The City of Forth Worth, TX, voted not to move forward with a streetcar plan:
The city's discussion and study of the viability of a modern streetcar system for the central city is over for now.
The City Council voted 5-3 on Tuesday to pull the plug on a feasibility study of running a streetcar line to the near north side through downtown and the near south side.
The proposed line seems to be pretty straightforward as streetcar projects go:
The line, according to city plans, would have consisted of three cars traversing a six-mile round-trip. It would have operated 14 hours a day, 365 days a year and carry an estimated 2,000 people a day.
The total cost of construction would have been offset by the federal grant. The rest would have been covered by the Trinity River Vision and Southside tax increment financing districts, or TIFs.
Officials estimated the system's operating cost at $1.6 million a year, which initially would be funded by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or the T.
At a time when the value of urban street rail/light rail transit systems is recognized worldwide, some of the reasons Fort Worth killed their streetcar plan are curious:
Critics were also skeptical of a study that projected $334 million in new residential and commercial development along the line. Not to mention that the federal government didn't need to be spending the money, either, their thinking went.
Questioning the accuracy of economic develoment projections is always a fair topic. Not using federal stimulus money is a silly notion, but that's just tea party ignorance and not relevant to streetcars. Arguing that a streetcar line won't bring economic development flies in the face of conventional wisdom and street rail's track record, so using this as an excuse to discontinue the project indicates to me that there was something else at work.
My immediate reaction to reading this is the downtown-versus-suburbs conflict you often find in a metropolitan area. The worst of this conflict with resect to public transit was in southern cities whose (mostly white) suburban residents wanted to keep "inner city" (code-word for "black") residents out of their neighborhoods. As suburban and ex-urban areas continue to sprawl, however, the gated-community folks run into a serious problem: Who will work the minimum-wage/low-wage jobs in their malls, fast food joints, restaurants, etc.? Requiring upper-middle income residents to own personal vehicles to get into the city is one thing; demanding that a minimum-wage barista at the corner Starbucks drive from low-cost housing in the city out to suburbia is a problem. With no decent public transit, however, that's the situation many find themselves in.
Then you've got the trend of affluent middle-class residents who desire to live back in the city rather than the suburbs. Many of these folks can walk or use public transit to get just about wherever they want to go in the city center. Their jobs, however, are often outside the city center. These residents would welcome street rail/light rail that would take them from the city out to the industrial parks and suburban malls. Since many city residents (even the affluent ones) are renters rather than property owners, their voices are often not as well-heard as the homeowners.
The conclusions of city government in Fort Worth are also curious:
The council is unanimous in agreeing that a comprehensive mass transit plan to deal with congestion and moving people from the suburbs to the central city is a priority.
Whether the streetcar is a part of that discussion is still a question.
[Mayor] Moncrief and [Council Member] Scarth both said streetcars would and should be discussed again, but with investors and not taxpayers bearing the burden of the cost.
City government agreeing they need a mass transit plan is a no-brainer. It's bigger than Fort Worth, however; the entire DFW metroplex should form a regional transit authority of some sort to examine the even-bigger picture. Getting people to and from the baseball park and the new football stadium in Arlington from the two cities is important, as is moving people to and from Dallas and Tarrant Counties into the vast wasteland in between. Just one city looking to itself isn't going to fix the metrolex's problems.
The third paragraph quoted above makes so little sense that I can only attribute this to tea party ignorance as well. Just who are the "investors" mentioned here? The model of private investors building municipal street rail systems vanished by the 1920s. The legal hurdles involved today are just too great. With the federal government offering up huge sums of money in the form of matching grants, only local/regional governmental agencies are capable of working the system. The "investor" is indeed the taxpayer. The city bets that improving transit will improve commerce, thereby raising tax revenues.
Cities without modern transit systems will stagnate as other cities attract business and affluent residents. They will continue to have downtown-versus-suburbs issues.