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  • This is Washington, DC's Streetcar.

  • It runs through 2.2 miles of mixed traffic in the United States capitol.

  • And it was once part of an ambitious 37 mile streetcar network for the city.

  • But those plans have changed drastically.

  • The project was delivered 7 years past its deadline and tens of million dollars over

  • budget.

  • The idea was to increase mobility for residents while revitalizing an economically depressed

  • area of the city...

  • But it's had trouble along the way.....

  • Similar problems sprung up in Atlanta and Salt Lake City too.

  • Still, there's a massive resurgence of streetcars underway.

  • Since 2001, about a dozen streetcar systems have cropped up across the country.

  • But why do so many cities want streetcars?

  • The general goal is based on the idea that if we build more densely around our transit

  • stations, then we'll convince more people to walk around, bike around, and take transit

  • to get work to get to school and other destinations.

  • Streetcars are also touted for their ability to add a certain... je ne sais quoi to a neighborhood.

  • You know, every city in the country even around the world wants to have some type of train

  • going through their city because they see it as a positive, modern looking and modern

  • feeling public transportation system.

  • The case for building streetcars has historical precedent.

  • They've been around since the 19th century, when they were first horse-driven.

  • Later, in the 20th century, the electrical versions became really popular in cities.

  • Their popularity started to fade when cities turned their focus to building infrastructure

  • for buses and cars.

  • But in the last decade or so, streetcars have made a comeback.

  • There's been a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about urban living and some of that comes

  • with excitement about mass transportation.

  • But big, sort of traditional heavy rail subway projects are very, very expensive.

  • So cities look for something cheaper that they can do and a lot of them have come up

  • with streetcars.

  • The Portland Streetcar was one of the first in the new wave and has led the way for other

  • cities.

  • Its success is often cited in proposals to exemplify the benefits of a modern transit

  • system.

  • But all streetcar proposals are not created equal.

  • Some have seen roaring success...

  • While others, like in Atlanta and D.C see a ton of criticism

  • The problem is that having gone for mass transit on the cheap you get transit that isn't very

  • useful for transportation.

  • It looks niceyou have this cool shiny new trainbut if you're running in mixed

  • traffic you're gonna go as slow, or often times slower than a traditional bus.

  • Aside from the slow pace, limited connectivity has kept commuters away in DC.

  • I've been living here for 37 years and I like the streetcar.

  • It's convenient, the only thing I don't like about the streetcar is that it doesn't

  • go far enough.

  • I wouldn't use the streetcar over the bus because the bus takes me straight to my job.

  • Right in front of my job.

  • The streetcar doesn't go over the hill, which I didn't think made sense, but...

  • So if they're not improving the commute, why is there a push for more streetcars?

  • From my perspective they are almost entirely designed to support economic development and

  • not increase mobility.

  • In Portland, for instance, planners actively sought development adjacent to the streetcar.

  • Our narrative was pretty development focused early on, to the point where people were saying

  • the only the only reason you built the streetcar was for development purposes.

  • Now that we're carrying upwards of 16,000 passengers a day it's very much a mix.

  • The system succeeded because Portland Streetcar worked with developers to support their plan.

  • You have to really look at the development side of things.

  • Having the rail on the ground is significantly important for them.

  • To see the commitment from the city for them to make catalytic investments is is important.

  • Right?

  • We're asking these developers to build something that they may not build anyway, but for the

  • rail investment.

  • There's a little bit of quid pro quo there.

  • That kind of focus on economic development is at the heart of other projects too.

  • The Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, a state-of-the-art streetcar that will run from Astoria to Sunset

  • Park, and has the potential to generate over $25 billion of economic activity for our city

  • over 30 years.

  • Projections aside, the Brooklyn Queens connector has already proven to be a contentious issue.

  • I think one clear reason why the project has been advanced is, is similar to the streetcar

  • projects being discussed around the country which is that there is an economic development

  • goal in the brooklyn and queens waterfront by some major investors who want to improve

  • transportation for basically the new towers that are being constructed along the waterfront.

  • The motivation behind development, and its effects make for a messy debate.

  • A year after its launch, D.C. is starting to see the development that tends to follow

  • transit.

  • A string of luxury apartments, restaurants and stores has fueled a real estate boom along

  • H-street.

  • There is evidence that suggests that government expenditures of any sort that provide a public

  • benefit will provide a sort of a stimulus for development

  • You know whether their parks, whether they're investments in neighborhood retail improvement,

  • whether they're better sidewalks

  • but it doesn't have to be a streetcar.

  • There are many ways to attract new investment and the streetcar may not be the ideal one

  • or even the right one.

This is Washington, DC's Streetcar.

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The real reason streetcars are making a comeback

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/18
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