Streetcars may be coming to a street near you in many cities.

What links Boise, Cincinnati and Charlotte — and Salt Lake City, Dallas, Atlanta and Kansas City, where streetcar tracks abandoned in 1953 still poke through the city’s weathered asphalt — is they’re among dozens of local governments hoping their modern street projects will benefit from federal grants, including $1.5 billion in stimulus funding due to be awarded by mid-February 2010.

In all, some 80 U.S. cities have streetcar proposals, the American Public Transportation Association says, a trend bolstered by President Barack Obama’s signal he’s more inclined to pump federal dollars into streetcars than was President Bush.


Foes, however, dismiss trolleys as “toy trains” that benefit special interests and promote profligate public spending. The rush for easy federal cash, they argue, is obscuring the reality that cities will eventually rely on taxpayers to subsidize lines; federal dollars go only for construction.

Yeah, well, foes of light rail here in Houston often called the Main Street line a “toy train”. It wasn’t a cogent criticism then, and it isn’t one now. To most of these guys, any spending, at least on stuff they don’t approve of, qualifies as “profligate”. My gas tax dollars help to subsidize plenty of highways that I never drive on. Either these things provide a useful service that’s worth paying for or they don’t. That’s how they should be judged, not whether or not public funding should be used on them. Do what makes sense.

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3 Responses to Streetcar-mania

  1. JJMB says:

    Maybe my eyes are bad, but I drive up a stretch of San Jacinto every weekday morning and I drove home every evening down Fannin (at various times both ways). Now, it’s not the greatest sampling, but I never see a train more than 25% full during what should be rush hour. Just last week at 5:45pm, a double train had maybe 15 people on it. Another possible source of riders would be those taking it downtown to the Astros games — I have never seen more than 3-4 people getting off the train and walking to the game when I have been going that way.

    So I personally don’t understand the METRO ridership numbers unless there is a huge percentage (and I mean like 75%) who are only riding 1 or 2 stops from the Med Center to the parking lots to the south.

    If that is the case, I wouldn’t say “toy train”, but how about “parking lot shuttle”?

    All the pro-rail proponents I hear about assert that there is high ridership, they brush aside the huge cost of this thing, and they want to build more.

    I am unconvinced because I don’t see much ridership at all. I voted for all the rail, I have been trying to see that it works. But I just don’t.

  2. I can’t speak to your experience, but the vast majority of the time I’ve ridden the train, it’s been standing room only for at least part of the trip. That includes the double cars, and it includes times throughout the day.

  3. Brad Thomas says:

    If you would like to learn more about Cincinnati’s Streetcar proposal, this link has plenty of information:

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