Historic streetcars are on a comeback in the USA. Cheaper than light rail, they also are an asset in encouraging reinvestment in older parts of downtowns as illustrated by Tampa's 2.5 mile line that connects neighborhoods.
Cities hope that streetcars can do in this century what they did in the last: Connect neighborhoods and provide a relatively cheap alternative to walking and driving.
Several cities have resurrected the streetcar tradition and about three dozen others plan to - from Tucson, and Birmingham, Ala., to Miami and Trenton, N.J.
This return to the past is less about satisfying a sense of nostalgia than about enticing developers and people to old industrial areas and faded neighborhoods. As cities experience a much-publicized urban renaissance, streetcars have become another draw for investment in housing, stores and restaurants.
"The return of the streetcars is not really happening for new reasons but for the same reasons," says Michael English, vice president of Tampa Historic Streetcar, which operates along 2.5 miles connecting downtown, the fashionable loft and entertainment Channelside district and historic Ybor City. The city had a 54-mile system until 1946. The new line opened in 2002 and condominiums have been sprouting up along the way since.
Electric streetcars are light-rail, too, but they're less expensive because they use lighter cars, fewer cars and shorter tracks that share the road with cars and buses.
Most streetcar lines stretch for less than 5 miles compared with 10 to 20 miles for light rail. They've become so appealing that some developers are helping pay for the systems, says Shelley Poticha, president and CEO of Reconnecting America, a national non-profit group that works to spur development around transit stop.