Case Study: Portland's Streetcar

Streetcar in Portland

Case Study: Portland's Streetcar Transforms Urban Growth

Portland is managing to reduce vehicle traffic, develop rundown neighborhoods, and increase local jobs by investing in streetcar development through a combination of creative approaches to funding, institutionalizing local involvement, and securing political support.

Portland was not always the bustling metropolis it is today. In the 1960s the city suffered from the rise of suburban sprawl. In an effort to reverse this trend, Portland emphasized cooperative planning for transit and land-use. Two illustrative efforts were the creation of TriMet—the regional transit agency—and the decision to invest in regional light rail projects instead of freeways. Portland Streetcar represents another turning point in city planning, and has led to an increase in, and support of, both residential and business growth.

Getting Underway

The idea of reintroducing streetcars in Portland resulted from the 1988 Central City Plan. Streetcars were seen as a way to encourage infill and catalyze housing development. In the early 1990s, Portland’s downtown was ill-equipped to handle the 54 percent population growth expected by 2030. The City conducted a Central City Trolley Alignment Analysis and established a Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee in 1990, a process which eventually resulted in the installation of a modern streetcar in the city.

The Impact

  • The streetcar, which also services areas surrounding downtown and connects people to the regional light rail and bus systems, has spurred approximately 100 projects worth $2.3 billion in development along the service line.
  • The projects included over 7,000 housing units and 4.6 million square feet of office and retail space. Because this new development is occurring where there is easy streetcar access, developers can allocate space and resources to more and better quality development instead of additional parking.
  • Ridership is three times greater than projected: 2009 levels were up to 12,000 riders per day, contributing to the decline of vehicle use in Portland, while such use has increased in American cities overall.
  • The Portland Streetcar has also helped to create a new U.S. industry and brought new jobs to Oregon. In 2008, United Streetcar (a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works) began manufacturing U.S.-built streetcars. Previously, all Portland streetcars were made in the Czech Republic, but thanks to a 2006 exclusive technology transfer agreement between the Czech transportation company—which manufactured the previous Portland streetcars—and Oregon Iron Works, streetcars can now be built in the United States. With help from Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, Portland secured a $4 million contract to build a prototype American streetcar. This contract has created over 20 new positions at Oregon Iron Works and will lead to more hires as the company grows and orders increase (one order has already come in from Tucson). American-made streetcars stimulate manufacturing, construction and operation jobs tied to their production and use.

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