Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Immediate success of new streetcars in Kansas City and Cincinnati

Photo: Tammy Ljungblad, Kansas City Star.

The streetcar in Kansas City, launched , is has more than daily riders and they are ordering more streetcar vehicles, although the long lead time means that they won't arrive for many years ("Kansas City streetcars are so crowded that system needs more vehicles," Kansas City Star). From the article:
As Kansas City’s downtown streetcar system approaches its one millionth ride, the cars are so crowded that the Streetcar Authority wants to buy two more vehicles and possibly expand the route north to Berkley Riverfront Park.

The authority voted Thursday to develop a financing plan to add two more streetcars to the four-vehicle fleet. Because each car is custom-made and the procurement process takes so long, they likely won’t arrive until 2019.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Streetcar Authority member Russ Johnson said Thursday, noting that the downtown streetcar starter route, from the River Market to Union Station, had been expected to average about 2,700 rides per day.

Instead, since it opened May 6, it has averaged about 6,600 rides per day — with Saturday ridership often exceeding 10,000 rides.

Johnson said this was not poor planning on the streetcar designers’ part, and 2,700 was a realistic expectation given the experience in other cities. But Kansas City has had some of the highest ridership, per mile, of any system in the country, with people flocking to ride the free streetcar to downtown venues and festivals throughout the summer.

“Route matters,” Johnson said. “There is something special going on in Kansas City.”
In Cincinnati, where the streetcar launched in mid-September, and aided by large events such as Oktoberfest celebrations--almost 10,000 riders each day Friday through Sunday, and a NFL game ("Steetcar to provide extra service for Bengals-Dolphins game Thursday night," WCPO-TV), the new streetcar service is averaging more than 7,000 riders daily ("High streetcar ridership causing delays, tension between city and transit authority, WCPO-TV). The initial projections were for 3,000 riders per day. From the first article:
The Town Center Garage at 1251 Central Parkway is offering $10 parking on game days. The first 100 Bengals ticket holders to park for Thursday’s game will get free parking and up to four all-day streetcar passes.

More than 18,000 people rode the streetcar last weekend, far exceeding expectations, according to data from Metro spokeswoman Brandy Jones.

There were 5,109 riders Friday with a budgeted average weekday ridership of 3,000; 7,933 Saturday with a budgeted average of 1,500, and 4,964 Sunday when the ridership estimate was 990.

Crowds in and around the city were due to the MidPoint Music Festival and the Bengals' season home opener at Paul Brown Stadium.
In relatively small cities without a heavy rail system, those are good numbers.

Unlike the media wrt DC's streetcar project, which admittedly had serious planning failures and construction delays, in Cincinnati the media has challenged falsehoods made by opponents ("Top 10 misrepresentation of the Cincinnati streetcar project," Citybeat).  With some exceptions, local media were more about piling on the failures rather than objective analysis.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, has published a number of excellent articles on the streetcar, including a detailed analysis of impact on property values thus far, "Will the streetcar lift property values?," which is equivocal, but I argue that calculating such impacts within a couple months of the transit line's opening is far too soon. In any case, the article is a model of thorough journalism. From the article:

The analysis shows:
Sixty properties today are worth more than twice what they were in 2008. At least 76 more properties exist today than in 2008, the result of new construction or redevelopment. 
The market value of 57 percent of properties along the line is less today than in 2008. More than a quarter of the real estate parcels that have a lower value today after owners sought reduced assessments – to pay less in property tax. 
The biggest wins are:

Bringing the School for Creative and Performing Arts to Elm, 12th, Central and Race streets. It's worth $35.4 million. 
The Westfalen Lofts and Westfalen II developments in Over-the-Rhine. Multiple vacant and crumbling buildings along 14th and Race streets have been repurposed into 42 residences and 4,000 square feet of commercial space. It's worth at least $9.1 million.
The Banks. The north building, which sits along the streetcar line on Second Street, is worth $33.6 million. 
Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, which is helping pay for the project, said, "If anything, in spite of the uncertainty and the arguments, you have seen real estate investment increase. That's pretty unbelievable."
Cincinnati Streetcar
Flickr photo by Travis Estell.

The construction and delivery process was led by John Deatrick, a former Cincinnati transportation official who left that city to become Chief Engineer for DC's Department of Transportation but returned to Cincinnati *City to streetcar czar: Thanks, but you're done Dec. 31," CE). Had he stayed in DC, perhaps the implementation of the streetcar here would have gone much more smoothly.

-- Cincinnati Enquirer's ongoing coverage of their streetcar

Conclusion.  From a branding and repositioning standpoint, streetcars and other fixed rail transit programs are important ways to redefine the value of center cities as a place to live and locate business in the face of the postwar sprawl-suburban land use and transportation development paradigm.

These projects are an important sign of reinvestment and refocusing development on center cities.

Furthermore, despite how some argue that streetcars aren't about transit but economic development (past entries "DC and streetcars #2: STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how most people are accustomed to thinking about it" and "The argument that streetcars are "good enough" but "imperfect transit" is flawed"), the Kansas City and Cincinnati streetcar projects prove the best answer is that streetcars do both.

(Now I would also discuss this in terms of creating what I am calling the sustainable mobility platform in cities, which is a combination of having the right urban design which supports walking + biking + transit + bike share + car share + delivery complemented by in-community retail, employment centers and attractions.)

The same is true of Tucson's streetcar ("Tucson seeks to replicate streetcar success in future growth" Arizona Public Media) and Dallas ("Streetcars are an engine behind Uptown Dallas success," Trains Magazine; "Once-skeptical Dallas city manager has a desire for streetcars," Dallas Morning News), Portland, and Seattle among others.

The Dallas and Tucson stories are particularly interesting because the initiative behind creating the services was ground up, led by citizen activists, rather than a more typical program laid out by planning departments and government.

-- The Purpose, Function, and Performance of Streetcar Transit in the Modern U.S. City: A Multiple-Case-Study Investigation, Mineta Transportation Institute

And the examples in Cincinnati, Dallas, Kansas City, Portland, and Seattle demonstrate that while all the systems tend to experience at least some difficulties in implementation, the problems with the implementation in DC are more the exception than the rule.

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