Light Rail

Streetcar Sex Appeal

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 09, 2007

USA Today just ran a very upbeat article on streetcars, noting that today's reasons for building streetcar lines - as a cheap, clean, effective way to connect neighbourhoods - are the same as they were a century ago when streetcar lines first "helped shape neighbourhoods."

Streetcars are a cheaper cousin to light-rail, costing one fifth the price per kilometre and having the added advantage of a deep cultural romance that other modes lack.

"Streetcars have sex appeal," says Len Brandrup, director of transportation in Kenosha, Wis., which opened a 1.9-mile line in 2000. "It resonates with folks. ... Developers don't write checks for buses."

Examples abound of cities that have rebuilt streetcar systems and realized huge returns on their investment. Here are just a couple from the article.

In Ybor City, Florida, a streetcar line that cost $55 million (USD) to build in 2002 has already "attracted well over $1 billion in private investment."

In Portland, Oregon, the Pearl District streetcar line "attracted about 100 projects worth $2.3 billion in less than five years, all within two blocks of the line." The article further reports, "Ridership was more than triple projections."

What I just can't for the life of me understand is why Hamilton doesn't at least see the investment potential in this kind of transit, let alone the potential for revitalizing neighbourhoods, reducing driving, improving air quality, improving mobility for residents who can't drive, connecting the city, and so on ad nauseam.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By al (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2007 at 23:57:41

Whats better yet is that Streetcars and LRTs can work together and even share tracks in places.

Now why doesn't the council support it?

Money

We can't afford the down payment on an investment like this, until we pay off the expressway.

That is unless we get large amounts of funds from the higher levels of government.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 09:00:27

And right now the upper levels of government are supporting transit. More than they have in years, maybe decades. the mayor mentioned this at council this week. Ottawa just cancelled their $400 million light rail plans and Mayor Fred wants Hamilton to talk to the feds about tapping a chunk of that money for a similar plan here. I think council and the HSR should literally jump at the opportunity. Let's become an ambitious city again, not one that takes 20 years to develop a single light rail line.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 09:05:52

I lived in The Beaches in Taranna years ago. These days I visit Anthony there regularly. And I can't tell you how much my heart swells at the approach of a 'red rocket' streetcar on Queen Street, or how the bone-rattling rumbling brings on a smile, how utterly rejuvenated I am when getting on one, being on one for a jaunt downtown, getting off one at journey's end... As much as I've been places, done things, I'm still struck by how 'romantic' I find these streetcars (and those elsewhere). A trip inside one can be transformative. So great is the effect that after having heard Anthony describe what it was like during the blackout a couple/few years ago here in the northeast, how spectrelike these metal behemoths were in the utter dark, the only illumination that of the start, I'm going to incorporate it into my novel.

Streetcars are like diners, or great theatres or nabes; they're nostalgia in the best sense, something from the past, reflecting heritage and memory, that still works today, still has something grand to offer...and therefore returning to its environment benefits many times more than the obvious.

The dependence on buses and their ilk is very much tied-in with a basic predication in our world and illustrates perfectly how truly hypnotized we've become. To paraphrase a post elsewhere today, 'zombified'.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2007 at 09:16:54

"And right now the upper levels of government are supporting transit."

Well, except for the Federal Minister of the Environment, that is. :(

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By Paul-André Larose (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 11:34:52


Street cars have an undeniable advantage: they provide cost effective and dignified transportation to the riders, particularly when in segregated rights-of-way, and offer perceivable enhancements to the urban fabric.

They do have a problem however: they are so cost effective that they do not lend themselves to the pork barrelling manipulations so beneficial to many politicians and consultants.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 13:50:17

and let's not forget those 3 all-important, greasy letters: O I L.

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