Please deliver smelling salts to St Paul

June 22, 2013 at 7:58 am Leave a comment

Saint Paul is considering street cars as a transit option.

No, you didn’t accidentally land at The Onion.

The city has a nice series of slides, Streetcar 101, to explain all of the benefits of streetcars.

1. Operates in mixed traffic.
2. Close stop spacing “similar to local/standard bus”
3. Much less construction impact than light rail.
4. Improve local circulation.
5. Provide connections with regional trunk lines.
6. Stimulate development, since it’s a “unique mode that attracts attention and development”
7. The stops will have shelters, raised platforms, higher-end amenities (benches, signage, lighting, etc.), real-time information, and advance fare payment.
8. Ability to attract “choice” riders, i.e., tourists, not commuters.

Oopsie… there are some “fatal flaws”:
1. Street cars can’t handle steep grades.
2. Street cars are too heavy for existing bridges (the track and related infrastructure add too much weight).
3. Clearances – street cars need high clearances because of electric codes setting the height of the power supply wires for safety.
4. Street cars can’t turn on tight corners
5. Railroad tracks – although not mentioned in these slides, street cars may not be able to cross another set of tracks [Phase I Screening (page 11)].

Although these physical barriers were found on most of the proposed corridors, don’t you worry, they concluded:

“None of these issues are expected to preclude streetcar service, but many likely impact capital costs.”

In other words, we can still build street car lines, but people will pay through the nose for it.

It’s hard to pick a loser of a premise that street cars are good, but the worst one has to be “flexibility: streetcar lines are flexible.” (It’s on page 8.) Remember the “Antique Car” rides at amusement parks?  Were you ever frustrated because you couldn’t turn any further than the track allowed? Street cars are really, really, really expensive Antique Car Rides.
They are on a FIXED track. They are NOT flexible. Game, set, match. Please remove that slide.

Going back to the points from the slides, here’s already something that has all of the benefits and none of the fatal flaws: a BUS.
Buses are better because:
1. They can be implemented as soon as the routes are chosen and the stops described in Benefit #7 can be built.
2. Buses are better for the environment since they can take advantage of evolving technology. Hybrid buses? Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses? Biodiesel buses? Street cars will rely on their electric generation source, which most likely burns dirty coal.
3. Taxpayers will save buckets of money that can be put into other projects – or what a notion – left to the people who earned that money to spend on stuff important to them.

If there is anyone left in Saint Paul with common sense – hopefully there are – how about a pilot bus program? Use a federal matching grant to cover 80% of the cost of some hybrid buses, paint them to look like street cars, build fancy stops with all the #7 Benefits along a chosen route or two, give them an attractive brand and aggressively market them with a $17.36/hour MetCouncil intern, then watch what happens.

What’s really behind this push for streetcars?

“Streetcar [sic] could help fulfill the transit vision outlined in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.”

Sounds like hallucinogenics are at work. Please, good people of Saint Paul, help your elected officials come to their senses!
Smelling Salts



Entry filed under: Transportation.

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