Portland Streetcar

Portland Studies Streetcar Expansion Citywide

First phase of new routes would concentrate on improving downtown mobility; second phase would extend across the city.

Portland Streetcar Concept Plan

This week, Portland released its draft Streetcar System Concept Plan, which will be under public debate until mid-August; it attempts to define the city’s streetcar investments over the next fifty years (h/t Portland Transport). In all, the proposal argues for eleven new lines operating in downtown and near Gateway Transit Center for the project’s first phase, with a total 73 miles of streetcar investments in the long-term. Though the majority of these segments have yet to be funded, Portland’s proactive and unambiguously ambitious planning process suggests that it will be prepared to adapt to a less auto-dependent future.

The document was released a day after Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood came to the city to praise its transportation investments and the construction of the first American-made streetcar in 60 years by Oregon Iron Works. Mr. LaHood’s arrival coincided with the commencement of construction on the city’s Eastside Extension Project, which will connect the existing streetcar line with a 3.5-mile new corridor on the east side of the Willamette River.

As outlined by this document, the first “Concept” phase of Portland’s program for streetcar expansion will focus on downtown, from which 10 new routes will radiate; an eleventh route would loop around Gateway Transit Center, where Red, Blue, and Green line MAX light rail trains will intersect once the latter corridor opens in September. These specific routes were chosen after a rigorous effectiveness comparison among dozens of potential routes throughout the city. The city hopes to raise funds for each line and pursue land use planning objectives that will encourage increased density alongside streetcar stops.

Today’s streetcar loop runs 4.1 miles roughly north-south through downtown. Currently programed routes — established prior to the publication of the city’s Concept Plan — include the 3.5-mile Eastside Extension, a 6-mile corridor from downtown south to Lake Oswego, and a 1.3-mile connection between the South Waterfront and the eastside. The eight corridors newly introduced here would provide three new east-west corridors between downtown and the eastside, an extension of the Eastside route north on MLK Jr, and several new lines in the downtown core, in addition to the Gateway loop previously mentioned.

The second “Comprehensive” phase of the plan — shown in yellow on the map above — would extend streetcars across the city, and connect the Gateway loop to downtown.

Unlike MAX light rail, streetcar service is specifically designed to encourage dense infill growth in whole sections of the city, rather than just around stations. Similarly, while light rail is successful in moving long(er)-distance automobile commuters to transit, streetcars are meant to encourage auto-free living in walkable, livable neighborhoods. They’ve been especially successful thus far in encouraging density in areas served in downtown Portland today, so there’s no reason to suggest they wouldn’t be successful in doing the same elsewhere as the system expands.

Portland’s main objectives for MAX expansion have focused on extending radially from downtown to serve “suburban” commuters coming in to work downtown. Conversely, the first phase streetcar proposal, rightfully, focuses on attracting growth to inner city areas. The expansion of the streetcar system, in other words, is the first step towards expanding the city’s dense core, making more and more of the city livable. Using streetcars to fulfill commuting needs at the city-wide range — something that’s suggested by the planned corridors in the second phase — seems inappropriate for this mode choice. Rather, the dense network of lines suggested for the first phase, which will simplify movement to virtually anywhere in the dense downtown core via transit, should be the model for expansion. Extending transit routes out across the landscape makes more since for faster light rail.

Image above: Existing and potential streetcar routes, from City of Portland

Portland Streetcar

Portland Eastside Streetcar Extension to Get Federal Funds

You’ve got to give me some credit for guessing this eleven whole days ago: Portland’s Eastside Streetcar Loop will get federal funds.

The 3.3-mile project, which will cost a total of $127 million, will get $75 million from the federal government. The project will be in operation in 2011. As I wrote in my previous post, this demonstrates the Obama Administration’s interest in promoting streetcar projects and developing mobility solutions that produce livable, attractive cities.

Sorry, not much else to say, just wanted to gloat.

DOT Portland

LaHood Implies Portland Streetcar Loop Will Receive Stimulus Funds, Points to City as Model

Portland Eastside Extension MapConstruction-ready project heralds new federal government interest in promoting streetcar service

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 thatWe’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


Portland's Seemingly Never-Ending Light Rail Program Keeps Growing

Portland-Milwaukie LRTPortland-Milwaukie light rail approved to begin preliminary engineering

The Oregonian reports that Portland’s next light rail line – to be its fifth – has been approved for preliminary engineering by the Federal Transit Administration. The Portland-Milwaukie Line (Orange Line) will run north-south between the two cities. The approval does not guarantee essential New Start federal funding for the line, but it does promise federal money for planning and a likely future contract. The line has received $250 million thus far from the state legislature, which combined with expected federal money and local tax revenues, will cover the cost of the line. However, Portland’s transit agency, Tri-Met, has not yet found the operating funds for the project. The agency is currently planning significant service reductions because of a recent loss in sales tax revenues.

The 7.3-mile line will run from downtown Portland to Park Avenue in Milwaukie, with 10 intermediate stops, including along Portland’s rapidly developing south waterfront. If the construction timeline holds steady, the $1.4 billion project will be completed by 2015. The system is expected to carry almost 30,000 riders daily by 2030. The downtown segment of the route will be shared with the Green Line LRT currently under construction and sit along the Portland Mall. In addition, the line’s bridge over the Willamette River will be shared with a future streetcar loop, currently being planned.

Considering Portland’s breathtaking success in getting its light rail projects built, there’s little reason to believe that the city won’t be able to secure money from Washington to complete this line. What’s particularly exciting about the project is that unlike the soon-to-open Green Line, as well as much of the routes of the older Red and Blue Lines, this Orange Line will not operate in a freeway median. As a result, there will be significantly more opportunities for transit-oriented development in the areas around the line’s stations. Like the streetcar, then, this line may act as a generator for a number of not-so-dense neighborhoods, and not just serve to wake up a few hotstops as previous light rail lines in the city have. This promises to be the city’s best transit expansion project yet.

Image above: Plan for Portland-Milwaukie LRT, from Tri-Met

Bay Area Bus Commuter Rail Light Rail Los Angeles Milwaukee Portland Streetcar

Portland WES Opens; BART Signs up for Wi-Fi; L.A. Gold Line Nears Completion; Milwaukee Studies Streetcar

Portland’s Westside Express Service Begins Operations TodayPortland Westside Express Service

The Tri-Met WES, which is a 14.7-mile commuter rail line from Beaverton to Wilsonville in Portland’s western suburbs, will open today for its first commuters. The project allows diesel multiple unit trains to run the route in less than 30 minutes, stop at three new intermediate stations, and connect to MAX light rail service in Beaverton. What’s perhaps most exciting about the service is that it will offer free Wi-Fi in trains, something no other commuter rail service offers in the country making it the second commuter rail line in the country to offer such a service.

WES hasn’t been without its problems, however. Tri-Met had to acquire Colorado Railcar, the equipment maker, to prevent it from going belly-up before the trains had been built. And WES won’t be providing the best service in the world, either. It’s a commuter line, not designed for carefree use, and it will only run every thirty minutes between 5:30 and 10 am in the mornings and 3:30 to 7 pm in evenings, only on weekdays.

Tri-Met expects 4,600 daily riders by 2020, though with such limited service, one wonders whether or not that’s a realistic estimate.

BART Expects to Have Wi-Fi on Trains by 2011

WES won’t be the only system in the country (of two) with mobile internet access, however, if BART has its way. The heavy rail system serving San Francisco and the Bay Area has signed a contract with Wi-Fi Rail, Inc. to provide for wireless internet use along the entire system within three years. The company will hold the contract for 20 years.

The system is currently being tested in the downtown San Francisco stations and will work even when trains reach their maximum speeds of 80 mph. Though that service is being provided for free, eventually users will be charged to use their computers and smartphones on the trains if they want to use the internet for more than three and a half minutes (including 30 seconds of ads). Charges for subscribers will be about $6 for two hours, $9 a day, $30 a month, and $300 a year, a good deal for commuters but terrible for everyone else.

L.A. Gold Line Extension Almost Ready for Service

Los Angeles is just months away from the opening of its newest light rail line, the $900 million Gold Line extension from downtown’s Union Station to East L.A. The 6-mile-long project has been under construction since 2004 and includes a significant tunnel under Boyle Heights. It is to be opened for riders later this year, though a specific date has not yet been set because the project is coming in early and below budget.

Now comes news that the entire track has been completed and that a light rail train has been pushed along the system successfully. The tracks will be tested over the next several months to ensure safety for riders.

Milwaukee Considering whether to Invest in Streetcars or Express Buses

Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, is considering how to invest in its transit future with the Milwaukee Connector study. A series of meetings will be held this month to get citizen input in the potential improves in mass transit, which may provide service along the following corridors:

  • A streetcar within downtown Milwaukee
  • Bus rapid transit from downtown north to the University of Wisconsin; west to the Milwaukee County Research Park; northwest to Midtown Center; and south to the airport
  • Bus rapid transit from Bayshore Town Center south along 27th Street to Northwestern Mutual Franklin Campus

The team wants to apply for a Federal Transit Administration Small Starts grant, which goes for projects worth less than $250 million, so the study will focus in on how that money could be best used. The city currently has $91 million in federal transportation dollars at its disposal and the Small Starts grant could provide another $75 million if the city’s application is successful.

But there’s some controversy about what mode of transit would best suit the city. Whereas Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has suggested the best possible use of money would be in bus lanes, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has campaigned for a downtown streetcar and fewer bus lines. The study will help gauge citizen interest and preferences.

Image above: WES Colorado Railcar Train, from Tri-Met