A streetcar named desire


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Streetcar service in Colorado Springs ended in 1932, but it seems there is a strong desire to bring back this form of public transportation.

After nearly a year of work, members of the Colorado Springs Streetcar Feasibility Task Force revealed a study addressing how the city could implement a streetcar system in the downtown area. The feasibility study addresses funding, routes and the economic impact of installing a 3.85-mile long section of track from Colorado College to Moreno Street.

A modern streetcar in Portland has a sleek, streamlined look. Portland is often cited as a positive case study for the benefits of adding streetcars in a city.
  • A modern streetcar in Portland has a sleek, streamlined look. Portland is often cited as a positive case study for the benefits of adding streetcars in a city.

According to the findings, the starter part of the project downtown "can be built with combination of locally available funding sources, such as the Downtown Development Authority, plus 50 percent Federal funds, without a tax increase."

There are also plans to link up the rest of downtown over time, stretching from Penrose Hospital to I-25. The study also considers a comprehensive vision for 41.4 miles of track throughout the city, which would require funding from local sales tax. The mid-range estimate for the cost of the central downtown core is $67 million, with the high-end estimate for all of downtown reaching $163 million.

The next step for the group is to see if the development is economically fundable by the local community. The study itself is funded through donations from private organizations and federal government planning grants.

A streetcar system runs on rails in city streets and overhead electric power. The streetcars share traffic lanes with other vehicles and remain a permanent infrastructure, unlike buses. Advocates say that streetcars can provide potential benefits to the community that buses cannot. They "attract development, improve the walkable nature of local neighborhoods and attract tourism," according to the study.

However, the problem with a permanent transit system such as streetcars is that if the system fails and does not provide the promised economic uplift, the city will be left with empty tracks and wasted dollars. It sounds promising, but does Colorado Springs really need another half-worked transportation system?

The entire streetcar system would only encompass a five-mile radius around downtown. Colorado Springs is Colorado's largest city in area, and is still growing at a fast pace far north and east. In my opinion, pedestrians, bikers, drivers and bus-riders already cover the downtown area easily every day. What I don't see is an efficient way to get here from my house up north in less than 25 minutes without driving my car. Public transportation should theoretically serve the entire public, not just a select portion who are lucky enough to live or work in a certain area. I'd rather get across town than across a few blocks.

Understandably, the cost of a streetcar system for the entire city is too expensive for it to ever be feasible at once. But my hope is that if the city does continue installing streetcars, they will eventually be able to build systems in different parts of town and then connect them all together for one grand mass-transit system.

Unlike the Denver Light Rail, which ran out of funds fast and couldn't complete all of the planned routes, the Springs needs to take as much time as needed with planning to ensure this system will be funded well and is well worth the cost.

Maps of planned routes and estimated costs are included in the study. The group plans to present its findings to City Council on June 21. The next steps the group plans to take include: to pursue private and grant funding for incremental planning, complete design and environmental studies, build community awareness and support, determine “best” funding option(s), pursue available opportunities and investigate alternate institutional methods for implementation.

Denver is currently debating the same issue, considering a streetcar system on Colfax Avenue to help alleviate crowded bus routes. It's been more than 50 years since a streetcar ran through the streets of the city. A system along Colfax between Broadway and Colorado would be six track miles, which comes with a $105 million price tag. Denver is considering using federal funding as well.

For questions or comments about the Springs' streetcars, click here.


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