Eight thoughts on why the streetcar is a bad idea
Eight things to know before we all get taken for a streetcar ride:
1. The streetcar can't significantly relieve corridor congestion because more than 70 percent of all Highway 43 traffic between Portland and Lake Oswego is Sellwood Bridge traffic, according to ODOT and Portland traffic counts.
2. The trolley won't reduce Lake Oswego congestion, either. The proposed 400 car park and ride structure and streetcar-based development more than offset any possible relief from additional transit use.
3. The streetcar would be slower and less convenient than the bus for most riders. Metro projects that peak commute hours from PSU to downtown Lake Oswego buses will take 18 minutes less than streetcars. Not including missed connections or projection errors, trolleys would be up to 15 minutes slower than buses on other trips because of transfers, faster buses, and the northbound Bond Avenue loop.
4. Streetcar rides may need more tax subsidies than any other regional transit trips. Metro expects ridership to jump from about 2,000 weekday bus rides today to almost 11,000 streetcar rides by 2025. Without Sellwood traffic, that 9,000 difference is roughly equal to all single occupant private vehicles between Lake Oswego and Portland on Highway 43. Does anybody really think all these drivers would use transit? For comparison, all MAX rides systemwide total only about 60 percent of vehicles using the Banfield along eastside MAX. Eventually, when riders realize how bad this streetcar service would be, some very upset people will petition TriMet to keep line 35. If TriMet agrees, the extension would be lucky to provide 1,000 rides a day and the overall cost of a streetcar ride would approach $40 instead of Metro's official estimate of $3.44. (Note: A ride on the existing bus would be under $2 after it gets its planned frequent service designation.)
5. The extension would damage real neighborhoods and parks. At any speed, a streetcar needs about four times as much braking distance as a car, or as much as an auto going twice as fast. To go from PSU to Lake Oswego in 24 minutes, the trolley must reach speeds of 30 to 46.6 mph between stations with the braking distance equivalent of autos going 60 to 93 mph. We'll need to make the tracks fenced off no-man's-lands very few feet from people's homes and, if we're lucky, reduce Powers Marine Park to a pedestrian/cyclist pathway pinned between a fence and the river.
6. The project has always been first and foremost about the railroad right-of-way and not our transportation needs. Ask former Metro Councilor Brian Newman or watch a Metro Council meeting clip at www.youtube.com/watch?v=AREtw5Gwu4Y . Why else did Metro's process sabotage Bus Rapid Transit? If done properly, BRT could only be better for riders than the existing bus and wouldn't damage neighborhoods and parks.
7. Metro's corridor analysis needs thorough review before the project continues. It conflicts with Census Bureau, TriMet, ODOT, and other data. Metro's corridor definition includes eastern Tualatin, downtown Wilsonville and almost everything else between the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers east of I-5. Excepting a few blocks at the Sellwood Bridge's east end, it excludes southeast Portland, Milwaukie, and adjacent areas which together account for most highway 43 traffic. Because the irrelevant included area is growing much faster than the pertinent excluded one, this definition overestimates congestion, ridership, and bus trip times. There's a copy of an internal Metro study area map (and more information from an alternative viewpoint) at www.h43tran.org .
8. It's not just riders, nearby residents, park users and taxpayers who get burned by this project. Those of us who really do want optimal public transit get hurt, too. Doing so much wrong and so little right, the streetcar would be a poster child for public rail transit opponents.
R A Fontes is a resident of Lake Oswego.