Take Your Pick: The Latest Alternative Streetcar Routes

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Bekah S. McNeelVIA officials and citizens took a break from the rhetoric flying over VIA‘s proposed modern streetcar project at another public hearing last night, and instead spent most of the evening looking at facts and figures. And maps.

In a conference room at Temple Beth-El, VIA hosted an “Open House,” inviting the public to examine the four routes moving forward to the next phase of analysis.

The alternatives analysis phase has now rendered eight routes, or “alternatives,” overall.

Numbers 1-4 were met with public concern about the potential impact on Alamo Plaza and Hemisfair Park. Alternatives 1 and 4 passed right in front of the Alamo, and all four ran down HemisFair Plaza Way.

“Alternatives 1-4 have not been eliminated at this point, but we are advancing alternatives 5-8,” VIA’s Public Information Coordinator Andy Scheidt said yesterday.

Alternative 7 was added more recently due to public interest in seeing Market and Commerce Streets incorporated into the East-West axis; however concern has been raised about that route’s conflict with the Market Street realignment.


That brings us to Monday’s meeting, and the debut of Alternative 8 and a new request for feedback by VIA.

Kyle Keahey of HNTB Corp. formally presented the advancing alternatives. He said that VIA is taking into consideration cost, benefits, potential impact of each route. The costs are broken down into the cost of building the streetcar, and then operating it. Benefits include ridership, connectivity to bus routes and other modes of transit, and potential to aid economic development. Potential impact has to do with how the route plays into wider development plans for the city, connectivity to current and future transit, and environmental impact. Not just the natural environment, but the built environment and its historical significance.

The current analyses are as follows (all images courtesy of VIA):


Streetcar, alt 5, July 2013

Alternative 5 connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It would offer a short walk to Main and Alamo Plazas. It has high connectivity to current bus routes.

Capital Cost Projection: $201-228 million

Projected operational cost annually: $6.4 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,202,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge (With the north-south axis pretty well set, the Navarro Street bridge is a common environmental impact concern in all four alternatives.)

Streetcar, alt 6, July 2013

Like Alternative 5, Alternative 6 connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It also incorporates El Mercado. It, too would require only a short walk to Main and Alamo Plazas, and has high connectivity to current bus routes.

The main different in Alternative 6 is about a mile of added track, extending services along César Chávez. Predictably, this raises costs, but also ridership.

Capital Cost Projection: $240-272 million

Projected annual operational cost: $8.1-8.5 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,403,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge and Milam Park

Streetcar, alt 7, July 2013

With the same north-south axis, Alternative 7 also connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It also incorporates El Mercado, Sunset Station, and the Convention Center. It would also offer a short walk to Alamo Plaza. It has lower bus route connectivity than Alternatives 5,6, and 8.

Alternative 7’s outstanding feature is the straight shot along Market and Commerce as an east-west axis.

Capital Cost Projection: $196-216 million

Projected operational cost: $5.6 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,120,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge, Milam Park, as well as the historic district of Main and Military Plaza.

Streetcar, alt 8, July 2013

Alternative 8 is the latest route under consideration. It connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It also incorporates Sunset Station, easy access to the Convention Center, and a short walk to Main and Alamo Plazas. It has high connectivity to current bus routes.

It is somewhat of a hybrid, using Martin/Pecan to stretch west of downtown and Market/Commerce to stretch east.

Capital Cost Projection: $204-231 million

Projected operational cost: $6.4 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,130,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge

Now that you’ve seen the routes, VIA wants to hear from you. Weigh in on the alternatives you support or oppose, or propose more alternatives. VIA officials hope to announce the final route at the end of August, but that means there’s still time for citizen engagement. Post your comments by August 16 by going online at www.viasmartmove.com/modern-streetcar/. Or do it the old-fashioned way and drop transit officials a line at VIA Metropolitan Transit, Attention: Modern Streetcar Feedback, P.O. Box 12489, San Antonio, TX 78212.


Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

Related Stories:

Another Turn of the Wheel for VIA’s Proposed Streetcar Project

A RR Primer: VIA’s Modern Streetcar Plans

Out Of Town Attack on Streetcars

VIA Primo Service: Mixed Reviews From Residents

Betty on the Bus: A Returning Senior Gets Around

Why I Ride the Bus. Why Don’t You?


15 thoughts on “Take Your Pick: The Latest Alternative Streetcar Routes

  1. I’m a big advocate for improving public transit, but this seems like and expensive boondoggle. Can someone explain to me why this project is a better solution than just improving bus routes and schedules? You can buy a lot of busses for $200 million–even those nice new hybrid-electric busses that are quieter, pollute less, and use less fuel. Also, it is not clear who the riders are going to be. I suppose mostly tourists and conventioneers because the routes do not connect to any significant parking capacity. People who currently drive their cars into downtown will have to continue doing so because there is nowhere to park and catch the train. If they take the bus into downtown, then they can just stay on the bus and get there.

  2. I live and work downtown and am thrilled about this project. I have examined all of the alternatives, and Alternative 6 benefits more downtown residents (who will be riding on a regular basis rather than once and a while) than any other route because of it’s expansive run down Chavez (and broader access to Lavaca, King William, & the mouth of S.Flo district where I live). As even more residential development is added in Southtown and along this corridor, more residents will benefit from this route. Options 7 and 8 will not benefit the majority of people that live south of Chavez, and lines on those options cover a much smaller geographical area of destinations downtown. Lastly and most importantly, streetcars encourage significant development around them, so why would we waste this massive economic opportunity on a corridor that is already heavily developed (Commerce/Market) instead of Chavez where there is way more undeveloped property? Should we spend $200M on a new way to shuttle tourists to and from the expanded Convention Center, or give residents a new daily mode of transportation to get from their homes around all of downtown? The expanded Convention Center will still have a stop on Options 5 and 6, but there will also be easier access for residents to enjoy.

    I know a ton of other southtowners read this–do you guys agree or am I missing something?

    • I live downtown, too. But I can’t see the advantage of this over just taking a bus or a B-cycle and save the $200M+ to improve those systems.

      • I hear you on that. I think it is more than just another mode of transportation. Streetcars have positive economic spillover and are a catalyst for adjacent development. It’s one of many tools we can use to boost the health of our downtown.

  3. I don’t understand why all these routes ends at Cunningham on Broadway – why not go just a little further north to incorporate both Brackenridge park and the future Children’s Museum?

  4. Nueva Street connects all of the important “venues” along the East/West corridor and is within a block of landmarks, including Main Plaza (plus City Hall and the County court, the new Police Center, the proposed Federal Court,Market Square, and UTSA. There is also the two points that there is some room for development along Nueva and it is close to Southtown/King William. (We may call this the “government route”)

    The Martin street connection, while tempting, is far North (many blocks) of all of these destinations, but has development potential on it’s own.(a least two primary blocks) We can call this one the “business route”.

    • Mark

      The Rivard Report would welcome a more detailed article written by you. You clearly have the history, expertise and passion to make a significant contribution to the public conversation. Interested? Thanks. –RR

  5. Mark G.–sorry for delayed response. There is substantial evidence linking streetcars to positive economic impact. While each city is different, and San Antonio has its own unique assets and challenges, it’s worth seeing how streetcars have affected other cities. Examples below.


    Atlanta Study:

    Portland Eco. Impact:

    Providence Eco. Impact:

    However, I am willing to admit there are probably just as many online sources that argue against streetcars as well.

    • Some questions to keep in mind when reviewing studies like this:

      1. Was the benefit attributable specifically to the streetcar concept, or the ability to attract and move people more efficiently through the urban zone where the improvements are made?

      2. If the answer to 1 is the efficient movement of people, are there cheaper alternatives than a fixed rail system? For example,a combination of: hybrid-electric buses (quieter and more fuel efficient than diesel or natural gas powered buses); improved scheduling frequency; added bus stop locations with amenities such as wi-fi hot spots to make them more attractive to commuters; dedicated lanes for said buses within the urban zone (cheaper than laying rail). Such improvements to attract people to rubber tire vehicles would be much cheaper than laying a rail system with the added benefit that the route could be changed or extended without additional capital investment.

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