Author Topic: FYI - article in WSJ today on urban streetcars and development  (Read 1803 times)


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I figured thelakelander and others would be interested.  This is in today's Wall Street Journal.


A Streetcar Named Aspire:
Lines Aim to Revive Cities
June 20, 2007; Page B1

TAMPA, Fla. -- As a transportation system, this city's $63 million streetcar line is a dud.

Since the project opened in 2002, its financial losses have exceeded expectations. Last year ridership declined 10% to its lowest level yet. And the vintage system spans only 2.4 miles between the edge of downtown and a historic district called Ybor City.

"It goes from no place to nowhere," says Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair, an opponent of the project.

But proponents say Tampa's Teco Line Streetcar System has delivered on another front: helping to spur development. Some $450 million in residential and retail space is complete along the route, most of it in the Channel District, a once-languishing maritime neighborhood. With another $450 million in development underway and $1.1 billion in the planning stages, local officials expect the district to be home to as many as 10,000 residents within the next decade.

Like stadiums, convention centers and aquariums, streetcars have emerged as a popular tool in the effort to revitalize downtowns in the U.S. About a dozen cities, from Madison, Wis., to Miami, are planning lines. But while research shows that big-ticket projects such as ballparks largely fail to spawn economic development, evidence is mounting that streetcars are indeed a magnet.

Streetcar systems are slower, less expensive and smaller than light rail, with cars that carry a maximum of 125 people and the average line 2-3 miles long. The cars are powered by electricity and run on tracks, which developers tend to favor because they suggest a sense of permanence, unlike bus routes, which can be changed overnight.

In Kenosha, Wis., city officials say a two-mile line helped generate 400 new residential units and the redevelopment of a 69-acre industrial site into a waterfront park. The streetcar line in Little Rock, Ark., has sparked revitalization of the city's River Market and warehouse district. In Seattle, a new $52 million streetcar line is scheduled to open in December that will shuttle riders between downtown and South Lake Union, a formerly industrial area that is being redeveloped by Microsoft Corp. billionaire Paul Allen.

And in Portland, Ore., the poster child for such development, officials say the streetcar system has helped bring $2.7 billion in investment within two blocks of its 3.6 mile line, much of it in the 24-hour hub known as the Pearl District. "It's one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city," says Richard Brandman, deputy planning director for Metro, the Portland area's regional government.

Still, streetcars face considerable odds because they vie for the same money as transportation projects designed to serve the suburbs. This has been particularly true at the federal level, where funding has long depended on how quickly projects can move people from one point to another. Streetcars, which average under ten miles per hour, are at a distinct disadvantage. By contrast, light rail moves at 20 to 60 miles per hour.

Congress sought to change the odds in 2005 with the creation of Small Starts, a Federal Transit Administration program designed to fund small-scale transportation systems, including streetcars. But streetcar proponents have been largely reluctant to pursue funding under the program, saying the FTA still favors high-speed transit such as buses.

Paul Griffo, a spokesman for the FTA, says that both mobility and development factor into the funding of transportation projects. But so far Small Starts has recommended four projects, all of them bus rapid transit, an emerging transportation alternative in which a bus operates in a designated lane much like subway or light rail with stops about every half mile.

In the meantime, cities have relied on a patchwork of public and private money to help fund their streetcar systems, hoping to tap into a demographic shift in which young professional and empty nesters are moving downtown. Streetcars are especially popular among urban planners because they encourage the sort of density that allows for offices to be developed alongside homes, shops and restaurants.

"Streetcars are not designed to save time," says Mr. Blumenauer. "They're designed to change the way neighborhoods are built."

While streetcars lack speed and mobility, proponents say the role they play in urban development makes them a worthy transportation choice. They argue that by helping to draw development to urban areas such as downtowns, and by providing a transportation link in those areas, streetcars reduce the need for extra lanes of highways to the suburbs and limit the need for cars in and around downtowns.

In several cities, such as San Francisco and New Orleans, streetcars have never gone out of style as transportation systems. But many more were shut down following World War II in favor of buses.

That was the case in Tampa. The city once had one of the largest electric streetcar systems in the Southeast, with well over 100 cars and more than 50 miles of track.

In the mid-1980s, prompted in large part by nostalgia, a group calling itself the Tampa and Ybor City Street Railway Society set about to restore one of Tampa's derelict streetcars. Out of that effort evolved a broader downtown redevelopment campaign in which a new streetcar system was proposed, linking the city's convention center and the former cigar-manufacturing hub of Ybor City.

But county officials saw the focus on downtown as trivial compared with the needs of the larger Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area, where the majority of 2.7 million people rely heavily on their cars to get to and from work. County leaders such as Mr. Blair, formerly a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board member, ridiculed the $600,000 replica streetcars as costly toys.

"The concern was the use of public money," says Steven Polzin, a former regional transit authority board member who is a director of public transit research at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research. "Tampa-area roads are wanting for resources."

But the controversy did little to deter development in the Channel District, a 212-acre stretch of land where the city has agreed to grant tax breaks for developers. Developers say they were also drawn by the streetcar line. Fida Sirdar, president of Key Developers Group LLC, for example, is spending several hundred thousand dollars to build a pedestrian walkway connecting the York Station streetcar stop to his Place at Channelside, a $100 million 244-unit condominium. "It's a big plus," he says.

In May, the Tampa City Council voted to extend the streetcar line by about a third of a mile into downtown, using federal money already in hand. By linking downtown and the burgeoning Channel District, officials hope they can transform the streetcar line into more of a commuter system, expanding the hours of operation and raising revenue.

Still, Tampa's streetcar line is still largely a tourist attraction, drawing 389,770 riders last year, more than half of them out-of-town visitors. A $4.75 million endowment set up to operate the streetcar system for 10 years is losing about $1 million a year. And Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio says she doesn't intend to put more money into the line, which the city owns jointly with Tampa's regional transit authority.

"Somebody is going to have to step up," says Ed Crawford, a spokesman for the regional transit authority. "It's clear we can't go on this way."


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Re: FYI - article in WSJ today on urban streetcars and development
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2007, 09:28:54 AM »
Great find.  Tampa's streetcar is heavily tourist oriented, but only because of the route chosen.  It currently connects the convention center with Channelside and Ybor City.  I still don't understand why it was never built, in the first place, to serve downtown, University of Tampa and Hyde Park, as well.  Like the skyway, a short one or two mile extension could potentially double ridership by connecting to where residents actually live and work.  Nevertheless, no one can deny the amount of money it has added to the tax rolls with the transit oriented developments mushrooming up in the Channel District.  That alone is more than enough to justify the actual system it's self losing $1 million a year, imo.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2007, 10:36:00 PM by thelakelander »
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We Should Have SUCH a DUD!
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2007, 09:32:28 PM »
First, thank you posting this article. I am responding to the continuous referrals to the Trolley being a "Dud" and the obvious Oil/Highway bias expressed by the author. Further, I'll add some side by side numbers, using the Tampa Trolley, and JTA. If there are any Transit Directors reading this, I really had to rush this response, I have another bus agency to critique tonight, I hope it's not yours!  

Portland articulated Streetcar, they operate WITH heritage Trolleys

Interior of Nottingham England Streetcar, many European Trams are Narrow Gauge

Typical Modern articulated Transit Bus

Interior of Bejing China BRT Bus

From "The Transit Colition"
Ah, yes, the Civis bus. Glad you noted the the part about 20 km/hr (13 mph), which I take to be an average speed. I've also seen a maximum speed listed of 40-45 mph.

From American Heritage:
In 1929 Dr. Thomas Conway, Jr., led a group of investors who assembled the Cincinnati & Lake Erie Railroad from several failing properties, and immediately ordered twenty radical, high-speed interurban cars in an effort to win back the system’s declining traffic. They made wide use of aluminum and were equipped with the most powerful motors ever installed in cars of comparable size and weight. They were capable of speeds in excess of ninety miles per hour; in the extensive publicity that surrounded their introduction in 1930, one of them was raced against—and ostensibly defeated—an airplane.

How slow the streetcars are (compared to bus). New's to this little yellow Trolley, which beat a Airplane, with an average speed of 80MPH and top speed of over 90!

How small the streetcars are (again compared to bus). Top Photo: a single Streetcar interior in Europe; Bottom:Here a Pacific Electric "Blimp" next to a Tampa Type, Birney car...They both operated as "streetcars" in Long Beach.

How limited the streetcars are (stacked against flexible buses) Could a bus do this? Hee hee, it sort of looks like the old Springfield Trackage doesn't it?

The terrible dollar loss's of streetcars (compared to what?)
Tampa had the largest system in the Southeast (His data is MIA)

Makes me think someone at JTA wrote the piece then decided to throw us a bone with the line that "though they lose 1 million a year, the HAVE created over a BILLION dollars in development. Thus he leave the reader wondering, well shazzam, if a tiny streetcar can do that, just imagine what a REAL (read that BRT) system could do. Then if you go to the BRT study, ours, Miami's, or any other, you will see it was chosen over "restrictive" rail because of it's "flexibility." HELLO???? Could it be that the "flexibility" is also the reason that BRT is NOT attracting the development dollars? In a Cleveland Study, along their BRT line, they state, "There has been considerable development along the corridor, but it is impossible to tell how much is due to BRT and how much occurred naturally!" WHY? Why is it we rail transit supporters have no problem pointing to LRT, Modern Streetcar and Heritage Rail TOD's, but the BRT people can't decide which was due to the bus? Sounds to me like someone spent a BILLION dollars and got two 7-11 stores and a Taco Bell.

How Few CAN ride, compared to rail transit? ... Okay, first a streetcar is a "TRAIN" therefore, if it is designed for such, it can run in multiple units. Even back in the day, the old Streetcar lines would often run cars in pairs or use trailer cars. With multiple unit controls, several cars can be operated from one control stand, with one "motorman" (driver). So just how "few" can ride? As many as they plan for!

The slow the streetcars are (compared to bus). Someone didn't do all of their homework, the National numbers for LRT puts the average speed at 23/26 MPH, while the average transit bus is around 12 MPH. Streetcars have better acceleration, so this is a matter of system design, not streetcar failure. Modern Streetcars, Heritage Trolleys, Historic Interurban's, Light Rail are all the same basic vehicle under the hood. Many old Interurban's had light-weight "trolley" cars that performed like City transit as they passed down the streets of Cities, then sprinted at 80 MPH along private trackage to the next town. Let them show us a BRT line that runs at 80 MPH.

So what do those terrible Heritage Trolley numbers say? Well if 389,770 riders a year, for one route were transfered to JTA's 60 routes, JTA would have carried 23,386,200 passengers last year! 23 million on rail to the just shy of 10 million that rode our buses? Hummm? Our Skyway was projected to carry some 5,000 passengers a week by 2005, NOT! But if it DID, we would have had 260,000 Skyway passengers in a single year. If we had a Skyway on all 60 JTA bus routes we would have carried some 15,600,000 passengers, just based on those projections. Nice, more then a bus, but FAR LESS then the Trolley in Tampa! So how good is a Modern Trolley? Consider that the Tampa Streetcar, carries about double the passengers of the average JTA bus route... and some of those tiny trolleys were built in the 1920's. Finally, lest JTA jump in and pat themselves on the back, they are flirting with 10 million passengers a year right now, they will do this with 180 M/L transit buses. Interesting, because Gainesville, Florida RTS, with only 107 transit buses will carry about 9 million this year! I'd suggest the WSJ and JTA go back to Transit Math 101! Pat yourselves? It's a little lower guys.

How small the streetcars are (again compared to bus). Perhaps the Heritage Trolley the author rode or read about, was a small single truck Birney. TECO had several and currently operates at least one. Jacksonville, also had them. This is like looking at a tiny Mini-Cooper automobile and deciding all highway transport is tiny. Portland Oregon and Albuquerque have both said the Streetcars they have or have ordered, at much larger then their transit buses. Again, historic or not, it depends on system design and car types. From tiny single truck Birney's to giant 80 foot "Blimps" that rumbled down the streets of Long Beach, it all depends on you choice of vehicle. My first "train ride" was on a Pacific Electric "Blimp", I'll stack those cars against anything on tires JTA can cook up because ounce for ounce, the bus wouldn't have a prayer.

How limited the streetcars are (again compared to flexible buses) Too funny, it is THIS VERY FACT that will spell the failure for JTA and the stupid BRT people around the world. If it is flexible, it just might go away, so why would I develop anything along it's route? I wouldn't! As for operations, "it's system design stupid!" The rail line can be in the street, curbside, elevated, subway, median, traffic lane, middle or the road or on exclusive right-of-way, or in some cases, track share with another operator. It would be silly to try and put buses on the Skyway infrastructure, but streetcars COULD go there, if that's what we wanted. While I certainly would not put a streetcar on our Skyway, JTA probably would if it would skew the rail systems numbers. So mister developer, if you don't like "flexible transit" why are we chasing it?

The terrible dollar loss of the streetcars (compared to what?) Wow a million dollars a year? terrible! JTA's operating budget exceeds 90 million a year, and they don't have anywhere near 90 routes!?! So how much "loss" does the current transit bus operation suffer? What ever it is, do we get TOD money from that? NOT! The same is true for BRT, it just won't happen. St. Louis, Dallas, Tacoma, Little Rock, San Diego, Denver and Salt Lake City, just to name a few have LRT and Streetcars that have experienced growth of triple digits, funny the article didn't mention them.

Tampa had the largest streetcar line in the Southeast. HA HA HA HA! Any of you can go the the books in the City library. Bound volumes of the Florida Railroad Commission, just look up electric railways. In black and white, you will see Jacksonville's system was at least 10 miles longer then Tampa's. Jacksonville, was an early sellout to the "Motor Transit" conspiracy. After THAT date, then yes, Tampa's, was larger because we already had bought into BRT... BRT circa 1934...BIG MISTAKE then and now.

This concludes my response to the article, any questions? I'm here to answer them for you...

« Last Edit: June 21, 2007, 12:44:40 AM by Ocklawaha »