Portland Street Cars


The Portland Streetcar is a streetcar system in Portland, Oregon, that opened in 2001 and serves areas surrounding Downtown Portland. It is currently a single line that is almost 4 miles (6.4 km) long and boards some 12,000 daily riders, but construction of a second line is underway. The Portland Streetcar is the first new streetcar system in the United States since World War II to use modern vehicles. Like some of Portland's original streetcar lines, redevelopment has been a major (and successful) goal of the project.

As with the heavier-duty MAX Light Rail network which serves the broader Portland metropolitan area, Portland Streetcars are operated and maintained by TriMet personnel. However, the system is owned by the city of Portland and managed by Portland Streetcar Incorporated, a non-profit public benefit corporation whose board of directors report to the city's Bureau of Transportation.

In contrast with light rail transit systems, vehicles on modern streetcar systems such as the Portland Streetcar are rarely separated from other traffic and are not given traffic-signal priority over other vehicles, except in a few situations to allow the rail cars—which cannot turn as sharply as other most motor vehicles—to make some turns. In Portland, using this "mixed traffic" operation has reduced the cost of constructing each segment and—by not closing traffic lanes permanently to other traffic, as is typically done with light rail—also minimized disruption to traffic flow, and allowed curbside parking to be retained, but also means slower operating speeds compared to light rail. Additional factors making the Portland Streetcar line less expensive to build per mile than light rail are that use of city streets largely eliminated the need to acquire private property for portions of the right-of-way, as has been necessary for the region's light rail (MAX) lines, and that the vehicles' smaller size and therefore lighter weight has enabled the use of a "shallower track slab".The latter means that construction of the trackway necessitated excavating to a depth of only 12.2 inches (310 mm) instead of the conventional (for light rail) depth of around 18.3 inches (460 mm), significantly reducing the extent to which previously existing underground utilities had to be relocated to accommodate the trackway.

Each Portland streetcar is 66 feet (20.12 m) long, whereas light rail cars are typically 80 to 95 feet (24.38–28.96 m) long (Portland's MAX cars are between 88 and 95 feet long), and streetcars are operated as single cars at all times, never coupled into trains. The shorter cars keeps station construction expense lower than would be the case for a light-rail station, but the smaller cars do not provide equal carrying capacity as that of a light-rail train; a single articulated Portland streetcar is only about one-third the length of a two-car MAX train.

City of Portland planners first began studying the idea of building a streetcar system in 1990, in response to recommendations in a Central City Plan the council had adopted in 1988. The proposed network was originally referred to as the Central City Trolley and was envisioned as using faux-vintage streetcars like those of the Portland Vintage Trolley service. However, the name was later changed to Central City Streetcar, out of concern by project supporters that the word "trolley" would carry the connotation that the service was only a tourist attraction rather than a form of transportation, and in 1993 the city decided the line would use modern, low-floor cars instead of vintage ones. In 1995, the city estimated the cost to build a line from Northwest Portland to PSU as $30 million.

LED display at a streetcar stop, giving real-time schedule information Streetcars are scheduled to arrive at 12-minute intervals at most times (14-minute intervals before 10:30 a.m.), with a lower frequency in the evening and on Sundays. Every stop is fitted with an electronic reader board giving real-time arrival information to waiting passengers, using the NextBus vehicle tracking system.

As on TriMet's MAX line, the streetcar's fare system is a proof-of-payment (or "honor") system, with occasional random inspections of passengers' fares, which minimizes wait times at stops by allowing boarding to take place simultaneously through all vehicle doorways. Streetcar operators do not collect or monitor fares. Although the line is not part of the TriMet system, the city adopted TriMet's fares for the streetcar,[2] for simplicity and convenience of transferring passengers. This includes honoring TriMet's Free Rail Zone (formerly known as Fareless Square), which encompasses more than half of the current streetcar route; rides within that area are free at all times.

Interior of a Portland streetcar, with ticket vending machine Passengers not already in possession of a valid fare when boarding—unless riding entirely within the Free Rail Zone—are required to purchase tickets from ticket vending machines on board each streetcar. Each vehicle also carries a ticket validator machine, for stamping "unvalidated" TriMet tickets purchased in advance (such as from grocery stores). TriMet and Portland Streetcar have agreed to honor one another's fares, which means that TriMet passes, tickets and bus transfer receipts are accepted on the streetcar, and tickets purchased or validated on a streetcar are valid for travel on TriMet services (bus, MAX or WES) as long as they cover the appropriate fare zones for the trip being made. To facilitate this, the ticket machines on the streetcars offer both all-zone (three-zone) and two-zone tickets, despite the fact that the streetcar route lies entirely within TriMet's Zone 1. Streetcar tickets are valid for 2 hours on TriMet services, but TriMet tickets and transfers are valid all-day on the streetcar.

Funding for the streetcar operation comes primarily from TriMet, fares, city parking revenue, and a "Local Improvement District" (special property tax assessed on properties near the line). Fares have been difficult to enforce because much of the line is in the Free Rail Zone. Another source of funding for the streetcar is sponsorships of vehicles and stops, which in most cases have a minimum duration of one year, in contrast to the shorter-term advertising found on TriMet buses and MAX. Sponsoring organizations can have their name placed on the side of the vehicle, stop shelter or in the stop announcement, as well as a small advertisement placed inside the vehicle or shelter. Brochures and ticket sales can also be sponsored. In Recent years, federal funding such as TIGER, Small Starts have been used. (see the “Funding” button on The Steel Rails Advocate for more breakdowns on funding.

Updates--ThePortland Streetcar Loop Project

The Portland Streetcar Loop Project is a 3.3-mile double-track extension of the existing Portland Streetcar which opened in July of 2001. The Portland Streetcar Loop Project will extend tracks from the Pearl District, across the Broadway Bridge, connecting via Weidler Street to Lloyd Center at NE 7th Avenue, south on MLK Blvd. to OMSI and return north on Grand Avenue to Broadway and the Pearl District. The Loop Project will provide 28 new streetcar stop locations.

The cost estimate for the Loop Project is $148.27 million dollars with $75 million provided by the Federal Government, $15.50 million from a local improvement district, $27.68 from the Portland Development Commission, $3.62 million from regional funds, $6.11 million from SDC/other City funds and $.36 million from stimulus funds. $20 million is from State lottery funds which will pay for 6 streetcars manufactured locally by United Streetcar, LLC, a subsidiary from Oregon Iron Works.

Construction broke ground in August, 2009 with substantial completion projected for the end of 2011. It is expected Streetcar operations of the Loop will commence in September of 2012. Stacy and Witbeck, Inc. were selected as the Construction Manager/General Contractor for the project. They will construct in 3-4 block segments, completing each segment in about four weeks. Excavation for the track bed will be eight feet wide and 14-18 inches deep. All streets and sidewalks along the alignment will remain open during construction; driveways for the most part will remain open except for temporary construction closures. Two travel lanes and parking will be closed during the 3-4 block construction segments during construction hours Monday through Friday, approx. 7am to 4pm. Evenings and weekends only one lane and the parking lane will be blocked in the construction zone. The contractor will provide "businesses are open" signage in the construction zone. Prior to track work, expect to see water and sewer work as well as other private utilities.

Streetcar Planning Goals:

•Link neighborhoods with a convenient and attractive transportation alternative.
•Fit the scale and traffic patterns of existing neighborhoods.
•Provide quality service to attract new transit ridership.
•Reduce short inner-city auto trips, parking demand, traffic congestion and air pollution.
•Encourage development of more housing and businesses in the Central City.


click photos to enlarge.

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Streetcar Extension or BRT to Lake Oswego – 2013Partially Funded
Extension of current line or development of new line from current terminus at OHSU south along river waterfront to Lake Oswego.

Construction likely to begin in 2011.

Long-Term Streetcar Expansion Project.

Relevant article on the Transport Politic: Portland Studies Citywide Streetcar Expansion, 3 July 2009.





















Portland, PSU Campus