Steetcars Making A Comeback In American Cities

portland_streetcarStreetcars may be starting to return to American cities, says the New York Times, with nearly 40 cities in the country exploring options to create new tram systems. Portland, Oregon was the first city to invest in a modern streetcar line, and has seen success in the program since it was initiated in 2001. Other cities are weighing their options, hoping to create affordable public transportation systems that will attract young professionals and spur economic growth and development along the lines. In Cincinnati, city officials are gathering funds for a $132 million streetcar system that will connect several neighborhoods in a six- to eight-mile loop. The city hopes the project will rejuvenate the run-down neighborhoods through which the proposed trolley will run.

While many U.S. cities had streetcars operating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of American cities dismantled their lines in the middle 20th century, making way for the up-and-coming automobile. Yet trams have many inherent benefits, and in fact have remained popular in many European cities. Unlike subways or light rail systems, streetcars operate on tracks that are flush with the road, creating a system that is much more integrated into the community and give riders direct views of storefronts and the surrounding neighborhood. Streetcars have additional advantages over busses in that they can be boarded from both sides, and in some cities have the right of way over normal car and bus traffic.

Having grown up in a Philadelphia suburb still serviced by a trolley system (surprisingly, Philadelphia’s SEPTA continues to operate several trolleys that extend out into the suburbs--much less glamorous than the more famous trams in New Orleans or cable cars in San Francisco), I look forward to seeing more cities utilize streetcar and light rail public transportation systems. Static public transportation systems provide much more incentive for investment in the neighborhoods that are serviced by them, a tactic that Seattle (with the support of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen) employed when creating the South Lake Union Streetcar line (formerly officially named the South Lake Union Trolley; an unfortunate acronym led to the name change), to bolster interest in an area that up until recently had been predominantly home to industrial warehouses.

As major cities look to build new streetcar systems and extend additional lines, investors should be aware of the potential opportunities these new public transportation lines could bring.


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