Friday, January 19, 2007


Streetcars - A study in ROI

In case you missed it on Wednesday, the Enquirer reported (finally) that the city is looking at the possiblity of a streetcar system. First of all, one thing to point out is this is the lightest of lightrail.

You have commuter trains (think Amtrak, and the like...mostly east/west coast). Big trains, very heavy and require a ton of space. The stops are usually spread out 5-10 miles, and require a huge park and ride location.

You have Light Rail (everyone's favorite buzz word). This is a smaller version of commuter train, and uses smaller cars that are cheaper to operate, and quieter. The stops are usually 2-4 miles apart. You still need stand-alone tracks which require more land acquisition and but do give you a right of way (meaning you won't get stuck in traffic). The major downside is it requires tremendous resources to acquire land and build the tracks, and it creates very little in terms of development as the stops are infrequent, and often times surrounded by parking.

Enter my favorite mode of urban public transit... the streetcar. Streetcar's are small, and stop frequently. They often utilize the same roads with periods of right of way (i.e. one aspect they are looking at to connect to NKY, is utilizing the unused portion of the Purple People Bridge to add in a streetcar lane). The stops are frequent and concentrated near areas of interest (grocery stores, museums, stadiums, restaurants, etc). They also provide the opportunity to take a line to a currently underutilized area, and spur development. Typically, development will spur 3-4 blocks on either side of the streetcar line as people begin to move near and utilize it. That is the beauty of the ROI. You can take a public investment and turn it into 5x as much private development. Something you don't get with Commuter Rail or Light Rail.

Don't get me wrong... light rail plays a role. Getting people from Suburbs to Urban Center for work can greatly reduce traffic using light rail (the way a bus can't do quite as well). But you'll never get that until traffic is so bad people demand it (or gas goes to $5/gallon and people can't afford to drive their cars 40 miles roundtrip every day).

Here is a great presentation on the value of StreetCars (and a great footnote, these people know what they are doing, and the City has hired them to do the study locally). I will be watching closely to see if Bortz and Bearding can build the critical mass of support needed to make this a reality... and watch even more closely to see if we can get a regional approach to it, and bring NKY and Southbank partners into the mix to have the streetcars for Covington and Newport.... may I suggest taking it down 6th st, so that it's a block from my house!

This would be so awesome I can't even wrap my head around it, especially if it extends up to U.C. I could sell my car. I am just so excited.
This is timely because I just read this the other day.
I think it's funny that the US had a fabulous street car system in most urban areas 100 years ago and now we are trying to rebuild that infrastructure at about 50 times the cost. It makes no sense.
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