I’ve written about streetcars and light rail a little bit lately, but most of my knowledge on the matter I acquired a few years ago when I was director of a clean transportation and sustainable development organization in Virginia. Our organization was closely tied to a potential streetcar project in Charlottesville and I learned a lot about it from books on the subjects, regional and national streetcar workshops, more general transportation conferences, the internet, and, of course, individuals who had much more knowledge than me on them. Anyway, the point is, what I learned overall was that streetcars are a very powerful economic development tool, can help to transform cities, and are much more broadly popular than many other forms of mass transit in the U.S. They improve livability of a city.
Apparently, the mayor of Salt Lake City, Ralph Becker, has gotten the memo as well. In his recent State of the City speech, he reportedly spent most of his time talking about the Sugar House streetcar, one of his top 2010 priorities.
“This project reflects — in style and in substance — the goals, values and priorities we have set for our great city,” Becker said during his 17-minute speech at the Salt Lake City-County Building, Deseret News reports. “It exemplifies our continued commitment to move Salt Lake City forward despite challenging economic conditions.”
How the Sugar House Streetcar Project Went Several Times Faster than Projected
Becker, a former city planner, went on to discuss how through pure vision, perseverance, and a slight disregard for what the experts said was possible, Salt Lake City is moving forward on this in a way that many probably (surely, given my experience trying to move such projects forward) did not think possible.
Construction of Salt Lake City’s Sugar House streetcar is expected to begin by the end of the year, and is expected to be in operation as early as 2013. From a 20- to 25-year project estimate to a 5- to 7-year reality, Becker certainly has something to be proud of.
Becker’s next goal is to bring streetcars to downtown Salt Lake City, which it has already started getting federal funding for, recently receiving half a million dollars for this project.
Streetcars, Livability, and Cooperation
“As our work to strengthen partnerships and livability in Salt Lake City continues, our path forward is informed by both our vision for the future and the accomplishments of the past,” the mayor said.
As Ray LaHood has said, such projects are about livability. This is the topic that is making or breaking cities across the country right now and is a key transportation issue. Salt Lake City is on a leading edge with regards to it.
“The Sugar House streetcar won’t be just a transit line,” Becker said. “It will be a wonderful asset in one of our most treasured neighborhoods. … The Sugar House area will be enhanced as a ‘destination neighborhood,’ with bikeways and trails, locally owned eclectic small businesses, restaurants, shops and a wide array of housing options.”
I would also add that the cooperatively-focused nature of the streetcar work in Salt Lake City seems to be a very admirable feature of the project. This is a key component of successful urban planning in a democracy and Salt Lake City has nailed it.
In the end, hopefully other cities will take note of Salt Lake City’s success and do similar work to make it less unique.
Photo Credit: makeslessnoise
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