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Guest Editorial: A city where bikes and streetcars coexist

Posted by on February 10th, 2009 at 8:17 am

Chris Smith

[This article was written by Chris Smith. Chris is a multi-modal transportation advocate who writes regularly on PortlandTransport.com. In the late 1990s he helped win neighborhood approval of the NW Bikeways plan that established the bicycle network in NW Portland and the Pearl District. He currently serves as chair of the Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee and on the board of Portland Streetcar, Inc.]


A City of Bikes and Streetcars

I’ve enjoyed Libby Tucker’s two part series on bikes and streetcars in Portland (Part OnePart Two). It’s a very accurate portrait of the history of interactions between bikes and streetcars in our city.

But the framing “bikes and streetcars collide” misses what I think is the long-term prospect for a fantastic partnership between the two modes of transportation in Portland’s sustainable future.

The history has not always been smooth. As transportation chair for the neighborhood association in NW Portland in the late ‘90s, I was saddened that even as excitement grew over the imminent addition of streetcar to our neighborhood, veteran bike advocates like Rick Browning (he’s also the architect who designed the Hawthorne Bike Oasis) were raising concerns about the impact on cycling.

Bike Master Plan Ride - July

Separated grade bikeway
treatment on SW Moody.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Since becoming chair of the Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee in 2003, I’ve worked to continuously improve the relationships between the two modes, insisting that all major streetcar planning efforts have representation from the bicycle community. At the same time, in each new Streetcar project the engineering on the ground has gotten more friendly to bikes — from the center platforms on Harrison St., to the grade-separated bike lane routed behind the streetcar platform on Moody St. (in South Waterfront), to the about-to-be-built loop project that will include a cycle track on NE 7th Ave and a new bike boulevard on NW Marshall St. (and the de-commissioning of the truly awful bike lane through a streetcar platform on NW Lovejoy at 13th).

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But those projects above still illustration more of a “collision avoidance” mentality. The full benefits of both modes won’t be realized until each embraces the other.

In Amsterdam, cars are tame
(and there aren’t many of them).
(Photo: Chris Smith)

My vision for positive cooperation between bikes and streetcars was affirmed when I visited Amsterdam in 2005 and found an urban environment where more than a third of trips were by bike, about a third by transit (mostly “tram”, which we call streetcar) and a little less than a third by auto. One of the lessons I took from Amsterdam was that cycling was comfortable because cars had largely been tamed. And it would certainly be much more difficult to tame traffic if a significant number of trips were not accommodated on transit. At the same time, a street environment slowed down to bicycle speed is also much friendlier to pedestrians (and we’re all pedestrians at either end of a transit trip).

But Portland is not Amsterdam (at least not yet). We have a long way to go, and a big part of the transition will be in changing land use patterns.

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Cycle zone analysis, a new modeling tool developed by the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and Alta Planning, has demonstrated that cycling is more successful in neighborhoods that have lots of destinations grouped together within comfortable cycling (and walking) distance. These “20-minute neighborhoods” are one of Portland’s major planning goals and streetcar is one of the public-sector strategies that has been demonstrated to help focus the private-sector investment to create these neighborhoods. But there’s no point in building such neighborhoods if they’re not friendly to bikes. Efforts to designate the Pearl District as a “bicycle district” (and the initial steps to implement this, mostly focused on big increases in bike parking) reflect this.

Portland is now simultaneously updating its bicycle master plan and creating a 50-year vision for a streetcar system plan. That these are happening at the same time is a fantastic opportunity…

Portland is now simultaneously updating its bicycle master plan and creating a 50-year vision for a streetcar system plan. That these are happening at the same time is a fantastic opportunity and I’m delighted that I was asked to represent Portland Streetcar on the Bicycle Master Plan steering committee, and that Michelle Poyourow from the BTA is serving on the citizen committee overseeing the streetcar effort.

In looking at corridors for future streetcar routes we have required an analysis on whether the right-of-way is wide enough to accommodate both bikes and streetcars, or whether nearby parallel routes for bikes are available. The goal is to create mobility corridors that work harmoniously for multiple non-auto modes of transportation and help create land-use patterns that will both provide for streetcar ridership and create a rich environment for cycling and walking.

We can learn a lot from Europe, but this is not Europe and we have unique factors like the much higher standards for ADA compliance to incorporate as we develop our own uniquely North American design toolkit for incorporating both bikes and streetcars into our urban fabric. There’s no question we got off to a rocky start, but the growing mutual respect and cooperation between bikes and streetcars promises a bright future in which we work together to reduce our dependence on automobiles while building an even more livable city.

I invite all of you to apply your creativity and dedication to realizing this partnership.

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55 Comments
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    mmann February 10, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Thanks Chris, I like the underlying idea of “taming” cars/traffic, rather than taking an us/them approach. Cars are kind of like dogs that way: I like them just fine when they’re behaved, I just don’t want them running wild. Traffic-taming infrastructure (like transit) seems like a win-win to me.

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    Lenny Anderson February 10, 2009 at 9:55 am

    The real missing piece for bikes on the central eastside/Lloyd area is the “7th Avenue Bridge” over Sullivan’s Gulch. It would have linked busy bikeways on both sides. Between the Esplanade and Hollywood there is simply no attractive way for bicyclists across this divide. A bike/ped/streetcar bridge would have been cool, but the transit spine and zoning put streetcar on Grand/MLK.
    The City is asking Metro for funding for the “20’s Bikeway” which should address the Gulch crossing in some fashion. Show up at Metro, Thursday, February 12, 4pm to voice your support. And while you are at it tell Metro you support funding for the North Portland Willamette Greenway Trail as well.

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    portmanduck February 10, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Is there a death wish in the Portland bicyclist community? As I sit here in my NE Portland home, I watch bicyclist after bicyclist blaze through at a high rate of speed, the stop sign in front of my house, even though it has a sign on it that states cross traffic does not stop. And when I am out and about, I see the same behavior over and over again. I was recently at the Rose Quarter transit mall and had to pull an elderly woman from the bike lane because a bicyclist was racing down the hill out of control. If this was random, I would not be writing, but I stood there for another 15 minutes and saw some of the most outlandish behavior by bike riders. And when you make a comment that they could get hurt as well, they become ballistic with anger. Is there something about riding a bike that makes you so angry? Just one man’s opinion

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    Bdan February 10, 2009 at 11:22 am

    @ Lenny Anderson
    Completely agree with the need for a bridge over Sullivan’s Gulch. That is the route I ride every day: From NE 42nd and Fremont to SE 6th and Ankeny. The crossing of Sullivan’s gulch is horrible on the streets west of 20th ave. So really the only safe options are 20th or 28th ave. The crossing at 12th is awful, and grand or mlk crossings are a death trap.

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    brettoo February 10, 2009 at 11:32 am

    I’m with Chris here. I’m disturbed at some of the comments to Libby’s series. While of course I understand how recent American history has made cyclists legitimately fear being excluded from public roadways, we need to keep our eye on the big picture — providing adequate transportation choices so that Portlanders aren’t forced to use cars. Bike riders and streetcar advocates should be allies in this effort against the real enemy — car centric culture and those who profit from it. I don’t mind not being able to ride on a streetcar tracked street as long as there’s a really bike friendly alternative a block away, because it’s the, uh, critical mass of non-car options (bike, streetcar, bus, etc) that will ultimately take a lot of those unnecessary car trips off the road and make travel safer and more convenient for all of us.

    Plus, it’s increasingly not either-or but both-and. We’re going to see more and more people using bikes AND streetcars or light rail. See http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/02/10/why-bicyclists-need-transit/

    I use my bike for 90% of my getting around, and walk most of the rest, but I also use the streetcar, max, bus and (rarely) a car (including taxi). It’s not about the bike — it’s about having choices to get around without driving a car. Bike and streetcar advocates need to join forces to make that happen.

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    Andrew February 10, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Thanks, Chris, for the well-written opinion piece. Do you have any idea if the cycle track on 7th will extend across Broadway-Weidler (perhaps to Tillamook?) rather than simply replacing the current awkward situation where the bike lanes start/end at Weidler? It would require taking away some on-street parking, but most of the businesses around there have surface parking lots anyway.

    Lenny and Bdan, that 7th Ave bridge comes up again and again, but it doesn’t seem like there is a vocal-enough constituency to push it forward. It seems like a no-brainer project considering the city’s focus on boulevards and making biking attractive to more people. I did a class project at PSU on the bridge proposal (it’s somewhere on the Portlandtransport site as a Powerpoint presentation) a few years ago and also met with Jonathan for a potential story on this site. Maybe now is a good time to start an advocacy group similar to the North Portland Greenway Trail folks? I’d be interested in putting some work into it, if others are.

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    BURR February 10, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Portland is not Amsterdam and simply segregating cyclists on cycle tracks does absolutely nothing as far as ‘taming motor vehicles’ goes.

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    Lenny Anderson February 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Whatever happened to PDOT’s “gaps” campaign? NE 7th Avenue from Weidler to Tillamook should be at the top of that list, followed closely by the one block gap on NE Multnomah between Grand and MLK where we race to keep in front of buses.
    re “bikes out of control”…bicyclist who want to live to old age follow three simple rules: 1. don’t get hit, 2. be considerate of others, and 3. don’t loose momentum. We may not stop at stop signs (rule 3), but we slow down when the other guy has a stop sign (rule 1).
    And as a rule we are a lot more considerate of pedestrians (rule 2) than many motorists.

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    brettoo February 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Providing cycle tracks, as shown by Amsterdam and dozens of other cities, dramatically increases the number of people who ride bikes, because the separation makes them feel safe enough to ride. Many if not most of those new riders will be using bikes instead of cars. That reduces the number of cars on the road while increasing the number of bikes on the roadways (not just the cycle tracks), both of which have long been demonstrated to greatly improve safety. So the statement that cycle tracks do nothing to tame motor vehicles is not supported by facts or history.

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    John Peterson February 10, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    okay wait….Why do we have to have streetcars in the first place? Why is this never explained?
    why?
    why?
    why?
    what is so great about streetcars? What about buses? what about electric buses? What about electric trolley buses? All of these options are cheaper and easier to build and maintain and reroute if necessary. All of these options do not require tracks (which trap, maim, and kill bikes).
    Why are certain bicyclists so into trolleys?
    Really, please, pretty please, please, please, explain.

    P.S. I read the article, it didn’t explain why we need streetcars.
    oh wait here it is maybe:

    “streetcar is one of the public-sector strategies that has been demonstrated to help focus the private-sector investment to create these (20 minute) neighborhoods.”

    Well that doesn’t really answer my question? why streetcars and not a less expensive alternative like buses? And why should we pay for expensive streetcars so that developers can make money? And, as a resident of the Hawthorne district which is already a “20 minute neighborhood” (if there ever was one), I recon we don’t need trolleys to “improve” my neighborhood.

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    GLV February 10, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    John:
    The orthodoxy is that developers will not build dense urban developments without streetcars. You see, streetcar worked in the Pearl District (none of the other subsidies mattered), and therefore it will work on Sandy Blvd and 122nd Ave. Sprawl is stopped and the world is saved!

    As a point of contrast, look at the streetcar-less urban wasteland that is Vancouver, BC. If only they had streetcars, people and businesses might want to locate there. Seattle finally recognized why it has failed as a metropolis, and built a streetcar a year or so ago. In another decade or so, Seattle will finally be on the map. Just watch.

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    brettoo February 10, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    The ignorance of history here is breathtaking. The Hawthorne district didn’t just magically happen — it is the way it is BECAUSE it was designed around a streetcar line, which ran from 1889-1936.

    From HawthorneStreetcar.org:
    “The Hawthorne Blvd. corridor achieved relatively high residential densities and a diversity of housing types, and established itself as a successful commercial corridor thanks to streetcar-centric development. The original Hawthorne Streetcar, in various forms, operated from 1889 through 1936.”

    That kind of streetcar-oriented development, which worked terrifically between the 1890s and the 1930s before the GM-led anti streetcar conspiracy destroyed it (as proven in federal court), is exactly why there’s a massive revival of streetcars across the US, including places like Dallas and Charlotte.

    Far from being “never explained,” there is a vast, fact-based literature that demonstrates why streetcars are superior to buses and cars, for both environmental and urban planning reasons. Have you bothered to look for it? As a start, you might try Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the 21st Century. There’s even a book called The Conservative Case for Streetcars written by conservative guru Paul Weyrich. Before posting unsupported assertions, it might be useful explore another old fashioned institution that, like streetcars, retains some value: the public library. Or if that’s too much trouble, start here:

    http://home.comcast.net/~dthompso1/StreetcarLines.html

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    John Peterson February 10, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    How about somebody just say why, here, in as few words as possible, WHY streetcars are better than buses. Please.

    Also, Hawthorne now and as built in the early part of the century is pretty much all low rise 2 story. It’s fine the way it is now (thanks in part to streetcars many years ago). Thing is, street cars now are a lot different than streetcars then. Part of the whole modern developer oriented transit scheme is to greatly increase height and density in areas that don’t want or need them (Hawthorne). So if you are proposing to increase the density of my already dense enough neighborhood (oh and raise my taxes to pay for it) so you can ride toy trains…forget it.

    And, have you ever crashed on those tracks? sucks.

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    John Peterson February 10, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Just looked at the Portland trolley history site…..funny…it doesn’t seem to explain why trolley’s are better than buses…..

    Seems to me we ditched trolleys cause buses are cheaper and easier to build and maintain and much more flexible vehicles in terms of routing, terrain, weather, etc…..and I don’t recall the city collapsing when trolleys were replaced by buses.

    How about instead of dumping a whole pile of taxpayer money into new very expensive developer oriented transit, we spend that money on improving cost effective bus service and building low income housing.

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    GLV February 10, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    “…(oh and raise my taxes to pay for it)…”

    That is the salient question that has never been answered: how will the streetcar system be financed? I’m all about replacing loud, smelly diesel buses, but not at the expense of housing affordability. The existing model of Local Improvement Districts and dedicating parking meter revenues will not work Citywide.

    This is why options with much lower capital costs and comparable operating costs (i.e., trolleybuses) should be seriously considered. The streetcar system plan assumed streetcars would be the mode of choice, and never explored any other mode in detail.

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    GLV February 10, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Oh, and the GM-conspiracy thing is a myth. Sure, they played a small role, but the real reason streetcars were abandoned was because of suburbanization, which began in earnest with the Interstate highway system and the GI bill. They were simply no longer attractive options for most people, or profitable businesses enterprises. It’s no coincidence that just about every mass transit system in the country is heavily subsidized.

    “This belief has been questioned by Sy Adler who points out, among other things, that GM was not convicted of buying up urban trolley systems but rather merely of forcing bus companies owned by General Motors to use General Motors buses,”

    Sy Adler teaches urban planning at PSU. He’s a lot smarter than all of us, so am inclined to believe him.

    http://www.bambooweb.com/articles/g/e/General_Motors_Streetcar_Conspiracy.html

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    brettoo February 10, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Agreed that bus service needs to be upgraded. Both buses and streetcars have been starved by the massive hidden subsidies to car culture.

    I’ll let Chris or others who’ve devoted years of study to streetcar history to provide more comprehensive answers to the question of why streetcars are superior, but essentially, the answer is: streetcars are more cost effective over time (in the right situation, of course) than buses and cars in getting people around and in securing the kind of development that makes efficient, livable compact urban growth possible. Buses will always play a major role — they’re complementary strategies. So are bikes.

    Buses are only cheaper if you don’t factor in the hidden costs of street construction, maintenance, the true cost of gasoline, etc. Lots of people will ride streetcars who won’t ride buses, for various reasons, and the long term cost of streetcars when you factor in maintenance, repair costs, gas etc is comparable to buses now, and will be cheaper as gas prices increase.

    Taxpayers will be paying more in the long run if we don’t reduce the use of cars for the kind of trips that streetcars most effectively replace. Housing prices are more affordable when not driven up by the costs of sprawl (extending utilities etc) that streetcars help prevent.

    And as far as weather suitability goes, according to the Mayor’s office, ‘Portland’s streetcar actually increased service during the worst snowstorm in 50 years. Streetcars normally run 18 hours a day on weekdays, with shorter hours on weekends. From December 20th to Christmas morning, the Streetcar ran 24 hours a day. An additional train was put onto the street to meet the needs of riders. With other transportation options restricted, the streetcar routinely stretched its stated occupancy of 120. “During peak hours every train was completely packed” marvels Lenore Deluisa, the Streetcar’s manager of operations. ‘

    The trolley history site isn’t an advocacy site but rather a history site. Maybe portland streetcar should provide better links to the abundant national advocacy organizations like the Congress for New Urbanism et al who’ve done the studies.

    The city didn’t “collapse” when autos and buses replaced streetcars — but it’s no coincidence that old Portland neighborhoods and the central city did become much shabbier as the sole reliance on cars and buses contributed to the depopulation of the central neighborhoods and the suburban sprawl that brought us wonderfully livable areas like 82nd st.

    So, yes, the elimination of streetcars was one major factor in the decline of the central city (in Portland and elsewhere) and the rise of the energy wasting, taxpayer-draining subsidized suburban sprawl that’s quickly becoming unsustainable in the peak oil / climate change era. Which is why cities are trying to bring back the streetcars as a part of the earlier formula that worked so well to bring us streetcar neighborhoods like Hawthorne.

    There are some good books on Portland and American urban history that explain these developments much more thoroughly. But that would require actual, y’know, research. So much easier to just opine.

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    old&slow February 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    brettoo, you have never answered johns question. It is not that anybody thinks mass transit lines are not useful! He just asks a legitimate question. You can do the same thing with buses on electric lines at half the cost. These are still dedicated non-car transportation alternatives but don’t require that you tear up the streets to put in tracks! Why do we need expensive street cars to move people around instead of dedicated electric bus lines that do the same thing?

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    brettoo February 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Sorry about the tone of that last remark. It’s just a little frustrating to try to recap a whole bunch of history that’s been extensively documented and debated (here and elsewhere) over the past decade or so. The case for and against streetcars has been made over and over again in Portland, and it looks like they’re here to stay, with a commuting (rather than just the current ‘collecting’) function added eventually. Much of the funding comes from the feds because it saves taxpayers’ money in the long run.

    I’ve heard both sides of the GM thing. GM bought up streetcar companies then converted them to buses in order to sell buses. Certainly other factors like the interstates contributed to sprawl at least as much and more. But GM’s actions certainly didn’t help. The economics for cities were predicated on cheap gas. What matters now is that streetcars can help spark efficient inner city redevelopment (in a way buses never could) so the millions coming here over the next couple decades can live car free or at least with much less reliance on cars. Maybe we should let the streetcar debate happen over at Portland Transport and stay on the cycle track (sorry) here.

    And no, I’ve never crashed on streetcar or Max rails, luckily. When I cross the tracks, I point my front tire perpendicular to them. Maybe we need a few more signs like the one that shows the plummeting biker.
    I don’t mind giving one lane to streetcars (in fact, I think they ought to be dedicated streetcar only lanes, to ensure timely schedules) as long as the city provides a good safe bike lane or cycletrack nearby. I avoid riding on streets that have tracks — is it really so hard to just move over one lane, or at most one street, so that we can have another effective alternative to cars?

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    Matthew Denton February 10, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I ride on 10th street regularly, and I’ve never crashed. I’ve seen people crash, people that don’t know how to ride in a straight line, or people that cross the tracks at 5 degree angles at 20 mph, but the worst thing I’ve done? I dropped a tire in the tracks. But since I had my feet off the pedals and just above the ground, (like I do everytime I cross tracks, be they heavy rail, light rail, or streetcar,) when my tire fell in, my feet touched the ground, and I didn’t fall over, I stopped, pulled my tire out of the tracks, and kept going. Honestly, the stop sign on Couch and 10th causes me more “problems” than the streetcar tracks…

    As for electric buses vs streetcar, I’ve already posted “why” in the other thread, and (unlike some people here,) I don’t feel like repeating myself over and over again. I will add a new and interesting thing I read recently on why they ripped up streetcars and replaced them with buses: Back in the 1950s as the transit companies lost market share, they started laying operators off. The operator’s unions thought that was a bad thing, and they realized that buses carried less people per operator than streetcars, so if the transit company could be convinced to switch, there would be more jobs… In other words, the operators union wanted them to switch from streetcars to buses, not because it saved the transit company money, but because it cost more money.

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    joel February 10, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    john #11 etc:

    my own personal reasons for preferring streetcars to buses are something like so (and keep in mind that these are my *opinions*, not necessarily backed up by research or perhaps even conventional wisdom, for that matter 🙂 just opinions, nothing more.):

    1. given a PROPER infrastructure (rail separated physically from car traffic, whether that be through the use of barriers and differently timed signals, or by removal of car traffic from rail routes), streetcars are not hampered by traffic – they move independent of it. buses get stuck in traffic, being really just big cars.

    2. streetcars = bigger than buses. they hold and transport more people, and can run at pretty much the same route timing once infrastructure is in place – thus, more people moved.

    3. THEYRE COOL 🙂 and way more fun to ride on than buses.

    4. in a city like portland, and many american cities, the neighborhoods extant today grew up around, and because of, streetcar lines. i think these neighborhoods would return to some of their former vitality if we return to this model.

    5. the tracks arent that big a deal, really. i know more cyclists who have been hit and killed/seriously injured by buses than have killed/seriously injured by streetcars or their tracks (seriously, a significantly larger amount). i dont mean to sound callous or insensitive, but really, theyre a fixed obstacle, and how to avoid crashing on them is a known value. i do not consider them a bigger risk than any number of other road obstacles that we as cyclists encounter on a far more regular basis. the dangers posed by the tracks are totally outweighed by the benefits, as i see them.

    6. as with the tracks, the streetcars themselves are fixed obstacles. you know where they are, where theyre going, and how fast theyre going there. theyre not going to swerve over when you least expect it, or something like that.

    thats all for now, off the top of my head. i have dinner to make.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) February 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    One of the main reasons Portland’s power brokers push streetcars and rail in general over buses is because of development.

    “Transit-oriented development” is a major major reason why politicians love rail.

    “Buses don’t create community” one of them told me recently (when I asked why we don’t have more bus-rapid transit instead of rail).

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    Paul February 10, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Reasons why trams/streetcars/trains are better than buses:

    They are higher capacity, especially when 2 or more cars are linked together, allowing 1 driver and 1 vehicle to carry a lot more riders. This makes it very efficient both financially and energy-wise

    Generally a smoother, more comfortable ride than a bus. You will never hit a pothole in a train.

    Predictable path: i.e. they can’t veer off the tracks and hit things

    A long train can navigate tighter areas because the tracks are the guide, essentially enabling an infinite length and higher rider capacity through tight corners

    They are very reliable with low maintenance, and their parts last a long time compared to combustion engines (I know there are electric buses too)

    No tire changes or flats

    Weather rarely delays a streetcar, and no chain-ups

    They don’t damage/stress the roads

    Having lived in a city with more than 30 streetcar lines with many of the trains built in the 1960’s and still going strong, I think they’ve proved their case.

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    3-speeder February 10, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    To simply answer the question “Why streetcars rather than busses?”:

    Because there are many people who will never ride a bus but will ride a streetcar/light rail.

    And because streetcar/light rail routes are hard to move. Developers are more likely to build along a rail line they know won’t change than along a bus line that may move to another street upon a key honcho’s say so.

    You may not like these reasons – I don’t myself – but these are the key reasons why streetcars/light rail are favored over busses.

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    Paul February 10, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Almost forgot this one: Can you run buses on grass? Probably not like this: http://tinyurl.com/boqkfo

    The trams in Prague had a grass right-of-way near Barandov Studios. I loved that section of track.

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    Chris Smith February 10, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    The key reason streetcars attract private sector development dollars is that you can change a bus route tomorrow, while a streetcar route is a major capital commitment that is going to be around for a while so you have an assurance that your investment will continue to be served by transit.

    An argument can be made that trolley buses with an electric catenary system would provide a similar assurance. But the developers I have talked to don’t seem impressed by that level of investment.

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    Chris Smith February 10, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Do you have any idea if the cycle track on 7th will extend across Broadway-Weidler (perhaps to Tillamook?) rather than simply replacing the current awkward situation where the bike lanes start/end at Weidler?

    The current plan is just for the Weidler-to-Oregon stretch which will have rails.

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    Chris Smith February 10, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    One of the main reasons Portland’s power brokers push streetcars and rail in general over buses is because of development.

    “Transit-oriented development” is a major major reason why politicians love rail.

    “Buses don’t create community” one of them told me recently (when I asked why we don’t have more bus-rapid transit instead of rail).

    We have to change that attitude. I think “bicycle oriented development” is beging to become a real factor. I’m pushing for an economic development “plank” in the Bicycle Master Plan to highlight this.

    But it may be an effective strategy to begin thinking about pushing for funding for bike/streetcar mobility corridors as a unit so we design, engineer and pay for both sets of improvements at once (and maybe share the “sexiness”).

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    Ayala February 10, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Still don’t like the idea of a bike boulevard on Marshall, at least around Good Sam.

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    joel February 10, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    3-speeder #25:

    spot on there about “there are many people who will never ride a bus but will ride a streetcar/light rail” – while i dont like or agree with the reasoning, there are a LOT of people out there who perceive a streetcar as “classier” than a bus. when the f market light rail started running in san francisco, and i was taking it for a while, i heard many a comment from people who were basically saying “i wouldnt be caught dead with the riffraff on a bus, but this i can do”. granted, the cars on that line are old pcc rail cars, some of the most reliable cars ever built, and are downright classy and comfortable, but still… it was a whole new group of public transit riders, who otherwise wouldnt have touched a muni bus with a 10 foot pole.

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    brettoo February 10, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Because of the lower center of gravity and wider aisles, streetcars are also safer and more comfortable for people who use wheelchairs, strollers, etc.

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    Chris Smith February 10, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Because of the lower center of gravity and wider aisles, streetcars are also safer and more comfortable for people who use wheelchairs, strollers, etc.

    Related to this, every time a bus pulls over to a stop, it tilts slightly because of the camber of the road (for runoff). This is a fund part of the experience that you get to miss on streetcar, which has level rails (at least side-to-side). The result is more comfortable for all types of riders.

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    BURR February 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Here’s the thing about investing a crapload of money in things like cycle tracks and even hardscape on bike boulevards: our public streets are already a great surface for riding on and are pretty safe for moderately skilled cyclists as long as the motorists behave themselves and don’t act like they own the road. This is a matter of education, NOT engineering.

    With financial resources for transportation as tight as they are, the available dollars for bike projects should really be going to new trails where none currently exist, like the Sullivan’s Gulch trail, the North Portland Greenway and the South Waterfront to Lake Oswego Greenway trail on the West Bank of the Willamette.

    Spending a bunch of money on cycle tracks and bike boulevards is just a waste.

    OTOH, I also prefer rail over busses, I just wish the streetcar ‘planners’ weren’t half so cavalier in their attitude towards cyclists’ needs.

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    Matthew Denton February 10, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    In Portland, when the #5 bus was replaced with the Yellow line, ridership doubled overnight. And ridership on the yellow line has been rising at ~20% annually, where as the bus ridership systemwide is only up about ~5% annually in the same time period. Now, the Yellow line isn’t a streetcar, but if you want to make a bus vs rail comparison, there is one that is both recent and local.

    The numbers for when an electric buses route replaces a diesel one is a 10% or so increase in ridership overnight, (from San Fransisco.) Not bad, (and I certainly wish TriMet would replaces some of the more popular lines with electric,) but it doesn’t compare to streetcar.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) February 10, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    another rail/bus comparison is that in the status hierarchy of transportation (and that is actually a very important consideration) it is much cooler and higher class to take a train vs. take a bus.

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    Chris Smith February 10, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Here’s the thing about investing a crapload of money in things like cycle tracks and even hardscape on bike boulevards: our public streets are already a great surface for riding on and are pretty safe for moderately skilled cyclists as long as the motorists behave themselves and don’t act like they own the road. This is a matter of education, NOT engineering.

    On 7th Ave along the streetcar this will really be about swapping the location of the bike lane and the parking. The “cycletrack” (just paint at this point) will be next to the sidewalk, with the parking between the bike lane and the streetcar. The issue we’re trying to address, which we heard loud and clear from the cyclists in the Lloyd District is that they don’t want to ride between parked cars and the rails, so they never get forced into a choice between being doored and riding onto the rails.

    Boulevards are CHEAP, with the exception of the places where they cross major arterials, which I think is where we DO want to invest the dollars to make crossing safe and comfortable.

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    Chris Smith February 10, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    OTOH, I also prefer rail over busses, I just wish the streetcar ‘planners’ weren’t half so cavalier in their attitude towards cyclists’ needs.

    I hope between Libby’s articles and my comments there is a clear understanding that if the streetcar efforts were once ‘cavalier’ about bikes, we definitely aren’t any more.

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  • Not My Usual Venue | blogging cascadia February 11, 2009 at 12:17 am

    […] have a guest post over on BikePortland.org talking about the opportunities for bikes and streetcar to cooperate […]

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    JR February 11, 2009 at 6:05 am

    And ridership on the yellow line has been rising at ~20% annually, where as the bus ridership systemwide is only up about ~5% annually in the same time period.

    This is incorrect. Current yellow line ridership is just a smidge over 14,000 on an average weekday. During it’s first year of operation, it averaged about 11,800 riders a day. That puts it’s growth rate at about 3-4% annually. Not bad, but certainly no where close to 20% annually. It’s much more in line with system ridership.

    ‘Portland’s streetcar actually increased service during the worst snowstorm in 50 years. Streetcars normally run 18 hours a day on weekdays, with shorter hours on weekends. From December 20th to Christmas morning, the Streetcar ran 24 hours a day. An additional train was put onto the street to meet the needs of riders. With other transportation options restricted, the streetcar routinely stretched its stated occupancy of 120.

    First of all, the capacity of the streetcar is highly doubtful. Portland Streetcar, Inc puts it somewhere around 120. The manufacturer puts it somewhere about 140. TriMet says it’s closer to 90.

    Secondly, they needed to operate 24 hrs/day because if they didn’t, the overhead wires and track switches would freeze up.

    Third, if we had enough snow plows in the city, buses, cars and bikes would be able to operate just as reliably in such infrequent events.

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    JR February 11, 2009 at 6:32 am

    There’s a huge bias against buses in this country. I’d say it’s well founded.. here are my reasons..

    They are smaller and thus more easily crowded.
    They aren’t easy to see out of to know where your stop is coming up.
    Sometimes the reader boards don’t give the correct information and you board the wrong bus.
    Sometimes the bus is operating on an alternate route, only it’s not clear to you.
    Many buses don’t have high frequencies (~10 minutes or less) and thus if you miss the bus, you’re stuck.
    It’s easy to miss the bus when the bus driver doesn’t see or ignores you.
    Buses seem to jolt around a lot because they operate on pretty f’ed up streets.
    Buses cause incredible damage to streets – perhaps more so than freight trucks because the weight isn’t as well distributed on more axles. (Have you seen how streets warp at asphalt bus stops?)
    The bus gets stuck in traffic just as much, if not more, than if you were driving yourself because it’s forced to operate on a route in mixed traffic.

    The bottom line is that when the country shifted from streetcar to bus, they did it because it could be done cheaper. We still do bus systems cheaply, as if they were for the lowest class as a form of public welfare. Streetcars require more money to be spent because they operate in such a way to mitigate many of the concerns that buses cause.

    Most, if not all, of the issues I raised can be addressed by TriMet and the cities they run in by spending more on our bus system. Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for this because streetcar, light rail, and now commuter rail eat up billions of federal tax dollars that could have built the world’s best transportation system for bus transit, bicycling, and walking in this city.

    And while we spent billions, we still have a light rail system that was built on the cheap. Remember how the switches froze during that big storm and rendered two lines unusable? Better switches would’ve cost only $2000 more a piece. The Rose Quarter and Gateway areas have very little additional capacity and will likely cost tens of millions more to operate effectively at the frequencies in those areas that the green line will provide. Every stop in downtown Portland takes a minute because the light rail operates on-street and needs to wait for traffic signals. There’s no ability to lengthen trains with the system as is (and yes, there’s plenty ways to do it within downtown Portland). There’s single-track sections throughout the streetcar system and on the red line that slow the system down and reduce reliability. I could go on forever, but I won’t.

    There are now federal grant programs that support improving bus systems. It’s time we take advantage of these and buck the trend that buses can’t achieve the same results as light rail or streetcar. Let’s dedicate a lane of traffic to bus, improve stations, add longer “articulated” buses that carry as many passengers as the streetcar, and create signal priority for our bus system. We’d have a fast, reliable, and comfortable bus system with hundreds of millions of extra dollars left to spend on better bikeways and trails.

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    John Peterson February 11, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Finally a good discussion streetcar v. bus.
    Thanks everyone.
    I’m still pretty skeptical about the need for streetcars though. I think JR above hits the major reasons.
    I too like the ride in a streetcar better and they are “classier”….but at what cost? Maybe that extra cost should be spent on more necessary public works.

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    Lenny Anderson February 11, 2009 at 9:33 am

    It is important to remember that Portland Streetcar began with the Central City Plan in the 80’s, was pushed by NWDA and other neighborhood groups, and in the end was funded in large part by adjacent property owners.
    This model still applies, ie. neigborhoods that do not want Streetcar (Mississippi) have been taken off the list; corridors with property owners/developers and developable land (Williams/Vancouver or Broadway/Weidler) will remain in consideration only if there is financial support for LIDs.
    The eastside loop, while it is using federal funds (we hope), has strong support from both businesses/property owners and adjacent neighborhoods.

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    GLV February 11, 2009 at 9:41 am

    My question from yesterday afternoon still has not been answered:

    How will the streetcar system be financed?

    Chris?

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    Zaphod February 11, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I’m one of those people who would *much* rather get on something that rides on rails versus a bus. What is a bus exactly? It’s a giant motor vehicle that is impacted by traffic nearly as much as a private automobile. A train/streetcar has right of way and is a smooth ride.

    This is not because of some elitist or status perspective… I just think rail is vastly superior. And not to over share but I easily get motion sickness and the unpredictable stop & go is not good at all.

    I’d argue that transit oriented design is excellent urban design where density radiates from nodes. But it’s a false choice to make it either/or. I’d contend that transit based rail should specifically avoid having an efficient motorist right of way along the length of it. If the logical choice is to step on the train or get on a bike then people will do it.

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    Chris Smith February 11, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    How will the streetcar system be financed?

    I don’t know any certain answer to that, but candidate mechanisms would include local improvement districts, tax increment financing, federal flexible funds programmed via Metro and the other sources we often use for transit projects.

    Funding plans generally get generated when detailed corridor planning is done. The purpose of the 50-year vision is to look at what corridors should be considered for detailed planning efforts in the future.

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    BURR February 11, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Thanks, Chris, I appreciate your response to my comments, I but I still don’t think we’re quite where we need to be on rail vs. bike safety and access issues yet; for example, I think more than a bit of work still needs to be done before we start installing streetcar tracks willy nilly on bikeable eastside arterials.

    In particular, and just as one example, installing bike lanes on SE 7th Ave was not an easy thing to do at the time, and coopting SE 7th for the streetcar now is not an easy thing for long-time eastside cycling advocates to swallow.

    It might be different if certain other elements of the City’s current Bike Master Plan had come to pass, like installation of bonafide bike facilities up Hawthorne and along SE 11th and 12th, but ultimately the political will to do these things failed to materialize, IMO to Portland’s everlasting detriment.

    I think it’s a long shot to expect Portland’s long-time cycling advocates to embrace the streetcar now, while recent hard fought battles and/or rejected bike improvements along some of the same arterials are still fresh in our memories; it all seems sort of like a blatant attempt at profiteering by the neighborhood business associations in retrospect (streetcar good, bikes bad).

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    Chris Smith February 11, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    How about streetcar+bikes = good?

    But I agree, we need to get several times better at making bikes and streetcars work together.

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    GLV February 12, 2009 at 11:56 am

    “but candidate mechanisms would include local improvement districts, tax increment financing, federal flexible funds programmed via Metro and the other sources we often use for transit projects.”

    Let’s stick to local funding.

    LIDs and TIF aren’t going to work outside of the central city Chris; you know that. Project staff have made that clear, from what I understand. PERHAPS a “halo LID” might generate enough revenue for individual lines, but do you honestly think property owners on and around 122nd Ave or Sandy Blvd. are going to approve that? Think about homeowners 3 blocks from the line, not WinCo and Fred Meyer.

    What about operating funds? Cannibalizing the bus system, or increasing payroll taxes?

    I get the 50 year vision thing, but without a politically viable funding scheme, this whole notion of a streetcar system is pie in the sky.

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    Chris Smith February 12, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    I get the 50 year vision thing, but without a politically viable funding scheme, this whole notion of a streetcar system is pie in the sky.

    But perhaps it’s easier to attract funding when you have a vision to fund?

    “Make no small plans.”

    – Daniel Burnham

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    GLV February 12, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Shorter Chris:

    I have no idea how we are going to fund it.

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    brettoo February 12, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I’m afraid that, in answering questions about streetcar policy posted by BP readers unaware of the long history of this debate, I and others have diverted this thread from Jonathan’s original post. The question of whether Portland should have a streetcar system was debated and decided years ago, and facts and history led our policy makers to decide that we will. Since that train has, ah, left the station, can we now return to the original subject: how can bikes and streetcars coexist, and how can advocates for both cooperate to provide Portlanders with a multifaceted transportation system that greatly reduces the need to drive cars?

    I like Chris’s idea that whenever we build streetcar tracks, planners should include truly adequate provisions for bikeway construction in conjunction with the streetcar facilities. Does that mean we can get funds for such associated bike projects from the streetcar funding pot? I guess those provisions will vary with each project, so I’d like to hear more options for each specific streetcar project now under consideration. I’d also love to hear more about what other cities faced with these issues have done and what’s been successful elsewhere.

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    Chris Smith February 12, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    I think trying to fund a ‘corridor’ with both bikes and streetcars as a single project is an outstanding idea.

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    Lenny Anderson February 13, 2009 at 9:07 am

    TIF funding was used to pay for the City’s share of Interstate MAX, and I believe is being used for the Green Line (Gateway and Lents are both URAs). No TIF was used for the original Streetcar to PSU, but was used for its extension to SoWa. The Eastside Loop also has TIF as well as LIDs two blocks wide. Operations are paid for in part by parking meter income, and that is being considered for the Eastside Loop.

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    Seth Alford February 14, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Re John, #42, and others: I don’t want to reduce ease of bicycle access to various streets just so some point haired manager at a bank feels better about loaning money to some developer. And, yes, make no mistake, the bicycle accessibility of a street is reduced if there’s a RR crossing it. And it’s reduced even more if the RR runs the length of the street.

    Evidence? I see evidence for this on many event rides, where the route intersects with RR tracks. For example, Bridge Pedals, or Salem Monster Cookie rides, or STP, where they had to either cover the RR crossing with something, paint a warning on the street, or even station a volunteer to shout warnings at the bicyclists about to cross the RR tracks.

    I remember 10th before the street car. While it wasn’t the most bike friendly street in the world then, it was better than it is now.

    I would much rather deal with buses than the RR tracks. Buses come and go. As has been pointed out, the tracks are always there, and always present a hazard.

    Re Chris, #38: ….efforts were once ‘cavalier’ about bikes, we definitely aren’t any more.

    There’s so many cliche’s to respond to this. So I’ll only go with two:

    What’s past is prologue.
    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    How bicyclists were treated in the past by streetcar efforts is an excellent indication of how bicyclists will be treated in the future. The same economies, physics, engineering, and political pressures will guide future streetcar efforts. “Oh, sorry, we don’t have right-of-way/room/budget/time to accommodate a proper bike lane. And putting one in here will block a business’s parking and they’ve threatened to move to Hillsboro if we do. So we’ll have to skip it this time. Maybe we can fix it later.” No thanks.

    Re brettoo, #52: plans change. Don’t believe me? Go for a drive on the Mt. Hood Freeway.

    Re this whole thread: There is not an infinite supply of money out there. If there was, the gravel from December’s storms would have been picked up in the first week of January. As it is, I am still riding through shoals of the stuff. E.g. Barbur NW-bound just past Terwilliger, last Monday, 2/9/2009.

    The cycle track that’s contemplated to make up for the RR tracks on 7th will probably get even less street sweeper attention, and therefore accumulate more debris, than we see now with bike lanes on streets. And don’t forget intersection dangers. See the discussion we had on cycle tracks here

    I’d much rather see the money that is spent on planning for streetcars in the next 50 years used to buy and run more street sweepers now. And I’d rather see the money that would be spent on streetcars themselves used to fill in gaps in the existing bike lane infrastructure, such as Crash Corner (also known as Beaverton-Hillsdale/Oleson/Scholls intersection) replacing the grade separated bike path on Garden Home Road with proper bike lanes, and filling the gaps in the bike lanes on the bridges and elsewhere along Barbur.

    I continue to be disappointed that our BTA, which collects money under the tag line, “Opening Minds and Roads to Bicycling,” is not strongly opposed to more RR tracks in streets, that help close roads to bicycling.

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