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In Search of Sanity
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Updated August 15, 2012, 5:41 a.m. ET
By CAROLINE PORTER

Cities from Los Angeles to Atlanta are making big bets to revitalize their downtowns by bringing back a form of transportation many abandoned decades ago: the streetcar.

Some cities are counting on help from federal stimulus dollars, but a few are going it alone.

Late last month, about 500 residents in one part of Kansas City, Mo., voted to create a special taxing district to raise $75 million over about two decades for a streetcar. In the same week, Cincinnati officials passed a measure to allow about $15 million to be spent on a 3.6-mile loop. And in Los Angeles, the city council approved a plan to ask voters if they are willing to pay additional taxes for a four-mile downtown streetcar loop.

Proponents say the streetcars would boost economic growth and catch the fancy of younger generations . . . .

But others see a waste of tax dollars on projects that, they say, offer little more than a way to move downtown workers from their offices to lunch . . . .

Streetcars, which typically run as single-car, electric-powered units on steel tracks in a condensed area, once were a common part of the urban landscape. But most cities' tracks were ripped out to make more room for automobiles on busy streets. Streetcars are distinct from trolleys, often vintage vehicles that cater to tourists, and light-rail systems, which typically travel to and from a city's suburbs and carry more people in multiple cars.

The revival in streetcar projects comes in part because of federal backing. In 2009, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pledged $280 million for urban-transit projects, such as streetcars. During the past four years, the Department of Transportation doled out more than $450 million to 12 streetcar projects across the country, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Atlanta and Salt Lake City already have broken ground on streetcar projects with a total of $74 million in federal funding.

Minneapolis is preparing to apply for more federal money to get a project under way after receiving a $900,000 federal planning grant in late 2010, said Peter Wagenius, a policy director for Mayor R.T. Rybak. "These streetcar lines are short not because they should be, but rather because cities have been doing what was possible with available funding," Mr. Wagenius said.

Many cities point to streetcar projects like the one in Portland, Ore., which opened its first leg in 2001 and is expected to expand to 7.3 miles of track next month from four miles now. City officials in a 2008 report cited the streetcar as impetus for more than 10,000 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of office, institutional, retail and hotel construction within two blocks . . . .

But some experts say not every city can be turned into the next Portland. Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, published a paper in June titled "The Great Streetcar Conspiracy," in which he calls streetcars the "latest urban planning fad," claiming that operation costs per mile for streetcars are double those of buses. "Putting 125-year-old technology into modern cities is going to create more congestion, dangerous situations for pedestrians and divert taxpayers' money from transit that people really need to transit that is silly," Mr. O'Toole said.

Mr. O'Toole has said $435 million in city business incentives helped Portland's celebrated Pearl District, celebrated for its economic development, while other areas served by the streetcar faltered without help from the city.

Other cities have had less operational success with their projects. Last year, officials in Tampa, Fla., scaled back the hours of operation and the frequency of rides in order to balance the annual $1.3 million operating budget for a 2.7-mile streetcar, according to Marcia Mejia, public information officer for the area's regional transportation agency. Ridership numbers for a streetcar in Little Rock, Ark., were 112,000 per year, rather than the estimated 130,000. City officials say construction work hampered its usage.

Kansas City officials plan a 2.2-mile streetcar route now budgeted at $100 million. Danny Rotert, a spokesman for Mayor Sly James, said $75 million will come from the property- and sales-tax increases voters approved last month, and $25 million will be cobbled together with city funds. The city was hoping for $25 million in a federal grant competition this year but didn't win . . . .

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100...77579360844409848.html?mod=WSJ_myyahoo_module
 

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Oh No He Didn't
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In Search of Sanity
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Speaking of streetcars, Washington DC is planning and building several new streetcar lines
When I was a kid I road streetcars all over DC to go shopping, the dentist etc. It had a good system which it ripped out. The terminal I used was at 14th & Colorado Ave.

As a matter of fact, San Francisco now owns a fleet of PCC cars just like the ones DC had (and perhaps some of them are actual DC cars--they've all been refurbished).
 

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Journeyman
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Why do they always claim that these projects are about "revitalizing" downtowns? Sometimes it's about dealing with the number of people traveling in/to/from an already-healthy downtown.
 

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Oh No He Didn't
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When I was a kid I road streetcars all over DC to go shopping, the dentist etc. It had a good system which it ripped out. The terminal I used was at 14th & Colorado Ave.

As a matter of fact, San Francisco now owns a fleet of PCC cars just like the ones DC had (and perhaps some of them are actual DC cars--they've all been refurbished).
Indeed alot of streetcar systems in the US were ripped out during that time.

Why do they always claim that these projects are about "revitalizing" downtowns? Sometimes it's about dealing with the number of people traveling in/to/from an already-healthy downtown.
I can't speak for other cities but in Washington DC's case, the streetcar network is being built primarly to serve areas that are not already served by the Metro system like Georgetown.

Other cities like Philadelphia which just restored the Girard Avenue Streetcar line are also just using streetcars to focus on neighborhood connectivity, while letting the Market–Frankford Line and Broad Street Line focus on connecting downtown with the outlying neighborhoods.
 

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Why do they always claim that these projects are about "revitalizing" downtowns? Sometimes it's about dealing with the number of people traveling in/to/from an already-healthy downtown.
In Atlanta, the only possible use that could be imagined for the streetcar line is to shuttle tourists. It doesn't go from where people live to where any resident would need/want to go.

I hope it works to create some sort of bar/nightlife district along it's path, but I don't see it happening.
 

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In Search of Sanity
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
^^Well, tourists are people too and they are often people without cars. The one and only time I was in Atlanta (to visit Emory for an interview) I wished there was a better way to get around.
 

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In Atlanta, the only possible use that could be imagined for the streetcar line is to shuttle tourists. It doesn't go from where people live to where any resident would need/want to go.

I hope it works to create some sort of bar/nightlife district along it's path, but I don't see it happening.
It might benefit the 30,000 residents of downtown or the 40,000 students going between the two distinct GSU campuses...in addition to the tourists, of course.
 

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centralnatbankbuildingrva
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At least the Mayor has supported the Idea of light rail here in RVA and people are beginning to think street cars are a good Ides for Richmond, so I think were off to a good start.
 

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It might benefit the 30,000 residents of downtown or the 40,000 students going between the two distinct GSU campuses...in addition to the tourists, of course.
These students aren't going to pay $2.50 to ride <1 mile. The line runs along the North border of campus. It doesn't impact GSU's campus much. The places served by the line that residents would want to go to are within EASY walking distance of each other. I'm mainly talking about the eastern portion to MLK. There's little of substance between Woodruff Park and MLK that anyone would want to go to (and you can say that, as of now, no one wants to go to MLK seeing as no one does). THIS is the area I'm hoping will develop a denser nightlife/bar district. Church and SoundTable don't make a bar district.

Again; I hope that it is successful. But I doubt it.
 

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I am surprised it didn't mention Portland and Seattle too. Portland has an excellent streetcar system and I believe Portland already planning to extend it in the near future. As for Seattle, there is a second streetcar route (First Hill Streetcar) is currently under construction. There are few routes planned but recently they just started to study a third line to connect two streetcar lines and extend it to Ballard/Fremont from its downtown area. More information on Seattle streetcars: http://seattlestreetcar.org/
 

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These students aren't going to pay $2.50 to ride <1 mile. The line runs along the North border of campus. It doesn't impact GSU's campus much. The places served by the line that residents would want to go to are within EASY walking distance of each other. I'm mainly talking about the eastern portion to MLK. There's little of substance between Woodruff Park and MLK that anyone would want to go to (and you can say that, as of now, no one wants to go to MLK seeing as no one does). THIS is the area I'm hoping will develop a denser nightlife/bar district. Church and SoundTable don't make a bar district.

Again; I hope that it is successful. But I doubt it.
I disagree...I think the downtown residents and daily visitors will heavily use the line, along with the gobs of tourists. Maybe I'm just a glass-half-full kind of guy.:cheers:
 

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In Search of Sanity
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I am surprised it didn't mention Portland and Seattle too. Portland has an excellent streetcar system . . . .
How is THIS not mentioning Portland:

Many cities point to streetcar projects like the one in Portland, Ore., which opened its first leg in 2001 and is expected to expand to 7.3 miles of track next month from four miles now. City officials in a 2008 report cited the streetcar as impetus for more than 10,000 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of office, institutional, retail and hotel construction within two blocks . . . .
But they can't mention every city--like I said, they really didn't mention Tucson which is putting in a nice line for a first effort.
 

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Journeyman
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Within two blocks? They're giving credit for everything built in all of greater Downtown Portland at least. I'm curious whether they're also giving credit for planned projects not built yet, like the forest of towers planned at the south waterfront...guessing so, because while a lot of construction has happened 10,000 seems way too high.
 

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Within two blocks? They're giving credit for everything built in all of greater Downtown Portland at least. I'm curious whether they're also giving credit for planned projects not built yet, like the forest of towers planned at the south waterfront...guessing so, because while a lot of construction has happened 10,000 seems way too high.
And they're giving the streetcar credit for buildings/businesses that received tax incentives given to the area.

The area along the streetcar line that didn't get these incentives? Not so "booming".
 

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Hopefully all these work as well as they have in Portland.

While so many other cities have had long and very public dramas surrounding their streetcars, Oklahoma City has proceeded with its plans without much attention from the national media and is really close to construction.

OKC streetcar is fully funded and will begin construction in 2014. Cost is $120m with most of the route using the couplet concept. The linear length of the route is about 2.5 mi but because of the couplet concept about 5-6 miles of streets will have streetcar frontage.

Here is a graphic of the route showing its relationship to neighborhoods and some ongoing construction projects.

 

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Journeyman
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It's great that it's likely to get built. But it looks like a very unfortunate route. Trying to be everything to everybody (?) seems to be making it extremely indirect. Not having it on one street is also confusing for the uninitiated.

Seattle's route currently being built also has an unfortunate jog over too. A hill and avoiding a busy street are apparently the reason.
 
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