Streetcars are in the News and Questioned

January 6, 2015

Transit funding is one of the most widely debated topics in urban politics today, especially across party lines. While liberals tend to espouse public transit and its many economic and social benefits, conservatives often question the viability of having the federal government fund mass transit.

The Obama administration has spent half a billion dollars trying to revive the American streetcar, but the results have been mixed.  Some projects, like Arlington County’s streetcar, were cancelled after years of planning. Not only that, some ardent transit supporters even question whether streetcars without dedicated lanes are any better than buses.

For cities that are revitalizing, upgrading and extending their streetcars is a major consideration. HART has done a preliminary study on extending Tampa’s Streetcar, which may cost up to $60 Million, but the source of the funding has yet to be determined. While Tampa’s downtown revitalization has mostly been privately funded after a heavy investment in Channelside, infrastructure projects such as its streetcar would require even more taxpayer money.

Nonetheless, enthusiasm for streetcars is not unfounded. Streetcar advocates argue that streetcars can boost urban redevelopment, create livable neighborhoods, and encourage community building. The worth of a streetcar shouldn’t be based purely on its ability to transport commuters, but also on its effects for the community its located in. Atlanta, which opened its new streetcar just last week, has high hopes for the streetcar reshaping the city’s urban image and alleviating traffic congestion.  We shall see what the future holds as more streetcars come online in 2015.

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