Portland’s 14-year-old streetcar system is considered the model for modern streetcars nationally. Now, Sacramento and West Sacramento want to emulate the Rose City by building a streetcar loop through downtown and across the Tower Bridge. I rode Portland’s cars last week. Here are some photos.
By Bee transportation reporter Tony Bizjak. Photo by Chuck Dalldorf
Sacramento leaders toured Portland’s streetcar last year, hosted by Rep. Doris Matsui, and say they came away impressed. They hope a streetcar can be an economic catalyst downtown. Portland says its streetcar helped revitalize the Pearl District waterfront warehouse area, although there are no definitive studies of the streetcar’s impact.
Photos and captions by Tony Bizjak
We took a 40-minute light rail train ride into downtown Portland from the airport, and transferred to the streetcar at Pioneer Square to ride the last mile to my hotel. It beats walking in the rain. (Rain? It’s a watery thing in the air up in Portland.) The streetcar runs on rails on streets, and flows with traffic when it wasn’t stopping at stations.
The “stations’ are similar to bus stops on a section of sidewalk that bumps out into the parking lane.
Portland’s streetcars stop close to the sidewalk, with low floors that make it easier for people with luggage, walkers, wheelchairs, etc., to board. The cars typically come by at 12-minute intervals.
There are ticket machines at the stops, but you can buy at this ticket machine inside the car. Streetcar fares are $1 for two hours of riding time. A monthly streetcar pass is $23. Sacramento officials are talking about $1 fares as well.
There are seats, but a lot of people stand. Portlanders are good at poking their smart phones while keeping their balance during sometimes lurching starts. The streetcars reportedly average about eight miles per hour, but they seemed to speed up to about 20 mph at times. They share traffic lanes with cars.
The streetcar operator sits in a cabin with the door to the passenger area open. In Sacramento, on light rail, riders say they feel less safe because operators are locked away in closed-door cabins and don’t notice bad behavior on trains.
Portland’s streetcar tracks cross the light rail train tracks in several places. Streetcars are slimmer and shorter than light rail trains. Sacramento’s version would be able to run on light rail tracks.
Portland’s streetcar is owned and managed by the city and a business-based group. They contract with the TriMet transit agency to operate it. Sacramento streetcar advocates say they want a similar system here, so that businesses can have more control over the quality of the experience.
Some Sacramentans are concerned about how the streetcars’ overhead electrical wires would look. Here is a view of the overhead lines for Portland’s streetcars.
The streetcars are about the length of two buses. They bend in the middle.
A tight turn on a Portland neighborhood street.
Can Sacramento build a successful streetcar system? There are debates nationally about the effectiveness of streetcars as economic engines. Two lessons from Portland: Link the streetcar to a light rail line from the airport, and build a ton of dense housing downtown. Both of those are on Sacramento’s wishlist.