Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Streetcar or cycle tracks: Putting bike funding into perspective

Posted by on November 12th, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Bicycle Master Plan ride #3

900 miles of bikeways
or 15 miles of streetcar?
(Photo © J. Maus)

Here are some interesting numbers to help put the funding for bicycle infrastructure in Portland — as laid out in the Bicycle Plan for 2030 — into perspective.

According to estimates from PBOT, the full “build-out” of the plan (meaning to complete all 900+ bikeway miles) would cost about $500 million dollars. At the Planning Commission hearing this week, Commissioner Chris Smith put that amount into perspective by comparing it to other transportation infrastructure investments we could make.

For $500 million we could complete our entire bike network or get:

  • 15 miles of streetcar
  • 1 ½ Sellwood Bridges
  • 40% of a MAX line
  • 1/8 of a CRC bridge

Story continues below


$500 million for an entire bikeway network.

Smith — who’s on the board of Portland Streetcar Inc. and was a former Chair of the Portland Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee — also said that if he had one dollar of unrestricted capital construction funds for transportation he’d spend it on bike infrastructure before investing in streetcar.

Why? Here’s what Smith wrote on his blog:

“In my opinion, the benefit to Portland for getting 25% of all trips onto bikes was greater than the benefit offered by any of those comparable investments (not that I’m saying we shouldn’t also make some of those other investments).”

Also, according to PBOT’s Roger Geller who heard Smith’s testimony at the hearing, Smith also said he’d gladly pay an annual levy to help pay for bicycle infrastructure. Comparing what his family currently pays for the annual library levy ($250 for a family of four), he said he’d be happy to pay for bike infrastructure because he believes investments in bicycle transportation “will provide a greater value to the City of Portland.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Hear more about the Bicycle Master Plan on OPB’s Think Out Loud tomorrow morning from 9-10am on 91.5FM in Portland or online.

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  • Corey Burger November 12, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Pitting transit improvements vs pedestrian vs biking is a major mistake. All three help each other in restoring balance. The headline hear should be “Bridge or cycle tracks?” and the lead should the CRC funding, not the streetcar.

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  • cold worker November 12, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    agreed corey. when i read “streetcar or cycle tracks”, i think, shit, why not both? and i’ve only been on the streetcar exactly one time. anything to provide options to the car…

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  • rwl1776 November 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Hey! I WORK on that streetcar project, with many other hard working folks. And we also are paying taxes on our wages, building streetcars that will be over 90% Made in USA content…..

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  • PDXbiker November 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Run that $500 million dollar fiqure by the average car driving citizen and they would absolutely choke. It would be interesting to see how well a tax levy vote on cycling infrastructure would do.

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  • Chris Smith November 12, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I want to be clear that with the exception of the CRC in its current form, I SUPPORT all those other investments!

    But on a cost-benefit basis, bikes should be at the top of the list, not “OMG – how could we spend half a billion on bikes?”

    The Regional Transportation Plan has a list of $20B in projects on it. 2.5% of that for Portland’s bike plan is a steal.

    Let’s get it funded!

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  • old&slow November 12, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I have commented here before about how expensive street cars are and how little sense they make for a compact downtown like Portland and got bashed for not being in favor of “alternative” transportation. I will say it again, street cars in downtown are a hazard to bike riders and take away funding from real alternative transportation. They are just for politicians to seem “euro” and for fat a***** who can’t walk a few blocks to where they want to go.

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  • sabes November 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Why is it always XXX vs bikes! Why can’t we have streetcars AND cycle tracks? Why is this issue always black and white to the bike community. The streetcar line helps get cars off the street AND it spurs neighborhood improvements. That’s a pretty good combination. While I like streetcars I also think that they are a bit oversold a bit, but I think they’re an important part of the overall transportation plan. As are cycle tracks and other biking infrastructure. Oh, and 15 miles of streetcar line is quite a bit. Remember, from the river to 82nd Ave is a bit over 4 miles or so.

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  • Go Chris November 12, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Chris Smith is an amazing addition to the planning commission. I was in a meeting in the Portland building where a staff person read his comments on the bike plan — it was epic!!! I wanted to get up and do a victory lap for Chris.

    Pace yourself Chris – Portland will benefit with you on the Planning Commission (or on City Council) for a long time.

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  • suburban November 12, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Maintenance; Its the name of the game… keeping up street car tracks i$ the pain

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  • cold worker November 12, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    i can see how the streetcar might seem ‘silly’ or whatever, since it’s really not all that long of a route. i have a friend who is a planner with tri-met and their vision of our streetcar future, at least what i hear from her, is tremendous. it’s all years off but really exciting to hear about anyways. and like i mentioned earlier, i’ve been on the streetcar once since it opened, but i’m still pretty stoked on it’s expansion. tracks or no, it’s less cars on the road. cars are a bigger hazard than rail tracks.

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  • old&slow November 12, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    sabes, #7, MONEY! That is always the issue. Streetcars cost a hell of a lot for the ridership they serve. It would be a wonderful world to get everything we want but priorities have to be set and the priorities of this city, unfortunately for the cycling crowd is streetcars and Max. It is ridiculous how the bike community here has made Adams such a hero when he has thrown table scraps to the bike crowd while he advocated millions for transportation modes that move people 3 or 4 blocks for a million dollars a block!

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  • bellagiornata November 12, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    You claim that streetcars “are just for politicians to seem “euro” and for fat a***** who can’t walk a few blocks to where they want to go”

    Um, there is a social equality issue that you are completely ignoring here. What about all the people with disabilities or illnesses, not to mention elderly folks that may not be able to safely get on a bike. I’m completely in support of providing the maximum amount of funding necessary to get the ball rolling on the proposed bicycle infrastructure improvements, but to argue that bikes are the only real form of alternative transportation is just narrow minded.

    I agree with you that streetcars are ridiculously expensive in comparison, not too mention the danger they pose to bikes, but please try to see things from the perspective of someone who may not be as able bodied as yourself, before you go calling everyone who doesn’t bike a “fat a**”.

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  • Ethan November 12, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    I call BS on Corey’s #1 Comment. When the streetcar people came to our neighborhood and described their “20 minute neighborhoods” I had to ask, “don’t we already have that on a bike in this area, and won’t your streetcars force bikes off the neighborhood arterials and onto back streets, cost many times more than bike improvements, and do nothing comparable to improve the health of residents?

    The bottom line is what the streetcar people say last and oh so softly, which is that their routes become corridors for high density (re)development. Kiss your quaint old shopping district goodbye and prepare to see a layer cake effect of multi-story mixed use buildings transitioning into condos within a block of the line. That’s why there is a seemingly unstoppable energy behind these projects, developers get to reap huge rewards from public infrastructure.

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  • old&slow November 12, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Than you Ethan! You are right on and the politicians (Sam Adams) are bought and sold on this “alternative transportation projects”, which just happen to enrich developers and the city council they fund.

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  • cold worker November 12, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    ‘Kiss your quaint old shopping district goodbye’

    has this happened in portland? not being flippant.

    the density issue; yeah sure, it increases neighborhood density. ugly condos, yeah, yeah. ugly is really subjective (and no one in here has brought it up yet). but its a denser inner city or it’s suburban sprawl in clark, washington and clackamas counties. this is a repeat of a comment i left in the crc story a little ways down the main page.

    why would the streetcar push cyclists onto side streets anymore than auto traffic?

    and i thought high density development was one of the things that an urban streetcar line essentially works to create. that’s not a secret. the streetcar went through NW, pretty dense, into the then still developing Pearl, pretty dense, and what, now it goes to that SW waterfront development thing, which as far as i’m aware is planned as a high density neighborhood.

    i really don’t see these sort of projects as competing with bike specific projects. if they get cars off the road then i don’t see the point of something like painted “sharrows” markings (or whatever). those bike specific things help foster a safer cycling environment by reinforcing in the minds of drivers (who are presumably not cyclists and maybe not sympathetic or even aware of the dangers cyclists encounter) that bikes do have a legitimate stake in our transportation landscape. but if there is a wide variety of transportation options, like a streetcar, or fast reliable bus service, or light rail, this is sure to help decrease the amount of cars on the road, making them safer for cyclists, peds, and hopefully the drivers who will still be driving for whatever reason. and with fewer cars on the road it seems like our need for things cycle tracks, bike lanes, etc. will decrease just a little bit.

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  • nuovorecord November 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    re: that “quaint old shopping district.”

    You mean like Alberta, Hawthorne, Belmont and the like? The Eastside street grid from the river to 60th or so that serves us so well from a cycling perspective?

    It was the expansion of Portland’s streetcar system that created that urban form. Those two and three story mixed use buildings were “high density” for their day. Too bad we abandoned that development pattern for the auto-oriented mess that replaced it. But hopefully, we’re going to get back to that type of city.

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  • Ethan November 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Lets be clear, I like street cars very much. That said, the ROI for the countless millions spent is at least worthy of debate.

    The expansion plans “bring streetcars back into our neighborhoods” credo evokes images of the old-time street cars on running through neighborhoods that actually look much the same today . . . but the rezoning and redevelopment districts will forever alter them in the process.

    And recessed tracks on two lane streets . . . I’m not going to even bother to point out how that deters cyclists, even when no cars or trains are present.

    But going back to the whole developer thing . . . There is no good explanation for how these massively expensive projects get through the gauntlet of city finances until you look at who really stands to benefit. By this same token, you can see why real investments in bike infrastructure languish, because the payoff is widely distributed to average people in terms of savings, quality of life, and health . . . none of which translate into big political donations (yet).

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  • wsbob November 12, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    bellagiornata’s, #12, raising the point about the streetcar helping to enable social equality for “…people with disabilities or illnesses, not to mention elderly folks that may not be able to safely get on a bike.”….is right. Can the bus do as good a job of accomplishing this as the streetcar?

    There’s plenty of room for improvements to the streetcar system. As for driving people on bikes to side streets, it just might, or at least the prospect of having to jump the streetcar tracks on a bike to avoid the hazard of bike tires slipping into them might.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) November 12, 2009 at 11:15 pm


    First let me say this story was merely meant to create draw some comparisons about what $500 million would buy us in other infrastructure investments… this was not meant to be about choosing between streetcar and bikes. And obviously i understand that streetcar and bike projects aren’t competing for the same funding pots.

    That being said… since the topic has come up… I think perhaps a bit more critical eye toward the expense of streetcar is warranted.

    Hear me out a bit..

    The goal of transportation infrastructure should be to move as many people as possible through our city as cheaply, safely, and efficiently as we possibly can.

    (any sane person realizes that bicycles are the #1 way to do that)

    However, streetcar is chosen, in large part, because it spurs development, not because it accomplishes the above. streetcar is primarily more of a development tool than it is about transporting people.

    Also, it’s important to remember that, at its core, the goal of our transportation infrastructure is not to create jobs.. even if they are in the U.S. of A. (that’s the same thing the auto industry has been saying so they can get billions in subsidies!).

    Do you realize that the Eastside Streetcar will cost PBOT (not TriMet) $3 million dollars PER YEAR JUST TO OPERATE. That’s PBOT budget and we all know how tight their budget is.

    i could write a lot more about streetcar and maybe i should… but i think that as bike advocates and cheerleaders we are sometimes too nice for our own good… we see anything that is not cars as something we should all just smile and nod at. that has to change if we ever want to compete with the Big Boys.

    the reality is that there is competition for right-of-way and there is competition for attention from our congressional members in shaking the funding tree. In both of those crucial aspects of this game, streetcar is in the lead over bikes in some regards… but should it be? Or is the rush to streetcar more about political inertia and money than about truly getting the best ROI for our transportation dollar that we can get?

    Will we, as people who want to create a truly world class biking city, be happy if streetcar and light rail become the new highway projects (in terms of political and funding momentum) and we’re still sitting here on the sidelines fighting over crumbs?! (obviously i don’t equate rail with highways, but just trying to make a point).

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  • TWGh November 12, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    False choice. Every world class bike city has a world class rail system. Coincidence? Nope.

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  • Dan Kaufman November 12, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    After spending a day in the emergency room after a crash on the streetcar tracks (yes I knew better – still happend), I’m not super crazy about making any more streets I won’t ride my bike down. That’s just me. I’d rather spend the money on bike/ped.

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  • Zaphod November 12, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    I completely disagree with Ethan #13 and I completely agree with Ethan #13

    Streetcars spur development… all true but using the term “mixed use” as a derogatory term? Urban density can be a very good thing… it’s the opposite of sprawl. Mixed use is absolutely the right way to build a city.

    I might add the there are some recent buildings that are a bit light on aesthetic so we should fight poor architecture not the idea of high density mixed use. One fantastic design element that should be revisited is the facade that is set back after one or two stories with a central building going up to 5 stories. This keeps the street at a human scale and lets the light onto the street and gives the density that you want.

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  • ksteinhoff November 13, 2009 at 6:46 am

    I just unearthed a 1950’s Police Safety Review comic book from my mother’s attic.

    It has great cartoons showing the consequences of being a scofflaw or careless.

    Check out Page 10 for the dangers of riding between the street car rails.

    Things were simpler those days. If you didn’t follow the rules, the following actions could occur:

    * Killed
    * Injured severely
    * Scarred for life
    * Arrested
    * Have your bike taken away
    * Have a mark on your permanent record
    * All of the above

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  • Chris Smith November 13, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Jonathan, I think you miss the link that the right kind of development is essential for cycling. If you look at a neighborhood like Powellhurst-Gilbert, in addition to having nowhere to bike safely, there’s nowhere to bike TO.

    Streetcar will help create more great neighborhood business districts, particularly east of 82nd (where I hope our next Streetcar will be focused).

    And of the $3M that PBOT spends operating Streetcar, $2M is reimbursed by TriMet, from payroll tax dollars that are dedicated to transit operations by the Legislature. Arguably the remaining $1M could be used for other purposes, but the whole $3M could not.

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  • Eli November 13, 2009 at 7:00 am

    TWGh/20: That’s not true.

    The *famous* bike cities that Americans go on vacation to may have street cars, but some of the Dutch cities with highest bike modal shares have no streetcars.

    I did my 2nd year of grad school in Enschede which has a nearly 50% bike modal share — no streetcar. I’m quite certain that Groningen, another legendary Dutch cycling city, also tore out their streetcars. (but I never went and checked exhaustively. 😉

    Part of the sensibility of this post is the same reason why Dutch cities value cycling: it’s much more cost effective than other forms of infrastructure.

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  • Anonymous November 13, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Why would Enschede even need a streetcar, with a population of only 150,000.

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  • Jackattak November 13, 2009 at 8:00 am

    @ #6 –

    Spoken like someone who has

    1) Never ridden the streetcar.
    2) Has zero concern for the elderly and handicapped.

    I WALK practically everywhere I go but you know what? I use the Streetcar sometimes as well (if it’s coming soon). I am not a fat ****.

    The Streetcar does so much for the elderly and handicapped who live Downtown (like I do), it’s not even funny.

    You sir, need to get out more and educate yourself, because your statements make you look as though you’re posting from Arkansas (i.e. you have no clue what goes on in Portland, OR).

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  • Quentin November 13, 2009 at 8:07 am

    The city is installing a streetcar line right next door to where I live, and even as a huge fan of alternative transportation I’m really not impressed by it. It’s so slow you can almost keep up with it on foot downtown, and there are excellent parallel bike routes most of where it goes. Riding a bike to OHSU is much faster and easier than taking the streetcar and you won’t even break a sweat.

    Clearly the streetcar does not offer much bang for the buck, and we can only fantasize about how f. amazing this city would be if we spent hundreds of millions of dollars on high quality, dedicated bike infrastructure instead.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) November 13, 2009 at 8:20 am


    I understand the “the right kind of development” is key to cycling.

    Think of it this way… wouldn’t we also see the right kind of development if we made real, separated bikeways right down our commercial corridors?

    Look at all the bike-related development on N. Williams. that’s not even a very dense development area and it has only one measly bike lane on it.

    Imagine if Hawthorne, Alberta, Woodlawn, etc… had a large, separated, dedicated bikeway running right down them. …

    i say imagine because the city has no plans to do that because it’s too “expensive” and they are too timid to remove on-street parking and try it out.

    however, streetcar is laying tracks at huge expense and absorption of right-of-way on major streets while the only dedicated cycle track we can muster is an isolated piece along a short stretch of SW Broadway.

    also, while there’s a lot of talk about streetcar and bike people listening to and loving each other more these days… i am yet to see any binding policy or funding that dictates that all new streetcar projects have set-asides for bicycles (either in road space or money).

    i’m also concerned that impending streetcar projects are holding up very crucial bike safety projects (like on Lovejoy at NW 9th and one of most dangerous intersections in the city Broadway/Williams) because engineers don’t want to do anything to the roadway that will be than ripped up and/or changed once streetcar comes in.

    i just feel there has to be a better balance to all of this. people are risking lives in our bikeways every day and we need to improve them. every day we drag our feet and fight for crumbs, the risk to people remains. this isn’t just some “bike issue”, this is about people’s lives and the health of our city.

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  • A-Dub November 13, 2009 at 8:30 am

    I think one thing you are missing is that Streetcar isn’t getting its own dedicated right of way. It isn’t taking away travel lanes, etc. This makes it much more politically feasible. Like it or not that is the case.

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  • Chris Smith November 13, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Jonathan, we’re 100% in agreement that the balance is out of wack.

    I’ve been pretty clear that bikes yield a greater benefit per dollar of capital investment and I’m working hard to get the funding commitments. I’m really jazzed that now we have a detailed plan we can use to argue for that funding, and I’m seizing that opportunity.

    But it needs to be bikes+Streetcars (and transit more generally – Streetcar is not the only transit tool we need) not bikes instead of Streetcars.

    There is no way that vilifying (or even being envious of) Streetcars is a winning strategy to get bike funding. Instead bike and Streetcar (and bus and LRT and pedestrian) advocates need to become allies for a funding strategy for a sustainable transportation system.

    The status quo is such a powerful force that unless we ALL unite for change we’re not going to get there. If Streetcar has been more successful in finding dollars to date, that’s not something to complain about, it’s something to learn from, emulate and ally with!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) November 13, 2009 at 8:45 am


    i should have been more clear.

    I agree it should be bikes + streetcars.

    and i’m not trying to “villify” streetcar. but that is one problem i see here. because streetcars are “green” and “alternative”, no one from any credible source — and especially no bike advocates — dare to be critical or ask questions about them (the reactions to this story are a perfect example of the risk one takes when questioning them).

    I’m just sort of tired of pep talks like the one you give above. we both know that it’s not simply a matter of bike advocates needing to learn more or try harder… this is about a game of politics and money and so far it looks like bike people are simply being outplayed.. which is too bad because we all agree bikes are the best investment and they have the most beneficial impact on our city.

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  • Chris Smith November 13, 2009 at 9:00 am

    You’re right, it’s not about working harder, it’s about playing the game smarter. So let’s play smarter.

    And bike advocates should absolutely question the details of every Streetcar project. Hundreds of major and minor details will make these projects better or worse for bikes and we want the scrutiny.

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  • jarb November 13, 2009 at 9:42 am

    We already have 20-minute neighborhoods where most people can’t afford to buy their own homes. Where streetcar has the biggest (and most positive) development potential is in the promising, woebegone corners of the city such as Foster Road.

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  • peejay November 13, 2009 at 10:03 am

    If “alternative transit” advocates are more critical of the details of new transit projects, we’ll have better – and eventually more – projects. So, let’s nitpick, argue, propose alternatives, discuss, etc.

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  • old&slow November 13, 2009 at 10:15 am

    jackattak, #27, I think elderly people can ride buses, correct? I am not against mass transit, just really expensive mass transit. Seattle has a fine city bus system with the buses running on electric lines, just like those expensive street cars but with no expensive pesky rails that need to be put in and maintained. I guess us Arkansas folks can be for logical, inexpensive transit without coming across as uneducated right? I have been on the streetcars, even hicks like me can ride them. The ones I have been on downtown that run between Portland State and northwest are usually filled with pretty able bodied young people.

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  • Jackattak November 13, 2009 at 10:22 am


    If you have ridden the Streetcar that regularly then there should be no question in your mind how much easier it is for the handicapped and elderly to utilize the Streetcar over the bus.

    I live Downtown. The population is rife with elderly and disabled persons who need to live close to their daily destinations. There are many assisted living facilities located directly on the Streetcar line JUST FOR THIS PURPOSE.

    The Streetcar should be extended, fer chrissakes, not abolished.

    Do cyclists get injured in the Streetcar tracks? Certainly. Pedestrians get killed by cars. Nobody’s trying to pull funding on automobiles, are they?

    I ride my bike uphill on 11th nearly everyday, directly on the Streetcar tracks (to avoid cars). It’s not that dangerous honestly, and the benefit of the Streetcar far outweighs the detriment.

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  • Paul November 13, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Eli, Amsterdam has streetcars – and a subway system, in addition to the extensive bike network. Surely you’ve been there? The Hague also has streetcars, as does Rotterdam, Maastricht, and Utrecht. And guess what? Groningen is building their own streetcar network, and they have a quite high bike ridership.

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  • joe November 13, 2009 at 10:39 am

    It is hard to see all this money thrown at a 15 mile Streetcar line when all you hear from the city with regard to bike infrastructure or pedestrian safety is, basically, we don’t have any money.

    but when it comes to shiny projects like trams or major league soccer or streetcars, seems like we just cannot throw enough money at the issues.

    I am stoked to see Chris in there fighting the bureaucratic(no offense, it is what it is) fight on our behalf.

    Chris Smith for mayor. Let us know if you are going to run again, I will volunteer.

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  • naess November 13, 2009 at 10:39 am

    i think the whole max/streetcar idea will soon be dead in the water unless the powers that be get a clue and stop forcing all of the new lines to go into downtown. i’m sorry but it seems like any of the new lines being proposed (or even the new green line,) could have their budgets dramatically cut if they just linked up with existing lines. yes that would mean people would have to transfer to another line at some point if they are heading into downtown, but that’s how the bus lines have been run since they started.

    it seems that if the planners stopped pandering to the lazy “i’d ride mass transit if i don’t have to transfer” crowd a lot more of these projects could be funded with the same budget limits.


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  • Dennis November 13, 2009 at 11:19 am

    I think that the point is being missed entirely.

    Bicycles, streetcars, and commuter rail are three sides of a perfected multi-model system. trying to achieve such dense development, as to make “bicycling everywhere” raises cost of housing beyond reach of many people.

    My commute is almost 30 miles each way. I’m now partially disabled, and can’t ride that far anymore. Being able to take a train most of that distance would allow me to ditch the car forever. I could do the first few miles, and the last few by bicycle, and the middle by train.

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  • Eric November 13, 2009 at 11:58 am

    The commercial corridors of Mississippi, Belmont, Hawthorne, Clinton – many, perhaps all, of the pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods Portland enjoys today are structured around old streetcar lines from almost a century ago. The two-story brick buildings that house the great restaurants and shops are there because the streetcars were there. Look at this map from 1912 (the resolution is pretty coarse, alas). The cool neighborhoods and streetcar lines are nearly identical. By itself, I’m not sure that bicycle infrastructure will leverage enough investment – it didn’t circa 1900, though perhaps the window then wasn’t long enough between streetcars and autos taking over. It may be that streetcar development is important to get built neighborhood shopping and employment centers that are pedestrian-friendly and good destinations for bicycling. I think Chris is heading down the right path in asking about balance.

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  • valkraider November 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    It is hard to see all this money thrown at a 15 mile Streetcar line when all you hear from the city with regard to bike infrastructure or pedestrian safety is, basically, we don’t have any money.

    but when it comes to shiny projects like trams or major league soccer or streetcars, seems like we just cannot throw enough money at the issues.

    I wish people would stop spouting stuff like this.

    Different things get different money from different places. You can’t lump “government” all in one funding pile.

    Funding sources are usually tied fairly narrowly to certain types of activities. And a lot of the money the city spends on things doesn’t necessarily come from the city itself.

    Get educated, learn where the funding comes from then learn how to get it.

    Sure, we can tweak policies and priorities to shift small amounts of the money around – but generally money to attract business (like MLS soccer) can’t just be repurposed to build bike paths. And I propose a new requirement – before anyone brings up the Tram funding I would like to see them also bring up how much money was spent and where the money came from.

    People love to monday-morning-quarterback.

    But unless you know the playbook, you just sound stupid.

    There is simply a LOT of money going towards streetcar that comes from a source which CANT be used for bicycle projects.

    That is why Chris, on the Planning Commission blog, said this (emphasis mine):

    I had a dollar of unrestricted capital construction funds for transportation I’d spend it on bike infrastructure before Streetcar infrastucture! [Note that unrestricted transportation funds are a rarity.]

    This is why bitching about Portland’s use is pretty ineffective. It is also why Regional Flexible Funds are so important, and in my opinion should NEVER be used for auto development – although they routinely are.

    We need to lobby the feds and the state for more dedicated bike/ped spending. The city would spend it if they could get it.

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  • Patrick McMahon November 13, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I’ve got to say that I’m completely in agreement with Chris on this, bike infrastructure is the most cost-effective but both are well worth the tax dollars and I’m excited to see so many folks in agreement.

    Jonathan, while the streetcar lines in PDX and elsewhere are to increase density as well as improve the quality of transit service, I think we need to move our thinking about transportation away from just mobility to also incorporate accessibility.

    To the extent that a streetcar can make trip distances shorter for more people by bringing residential, office, retail, and institutional uses together that serves a transportation need, while also increasing the tax base for the City and limiting the need to sprawl out into farmland.

    I’m sure plenty would say that more folks should just get on the buses, but streetcars and light rail are there to induce behavior changes in the same way that bike lanes, cycle tracks, and bike boulevards induce cyclists who wouldn’t embrace vehicular cycling methods and just claim their space on the road.

    Density does mean change, but it is a method of meeting transportation needs. And many of those drawn by the streetcar will realize that they can use bikes to get to places not served by streetcars and/or faster than transit.

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  • JR November 13, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    I’ll take 900 miles of high-quality bikeways please.. even if it means delaying construction of another mile of streetcar or MAX.

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  • TWGh November 13, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Eli/20: The Netherlands has one of the most comprehensive train systems in the world. For Enschede specifically, see:


    Having been to the Netherlands a few times myself, I understand that the Dutch tend to consider bicycling a virtual extension of walking and therefore unworthy of the sacred status bestowed upon it by American bicycle advocates. When bicycling is supported for decades in a comprehensive and consistent manner across laws, policies, budgets, infrastructure treatments and so forth, it’s no longer a question of social debate. It just is. That’s the Dutch experience.

    You lived in the NL so you know this: bike mode split levels aren’t achieved because the Dutch are innately predisposed to bicycling. They’re achieved with comprehensive and coordinated planning and execution. If you removed rail (whether inter- or intra-city) the Dutch bike mode split would plummet.

    That’s why this whole either/or dynamic created by this storyline is a false choice. My original contention stands: every world class bike city has a world class rail system.

    And Portland is on the right track planning and promoting both rail (intra-city streetcar, inter-city LRT, Amtrak, and high speed rail) and bikes. Bike advocates’ enemy (if you’re looking for one) is the car. That’s obvious. Beating up on rail is frivolous and counterproductive. Every world class bike city suggests this.

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  • kenny November 14, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    St Cars need to connect all neighborhoods in Portland.

    If we can create a network of street cars that will go from district to district, I think the value would be astronomical.

    It has been dumbed down a great deal, sadly. When I saw the 1st proposal there was so much to be excited about. Now, it is great IF you live in the future Gateway, Foster/Powell, Lents, some NE locations, or Belmont area. Lots of pieces have sadly been removed.

    Frequency can matter more than speed. If there is a St car every 5-10 minutes we will be offering a means of creating the most livable city in America.

    The 30 minute+ wait bus lines we have will never receive mass appeal, sorry folks. They wont wait out in the cold. I even hate doing it. I DO it, but it is not with a sense of wanting something much better.

    Seeing that over 30% more people prefer St Cars for the nicer ride, “euro” attractiveness, some strange romanticism, who cares?
    Who am I to judge?

    Yes I take the bus, but most of the people I talk to do not take it due to the wait. They need something more frequent and will not compromise. If a track is down and the street car needs to get from one place to the next, it also will not be cancelled in some locations.

    If this is what creates a more sustainable transit using environment and helps us reach our green house reduction goals, absorb the million residents coming into the region within 20 years…BRING. IT. ON.

    They are more sustainable than the fossil fuel of busses anyway. Quieter as well.

    But DONT leave any neighborhood out, no matter how much engineering it takes. This needs to be a one st car to the next st car to circle the whole region. Other wise, it is not worth pursuing. People want a clear and straight forward means of getting from place to place.

    Hop on and go to your jobs in another district NE when you live in SE, downtown, take the kids to the X mas tree lighting and 4th of July events, to the Max line you need to get on, to bus lines that fill in the gaps between districts, travelers/tourists could have a simple means of visiting each of the districts. (BIG opportunity for tourism and enhancing business here in Portland…especially from over seas tourists)

    We need to think BIG.

    But also create a safe cycling environment. Create complete bike lanes, Cycle Track on every major road in Portland. Create that Amsterdam of the USA.

    30% of the people who want to bike will not share the road with 2000+ lb cars. I will, you will… but not the majority.

    BIG on St Cars and BIG on the Bike Plan.

    Let’s not hold back…worth any investment.

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  • John Peterson November 14, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    I’ll chime in with the anti-streetcar crowd.

    Our bus system will surely suffer if we build an expensive streetcar system that only serves the wealthy/close in.

    Buses are much more flexible in terms of routing, cheeper to run, and don’t require bike traps (rails) to run.

    If we go spending a bunch of money on these streetcars, we will have less money to spend on other things. I am sick of hearing that “this money can only be spent here….” or “this pot of money is only used for blah blah blah……” Think about it….if we spend public money on expensive flashy projects like 12 lane bridges, stadiums, or streetcars, there is necessarily less money for other public expenditures.

    The streetcar is basically developer oriented transit. The developers and speculators want these lines because they are fixed and flashy and because to pay for them the city has to increase density in order to collect more taxes to pay for them. Of course the developers themselves do not pay for the lines they just raise prices and rent…affordable housing disappears….I personally do not want to see my neighborhood become another Pearl.

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  • Eli November 15, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Paul: Thanks. If you re-read my message, you’ll find you’ve just confirmed my point. 😉

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  • Eli November 15, 2009 at 9:19 am


    * Amsterdam: tourist city (excluded)
    * Den Haag: One of the worst Dutch cycling cities – I think 10% modal share from memory
    * Utrecht: Doesn’t have a streetcar network — has *A* high speed tram/street car line. I’ve only ridden it for intercity use — it’s more like MAX.
    * (etc)

    Anyway, I stand by my point: you don’t need to plow tons of money into streetcars to build a vibrant cycling city.

    The fact that Americans tend to associate the two, I think, may be more of a byproduct of the fact that they visit rich, larger and famous tourist cities which happen to have both.

    (parenthetically, on a typical day, fewer than 7% of Dutch people ride a bus, too — why use low-speed public transit when you can bike directly point-to-point faster?)

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  • spare_wheel November 16, 2009 at 10:11 am

    If streetcars used independent tracks and were extended to distant parts of the cities, I would be more enthusiast. Give them signal priority and make their tracks car free and they would be an even better *transportation* option. But then this might make them less photogenic. But in the real world we get glossy “gap catalog” paint jobs, slick ad campaigns, photo-ops with Ray Lahood, and massive tax payer bribes to real estate developers.

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  • Trafcard November 16, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Some appear to be stubbornly confusing the considerable difference in capital investment between modes with the efficacy of relative investments. If the rest of the world serves as any harbinger, making streetcar-like investments in bicycling alone absent a supporting rail infrastructure won’t establish the world-class bike mode split Portland hopes to achieve.

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  • jim November 17, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    How many more busses can we buy for 500m? Buses have the ability to go anywhere in portland (or out of portland), they don’t stall on the tracks when it is too hot outside, Per dollar spent it is way cheaper than light rail or streetcar

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  • […] over 20 years – but is still small in comparison to our other transportation investments. In a discussion on Bike Portland, editor Jonathan Maus lamented that “… this is about a game of politics and money and so far it […]

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  • Ian Stude November 18, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Okay, it might be a little late to weigh in on this thread, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

    While I agree with Chris’ comments about shared strategies for transit, bike, and pedestrian development, at some point we have to address the reality of our streets. They are only so wide and, ultimately, we want to serve all users to these high profile areas. Or do we?

    The BMP for 2030 is focused primarily on Bike Blvds, not commercial corridors. It’s all well and good if we construct a network that has “a bicycle facility within 1/4 mile of 80% of residents”, but what about people’s destinations? It’s not hard to make the origin point (home) comfortable to leave by bike (for most, granted). It’s a whole other ball game to make it comfortable for people to arrive at their chosen destination, which is usually on a commercial corridor.

    The solution: Cycle tracks. Cycle tracks are the Streetcar of the bicycle network. They connect the places people want to go. And much like the Streetcar, they cost more, sacrifice speed for comfort, and require serious commitment from the business community and political figures.

    The riddle: How do we fit these truly world-class bikeways into the very same streets that are also desirable for the Streetcar network? Again, I agree with Chris and Jonathan, that partnership is going to be essential moving forward. But first, I think we may need to duke it out for a design that allows both to coexist SAFELY. We also need to tackle funding. It’s too bad Chris couldn’t convince his fellow members of the planning commission to move forward with a tax-increment format for funding the bike network. I believe that if we find a way to model the methods that have worked so well for transit (both for funding and network design), we will see bicycle mode shares that rival and eventually eclipse those of transit.

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  • Seth Alford November 21, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I, too, am weighing in late on this thread.
    I also think that spending on the streetcar is bad for bicycle transportation, because the streetcar is much more expensive and reduces a road’s usefulness for bicycles. And, no, Ian @ 55, cycle tracks are not the answer, either, as we’ve discussed previously (see e.g., http://bikeportland.org/2009/08/31/first-look-at-portlands-inaugural-cycle-track/#comment-1410435)
    Why do I say that streetcar is bad for bicycling? I remember 10th avenue before the streetcar tracks. I found it much easier to ride it then versus now. Likewise with the other locations where the streetcar tracks have gone. I’ve never had an actual accident because of the tracks. But I got convinced they were a bad idea when I tried to negotiate a left turn from SW River Parkway to SW River Drive, while captaining a tandem with my then about 13 year old son stoking.
    He has autism, and sometimes likes to rock back and forth, or side to side. On the bike. That can make tandeming, umm, interesting.
    jackattak @ 27, 37: so, no, you may not accuse me of not caring about “the handicapped” (and I think that the preferred term is “people with disabilities.”) I think that before we lay down one more foot of streetcar track we should think about more special purpose busses with wide doors for people who are older or who have disabilities.
    So there are Dutch cities with high bicycle mode share and lots of rail. So? Has increase in bicycle mode share in New York City, which has had lots of rail for a century, correlated with spending on rail infrastructure or on bicycle infrastructure? Until someone can provide a reason that lots of rail causes higher bicycle mode share, then I’m going to assume that high bicycle mode share in Dutch cities with lots of rail is mere correlation, not causation. And that the cause of more bicycle mode share is more bicycle infrastructure. The Netherlands is also relatively flat, which also helps bicycle mode share.
    old&slow @ #7 has it right. There will always be more things to do than money to do them with. Streetcars are very expensive for what they do.
    Patrack McMahon @ #44 says that the purpose of the streetcar is
    to promote density. I don’t agree that increased density should be promoted. In 25 years of living in the Portland area, I don’t recall ever voting on the specific question whether we should expand the urban growth boundary, or promote densification. From what I recall reading about it, the UGB was originally about preventing leap-frog patch-work development that was expensive to provide services (water, sewer, roads) for. I don’t believe it was intended that the UGB would exist forever and ever where it was first drawn, never (or only with great reluctance) be expanded, and that we would densify inside that boundary.
    Having said that, even if we were to agree that density is a worthy goal, is the streetcar the best way to achieve it? It seems that Max or the streetcar is used as an excuse to create denser zoning around the tracks. Density has to be increased, the argument goes, to justify the investment in Max or the streetcar. If density is the goal, then why not just change to a denser zoning? Is it because the powers-that-be are afraid that without the tracks that the people who live here will object to having higher densities shoved down their throats?
    valkraider @ #43 writes:

    Different things get different money from different
    places. You can’t lump “government” all in one funding

    Yes, I can. Whether its state or federal income taxes, property taxes, or other types of taxes, when the money leaves my wallet it’s all the same money. I expect it to be used in ways that are most useful, regardless of which branch of the government it ends up in. So I most certainly can object when bicycle infrastructure doesn’t get funding, and higher profile, “shinier,” expenditures like streetcars, trams, or sports team stadiums do get funding.

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  • chris December 7, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I once defeated the streetcar in a self-declared foot race from the waterfront to PSU. Yes, I *outwalked* the thing. That is *pathetic*.

    All supposed advantages that posters have claimed streetcars to have over buses are not inherent to streetcar technology. Articulated buses with multiple entrances and boarding ramps do exist, and are typically used in bus rapid transit projects. Bus rapid transit might might be inferior to rapid light-rail in terms of capacity and service frequency (and our light-rail is *far* from rapid in the downtown area), but it rates comparably to a streetcar. In terms of cost, construction time and speed, it is far superior to a streetcar. Why incur the high construction costs associated with a streetcar project for the sake of a vehicle that competes with traffic and has to stop at lights? With the money used to construct one light-rail or streetcar line, the city could probably improve five bus lines by increasing capacity and frequency, building dedicated right-of-ways, etc.

    The only reason why the streetcar is being revived is because it is a shrewd developer scheme. The developers like them because they add a Disneyland quality to the location upon which they build their condo towers. I don’t buy the anti-sprawl argument regarding said towers either, as condo units and single-family houses in the suburbs are not equivalent values. Condo units are sold to affluent singles, empty-nesters and investors (who often rent them out to people who ordinarily live in apartments). There is a limit to the number of people who are willing to live in such dwellings. Those with families — and even many of those without families — still prefer single family houses, and are not about to be enticed into living in a high-rise

    Half of the posters here are living in a utopian fantasyland. I’ve visited Europe, and it isn’t the anti-car new-urbanist utopia that it is made out to be. In spite of superior bikeability (at least in Northern Europe) and public transit, the urban areas there consist of the same suburban sprawl (with lots of single-family houses), ring roads, freeways, big box stores, and chains that you see here. There is more to Europe than the compact city centers and historical six-story apartment buildings that many tourists limit their visits to. They are a lot like us there.

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  • Dan Kaufman December 15, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Just to add to my previous comment #21 – Today I found that my trip to the emergency room and resulting CT puts me at significant risk for cancer.

    I also failed to mention that I was in pain for two months and even have some residual pain now after a year later.

    I add this information for two reasons –

    1) AVIOD STREETCAR TRACKS while riding a bicycle. I’d managed them hundredes of times before – but one false move really cost me.

    2) There are hundreds if not thosands of similar stories just like mine and worse. The city does not see or cover any of the cost of these wrecks but the resulting injuries cost it’s residents nontheless. This problem must be factored into our new transportation investment decisions.


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