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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Streetcars are popping up all over!

Kaid Benfield

Posted September 10, 2009

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Almost completely dormant for practically a century - with much of their once-rolling stock suffering the indignity of conversion to cheesy "ye olde" city tour buses - streetcars are now making a major comeback across the country.  And they are poised to become a commonplace feature of the country's surging boom in transit ridership.

  map of America's streetcar revival (courtesy of the Infrastructuralist) 

Courtesy of the excellent, provocative blog Infrastructuralist, the map above shows some of the principal locations where streetcar service is in the works.  (The map is a little hard to read, but you can click on it for a larger version.)  It helpfully indicates which featured projects are historic legacy operations as in New Orleans, new systems partially operating as in Portland, in advanced planning as in Albuquerque, "shovel-ready," or other stages.

Streetcars aren't necessarily faster than buses, but they move more people more efficiently, and their popularity spurs revitalization.  The Infrastructuralist post, by Yonah Freemark, cites the impressive success of Portland's new downtown streetcar:

"The results have been impressive: $3.5 billion in new construction, 10,000 residential units, more than 5,000,000 square feet of office and hotel space. Politicians and transportation experts have flocked to Portland to see the results, and cities across the country are now pondering systems of their own."

Check out the full post, and also the comments, which serve as a sort of de facto FAQ section on modern streetcars.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 


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Dave ReidSep 10 2009 10:17 AM

Grat timing with the article, here in Milwaukee, WI we are getting closer to moving forward with a streetcar project. And in support of the cause is selling Milwaukee streetcar t-shirts here:

Dave ReidSep 10 2009 10:18 AM

Grat timing with the article, here in Milwaukee, WI we are getting closer to moving forward with a streetcar project. And in support of the cause is selling Milwaukee streetcar t-shirts here:

Kaid @ NRDCSep 10 2009 10:38 AM

Great idea, Dave - and keep up the cycling!

Justin HoffmanSep 10 2009 02:50 PM

Here in Cincinnati we are pushing hard for a streetcar that will link the downtown with the uptown college area, running right through the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Switchboard has done an excellent series on...

This threatened district and the entire region is just ripe for improvement if certain factors fall into place, and I strongly believe a streetcar is an important part of the push. These are highly walkable areas that need more options for those seeking to live, work, and spend time car-free.
Unfortunately certain groups seem to be willing to do anything to prevent any money being spent on projects other than highways and roads. A bill that has made it onto the ballot this November would require a vote before any money is spent on right-of-way acquisition for any passenger rail transportation. Streetcar, light rail, commuter rail, and the inter-city rail are all covered by the bill's language. This is coming from one of the largest metro regions in the US without any rail options. I hope this issue can get more press on a larger level.

Kaid @ NRDCSep 10 2009 03:11 PM

I'm been following the Cincinnati story with interest and disappointment, Justin. It's too good an idea to die on the vine.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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