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Research Recap, September 12: Streetcar Track Cycling, Intercity Travel, Parks and Productivity

The Oregon Department of Transportation is investigating the safety issues surrounding cycling on streets with streetcar tracks. Photo by Steven Vance.

Welcome to “Research Recap,” our series highlighting recent reports, studies and other findings in sustainable transportation policy and practice, in case you missed it.

Cycling on Streetcar Tracks

Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) is investigating the safety issues of cycling on streets containing streetcar tracks in a research project, “Coefficient of Friction of Rubber Tires on Streetcar Tracks under Dry and Wet Conditions.” Oregon is considering a new streetcar line from Portland to Lake Oswego on State Highway 43. In regards to the study, the ODOT stated, “Risk Management recommends the Highway Division to run rubber tire skid resistance tests on streetcar tracks to determine whether any mitigation is needed to increase the coefficient of friction of the tracks and/or the area surrounding the tracks.”

Intercity Travel Expenses

A new study by travel website Frommers.com suggests that current U.S. conditions make it often cheaper to use Amtrak train services than personal vehicles for travel between cities. The study highlighted 10 city-to-city routes in the United States, including Kansas City to St. Louis, Chicago to St. Louis, New York City to Montreal, Salt Lake City to San Francisco, and Seattle to Portland. Frommers found that for the Seattle to Portland trip it currently costs an average of $36.31 dollars to travel by personal vehicle versus $31 by Amtrak’s Cascades train.

Parks Inducing Productivity

Walking in nature parks can be mentally revitalizing, indicates research from the University of Michigan. When given a pause from testing to walk through an arboretum, research participants recorded 20 percent higher performance on memory and attention tests than participants who were given a pause from testing to walk through a city street. No performance improvements were detected in the city street participant group. The researchers say that the recorded mental improvements did not result from the nature exposure eliciting mood improvements but instead from engaging “involuntary attention,” purportedly a mentally revitalizing activity. Researchers at Rotman Research Institute in Toronto are expanding on the research to ascertain whether exposure to nature can be therapeutic for people with mental or emotional disorders, including depression and anxiety.

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  • When comparing Amtrak costs to driving a personal vehicle for the same trip, when you add a second or more people to your car, and the driver and passengers share the cost, the per-person cost of the trip decreases to be less than the per-person cost of an Amtrak ticket. 

    Does Amtrak offer group discounts?