Downtowns See Streetcars as Development Tool
U.S. mass-transit ridership, already at its highest in 50 years, is set to keep rising, with nearly 400 new rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit projects proposed, according to a new report by Reconnecting America. Americans’ 10.1 billion trips on transit in 2007 saved 1.4 billions of gallons of gasoline, the equivalent of a supertanker leaving the Middle East every 11 days. The Community Streetcar Coalition reports that at least 40 U.S. cities are exploring streetcar plans, not only to ease traffic congestion, but also to draw people back from the suburbs and spur economic development.
More than a dozen cities have existing streetcar lines, including Portland, Seattle and New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, North Carolina, have introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars. Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, are investigating financing options.
Modern streetcars, which cost about $3 million each, run on an overhead electrical wire and rails flush with the pavement, and carry up to 130 passengers per car. Because they pick up passengers on both sides, stops are shorter than with buses.
Portland, Oregon, built the first major modern U.S. streetcar system, in 2001. Residential and commercial development is up significantly within two blocks of the line, according to Portland Streetcar, Inc.