What happened to all the Trolleys in Portland?
Originally uploaded by npGREENWAY
I’m saddened to think of the public transportation system we had before the buses took over midway through last century. I don’t know when this map was printed, but it appears to be at the height of Portland’s Trolley System. It features routes for Street Cars, Trolley Coaches, and Motor Coaches.
Please comment below if you know more about this map.
Enjoy the sunshine outside this morning!
In 1910, about 750 American cities were served by streetcars (these numbers are from Wikipedia). Conversions of streetcar lines to buses began in earnest in 1918, and by 1933, more than half of these streetcar systems had gone out of business or converted to buses.
Over the next sixteen years, more than 300 streetcar systems converted to buses.
By 1966, only six cities still had streetcars (two more had subways and commuter trains). Transit companies realized that buses were both more economical and more flexible than rail transit.
Trollys were home sales tools. After the homes sold, transit fares covered the cost of operating the streetcars, but could not pay for the periodic replacement of rail, electrical facilities, and other infrastructure. As the infrastructure wore out, streetcar service quality naturally declined, and both transit companies and transit riders were relieved by the conversion to buses, which shared the costs of roads with autos and trucks. As Cliff Slater observes, when the New York Railway System converted the Second Avenue streetcars to buses, ridership increased by 50 percent.
I think the auto industry had a hand in the downfal of the streetcar. I saw a program on PBS a long time ago that said that the auto industry gave away buses to cities to encourage them to convert. There are big plans for Portland to build new (and faster)streetcar lines on heavily traveled corridors, including N. Lombard. At this point, a neighborhood group is being created to gauge neighborhood support. The city contact person, if you’d like to be involved, is Emily Lieb Emily.Lieb@trans.ci.portland.or.us.
My guess is that the map is from the 1930s, because the new location of the Portland Airport is listed. The current property that PDX is on was purchased by the city in 1936. It was completed in 1940.
A good book on Portland Street Cars is “Fares Please” by John T. Labbe (1979)… who just happens to be a first cousin twice removed.