A special thanks goes out to Mike from CityKin who has agreed to let us share his very informative streetcar posts here. These are posts that were developed as a result of his trip to Portland with the Alliance for Regional Transit. Enjoy the four part series.
I think I am going to break my Portland rail posts into the following:
1. The Streetcar and how it physically works.
2. The MAX Lightrail lines and TODs (transit oriented developments).
3. Development around streetcar routes and who uses the streetcar.
I’ll post the first of these this weekend. These may turn into very long posts and I may have some other miscellaneous Portland observations. However after I do this, I plan on returning to my regular downtown parents blogging. If you are not interested in rail transit, then turn away for a week or so. However, I hope you will bear with me, as rail transit in all its forms is extremely family friendly. The ease of taking strollers, bikes, grocery carts onto these systems, not to mention wheelchairs, walkers and toddlers is a critical benefit that should not be overlooked.
Some basics. Portland has one streetcar line, that has been extended several times. It is the first modern streetcar in the US. It currently runs in a long loop that connect the South Waterfront to the University, then to downtown, then to the Pearl District and ending the loop at Nob Hill. They are currently installing a second line a few blocks from the first line that will extend across the river. This second line is expected to open next year.
Getting on and off streetcar:
They also have two light rail MAX lines, that run on the same streets in downtown, but split into separate suburban destinations. In the downtown area, the light rail runs perpendicular to the streetcar routes. The light rail is actually a pretty heavy operation. It is expensive to build, and runs on separated grades at higher speeds once it gets out of town. It runs from the airport in the east to a distant suburb/town in the west, with the city in the middle.
The MAX line in center city:
The Streetcar is a circulator. It makes living in the city easier and more competitive with a car oriented suburban lifestyle. It is not meant to get people in and out of the city. In a way, it is meant to keep people in the city.
As you could tell from my bicycle and drinking fountain posts, the streetcar is not the only thing I noticed in Portland. In fact, the first thing I noticed when I walked out of my hotel Friday morning, was that the streets are configured differently in several ways. First, many intersections were 2 way stop signs or even no apparent signage. Cars inevitably stopped for pedestrians, even when crossing where they shouldn’t. I also noticed places with widened sidewalks with fewer on-street parking spaces. But then there were many areas that had back-in diagonal parking (which is safer that nose-in). I also noticed an extensive bus system. The signage, bus stops and integration of the system was much better than most US cities. Certainly better than most mid-sized cities.
I took the photo below to demonstrate how difficult it was for this old woman to get on the bus with her cart. However, also notice that the bus stops in traffic, and that the bus stop has seats, rain protection, signage etc….
These posts will be my impressions from visiting. I am NOT going to add research about costs and ridership etc etc. All that stuff is available multiple other places. My posts will just be my firsthand account of what I saw and how it works.