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Transit plan may worsen traffic

MY VIEW • Is Lake O streetcar scheme really an upgrade?

Right now, Metro is in the public comment phase on proposed transit upgrades for the corridor between Lake Oswego and Portland, specifically along Highway 43. The Portland streetcar has the inside track. For $138 million to $215 million, Metro would add 5.7 miles of streetcar line from Lowell Street near the tram to downtown Lake Oswego, using much of the old Willamette Shore Railroad right-of-way. The problem is that Metro makes a wide range of assumptions to justify the proposed streetcar project. After receiving a Metro brochure on the project in the mail, I investigated the agency’s claims and now wonder: Is Metro using bogus numbers to push a pet project ahead of other transportation improvements? Here are three examples from the Lake Oswego to Portland Evaluation Summary on Metro’s Web site (www.metro-region.org/article.cfm?ArticleID=25448), followed by my analysis of the reality: • Assumption: In 18 years, Highway 43 congestion will increase more than 50 percent over other area roads. • Reality: Drivers can choose more than half a dozen routes into Lake Oswego and West Linn, so why crowd up one when travelers could save time using other routes? • Assumption: Corridor transit ridership will grow by more than 260 percent if we do nothing and over 480 percent with the streetcar. • Reality: Demand for transit ridership in the upper corridor is decreasing. Effective Sept. 2, TriMet will dramatically decrease the number of weekday midday, weekday evening and weekend trips of the 43-Taylors Ferry Road bus line. TriMet suggests that riders take the 35-Macadam line instead. • Assumption: The streetcar would be the cheapest alternative, costing only $3.44 per ride. • Reality: If ridership does manage to keep up with the rest of the region, and if the streetcar boosts patronage by Metro’s assumed 60 percent, then the total cost per ride would be $8.43. What’s most striking is that the proposal would actually make the current traffic situation worse. The plan features a terminus with 400 park and ride spaces in Lake Oswego’s downtown. Imagine if TriMet ended the west-side MAX line in downtown Beaverton and built a large park and ride area. Beaverton has enough traffic congestion as it is — so does Lake Oswego. If Metro’s assumptions are verified and the project is modified (so it actually lessens congestion rather than increases it), then maybe it will be worth the millions of tax dollars. But for now, it simply isn’t. The public comment period ends Sept. 7. Metro has already heard from people who get misty-eyed when the word “streetcar” is mentioned. Have they heard from you? R.A. Fontes lives in Lake Oswego.