Streetcar accident-free on campus

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Mid-Frebruary marked seven months of accident-free operation of the Portland Streetcar through the Portland State campus.

The streetcar kicked off its regular running schedule with a gala celebration July 21, 2000. Since then, not a single injury accident has been reported as it glides through the university.

“So far as we’re concerned, it’s a non-event,” said John Fowler, director of the Campus Public Safety Office. This despite the fact that the vehicles move through a heavily congested area of the campus. The streetcar passes inbound from Southwest 11th Avenue and Market Street. It turns south on Fifth Avenue to pass by the PSU Bookstore at the Urban Plaza.

The car deadends on Montgomery Street. It then heads outbound diagonally through the Urban Plaza, then west on Mill Street between Cramer Hall and Lincoln Hall. This outbound passage moves through a section heavily populated by student pedestrians, bicycles and wheelchairs. Yet it has remained injury free.

“We had some safety concerns about the streetcar passing between Lincoln and Cramer Halls,” Fowler said. “But the cars go through there at a very slow speed and, thankfully, our concerns did not come to fruition.” He noted one minor incident where a bicycle rider got a tire stuck in the streetcar track. This did not lead to anything more serious than a minor inconvenience to the bike rider.

One of the safety warnings issued at the time the streetcar went into service was that cyclists and wheelchair riders should be careful to cross tracks at a right angle. Running parallel to trackage could easily result in a tire or wheel being caught in the track.

Not only has the streetcar proved a safe vehicle, the line has remained trouble-free in other ways.

“There have not been any incidents of criminal behavior relating to the streetcar on campus,” Fowler said.

Campus Public Safety had one scare. About noon Jan. 25, the office received a report that a woman was lying on the tracks unconscious in front of a streetcar. Investigation showed the woman had collapsed and the streetcar had stopped briefly while an ambulance picked her up and transported her to a hospital.

Despite the perfect record, persons on campus are advised to use caution. There is one spot on the tracks where streetcar operators sometimes have to blow a horn to warn people off the tracks. This occurs where the tracks pass diagonally through the Urban Plaza. Quite often, people come out of the PSU Bookstore, preoccupied with their business, and start to walk across the tracks without looking to the left. On occasion the streetcar will be sliding up Montgomery Street to pass through the plaza. A quick blast of the horn reminds pedestrian to step quickly out of the way.

The streetcar has proved a popular vehicle with persons on campus. It begins taking on passengers outbound at a stop on the corner of Southwest Mill Street and Sixth Avenue at the Urban Plaza. A stop station in the Park Blocks at Mill Street often has a dozen or more people waiting to get on. City rules against structures in parks forbid a bus shelter at that point but there is a small stand with a printed schedule.

The streetcar takes on its first load of passengers at the Urban Plaza at 6:17 a.m. week days and about every 15 minutes thereafter. After 5:47 p.m. the schedule thins out with the last train at 10:37 p.m. The exception comes Friday with the last departure at 1:07 a.m. On Saturday the first outbound Urban Center train leaves at 8:17 a.m. and on Sunday at 7:47 a.m. Even after MAX trains stop running, the trains use the tracks to return to maintenance facilities.

From the beginning, safety drew the intense focus of both the Portland Streetcar organization and the university. Numerous meetings with PSU representatives, students, Tri-Met and the city resulted in a number of changes to the campus. These were subjected to elaborate field tests.

On May 17, two months before passenger operations began, an entire day of testing was conducted at PSU to determine the awareness of students and staff. A streetcar safety committee was formed with input from a variety of sources.

The arrival of the line introduced some novel safety features. The most significant safety improvement was the installation of traffic signals at Southwest Broadway and Mill Street. The university had sought this installation for 20 years but was put off because of the expense.

The Americans for Disabilities committee at the university asked for audible signals at this intersection and also one at Sixth Avenue. The result was the installation of a chirping signal at both intersections, with another chirp planned at the Fifth Avenue side of the Urban Plaza.

Signals at Sixth Avenue where the streetcar comes out of the Urban Center and at Broadway are under control of the streetcar operator. The operator can make sure traffic is clear of the intersection before entering.

Stickers on the Mill Street doors of Cramer and Lincoln Halls are two-sided. One side, going in, says “No Smoking,” the other side, going out, warns about streetcar crossing. In addition, the area contains warning signs on a concrete barrel on each side of the tracks. Two warning signs appear on poles on each side.

The streetcar tracks, like the MAX tracks, have a white bumpy safety zone imprinted on the pavement. So long as pedestrians and vehicles stay off the white zone, they will be safe, even if cars should sway a little.

The line moves out of the campus to turn north on Southwest 10th Avenue, turns west on Northwest Northrup Street and loops at Northwest 23rd and Marshall to return east on Lovejoy Street and then south to Southwest 11th Avenue. From there it turns east on Market. It stops both outbound and inbound adjacent to the Multnomah County Central Library.

The streetcar is free so long as the rider stays in fareless square, which includes all of the university district and extends to Northwest Irving Street. From there through the line’s loop at Northwest 23rd and Marshall, the fare is identical to Tri-Met.

The Tri-Met information center in the Urban Plaza and the parking windows in the Neuberger Hall lobby have streetcar schedules, maps and safety tips. Tri-Met drivers operate the vehicles.

Construction of the streetcar began in March 1999, and reached the campus in November 2000. By March, cars were on the line for testing and training.

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