Portland's Streetcar Revival

Posted by Robert W. Scott
on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Portland, Oregon is a transit lovers dream. the city split along the Willamette River boasts a 60 mile long Tri-Met Max light rail and the 7.2 mile Portland Streetcar system. Starting in 2001, the Portland Streetcar now touts nearly 20,000 daily riders and now serves both sides of the city along the Willamette River. The river is crossed on the south end on the new Max and Streetcar shared Tillicum crossing bridge. On the north end, the river is crossed on the 1913 built Broadway bridge. The north end of the streetcar line is in the Pearl District of Portland. This area was once home to industrial buildings and expansive rail yards of the SP&S. Today, the Pearl is home to upscale condos, lofts, restaurants, brew pubs, galleries intermixed between coffee shops and retail buildings. Skirting through the neighborhood is two of the Portland Streetcar lines. A map of the entire Portland Transit systems was published in the July 2017 issue of Trains.

A southbound Portland Streetcar pauses at a stop at 11th and Johnson in the Pearl District. I-405's Fremont Bridge is in the background.

The original SP&S Hoyt Street yard spread out in this area until the 1980s. The only things remaining to suggest a rail yard existed in this area is the Lovejoy Column's  which is located along NW 10th Ave and the two SP&S "North Bank" depot buildings located at Hoyt Street between 10th and 11th. The depot buildings built in 1908 served the SP&S and then the BN until the 1980's. The freight buildings are now home to upscale residential lofts and business suites. The streetcar ambles past the old depot buildings on 11th street, connecting its history with flanged wheels. 

Portland Streetcar rolls south along 11th between the original SP&S freight and passenger depot buildings in the Pearl District.

The success of the Pearl can be directed in part by the inclusion of the streetcar system as a connector to the rest of the city. The transit system in Portland has made it more of a pedestrian-esque city with people able to walk from doorstep to streetcar to light rail to destination without ever touching the steering wheel of their car. Sitting outside the coffee shop at 11th and Lovejoy, the passing streetcars, bicycles and people walking reinforces this point. Between the Streetcar and Max light rail it is easy to reach all forms of distant transportation from the Rose City - The Max red line reaches Portland International Airport and Portland's Union Station, home to the Cascades Northwest service and is a stop to the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder. The Streetcar also makes doorstep stops at Portland's famous Powell's Bookstore. As of 2012, the Streetcar will also bring you to within a block of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, home to the SP4449 and SP&S 700.

A northbound Portland Streetcar crosses Hoyt Street passing a rider on one of the numerous BikePDX cycles. In the background, A Max light rail nears Union Station - The famous Steel Bridge is in the distance which also carries all of the Max lines.

A southbound Streetcar rolls off Lovejoy onto 11th on a chilly winter evening.

The west coast is home to several Streetcar systems but Portland continues to emerge as a system that is in tune with more than just the tourist crowds - it is a system that is constantly used on a daily basis by Portlander's to live their lives in the Rose City. Riding the Portland Streetcar should be on the "to-do" list for any visitor to the City. Wether you are a transit lover or not, you will quickly see how the system has integrated itself into a successful transit system.

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