THE TIME OF THE TROLLEY. Yes, that's the title of a Kalmbach book about the 1890-1958 version of the streetcar. The American Association of Retired Persons, however, would have its members believe that the time of the trolley is now.

For decades 95 %, or more, of federal money for transportation has been used for highways that encouraged sprawl development far away from urban centers. Recently, more investment has been made in rail and bus transit for commuters from the suburbs to get to urban centers. Now, there’s a new emphasis -- make these urban centers attractive places to live, work and play a 24-hour city with diversity and appeal for all ages. Access to mobility without a car is crucial to the success of this movement, so the Obama administration is supporting so-called urban circulators, public transportation projects that help people get around within a community. Last spring such projects, if shovel-ready, were eligible for money from the federal stimulus package. Last December the administration announced $280 million for urban circulator projects, with an emphasis on streetcars. Announced in February, a new round of federal grants totaling $1.5 billion will help out several streetcar projects.

Streetcars “fit in very well with the concept of livable communities,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the AARP Bulletin last fall. “You’ll see neighborhoods really embrace the idea.”

At least 40 cities—Tucson, Ariz., and Detroit among them—have lines in the works, and the next one is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., by 2012. Encouraged by easier access to federal funding, as many as 40 more cities—from tiny Cripple Creek, Colo., to sprawling Los Angeles—are exploring the possibility of building new lines, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

The language of the excerpt is instructive. Some opponents of public spending on rail projects claim that doing so takes money from road projects that people use. But people use the roads because money that could have been spent on rail projects, or left with the taxpayer in the form of lower fuel, tire, and property taxes, was spent on the roads to encourage people to relocate in such a way as to take advantage of them.

The original streetcar systems expanded in such a way as to connect to streetcar systems in neighboring towns, and thus was born the interurban. And Hilton and Due's The Electric Interurban Railways in America is available in paperback, should readers be interested in how the first interurban network evolved. (There is, of course, a hardcover version in the Cold Spring Shops research library.)

1 comment:

David Foster said...

An interesting view from 1902, when electric streetcars were still a new technology.