One thing seems sadly clear from the latest “Renew North Nevada Avenue Master Plan” draft — streetcars won’t be part of it.
Trolley advocates have long hoped to acquire the long-abandoned Burlington, Northern, Sante Fe Railway right-of-way that runs along a part of Nevada Avenue between Fillmore Street and Austin Bluffs Parkway. By doing so, the stage could be set for creating a streetcar line that would eventually connect UCCS, Penrose Hospital, the Old North End, Colorado College and downtown. As envisioned, streetcar maintenance facilities would have been located alongside the right-of-way. The Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation already has seven 1950s era Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority cars that can be restored and rebuilt to meet modern transit standards. The cost of restoration is estimated at several hundred thousand dollars, a fraction of the $4.5 million cost of new cars.
Last May, foundation board members met with city officials to discuss a possible partnership. The foundation hoped the city would acquire the right-of-way and dedicate it to streetcar use. The city moved quickly to acquire the property, with a closing apparently scheduled in the near future. It looked as if streetcars might once more grace the city — but the master plan draft has sent our streetcars on a one-way trip to the junkyard.
“Movement in the corridor will be improved by the addition of reliable, frequent public transportation,” the plan said. “The plan proposes to add a dedicated transit corridor along the railroad right-of-way to improve connectivity from downtown to UCCS, University Village and beyond, with the potential to connect to the park and ride facility at Woodmen Road and I-25 in the future. During the stakeholder process, there was a general acknowledgement of the desirability of the proposed transit corridor. However, streetcar advocates have consistently lobbied for the introduction of a streetcar operation along the abandoned railroad right-of-way, to include a dining car and extensive storage sheds. Conversely, others prefer to see the transit corridor function as an integral part of the city-wide transit system. To achieve this, and in order for the city to receive federal funding to implement transit improvements, any new transit facilities must be:
- part of a city–wide network;
- direct (predictable path);
- fast (separate/dedicated right-of-way);
- accessible for persons with disabilities; and
- attractive and comfortable.”
The message: Get on the bus, dreamers! It’s timid, unimaginative, bureaucratic, risk-averse and boring. The implied takeaway: Trolleys are archaic, impractical, expensive, awkward and possibly ineligible for federal funding. And there are a few inaccuracies as well — trolleys don’t have dining cars, and the “extensive storage sheds” would be neither sheds nor extensive. Discuss.
But maybe the timid bureaucrats have a point.
In an analysis published earlier this month in Politico, Debra Bruner looked at lessons to be learned from recently constructed trolley systems throughout the country.
“Since 2009,” Bruner wrote, “the Department of Transportation has funneled, through a range of programs, $713 million into 17 streetcar projects, and that has given cities the impetus to ask voters for even more, enticing them with the prospect of better transportation, economic booms and a new, fun identity.
But will this fascination with streetcars end in heartbreak?
When it works — as with Portland, Ore., which got a head start on second-generation streetcars in 2001—streetcars can unify cities, boost real estate and draw investment. When it doesn’t, though, cities can end up with millions of dollars dumped into a glorified theme park ride.
Bruner concludes that successful systems need “dense population, easy walkability, a line that moves relatively quickly and some frequency of service.” That’s not North Nevada between Fillmore and Austin Bluffs — but that doesn’t mean that streetcars wouldn’t work elsewhere in the city.
For example, how about a line from downtown to Old Colorado City, eventually extending to Manitou Springs? That could relieve increasing congestion on Colorado Avenue, benefit merchants, residents and visitors, create some amazing coolness and maybe even please those timid city bureaucrats.
And here’s an interesting stat: Last month, Portland’s 16-mile trolley system carried an average of 16,000 passengers per weekday last month, double the 8,300 trips per day of the entire Mountain Metro bus system. The line began service in 2001 with a 2.4-mile alignment.
And how far is it from the intersection of Cascade and Colorado avenues to Bancroft Park, in the heart of Old Colorado City?
Why, it’s 2.4 miles.