Sunday, March 04, 2007
Trolleys are Back!
The old-fashioned trolley is making a comeback in American cities often in the same cities that it helped to shape a century ago. While in Europe their use and popularity has been continual, such systems had essentially disappeared in the USA by about 1970. This was in response to concerns about their impacts on automobile traffic (slowing it and taking space away from cars). However, several cities have recently restored their streetcars and some three dozen others are planning to, including Tucson, Birmingham, Miami, and Trenton. Streetcars have become an important draw for new investment in low-income neighborhoods and a tourist attraction (the most obvious example is the cable cars in San Francisco which, incidentally, never went away).
Light rail is expensive ($50-75 million/mile) but still much cheaper than heavy metro systems ($200 million/mile) that have caused transportation justice issues in metro areas like Los Angeles. Trolleys are the cheapest rail systems ($10-15 million/mile); the right-of-way is free. Streetcars are also less expensive because they use lighter cars and share the existing rights of way with other vehicles. Just as in the past, some developers are paying part of the cost, which they are recouping in the form of higher land values. The final benefit is that construction is relatively quick. And perhaps even more than the railroad, people think streetcars and cute and exciting.
TreeHugger: Streetcars Back on Rails in America
USA Today: Cities rediscover allure of streetcars