Bikes and Streetcars: Raising the Level of our Game

March 7, 2011

At Tuesday’s Planning and Sustainability Commission meeting we have a work session around the Locally Preferred Alternative for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit project. The steering committee recommendation is streetcar, mostly using the current Willamette Shoreline rail right-of-way, except for a few blocks on Macadam, and with several alternative routing options toward the Lake Oswego end of the corridor to be studied further.

This is consistent with previous comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Commission had provided to the Mayor (Portland’s representative on the project steering committee).

So now the question becomes whether Portland should include any conditions on its approval of the recommendation.

I expect that tomorrow we’ll have some discussion about mitigating the impact on several parks and natural areas that the alignment passes through in Portland. And I’m planning to offer some language along the following lines:

The streetcar alignment should be designed and executed with a significantly higher degree of bicycle compatibility than achieved in prior streetcar projects, with the goal of creating an environment that will attract “interested but concerned” potential cyclists, including:

  • Safe and comfortable crossing designs where bike facilities intersect the alignment
  • Safe and comfortable treatments where bike facilities run parallel and adjacent to the alignment
  • Convenient access (including bike parking) to platforms, particularly those outside the Portland Central City
  • Good connectivity for the bicycle network in or near the envelope of the transit corridor
  • Safe and comfortable bicycle access should be maintained without interruption during construction
  • The project contingency funds should be sufficient to provide the ability to mitigate unintended impacts to bicycle facilities during or after construction

So what’s the fuss? The Streetcar Loop Project hasn’t repeated some of the mistakes of the past like putting bike lanes between parked cars and rail, where an opening car door leaves you no place to escape to. And where possible we’ve put streetcars in the left lane, away from the bike lanes, and even created a new neighborhood greenway on Marshall in the Pearl to keep bikes well-separated from the rails on Lovejoy.

But for all our progress, we got a lot of things wrong, including:

  • Crossings that aren’t close enough to perpendicular
  • An intersection at Broadway and Larrabee that is almost certainly less safe than it was before streetcar
  • Inadequate wayfinding that leaves folks in the Pearl unclear about where to go

and a myriad of small details that all could have been better.

The big opportunity identified in the Bicycle Master Plan is the “interested but concerned” portion of the population – up to 60% of us – who would be willing to use a bike for some trips, but don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to do so. The level of design we achieved on the Loop project is an improvement, but in my judgment in many places it will not assuage the concerns of the “interested but concerned.”

We have to do better. Let’s commit ourselves to doing so on this project.



  1. The ‘elephant in the room’ is the undisputed fact that the LOTP Alternatives Analysis projected costs for building a cyclist/pedestrian trail between LO and Johns Landing at about $7.4 million with any bus alternative and more than $54 million with streetcar. Almost all of this would be off the streetcar budget.

    Now some are talking up the possibility of commandeering one of the three motor vehicle lanes on Hwy 43 for a cyclist/pedestrian trail. This would minimize the construction bill and probably eliminate acquisition costs. It would also give us a much less attractive facility, especially for recreational users. If ODOT does indeed transfer responsibility for 43 to Portland, LO, & West Linn, then the possibility of converting a motor vehicle lane enters the realm of plausibility. How much so remains a question and we shouldn’t assume any degree of likelihood.

    The WSL ROW remains the best alignment for a world class trail at minimum cost. Yes, there may well be acquisition costs for those parts of the ROW that are in rail-use-only easements. However, we do own significant portions in fee-simple or other unrestricted forms. With the single exception of the previously mention lane grab, construction and acquisition costs for a WSL ROW bases trail should be much less than with any other trail option.

  2. Giving up a publicly owned transit ROW for a trail is a non-starter in my view.
    re Streetcar Loop…how did we miss the opportunity to have a bike path on the bridge over the UPRR to OMSI? That is a huge access gap at the south end of the Central Eastside, especially with the coming light rail bridge. Safe crossings of the UPRR main line are few and far between; the grade separated one for Streetcar should include bike and pedestrian facilities. I guess its too late now.

  3. how did we miss the opportunity to have a bike path on the bridge over the UPRR to OMSI?

    In fact the opportunity was evaluated. The grade is too steep for ADA and cycling advocates polled preferred the “Clinton to the river” routing that is now being put together as a product.

    Fundamentally the point where streetcar departs from MLK is not a great access point for either pedestrians or cyclists.

  4. taking a lane of 43 and converting it to bike use seems like a no-brainer. although it might be worse for recreational users, it would connect to all the destinations along the route which are currently unserved. perhaps a 2-way cycletrack/MUP on the river side of the road?

  5. Thanks Chris, glad it got a good look. Its a messy end of town for someone on a bike, with UPRR, MLR and Streetcar all coming together.

  6. A streetcar line from the Willamette Shore corridor across the new Sellwood bridge to the Milwaukie MAX station should be formally considered, evaluated, conclusions documented.

    Another idea that should get a proper hearing is to use the rail corridor between L.O. and Milwaukie, “The Forgotten Bridge” as Jim Howell calls it. A simple rail shuttle between the little towns would generate ridership, especially after Milwaukie Max is completed.

    The Milwaukie MAX color could be “cherry” or “bing”. :^)

  7. The Sellwood Bridge crossing is part of the Streetcar System Concept Plan.

    However, the next several corridors for full evaluation are not selected yet. I believe that the candidates are all either in the Central City or in East Portland (e.g., lines that could branch from a Green Line station).

  8. The M.L.King/Stephens to Water Ave. pedestrian/bike connection could still be built, as a separate bridge, parallel to the streetcar bridge. It seems that cost was also a factor in not including it on the Streetcar bridge (Chris would know that). The ADA factor is complicating if it is to serve as a ped/bike facility. I don’t know that “bike only” facilities have to meet ADA.

    With a signal at Stephens on Grand and King, access to this point from the inner East Side will be easier, and serves a block of folks who are south of Clay and north of Sherman or so. An alternative would have been to use the west sidewalk on the King viaduct and walk/bike south, but a stairway/ramp at Caruthers was not replaced, so you’d have to travel way south on the new viaduct, and then north again on 4th. Even a stairway only at the Sherman alignment would be helpful to some, but you’d have to argue that the ramp at Ivon/Division Place is equal facilitation for the disabled.

    The connec

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