The future of U.S. public transportation bears a striking resemblance to
its past. At the turn of the 20th century, streetcars dominated the nation’s
transportation system before ceding to buses and automobiles. Now, more
than 30 cities have initiatives to put electric streetcars back on the roads.
Streetcars are cheaper to build than subways, and quieter and often
more attractive than buses. They not only solve the problem of getting
people to their destinations in high-density areas, they help revive urban
neighborhoods by increasing foot traffic to local shops.
“In urban areas where there is the need to rehabilitate or just minimize
congestion, the streetcar is an option they’re looking at right now,” says
Ronaldo Nicholson, chief engineer, Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C., USA.
After an analysis indicated that streetcars would improve Washington,
D.C.’s transit options, the city launched a project to lay down 37 miles ( 60
kilometers) of tracks along the same streets where they had been ripped
out more than 50 years ago. In 2013, the city completed the first segment
of the project— 2. 4 miles ( 3. 9 kilometers), which is expected to open to
riders this year. Of the 37 miles to be completed over 30 years, planners
have prioritized 22 miles ( 35 kilometers) of track—a
US$1.2 billion initiative that will be executed during
the next five to seven years.
Meanwhile, other streetcar projects are being
completed across the country: from Atlanta, Georgia
and Dallas, Texas in the South to Tucson, Arizona in
the Southwest to Seattle, Washington in the North-west. Projects are in development in U.S. cities such
as Cincinnati, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina.
A Bumpy Ride
But the streetcar’s comeback hasn’t always been a
smooth one. In Arlington, Virginia, USA, a proposed
project to build a 4.9-mile (7.9-kilometer) line at a
cost of US$310 million by 2017 has encountered
strong public opposition. As in most cities where the
rail projects have been proposed, Arlington residents
and transportation analysts have raised concerns
about the system’s high upfront costs and argued
that the money would be better spent improving
existing bus systems.
The Virginia project aims to reduce pressure
along Columbia Pike, the state’s highest-ridership
bus corridor, where buses run every few minutes
there is the
is an option
Washington, D.C., USA