PSU ceremony to launch streetcar

The long-awaited Portland Streetcar line will kick off regular service Friday morning and Portland State’s Urban Center Plaza will provide the launching pad.

At 9:45 a.m. Mayor Vera Katz, along with City Commissioner Charlie Hales, PSU President Daniel Bernstine and other notables will conduct opening ceremonies. A fanfare will salute the event.

At 10:30 a.m., after about a half hour of speeches and congratulations, the sleek trolley cars will form a grand parade. They will cruise through the plaza and glide to the Northwest area end of the route. The streetcar connects PSU with the West End, the River District including the Pearl neighborhood, looping around the area serving Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital and Northwest 23rd Avenue and return.

The entire Portland State campus will celebrate throughout Saturday, with continuous activities planned from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Urban Center Plaza will house a stage with more than 100 seats and 20 tables where people can sit, be entertained and eat if they choose. The stage will offer continuous entertainment from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The celebration, along with the elaborate safety measures developed for the on-campus passage of the cars, are under direction of George Pernsteiner, vice president of finance and administration.

With the streetcars passing at an angle through the Plaza and proceeding through the campus between Cramer and Lincoln Halls, safety became a continuing concern. A streetcar safety committee was formed at the university with input from a variety of sources. Numerous meetings with university representatives, students, Tri-Met, the streetcar people and the city have resulted in substantial changes around the campus. These have been subjected to elaborate field tests. On Thursday, May 17, an entire day of testing was conducted at PSU to determine the level of awareness by students and staff.

The most significant improvement has been the installation of traffic signals, both audio and visual, at Southwest Broadway and Mill Street. Piekenbrock said the university has argued for the signals for 20 years but the project was put off because of the expense.

Signals at Sixth Avenue, where the line comes out of the Urban Center and at Broadway, are under total control of override by the streetcar operator. The operator can make sure traffic is stopped and the intersection is clear before proceeding. The streetcar also makes a safety stop at the west end of the block where it passes between Cramer and Lincoln Halls. There will be a special wheelchair drop-off by Lincoln Hall. All streetcars are fully accessible.

The trains are directed to pass through the campus at walking speed. All are equipped with bells. Although the line dead ends and reverses direction at Fourth Avenue and Montgomery Street, it does not take on passengers there. Its first loading point is a marked stop at Sixth Avenue and Mill Street, where it emerges from the plaza. Benches which were close to the tracks at that point have been ordered moved so none are closer than 10 feet from the track.

The track through the plaza has one unavoidable hazard. A wheelchair or a bicycle attempting to move parallel to the track could find a wheel stuck in the track. Piekenbrock warned that wheelchairs and bikes should cross the track at right angles to avoid this risk.

Stick-on warning signs appear inside the exit doors on both Cramer and Lincoln Halls and the Urban and Public Affairs building in the Urban Center. The signs depict a streetcar and warn of streetcar crossing. Large pylons with warning signs have been installed outside the exits from these buildings.

“Half of the problem is getting people to realize when it’s a hazard,” Piekenbrock said. “Some people have been saying we’re going to kill somebody, but it’s not going to happen.” He is confident the considerable effort and many changes will mitigate potential dangers.

One particular worry is the hill between Cramer Hall and the Park Blocks. Cyclists habitually barrel down the hill at up to 30 miles and hour, often paying no attention to potential traffic at Mill Street.

“Bikes don’t have a good sight line,” Piekenbrock said. To improve this, the university removed a rhododendron bush and cut down a small tree at the northwest corner of Cramer Hall.

The campus has been marked by orange net barriers along Market Street. This is to discourage pedestrians from crossing the tracks in the middle of the block. A painted pedestrian crosswalk in the middle of the block was removed and crosswalks moved to the corners.

Other changes to the traffic pattern resulted in forbidding a turn on the red signal at Sixth Avenue and Mill Street. Parking will be illegal between Cramer and Lincoln Halls. A truck loading zone at Sixth Avenue and Mill Street was moved to the north side of Mill, making it necessary for some trucks to use fork lifts to transfer deliveries to a loading dock on the south of Mill.

Kay Dannen, community relations manager for Portland Streetcar, had these suggestions for student safety: Look for a train before crossing tracks. Advise your fellow students of a train arriving. Spread the word about streetcar operations. Listen, look and be alert.