Speaking of streetcars, this recent article makes it abundantly clear that this form of transit is again becoming very, very popular in US cities. You still don’t believe me? Check out some snippets from the article (or read the whole thing):
But they are making a comeback in several American cities, and more have plans in the wings, projects largely development-driven to revitalize sagging urban areas, and to serve a population segment, often baby boomers, choosing to move back to the cities and to simplify their lives when they do.

The streetcar Renaissance stems from planners who see them not only as people-movers but as engines of urban development dealing with, and encouraging, a gradual demographic shift back to cities by people, often older, who like the convenience, miss interaction absent in the suburbs and want to rely less on cars.

Charles Hales, senior vice president of the engineering firm HDR, which works on many streetcar projects, says as many as 60 American cities are in some stage of streetcar planning or development, “depending on how you count it.”

Portland ridership, initially projected to be 3,500 a day, now tops 9,800 and is growing at about 17 percent a year. The city is putting together about $75 million to match federal money to expand the lines from Downtown to the city’s east side, on the other side of the Willamette River.

The new lines no longer are the commuter systems they once were. They are designed to lure people back into cities, keep them there, and perk up decaying, underused and undertaxed, former industrial sites and similar areas. And it seems to be working.

Portland has seen about $2.5 billion in new construction, including 7,248 new housing units within three blocks of the line since the plan was announced in 1997.

In Little Rock, the figure is between $300 million and $400 million.

“It is not the only reason (for the construction) but most developers admit the streetcar is one of the reasons,” said Keith Jones, who helped design the system there.

“The line defines areas where things in the city are happening.” It extends to North Little Rock, which was suffering downtown decay. “It is having a higher impact there than in Little Rock, where things were happening anyway,” he said.

“We got 80 percent federal funding, something that’s virtually impossible to do now with the federal government generally limiting funding to 50 percent,” he said.

The 2.5 mile-line has carried about 400,000 passengers, beyond projections, since it opened in late 2004, and an extension is planned to the Clinton Library.

“Developers see streetcars as an indication of permanence when they make investments,” said Len Brandrup, director of transportation in Kenosha, outside Chicago. That’s not the case with buses, he said.

He said the past century has seen an “unhooking” of land-use decisions and transportation planning.

“Portland is ahead of the country in trying to rehook them,” he said, reducing auto use and parking space demands.

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6 Responses to Article: "As Many as 60 American Cities are in Some Stage of Streetcar Planning or Development"

  1. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    Impeccable Timing…

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  2. transitdave says:

    Miami needs metrorail. The streetcar would be nice, but let’s not confuse luxuries with necessities. The highest priority transit destinations in Miami-Dade are for people to get to and from south dade, north dade, aventura, Miami beach, and west dade to downtown, and the airport…..

    Not from the design district to downtown. And yet, some would compare the costs and utility of streetcars to metrorail, an aples and oranges coparison if ever there was one.

    That our county officials have fast tracked the streetcar, while sabotaging the Orange metrorail line (whether on purpose, or by accident, one can never tell), speaks volumes about why we have only 20 percent of the system we need here in Miami dade.

    That’s why I’ve always referred to the Miami streetcar, and the Baylink project before it, as the 20% solution. Because it would be guaranteed to keep our transit system inadequate, by substituting a cosmetically pleasing streetcar or lightrail system for what we really need.

    When a city needs a real rapid transit system, nothing else will do. And miami needs METRORAIL!

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  3. Ryan Sharp says:

    TransitDave, with all due respect, please allow me to address a few of your points:

    -> “The streetcar would be nice, but let’s not confuse luxuries with necessities.”

    I think it’s hard to justify the streetcar as the luxury here when it costs about 80,000,000/mile less than Metrorail.

    -> “The highest priority transit destinations in Miami-Dade are for people to get to and from south dade, north dade, aventura, Miami beach, and west dade to downtown, and the airport…..not from the design district to downtown.”

    Do you have evidence to support this claim? It sounds to me like you’re advocating commuter rail to the suburbs before the inner city is well served by transit. I think it’s pretty hard to say that the downtown-civic center-design district corridor does not have one of the highest demands for transit in all of South Florida. It’s burgeoning with new residences, new jobs, and it’s already a relatively high population/high job density corridor. And, to say that Bay Link is low-priority transit project is a little short sighted I think. Linking downtown to Miami Beach by quality transit (and then the airport) should probably be the top priority transit project in Miami. This connects South Florida’s biggest economic engines to one another in the densest, most pedestrian-oriented parts of the county. If you talk to planners from real cities like NYC, Boston, or Chicago, it’s pretty unfathomable to them that Miami doesn’t have a legitimate rail connection between the airport, downtown, and the beach. I could go on and on close to forever about the merits of that project.

    -> “Because it would be guaranteed to keep our transit system inadequate, by substituting a cosmetically pleasing streetcar or lightrail system for what we really need. When a city needs a real rapid transit system, nothing else will do. And miami needs METRORAIL!”

    Ha, I hardly think that LRT and Streetcars are “cosmetic” transit systems. Tell that to Vienna, with 50 streetcar lines. Tell that to the people in Salt Lake City, Dallas-Ft Worth, and Phoenix-Tempe, all metros that recently threw down on LRT and have done pretty darn well. Tell that to the 60 cities in a car-oriented country that are currently in some phase of streetcar planning. Read the reports for the Miami Streetcar and Bay Link, written by the best transit consultants in the US. I mean, what other evidence do you need that streetcars are a totally viable transit form? And if you can explain to me how we’re supposed to pay for the 50 or so miles of Metrorail you think MUST be constructed or bust, I’m all ears.

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  4. Transitdave says:

    Ryan Sharpe said:

    “I think it’s hard to justify the streetcar as the luxury here when it costs about 80,000,000/mile less than Metrorail.

    I guess that all depends on where you priorities lie.

    It’s not for nothing that Metrorail costs 5 times more than a streetcar…It can move up to 10 times more people within a given timeframe, at more than twice the speed, and it doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

    Do I have evidence to support the claim of where the transit needs are in Miami Dade?

    That would be pretty much be covered by the multitude of transit corridor studies done in Miami-Dade in the last 30 years, none of which identified the area of the design district as one of particular concern prior to the Midtown development. You’re right about the downtown to civic center areas being areas of high transit demand, which is why they are already served by Metrorail and multiple bus routes.

    Ryan Sharpe Says:

    I mean, what other evidence do you need that streetcars are a totally viable transit form?

    I didn’t say they weren’t, I just believe that they would be totally inadequate for our needs, even if we had them on every main road.
    The point is that Miami’s Transit needs are of a far greater magnitude that Portland’s, Salt Lake City’s, or even Dallas or Houston. Washington DC, with it’s large numbers of tourists and similar population density, is perhaps the best transit role model for us. Dallas’ sytem, for example, has twice the mileage and half again as many stations as our metrorail line, but similar ridership numbers. Dallas is a big town, but doesn’t have the population density, and nowhere near the number of tourists as Miami. And, our system doesn’t even serve the airport, or south beach.

    Miami indeed needs an airport, seaport/south beach link, read up on the East-West undertaking, the original plan which was shelved only due to the complete lack of vision of MD county officials. It would have had a metrorail subway link from MIA, to the Orange bowl, downtown, bayside, port of Miami, and finally, 5th street in South Beach. It promised to be obscenely expensive, but would (and still could) make a 20 minute train ride from MIA to south beach a reality.
    Baylink would have been a poor substitute for that, but it (the subway, not baylink) was promised as part of the People’s Transportation Plan, approved in 2002.

    Which brings us to your last question, and once again we get back to the political leadership in MD county, or lack of same.

    The PTP brings in 150+ Mil a year, supposedly dedicated to improving Transit in Miami-Dade (That would be the entire county, not just the design district or the inner city areas) The PTP needs to be amended to take out all the fat that the County Commission has stuffed in it, and get back to the original purpose for which it was conceived, and approved by the voters. That and a real commitment by the political leadership to get an integrated system built…..But I know I’m talking pie in the sky now……

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  5. transitdave says:

    Just a guess, but I’ll be expecting to hear a proposal soon to scrap the Orange Metrorail line projects in favor of the Miami Streetcar and a revived Baylink….

    As always, the justification will be the lower cost of streetcars, never mind that one is no substitute for the other, nor that the Orange line projects were the centerpiece of the system promised by the People’s Transportation plan.

    Never mind that the people of Miami Beach soundly rejected using any local money to pay for Baylink, nor the fact that there is almost no transit dependant population for a Miami streetcar to serve that isn’t already being served……

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  6. franklin says:

    Transitdave brings up a lot of really good points. I like the idea of a streetcar system, but I think that the county should have other priorities. Here are a few of my thoughts on Miami-Dade’s plans.

    The reason the Metrorail has low ridership is because it is basically a commuter rail. It takes people from their cars to downtown or the civic center for work. And, what else is there to do, really? The options are even worse after 6PM or on the weekend. Add to the lack of options 30-minute headways and it’s no wonder that it isn’t used on weekends or holidays. The Metrorail costs a bunch to maintain, fixing the low ridership should be a top priority.

    The (west part of the) Orange line, as far as I can tell, would be even worse. It is designed to relieve congestion on a highway. There won’t be anything within walking distance of the stops (except FIU). And, who is going to ride it? Are the people living in suburbia the best audience for mass transit? How well is the Tri-rail working out compared to other 70-mile long commuter rail trains? Is a double-tracked, elevated, incredibly expensive, high capacity rail line the correct solution to this particular highway congestion problem? Is this part of the Orange line going to increase ridership on the Green line?

    Could the reason developing a final alignment for the Orange line is so hard be because the sprawl in that area makes it impossible to hit enough good spots for stations or encourage new development?

    Washington, DC is definitely the city Miami should be shaping their system after. At this point, the Miami metro system needs more destinations, not capacity. Instead of 22 miles of double track going to suburbia, it should be 30-40 miles of cleverly placed single track going to Miami Beach, Little Havana, and the Miami International Airport. The Green line should have taught the county that capacity is no good if no one uses it.

    I am all for spending lots of money in transit infrastructure (including streetcars). I think the lack of infrastructure is what is holding Miami back from exploding as a world city. Unfortunately, I think the county needs to do a better job of spending the limited resources it has.

    A quick comment about the East-West subway:
    It seems like you could build the east portion elevated and only partly double-tracked from Government Center to 395 and then follow 395 east until Washington and 5th St. The Washington Station could be undergound at Lummus park. If it were done well, the elevated track and station on Alton & 5th St could be built to blend in with the surrounding buildings. Any future expansion would have to be subway after Washington and 5th. Although, zigzaging around south beach using public parks and less busy streets to minimize interruptions from construction, you could get to Flamingo Park, Lincoln Road and the convention center. This would save money, but the whole thing, of course, would still cost a fortune.

    And, while I am ranting, two unrelated questions:
    1) Why isn’t the Miami Amtrak station in Miami? It should be in downtown Miami within a safe, short walk to the Metrorail. This would not cost very much to fix and would make Amtrak a lot more appealing.

    2) Why isn’t there a bus that goes to the Miami International Airport from the Metrorail? I know that there are four or so buses, but none of the Metrorail riders know. There should be a designated stop (Earlington Heights?) and a designated shuttle. There should be a little airport icon next to that station on all of the maps. I can’t believe the number of people I have found that are willing to take the Metrorail to the Tri-rail to a bus to get to Ft Lauderdale, but don’t know how to get to the Miami Airport.

    I hope this comment gives someone something to think about.

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