Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Have Streetcars Adequately Demonstrated Their Development-Generation Potential?

by Yonah Freemark
27 Sep. 2010

The most commonly cited argument for the development of new streetcar lines is that their implementation will result in the construction of new housing and commercial buildings in surrounding areas. Unfortunately, according to a new report by the Transportation Research Board, that link has yet to be substantiated by empirical evidence in most places where these new rail systems have been built.
This does not mean that streetcars don’t work as development tools, merely that their value has not been demonstrated conclusively. The federal government currently has placed a major emphasis on funding such projects and dozens of U.S. cities have shown significant interest in investing local resources on them. That movement towards this new transportation mode, however, should be slowed until more research is undertaken.
The report, written by Ron Golem and Janet Smith-Heimer, evaluates the thirteen “new” streetcar systems in the United States (it excludes New Orleans and San Francisco, which never took their historic lines out of operation). Five projects—in Kenosha, WI, Savannah, GA, Portland, OR, Memphis, TN, and Seattle, WA—are specifically described.

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