The streetcar: What now?


'Arguments are to be avoided, they are always vulgar and often convincing.' - Oscar Wilde

Having lost the intellectual argument for the $450 million (in 2017 dollars) Portland to Lake Oswego Streetcar project, proponents now seek to delay a recommendation of the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) to early 2012 and try out different assumptions to convince a citizenry not persuaded to the merits of the streetcar. Each time the city and consultants provide additional clarity or new assumptions regarding analysis behind the arguments for the streetcar, the case for the streetcar becomes weaker. At the Clackamas County Commission meeting June 9, the commissioners decided to wait until early 2012 to consider supporting the streetcar between Portland and Lake Oswego. In addition to the conditions (additional analysis, a Lake Oswego survey and citizen vote) raised by the Lake Oswego and Portland city councils, Clackamas County Commissioners wanted assurance TriMet will keep full bus service between Oregon City and through West Linn to Portland. Let's examine in more detail some new assumptions and conditions from Clackamas County on the streetcar alternative and see if they hold up.

Retention of Bus Service - The 'system operating cost savings' of the streetcar will be eliminated by retention of Oregon City/West Linn to Portland bus service. Elimination of bus service between Oregon City/West Linn and Portland was a key element of the project operating cost 'savings.' A justification for the streetcar is gone.

Streetcar Ridership - The projected ridership on the streetcar will be significantly reduced by retention of Oregon City/West Linn to Portland bus service. The same number of people will ride the streetcar or the bus. Therefore, there will be fewer people riding the streetcar. Therefore, the cost per streetcar user will increase significantly. Another justification for the streetcar is gone.

Economic Impact - Not having people ride the Oregon City/West Linn to Lake Oswego bus and transferring to a streetcar will have an impact on economic activity in the Lake Oswego terminus area. People will not linger to shop while they wait for a streetcar or bus transfer. Another justification removed.

Energy Usage - Retention of bus service between Oregon City/West Linn and Portland has a negative impact on energy usage 'savings' from a streetcar. According to the DEIS, at best the streetcar alternative will reduce gasoline consumption by 66,400 gallons per year. Retention of bus service means there will be reduced energy savings. In other words, the new streetcar condition negatively impacts energy usage compared to the old alternative. Another justification removed.

Environmental Impact - Retention of bus service between Oregon City/West Linn and Portland has a negative impact on the environment 'benefit' of a streetcar. i.e. greenhouse gas emission reductions. The new conditions retain all the projected environmental costs of a streetcar and decreases benefits. Another justification removed.

Portland and Lake Oswego are the primary governments impacted by the streetcar. Portland and Lake Oswego selected the streetcar as the LPA. Clackamas County is not a financial partner for the construction or operating cost of the streetcar or costs of preparing the Final Environmental Impact Study. If Clackamas County is unwilling to select a LPA until all the additional questions are 'answered,' Portland and Lake Oswego should reverse their LPA selection now and wait until all the new analysis comes in.

Jeff Gudman is a member of the Lake Oswego City Council. He notes that his views are his alone and not those of the council.