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I think a debate between an advanced bus network and streetcars is worth having. The charm of the streetcar cannot be overstated, but from a practical standpoint I don't understand how the flexibility and cost effectiveness of a clean-fuel bus system can ever be beat. Having said that, I personally prefer to ride on a train simply because it is a smoother ride and for whatever reason there is always ample room. And while we're picking new streetcar lines, you should mention Belmont which also once had a line.


Brian, you're spot on that streetcars are different than buses. I admit that it's probably purely psychological, but I much prefer to ride a streetcar rather than a bus. I know the grumbly-cranks out there deride them as toy trains but the fact is, they lure people onto public transit who'd never consider riding a bus. I see evidence of this every day because I live a couple of blocks from a streetcar stop, and I see a wider range of riders on the streetcar. I do think the greater smoothness of the ride has something to do with it -- it's especially helpful for disabled riders using wheelchairs or walkers or crutches. But it's more than that -- something about the airiness of the experience. Clearly they're very popular -- jammed, especially in the late afternoons, but even , often, on weekend nights. I ride them at all times of day and almost always see a good sized crowd on them.

I really think that if the city had a network of them on both sides of the river, it would achieve the critical mass that would multiply the number of Portlanders who'd give up or cut back their use of cars for the kind of trips most of us take most of the time. And that would reduce gridlock and parking hassles in the central city considerably. They cost more than buses initially (although I read the long-term operation and maintenance costs may be lower), but I think they're worth it in how they'd transform the city, especially when you consider how much gas is going to cost in 10 or 20 years. They're already a tourist lure -- I've heard visitors praising them all summer.


The noise the streetcar makes compared to that of the MAX is a valid issue I would think. How much money would it take to make it run quiet like the MAX?

I see valid points about clean-fuel buses, but do not see that the strength of those points are such that they can or should replace what rails are able to do best. Clean-fuel buses could do their best work in a support role by making connections between rail service to those areas not so easily accessible by rail.


as brian mentioned, although the transportation experience itself is important, it's clearly more than that. the permanence of the streetcar and it's infrastructure (in addition to its charm) provides a seed for development and influences the way the city is developed in a way that a bus line just can't touch.


It's been two years now since I sold my car and moved to Portland, and I have yet to set foot on a bus here, despite this city's excellent bus network. But I ride the streetcar all the time. It's an image thing, I think: Rightly or wrongly, I suspect most people find buses unappealing because they think buses are for poor people. Streetcars don't have that connotation.

And speaking of image, another thing I've noticed is that the (free) streetcar is one of the things that really impresses every out-of-town visitor I've had so far. Portland could run a bus line on every street in the city, but doing so wouldn't have anywhere near the effect, image-wise, that a few more streetcar lines would.


The only problem with the streetcar is that I can walk faster than it moves. Why spend all that money when you could simply encourage people to walk?


I agree. The streetcar is painfully slow.


Even I have to concur on that one.


The streetcar is slow primarily because of the route it takes: through downtown Portland. It is capable of traveling at speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour, right? So it's the traffic conditions and frequent stop lights that it contends with, not its design, that makes the streetcar slow on its one current route. A bus going through downtown travels at least as slowly—and a car trip isn't quick, either.

(I do think, however, that the streetcar stops are too close together. If they were spaced every three rather than two blocks, that would speed things up noticeably, I imagine.)


The streetcar's problem isn't that it's too slow. Being a STREETcar, by definition it travels at whatever the prevailing rate traffic is traveling on that street. The real problem is that for much of the day (especially evenings) streetcar service isn't frequent enough. If you've just missed one, and you see that the next one isn't coming for 24 minutes, it often is quicker to simply walk (which is altogether not a bad thing either).


Waiting 24 minutes for the next one, knowing it will go 10 mph because of trafic, makes it more of a tourist attraction rather than a true transportation alternative, like, say, oh I don't know, a subway (or even light rail that runs off traffic.)
Given the circumstances though (mainly not enough money, density,timing) it seems that a streetcar does convey the "idea" of urbanity, which, in the case of downtown and the Pearl, has been very succesful. It is also striking how the east side is underserved by rail! Why not run a MAX all the way down Sandy and/or or East Burnside (Instead of the Ugly- Motel- Row of North Interstate.)We have to drive to all those eastside restaurants, I'd much rather hop on a train (In my dreams it is a subway, but a streetcar will do, since this ain't New York or God forbid Paris)


Of course it would be smart to speed up the streetcar if that is somehow possible, but seriously, even though some people can walk faster than the streetcar makes it rounds, does anyone really think that the majority of the public will walk rather than ride, even if this is the case? I seriously doubt it.


As for Dunthorpe, don't put any stops between the Sellwood Bridge and Lake Oswego. Except for bad boys and girls jumping off the roof of the streetcar and into the backward of a jailblazer estate, problem solved!


I just moved near a street car stop and I think it's great. I always see visitors on the street car. It's much easier for tourist to look at a map and see where the track goes. I've never seen a visitor on a bus.
I don't think the street car is that slow. It'll take nearly the same time as driving and then trying to find a parking spot. I mean from around PSU to 23rd.


I've been in Portland for 6 years, lived on the Streetcar line for 4 years, and I've taken the streetcar a total of maybe ten times. I find it much more convenient and usually faster to walk.

I agree that it appears to have helped in the urbanization of Portland, although personally, I've never found a compelling reason to use it ...


Apparently like some others who've commented here, if I have to go from the center of the city to somewhere around NW 23rd, I'll usually walk rather than take the streetcar. This is because I like to walk, am healthy enough to do so, and don't mind spending my time in that way.

But this is by no means universally the case, as streetcar ridership attests. And I don't think the streetcar's limited utility for me personally means that Portland as a whole could do without some form of mass transit that runs from the NW neighborhood, Portland's most densely populated, to PSU, which is probably the biggest single destination in the city. And I think the best form of mass transit along this route is the streetcar--for many practical, environmental, aesthetic and "quality of life" reasons.

I'd love to see more streetcars and more streetcar lines serving the center of Portland and its close-in neighborhoods. No form of surface transportation within these areas is actually going to be fast--by highway or subway standards. By most other measures, though, the streetcar is a great form of transportation.


I'm going to have to retort to many of the points in this article and the comments.

I'm pro-streetcar but really hope they find a way to make it even remotely efficient in comparison to the privatized and privately operated streetcars of yesteryear.

At the current cost the city could not afford a system as elaborate as that of the past. There is absolutely no way to take on that fiscal or operational financial strain. The current system already puts a strain on the financial burden of TriMet and the city.

I hope we get more streetcars, but the city better figure it out, they better find ways to bring more business involvement and less monopolistic streetcar operations.

But I digress, that's just the fiscal reality... one can always read more on my blog.

For streetcar specific entries...

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