Streetcar line possible on SE Foster Road, City planners say

Can residents expect ever to see streetcars rolling up and down this unique SE Portland street? Our update on the ‘Foster Road Streetscape Plan’ reveals all …

Nancy Chapin, of TSG, “The Support Group”, welcomes members and guests to a meeting of the Foster Area Business Association.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Talk of increased housing density, and the possibility of a SE Foster Road streetcar line, got the attention of members and guests of the Foster Area Business Association (FABA) a couple of weeks ago.

Portland Development Commission Senior Project Manager Kevin Cronin and Portland Office of Transportation Senior Transit Planner Patrick Sweeney, were on hand to discuss the updating of the Foster Road Streetscape Plan.

Kevin Cronin, Senior Project Manager, Portland Development Commission, and Patrick Sweeney, Senior Transit Planner with Portland Office of Transportation, tell Foster Area Business Association members why it’s important to keep working to update the “Foster Road Streetscape Plan”.

The Foster Road Streetscape Plan. adopted by the Portland City Council back on July 9, 2003, is in need of an update, attendees were told. (To see a copy, download the document as an Adobe PDF File: CLICK HERE.)

“This plan was originally completed many years ago,” Cronin said told us before their presentation, while FABA members dined on Foster Burgers on May 20. “Now, we’re looking at it as how it relates in 2011. We need to take a fresh look at it for a variety of reasons – because of limited funding, the request for streetcars, and the countless opportunities for more business development and redevelopment, now that it is part of the Urban Renewal District.”

From a transportation perspective, Sweeney said, “Some minor improvements have been made – some crosswalks here, some sidewalk infill there. Largely, the plan has not been implemented.”

PBOT’s Patrick Sweeney shows where “regional flexible funding” could improve specific areas along SE Foster Road.

The City is looking at a regional flexible fund, Sweeney added, for specific improvements from SE 67th Avenue to SE 63rd Avenue on SE Foster Road, and also at SE 72nd Avenue and SE 80th Avenueto SE 84th Avenue. “These involve pedestrian safety, stormwater, ADA curb ramps and curb extensions for bus stops, pedestrian-scale street lighting, street trees, and stormwater management improvements.”

In the formal presentation, Cronin began by saying that there are two major changes to consider in the Plan – thepossible addition of a streetcar line, and the bicycle plan.

“In our research along Foster Road,” Cronin observed, “Neighbors are really interested in the potential for having streetcars out here; and they’re interested in discovering the benefits of what a streetcar investment can bring – or the development they can catalyze.”

The Foster Area Business Association and Powellhurst Gilbert Neighborhood Associations were the two most prominent who spoke in favor of streetcars, Sweeney added.

Streetcars are owned and operated by TriMet, not the City, Sweeney went on to point out. “The reason why the City wants a streetcar is especially for economic development purposes, and to encourage short trip ridership.

“It’s to encourage people to hop on streetcars, hop off a couple blocks later, and hop back on for neighborhood-to-neighborhood trips. That’s how it has worked downtown; and it has worked fairly well downtown. This August will be the 10th anniversary of the celebration of the downtown streetcars at Jamison Park.

PDC’s Kevin Cronin says “robust” neighborhoods help bring about City investment in streetcar lines.

“It’s about building a streetcar neighborhood, not just about building a streetcar line,” Sweeney commented. “Future streetcar corridors will be ‘more robust’ neighborhoods that can absorb future growth. If Foster Road is going to be a high candidate for a streetcar in the future, there will be conversations with you, involving the Portland Plan. There’ll be conversations about what needs to happen on Foster Road to make it more ready for streetcar investment. Right now, there’s a thin strip of commercial development, and a lot of single-family housing.”

Sweeney added, “This will mean a little more density. A lot of peoples say that the City just wants to increase density; but we don’t. Townhouses would typically provide this kind of density. Streetcar investment starts at about 16 units per acre; that’s the ‘bottom floor’.

“That can go up to – you know – three or four story buildings, and mixed-use buildings, like on Hawthorne Street or Alberta Street – main streets,” Sweeny Continued. “That’s the kind of investment that’s the right scale for this corridor, for these neighborhoods. It’s not the City’s interest to re-create Downtown, out here.”

“Which comes first, the “more robust neighborhood” or the streetcar line,” East Portland news asked.

“That’s it’s a great question,” Cronin replied. “The downtown experience has been – using the Pearl District as an example – a lot of people say ‘The streetcars really made the Pearl happen’. Actually the streetcar was the ‘icing on the cake’. The real work that made the Pearl happen was City bureaus setting up agreements with the [property] owners and developers.”

Sweeney added, “We set up the density parameters. Actually, it was the density that came first. Mr. Homer Williams, who is a developer, had to meet certain density goals in order to get the City to put up the funding for the streetcar line.”

Cronin says he doesn’t believe the City will demand downtown-like density development take place in outer East Portland.

But, Cronin added, he believes the Pearl’s 80-units-per-acre won’t happen along Foster Road.

“In my opinion, and I’m shooting straight from the hip here,” Cronin continued, “I think there are higher priorities for Foster Road other than streetcar right now. But, it’s good to study streetcars now, so we don’t exclude putting them in later.”

About the “Bike Master Plan”, Sweeney said “We’re looking at a bike facility, and a streetcar facility – how they would fit. I don’t know which will come first. It could be that a bike facility could find funding for the streetcar. Or they could both happen at the same time. It is hard to say.”

Sweeny concluded, “OTAK [an architecture firm specializing in transportation, growth management, and urban design] should have a study done by Labor Day.  We’ll be having workshops and open houses – opportunities for people to chime in.”

For more information about the Foster Area Business Association, see their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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