Lessons from Portland and Dallas – What our Competition is Doing

By Patrick Sweeney, Senior Project Manager for Transit and Transportation

Worldwide, top tier cities provide options for residents and commuters. Different modes of transit serve different types of trips – light rail and heavy rail for longer distance commutes, and streetcar for local shorter trips. A network of integrated transit options is key to providing people with transportation options that can reduce the number of car trips that congest our streets and highways.

This past Sunday’s AJC articles about the light rail system in Dallas, Texas and the streetcar system in Portland, Oregon were very helpful in providing readers with information about how both cities have benefited from farsighted transit investments. In both articles, however, the AJC did not connect the dots on a point of relevance for Atlanta: in Portland, the streetcar network is integrated with the TriMet regional  light rail system and in Dallas, the proposed Union Station to North Oak Cliff Dallas Streetcar project will be integrated with the expansive DART light rail system. Atlanta has the MARTA heavy rail system, which would then tie in to the Atlanta BeltLine and Streetcar and other transit expansions, such as the light rail line to the Emory/CDC area.

The Portland metropolitan area is supported by a 52-mile light rail system (MAX) that carries passengers across the region with the Portland Downtown area as the hub. On the west side of the Portland Metro area, MAX carries the equivalent of 2.9 extra lanes of traffic on the Sunset Highway. Put another way, MAX carries 26% of evening rush-hour commuters traveling from downtown on the Sunset and Banfield freeways.  Where MAX passes through downtown Portland, the Portland streetcar system helps to distribute passengers to Central City neighborhoods in addition to providing a convenient transit option for downtown residents and workers. In Portland the streetcar and MAX (as well as an extensive local bus network) work in unison to provide attractive and convenient alternatives to driving.

Portland Streetcar pulling into a stop in Downtown Portland

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is looking to build on the success of its growing light rail network with the addition of the downtown Union Station to Oak Cliff Streetcar project. The proposed modern   streetcar would provide connectivity between the Methodist Dallas Medical Center, Oak Cliff neighborhood, and Union Station in downtown Dallas – a major hub for access to system-wide multi-modal facilities. The downtown area and Oak Cliff could become a more desirable place to live due in part to the enhanced mobility provided by the proposed streetcar project.

In both Cities, the light rail or streetcar systems don’t perform in isolation. They are integral parts of planned transit systems that work together to provide viable alternatives to driving. Here in Atlanta, we have the benefit of already having a valuable asset in the MARTA rail system. The Atlanta Streetcar and Atlanta BeltLine transit will be integrated with MARTA heavy rail just as Portland’s streetcar is integrated with the regional MAX service and DART’s expansive light rail system will be integrated with their first downtown streetcar project.


2 thoughts on this article. Join the discussion below

  1. The Max system in Portland is amazing. I with more people would use it. Traffic in the cities has grown exponentially, and rush hour is starting to look like a typical day in California.

  2. Germany, China and Japan are turning away from wired streetcars and commuter lines to wireless hydrail fuel cell battery rolling stock—primarily to cut capital and maintenance expense but also to cut visible pollution and for reliability reasons. Overhead power is a Victorian-era technology that seems dramatically inappropriate for a modern city. Yet the public never hears about hydrail, the newer, far cheaper, clearer option.

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