STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how most people are accustomed to thinking about it
Flickr photo of Portland at night, by Ian Sane.
This is in response to the Next City article "Why Streetcars Aren’t About Transit: The Economic Development Argument for Trams," written by the Housing Complex columnist of DC's own Washington City Paper.
Generally, the focus on the economic development aspects of such services, without properly planning to achieve such outcomes beyond the construction of a transit program, tends to be unsuccessful.
Streetcars and other types of intra-city transit networks such as "circulators" and "people movers" are transit and should be developed as transit, recognizing their special significance in terms of simultaneously achieving economic development objectives in repositioning and rebranding cities and/or city districts as preferred places to choose to live, conduct business, or visit.
Image of the tram in Bilbao by Neil Jennings from Flickr.
Bilbao as a good example of revitalization planning that includes transit development. There are two excellent papers by Matti Siemiatycki about the development of new transit services in Bilbao as an element of overall revitalization programs. "Beyond Moving People: Excavating the Motivations for Investing in Urban Public Transit Infrastructure in Bilbao Spain" published in European Planning Studies, is about the subway program; and "Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao Spain" is about the development of light rail services as a component of the transit mix in Bilbao. Both papers provide citations of similar types of studies.
While the subway system was planned before the region developed a metropolitan revitalization plan, the tram was an add-on to the plans, and wasn't a part of the original set of plans. It was developed out of a recognition that surface transit improvements were necessary to fully achieve the projected benefits from new attractions, in particular the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Now, other light rail projects are underway and the original line to the Museum has been extended).
Just as how the success of the revitalization process in Bilbao is frequently attributed, mistakenly, solely to the effect of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, rather than to the realization of a broad ranging and deep revitalization plan and program, streetcars are merely a repositioning device.
Defining transit networks is a necessary step to understanding what transit can accomplish. One of the many important characteristics of the Transit Element of the Arlington County Virginia Master Transportation Plan is that they define what they call the "primary" and "secondary" transit networks for their community. From the document:
The document goes on to specify in great detail the characteristics that mark each subnetwork.Definition of the Primary Transit Network. The key concept of the County’s long-range transit plan is the development of a network of high quality transit routes that will be known as the Primary Transit Network (PTN). The PTN is envisioned as a network of transit lines that operate every 15 minutes or better for at least 18 hours every day. In addition to Metrorail, it will include Metrobus and ART bus operations and new streetcar or Bus Rapid Transit service. ...Definition of a Secondary Transit Network. While the Primary Transit Network is intended to provide high-frequency, concentrated service on high-demand corridors, other parts of Arlington also require transit service. Where land use is less intensive and demand is lower, lower-frequency service is warranted. These services make up Arlington’s Secondary Transit Network (STN) for which the goal is to cover sufficient area to provide service throughout the County, while minimizing the route miles traveled.
That set of definitions encouraged me to further define the transit network more completely: (1) broadly in terms of network breadth; and (2) narrowly in terms of network depth so that a complete framework of interconnected and interrelated transit services can be conceptualized.
1. Metropolitan and sub-metropolitan transit network definitions. In a presentation called "Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning presentation" the transit network is defined at three scales within a Metropolitan area, at Metropolitan; Suburban; and Center City scales; and then within each is a set of subnetworks.
For example, in the DC region, the Metrorail subway system and railroad commuter services comprise the foundation of the Metropolitan network, and different services build on that structure.
The transit networks/subnetworks for the Washington-Baltimore region are defined in this piece, "Reprint (with editing): The Meta-Regional Transit Network" and there is further discussion of the concept here, "Without the right transportation planning framework, metropolitan areas are screwed and that includes the DC area."
2. Defining the mobility shed and the transit shed at the scale of the transit station or stop and catchment area of the the transit system respectively. See "Updating the mobilityshed / mobility shed concept." (Just last week I mentioned that this concept needs a slight update to better incorporate electric-powered vehicle support infrastructure within the framework.) This piece is relevant to planning at this scale also, "Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods."
3. Defining the global and national mobility networks. "Reprint (with editing): The Meta-Regional Transit Network" defines the overall transit network at five overarching scales:
-- regional and mult-state
The basic difference between regional and metropolitan scales is that a region is defined as more than one metropolitan area. So Baltimore and Washington, two metropolitan areas, comprise a region. This segmentation makes sense particularly in terms of railroad and airport planning. (Arguably, I could separate out regional networks from multi-state networks. I have to think about it.)
4. Why transit effectiveness matters to the success of intra-city transit services such as streetcars. The idea of the set of center city networks was further discussed in this entry, "Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning," which lays out a variety of types-modes that can be used to serve intra-city transit transit networks, 3 types of bus services and 4 types of rail services. THIS ARTICLE is particularly relevant to the Next City piece.
Streetcars are just one type of intra-city (or suburban) transit mode.
It happens that I discussed these issues in the last half of this blog entry from last week, "Reason Foundation: roads are a better investment to reduce congestion." The section was a response to a related article in Salon called "Tram wars! Why streetcars are back — whether you like it or no: Across the country, battles are raging over this retro form of transportation."
The system in Little Rock and North Little Rock is a heritage streetcar system--and is but one component of a larger revitalization plan, including the Clinton Presidential Library, and in North Little Rock, the "new" River Market public market. See "CAT: Making More with Less" from Mass Transit Magazine. Photo above from Rail Preservation.
Portland's streetcar is about transit connectivity too. Portland's streetcar was built originally to spur redevelopment of the former railyard--the neighborhood was rebranded the Pearl District--next to the train station and north of Downtown. But there was a revitalization plan in place, as well as a transit plan for the city and a Downtown Plan ("Summary of my impressions of Portland"). The streetcar was but one element of a broad-ranging program. (And the streetcar has since been extended.)
At the same time, the Portland streetcar didn't just aimlessly and exclusively serve the Pearl District, it extended east to the Nob Hill neighborhood and commercial district, and it extended south to Downtown and to Portland State University. And as a transit service the streetcar also connects to the light rail system and the bus mall--both Downtown.
The same is true in Seattle. The streetcar there is an element of a redevelopment plan for the SoDo district. When it was first constructed there wasn't the opportunity to provide connections to other surface rail transit. But now the streetcar system is being extended to Capitol Hill and will connect to the Sound Transit Link light rail system there.
Streetcars in Shaker Heights, Cleveland. From "Streetcars in Jacksonville: What Will It Cost?" from Metro Jacksonville."
In many cities, streetcars aren't enough to spur "economic development" by themselves: legacy system examples.
But in other cities, it's not clear that streetcars in and of themselves are enough to push revitalization forward, without other steps, and even with other steps.
For example, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Philadelphia have legacy streetcar systems and those areas served by transit, while doing better economically than comparable areas without such service, they aren't necessarily doing hyper well--definitely not like the Pearl District in Portland. Something's different...
Philadelphia has brought back legacy lines, such as on Girard Avenue, and the streetcar hasn't been enough, in and of itself, to spark massive loads of revitalization energy and investment.
Other examples. Streetcars in Tampa haven't been superlative revitalization engines. Detroit's People Mover hasn't fixed the city either. Etc.
That's because in such cases more than a streetcar is required to achieved the stated revitalization goals.
Interestingly, in "Frankly MARTA, I don’t Give a Tram" the Trip Planner blog argues that streetcar systems are likely more successful serving tourists than residents, although the systems in Portland and Seattle are definitely resident-focused.
Revitalization expenditures need to accomplish multiple objectives and outcomes. Planning for streetcars and other forms of intra-city transit services requires that both transit and economic development elements be considered simultaneously.
When the systems fail/do not achieve the stated outcomes concerning revitalization, such as in Detroit, the failure casts a long shadow on transit promotion within those communities and nationally.
Similarly, most circulator type bus services don't accomplish very much, although there are significant exceptions such as in Baltimore and in Downtown DC.
This relates to a point that I make all the time about revitalization planning, that everything you do has to accomplish multiple objectives to maximize return on investment, because the amount of funds you have to work with is limited, and your competitors are moving forward as well.
It's about planning and spending smarter, not just spending money.
This great table is from the Trip Planner blog.