Forget the bus and the skip the train, the future of American urban transit could be the old-fashioned streetcar.
Signs of what U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called a “streetcar revival” are popping up all over the country.
In St. Paul, officials are embarking on a yearlong, $250,000 study of potential streetcar routes, following the lead of neighboring Minneapolis, which has spent over $1 million studying two possible streetcar corridors.
And several cities have been building or expanding their systems over the last decade, including Atlanta, Portland, Ore., Seattle, Washington D.C. and New Orleans – a city that boasts the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world.
The turn to streetcars is being led not just by nostalgia and the needs of an increasingly urban populous, but by a broader desire to spark economic activity, Governing reports.
“When Portland built its line in 2001, the city hoped it would encourage transit-oriented development,” Governing reported. “The line has done just that. Today, it is credited with leading to $3.5 billion in new construction, 10,000 residential units, and more than 5 million square feet of office and hotel space.”
A recent study of the Washington D.C. system also suggested that streetcars induced development, boosted property values and brought people closer to mass transit – factors that created as much as $291 million in new tax revenue for the city.
Such economic considerations are a relatively new factor in deciding how federal transportation dollars are spent.