Thursday, April 23, 2009

Portland, Where the Streetcar Works

On my current work-related road trip, I find myself in Portland, Oregon, where transit, especially light rail and streetcar, seems to work really well. So well, in fact, in addition to the three current light rail lines and the Portland Streetcar, a fourth light rail is under construction right now with a fifth and additional streetcar line in the early planning stages. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, we have been struggling for the past seven years to implement one light rail line.

The centerpiece of Portland's success is their streetcar loop. The four mile line (nearly 8 mile roundtrip loop) connects the Northwest, Pearl, Downtown, University, and Waterfront districts, and picks up around 10,000 people daily. The best feature is for most of the ride it's free.

As a streetcar the cars move with traffic at the normal speed limit. There are fixed stops every couple blocks making it more like light rail than a traditional streetcar which would stop at any block a passenger desired. Like its traditional ancestor, if there is no one at the station, and no passenger requests the stop, the car will continue on.

With so much success here, the idea of adding a streetcar line along the Charles Street corridor should be a no brainer, yet there are still a lot of detractors. It would be a great opportunity to bring a fixed, visible, and viable transportation route between the North districts and the Inner Harbor. A great way for city commuters, college students, families, and tourists to get back and forth between some of the hot spots. It could also spur redevelopment between Penn Station and JHU, which would be opportunity (and selling point).

The two-year study of the Charles Street Corridor should be done sometime later this year. The Portland Streetcar took two year to construct. It is feasible that our own here in Baltimore version, with appropriate funding, could open around 2012. Now, that would be an improvement.

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