Saturday, September 8, 2007

Streetcar Watch

The idea of streetcars is taking off all over the country. Most areas see them as a way to increase the density of employment and housing along the corridor while revitalizing closer in former streetcar suburbs. People are also fascinated by the history.

There were a lot of stories this week covering the expansion, creation, or history of streetcar lines:

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce is creating a streetcar committee and there were articles in local papers discussing the idea: East Valley/Scottsday Tribune.

Portland has approved funding to keep the Eastside streetcar moving. The Oregonian is following the story.

The Portland City Council took a leap of faith Thursday, forced by a deadline to quickly commit $27 million toward building a $147 million extension of the streetcar to the east side.

The project carries some financial risk for the city, but the commissioners agreed that the streetcar could spark the kind of development boom on the east side that has accompanied the westside line through the Pearl, the west end of downtown, the River District and South Waterfront.

"We hope to knit together the east and west sides of the city in ways we would not be able to do otherwise," City Commissioner Sam Adams said.

Little Rock has a streetcar system and is thinking of expanding to the airport. THV has the article. I was struck again by how cheap Little Rock can get it done. Their last expansion was only 7 million a mile and the article makes it seem that they could keep the cost that low again. I've created a map that shows the extension area below and it seems like they would use former railroad ROW. This would make the costs of the line more like railroad costs which is much cheaper.


North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays says that a planned extension to Heifer International's headquarters would leave only three or four miles to cover to reach the airport. Hays says extending the line to the airport would allow visitors to take the streetcar directly to downtown hotels. Central Arkansas officials are looking into the feasibility of the proposal and a consultant is helping explore the idea. Running the line to the airport would cost an estimated 20 million dollars. Federal grants would cover 80 percent of the cost.

And finally, a series of History Lessons about Sacramento's Streetcar system over at the Sacramento History Blog.

Part 1: Sacramento Streetcar Suburbs
Part 2: Central Street Railway
Part 3: PG&E and It's Predecessors
Part 4: East Sacramento and Elmhurst


kenf said...

And Madison, WI just killed their proposed streetcar. Never underestimate the stupidity of massed intellectuals.

Dave said...

The Madison plan is more on hold than dead to see if they can get commuter rail through first.... Further there is a streetcar plan for Milwaukee, WI that's under considertion as well.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

My question is are they really going to build commuter rail or is it going to actually be light rail? I've seen it used a few ways where people say commuter rail but they really seem to mean light rail. Any insight Dave?

Also, will Mr. Walker ever relinquish his dream of everyone owning a car in Milwaukee?

Mike said...

Again with the overselling of the streetcar. Guys, in areas which need a spur to redevelop, it sure can have some benefit, but it has exactly zero benefits otherwise to the daily commuter - and if you oversell it, people will discover this, and there'll be a backlash.

You run the risk of throwing out the baby (true LRT) with the bathwater (stuck-in-traffic streetcar).

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Streetcars aren't for commuting. That is where you get it wrong. Rapid streetcar maybe which can have a dedicated ROW. But these lines in Arkansas, Portland, and even Kenosha are circulators. Their main purpose is not line haul operation. Also, buses don't attract passengers at the same density as streetcars for this circulator function and can't handle them. We've had this argument before. Portland's streetcar passenger density could not be handled by buses. It's a crush load whenever I'm there. And believe me, they aren't all tourists.

Also, you get it wrong with the speed attribute. DSK has it right, streetcars along with trolley buses with their electric power usage have much much faster acceleration. Another thing is that where the streetcar alignment is now in Austin, where is the traffic aside from Congress? I'm not going to defend the alignment because its bad, but if you say stuck in traffic, where are the choke points going to be? I used to run down trinity every morning to town lake on runs, there was nothing in those parallel blocks to suggest traffic would have any more impact on operations of a streetcar versus dedicated guideway.

And with federal funding as it is, what cities are going to build LRT for 40-70 million per mile without federal funding? It's disappearing and you'll have to wait 10 years to get your money and right now its looking like they are forcing downgrades to BRT. I know you want light rail, but until we change the funding mechanism at the federal level, good luck getting money for it if you're a smaller city looking to start out with rail.

Mike said...

LRT can control signals - streetcar could, but won't. That's one big win on streets like Manor. Reserved guideway would be the big win on Congress.

As for "used as circulator" - yes, I'm glad we agree that they provide no additional utility for commuters. The problem is that nobody else is hearing this statement -- it's being sold here as a distributor for commuter rail AND as some kind of commuter line itself; NOT as a lunchtime happy-fun circulator.

If you want to pitch Jim Skaggs softballs, keep pushing streetcars. The argument versus buses is so trivially easy for him to win (in a city where the economic development argument is moot, like here in Austin).

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I'll write up a new post so we can keep this discussion going. It'll keep me and others honest and perhaps be a better back and forth than anyone could have with the mindless opposition of the Skaggs/O'Toole set. I will make the point that this post was just a round up of streetcar news but you kinda made a mountain out of a mole hill. But some of your points from your post today will be discussed...might not be today but soon.

Mike said...

Good idea - I have done so from my end, obviously. The thing I forgot to rebut was the circulator argument as well - bolting a streetcar circulator on to a growing rail system which can stand on its own feet already is an unquestionably good idea (since streetcar capacity is, as you note, higher than bus). But using it by itself (which is what almost all of the cities you mention are doing) isn't going to get you those circulation benefits (because people will not use streetcar as the primary form of transportation, which means that in those cities, they drove to work today, and thus don't _NEED_ a circulator).