The Economist trolls trolleys, says "Trams are a waste of money." Here's why they're wrong

Toronto Streetcar
CC BY 2.0 Flickr/ BriYYZ

The Economist goes trolley trolling and complains that all those cities that are making huge investments in light rail are wasting their money. Despite claims by cities that it has led to a lot of development, E. B. (this newspaper doesn't tell you who writes this stuff) writes:

But for all this bullishness, there is no empirical link between streetcars and development. A 2010 survey of these systems in America by the Federal Transit Administration offered little evidence of concrete cause and effect. In the cities where streetcars have launched a wave of renewal, it is mainly because they are part of a larger, heavily subsidised development plan, with changes in zoning, improvements to streets and other benefits.

It's hard to know where to start. Streetcars or light rail do not exist in isolation; if you tear up the road to install them, it's an automatic improvement when you rebuild. The whole point of them is to carry more people and promote intensification of development, so zoning changes go hand in hand. Like roads and bridges for cars, they are subsidized. They are part of the larger package.

The author also claims that they block traffic and are slow, and calls them "a slow, silly service used mainly by tourists."

Indeed, their slow speeds and frequent stops mean they often add to congestion. This may not bother tourists keen on a novelty ride, but it is no solution to America’s public transport problems.

In this he fails to understand that many light rail projects and streetcar lines are in dedicated rights of way. As Brandon Donnelly noted in Architect this city, they also carry three times as many people and run on electricity instead of diesel. But perhaps the Economist is just looking at the wrong cities; Where I live, the headlines in the National Post read:

The heralded arrival of mass transit sparks gold rush of developers

City of Toronto/ Proposal for redevelopment of Celestica Lands/Public Domain

Peter Kuitenbrouwer describes how the new Light Rail line on Eglinton Avenue in Toronto is leading to billions of dollars in real estate investment. He quotes real estate consultant Ross Moore, who saw this happen in Vancouver too:

TOD. Transit-oriented development. It’s all the rage. Everyone wants to get out of their cars. Employers want their employees out of their cars, and the employees want to get out of their cars, too.

On the main street near where I live, often referred to by our beloved Mayor Ford as "the St. Clair Disaster", it seems a new restaurant opens every week and a new condo pops up on every block, all since the streetcar was put in a dedicated right of way, making it fast and dependable. It has been proven many times here: Investment follows infrastructure.

Proposed development on Eglinton Avenue, Toronto:
© National Post

Tags: Public Transportation | Toronto

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