A Desire for More Streetcars

More than half a century after the streetcar’s heyday, this transportation mode is poised to make a comeback.

Tod Newcombe | July 2010

It may lack the romance and history of the St. Charles streetcars in New Orleans, but Seattle’s modest streetcar line in the South Lake Union district has given a once downtrodden city neighborhood instant credibility as a place to live and work. The new line links South Lake Union to the city’s growing light-rail system, which in turn connects to downtown Seattle shopping areas, commuter rail and the airport. The 2.6-mile loop with single cars trundling along at city traffic speeds might just be the future of streetcars in America.

While many single streetcar lines play to the tourist crowds and trolley fans, numerous cities seriously are considering and planning legitimate streetcar systems as part of their mass transit network. In addition to Seattle, which plans to add a second line, Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., are exploring adding streetcar lines to existing transit systems. Tacoma, Wash., operates a short modern line; Portland, Ore., has a popular service in its downtown; and Washington, D.C., is constructing a streetcar line in its Anacostia neighborhood.

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