Downtown Streetcar Circulator
Commissioner, City of Portland
Buildings · Planning ·
(undated document, apparently
cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little
else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own
regeneration with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside
The decision to
create the Central City Streetcar system has been motivated by this community’s
commitment to preserving livability. Portlanders value their quality of life and
are looking for ways to reduce urban sprawl, keep traffic flowing freely and
sustain good air quality. A key to achieving these goals is attracting new
housing and businesses to the Central City while providing a variety of ways for
people to move from one place to another.
paragraphs illustrate how a streetcar will contribute to Portland’s livability
goals in a visionary, yet cost-effective, manner.
Portland was Built Around
played an important role in Portland’s history. Electric streetcars replaced
horsecar lines in the 1890s, as the growing community added people and acreage.
By 1912, more than
200 miles of track served 270,000 people and carried both freight and
passengers. People relied on public transportation for daily commutes as well as
weekend excursions and social visits at a time when many downtown streets still
created streetcar lines to the sites of new communities, then built the houses
and shops. Development patterns in Portland and adjacent cities are
inter-connected with the original urban rail system.
Circulation and Neighborhood Links
Portland’s Central City long have supported the concept of developing a
“circulator” -- a system to move people through highly developed urban
neighborhoods. In 1972, Portland’s Downtown Plan formally established a
circulator as one of the City’s goals.
As the older parts
of the City are redeveloped, people will require convenient ways to move between
neighborhoods. New connections between Portland State University, Oregon Health
Sciences University and the emerging North Macadam area, south of RiverPlace,
will benefit from a good circulator system. Planned housing in the University
and River Districts, as well as North Macadam, will create new demands for
transit links to employment centers and retail areas.
Northwest shopping district along NW 23rd illustrates the reasons Portland needs
a system like the proposed streetcar. Northwest Portland has the highest
population densities anywhere in the state, and its residents take advantage of
Tri-Met’s most popular bus service. Still, this neighborhood suffers from
parking shortages and traffic congestion as a result of its very successful
retail revitalization and housing densities. Other emerging neighborhoods
throughout the city will face similar challenges and will benefit from a
convenient system that connects residential, employment and retail hubs.
The Catalyst Concept - -
Planning Rail to Accommodate Growth
At the beginning
of this century, developers knew that the presence of a reliable rail system
would attract residents and businesses to new sections of the city. In the same
way, construction of the first MAX line to Gresham encouraged development of new
buildings and facilities on Portland’s east side --most notably in the Lloyd
District. And now Westside MAX presents those same opportunities between
downtown and Hillsboro.
A rail line
represents a long-term commitment to excellent, reliable transportation.
Developers, investors, businesses and prospective residents recognize that
unlike buses, whose routes may change or disappear, a new rail line will operate
consistently and reliably. Therefore, the community has identified a fixed rail
system as an important component in Portland’s Livable Cities strategy.
A key element in
preserving Portland area livability is development of new homes and employment
opportunities inside the Central City. Communities with high concentrations of
people living close to employment centers benefit from increased transit use and
pedestrian and bike travel.
To help the region
manage future growth, the City of Portland hopes to absorb 20 percent of the
region’s new jobs and residents through the first years of the next century.
That means creating 50,000 new households inside the city, 15,000 of which will
be within the Central City. In addition, the Central City must absorb 75,000 new
jobs. The success of this effort will rely, in large part, on redevelopment in
the River District, North Macadam and the University District.
The first two
areas have large open parcels with the potential for new buildings holding
hundreds of housing and office units. The Pearl District is already experiencing
rehabilitation of many older buildings for housing and small businesses, with
the potential for much more renovation. The University District plans to create
new housing and retail units adjacent to Portland State University.
The presence of a
fixed rail system will represent the community’s commitment to redevelopment in
these areas -- as well as our commitment to a livable city. A streetcar will
link these emerging communities to downtown and other nearby neighborhoods --
and ultimately, to the regional rail system -- in a way that is easy, convenient
Why Not Light Rail?
who have studied this issue since 1987 have concluded that a streetcar is more
appropriate than light rail to connect urban neighborhoods.
Light rail is a
regional transit system, with relatively fast-moving, large cars designed to
transport high numbers of people rapidly between suburban and urban areas.
Streetcars are intended to go shorter distances, in highly populated city
neighborhoods. Streetcars are not intended to carry the same high volume of rush
hour passengers as inter-urban commuter trains, and therefore the cars are
smaller. They can operate in mixed traffic, preserving the traffic patterns of
neighborhood streets. They can stop more frequently and offer a more flexible
Service appropriate for a high density neighborhood. Streetcar systems can be
built more rapidly and with less disruption from construction than light rail
Why Not Just Add Buses?
Buses continue to
serve metropolitan area residents reliably and with the flexibility to
accommodate a growing community. However, community members who have worked on
this issue have found that a streetcar will best serve the overlapping goals of
improving circulation and encouraging redevelopment.
Fixed rail attracts development. Rail systems have demonstrated
their value as catalysts for new development. Fixed rail lines are followed by
private investment in housing, commercial and retail buildings. Historically,
buses are added once the demand is already in place.
Quality of Service. One of the goals of the
streetcar system is to provide a high quality system that will attract regular
users, not just for workday commutes, but for a variety of activities, seven
days a week.
Rail is a very
popular transportation mode that attracts riders and increases fare box
revenues, as illustrated by this region’s experience with MAX. Streetcar Systems
have proven to be a cost-effective way to provide the Service levels and quality
necessary to increase ridership.
The Streetcar’s Role in
the Regional Transit System
The streetcar is
this community’s first step in assuring that the same extensive level of
regional transit service available on MAX is complemented with the same quality
service in the Central City.
regional transit System concentrates on the transit mall and Yamhill and
Morrison streets in Portland’s downtown. Yet the success of the Downtown, and
Central City Plans is creating high densities -- served by high quality transit,
-- throughout the Central City. The Central City Streetcar will travel through
downtown Portland on 10th and 11th Avenues, providing convenient access for
those working and living in downtown’s west end.
After a major
advertising campaign and a competitive process, the City of Portland entered
into a contractual relationship with Portland Streetcar, Inc. (PSI) for
preliminary engineering of the Phase I project, as well as the identification of
funding for final engineering, construction and operation of the streetcar. The
contract has since been extended to include final engineering, general
contractor selection, vehicle procurement, maintenance facility design and
construction, local improvement district formation, implementation of capital
and operating finance plans and a public involvement program. PSI is a
non-profit corporation formed for the single purpose of implementing the Central
City Streetcar as a project that will benefit the livability and economic
vitality of Portland and its central city. The membership of the Board includes
representatives from both the public and private sector.
In addition, a
Central City Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee was formed to assist with the
project. The Committee has been meeting monthly Since October, 1995. Members
include representatives from neighborhood associations, business groups,
property owners, developers, institutions and the community-at-large. They are
committed to providing input to the Portland Streetcar, Inc. Board and to the
City, as well disseminating information back out their respective organizations.