The story serves as a reminder of just how integrated into daily life the streetcar was; all the way through as it turns out, to the very end. We may likely not easily recapture the degree of saturation that was common at the turn of the last century, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not significant streetcar work going on in most regions of the country.
The field has seen a resurgence of late, with efforts underway in two dozen cities. As with any major transportation asset taking its place in the built environment, streetcars will move through the project life cycle: study, design, construction, construction inspection, and operations.
The Streetcar Renaissance
With the other subcategories of transit – heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, trolleys, and bus rapid transit – streetcars enjoy the same advantages and market drivers:
- Transit is being embraced as a mean of enhancing the urban experience, broadening the transportation choices available to citizens.
- Transit encourages economic development along the routes or at the hubs of the transit network. Transit oriented development is a concept that has been proved out over the last decade, with commercial, entertaining, dining, and residential growth following in its path.
- Transit rides atop but also contributes to urban densification, as populations, especially young people, take up urban living.
- The reductions in the carbon footprint via the passenger cars taken off the road, is significant.
But even given these common elements, there is something special about streetcars.
They are different from other means of transit, being of a more fixed network than bus, and less expensive foot per foot than light rail or subway systems.
There is a charm to them that enhances tourist destinations (which is no small thing; it is a quite a bit different experience to wander out the front door of your hotel and step onto a streetcar than it is to retrieve your car from the parking garage and navigate a strange city) and they bring an historical aura.
That aura is no wonder, since their heyday was in the first half of the last century, a heyday that was then undercut by the explosion of the automobile culture. It is said by people that know – people that I’m related to – that at one time in this major and sprawling Midwestern city there wasn’t a neighborhood that you couldn’t reach from any other neighborhood, you could ‘always get there from here.’
It is not too much of a reach to consider how this enables the connectedness both physical and human between all parts of a metro.
It is tempting to call them the best of both worlds, and they can be popular with voters, who often have to approve a ballot issue to get the tax revenues rolling, another factor in their favor. – lsm