Streetcars Back on the Rails in America

cincinnati streetcar photo

(Michael Moose/Glaserworks)

Terrence Mann said "If you build it, they will come"; I once said at a public meeting about a Toronto streetcar line that "investment follows infrastructure." Portland proved it; 10,000 residential units have been built and $3.5 billion has been invested within two blocks of its streetcar line since it opened.

Bob Driehaus writes in the IHT:

At least 40 other cities are exploring streetcar plans to spur economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs, according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar construction.

portland streetcar photo

Portland Streetcar Image Creative Commons ellie

More than a dozen have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, North Carolina, have introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars.

Some, like the libertarian critic Randal O'Toole at the Cato Institute says that growth along streetcar lines is dependent on subsidies and are of little use.

"It looks like it's going to take you somewhere, but it's only designed to support downtown residents," he said. "If officials fall for the hype and don't ask the hard questions, voters should vote them out."

toronto streetcar photo

Toronto Streetcar Creative Commons image by Mary

I would politely suggest that Mr. O'Toole is full of crap- I live in a streetcar city and the lines do not all go downtown, they do connect with the subway which does, but are used to go in all directions by all kinds of people. Drivers hate them (they are hard to pass and definitely slow down automobile traffic) but riders love them. When dedicated rights-of-way go in, they become fast, dependable and have huge capacity.

Furthermore, streetcar lines attract development and investment- that's where the condos go. As Cincinnati's city manager said in the IHT: "Today, young, educated workers move to cities with a sense of place. And if businesses see us laying rail down on a street, they'll know that's a permanent route that will have people passing by seven days a week."

Compared to a bus, they are faster and more dependable; compared to a subway, they are cheap; compared to a private car, from a capacity and climate point of view: there is no comparison.

::International Herald Tribune

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