A Streetcar Named Absurd

Written by Jeff Johnson on May 11, 2012. Posted in General, Golden Hydrant

Hennepin County Taxpayers Contribute Toward Grand Vision of New Streetcar System in Minneapolis

The Golden Fire Hydrant Award goes to the county board’s vote this week to contribute $150,000 to an Alternatives Analysis study for a streetcar line along West Broadway in North Minneapolis.  That $150,000 contribution would be part of the local match to a $720,000 federal contribution from (get this) the Federal Transit Administration Discretionary Livability Funding Opportunity Alternatives Analysis Program.  The contribution passed on a vote of 4 -3 (with Jan Callison, Randy Johnson and me voting no).

Mayor Rybak and the Minneapolis City Council apparently have a new grand vision of bringing back yet another 19th century form of transportation and creating a system of streetcar lines throughout the city.

Sorry, kids, but light rail, commuter rail and “high-speed” rail are so yesterday.  The cool cities are now investing in streetcars (on top, of course, of billions for rail).

And, should Minneapolis win this streetcar grant, it wouldn’t be the first.  In 2010, Minneapolis was awarded $900,000 from the FTA for an alternatives analysis of a Nicollet Avenue streetcar and in 2011 Metro Transit was awarded $600,000 for an alternatives analysis of a Midtown/Lake Street streetcar.

Streetcars used to be a very popular form of transportation in Minneapolis – 100 years ago (before most people had cars and before the advent of a bus system).  From my research, a majority of streetcars in Minneapolis were built between 1870 and 1930 and the last streetcar line was shut down over half a century ago.

You can get a glimpse of Minneapolis’ vision for streetcars in the 2007 Minneapolis Streetcar Feasibility Study.  The Study looks at the possibility of many different streetcar lines being built over the next 20 years.  It estimates the 2007 cost of building a line at approximately $10 million per mile with an additional cost of $3 million to purchase each streetcar.  In the end, the Study envisions a long-term network of six streetcar lines with an annual operating cost (after savings from reduced bus subsidies) of $21,071,000.  Yes, that’s an annual operating cost of over $21 million.  FOR STREETCARS!

But hey, we’re told Portland and Toronto have streetcars and every city now wants one, so I suspect my constituents from Minnestrista, Maple Grove and Mound will be happy to contribute to the start of this new boondoggle knowing that Minneapolis might soon be able to hang with the cool kids.

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