"Traffic patterns and housing density favoured a line running between the city centre and Northwest Portland as the city’s introduction to the 21st-century streetcar. Factors included population densities running as high as 20 000 residents/square mile and historic heavy transit patronage. And south of the city centre lies Portland State University, with its potential to generate heavy student traffic throughout the day and throughout the week. The north-south routeing through the west end of the city centre was selected as being on 10th and 11th Avenues, and this gives a clue to another feature. Portland Streetcar, as the project was officially renamed in 2000, runs for 3.8 km in each direction, but is often referred to as being a 7.6-km loop, since it follows separate, parallel streets (one or two blocks apart) for virtually its entire length. The reason for this is that the non-segregated street track can mostly be located in the right traffic lane, allowing retention of kerb parking.
"Construction of the line started in 1999. As the previous sentence indicates, Portland Streetcar is not a light rail line like MAX (which is mostly on private right-of-way or reservation, and has its own segregated lanes when it runs through the city centre streets), but a tramway, sharing lanes with other traffic over nearly its entire length. For the most part trams will have to obey the same traffic signals as other traffic, and there is no pre-emption. Traffic calming may not have entered the American vocabulary, but the new trams effectively do just that as they run and stop in the street. Track construction costs were kept down by specifying a much shallower track slab than would be required for 49-tonne LRVs: 310-mm deep instead of the conventional 465 mm, using specially-ordered girder rail only 130-mm high in place of the standard 180-mm rail used on US light rail systems. This reduced significantly the amount of relocation of previously-existing underground utility lines needed.
|Siemens SD660 LRV 220 laying over at 11th Ave/Yamhill St on one of two MAX short-turn trips using this facility prior to the opening of the Airport line. In the background Portland Streetcar 003 is passing southbound.|
"Portland Streetcar (PS) is a project of the city council, not the transit agency Tri-Met. The city managed its construction, provided most of the funding, and will manage its operation. PS is a division within the city’s Office of Transportation. However city officials wisely decided not to try to create a whole new workforce to run the line, and instead have contracted with Tri-Met to provide the operators and maintenance personnel, taking advantage of the training those people had already received for MAX. 13 operators, three superintendents and two mechanics have been assigned to Tri-Met’s PS unit. City employees are the part-time General Manager (Vicky Diede, who was the CCS/PS project manager throughout the planning and construction), and the full-time Manager of Operations and Safety (originally Mike Carroll, but now Lenore DeLuisa) and Manager of Maintenance (Gary Cooper). PSI provides certain management functions on a part-time basis, including Manager of Community Relations (Kay Dannen) and Chief Operating Officer (Rick Gustafson). Their employer is local consultant Shiels-Obletz-Johnsen, the largest component of PSI, which has managed much of the planning and construction of the system.
The line connects NW 23rd Ave in Northwest Portland, a thriving retail district and home to one of the city’s largest hospitals (Good Samaritan), with Portland State University (terminus SW 4th Ave). On the way it runs north-and-south through the west end of the city centre, on 10th and 11th Avenues, where city planners expect the tramway to generate substantial new development. Such development is already evident in the Pearl District and newly-created River District, immediately north of the city centre, where old industrial development and abandoned rail freight yards are giving way to new apartment buildings and condominiums. One of the latter, a seven-storey, 139-unit development due to open this year, is even named Streetcar Lofts. The tramway’s potential to influence development in areas around the fringes of the city centre was the strongest reason for its promotion. Before the 1997 agreement between the city and Hoyt Street Properties the area was zoned for 15 units per acre, but with the tramway confirmed the deal pushed the density up to 131 units/acre."