Another streetcar bites the dust. The NYT reports on the dramatic reversal in Arlington, whose “progressive” transportation culture would have been a natural place for the project to take root. The voters, it seems, weren’t having it:
John Vihstadt, a streetcar critic and a subway commuter to his Washington law office, had just been elected to the Arlington County board. The campaign’s dominant issue was the planned system, with Mr. Vihstadt arguing that it would be too expensive and ineffective, compared with faster bus service. The vote was seen as a referendum on the project that had been planned since the 1990s and formally approved in 2006.
“At the end of the day,” Mr. Vihstadt said, “Arlington voters concluded the streetcar didn’t make sense from a transit or economic perspective, that it would cost too much and do too little. I was the vehicle for that sentiment.”
The piece also highlights the uncertain future of the DC streetcar, but it’s not just DC or Arlington. Atlanta and San Antonio, for example, have also run into streetcar problems. But despite this, as the NYT notes, several cities are still pushing ahead with plans to develop streetcars, and there still seems to be a fair amount of momentum behind the movement overall. In part, that’s because federal money has been behind it.
The funding still being devoted to these projects is misplaced, and not just because they have failed in different cities. Streetcars sit at the intersection of the green agenda, the new urbanist movement, and the nostalgia of wealthier city dwellers for a more picturesque era. They serve those who live in walkable, dense enclaves—but only a limited number of people want or can afford to live in such areas. Policy makers would do more to improve the lives of the middle class by prioritizing an agenda centered around telework, Google cars, and smart suburban development than one devoted to marginal priorities like streetcars for the wealthy.