I did not realize until reading the above that the Streetcar had been in Portland for over a decade. In my mind, Portland is divided into "Old Portland", the Portland I grew up in as a teenager, the Portland that was grungy in places and smelled like a brewery. And then there is "New Portland", the Portland that was full of shiny new toys and affluent creative class types sipping wine outside of restaurants. But at this point, the "New Portland" is over a decade old, although I still think of its features (such as the Streetcar) as new innovations.
While me grumbling about my past might not seem that relevant to a discussion of Portland's transit options, it is actually quite relevant.
Other than the general change in the demographics of Portland, which could fit under the general title of gentrification, there has been many changes to Portland's transit infrastructure since 2001, when the Portland Streetcar first opened.
In the past decade, Portland doubled the reach of its light rail
system and added a commuter rail route. This means there is now three different types of train operated by Tri-Met
During all of this, the Streetcar line has also expanded. In 2006, along with the opening of the Aerial Tramway, the Streetcar was extended to meet up with it, in the South Waterfront, which was also promised to be a developing area. And recently, in September of 2012, the Streetcar was extended into Portland's central eastside.
The Central Eastside needs some explanation as well. It was traditionally a warehouse and light industrial district that paralleled downtown Portland, along the railroad tracks on the east side of the Willamette River. It was, by Portland standards, a seedy looking place, and there was little of interest for tourists, or for locals. Even after other areas of Portland, such as the The Pearl District started gentrifying, the inner southeast industrial district remained resolutely itself. But by 2012, the boutiques and wine bars had finally crossed the river, and the central eastside was becoming gentrified.
The Streetcar's route along the Eastside starts when it branches off from the Downtown line in The Pearl, crosses the Broadway Bridge, goes by Lloyd Center, and then follows Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard for three or four miles, ending at OMSI. The route parallels the Downtown Streetcar line, has about as many stops, and runs for about as long. The point of the Downtown Streetcar line has a lot to do with taking shoppers between retail outlets, and so I don't know if that will transfer as well to the less retail-friendly, and less densely populated east side.
Which is where my initial observation of the changes in Portland comes in: while the Streetcar has been in operation for over ten years, I have always got the feeling that it is more meant as an amenity for suburbanites who come to shop and experience some "urban" culture than as a necessary part of Portland's transit plan. So bringing the streetcar line across the river has more to do with trying to establish the Central Eastside as a hip shopping and dining district than it does with being a coherent part of a transit strategy.
However, whether the expanded Portland Streetcar will be successful or not is something we have yet to see.