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Urbs and Burbs
A Streetcar Named Debacle
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  • Andrew Allison

    “There used to be Trams not very
    quick. Gotcha from place to place. But
    now there’s just jams ‘alf a mile fick . . . I’m walking” (Lionel Bart)
    As the post alludes to, the problem is not streetcars but where projects are being proposed and implemented. Simply put, streetcars (now usually referred to as light rail) are working well in densely populated cities ( Proposals to put them into suburbs are at best misguided, and frequently corrupt. For a case study, see

    • Kevin

      I wonder about this. If you put them in dense cities then you will almost certainly be creating these mixed use streetcars (or light rail) where they compete with all the other traffic clogging up the roads. This is because there simply is not enough space on roads in old urban areas to create dedeicated street car lanes. In contrast in the suburbs or less dense cities (like Salt Lake City perhaps) there is enough space to create dedicated lanes – still even here is this really the most efficient use of available paved real estate?

      Buses (perhaps running along HOV/toll lanes) might offer a much more economicly effective transportation solution.

      Still this whole process of having the Feds approve and then dole out money for specific local transportation programs is absurd and grossly innefficient. It’s primary purpose is to employ a horde of federal bureaucrats pushing money hither and yon (while taking percentage for their efforts) and give congressmen bacon to bring home. It would be much more efficient to simply eliminate the federal gas tax and let each state/city decide what transportation programs they need and raise the revenues to support these programs.

      Even if we don’t completely abandon a Federal role in local transit, does anybody really believe Alexandria, perhaps the wealthiest community in the country, can’t afford to raise the revenue to fund their own transportation initiatives? This is what a bloated Federal government looks like – taxing the bottom half (via highly regressive gas taxes) to subsidize the wealthy and politically connected of Alexandria.

      • Curious Mayhem

        Congresscritters … bacon … hmmm.

        And, yes, that’s the Democratic party at work these days — a plutocracy of the politically connected. Exhibit A: Alexandria, and all of Northern Virginia, as I have seen with mine own eyes.

      • Clovis

        Your first paragraph reminds me of an ironic situation I see nearly every weekday in Austin. That is light commuter rail that routes on pre-existing tracks that splice through the city. The tracks aren’t elevated and it isn’t a subway, so at rush hour when the trains run most frequently I sit at a major intersection and watch traffic backup horribly so this “traffic reducing” train can have the right of way.

  • Curious Mayhem

    In the burbs, the best mass transit thing by far would be to expand the small but growing system of light buses that have near-total flexibility in where and when they stop. They use the existing road system, but are far cheaper and more agile than the obsolete “big bus” system.

    And, of course, we suburbanites can hardily endorse telecommuting, since it’s clear that, after 40+ years of transit social engineering, not a lot of new money is going to go into improving and expanding our roads.

  • jeburke

    “Trolley cars” were invented because a horse could pull a far heavier load if the wagon rolled on rails. Electrifying them was easy and obvious. But buses were more flexible and practical.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The price of gasoline will impact these decisions a lot. Right now, the movement for streetcars will go further into decline.

  • J K Brown

    I listened to a video discussion posted at City Journal, Edward Glaeser and Paul Romer discuss Rapid Urbanization. They both point out that manufacturing is not going to return to the urban core but will be out in the suburbs. This leaves the urban centers as enclaves for the “creative” types and stock brokers. So the trolleys really are for the upper and upper middle class. Those who do factory or other physically productive work will not be in the target demographic.

    Dense urban developments do work well for the single (sex partner connections) and those working in innovation in their industry where mingling people leads to the mingling of ideas. But never again will Mike and Sully stroll the urban streets, or hop the street car, down to the Scare Factory. Instead a few will drive across the suburbs to monitor/maintain the robot-dominated factory.

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