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Reviving Streetcars: Benefits and Challenges

In recent years, cities have shown a renewed interest in streetcars, a mode of transportation that was once prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This resurgence has led to the development of modern streetcar systems in cities like Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, and Milwaukee. The outcomes of these projects have varied, with some systems improving transit in downtown areas, while others have revitalized underdeveloped neighborhoods. This article discusses the different factors that have contributed to the success or failure of these streetcar systems and the lessons learned by cities like Cincinnati and Kansas City, Missouri.

A Brief History of Streetcars

Electric streetcars, also known as trolleys, were commonplace in cities and suburbs from 1890 to 1930. However, the rise of automobile ownership and bus transportation in the 1940s and 1950s led to the decline of streetcar systems. In the 21st century, cities like Portland, Oregon, have revived the streetcar concept, constructing new lines and sparking interest in other cities.

Factors Affecting Streetcar System Success

According to Joel Mendez, an assistant professor of urban planning at the University of Kansas, modern streetcar systems constructed since 2001 have achieved different outcomes depending on each city’s goals. Some systems have improved transit in downtown areas with routes serving existing centers of activity, while others have revitalized underdeveloped areas. The accessibility, fare policies, and connections with other transit options like bus and light rail have played a role in how well a given system has attracted ridership and met its goals.

Case Studies: Cincinnati and Kansas City

In a recent Transportation Research Board webinar, representatives from Cincinnati and Kansas City, Missouri, discussed their experiences with streetcar systems. In Cincinnati, the city took over management of the system from a local regional transit authority in 2020 and eliminated fares after suspending service during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cincinnati Connector streetcar system has since seen major development and local investments along its route, with many previously vacant and abandoned properties being restored and filled with new businesses.

In Kansas City, the downtown streetcar system has experienced success with over 2.2 million rides in 2019 and is still recovering from pandemic lows. The KC Streetcar has always been fare-free and is now looking to expand outside the city center.

Recommendations for Successful Streetcar Systems

To ensure the success of streetcar systems, Mendez recommends anchoring systems to existing activity centers and tapping into the existing base of transit ridership. This can be achieved by making it easy for riders to connect with other transit options through tailored fare policies or infrastructure. By focusing on these factors, cities can maximize the benefits of streetcar systems, improving transit in downtown areas and revitalizing underdeveloped neighborhoods.

As more cities consider implementing streetcar systems, it is essential to learn from the experiences of cities like Cincinnati and Kansas City. By understanding the factors that contribute to the success or failure of streetcar systems, city planners can make informed decisions that lead to improved transit and revitalized neighborhoods.

Orginal article: Link To Article – provided by Kansas City Realtors