“Streetcars and urban renewal: Rolling blunder”
August 9, 2014.
As a rail fan, I have to fess up to an abiding love of streetcars as an idea. As a commuter or a traveler, I have found that their appeal wears off quickly. After taking San Francisco’s Muni, San Diego’s Little Red Car, and Seattle’s South Lake Union Transit (affectionately known as the SLUT), I find myself quickly searching for other alternatives.
The novelty is a delight, especially on the “F” Line on San Francisco’s Muni, where they have assembled 27 vintage PCC streetcars from around the country and run them along Market Street. It doesn’t take long on a hot summer day to discover why these beauties were retired. As nice as they are to look at, they cannot hold a candle to modern buses or subways for comfort and speed.
So it was with similarly mixed feelings that I read The Economist’s scathing but well-documented take-down of streetcar services. On the one hand, there were no aspersions cast on legacy lines like those running in San Francisco. On the other hand, the magazine effectively debunked the urban boosterism and federal subsidies that have led to a series of urban streetcar investments around the US.
There are real questions that the economic justification for these services is far overstated, and that as practical transit systems they are inferior to buses and subways, and in some cases, feet.
It is time to kill the federal streetcar subsidy, and start putting money into transit solutions that are cost-effective, useful to riders, and environmentally sound. Nostalgia is wonderful. But nostalgia belongs in the museum, not on the legislative agenda.