Streetcar!

The discussion generated by this excellent story is quite worthwhile. Read the whole thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the street car does not tie into transit outside the City limits (do borders really matter so much?), and is not a part of a comprehensive plan, it will be a neat tourist attraction, with its own place on the tourist’s guide to Cville.

If I work up 29 North, or in Crozet to the west, or Lake Monticello to the east, how useful will the streetcar be?

Without considering travel and settlement patterns, this will be a sadly futile exercise – with taxpayers’ dollars.

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12 Comments

  1. C March 1, 2007 at 15:33

    I think you may be leaving out the huge economic developement engine that a streetcar could be in the city. Tracks in the streets of west main (and other corridors) may be the only thing that jump starts that corridor. Anyone who has ever been to a place like Portland knows that businesses and residents flocked to the streetcar corridors after they were built making them thriving livable spaces. I think the questioned to any enlightened economic development promoter of this community may be- why aren’t you advocating for a streetcar, and all of the business development that would follow?

  2. TrvlnMn March 1, 2007 at 20:14

    I’ve said this when the subject came up on Dave Norris’ blog– and I will say it again.

    A “streetcar system” would be little more than another expensive trophy for the city of Charlottesville. It would not benefit more than a handful of wealthy residents living in already “privileged” parts of town. It’s too limited in the number of people it would benefit vs cost, and would be a give-a-way to property owners along the route.

    Just because the City of Charlottesville had a budget surplus last year- does not mean that it should be spent, or spent making the Downtown (including West Main) and the UVA area a further draw for the wealthy. There are plenty of “maintenance projects” that are already needed and where the money could be better used.

    The low income neighborhoods are already getting pushed out. This would further promote that. Look at the cost of condo’s in the downtown area (500k to 1.2 mil- that last number being the penthouse to the Holsinger). It would encourage similar development- making the area less accessible. Isn’t there already upscale condo’s going in on Cherry Avenue?

    There is not anything a streetcar can do that the current bus routes cannot and do not already do.

    A streetcar does not solve the problem. It doesn’t take cars off the streets. People still have to commute in to Charlottesville from the outer areas to work, and they must do it in a car.

    If I wanted to come to the downtown mall or west main- I would still have to drive in and pay to park my car- why am I going to take a streetcar after that? I’ve already got my own vehicle.

    A streetcar just “looks pretty” and that’s not a good enough reason to put in another maintenance intensive infra-structure project, that benefits too few people.

    Charlottesville isn’t Portland. A streetcar is a waste of money.

  3. UVA08 March 2, 2007 at 14:49

    Have any local officials considered a light rail system that would run out to places like Zion Crossroads, Hollymead, Ruckersville, and Crozet? Or is the population of our area not large enough to make such a system profitable or meaningful?

  4. Jim Duncan March 2, 2007 at 15:12

    Not to discourage West Main development, but it seems to be doing pretty well right now.

    Who would the streetcar serve? Where would the people who staff this new development live?

    Portland is a lot bigger than Charlottesville.

    I agree that we should consider transit, but to do so without considering what the streetcar would tie into – rails from Crozet, 29N, Zion Crossroads, etc. – the only people that I envision a streetcar serving are quite limited.

    I have said it before (many times) – we need to consider (and act on, rather than study, study, study) transit solutions, but to do so myopically without recognizing that that people come to Charlottesville from outside its limits quite frequently, the streetcar will have limited functionality.

  5. Jim Duncan March 2, 2007 at 15:13

    UVA08 –

    Without massive subsidies, my understanding is that we don’t (yet) have the critical mass to support extensive transit networks. Unfortunately when we do ultimately do have that critical mass, retro-fitting our communities to support the needed network may prove impossible.

  6. UVA08 March 2, 2007 at 18:01

    “I have said it before (many times) – we need to consider (and act on, rather than study, study, study) transit solutions, but to do so myopically without recognizing that that people come to Charlottesville from outside its limits quite frequently, the streetcar will have limited functionality. ”

    Completely agree with you on that Jim. The relentless need to study issues around here is always a great conversation piece that even elicits a few laughs here and there but it’s really starting to get old. Wait, I change that, it is old. I do want the government to spend our money responsibly but studies don’t mean anything unless we implement them.

    As far as commuting patterns go I have said it several times, this is why I support letting developers pretty much do their thing close to town. I quite frankly would have liked to see Biscuit Run go with the 5,000 home proposal. That’s 5,000 less that would have gone out to some rural areas of the county rather than an area already surrounded by growth. It would have also infused some much needed support on the supply side of the market and theoretically led to lower prices. This also would have promoted higher population densities around town which would mean public transit would be more efficient and a practical investment. So long as everyone is living 15-30 miles (sometimes more) outside of town public transportation will not be a viable option for reducing congestion on main arteries like 29 and 250. With that said if the developers wanted this they should have definitely offered to contribute substantially to the necessary infrastructure improvements for roads and schools.

    It will be interesting to see what the BOS end up approving for that site.

  7. UVA08 March 2, 2007 at 18:02

    ends*

  8. TrvlnMn March 3, 2007 at 16:34

    I was crunching the numbers and even if I wanted to take public transit I couldn’t. It would be “more” expensive (both in dollars spent and time wasted) than if I drove.

    Since I like many others, live in the county (living in town isn’t an option – too expensive) and public transit doesn’t run in the county, I would have to take Jaunt.

    Since I’m not disabled I would have to pay the inflated (or full cost) rate for a trip to town. According to the Jaunt website that can cost between $5.20 and 12.50 depending on where one lives (One Way). That figure does not include any CTS bus fare I might have to pay.

    However for me to take my car it’s a little bit less than $5.00 (round trip) with as many stops as I need to make. Plus I’m not wasting as much time stuck waiting at bus stops, which means I can be more productive with my time.

    So lets just summarize that again:

    Public transit cost = between 10.40 and 25.00 (round trip) from the county into town (not including any extra bus fare that might be needed).

    My Private Vehicle cost = less than $5.00 (round trip) with timely and unlimited access to anywhere I might need to travel.

    A west main streetcar wouldn’t take people like me off the road – and That is why it is a waste of money.

  9. C March 3, 2007 at 22:06

    Tman
    Have you not realized that your car trips are heavily subsidized by the feds, state, etc. and thus not as inexpensive as you claim. Your analysis is fairly pointless without taking into account the full cost of your car trips….roads ain’t free buddy- C

  10. TrvlnMn March 4, 2007 at 02:49

    I would like to see your numbers “C”.

    The cost of gas includes “taxes”. I don’t know how it’s done in VA but other places I’ve lived those “taxes” went into a transportation/highway fund. Plus there are all the other taxes I pay – all of which goes back to pay for my share of government services- not all of which I use. My car trips are subsidized only by my wallet.

    Using your logic public transit would be even more subsidized than it is currently and more expensive than private auto.

    Whether or not my numbers are entirely accurate is irrelevant. The average consumer isn’t thinking as you are- they’re looking at the immediate cost to them. And that immediate cost says it’s cheaper for me to drive my private vehicle, than would be for me to take public transit, which is almost non-existent outside of Charlottesville. And that is the real problem if you want to take car’s off the street (the solution to which is not a streetcar).

    And if you still think that’s pointless then it is you who are missing the point.

  11. Arthur March 4, 2007 at 14:59

    I don’t think that anyone is arguing that a West Main Street streetcar will get people who live in the county to take public transit into town. The benefits claimed by steetcar advocates may or may not justify the cost, but if the idea is worth considering, it is worth considering the strongest arguments. On congestion, the argument as I understand it is that as the area continues to grow, it would be best for everybody if that growth occured where the additional people would drive least. A streetcar in the middle of the city, along with mixed-use, high density zoning, and limited parking would A) connect important population and activity centers where people are already driving and which are already the most densely populated and B) encourage more dense, mixed-use pedestrian and transit friendly development. Whatever relief provided to county congestion would be indirect, sopping up demand with the least car-dependent supply.

    I don’t know if that will work or if the benefits will be worth the cost. I’m interested to see the report.

  12. TrvlnMn March 4, 2007 at 23:49

    The city has a Bus system. It has those Trolleys – were those a waste of money? Anything that could be accomplished with a streetcar could be accomplished with the bus system. And the bus system is already paid for.

    My point in referencing the lack of public transit for commuters or anyone living in the outer counties is that to get to the Downtown Mall or West Main they would still have to drive, still have to pay to park, and since they’ve got to do all that they wouldn’t be paying to use public transit on top of everything else. So you would still have traffic congestion.

    Any public transit issue that doesn’t take into account people who live in the population clusters outside of town, many of whom can’t afford Charlottesville, any transit plan that doesn’t consider those populations and find a way for them to move easily and affordabley to and from Charlottesville without a vehicle- is not a plan just wasted money.

    A streetcar in Charlottesville is like a Cubic Zirconium earring on a pig’s ear.