Streetcar delivers eastside mobility

New line connects downtown commuters

Portland State students living on the city’s east side now have another way to get to campus: the Portland Streetcar.

New line connects downtown commuters

Portland State students living on the city’s east side now have another way to get to campus: the Portland Streetcar.


The portland streetcar now has two lines, the North/South Line and the Central Loop Line.

Once limited to the west side, the streetcar now trundles along Portland’s inner east side, stopping at newly built shelters and sharing the road with traffic.

The streetcar is free for PSU students who show their student ID card.

“We’ve already seen a huge uptick in the number of PSU students riding,” Julie
Gustafson, spokesperson for Portland Streetcar Inc., said.

This recently completed project aims not only to provide inner city public transportation to and from the east side but also to develop an area of Portland that has long been seen as lacking investment and development.

Additionally, once completed, the Caruthers Bridge will include a line for the streetcar, completing the project officially known as the Portland Streetcar Loop Project.

New lines opened Sept. 22 after three years of construction.

The project adds a total of 3.3 miles of new track running north and south along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Grand Avenue, from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to Lloyd Center and then across the Broadway Bridge to connect with downtown routes.

In September 2015, the full loop will be completed with the Caruthers pedestrian bridge, where the MAX, buses, bikers, walkers and streetcar will cross the river. Cars will be barred from the bridge.

“This has been in the talks for a very long time,” Gustafson said.

While the project is primarily intended to improve public transit, another motivation for the new line is to spur development on the east side. Developers noticed the growth in the Pearl District after the trolley went in on 10th and 11th avenues, Gustafson said.

“Not that people are looking for the east side to be the Pearl, but there are a lot of vacant lots. We have a lot of visionaries in the city who are saying that they won’t develop more than three blocks away from a rail stop,” she said.

The streetcar company is confident that PSU students living in Portland’s east side will use the new lines to get to campus.

“I’ve personally witnessed PSU students who live in Northeast now taking the streetcar,” Gustafson said. “Sometimes they’ll take it south and just walk across the bridge and sometimes they’ll take it around, through the Pearl District.”

Though the streetcar, like TriMet, has faced funding cuts, PSU collaborated with the company to create a sponsorship program wherein PSU students ride the streetcar for free.

PSU senior and civil engineering major Zach Mulligan said he doesn’t usually take the streetcar but, upon learning that the ride is free for students, reconsidered. “That would be an awesome option. I would definitely ride it a lot more,” he said.

Funding for the new lines comes from a number of sources—mostly federal funds.

Out of the roughly $150 million project cost, $75 million came through direct federal grants. “We are the first modern streetcar company in the country and the only to receive the federal small starts grant, which is not stimulus funds as is often reported,” Gustafson said.

Apart from this federal grant, the rest of the money came from the Portland
Development Commission, a local improvement organization, and various city funds, with state lottery funds paying for the new streetcars.

Since the lines opened, there has been some debate about schedule efficiency.
The minutes of the Portland Streetcar’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee’s Oct. 3 meeting outlined initial problems regarding the new line’s compatibility with other schedules. The CAC is a panel of Portland residents who offer input on streetcar development.

At the meeting, Rick Gustafson, executive director of Portland Streetcar Inc., described how riders looking to go from downtown to the east side have to transfer to another streetcar in Northwest Portland before going across the Broadway Bridge. But the eastbound streetcars don’t always arrive in a
timely fashion.

“This is a three to four month fix and not something that will be done on a regular basis,” he said in response to a suggestion that streetcars coordinate to make transfers smoother for riders.

Along with inconsistencies, some students don’t see the benefit in having to go all the way up to Northwest and then back down if they are just trying to get to campus.

“I do not use the streetcar because generally I bike or ride the bus straight to places I need to be,” Lucas Cooper, a junior math major said.

Krys Roth, a graduate student in the PSU book publishing program, shared a similar view. “I’m in inner Southeast and I don’t travel north a whole lot,” she said.

The new lines make OMSI more accessible, particularly to students. Paul Carlson, senior vice president of OMSI, is very happy with the new routes. “We anticipate that more students in general will be coming to OMSI and certainly hope that this will be the case.”