Streetcars can help Springs’ economy

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Bring back a streetcar to Colorado Springs? Why would we want to do that? What could an electric streetcar do for Colorado Springs?

A citizen group, the Colorado Springs Streetcar Task Force, asked those same questions in January 2009. The task force undertook a streetcar feasibility study, the first step in a formal planning process to determine if it made sense to move forward with the idea of a streetcar. The initial study is now complete. (It’s important to note that funding for the study was provided by a federal transit planning grant and locally raised funds. No city general fund dollars were used for the study.)

So what were some of the study’s findings? Nationwide, city after city has found that a streetcar system can be a tremendous economic development driver and benefit the entire community. How so?

A streetcar rail line establishes a permanent form of transit infrastructure. Being permanent, a streetcar line then serves as an economic development catalyst for such things as residential housing and commercial development including restaurants and retail.

Once built, a streetcar can serve as a community connector, connecting neighborhoods with business, retail, educational centers (Colorado College, UC Colorado Springs, Palmer High School, Pikes Peak Community College), and various activity centers, such as the Antler’s Hilton and Penrose Hospital. And a streetcar is a tourist generator.

All of the above adds to job development, the local economy and the region’s tax base.

So why not just expand the bus line instead of a streetcar? Again, nationwide city experiences have shown streetcars are both a development and a transit tool; buses are just a transit tool.

Streetcars are a permanent transit infrastructure which encourages local investment, buses are not. Streetcar lines don’t change, bus lines do. Streetcars provide an enjoyable transit experience; as a rule, buses are not as enjoyable. Streetcars are less expensive in the long term, cheaper to operate, are cleaner, more reliable and quieter than buses.

For a streetcar to be initially successful, you need to start with a small segment of streetcar line. You also need a streetcar location in an area with an already-present density of business and residential activity, utilities already in place and proximity of connecting activity centers with residential and business.

The downtown core area has all this already in place and seems to be a good location to further study the feasibility of a streetcar.

It’s not a done deal, no decisions have been made and lots of questions have been raised by the study. These questions are all appropriate, and need a level of detail not part of a feasibility study.

The feasibility study did its job, though, establishing that it does make sense to further explore the feasibility of streetcar and move forward to the next step: analyzing the options raised, together along with an environmental study.

And that’s what the streetcar task force wants to do: move forward and pursue funding for the next steps in the planning process.

Snider is the chairman of the Streetcar Task Force. The group presented its findings to the City Council last month.