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Portland says KC should use Light Rail instead of Street Cars

“Light rail is where I’d start; I think light rail is the best way for you guys to start, I really do.” –Vicky Diede, Street Car Project Manager in Portland, Oregon, recommends Light Rail over Street Cars for Kansas City

In what's sure to cause some editorial room heckling, Hearne Christopher at The Star relates his conversation with Vicky Diede, Street Car Project Manager in Portland, OR.

Diede, who's spent more then 15 years working on Portland's transportation system, describes how streets cars function:

“Streetcars are inner city connectors, and they’re designed for stopping every two to three blocks,” she says. “The purpose is not to take you from the airport to downtown. Can they do it? Yes, but that’s not their purpose. … I don’t know what the ideal speed is, but (generally) they go very slow — 8 to 12 miles per hour.”

This opinion runs counter to what The Star suggested last week. It also contrasts the differing functions of faster and higher-passenger Light Rail with slower and lower-passenger street cars. Light Rail moves more people farther and faster, while street cars are "an inner city connector."

7 Comments so far

  1. mainstream November 5th, 2007 1:13 pm

    Well, a starter line, especially on the routes currently being discussed, had better stop every couple of block for it to work, right?

    It sounds like the Portland person didn’t have an appropriate context to voice a valid opinion on the starter line…

  2. Nick/295 November 5th, 2007 2:28 pm

    I think there’s a lot of confusion over streetcars/light rail as vehicles vs streetcar/light rail lines.

    PCC’s, for example, can easily get up to 45mph, if they have a nice stretch of track where it’s safe to do that.

    LRV’s can go faster, though they may accelerate a littler slower. But they cost more, and weigh a lot more, and need much more expensive track and overhead.

    So you can build what’s basically a “light rail” system, with some street running but hopeful more in reserved medians and private right-of-way as you get farther from downtown, and call it a “streetcar” system, and it’ll cost a lot less, with the tradeoff that in some parts of the system (like going from downtown to the airport) it won’t be quite as fast.

    But how often do light rail trains really get a chance to reach those higher speeds? It varies a lot from system to system. Looking at a few (west coast) systems that I’m familiar with: In LA, the blue and green lines go pretty fast, so I’d say the extra expense of heavy duty track and overhead was worth it. Same for San Diego. In San Francisco and San Jose, Light Rail trains basically operate as streetcars. Especially in the case of SF, I’d say that traditional streetcars would probably work *better* than light rail, because they’re more nimble, and better able to deal with traffic.

    So my main point is: don’t get your choices restricted into preconceived categories, like slow and stuck-in-trafiic streetcars vs unaffordable, overbuilt light rail–figure out what you need, and the most cost effective kind of equipment to deliver it!

  3. The Overhead Wire November 5th, 2007 3:50 pm

    If its in the street, Vicki is right, you need LRT first. But LRT can mean Rapid Streetcar. And that recent article where Clay Chastain talks about streetcars is full of misrepresentations and shows he really doesn’t know much about the spectrum that is light rail. Europeans laugh at our streetcar vs. light rail distinction as to them they are all one thing. Trams.

  4. Dave November 5th, 2007 4:14 pm

    for me, it’s less about the name than it is about capacity and flexibility. if you can’t add cars or support higher speed lines coming in from our far-flung suburbs — MCI is 20 miles from our downtown loop, and that line would probably have just a handful of stops — then you’re not planning very well for the future. all systems expand, so why not make the right decisions now versus paying double to redo something later?

    regardless, it will come down to voter support for how much new tax revenue is needed.

  5. D November 6th, 2007 9:29 pm

    Thank you Dave!
    It’s really sad that so many people do not understand that you cannot look at what is good for today because we’re talking 5-10 years down the line. With the possibility and city backed plans for expansion and growth, something needs to be done to our infrastructure in KC.

    If we go the streetcar route, the efficiency will not be there due to multiple stops and slower speeds among the streets. Then once its jam-packed, people will want to upgrade to a light-rail system that will be even more expensive to build 10 years from now to replace the smaller starter system.

    Look ahead at where the growth potential and trends are occurring and make something happen!!!

  6. Donovan November 12th, 2007 6:41 pm

    An addition to the BlogRoll

  7. Donovan November 12th, 2007 6:41 pm

    An addition to the BlogRoll http://kc.247townhall.org

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