Portland Streetcars to offer Lessons for Atlanta

A story posted this week by Atlanta television station WSB has a surprising – and good – connection to Portland. The station announced that it is sending one of its anchors to Portland to examine Tri-Met’s streetcar system “to learn how (Portland) handles streetcar safety.”
According to the report, tests of a new streetcar system in Atlanta may begin as early as this month but Atlanta “streetcar leaders told (WSB) a public awareness campaign is needed to avoid hundreds of accidents or even deaths.” The announcement followed word of a streetcar-related death in Philadelphia last week, according to WSB. Atlanta is a city that has long had a reputation for skepticism regarding public transportation. Though many Portlanders sometimes have an up-and-down relationship with Tri-Met, it is good to be reminded of the fact that Portland has long been one of the country’s leaders in green energy and innovative public transportation.

The article notes that Portland’s streetcar system, at 14.7 miles, is far more extensive than what Atlanta soon plans to launch The Georgia system will initially involve only 2.7 miles of track, according to WSB.

The key revelation in the article is that of the “10 injury accidents in the last two years” on Tri-Met’s streetcars it was car drivers, not streetcar operators, who were most often at fault. “Most of the crashes involve a car that went through a red light. Most of the time they’re car operator error, almost all of them,” the Atlanta station quotes a spokesperson for the Portland Streetcar Project saying. The article also addresses worries about pedestrians, noting that the Tri-Met route through Portland State University has not proven to be a safety problem vis-à-vis pedestrians. Atlanta’s system will also run through an urban university campus.

As a Portland bicycle accident lawyer I do have to note that bike accidents are the one area where, according to the article, our city could clearly do better. The article quotes a local activist’s assertion that “issues with the tracks” have led to “over 180” bicycle crashes (though it does not put a time frame on these accidents). It also cites a case in Arizona where a woman sued “after she fell off her bike on the streetcar tracks. Her attorney claimed she suffered a traumatic brain injury.” This anecdote is a reminder that no system is perfect, and that the combining of so many forms of transportation in a relatively small space will always involve some degree of danger. Still, it is good to see Portland held up as an example, and sharing experiences both good and bad with other cities hoping to follow our environmentally-friendly lead.

WSB-TV: Atlanta prepares plan for streetcar safety