Monday, February 27, 2012

San Antonio weighs a major streetcar project

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In case you haven't figured this out already, the urban rail transit mode currently in vogue these days is ... streetcars! And this is a good thing, because they were generally an extremely popular and cost-effective mode in their stride, and should never have been ripped out of North America's cities (or anywhere else for that matter). Big mistake.

Anyway, back to the future. You can get some idea of the excitement over streetcars in the U.S. alone just by assessing the number of Web article titles playing on the well-worn A Streetcar Named Desire name of Tennessee Williams's classic drama. I Googled "streetcar" "desire" "rail" "U.S." (with the quote marks, to restrict the search) and got some 376,000 hits. Wow.

One of the current hotspots of streetcar ... well, desire, is ... San Antonio, Tex. The intensity of the desire seems to have increased since Keith Parker migrated there, as CEO of the transit agency VIA, from his former haunts as CEO of Charlotte's agency, CATS. Since opening in 2007, Charlotte's Lynx light rail system has been pulling in ridership (just over 15,000 per weekday by the most recent report), well above what was forecast.

For several years, San Antonio's interest in the streetcar mode as a way to take the plunge into rail transit has been intensifying, led by top officials and civic leaders like Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Mayor Julián Castro. This past fall (2011), the mayor together with a local councilman pushed the proposal forward by laying an ambitious streetcar starter line plan on the public table.

Initially the plan proposed an L-shaped route mainly serving the the Alamo City's central business district (CBD). But in November, VIA, together with the city and county, managed to pull together enough funds to finance two routes — a north-south line and an east-west line — even without federal assistance. The capital investment cost of that starter system is estimated to run roughly $190 million.

While the exact route plan still seems to be in flux, it looks like each route would start with about two or three miles. An eventual more extensive system could involve about 18 miles (30 km) of route.

The recent evolution of San Antonio's streetcar plans can be reviewed in several Railway Age articles from last year:

San Antonio streetcar (re)endorsed, Friday, September 23, 2011 

San Antonio officials commit to streetcar plan, Friday, October 21, 2011

VIA (San Antonio) OKs local streetcar funding, Friday, November 18, 2011

I've also posted a more recent story, with more details on corridors and activity points served, on the HubPages E-zine:

San Antonio—Southwestern City's Streetcar Desire Gets Stronger

And Light Rail Now has lots of background information on the evolution of rail plans in the Alamo City:

San Antonio: Rail Transit and Public Transport Developments

There'll be more on this story to come — San Antonio's streetcar proposal is quickly moving to the front burner.

Lyndon Henry

Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, investigative journalist, and transportation consultant currently based in Central Texas. He holds a Master of Science in Community & Regional Planning, with a focus in Transportation, from the University of Texas at Austin, 1981. From 1973 to 1989 he was executive director of the Texas Association for Public Transportation, and presented the original proposals and feasibility studies for light rail that led to the inclusion of rail transit in the Austin-area planning process.. From 1981 to 1985 he served as a transportation consultant to the Hajj Research Centre at King Abdul Aziz University, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has also served as a transportation planning consultant on several other transit projects in the USA. In 1983-84 he was a member of the Austin-Travis County Transit Task Force which recommended a transit authority for the Austin area. That agency, eventually named Capital Metro, was created in 1985. From 1989 to 1993, Mr. Henry served as a board member and vice-chairman of Capital Metro. From 1990 to 1992 he was an Adjunct Faculty member at St. Edwards University, teaching a course in public policy. Since 2000 he has served as a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, and from 2002 to late 2011 he served as a Data Analyst for Capital Metro in Austin. He is also a member of APTA’s Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Subcommittee and Light Rail Transit Technical Subcommittee.