In an effort to close the educational divide for Columbusites who are interested in learning more about the “yet to be named” Columbus Streetcar Line, your friends at XING Columbus have pulled together these Frequently Asked Questions. This is meant to be a living document, so if you think we missed anything, please let us know!
What is a streetcar?
Streetcars are circulators that are best suited for 3-4 mile long circuits. They run with traffic and integrate well with other forms of transit, typically to provide “final mile” service. In most cities, they operate with 5-15 minute headways and make frequent stops, usually every 2-3 blocks.
This differs from Light Rail, which is designed to provide suburb to downtown service along dedicated rights of way. Because of the more focused service of streetcars, they are an order of magnitude less expensive.
In many cities across the country and around the world, streetcars have proven to be strong economic development tools. They often deliver impressive returns both in new development and rapid appreciation of real estate within 1-3 blocks of the lines. As with any amenity, people want to live and work within walking distance of it.
Why is Columbus installing a streetcar line?
After two years of study, Mayor Coleman and the Streetcar Working Group have recommended that Columbus install a starter line for econimic development and neighborhood connectivity along High St. (Columbus’ “spine”).
Where will the starter line go?
The current plan is to go from the the County Complex at High and Mound up to the Ohio State University. Here’s a map…
How much will it cost?
The total capital cost is projected to be $103 million. When this value is amortized over 25 years, and operating costs are added, $11 million/year must be raised to pay for the system.
Who will pay for it?
This will be done through an focused approach which allows 80% of the costs to be covered by those who will receive a direct benefit from the line. The remaining 20% will come from MORPC who has programmed $2 million/year of Federal Funds for 10 years. OSU’s students are joining the party for $500k/year, and riders will be charged $1/ride to help cover the costs.
Much, much, much more detail is located in the Streetcar Financing Plan linked below…
When will it be done?
Pending appropriation of funding, construction can begin as early as 2010, with the first streetcars running in 2012.
Will it be any different than COTA’s current service?
Yes. As currently proposed, the streetcar will come on reliable 5-10 minute headways, and provide riders with a straightforward, easily visible route. It can be a nerve wracking experience to try to figure out the spaghetti bus maps and inconsistent timetables. Likewise, it can be a scary experience for first time transit riders to be riding the bus not knowing when or where it may make a turn. The streetcar is much more user friendly.
In addition, streetcars provide roll on/roll off access for the handicapped, senior citizens, and bicyclists.
Streetcars are also powered by electricity, which means that the ride is smooter, quieter, cleaner, and powered by domestic fuel sources.
What is it like to ride a streetcar?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture is worth even more…
More videos are located HERE.
What other benefits does the streetcar bring?
Rail transit has been proven to promote denser development along its stops. This creates a more walkable environment and allows residents or workers to “leave the car keys behind”, or sell one or more household cars completely. It’s a hedge against rising gas prices for Columbusites, especially if the starter line is expanded upon in the future.
Because of this, people are willing to pay a premium to live along these routes, and property values reflect that. This creates the demand which developers rush to fill.
Streetcars also help increase business at the Convention Center, which already hosts more than 1 million visitors each year. More convention business means more hotel and service industry business. This is one reason why the folks at Experience Columbus and the Building Owners and Managers Association have come out in support of the streetcar proposal.
Why doesn’t the streetcar go to German Village and The Brewery District?
ODOT is currently planning on getting in the way when it reworks the I-70/71 Split in 2003 2005 2007 “as early as” 2010. In an effort to balance costs vs. ridership, the Mayor has decided that even tracks shouldn’t be laid over the 70/71 split until construction is complete.
The streetcar doesn’t serve my neighborhood…why should I care?
Economic development downtown affects the whole region. With a projected $3 returned on every $1 spent on this start line, all Central Ohio residents stand to benefit (even if they never step foot on a streetcar).
Additionally, the connection between The Ohio State University and the region’s key employment center should help Columbus attract and retain a young educated workforce for decades to come. This is increasingly important as the “baby boomer” generation retires and a new generation fills the void.
Will any parking be eliminated?
The engineering study hasn’t yet been completed, but there isn’t much on-street parking along the High St. corridor anyway. Here’s a VIDEO that shows how Portland managed to salvage it’s existing on-street parking.
For now, let’s just say that this one is “To Be Determined”.
Will it cause congestion?
Nope. Streetcars operate with traffic, and because they remove people from their cars, they help to reduce traffic. Here’s a VIDEO showing how the streetcars run along with traffic.
Additionally, Downtown proper already has bus only lanes that effectively reduce High St. to one lane in either direction. Most of the thru traffic is directed to the 3rd/4th st. pair of one way mini-highways. Traffic downtown is hardly gridlocked, and a few streetcar vehicles shouldn’t do much to change that.
How long will construction take?
Since Streetcars require shallow rail beds (only 12-18 inches deep) few utilities need to be relocated and construction times are very short. Light Rail Now states that 3-6 block segments take 2-3 weeks to build, while the Mayor’s office has publicized a similar time of 2-3 block segments requiring 3-4 weeks.
It’s clear that Columbus is in need of a more comprehensive network of non-car based transportation, but at the present time, the actual design of that system hasn’t been articulated. This streetcar line, if successful will be able to be expanded, or integrated with a more comprehensive light rail system for commuters, as well as, an intercity passenger rail system. Charlotte has provided us with a shining example of how starting small with a streetcar line can lead to success at the ballot box with that comprehensive light rail network.
Whatever the next steps, it’s clear that this streetcar line should only be viewed as the first step, and not a panacea for all of Columbus’ transportation woes.