While some decry streetcars as expensive and inefficient, evidence is building in cities across the U.S. that the systems can serve as powerful boons to economic development.
"Since the project opened in 2002, its financial losses have exceeded expectations. Last year ridership declined 10% to its lowest level yet. And the vintage system spans only 2.4 miles between the edge of downtown and a historic district called Ybor City."
"'It goes from no place to nowhere,' says Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair, an opponent of the project."
"Like stadiums, convention centers and aquariums, streetcars have emerged as a popular tool in the effort to revitalize downtowns in the U.S. About a dozen cities, from Madison, Wis., to Miami, are planning lines. But while research shows that big-ticket projects such as ballparks largely fail to spawn economic development, evidence is mounting that streetcars are indeed a magnet."
"And in Portland, Ore., the poster child for such development, officials say the streetcar system has helped bring $2.7 billion in investment within two blocks of its 3.6 mile line, much of it in the 24-hour hub known as the Pearl District."
"Still, streetcars face considerable odds because they vie for the same money as transportation projects designed to serve the suburbs. This has been particularly true at the federal level, where funding has long depended on how quickly projects can move people from one point to another. Streetcars, which average under ten miles per hour, are at a distinct disadvantage. By contrast, light rail moves at 20 to 60 miles per hour."