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What's the Value of a Half-Baked Streetcar Line?

A tough first week for the new LYNX Gold streetcar line in Charlotte inspired a review of the current research about the value of streetcars.
July 30, 2015, 9am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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The City of Toronto

Andrew Keatts provides a recap of a tumultuous, unfortunate first week of operation for the Charlotte Streetcar. A few examples:

  • "One streetcar crashed into an SUV after its driver lost control of its vehicle, city officials said."
  • "A reporter laced up her sneakers and raced the streetcar, beating it to the end of the 1.4-mile line by a full two minutes."

Those hiccups indicate why, according to Keatts, the debate about the value of streetcars has persisted even as more and more cities roll out new streetcar projects. In fact, says Keatts, more and more academics are reaching consensus that streetcar lines do not make a wise investment.

Central to the challenges encountered by streetcars, however, are the sacrifices made in planning stages. Charlotte's new streetcar, for example, does not have a dedicated line and runs on 15-miniute headways during peak periods—not exactly the best model for frequent, reliable service.

The article goes on took a closer look at the emerging body of research, with special attention to the work of Jeff Brown, chair of the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at Florida State University. To summarize, Keatts writes: "A key point of emphasis among all the academic skeptics of the modern streetcar projects is that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with streetcars. The problem is with the way they’re executed."

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Published on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 in The Urban Edge
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