Wednesday, April 28, 2010

US cities getting ready for streetcars

TRANSPORTATION. On Wikipedia it’s called The Great American streetcar scandal (a k a The General Motors streetcar conspiracy), the history of how many American cities lost there streetcars some 50 years ago.
According to these theories it was a scheme by General Motors together with a tire company and two oil companies, all with interests in an expanded dependency on automobiles, that brought down public transportation in many American cities.
With the American automobile industry in crisis, streetcars now seem ready for a comeback in cities across the United States. New Urban News reports that 22 cities around the country now have plans for streetcar lines that could go into construction within two years, all thanks to new policies introduced by the Obama Administration.
This will of course not happen without discussions and political fights.
The Washington Post writes about protests against plans for an extensive streetcar network in the U.S. capital. Work has already begun on parts of the system and streetcars made in the Czech Republic (left) have been bought.
But protesters claim that wires and poles for the streetcars would be ugly intrusions to the grand vistas of this magnificent center of power. To their support they have an 1889 law that bans overhead wires in the historic city, according to the Washington Post.
This could slow the implementation of the streetcar network and increase its cost.
But the Post argues that this is the time for Washington, D.C., to take the lead and inspire other American cities to introduce quiet and pollution-free public transportation like streetcars.
“But the deeper issue here is Washington’s relation to the nation. Do we want to preserve the early 20th-century sense of ourselves as a grand, imperial city that overawes tourists? Or do we want to be a model city for the 21st century, a place where visitors from across the country and around the world can be inspired by innovative experiments in sustainable urban life?”, asks the newspaper.
The plans in Washington call for so called “hybrid” streetcars that run on batteries through sensitive areas where there would be no overhead wires that interfere with the views. But most of the 60-km network would have the wires.
Portland, Oregon, has long been a leader in sustainable urban development in the United States and has an extensive streetcar network. Now major cities like Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta are planning for streetcars, as well as smaller cities like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Copyright: The District Department of Transportation (this photo and above)
Tracks on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1962, the year streetcar service stopped in Washington.