A streetcar named desirable

blog-streetcar-squareDenver is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited – and not just because I flew there to see Pearl Jam in concert.  It also has a really great downtown.  What makes their downtown great is how pedestrian-friendly it is.  Their downtown is like a destination.

On 16th Street, there is a mile-long pedestrian-only shopping and entertainment district with a free bus service that runs from one end to the other.  It stops at every intersection and is wheelchair-accessible.  Even better, the buses are hybrid electric vehicles powered by a combination electric/compressed natural gas engine. This results in ultra-low emissions and improved fuel efficiency.

I have often touted Denver as an example of how others cities, including Sarasota, could be.  I participated in an environmental summit a few years back and suggested this very thing.  It was one of several proposal written up for consideration.

Well, now a group of thoughtful individuals is advocating a streetcar in downtown Sarasota, along with the closing of a few blocks of Main Street to form a pedestrian mall.  I think this would fit in nicely with the courtyard area on Lemon Avenue next to Mattison’s.

The purpose of the streetcar would be to make downtown more accessible and help alleviate parking issues.  The idea would be to connect two parking hubs via a route that travels down Main Street.  This would allow folks to hop on and hop off anywhere along Main Street for shopping, dining, movies and nightlife.  The proposal calls for the streetcar to pick up at the municipal buildings whereupon city employees can have a convenient ride to lunch destinations on Main Street.  This seems like a great idea to me, and I can imagine how vibrant it would make downtown.  As a rider of the bus in Sarasota, I could take the bus downtown and then hop on the streetcar to go to the movies or Marina Jack’s or the county building to vote in an election.

The biggest issue with getting a streetcar, along with public approval, is funding.  However, there are monies available for fixed rail systems as they are run on electricity and reduce emissions in cities. By offsetting car use and encouraging urban density streetcars reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMTs). The Portland Streetcar eliminates about 33 million VMTs a year, offsetting 1.1 million gallons of fuel and the equivalent of over 1,000 cars from the roads.

More than 10 U.S. cities have streetcar systems, and many more are considering expanding their current system or creating a streetcar system for the first time.  Apparently even Denver is considering reintroducing some streetcars to their transportation portfolio.

Check out the Frequently Asked Questions for more information on how a streetcar would benefit Sarasota.  Scroll to the bottom of the page to see how you can help make this dream a reality.

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