Streetcar Projects Advance Nationwide Thanks to Local Initiative

» In spite of questions over whether the federal streetcar program has a future and the death of a project in Fort Worth, local dollars are distributed to build new links in Cincinnati, Dallas, New Orleans, and Tempe.

Last week’s decision by officials in Fort Worth, Texas to halt planning work on the city’s streetcar line struck a blow to the nation’s nascent collection of modern streetcar lines, one of the Obama Administration’s biggest transportation policy moves. Local leaders backed down from a $25 million grant received from the federal government earlier this year, arguing that the city wasn’t ready to invest its own money in a project that some suggested shouldn’t be funded by taxpayers.

The decision reinforced the commonly heard argument that the federal government is encouraging a form of transportation that is not fully accepted by people on the ground. It is certainly true that Fort Worth was far from prepared to accept the grant from Washington when it was first distributed, as the city had yet to specify a route or identify a definite local funding source.

The disappointing news from Cowtown, however, was the exception to the rule this month as Cincinnati, Dallas, New Orleans, and Tempe worked to establish their own local revenue streams for major streetcar projects.

In Cincinnati, Mayor Mark Mallory celebrated the decision by Ohio’s Transportation Review Advisory Council to award the city’s planned streetcar line $35 million in state funds. After receiving a federal Urban Circulator grant this summer and dedicating corporate and local dollars to the line, Cincinnati is now ready to break ground on the first phase next year. Dallas, which won a $23 million TIGER grant for a new downtown streetcar link in February and later received more funding from Washington for an extension to its McKinney Avenue historic streetcar, now has $10.8 million more from the Regional Transportation Council to spend on both projects. And New Orleans, whose Loyola Avenue connection is fully funded by the federal government, is considering redirecting local dollars to build another line down Rampart Street. Millions of dollars in new development is already being directed to sites adjacent to proposed streetcar stops in New Orleans.

The funds once earmarked for Fort Worth are likely to be redistributed by the U.S. Department of Transportation to another more interested city like Washington, D.C., which has a major streetcar system planned but which has yet to receive any federal funds for its construction.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix metropolitan planning organization has agreed to move a 2.6-mile streetcar planned for Tempe to the region’s long-term transportation plan. Though the group will ask the federal government to cover half the project’s costs — likely to add up to about $160 million — this represents a concrete commitment to spend local dollars on the project. Ten years ago, the only city in the country that would have agreed to such a major engagement was Portland. Other cities that have received U.S. funds and which are likely to move forward with their own projects over the next few years include Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and Tucson.

Together, this news represents a strong endorsement for streetcar projects at the local level: Interest in streetcar construction extends beyond the boundaries of the nation’s capital. The mode’s expansion into metropolitan areas nationwide is genuinely supported by a whole bevy of citizens and leaders from coast to coast, willing to put up their own funds for projects that they think will improve their communities’ development patterns and mobility options.

Nevertheless, future federal support for streetcar projects has been put into question by the arrival of a new Congress that clearly does not share the Obama Administration’s enthusiasm for this particular mode of transportation. New House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) has supported expanding the federal pot of funds for transportation, but he has also argued for increasing Congressional oversight over executive agencies such as the Department of Transportation. The grant programs that have contributed mightily to the build-up of streetcar networks — TIGER, Small Starts, and Urban Circulators — currently give the Secretary of Transportation (Ray LaHood) decision-making powers over which projects to fund. Mr. Mica has implied that he thinks such decisions should be made by legislators; would a new Republican majority in the house choose to spend that money on streetcars?

Democrats have picked as their ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), someone who, to put matters mildly, has not made much of an effort to demonstrate his support for alternative transportation. He doesn’t seem likely to be a big voice in favor of devoting more of Washington’s money to streetcars.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the Congress has any interest in making room for further discretionary grant programs at all, considering the complete lack of consensus on how to fund maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure, let alone expansions in the form of streetcars.

Nonetheless, the clear commitments given by some localities to their own streetcar programs indicate that there is a future for such transportation in the United States, even if Washington takes its hands off.

53 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Tacoma, WA has a modern streetcar; they probably belong on your map, too.

  • Andrew

    Why isn’t Austin, TX, mentioned? They’re planning a modern streetcar line, even though they’re calling it “urban rail” and the like.

  • Thanks for the input, Andrew and Michael; I’ve updated the map a bit to include Austin and Tacoma.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Newark NJ, it’s had the City Subway since the 30s, the new line to the Broad Street train station and has been planning one on or parallel to Broad Street forever. Then there’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail and the River Line. River Line is more commuter rail lite but it’s “streetcar”. A non compliant streetcar running on FRA compliant tracks.

  • Ben

    I support true light rail (like Portland MAX) because it’s usually extensive and fairly fast. However, I kinda think streetcars are dumb. They cost a shit load of money but as we can see from the map, they are usually only 2-3 miles long. Plus they average about 10 mph or less. I’m sorry but for such short distances we should be encouraging BIKING which is FASTER. Or even walking for some of the short distances. How many Class 1 bikeways or multi-modal paths could a city install for $70 million dollars? I’m betting at least five or ten times the length that it costs to build a 2-mile streetcar. Sorry but these streetcar boondoggles just don’t make sense in the grand scheme of things.

    • They are only either/or because of the US tendency to plan in terms of slogans. A streetcar alignment can be connected to a dedicated light rail corridor to provide a Rapid Streetcar, or to a lightly used heavy rail corridor to provide what the Europeans call a tram-train service.

      Indeed, until we begin pursuing Rapid Streetcars, streetcars will remain almost exclusively an inner urban option, ignoring the opportunities to use short stretches of dedicated streetcar lanes through walkable suburban villages to leverage the walkable destinations available to a suburban light or heavy rail service.

      • EngineerScotty

        European style “tram-trains” won’t work in the US under FRA regs–it’s pretty much impossible for rolling stock to simultaneously be FRA-compliant and street legal.

        Rapid streetcar is an interesting possibility, as is mixing the two forms of rail, but several things have to be kept in mind.

        * Street-legal streetcars generally are narrower than LRT vehicles; there may be platform interface issues involved. Portland Streetcar, for instance, would require platform extenders to serve MAX platforms (and MAX cannot run on streetcar lines, both do to the fact it would collide with the platforms, and due to the fact the railbed isn’t strong enough).

        * Many streetcars are also SLOWER than LRT rolling stock, and potentially become obstacles should they run on mixed lines. The Skoda 10T vehicles presently used by Portland Streetcar max out at 40MPH, for instance. (They also reportedly cannot be coupled in trains for operation, another issue for rapid-transit use as opposed to circulator service).

        This article goes into much greater detail on mixing LRT and Streetcar.

        It can be done, but things need to be designed from the start with mixed operation in mind.

        • Adirondacker12800

          It can be done, but things need to be designed from the start with mixed operation in mind.

          Like they do in exotic New Jersey on the River Line and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail?

        • Max Wyss

          That tram-train systems “will not work” is a question of FRA rules or exemptions. The New Jersey River line is an example.

          Vehicle width has nothing to do with its use. Yes, streetcar vehicles may be narrower, but this is not a “must”. The makers of “standard” vehicles (such as Bombardier or Siemens) offer widths between 2.20 m and 2.65 m, and there are light rail and streetcar systems using any of these widths… so, no issue.

          Platform extenders are not needed to bridge 12 cm (according to the referred article); if anything is needed, a push out step built into the car does it (such as it works thousands of times with the VBZ Cobra, for example). So, no big deal.

          I don’t know the specifics of the Portland roadbed, but one would have to compare the axle loads and the weight per meter. It may or may not be necessary to strengthen the roadbed.

          The lower maximum speed of the Skoda cars should not be an issue, except they would be used on highly used longer stretches (such as a train every minute). But then, one might defintely think about using them in other places and procure more suitable rolling stock. Also, assuming that the Skodas may have better acceleration, the time difference between the stops may become marginal.

          The incapability of MU can be overcome. Every modern streetcar can be made MU-ready. The reason why they are not is more that it is not needed in the intended traffic pattern. Rebuilding should not cost too much, and most of the issues are software-based.

          How to mix seriously different systems has been shown in Stuttgart during the conversion of the streetcar system to “light rail”.

        • Alon Levy is claiming that with PTC, the FRA will treat headways as sufficient for time slice between FRA compliant and non-compliant sets.

          On the rest, since its the Rapid Streetcars that run into the light rail corridor, not the original streetcar line streetcars, I don’t see where any of those problems are anything but a shopping list. Automatic extends are already normal for tram-trains, and 100kph (62.5mph) is the normal top operating speed for the newest of them. If the light rail is 700VDC tramline rather than 1.5KvDC or 25KVAC heavy rail catenary, there’s still the tram-trains still have a second power source up their sleeve, either higher voltage heavy rail electrification or hybrid diesel / overhead electric.

          • Good news, if Alon is correct. (And he often is).

            To clarify my statements, my notes on rapid streetcar are specific to the current situation in Portland–I agree that the technical issues could be overcome given the need, money, and political will to do so. (Portland Streetcar is a different agency than TriMet and while the two get along, they have different organizational cultures and goals. The controversial LO Streetcar project, which proposes deploying Streetcar vehicles for intra-urban service, may test the existing political dynamic if it gets built).

  • Nexis4Jersey

    Streetcars connect neighborhoods , stimulate growth and connect transit lines , and 1-3 miles is alot blockage in a typical city. on a side note , Philly operates modern streetcars.

  • The Milwaukee Streetcar has funding for the majority of its capital costs from the federal government (dating back to 1991 with the funding diverted and broken apart a couple times since then). It does not at this point have a publicly identified source of operating funds.

  • Brett

    Do not forget Omaha is planning a streetcar without federal funds. It would cost approximately 50 million $. They have already created the TIF district to make it happen.

  • David Oleesky

    I do not understand the fascination of certain US cities in trying to resuscitate, at great expense, a mode of transport that was considered obsolescent even in 1930. There may be a case for segregated light rail, in cities of intermediate population size or density where full metro systems are unaffordable, as such systems give the flexibility of street-running for short segments to avoid massive infrastructure costs at pinch points. However, traditional streetcars, with little reserved track and passengers boarding in the middle of streets open to all vehicles, contribute to traffic congestion and are very slow and inefficient. I note that the popular new mayor of Toronto, a city only a short distance from the USA with the largest legacy streetcar network in North America, intends to scrap this antiquated system.

    • John W

      While Ford won the Toronto mayoral race handily, he had more votes against him than for him (47% vs 53%, on a turnout of just 53% of eligible voters). He certainly was not popular in the wards that actually have streetcar lines – the bulk of his support was in the suburbs, obvious from this graphic:
      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/city-votes/who-voted-for-whom/article1777025/?from=1772591

      As for antiquated, the cars were manufactured in the late 70s and late 80s and the earlier ones are nearing the end of their service life. But they are due to be replaced by state-of-the art, low-floor Bombardier Flexity Outlook vehicles, customised for the TTC, which will begin running in 2013.

      • poncho

        if he doesnt christie* that order

        *christie – verb. to cancel for shortsighted personal political reasons a public contract and have the public incur hundreds of millions of dollars in penalty charges

    • EngineerScotty

      In modern streetcar designs, passengers don’t board “in the middle of open streets”–they board at designated platforms, just like LRT.

      And well-designed systems can reduce congestion, by removing the number of vehicles on the road. Perhaps what you meant to say is streetcars reduce throughput on the streets on which they operate–when they stop, after all, cars behind have to wait.

      But the same is true for busses. And for delivery trucks, garbage trucks, taxicabs, mail trucks, and a whole lot of other vehicles that use the roads–many of ‘em stop in traffic lanes for various reasons, legal or otherwise. Unless the road is a major arterial, one which was intentionally designed and optimized for throughput over local access–I don’t consider this a problem.

      The current routing of the Portland Streetcar runs almost entirely on side streets. It will be interesting to see how the new Eastside Loop extension, opening in 2011, fares–much of IT runs on the couplet of Grand and MLK Jr, which are the north and southbound lanes respectively of OR99E, a major state highway. Given that these two streets are generally four through lanes wide, and the Streetcar is running in the right-side lane (mostly in mixed traffice), I’m not too worried–if anything, I worry more about traffic impeding the Streetcar, not the reverse.

      • poncho

        MLK and Grand are traffic sewers that are extremely hostile to pedestrians and bikes. MLK and Grand at 4 lanes in each direction actually have more lanes than any of the freeways in Portland. It will be interesting to see how it works out but I’m really thinking now these were definitely the wrong streets for streetcar. Its unfortunate there are no plans to traffic calm these traffic sewers other than having the streetcar run in the right lane of a 4 lane one way road.

      • Buckeyeman

        Even though it’s “street” cars we’re talking about here, there might still be opportuniyies to use existing rights of way abandoned either by streetcar systems many decades ago, abandoned railroad right of ways, unused tunnels, unused bridge decks, etc. that could be put to use in making a streetcar line more attractive. In the transit industry’s hell-hot obesession and local government’s hell-hot obseesion with so-clled progress in the form of getting rid of streetcars, a good many rights of way in many forms were sacrficed which possibly gave a better standard of service that busses couldn’t.

        • poncho

          I think these old rail right of ways are the best alignments for transit by far. You get the speed combined with the potential for quality TOD that can intimately surround the stations. Problem is many urban freeways were located along one side of these rail lines near city centers completely trashing their TOD potential. IMO the existing LRT route in Charlotte is the ideal setting for LRT and/or Rapid Streetcar (unfortunately Charlotte as a whole isnt too well set up for transit).

    • Scott Mercer

      Ford is not “scrapping” the streetcar system in Toronto.

      He has noted his intention to cancel the “Transit City” program, which really hasn’t started building anything yet, and involved light rail, not streetcars.

      And he has advocated building subways instead of light rail. Subways are nearly as old as “streetcars,” if not just as old; the first subway opened in London in (IIRC) about 1860, and the first streetcars (which were horse drawn cars) started not long before that (maybe 1830?). Are subways “antiquated” as well?

      Streetcars were considered antiquated due to the way they were implemented back in the early 20th Century. They became outmoded due to inexotable population growth. The modern streetcar installation is used in much more limited fashion as circulator within a dense downtown area or other activity center, not as a commuting option. It was the streetcar’s failure as a commuting mode over long distances that allowed the coming of “light rail,” a different concept.

      The Pacific Electric Railway in Los Angeles, with over 1000 miles of track, functioned mostly as a commuter rail, and was much more like a “light rail” in most of its installations, even if people do nowadays think of it as a “streetcar.”

      • David Oleesky

        Rob Ford’s election manifesto for the future of transit in Toronto, which he now has the opportunity to implement as the elected mayor, is available here:
        http://www.robfordformayor.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Transportation-Plan4.pdf
        On page 3, he states under the heading “We will improve traffic flow downtown by removing some streetcars” that: “Streetcars on downtown arterial streets will be replaced with clean buses that provide the same capacity on the same routes. This will make the system safer and more accessible for all users. It will also improve traffic flow. Zero net cost. Cost to purchase and operate new buses will be offset by savings from reduced purchase of streetcars, sale of existing streetcars and reduced streetcar system maintenance.”
        This is in addition to stopping the light rail developments envisaged in the Transit City plan.

        • Nathanael

          Ford is an ass and I hope the city council or the provincial government blocks him. If they don’t, he will be the most detested Mayor of Toronto ever.

        • Drewski

          Scott, I too have seen more than one piece of press coverage where Ford was very clear in his streetcar hostility. He hates them. Also, the subway extension he puts at the top of the list is pushing the end of the Bloor/Danforth line out to Scarborough Town Centre. It’s easy enough to see a clear diagonal right of way (which would probably be cut n cover), unless you try to follow the Scarboro RT. It’s not just Transit City that Ford wants to kill, it’s also the existing streetcar network. You can find video clips of him saying as much if you do a search on CBC or CityTV. Ford claims that streetcars block downtown traffic–which is an opinion you might hold, if you’re a little drunk and you’re trying to get back to Etobicoke in your Big Manly SUV, and that’s a description that has fit Ford more than once if you judge by his record.

          If you’re in Scarborough (which in itself has over 700,000 people), it can easily take two hours to get downtown by TTC, even at rush hour. (You can try catching a GO bus to the Yonge subway, but then you have the crowds there.) Part of the Transit City plan involved converting the Scarborough RT to a LRT line (the curves would have to be rebuilt), which would allow light rail from two lines in far northeast Scarborough to run directly to Kennedy. Also, the Eglinton line is planned to run to Kennedy, so there’d be a direct connection to North Toronto too. Transit City has been designed to accommodate the Toronto leg of a proposed LRT line out to Durham (currently served by the GO bus on Hwy 2).

          Scott, do you realize that Ford’s glib suggestions come after 20+ years of failure to extend any kind of frequent rail service out to Weston or Rexdale? TTC can’t get the subway out to Sherway Gardens, let alone southern Mississauga, and that would be in an existing rail r/w. The Eglinton line was originally designed as a subway, but construction stopped in 1995 when Mike Harris became premier. GO still doesn’t have all-day, frequent, electrified service, despite the huge latent demand. All of these things are components of the Metrolinx plan, yet Rob Ford presumes to wish a multi-billion-dollar subway expansion into existence when TTC can’t rely on long-term funding from either the province or Ottawa. The Sheppard subway is a joke, and would make more sense as part of a light rail line; the reason it was built was that former Mayor Mel Lastman got on well enough with the Harris government, and there were more Tory votes in North York than there were along the Eglinton line. It’s like building a subway line in outer Queens instead of finishing the Second Avenue line. Ford is a meathead, and the best hope for Toronto is that Ford is corked and Metrolinx forces the city to proceed with Transit City.

          One more thought. Toronto’s streetcars were pretty much the last order (one of the last at least) of high-floor cars in North America. The city has spent the last several years repairing the tracks, which is helping to stabilize service. Even the unarticulated high-floor cars are better than a bus. Articulated low-floor streetcars (with a/c too!), running on properly-maintained track (which much of it now is), are a far more realistic option in the city core than Ford’s bus fantasy. If you tried to replace all streetcars with buses, you’d have articulateds lined up in threes and fours on EVERY LINE at rush hour. Far worse traffic problems, and it’d take far too many drivers.

          • One theory concerning bus vs streetcar is that the former is more “car-friendly” to the latter, as many bus routes are designed with pullouts (so stopped busses don’t block traffic); whereas streetcar routes generally stay in lane, and stop cars behind them.

            Some consider this an advantage for streetcars, of course.

            The location of stops relative to traffic lanes isn’t an inherent property of bus vs rail (the Portland Transit Mall has LRT trains weaving between the curb and the interior lanes every few blocks, so trains don’t block busses when stopped); but it’s a lot easier to build pullouts for smaller vehicles such as busses.

            • John W

              Not sure how widespread a trend it is, but in London they’ve been filling in those pull-outs during the past few years, to speed up the buses.

              • aw

                That’s been happening in the Seattle area as well, with a construction they call a bus bulb or a bus bulb-out.

            • Max Wyss

              I have my serious doubts about the adequacy of “on-street” streetcar stops. Even with low-floor vehicles, a curb is the preferred solution.

              In the city I know best, there are maybe a dozen stops where there is no curb and platform; all other stops have a platform (usually in the middle of the street) with a curb.

              There is also a trend to abandon or to not build a bay for a bus stop, and that even where a bus leaving the bay has the right of way. Especially in narrower streets, this concept seems to be rather successful.

              • Bays for bus stops are for the seeming benefit of motor vehicle traffic, they always add time to schedules compared to bus stops built out to meet the traffic lane.

                Of course, like synchronized lights and no bus priority drop in for the traffic lights, its only a seeming benefit when the increase in speed in bus transit would help increase bus ridership so reduce traffic congestion.

  • Deacon

    Been thinking about this, the cost of a streetcar line and system even seems to be a feasible endeavor for a PPP based on the financial model of the Indianapolis monorail that connects the various medical centers. Reason I say his is because of the existing rights of way that could be used by the private company leasing it from the city. Yonah would you agree that it’s a possibility that a PPP could be successful in streetcar systems?

    • I see no reason that a PPP for streetcar development would be impossible. The Indianapolis monorail was simply a private hospital corporation building a transit system for its own use; it’s not really a public system, as the stations are very difficult for the general public to access. I can see advantages in developing streetcar systems at the same time as new development is being undertaken, but in general, I’m in favor of the public sector making these decisions.

  • For those who are confused about how I’ve defined the term streetcar for use in this article: I’m referring to light rail systems that operate almost entirely in a right-of-way shared with automobiles. Systems like the Newark Light Rail Broad Street line use “streetcar” vehicles but have almost their entire rights-of-way to themselves; note Baltimore’s Red Line, Boston’s Green Line, etc. Systems with the majority of their rights-of-way to themselves I’ll classify as light rail. This is, I admit, an arbitrary and personal differentiation.

    • cph

      That definition’s good enough for me.

    • right of way or lane?

      That is:
      ————–
      track & cars ->

      cars ->
      <- cars
      <- track
      ———–

      IOW, while streetcar is clearly one type of light rail, is "streetcar" = "tram", or is it a proper subset?

      • I thought that tram was the European term for what Americans call light rail.

        • Max Wyss

          Most European places don’t care about whether they have “streetcar” or “light rail”; they build and use them…

          In German, there is the term “Stadtbahn”, which implies extensive dedicated right of way, but otherwise, there is little difference from street running “Strassenbahn” (in fact the term may have been invented for propaganda reasons).

          Again in German, “Tram” or “Tramway” has regional meaning, but it is mostly equivalent to “Strassenbahn”. But then, it is more the tradition which determines the use of the term. It may also refer more to the kind of rolling stock used, or the kind of operation (not signal-protected; but then, there are several streetcar networks which have signal-protected stretches; mainly in tunnels).

          All that said, there are no “ISO standard level” definitions (which makes the whole thing difficult to communicate to the ones who don’t have a cultural background to the terms.

        • Melbourne trams run in the street in their own dedicated lanes.

          Its still a tram if it runs in a dedicated right of way, of course ~ one of the Melbourne tram route was extended by taking over a disused rail corridor, so it leaves the street and runs on its own dedicated right of way.

          The idea that running trams in the street and running trams in their own right of way are two distinct modes of transport is a peculiarly American notion. Even the Sydney Light Rail was just rebranding a tram, but it runs in a mix of its own dedicated right of way and its own lanes on the street.

  • Jake

    To David Oleesky,

    Streetcars are not an outdated mode of transportation at all. Lack of technology did not lead to the downfall of streetcars in the United States but rather a change in mentality that was helped along massively by huge and unfair government subsidies towards suburban auto-oriented developments. There are streetcars in the Czech Republic today that still operate that were sold by US cities in the early 50s.

    If you’ve been to Europe you would see the amount of good streetcars do even in smaller communities. In Innsbruck, Austria (I use this as an example because I’ve been there) a city of only about 120,000 people they have a relatively expansive network of streetcar lines that serve the city. They enhance development in a walkable fashion but Innsbruck is in no way a stifling urban center. It’s a nice, quiet town.

    The same thing has happened and is happening in cities across the United States. I live near Cincinnati and literally watch as about every 2 months development creeps up a block at a time Vine and Main Streets in anticipation of the streetcar. They promote greater mobility, bring large amounts of investment, and energize urban centers and neighborhoods.

    • David Oleesky

      It is not the streetcars themselves that are obsolescent, it is the concept of a rail system largely sharing roads with other unrestricted traffic, including motor cars. In order to justify spending large amounts of money on rail infrastructure (including its maintenance), there needs to be sufficient population density to warrant a frequent high capacity service, a significant distance that potential passengers wish to travel (minimum 2-3 miles, but usually at least 5) and also substantial segregation from other traffic. Segregation can be achieved by reserving certain roads for streetcars only, but this is unpopular in the English-speaking world.

      • While sharing lanes with cars is indeed due to the US commitment to its obsolescent car based transport system, the implementation of the streetcar alignment is not obsolete ~ since the sharing with cars is required to continue for the life of the alignments.

        Simply restricting the streetcar alignment to streetcar and bus use only provides a quite flexible system, and since modern ultra-low floor buses and modern ultra-low floor streetcars have almost identical floor boarding heights, they can even share stops.

        • Notice the framing: Streetcars are bad because they clog up the streets which rightfully belong to cars. Remove the assumption that streets are for autos, and other forms of mobility represent an encroachment, and the entire argument falls away.

          • poncho

            seriously, for some perverse reason we give priority to 80 people in 80 vehicles than 80 (or more) people in 1 vehicle. and then we wonder why streets are clogged and traffic is bad… its all the SOVs wasting the street.

          • Though of course, if even a few passengers in the streetcar would have otherwise driven, they clearly unclog rather clog the street, even from the perspective of the death cagers.

      • Jake

        You’re assuming that people want to always travel 2-3 miles in a city or that you can only have streetcars with high population densities. I’m not saying streetcars will be successful in ultra-low density suburbs but they don’t have to be in downtown NYC to work. Like I said, look up info about Innsbruck (and I’m sure countless other European cities) and you’ll see that it doesn’t need to be like that. And do you realize how much ground you cover in just 2 miles in a city? That’s a lot of city blocks. There’s a lot packed into city blocks so you don’t necessarily need to have extremely long networks. Having a starter line works very well with introducing the system to the community. And while segregation from traffic can be good, in the dense communities where you say it is warranted, building a separate ROW for light rail (assuming you’re not talking about putting in heavy rail) is in many cases quite impractical.

        • Even for very low density suburbs, there are always commercial strips where a streetcar alignment of two to three miles would allow far more convenient access to the the various malls, strip malls, and big boxes.

          Obviously in that case it would have to pick up speed and run between more widely space stations in the residential areas, so that is more for a mixed alignment than a dedicated streetcar loop, but by having pooled parking at either end of the streetcar segment, it would also allow more floorspace per parking space within the commercial district, allowing existing parking space to be developed.

  • mike lehman

    the single most green, safe, healthy, non oil-dependent thing one could do every day, by far, no question, is; get your ass out of your car and use another transport mode!!!!!
    ……………………………………………….
    build the new york city to chicago bullet train, forget the rest…comment and forward, usbullettrain@gmail.com

  • Bob

    Seattle Streetcar is a failure, top heavy with management with no direction, base chief and 4 supervisors for 7 operators and two cars, really is this money well spent? I think not. Put this money in to transit, until a line is put in to place that compliments the buses is built and managed by compident people.

  • Dave

    Discussion seems to forget the mechanical efficiency of electric transit — no heavy transmissions, no fuel, no alternators, no batteries to haul around. Electric propulsion has far greater acceleration than diesel buses — vital to the negotiating the hills of Cincinnati. Streetcars are low to the street — no steering mechanism is required. Streetcars last 30 to 40 years, buses last 12 to 13 years. Buses have a single drive system (diesel engine), which has to power everything — transmission, air conditioning, lighting, brakes, steering — streetcars have individual electric drives at each wheel. Streetcars have fewer mechanical parts to maintain. Buses are oil-dependent for their power. And most Metro bus drivers drive with their foot either on the gas or on the brakes — streetcars have a far smoother ride.
    Some European cities are now actively discouraging driving to downtown areas, by manipulating traffic lights (NY Times, June 26). Cincinnati wouldn’t dare do this, as European cities of almost any size have adequate transit. Even our building codes require parking spaces, but say nothing of providing provisions for transit. It’s so much easier to build parking garages (at $10,000 per space), then expect tax dollars to provide the endless additional lanes and traffic controls, which only pushes our congestion to somewhere else. (And then we continue to say that automobiles are not subsidized).
    How much of our Downtown traffic are cars looking for the most convenient parking space? Downtown has to be a destination to which a car is not required. Streetcars are but one proven component of doing so.

  • I have to agree. I’ve done a little research myself and electric transit is so much more cost effective to operate and maintain. Arizona is sure in need of more in their line of public transportation.

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