Friday, August 20, 2010

Study deems streetcar best for Portland suburb

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Portland, Ore., has been a trailblazer both for U.S. light rail transit and, even more significantly, for U.S. streetcar re-establishment. But as both systems expand into surrounding suburbs (and, possibly, a cross the stateline into Vancouver, Wash.), some parties continue to question whether bus options would be more efficient and/or less costly.

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But a study commissioned by Metro, the elected regional government serving 25 cities within three counties including and surrounding Portland, says a streetcar linking Portland with Lake Oswego, roughly 8 miles to the south, would attract more ridership, offer better travel times, and be more cost-effective to maintain and operate.

Tony Mendoza, transit project analysis manager for Metro, presented results of the analysis to the Citizen Advisory Committee of the LakeOswego to Portland Transit project earlier this week.  The ridership numbers and operations costs will be includedin the draft environmental impact statement submitted to the Federal TransitAdministration as summer ends. The full document is scheduled to be publishedat the end of September.

The streetcar is projectedto see between 11,170 and 11,920 rides per day in the year 2035, while anenhanced bus is projected at 9,810. Both would meet future demand, which isprojected to be 8,590 rides per day. If the system is not upgraded at all (“Nobuild”), the current TriMet Lines 35 and 36 are forecasted to be able to carryonly 6,920 riders on the same segment and would not meet projected demand.Today, an average of 2,340 people ride the bus.

"In my eyes, the numbers along the line are going to beconservative," said Matt Brown, who represents the Foothills RoadRedevelopment LLC through the firm Williams/Dame & White. Brown referred toavailable local precedent presented by Mendoza. The first Portland Streetcar,which commenced revenue service in 2001, was projected to carry 4,200 riders a day during the firstyear, but the line at present carries about12,000 rides a day. "The Pearl District development was not figuredin," said Brown.

Travel time also appeared to be better with the streetcar option. Taking thestreetcar to Portland State University in the year 2035 should take about 33minutes if the in-street route on Macadam is chosen and 29 minutes if theWillamette Shore Line is chosen, said Mendoza. Comparatively, the bus,operating without changes to the level of service, will take 42 minutes, and anenhanced bus will take 40 minutes.