Thursday, January 21, 2010

Streetcar seems to have momentum

Judging by the votes at a City Council transportation committee meeting this afternoon, the council is likely to vote Monday to apply for a couple of federal grants for transit. One would be for a $15 million project to add more buses on Central Avenue, Beatties Ford Road and out to the airport, essentially doubling the frequency to every 10 minutes. As Patsy Kinsey said – matching what an Observer editorial on Tuesday said – that decision is a "no-brainer."

The other grant is trickier. It would be for $25 million to build a 1.5-mile section of the city's proposed streetcar project. This part would go from Presbyterian Hospital down Elizabeth Avenue (where tracks are already laid) and East Trade Street to the Transportation Center. (If you're not from around here you may not realize Elizabeth and Trade are the same street, with a name change).

The committee voted 3-2 to recommend the city go for the grant. Voting for: committee chairman David Howard, at-large rep Susan Burgess, District 1 rep Kinsey. Voting against: District 7 rep Warren Cooksey, District 4 rep Michael Barnes (who is running for district attorney in November).

Total project cost would be $37 million if the city decided not to buy new streetcars but to use three "replica" (that is, faux historic) trolley cars it owns. How to make up the $12 million difference from the $25M grant? City staff proposed that the council, if it wanted, could use $2.5 million still unspent from a streetcar planning budget line item, $4 million remaining in a "Smart Growth" fund that City Manager Curt Walton said was set up about 10 years ago but never completely spent, and it could take $5.5 million from $10.5 million that remains, unspent, in a reserve fund for economic development. The staff had also pointed to the option to reallocate $7 million from its business corridor revitalization program, but the council members at the committee meeting didn't like that idea.

Barnes' objection: Using the economic development money might mean less money available in the future for improvements to the North Tryon Street light rail corridor. Cooksey (who in 2009 voted against spending any city money for the streetcar project) said he worried that it would not be taken well by the city's partner communities in the Metropolitan Transit Commission. Especially the North Mecklenburg towns still waiting, somewhat patiently, for money to be found to build their commuter rail line. He also said you could do just as much for transportation if you used the "found" money to build sidewalks and bike lanes.

I have to say, it always amazes me how city managers can find little pockets of millions of dollars just when their council member bosses need them. $4 million for "Smart Growth"? Who knew?

Counting likely votes Monday, I'd say the streetcar wins, 7-4. Mayor Anthony Foxx, remember, doesn't vote on those sorts of things.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

NO, NO, NO! You don't get it. Stop spending our money on new boondongles! Fix up the schools, add police, help the poor and senior citizens. We don't need more crap like empty buses and "streetcars" on tires....that's right empty. You liberal, petty idiot.

Anonymous said...

6:50: Tell me where you've seen empty buses? I agree that the streetcar is a bad idea...But public transit does indeed "help the poor and senior citizens"

Anonymous said...

Yea, real momentum. The wine & cheese crowd and the jacklegs who spend other people's money support it.

Anonymous said...

The idiocy of these loons continually amazes me. One day they whine that they can't pay to fix the leaky roofs of buildings. The next they have millions just laying around for toy projects.

JAT said...

Curt Walton should be fired for cause.

Hiding a $4m. slush fund from the public is totally unacceptable.

Now watch city council do not a d@mn thing.

Anonymous said...

Mary, the bus grant is great. But has there been any talk about improving crosstown service. That is the big detriment to the system. There are no real hubs for crosstown service..Almost every trip takes you downtown before a transfer, which adds a ton of time to each trip.

Anonymous said...

What a big waste of money. Please bring some common sense to government spending.

diggndeeper said...

Implement term limits!

WashuOtaku said...

I'm all for public transportation improvements, but streetcars are worthless. It is better to simply have buses on a route where they can avoid traffic snarls and jams than have a fixed line that cannot avoid such traffic.

It is our only hope that the Federal Government will see through this too as a waist and refuse to fund the streetcar project.

Anonymous said...

"I have to say, it always amazes me how city managers can find little pockets of millions of dollars just when their council member bosses need them. $4 million for "Smart Growth"? Who knew?"

Indeed. More transparency please. Where was this money during the last vote for streetcar funding?

Build out the main corridors of the LYNX system first. Then add the streetcars, if there's any money left.

Andy said...

OMG! $12M for a rail car that LOOKS historic? Please tell me you are kidding. Give me $200 to buy some sandpaper and spray paint, and I'll make your new car look historic. Unbelievable.

This was just covered on John Stossel's show tonight. http://stossel.blogs.foxbusiness.com/2010/01/21/the-rail-scam/

More insight found here... http://www.cato.org/people/pub_list.php?auth_id=211&pub_list=1

Anonymous said...

Told ya so. All those who werent paying attention this why those Developers along Liz dumped so much money into Foxx's Campaign. (Foxx's HQ was right along the new proposed 1st leg)

And now Foxx's new bosses get to sell not only buses but street cars to the city. (they also dumped tons of cash into the campaign but the Observer refuses to talk about it)

It would be very interesting for someone to add up all that money that flowed into Foxx's coffers but we no the Observer got its man elected so they arent interested in the details.

The Joke is on East and West Charlotte that they think the Trolley will ever extend to them. Again the you are just pawns in the game - all in the name of development for economically depressed communities but in reality just for the rich to get richer. Right Mr. Grubb? Remember when you showed up and called called the Council Liars 3 years back because they promised to build you the Trolley for you new development but then said they didnt have that authority -Looks like they came through for you this time.

Anonymous said...

Please SOMEONE answer the following question:

Name one way... just ONE way... in which streetcars are ACTUALLY better at moving people around than buses.

The streetcar is a gigantic waste of money and anyone who votes to support it deserves to be tied to the tracks and run over by it.

Ray said...

This is ludicrous. What possesses these people to build ridiculously expensive pet projects that will just cause even MORE traffic congestion? Oh wait, it's not actually their own money they're spending.

Why don't they spend the magically "found" millions on building some of those unfunded walking trails?

How about expanding 485, which actually NEEDS the funding? Hmm.. I didn't think so. It's not stylish, and district 5 would never vote democratic regardless. Oh well. So much for common sense.

Anonymous said...

This is a joke that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Algernon said...

Senator elect Brown can handle this lunacy.



By the way local government the people are speaking loudly on this issue, heed up and heel down.

Anonymous said...

This isn't rocket science, people:

1. Streetcars last for decades. Even 100 year old streetcars are still running in some places. Buses shake themselves to bits within 10 years.

2. Streetcar tracks last for decades without maintenance, and the maintenance is a quick overnight job. Roads used by buses have to be resurfaced.

3. Streetcars get their juice from whatever you have. Buses require diesel, and if diesel fuel gets pricy, sucks to be you.

WashuOtaku said...

1. Streetcars last for decades. Even 100 year old streetcars are still running in some places. Buses shake themselves to bits within 10 years.

Old Streetcars have to be refurbished to stay constantly viable; also safty measures change and must undergo expensive retro-fits to keep up in code.

2. Streetcar tracks last for decades without maintenance, and the maintenance is a quick overnight job. Roads used by buses have to be resurfaced.

Streetcars tracks are on the exact same roads that need to be resurfaced after every so many years. So what's your point?

3. Streetcars get their juice from whatever you have. Buses require diesel, and if diesel fuel gets pricy, sucks to be you.

Buses use natural gas and electric too, and cities including Charlotte utilize these none-diesel buses.

I'm sorry Anonymous, I just punched holes in all three points.

Anonymous said...

Old Streetcars have to be refurbished to stay constantly viable; also safty measures change and must undergo expensive retro-fits to keep up in code.

Not true. Maintenance on old trolleys is a miniscule expense, on the scale of changing the tires on a car. Buses, however, have to be discarded once 10 years' worth of vibrations from the engine shake the frame beyond its safety limits. That's why the former-Yugoslavs are still riding the trolleys we threw out in the 1950s. (The same trolleys. Washington's trolleys were bought by the city of Zagreb in Croatia.)


Streetcars tracks are on the exact same roads that need to be resurfaced after every so many years. So what's your point?


If the road surface deteriorates, the trolley doesn't mind. Trolley tracks can run on shared roads, on cobblestone, in some cities the tracks are even lined with grass.


Buses use natural gas and electric too, and cities including Charlotte utilize these none-diesel buses.


Natural gas buses wear out faster than diesel buses. Not recommended. Electric buses are nice, but if you're going to buy them, you might as well go whole hog and install tracks. Electric buses are not that great at changing lanes.

Anonymous said...

I like it

JDC said...

I’m all for more public, mass transportation where it is really needed in this region, but this streetcar obsession just doesn’t make much sense. Why not spend $25 million to buy flying carpets to whiz tourists up and down Trade/Elizabeth? That project would have the same chance of coming to useful fruition.

Other than as a pastime for bored tourists, or for assuaging the political feelings of minority groups who live along the route’s logical extension, what advantage does the streetcar line offer to metro area commuters?

Let’s see, I could take a bus to the light rail line, get off at the Transit Center uptown, then catch the streetcar to the hospital. Or, I could take a bus to the light rail line, get off at the Transit Center uptown, then catch a bus to the hospital.

Maybe if they’ll let me clang the trolley bell it will be worthwhile taxwise.

Anonymous said...

The street car is the worst of both worlds:

1. You still get caught in heavy traffic just like a car.

2. There is no versatility unlike cars.

Its a lose-lose situation!

The street car is the most expensive and unversatile bus ever. If you can make a light rail train or similar work to the airport, I'll ride it every time. But I'm not riding the street car and this is coming from someone who voted FOR the transit tax and rides the Lynx frequently.

consultant said...

Go streetcars! Charlotte, you're doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

While we're at it, what about the disconnect between the proposed West Trade train station and the so-called Transit Center on East Trade? That should be addressed before street cars.

Of course, I want LYNX underground on this route: Myers Park-SouthPark-Arboretum-485. Just sayin'...:)

Anonymous said...

I submit that the opinions that "buses are for the lower class" is reason enough to choose streetcar over bus on a SIGNATURE street through OUR center city.

In fact, I would venture a guess that 1-out-of-every-10 posters have ever even been on a CATS bus. Assuming I am not incorrect about this guess, I don't think anyone on here has a valid argument for bus/streetcar. You can't google transit numbers and compile "facts" - you must get out on street-level and see the big picture.

Mary Newsom said...

I'll wade in with some answers/facts. Obviously, feel free to keep disagreeing with one another on this topic.

First, to Anonymous no. 1, crazy though it is, the city's budget is not allowed to fix up the schools. Yell at the county commissioners for that. Further, I don't tell people I don't agree with that they are idiots, and you shouldn't either. I nearly deleted your comment for being insulting but decided to give you a break in order to clarify the much-misunderstood way local money can be spent.

Second, in answer to a variety of comments: The reason many cities are building/trying to build streetcars on rails over buses is that, while more expensive, they historically have attracted more development because the rails signal "permanent route" to developers. Bus routes can, and do, change. How much the perceived "yuckiness" of buses vs. perceived "cuteness" of streetcars plays into the greater development is probably a factor but not easy to measure.

About the crosstown routes question: I agree, the city does need more. But you also have a chicken-and-egg issue: Do you put more investment into the corridors where ridership is already high - i.e. Central Avenue and Beatties Ford Road? Or invest where it's much lower and hope to build it? Tough call, I'd say.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the clarifications Mary. And what say you about the $4 Million that's just been lying around unsed? Where did that money come from?

Ray said...

Hi Mary,

In response to #3, here is a novel concept that our government officials don't seem to consider. How about letting businesses and consumers decide what they want and honoring that? They want to develop out by 485? Well then build infrastructure to meet the demand.

It seems that the government here has all these grand idea of how it is going to shape commerce, shape development, shape the way people use goods and services. Isn't there something wrong with this picture when government shapes the people instead of the other way around?

Oh wait, but a streetcar is cute. I forgot about that. My bad.

Anonymous said...

I hope everyone is enjoying the $2.70 gas. It may hit $4 this summer, and probably 7 or 8 dollars a gallon (or worse) within five years. We need to get ready NOW for the post-oil era - cities that don't will wither and die.

Anonymous said...

Save the money and walk. Are people that lazy?

WashuOtaku said...

Wasn't expecting a reply, but ok.

Not true. Maintenance on old trolleys is a miniscule expense, on the scale of changing the tires on a car. Buses, however, have to be discarded once 10 years' worth of vibrations from the engine shake the frame beyond its safety limits. That's why the former-Yugoslavs are still riding the trolleys we threw out in the 1950s. (The same trolleys. Washington's trolleys were bought by the city of Zagreb in Croatia.)

This is not true, there was an article in the Observer year ago talking about how they wanted to use the old streetcars of old but couldn't without spending over a million just so they can use them on the light-rail line; but couldn't modify them any further to be safe on the streetcar routes, thus replica versions will have to be purchased.

Also, Yugoslavia no longer a country, they disbanded in the 1990s. If they were not destroyed in there war, they might still be in service, but I doubt you have any proof. Not to mention that comparing Yugoslavia and United States (who have completely different safety rules) is like apple to oranges.

If the road surface deteriorates, the trolley doesn't mind. Trolley tracks can run on shared roads, on cobblestone, in some cities the tracks are even lined with grass.

Engineers would not allow the streetcar to be on a road if falling apart, I can't believe you even believe that is true. Road debris can cause the trolley to jump the tracks; it can even warp tracks if the foundation become compromised.

Keep in mind that both cars and the streetcar is sharing the same road; this would be a completely different argument if it was a dedicated line, which this is not.

Natural gas buses wear out faster than diesel buses. Not recommended. Electric buses are nice, but if you're going to buy them, you might as well go whole hog and install tracks. Electric buses are not that great at changing lanes.

I was simply throwing out examples, I wouldn't favor a electric bus either for same reason as a streetcar. This is a bit silly argument now, because you can have streetcars running on diesel or natural gas too. It just happens this would be electric is all. That's not the same for the commuter line planed for Davidson, which is diesel.

My whole argument to the start was simply the justification of an expensive project that would not have the same benefits of a true rail-line by sharing the same roads as cars. If they decide to shut down the road to all traffic and make it a pedestrian only road with a streetcar, then we are talking of something else entirely... but is certainly not the case here; might as well get the bus.

Anonymous said...

"Also, Yugoslavia no longer a country, they disbanded in the 1990s. If they were not destroyed in there war, they might still be in service, but I doubt you have any proof. Not to mention that comparing Yugoslavia and United States (who have completely different safety rules) is like apple to oranges"

But Washington DC's streetcars are still in use in Zagreb, Croatia.

"



I was simply throwing out examples, I wouldn't favor a electric bus either for same reason as a streetcar. This is a bit silly argument now, because you can have streetcars running on diesel or natural gas too. It just happens this would be electric is all. That's not the same for the commuter line planed for Davidson, which is diesel"

You could, but that would be foolish. Diesel engines vibrate and wear out the frame they are mounted in. Anything electric, however, can last far longer.

"Engineers would not allow the streetcar to be on a road if falling apart, I can't believe you even believe that is true. Road debris can cause the trolley to jump the tracks; it can even warp tracks if the foundation become compromised."

If the road surface gets rough and potholed, that is still not a problem for the trolley, so long as the track itself is okay. In Boston, every spring the one remaining streetcar track becomes a tire and rim killer, and smart drives avoid it. And the trolleys keep on rolling.