Modern Streetcars 101

What a streetcar is:

A streetcar is a small train that runs on steel tracks in mixed traffic.  They are modern, sleek vehicles that are electrically powered, quiet, and offer a smooth ride for up to 130 passengers on board.

The tracks are placed in a lane of traffic near the curb.  At places where the streetcar stops, the curb is bumped out and passengers step directly from the curb onto the streetcar.

Cities around the country are building or planning new streetcar systems to spur and focus development in their urban cores.  Portland is the best example of a modern streetcar system, but smaller cities such as Little Rock and Kenosha, Wisconsin have had successes with streetcars as well.  After opening and extending their $100 million streetcar line, the city of Portland experienced $2.8 billion dollars of economic development.

Cincinnati hired HDR Consulting to do a detailed economic impact study of Phase 1 of the streetcar system.  The results were promising; predicting an investment of $102 million could lead to $1.4 billion in economic activity and thousands of new residents in the urban core.

What a streetcar isn’t:

Streetcars are not a tourist attraction, although tourists will love to ride them.  Streetcars are not a historical throwback or gimmick.  Streetcars are not dressed up busses.

Streetcars are a modern transportation system that will spur and focus investment in the center city.  The thousands of riders each day will eliminate hundreds of car trips, reducing congestion, noise and pollution downtown.

Streetcars are different from the Light Rail plan in 2002.  Phase 1 of the streetcar system will cost only $102 million.  The price tag of the Light Rail was measured in billions.  Light Rail is about moving people from the suburbs into downtown. The streetcar system is designed to circulate people around an area.

Streetcars are smaller and cheaper than light rail.  The system can be constructed quickly and when successful, can be expanded into Uptown and Northern Kentucky.

In some cities, the streetcar is free in certain areas, if Cincinnati adopts a fare-less zone; all a passenger has to do is step on the train and go to their destination.

In addition, each stop will have a display that will tell the passengers how may minutes until the next train.

Someone might look up and see there is a streetcar coming in two minutes and get ready to get on board.  Or the display might show eight minutes until the next train, just enough time to pick up a coffee and a bagel or paper

Logistics of riding, how to board etc.

Riding a streetcar is much easier than riding a bus.  Because passengers can see the rails in the ground, they know where the streetcar is going.

Unlike a bus, where riders line up to walk through a single door and put their money in a fare box, a streetcar passenger purchases their ticket at a kiosk at the stop before the train arrives.

Fares have not yet been decided, but the study examined fares at 50 cents, $1 or free.

When the streetcar pulls up to the stop, passengers board through one of six doors, allowing people to quickly step on or off the streetcar. At a stop, dozens of people can move on and off the streetcar in under 30 seconds.

Ridership, who rides the streetcar?

Anyone can ride the streetcar.  For the disabled, riding the streetcar is easier than riding a bus.  The wide doors and no steps to go up make getting on or off the streetcar simple.  People in wheelchairs need only to press a button on the outside of the streetcar to extend a small ramp to the curb that allows them to roll right on without any assistance from the driver.

For children and senior citizens, the streetcar offers increased mobility and freedom.  A mother with a child in a stroller can roll right onto the streetcar, never having to disturb the baby.

Office workers downtown can have their lunch choices expanded.  Having a streetcar nearby means you can get to any point on the line and back before the end of your lunch break.  Or they could take the streetcar down to the Reds stadium for a midday game.

People coming into the suburbs need only to park one time and use the streetcar to get to whatever downtown destinations they want to visit

Going to the Reds game? Parking near the stadium is expensive, and if you have small children you don’t want to have a long walk.  But with the streetcar, you could park farther away for much cheaper or even free at a meter on the street after 5pm.  Then get on the streetcar and get off right in front of the stadium.

People driving in from the suburbs can park downtown and use the streetcar to get around.  Because streetcars are so open inside, a bicyclist can roll their bike right onto the train and not have to worry about riding in heavy traffic.

Streetcars can supplement Downtown bus service.  By allowing busses to make fewer stops downtown, traffic flow is improved.  Local, downtown passengers on the busses can be diverted to the streetcar, giving the busses greater long haul capacity.

If a light rail stop is built downtown, the streetcar can increase the number of people within walking distance of the stop and increase the number of destinations the rail passengers can reach.  The result would be increased ridership on both systems.

Streetcars can also be placed on rail tracks.  The Oasis line, running from Downtown east along the Ohio to Lunken Field, could easily accommodate streetcars, connecting Downtown to Columbia Tusculum and the east side neighborhoods.

Part of A larger Transit plan:

Streetcars can be integrated seamlessly with any type of transit system.  Streetcars extend the range of pedestrians.

Although you could walk a mile or two, most people wouldn’t do it regularly.  The streetcar can cut that down to a manageable quarter mile walk.  Or if you are shopping, you can walk to the store and take the streetcar back so you don’t have to carry your purchases as far.

The streetcar is fixed to a route–there is steel in the ground.  A developer knows the route will not change.

If a company moves out of the city, they can always change the bus route to follow the jobs, but because streetcar tracks are permanent improvements to a city, the jobs and investments follow the streetcar line.

Fixed tracks make the streetcar easier to use.  The route isn’t going to change.  Passengers can see where the tracks run so there aren’t any surprises.

Benefits of fixed tracks:

Because a streetcar system is a permanent improvement, developers are more likely to base their investments on the route.  Had someone invested money on Vine Street because it was on the 17 bus route, they would have been dismayed when the 17 was moved to Main Street after Government Square opened.