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Streetcars in Downtown's Future?

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, December 06, 2005, at 02:53PM

This morning the Red Car Advisory Committee met to discuss the status of the ongoing feasibility study. The group, which I've mentioned previously, heard a presentation from the IBI Group, the consultants on the study, and then discussed how the project moves forward as it leaves this phase.

A little background, for those of you joining this story late: Los Angeles used to have the world's largest streetcar system. Around the middle of the 1900s that system was neglected and gradually torn apart, and the last cars ran in the early 1960s. Now, as life begins to return Downtown for the first time since the cars last ran, interest is building in resurrecting the streetcars Downtown. Money was found for this initial feasibility study, and the Advisory Committee was drawn together out of various Downtown stakeholder groups to help guide the effort.

The Money Matter

I suspect that most feasibility studies end roughly the same: Is it possible? Sure, it's just a matter of money. Bottom line is that a initial routing of three to four miles would cost $60 - $70 million. That's a lot of money to me, but it seems pennies in the scope of overall transportation spending.

A large aspect of this study was looking at what funding models were used by other municipalities which have restored or created streetcar service in recent years. The common thread between all of them seems to be a large percentage of local money, whether that be from the regional transportation agency (in our case, the MTA), the City, business improvement districts or private donations.

Really, though, I don't care how a system's funded. Sure, I want to know that it has the money to run, but beyond that I don't care. I'll leave that part to those who do.

Setting the Right Priorities

I've been very pleased with the priorities developed for this study. It recognizes that the system must serve both visitors and residents in order to succeed, and understands that service must be frequent and available at most hours of the day. Additionally, the preservation of existing on-street parking is given to be important. Those are very good things.

It's Time to Buy the Idea, Not the Details

The fundamental thing that I think is important to grasp right now is that this is the time to buy into the idea of streetcar service and not a particular plan for routing or operational characteristics. That's tough for me. I want to jump right into route planning and technical details. But all of that is secondary at this stage. The main question to ask is: would Downtown benefit from some manner of circulator streetcar? If yes, then we as the community should be strongly behind finding the funding for the second phase of this project.

That's when we can start to worry about all the fun details.


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