Portland’s downtown streetcar has become a model for using transit to encourage dense development in the inner areas of an American city. Recently, the city has begun planning for the extension of the service across the Willamette River to the east side of the city, allowing streetcars to make a full loop around the city center. The total 3.3-mile project cost is $147 million, $75 million of which are expected from the federal government. Construction would begin later this year and open for service in Fall 2011.
At a press conference last week, Ray LaHood said that “We’re really launching the livable communities program as a way to say to all Americans, ‘We want to transform transportation and get people thinking about getting out of their cars’… Streetcars are going to be a priority, certainly, as a part of livable communities… We’re going to be making some announcements about streetcars very soon,” mentioning Portland specifically as a model, and implying that he would be awarding some of the stimulus fund’s $750 million for New Starts projects to the streetcar loop project. He’ll announce his decision about the project later this week.
LaHood’s comments represent a significant change from the policy statements of Bush Administration DOT Secretary Mary Peters, who repeatedly shunned streetcar projects in favor of proposals for bus rapid transit lines. They demonstrate that the FTA will be taking the lead in encouraging streetcar projects in cities that are excited to build them, but incapable at the moment to fund them. And they show a real interest in pushing city livability through transit enhancements, rather than simply using a cost-effectiveness calculation to “show” that BRT is cheaper and therefore “better.”
A good day for livable city and streetcar advocates.
Image above: Portland Streetcar Loop Plan, from Portland Streetcar