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The Trouble with Buses

29 Jun

This article in the News-Leader recently highlights one of the advantages that streetcars could have over bus transit: compatibility with historic districts. Buses continually clash with historic preservation and neighborhood residents due to their noise, air pollution, and modern look that doesn’t match the character of the older neighborhoods. Now, the Historic Walnut Street Association has won endorsement   This article shows just how hard locating a concentration of buses in the form of a transfer station can be, with City Utilities having spent five years, three studies, and $200,000 in the search for a suitable site that keeps everyone happy. Streetcars, on the other hand, are hard for preservationists to argue against due to the fact that many neighborhoods in Springfield once had a streetcar line or two. The hum and rumble of a passing streetcar is far less upsetting than the growl and roar of a diesel bus. Streetcars idling at transfer stations make little to no noise. And, streetcars can be historically styled to match the era of the districts they serve. Gomaco Trolley Company of Ida Grove, Iowa, produces replica Birney streetcars, like those that once plied Springfield’s streets.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that buses have higher CO2 emissions than streetcars and have a direct negative impact on air quality, as shown in this post.

Springfield Streetcar: The Future of the Past

10 Jun

Spingfield, Missouri was once home to an extensive streetcar network that in 1929 covered the entire city with access to public transportation. Park Central Square was a beehive of activity, with streetcar lines from four directions meeting in a grand circular junction of rails and wires. In 1936, the Springfield Traction Company announced that the beloved streetcars would be replaced by gasoline powered buses, because it seemed “the modern thing to do.” After the final “streetcar parade” in August of 1937, the streetcars, like so many others across the country, faded into history. Succumbing to the forces of improved roads and increased private automobile ownership, the streetcars that created the American city on their characteristic patterns of development went from being the most modern transportation system in the world to nothing but a quaint memory in the hearts of romantics.

Today, streetcars are being proven in city after city across the country as a successful means of spurring development in downtown areas, from Portland, Oregon to Tampa, Florida. And while some streetcar systems can be expensive, building an effective streetcar link is far cheaper than many in local governments around the area may realize. Kenosha, Wisconsin spent $6 million on a streetcar loop that covered their entire downtown district, and in return got $150 million worth of downtown, brownfield, and lakefront development. Streetcar tracks bring development, and that is what downtown Springfield needs. With the recent report that the Expo Center will need $53 million in private investment in the surrounding area to make it truly competitive, and an additional $24 to $55 million in public subsidies, the comparatively low costs of streetcar development become eye-opening.

Springfield Streetcar will be developing a plan for implementing streetcars in downtown Springfield, Missouri, hoping to generate interest among citizens, businesses, and government in the benefits of rail-based public transportation in the areas of tourism, economics, and sustainability.

Join us and come ride the streetcar!