It may be hard to believe when surveying the country’s car-centered cities, but streetcars used to be a mainstay of American urban design, ferrying pedestrians across town in hundreds of cities across the nation. While many fell into decline and dis-use by the middle of the century, a new wave of streetcars has opened in cities in the past two decades, a somewhat nostalgic side effect of reurbanization looking to bring back more sustainable, pedestrian friendly transportation.
After a wave of systems broke ground and began running in the 2000s in cities such as Dallas, Portland and Salt Lake City, more and more streetcars systems are taking shape despite the complaint that these new takes on an older form of transportation lack the speed and frequency needed to truly take root, and tend to operate in limited areas and functions more as tourist magnets (high ridership figures in Kansas City and growing pains in Cincinnati showcase this disparity). Here’s a look at some of the recently opened and proposed lines popping up across the country.
Cincinnati Bell Connector
The new 3.6-mile loop, which threads through the center of the city and booming areas such as the Banks and Over-the-Rhine, debuted last September, and racked up a quarter of a million rides in a little more than two months. The route connects many of the areas at the center of the city’s downtown revival: $1.5 billion in public and private investment has been spent on developments along the route.
Downtown KC Streetcar
Opening for service just this past May, Kansas City’s 10-station, 2.2-mile streetcar system has far overshot initial ridership goals, delivering just shy of 1.4 million trips last year alone. Running between River Market and Union Station, the line cuts through the business district and Crossroads area, a tech and entrepreneurial hub, and has been credited for providing a big economic boost; how can you argue with transit that has its own rap song? The transit authority has discussed plans to extend the popular line to 51st Street.
Charlotte CityLynx Gold Line
As part of a makeover of the booming city’s transit system, the Gold Line, which opened in 2015, will be expanded from its current 1.5-mile run and get a set of sleek new cars for a more welcoming, modern look. The city just broke ground on the second phase, which will extend both west and east of downtown: from the Charlotte Transportation Center/TWC Arena to French Street, and from Presbyterian Hospital to Hawthorne Lane. The estimated opening date for the new stations is 2019.
Set to make its inaugural run this spring, the QLINE streetcars will stream up and down Woodward Avenue, starting near the waterfront and run through downtown, Midtown and New Center past 20 different stations. The new rail cars will include wi-fi access and bike racks. Excitement is building over this new transit option; tests have already taken place, and station renderings were released in December.
St. Louis Loop Trolley
A small replacement of sorts for a system that stopped running in 1966, the Loop Trolley, which will run through a 2.2-mile route through the University City neighborhood and Forest Park, just finished construction, and will begin running after final testing over the next few months. Even more exciting, the renovated cars will have a decidedly old-school look, thanks to the purchase of three vintage trolleys acquired from Portland and Seattle.
Ft. Lauderdale Wave
A loop train service that will connect downtown riders with bus systems and the Brightline train system, the Wave has been pushed back after numerous delays, and now looks at a 2021 opening date, with a slowly rising $195.3 million budget due to changes in the route
Milwaukee Lakefront Line
The under-construction, 2.5-mile loop connecting downtown, the Lower East Side, and Historic Third Ward, is set to open in 2018. Kiewit Infrastructure, which won the bid to build the system, started moving forward last fall.
Seattle Center City Connector
Linking two parts of the city’s existing streetcar lines, the Center City Connector would run through part of Seattle’s downtown and Pioneer Square and connect two disparate, existing streetcar lines, a move that’s been on many Seattleite’s transportation wish list for years. The central nature of these neighborhoods explains why this project has been so tangled with delays. Construction just started, with a projected opening date in 2020.
Meant to connect Tempe with pre-existing Valley Metro Rail lines in Phoenix and Mesa, the proposed Tempe streetcar system is still in its design phase. The city hired Stantec to design the line, and work with local artists to design artwork for the proposed 14 stops. Design should be completed next year, and the city says construction may even start by the end of 2017.
Brooklyn Queens Connector
The $2.5 billion line, a north-south system running up and down the East River along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, has become a debated topic in New York City, with suggestions that developers have more to gain than locals, and that the proposed 30-station system could do a better job of connecting to local subway service. After a report from the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector came out last January, the line quickly took shape, with Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsing the line and appointing a “streetcar czar.” Despite the fact that it’s not being developed by the MTA, the agency in charge of the subway, plans are moving forward