Tucson Modern Streetcar System Opens

August 1, 2014 4 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Tucson joins the ranks of cities investing in a modern streetcar as a means of stimulating urban core revitalization and vibrancy. Despite being smaller than Jacksonville, Tucson's streetcar experience provides Jacksonville with a unique example of how to embrace rail in the urban core.

Tucson's modern streetcar, Sun Link, opened to the public on Friday, July 25, 2014. Celebrations along the 3.9-mile route greeted riders. See a time-lapse of the entire route in under 3 minutes by the Arizona Daily Star.  As you watch the video, take note of the neighborhoods the streetcar travels through. The built density levels are very similar to Jacksonville's.

Following the formal dedication of the Sun Link streetcar at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 25, 2014, the City of Tucson and the Regional Transportation Authority reported that an estimated 17,000 riders boarded Tucson’s new streetcars and experienced a new way to travel to the many destinations from the West Side of downtown, through the heart of the City, and into the University of Arizona campus. Approximately 60,000 people rode the Sun Link Tucson Streetcar during its first three days of operation.

“Without a doubt, July 25, 2014 will be considered a historic day for the City of Tucson,” said Tucson City Manager Richard Miranda.

The four-mile Sun Link Streetcar route connects five districts: the University of Arizona, Main Gate Square, Fourth Avenue, Downtown, and the Mercado; 100,000 people live, work and play within a quarter mile of the corridor. Sun Link is the first Made in America streetcar system in the U.S. in nearly 60 years and Tucson’s first all-electric, fixed rail transit system. Sun Link is part of the voter-approved, $2.1 billion RTA plan implemented through 2026.

Like a bus, Tucson's streetcars make frequent stops so people can get on and off and take advantage of everything adjacent neighborhoods have to offer. Unlike a bus, they travel a fixed, easy-to-understand path that will serve as the backbone on which new economic development can focus. Since the climate-controlled, modern streetcar system was announced, more than $1.5 billion in public and private investment has taken place within a 1/4 mile radius of its route.

While Metro Jacksonville is happy for Tucson's successful implementation of a starter streetcar system, we're most interested in witnessing its impact on stimulating Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

Following five district ribbon cuttings along the Sun Link Modern Streetcar route, the Grand Opening celebration ended this morning at 10:00 a.m. on Congress Street and Fifth Avenue as a streetcar full of dignitaries was escorted by the Pride of Arizona Pep Band, Tucson Fire Department and the Tucson Police Department. The event was emceed by Brent Davis, former City Council Member. Speakers slated to attend include Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, acting Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator Dorval Carter, City Manager Richard Miranda, University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart, Arizona State Transportation Board Chair Steve Christy, Arizona Senator Steve Farley, and Former City of Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup.

Tale of the Tape:

2013 Metropolitan Area Population

Jacksonville - 1,394,624
Tucson - 996,544

2010 Urban Area Population

Jacksonville - 1,065,219
Tucson - 843,168

Congratulations to the City of Tucson.  Hopefully, such investments being made in communities smaller than Jacksonville will encourage our city leaders to strive for a lot more than maintaining status quo.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com