Streetcar safety draws focus

You were always warned when an old-time streetcar was coming because it rumbled. Not so with the new Portland streetcar, which virtually glides over its newly-laid tracks.

Recently, the streetcar has been scheduling test runs daily through the campus. The grand opening celebration to signal the beginning of operation remains July 20.

Both the Portland Streetcar organization and the university have been concerned about streetcar safety. The train’s outbound route bisects the campus between Lincoln and Cramer Halls, a high pedestrian traffic area.

John Fowler, director of Campus Public Safety, described the university’s safety plan as “in an ongoing state.” He said he has been participating in a series of meetings designed to arrive at the program.

“Part of the car-testing process has been conducted to help us formulate a safety plan, particularly where the train passes between Cramer and Lincoln Halls,” Fowler said.

To provide safety precautions during the current test period, numerous sandwich board signs dot the block between Cramer and Lincoln. Some say “Caution – Streetcar in Motion” others warn “Caution – Watch for Trains (Streetcar Testing).

These signs are temporary measures. Already the streetcar folk have installed a number of permanent yellow stick-on triangle-shaped notices on the exit doors of Cramer and Lincoln. The hope is that students will see them before they cross the tracks.

The little notices are designed to be eye-catching. A smiling stick figure, decidedly unisex, wears a stick backpack, leads a stick dog on a leash and holds a stick cup of coffee with little heat waves coming up. Directly in front of the little walker is the outline of the front of a streetcar, with one smiling face visible.

The printed message says “Caution! Street Car.” Will this be an effective means of cautioning students that a car may be coming? Already students have raised questions. Is the little smiling stick figure intending to get onto the streetcar? How can he or she expect to do that while leading a dog (forbidden unless it’s a guide dog) and carrying an open cup of coffee. (also taboo, coffee cups must have lids.)

Niggling aside, the message intends to urge students not to cross the tracks while obsessed by wandering thoughts. But this hardly covers the students who may already be outside both buildings traversing the area.

On the incoming leg, the streetcar skirts the campus, moving south on Southwest 11th Avenue and east on Market Street, which borders Portland State. It turns south on Southwest Fifth Avenue, which takes it past a single block of the Urban Center, then dead ends on Southwest Fourth Avenue and Montgomery Street.

The return trip cuts through the heart of the campus, angling northwestward through the Urban Center Plaza. When the streetcar leaves the Urban Center it passes parking structure 2 and Clean Copy on Mill Street. From there it crosses Broadway to split Cramer and Lincoln Halls. It divides the Park Blocks, intervenes between the Ione, campus and the Extended Studies building and departs campus just past Harder House.

Brian Chase, PSU director of facilities, recalled that originally the Portland Streetcar staff wanted to route the car between Smith Memorial Center and Neuberger Hall, so it could eventually run down Harrison street to the North Macadam district. He felt Mill a better choice, giving ready access while running on a street where there is substantially less foot traffic than further into the campus.

There will be no bus shelter at the Urban Center, nor will there be any in the Park Blocks. The city does not permit such structures in the Park Blocks on the grounds that such structure are inconsistent with the natural character of the park. There will be two streetcar stops in the Park Blocks, at Ninth and Mill outgoing and Park and Market incoming.

All cars will offer wheelchair access via the rear entrance with a sliding plate similar to that now used on some Tri-Met buses.

Kay Dannen, community relations manager for Portland Streetcar, said hours of operation have been extended slightly. Formerly scheduled to run from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, the Monday through Thursday time has been extended to 5:30 a.m. Friday hours remain 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Construction on the line began in March, 1999, and was completed early this year.