It is no secret I love streetcars.Â I’ve ridden old & new systems in seven North American citiesÂ (New Orleans, Memphis, Little Rock, San Francisco, Toronto, Seattle & Portland).Â While these systems have much in common with each other the main difference is the vehicles used. They vary from vintage to reproduction vintage to completely modern.
European citiesÂ largely kept their streetcar systems intact over the years but have continually upgraded their vehicles to the newest designs over the years. Toronto’s system has lines dating to the 19th Century.Â Every so often vehicles have been replaced with newer designs.Â Their current vehicles date to the late 1970s:
But Toronto’s vehicles have the same problem as vintage vintage reproduction vehicles: access.Â Stepping up into them is not friendly to wheelchairs, strollers, bikes, small kids or just a person carrying luggage or packages. The Loop Trolley folks want that vintage look rather than providing the best transportation for the 21st Century.Â They are looking backward rather than forward.
They are looking at a system like they have in Little Rock AR:
Little Rock’s vehicles are new but have a vintage look & feel.
Filming a period movie?Â Great, use these.Â Investing tens of millions in a modern transportation system that will last into the second half of the 21st Century?Â Wrong choice!Â The Loop Trolley folks are stuck in 1904.Â The World’s Fair is over guys.Â So what is the right choice?
Modern “low-floor” vehicles such as the above in Portland.Â The same type was used in Seattle.
The vehicle’s low-floor center design with wide doors make entry/exit easy for everyone.Â Stroller & packages?Â No problem.
The interiors are bright, modern and comfortable.Â The type you’d feel comfortable wearing shorts and a t-shirt rather than wearing a dress and carrying a parasol.Â We must look forward.Â But the Loop Trolley advisory board feels the vintage look is more appropriate.
But in Helsinki Finland, founded in 1550, the old & modern blend beautifully.Â We must build our new transportation systems and architecture of the current times.Â Building a streetcar line to connect areas together is the right direction.Â The system should be expandable to parts beyond the Loop & Forest Park.Â Looking back to the glory days of 1904 is not going to help us in 2030.Â Judy Garland, the star of Meet me in St. Louis.Â has been dead for four decades.
To make the reproduction cars accessible they’d have a ramp like our buses do.Â As a frequent wheelchair user I can tell you I would not use such a system.Â It works most of the time but it would set me apart from everyone else.Â The ramp would take time to extend & retract –holding up traffic in the meantime.Â Why not just build an accessible system with low-floor vehicles?
The name “trolley” doesn’t matter much.Â Could be streetcar or tram.Â Seattle started out using trolley for their modern vehicles — the line was going to be the South Lake Union Trolley.Â That is until someone realized it would be called SLUT, for short.Â So it opened as the South Lake Union Streetcar instead.Â So the trolley name is fine but not the reproduction vehicle.
The trick is the modern low-floor vehicles cost roughly three times the price of a reproduction vehicle. I don’t have figures to know how much of the estimated $50 million cost would be for the purchase of vehicles.
For more info on track options and other issues presented at the Loop Trolley open house last Wednesday check out, “Public Gets First Look at Loop Trolley Details, Feedback Solicited On Track Options” at STLUrbanWorkshop.com.
- Steve Patterson