News story: U.S. cities plan to bring back streetcars

Discussion in 'The Real Thing- North America' started by Art Decko, Aug 15, 2008.

  1. Art Decko

    Art Decko Member

    From the International Herald Tribune: U.S. cities plan to bring back streetcars.

    Great news! As a former long-time resident of San Francisco, I can attest to the many virtues of streetcars. :thumb:
  2. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    Columbus, Ohio has a streetcar plan in the planning stages, but it's a hard sell. 1) the cost, 2) the relatively short run proposed and 3) Buses run the same route, so it is seen as redundant.

    I've visited SF many times, and agree that the streetcars are very handy - but even as a railfan, I'm struggling to see the benefit of the streetcar plan locally.

  3. Art Decko

    Art Decko Member

    I think a big problem for streetcars is that they have some valuable intangible qualities that are are very difficult to quantify, which makes them a harder sell.

    For instance, as the article mentions, a streetcar line gives off a stronger feeling of permanance than a bus route, which can be a factor in spurring development.

    Streetcars also have a certain air of urban romance that no bus can rival. They become a kind of rolling architectural element of a city. Unfortunately you can't put a dollar figure on this, so it usually counts for little or nothing (in the same way that music, arts, etc are undervalued unless they can be easily commodified or commercialized).

    Yet, you can get a sense of the strength of this effect just by counting the number of tourists who ride SF's cable cars and streetcars - just for the fun of riding them! In Hong Kong it's the same - the century-old streetcars there are totally impractical, yet ... people love them. How many tourists ride local buses just for the fun of it?
  4. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Denver spent a lot of money to put in light rail. It is variously touted as a success or a waste of money, depending on who you ask.

    The key lies in where the lines go. Denver's light rail provides good service for those who live and wo0rk right downtown or go to the university, but serve little else and do not link up the areas where most of Denver lives with the areas where the jobs and stores are.

    I think to be successful urban transit like this has to serve the bedroom communities so common to large American cities and allow people to come and go to all parts of the city without needing cars. The best examples I can think of from my own experience are Paris and London. I went everywhere in those cities without ever touching my car, cheaply, rapidly and very conveniently; however, those are underground lines which are hugely expensive to build in today's cities.

    We're paying for our love affair with the automobile. :cool:
  5. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    You hit the nail on the head. I had a short talk with a co-worker about rail transit in general the other day and his observation was more or less the same as yours Mountain; that it, in short, wouldn't serve enough people and the places they wanted to go. If you look at today's cities, especially ones that are relatively young and with room to grow, this is patently obvious. Homes / shops are far too distributed (and pedestrian access too limited).

    This is when folks like my co-worker need to look beyond the end of their noses. It took us decades to grow into this "distributed" model, and it will take at least that long to move to a new model. Rail lines, once put in place, will attract higher-density living and business; people will want to be close to transit. Ultimately, this would force the living / working model to a more "node" like model. At that time, it will be patently obvious to the casual observer that rail will serve most of the population.

    Ultimately the only thing that will cause this shift to occur is something no one in this country likes - high gas prices. People vote with their wallets, and if their wallets say there is an advantage to living near mass transit, then that will happen.

    Oh, and sidewalks will come back into vogue... :)


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