Monday, August 25, 2008

Streetcars in Sacramento

I received a very good report in my email last night called Next Stop: Sacramento. You can download the complete report from our document archive. The report looks at the benefits of adding streetcars back into urban areas. The report states that since the Portland Streetcar opened in 2001, it has attracted $1 billion in development. I would like to point of the Five Principles of Streetcar Implementation from the report:

1. Streetcar is not Light Rail. So goes the mantra of Portland Commissioner Charlie Hales, one of the Portland Streetcar’s chief advocates. Both modes are shiny, sleek, and operate on steel rails and wheels. But streetcars are smaller, lighter, quieter, considerably cheaper, and work more easily in urban surroundings. They fit into the existing fabric and scale of the downtown business district and neighborhoods easily, and reinforce the existing environment without major disruption.

2. The Streetcar is not just a transportation tool—it is a development tool. Some of the Portland Streetcar’s greatest champions have been real estate developers who recognized the connection between livable, high-density urban neighborhoods, and the ease of mobility offered by the streetcar. In fact, during the last flurry of streetcar building, in the early 20th century, rail-line expansions were closely tied to land development. Cities and agencies that can understand and harness this connection—for livability and tax-base expansion benefits—will get the most out of streetcar projects.

3. The Streetcar is a local transportation project; it does not directly address regional transportation issues. The local scale of streetcar projects impact what constituencies are likely to support them, how they must be marketed to the public and decision makers, and perhaps most importantly, how they will be funded.

4. The devil is in the details. It’s easy to focus on the big picture, but of course, the details are just as important. This is where creativity comes into play - bringing together unique business models and strategic thinkers to overcome the challenges of attracting development and building major infrastructure in the middle of a thriving urban environment.

5. The Portland Streetcar is an excellent model, but it is not the only model. As we note at the end of this paper, there are numerous other streetcar lines in operation or in the planning stages across the country. Leaders interested in establishing a streetcar line in Sacramento may also want to review—or ride—the lines in San Francisco, Tacoma, or even Tampa, Florida, to see how those cities did it.

The report also outlines some of the lessons learned from the Portland Streetcar and how to fund a system. Its a very good read.

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