We miss streetcars’ frequent and reliable service, not streetcars themselves - Mobility Lab

April 17, 2019

 

The United States is well into a building boom of modern streetcars. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reports that 22 new streetcar projects have opened since 2013 with dozens more in various stages of planning.

 

These projects are part of a wider movement over the past several decades to revitalize downtowns. Kansas City’s 2014 streetcar project was pitched as a way to reconnect the neighborhoods of the city and getting people back to downtown without cars. Russ Johnson, a leading streetcar booster on the city council at the time, argued that the KC Streetcar could bring back the kind of connectivity that his mother enjoyed when she graduated high school in 1951 and could “live, work and play without a car.”

 

The myth that the destruction of streetcar systems in the U.S. was a conspiracy by auto manufacturers to undercut useful public transit by replacing streetcars with buses and thus sell more cars, as depicted in the 1996 documentary Taken for a Ride, is one that persists to this day despite debunking. While it is true that Kansas City, like many American cities at the time, had an extensive public transit system, it was not the fact that it was a streetcar- based system that made it so useful.

 

The key to successful transportation infrastructure is whether it can get you where you need to go conveniently, not whether it runs on rails or rubber. It sounds like a simple point, but focusing on the mode rather than the quality of service leads to disappointing projects that don’t live up to the hype. The Kansas City streetcar is effective at moving people along its two miles of track, but unless it matches the range and frequency of its 1920s predecessor, it will never be a strong alternative to cars.

 

Perhaps more importantly, public transportation doesn’t need to be made of streetcars to deliver what streetcars once did.

 

Click here to read the full article: https://mobilitylab.org/2019/04/17/we-miss-streetcars-frequent-and-reliable-service-not-streetcars-themselves/

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