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Dont miss chance to make tram truly useful

SOAPBOX • Transfer point at Barbur Boulevard would capitalize on OHSU-South Waterfront link

Earlier this winter, the designers of the proposed tram linking Oregon Health & Science University to South Waterfront presented conceptual ideas for Portland residents to consider. While the concept has design merit, it fails to solve a major problem that currently affects OHSU and soon will affect the South Waterfront redevelopment area.

The problem is that access routes to both locations are highly constrained by topography and other natural and human-created constraints (e.g., the Willamette River, Interstate 5). Public transit is limited by the same constraints, meaning that most people must drive to these destinations.

Unless a way is found to provide easy and convenient public transit to both sites, development potential will be stifled by traffic congestion, neighborhood opposition and the need for a significant amount of land area to be committed to parked cars.

But a solution is available. Southwest Barbur Boulevard, a wide arterial street with unused capacity, already accommodates six TriMet bus routes. The routes directly serve Beaverton, Tigard, Sherwood, west Portland and all of the metropolitan area via the downtown transit mall.

• Imagine how many additional employees could be accommodated at each site if a high percentage of workers could conveniently use public transit.

• Imagine how much less traffic would filter through nearby neighborhoods if fewer people had to drive to OHSU or to South Waterfront.

• Imagine how many additional residents could call South Waterfront home Ñ if less of the land was required for parking garages used by employees.

The proposed tram, or some variant thereof, can become a significant link in an enhanced public transit system Ñ but only if there is an intermediate bus-tram transfer point at Barbur. Without such a transit interchange, the tram will be merely an 'inclined elevator' that takes OHSU employees from parking garages in the South Waterfront to jobs on the hill.

Why isn't an intermediate transit station being considered at Barbur Boulevard? Surely it is technically feasible. The company selected to provide the mechanical equipment for the tram, -Doppelmayr, has an international reputation for innovation and has successfully completed more than 8,000 transit installations worldwide.

The argument heard from the city is that it would be too expensive to add an intermediate stop. But this only looks at initial construction cost. Consideration also needs to be given to the economic and livability benefits that will derive from enhancing transit access to South Waterfront and to OHSU:

• Less traffic through neighborhoods

• Less land dedicated to storing parked automobiles

• More land available for productive uses, such as housing and jobs

• Greater efficiency for TriMet, such as increased ridership and the possible consolidation of several routes

• Reduced morning and evening congestion near OHSU and the South Waterfront

The tram design is in its earliest phase, called schematic design, when various ideas are tested. This is exactly the time to evaluate the costs Ñ and the benefits Ñ of enhancing transit connections at Barbur Boulevard to serve both OHSU and the South Waterfront.

Let us not lose this golden opportunity to ensure that the proposed $15.5 million public investment in the tram will truly provide public benefits.

Wayne Stewart is a planner and engineer who has served on the Portland Design Commission. He graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology and lives in Southeast Portland.