s actually built, the demographics may have changed (and on some lines probably will), and it may not serve who it was intended to serve.

Chris Smith (#43) – On point 1, you\’re right – but how much of that was in the Pearl? You\’re not going to have the same level of development on the east side, and if you did, I\’d stop living here. I *like* Belmont and Hawthorne the way they are now – $3.5B of investment means all the small eclectic shops will be replaced by higher cost establishments. It means lots of tax breaks, increasing the cost of city services for residents. Investment for investment\’s sake is a problem, and one that all of us pay the cost for.

Let\’s get more value out of our transit – stop subsidizing inflexible, immovable options, and start funding a service network that is responsive to the needs of the community.

joe (from toronto)
16 years ago

Hi everyone,

Just a note from Toronto (we have lots of streetcar tracks)… cyclists do just fine with the tracks – and you guys will adjust quickly. Just go over them at a bit of an angle and you\’ll be fine.

joel (one of the early commenters on this post) is exactly right when he says that streetcars are safer than cars – you always know exactly where they\’ll be (ie. they can\’t turn into you).

All the best,

Joe.

DJ Hurricane
DJ Hurricane
16 years ago

We need to begin making the case that cycling also generates economic value and TELL THAT STORY.

IMHO, this is the gaping hole in bike advocacy in Portland. This is the difference between the lip service most of the politicos pay to improving road safety and other bike conditions and actually making cycling a mainstream transportation option.

Someone, probably BTA, needs to author an authoritative report on the economic impact of cycling, from all its myriad benefits, from reducing deadly toxic air emissions to employing local frame-builders.