streetcar mania

January 15, 2007

well, it had to happen. streetcar mania has once again swept the nation. it’s even attracting attention from USA Today, somebody’s paper of record. we’ve even blogged about it here at the salad. and here is a much better picture of the little rock streetcar:

littlerock.jpg

this picture is actually pretty cool. the engineers modified an existing bridge to fit in the streetcar. it’s also seen climbing a very steep gradient, which streetcar detractors say is implausible. full report here. the extension to the clinton library is about to open, which should continue to spur interest in the streetcar, which is apparently becoming iconic; Southern Living is about to run a feature on it.

some of you might be wondering why streetcars disappeared from american roads in the first place. was it suburbanization? decreased cost of automobiles and fuels? local government inefficiencies? land-use planning? no, it was a conspiracy. none other than General Motors conspired to destroy American streetcars. there are a lot of materials available online about the conspiracy, but to emphasize just how nefarious GM is, I’ve decided to link to an article on their connections with the Nazis (never fear, it mentions the streetcars). the GM conspiracy is the basis for the evil scheme in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” which, like all great film noir, is about the decay of the american urban core, often told through the vantage point of infrastructure (especially see “Chinatown”).

the real question, though is should we support streetcar development? in the opinion of this author, yes. electrification of our national infrastructure is crucial in our battle against carbon. more importantly, the streetcar could be very effective as a supplement to a larger u-bahn/s-bahn system.

consider the case of Hyde Park in chicago. then current plan is to build the olympic stadium in nearby washington park because of its proximity to public transport. but is it really that close?

washpark.jpg

While the CTA green line is right next to Washington Park, the Red Line is at least a half a mile away (more like .75)–a distance no one is going to walk in that neighborhood. likewise, no one is going to walk the mile+ from the METRA stations (which would hopefully be CTA Gray line stations at that point) in hyde park to Washington park. the park is close, but not close enough. connecting this transportation infrastructure through a streetcar would make a lot of sense. the city should even consider a full light rail line extending all the way to midway airport.

in other words, streetcars are good for filling gaps. americans will gladly ride a train to and fro, but not a bus. GM’s scheme personified.

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2 Responses to “streetcar mania”


  1. […] good old-fashioned contrariness rather than genuine belief that the city of lights is as scenic as Little Rock. In fact, I think that Paris has some of the best public art ever built: the Paris Metro […]


  2. […] arterials really the result of land-use planning and suburbanization, or is it the result of an elaborate General Motors conspiracy to replace all streetcars with buses? Was George W. Bush really that articulate during […]


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