The True Value of Streetcars in San Antonio

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An artist's rendering of a streetcar running through Alamo Plaza. This route option has largely been dismissed due to its proximity to the Alamo cathedral. Courtesy rendering from VIA.

An artist's rendering of a streetcar running through Alamo Plaza. This route option has largely been dismissed due to its proximity to the Alamo cathedral. Courtesy rendering from VIA.

Let’s face it: San Antonio is an auto-oriented city in an auto-oriented state. San Antonio is so “car crazy” that, on a per capita basis, San Antonio households and businesses drive 13 percent more every day than the average large U.S. city, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

National media has taken notice. Forbes listed San Antonio in the top 10 cities most impacted by gasoline price increases and pegged Bexar County as one of the “10 Most Oil-Addicted Counties in the U.S.” Men’s Health magazine called San Antonio a “fossil fool” and put it on the list of “biggest gas-guzzlers.”

With motor vehicles being the largest source of air pollution in our region, it is not surprising that our ozone air pollution now appears to exceed recommended healthy concentrations.  This is frustrating since our good air quality was part of Toyota’s decision to build a plant here.

All this extra driving impacts motor vehicle fatalities.  According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publication, a person living in San Antonio is four times more likely to die from a motor vehicle crash than a person living in similar-sized Portland, OR.  Portlanders drive 18 percent below the large city average due to transit investments and smart land-use planning.

Source: 2009 Annual Mobility Report, Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University.

Source: 2009 Annual Mobility Report, Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University.

What are the economics of this extra driving? In 1999, Economic modeling specialists conservatively estimated that if we drove like residents of other big U.S. cities, we would travel one billion fewer vehicle miles each year while increasing regional income by $56 million and employment by about 4,300 jobs.

A more recent (2011) analysis by the firm Economic & Planning Systems estimated that a 10 percent reduction in vehicular travel by households alone in Bexar County would increase jobs by nearly 7,500 and increase the regional income by about $23 million.

No wonder that it is an SA2020 goal to reduce average vehicle miles of travel per person by 10 percent.

One of the big reasons that we drive so much in San Antonio is years of neglect of the inner city.  Like an older home with “good bones,” it is necessary to do some repairs and upgrades of neighborhoods on occasion in order remain attractive in the market place.

Making the inner city attractive in the real estate market helps the whole city.  The Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s computer models of land development and travel in 2035, project that, if 100,000 new residents locate inside IH 410 instead of outside Loop 1604, this will save motorists throughout the city 500,000 hours of traffic delay each year.  The same report estimates that it could take up to $2.8 billion in road construction to achieve the same travel-time savings.  Putting a value on time, eliminating this delay is like saving $8 million* per year – every year.

“Americans’ often cited ‘love affair’ with their cars may have much more to do with the design of our neighborhoods and land use decisions than with transportation,” according to a 2013 Federal Highway Administration report.

Note that 100,000 new residents inside IH 410 is only 10 precent of the 1 million new people expected in Bexar County over the next few decades. About 100,000 residents could easily fit within the City limits.  The Brookings Institution found in 2001 that nearly 21 percent of the land in the City of San Antonio is vacant.

Just because the land is available and neighborhood upgrades are made doesn’t mean that infill development will occur.  Apparently, it will depend a great deal on the preferences of Generation Y a.k.a. Millennials, those born between early 1980s and the early 2000s.  This is both the largest and most mobile single generation currently both in the U.S. and San Antonio.  According to the Robert Charles Lesser & Co. (RCLCO), 77 percent of Generation Y plans to live in an urban core.  “This is where the future of growth is – capturing Gen Y will be critical to economic vitality through 2050.”

Members of Gen Y are not “car crazy” like previous generations. There has been a downward trend in teenagers and young adults getting drivers licenses. Fully one-third of Texans aged 14 to 35 do not have a driver’s license.

A 2009 study for CEOs for Cities found that buyers in Austin and Dallas (San Antonio was not in the study) were willing to pay from $4,000 to $24,000 more for a home in a neighborhood that was more walkable than average.  Carol Coletta, President and CEO of CEOs for Cities noted, “Now, planning, zoning and development decisions have to catch up to consumers.”

RCLCO found that one-fourth of the housing market wants access to rail transit. Investigation by the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah found that 17 percent of the population increase in Portland’s Multnomah County in the ten years ending in 2010 located within one-quarter of a mile of the streetcar line.  A whopping 41 percent of the county’s growth in professional jobs also located next to the streetcar line.

A streetcar can clearly attract and focus inner city growth.  The Chair of Kansas City’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Russ Johnson noted, “Not many developers come to the city and ask to be next to the bus stop, but they do want to be on the streetcar line.”  Kansas City just broke ground on an additional streetcar line.

Several studies show that rail transit has a “land use multiplier” so that each passenger mile on a U.S. rail transit can reduce vehicular travel by about three vehicle miles.  Dr. Antonio Bento at Cornell University found “striking” effects on the miles driven by households when urban form and transit supply are considered together.

So, is the streetcar worth it?  Yes it is when you consider the impact of this center city investment and the value of providing an alternative form of transportation.  It isn’t too soon to start working on our transportation and land development needs for the 21st century.

*Correction: an earlier version of this story stated $8 billion as the amount saved per year by eliminating delay. It is $8 million.

Related Stories:

Streetcar Advocate Responds to Red McCombs

10 Steps to Hit the Reset Button on VIA’s Modern Streetcars

Streetcars and Bus Rapid Transit Will Speed San Antonio’s Transformation

San Antonio Isn’t Ready for a Streetcar System

 The Case for the Chavez Streetcar Route

29 thoughts on “The True Value of Streetcars in San Antonio

  1. On a related subject.

    Now that the city is going to make an effort to reduce the high volume of vacant buildings downtown, it would be a win-win situation for landlords to turn those properties into residential condominiums. As proof of great profit, there are the new condos going up at the Quincy selling for high values. The city should give incentives (tax and utility abatements), to these owners. The property owners win, the downtown (city) reduces such eyesores. And related to this report, traffic congestion is reduced.

  2. With the capacity of street cars being as low as they are, how could they possibly make a measurable effect on vehicle travel? They certainly can not handle 10 percent.

    Also: If reduction in vehicle traffic would result in an increase in development, won’t that simply negate the reduction in vehicle traffic?

  3. Why is it that every proponent of streetcar, Barker included now, takes this limited urban core (don’t sell it as Center City because it barely even touches the ring neighborhoods that make up the Center City) route and promotes it as a solution to our transit needs. This system barely gets out of the urban core and doesn’t even come close to extending half the way to Loop 410. But Barker and others will make it sound like we’re fast on our way to a complete rail solution.

    The reality is that this limited system will serve a fraction of the fraction Barker mentioned regarding the study. Yet it will cost a projected $281 million before the expected cost overruns (there has not been a streetcar project implemented in the US that has not had at least 25% cost overruns) and will exhaust all long-range transit funding for over a decade.

    When will Barker and others admit this is what we’ll get for the long-term due to inability to find sufficient funding for real transit solutions? All we get are marginally related studies and rhetoric from proponents.

    Barker needs to admit to the fact that the only successful streetcar projects (Portland, Dallas, DC, Denver, SFO) were preceded by a light rail solution that transported passengers into the core to leverage a streetcar system designed to augment the light rail. Maybe then we can have rational discussions and not have to listen to endless dated studies that don’t really apply to San Antonio.

    • Mr. Bear,

      Yeah, at this point I would have to say I agree. I didn’t agree with you before because I didn’t look at the whole picture. A Streetcar system would be too impractical. Before I felt like rallying for streetcars because they are in almost every major city and they serve the populace well but San Antonio is a different city. We need a different strategy.

      I believe the LSTAR would be the best way to get mass transportation to us without straining our finances. To my knowledge, the LSTAR would take passengers from Georgetown all the down here to San Antonio making several stops along the way. This would be a perfect starter system for SA. The last time I checked it is supposed to stop at TAMUSA when finished.

      We should try to move that project ahead in any way possible. Forget the streetcar system. Leave that idea behind. Let’s move forward with LSTAR and push State and Federal funding for it.

      • Thanks David. Originally I had thought that DC’s system was successful, but it turns out it’s in trouble now, with a possibility of DC Council pulling funding from it due to management issues and cost overruns. Also, if you read this article from The Atlantic, it appears the system was poorly conceived. Read down in the article about the comparison to the X2 bus, which follows the same route but goes further. The streetcar stops at Union Station and the X2 stops at the White House. The later actually picks up people where the live and drops them off where they work. The former does neither. From the article, “The problem with this Streetcar line is that it takes people from where they aren’t to where they don’t need to go.”

        We really need to quit fooling ourselves into thinking streetcars are a solution to a problem and recognize them for what they are, a solution looking for a problem. The trouble is the real problems are no where near the routes proposed by VIA.

  4. Now get this strait, I’m for the streetcar, but I am also aware that we can improve Broadway and other stroads in San Anotnio without it. But the city don’t want to do that, after all they just voted to remove bike lanes from a stroad called S Flores.

  5. “A whopping 41 percent of the county’s growth in professional jobs also located next to the streetcar line.”

    Between the 2000 and 2010 census Multnomah County added less than 75,000 residents. Just barely 11% growth.

    Bexar county without a streetcar grew at more than double that rate.

  6. Time to cancel this streetcar to nowhere. What started out as a $90 million dollar starter system “with significant contingency” per Keith Parker, has bloated into a major embarrassment for the city leaders and the Greater Chamber special interest groups promoting it. Parker further predicted that the first streetcar route would be up and running as early as 2014.

    Lots of political capital being expended on something that it appears a majority, growing more angry by the day, do not want.

  7. Excellent article. Two additional benefits not mentioned in the article are (1) that streetcars can be powered by pollution-free renewable energy, and (2) that their operating cost, when adjusted to account for their higher capacity, is more efficient than bus service. In the long term, the streetcar project would save money, effectively paying for itself. In the short term, its construction would be an economic stimulus.

  8. Looking further at Barker’s points, let’s take the comparison to Portland. While the numbers don’t lie, Barker fails to point out a LOT of important facts, which is what streetcar proponents often do. Portland is served not only by a streetcar, but an extensive light rail system called MAX that preceded streetcar. In fact streetcar was built to augment MAX in the downtown area. Portland also has imposed an urban growth boundary (UGB) that constrains growth of the TriMet area.

    I go into much greater detail about this in a blog entry written on another site. I would challenge Barker to address the points about Portland and how this really can compare to SAT’s very limited transit solution.

    This is the problem with folks like Barker and other proponents of the VIA streetcar project. They don’t really do a reasonable comparison. They just go on a Google search and drum up some study that seems to point their way and cite it without really explaining IF the study relates.

    Based on comments here and other locations, it’s really hard to see how there is any semblance of public support for this project. The more proponents continue to promote stuff like this, the more the public sees the fallacies of this project and further entrench opposition.

    Austin is getting ready to take their urban rail project to a vote in November. It’s a $1.3 billion project that’s a part of a larger long-range transit plan (Project Connect). Why do they have the confidence to do that, even if it’s a requirement to raise funds? Because they are transparent with their voters. VIA, and now city leaders, have lost so much confidence with voters, there is no way this could ever be taken to a vote. Well, maybe it can through the charter reform initiative collecting signatures now.

    • Mr. Bear, I have a different view of the history of urban transportation. I was born in Washington, DC, and remember riding the streetcar that existed then to 1st grade. So called “first generation” electric streetcars existed in U.S. cities starting before the end of the 19th century. San Antonio’s streetcar system was electrified in 1890. These were private businesses, and many went out of business due to the Depression, World Wars, competition from the automobile and suburban sprawl.

      In some cities, like Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and San Francisco, “first generation” streetcar lines were actually converted into what we call “light rail” today. Other forms of rail, like the BART heavy rail system in San Francisco, came along much later. Today, San Antonio is the largest city in the U.S. without any kind of urban rail transit in operation.

      What kind of transit works for a city depends on the physical, demographic and economic characteristics of the city as well as politics and leadership. It doesn’t matter whether you have a streetcar line first or a light rail line first. I can’t think of a city of any size in the U.S. that hasn’t had a streetcar system at some point in its history.

      With a little imagination one can see the lasting impact that the previous streetcar system had in San Antonio in the intensification of development along Commerce, Broadway, Flores, Presa, Fredericksburg, Guadalupe, and other corridors.

      If you haven’t seen it, you might want to watch the documentary “Taken for a Ride” which helps to explain how we got the urban transportation systems that we have in the U.S. today. You seem to have a lot of interest in the subject, so I think you will find it of interest.

      • Bill, good review of “1st generation streetcar.” What’s interesting about some of those systems is that they dealt with an urban footprint much different than today. To translate “1st generation” to current state is apples and oranges, which you should be keenly aware of.

        With the vehicle, we created sprawl. Cities addressed that sprawl through mass transit solutions, primarily buses. Those that looked at more advanced solutions such as high speed mass transit leveraged light rail. As a transit expert, you should also be aware of the difference between the two.

        But, for those who may not know, light rail operates in dedicated lanes with no interaction with vehicles, other than at intersections which are usually designed to give priority to the rail. Streetcars must engage with vehicles, do not travel the distances that light rail does due to the co-mingling and design and are usually isolated to specific areas. They are NOT the same.

        Having a streetcar at one time does not really have any relevance to the conversation and is really a deflection of the point.

  9. Mark, buses can also be powered by pollution-free renewable energy. In fact, we are doing that now in the downtown area. Secondly, at $8 million operating cost (and that’s conservative), there is no way this system will sustain itself on ridership. Even the project proponents admit that, so how could it really save money, much less pay for itself. Have you run the numbers or is this more rhetoric before fact? There’s no doubt this would be an economic stimulus, but it does nothing to promote a long-range transit solution for Bexar County, which is needed badly.

    • Randy, there are two arguments that are really tiring me out: that the streetcar system will be unprofitable and that it will employ outdated technology. If we are going to use those standards, lets use them universally and defund highway and road projects as well.

      Where and how do those infrastructure projects pay for themselves? TxDOT has said its budget is short $5 billion annually of what is needed just to maintain current congestion levels. [1] And that’s with nearly half the expense subsidized by the federal government. And that doesn’t even include local-level operating expense and investment.

      Meanwhile the automobile is a technology relic dating back to 1886. (I know that’s an absurd comment, but I’m pointing out fallacy here. To say that mass transit hasn’t advanced at all over the same period of time is deceptive.)

      You have other well-reasoned arguments. Why dilute your points? I just hate it when debate resorts to these cheap tactics.


      • Todd, if you follow the context of the conversation (which the FB interface did a lousy job of keeping the thread context) I was responding to Mark’s comments about how the system will pay for itself.

        I know it can’t but I also have looked at VIA’s budget (which I would encourage you to do so also). If you have looked at the budget, you would find that the $8 million operational costs don’t exist. In fact, Revenues, both operating and non-operating, barely cover current costs or VIA has to dip into reserves. With regards to revenues, are you aware of the funding model for VIA and how it scrapes by on .5% sales tax compared with 1% for AUS, DAL, and HOU? ATD dollars bring in some more, but they are restricted on usage.

        With regards to outdated technology, the all-electric buses are far from “outdated.” In fact, if you do the research, they are some of the more advanced forms of transit today. That was another response to Mark’s point about sustainable transit options.

        Let’s be clear. I am not against streetcar in general. In fact, streetcar is a good transit solution, when placed in the proper sequence of transit solutions. No successful transit agency implementing streetcar has started with it. They have worked to implement light rail or true BRT to move people in and out of the core, then used streetcar to augment core transit. My concern is that VIA is boxing us into a funding corner we will not be able to get out of.

        BTW, with regards to your TxDOT highway funding, how will streetcar address those issues if it’s limited to the urban core? I really would love a proponent to answer that one question since it’s thrown around like candy.

        • Thanks for the high quality response. To be clear, I’m not sold on the street car either, I just have been frustrated by how difficult it can be to find level discussion of the issue. As you say, it’s a huge investment for VIA to make with some substantial risk. And a public “vote” on the street car is unavoidable: early ridership numbers will determine if there will ever be enough political will for the future expansion required to turn it into a full system. My concern is that weak support for the street car could endanger any meaningful advancements in mass transportation in San Antonio. (And for a city that thrives on tourism, the fact that our downtown and airport are not connected by transit is really embarrassing.)

          Regarding your question, I can only offer my perspective: no matter how VIA works to sell it, the street car is a $185 million effort to spur meaningful density in a city defined by sprawl. There are numerous public health, cultural, and economic advantages [1-3] to density, but it faces tough competition when new land is so cheap and readily available. It’s a tough problem to tackle and it’s one that will define the future of our city.

          What’s often overlooked, however, is how new urban options can positively impact the suburbs. Simply put, incentives to live and work further in the city rather than further out will help everyone’s daily commute, even if you are not a downtowner. We already invest heavily in projects to make the sprawl more bearable (take the revamped 281 / 1604 intersection). Should we also invest in infrastructure to discourage sprawl in the first place? Is spurring density a viable strategy? Perhaps one counter-intuitive tool in the a city’s transportation strategy is to work towards requiring less transportation miles. I think THAT is VIA’s hope for the street car.

          Now for me, the $175 million investment in San Pedro Creek is a much more proven strategy in creating new urban development in San Antonio. But how do you encourage the kind of explosive growth the River North project spurred in non-river areas of downtown? VIA would like you to believe that street cars are the answer. I’m undecided, but I haven’t seen a study showing BRT solves this problem.

          All said: I agree with the goal, even when I question a street car system as the means. Again, thanks for the discussion. It’s really important.


          • You might want to check your numbers on the cost of the streetcar project. VIA’s own estimate right now is $281 million. With no streetcar project in the country coming in at or under budget, expect VIA’s number to probably rise to $350 million. The problem is there is no place to get the extra $69 million when needed. They’re tapped out. The city is tapped out. The county is tapped out. The state is tapped out. The feds are tapped out. I don’t think there are any other funding sources, unless Graham Weston wants to kick in $69 million.

            The recent revelation that VIA pulled another “outlawyered” the voters move frustrates me even more. I read through the Transportation Code and, while I’m not sure, it appears they are once again leveraging bracketing language to attempt to preclude a vote. I think the vote petition will continue, if only to send a message to elected officials that the public does not want streetcars at this time.

            I have heard several people say they would prefer the solutions you mentioned instead and would probably vote for something like that. I just don’t know if VIA’s credibility would survive until then.

  10. “The (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex’s air pollution caused the Japanese automaker to strike the area from its list of possible truck plant sites, and that should lead to fresh self-appraisals among local leaders. This is worse than losing out on Boeing’s headquarters. A new Toyota assembly plant, awarded to San Antonio last week, is a much richer economic plum, and we never had a shot at landing it. Too much air pollution. That’s right, bad air isn’t just bad for your health and federal road funds. It’s bad for business, too, and poses a threat to North Texas’ economic engine. Toyota scratched the Metroplex off its shopping list early, the first time we’ve lost a high-profile project strictly because of air quality, according to several economic development officials.”
    “Dirty air chokes off Toyota facility,” by Mitchell Schnurman, Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, Wednesday, February 12, 2003

    • Peter, while I don’t doubt your points, I question how this project will truly address the issues you raise to the degree to actually improve air quality. I could make the argument VIA needs to employee more CNG or electric buses to help improve air quality, both which can be done for a fraction of the cost of this project.

      To truly address the issues you raise, VIA needs a more strategic transit plan that efficiently transports riders from outer areas of San Antonio to other parts of the city. Not everything will be located in the urban core, but throughout the city. I’ll go with Barker’s argument and promote use of 410 as our UGB and focus resources on improving it. But for this project to have the impact you desire, everything needs to be contained in the compact area the project will serve. Without a strong transit system to feed it, it must be self-contained.

      • Randy and Peter, as you know, our regional ozone problem is in large part due to mobile sources. This comes from a combination of vehicle use (vehicle miles) and the emission characteristics of the vehicles (emissions per vehicle mile). I looked up the numbers, and I found that literally 99.9% of the vehicle miles in Bexar County come from something else other than VIA buses. You can make whatever adjustments you want to make to VIA’s bus emissions (which are already regulated by the feds) and you will have essentially no measurable impact on our regional ozone problem.

        To me, there are other reasons why it is smart for VIA is smart to pursue alternative fuels, including electric buses downtown . First, the era of cheap oil is over, and strategic management dictates reducing dependence on petroleum-based fuels like diesel fuel.

        Second, there is very localized air pollution from mobile air toxics that impact pedestrians, cyclists, residents, students and workers near transportation facilities. In a downtown pedestrian environment, electric buses will have the least impact on public health. (And, yes, in our area electric vehicles still generate less air pollution even when the emissions at the power plant are considered.)

        Since the emission characteristics of vehicles are determined by federal regulations and private markets, this leaves vehicle miles of non-transit vehicles as the leverage that a local area can use to reduce regional ozone concentrations caused from mobile sources. For example, the Rocky Mountain Institute has determined that “smart growth” is an especially effective way to do this.

        This is where the streetcar comes in – as part of a smart growth strategy for the core of San Antonio. It will not necessarily stimulate growth in the region, but it will attract a meaningful fraction of the growth that will occur and focus it in area of town already equipped with fire stations, libraries, roads, electric power, water and sewers. The greatest benefits come from the smart growth aspect of the streetcar project.

  11. The City in my Opinion Needs to Maintain its focus On Future Construction Inside Loop 410 In an Upward Developmental Manner. By Consolidating Building Efforts Vertically many Benefits may be Achieved.
    The First On my list of Pros Hits as Close to Home as My Back Yard, Now Currently Las Lomas Elementary. Stubbing Ranch Has for the Most Part been Sectioned Off For A Surplus of Commercial And/Or Multi-Family Residential Development. With The Areas Current Population Explosion Our Very Water Supply Is Being Disregarded in the name of Greed. That Affects Every Single Citizens Quality Of Life. The Trees that process green house gasses are Being Pushed Over by Small Construction Equipment Such as BobCats The Ground and its Water Channels Millions of Years in the Making Leveled and the Limestone that Has Provided Central Texas With Naturally Filtered water for Over A Century: Fractured and Removed in order to Yield a New Strip Center That Features a Trendy Shop Many Drive Out of Their Way To Be Seen at Because They’ve been Sold By Society The New Shiny Gizmo EveryOne Must Have To be Considered An Original One of A Kind Original Individual.
    The Fossil Fuel Reliant Traffic On 281 North of 1604 Seems To be Exponentially Inefficiently Directed With Every Mile The Average Commuter Must Endure, All The While Silently Raging While Pondering Questions Such as “Where Did This Impatient Road Hog Discover Their Unreciprocated Sense Of Entitlement?” As They Continue Riding a Shoulder Until it Ends, Sending The Selfish Individual Who Obviously has More of a Right to The Road, Stopping Traffic Only a Few Yards From Where they would’ve otherwise Naturally Fell into. When Pulling Up to Any Intersection From Sonterra Past TPC/StoneOak Pkwy. Remain Knowledgeable When Traffics’ Direction Is Rerouted, With Straightforward Intersections Vegetation Has More Opportunity To Promote Cleaner Air. With Better Traffic Flow Less Traffic Congestion Follows: Further Reducing Emission Levels Released Into Our Atmosphere.
    With The Pressing Reality of Irreversible Global Warming; Effected Most Directly Are the Polar Ice Caps. Rising Ocean Levels Will by Many Leading Experts Elude to The Majority Of Central Texas Dropping Below Sea Level Due To The Devastation Being Imposed on Our Planet By Means of Humanity’s Inability To Seek and Implement Symbiotic Balance Within Our Universe.. More Emphasis Should be Given to This Topic For Viable Community Sustainability.

    Feel Free To Cite Your Own Reasons.

    For Consideration

    Micah T.

  12. It is a bit unfair to compare San Antonio to Portland. Portland has a well developed public transportation system that has been in place for a while. The growth of cities is often based on access to transportation so cities that have had public transportation in place prior to growth spurts take on a pattern far different than those who do not. Most Western cities, with a few exceptions, have meager public transportation. They tend to be spread out and decentralized due to automobile based transportation.

    Consider the East Coast, cities like New York and Boston in which public transportation has been in place for over a century. One sees a lot more walkers in such cities due to the reliance on public transportation and that is certainly healthier.

    It is never too late to invest in public transportation. Public transportation need be sufficiently comprehensive so that a sufficient number of geographic areas are included. Streetcars are a good start but there need be connections to light rail.

    The investment may seem costly but we must look at the all the issues surrounding the costs:
    1) Public health. A “walking culture” need be re-established. Consider the high health costs associated with lack of exercise – obesity, deconditioning, type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and so on.
    2) Energy costs. One passenger train takes a lot of cars off the road. The auto culture established after WW2 was predicated on relatively inexpensive petroleum imports and led to the establishment of the interstate highway system under President Eisenhower.
    Consider the true cost of a barrel of oil. It is not just the current price one can see listed in the Wall Street Journal but the massive military and geopolitical cost in keeping the oil flowing from the Middle East. The US is trending toward more domestic production but worldwide demand for oil imports remains high.
    3) Environment. The equation of reducing the number of vehicles by providing rail yields the benefit without even getting into a discussion of alternative fuels.
    4) Tourism. Streetcars are attractive to tourists and tourism is a key industry in San Antonio.
    5) Economic growth. Providing a attractive lifestyle helps fuel economic growth. I moved here from the Seattle area in 2007. My office was about 10.5 miles from home and the commute took 60 to 90 minutes each way. The distance I drove here was longer but my commute time fell to about 20 minutes. I bragged to my friends that I could get out work, stop for sushi, hit the driving range and still make it home faster than I did up north.

  13. Since Barker examines economic development surrounding streetcar, I decided to take a look at another VIA investment, one that was pretty expensive and was supposed to yield economic development itself. That investment was the $65 million Primo line. Before anyone immediately discounts it as another bus line, remember VIA invested substantially in those VERY fancy stops along Fredericksburg to promote a sense of permanence needed for economic development.

    From VIA’s website promoting Primo:
    “Will there be any economic development opportunities associated with Prímo?
    Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is an integral part of VIA’s long-range vision for the San Antonio region and is captured in the agency’s Long-Range Comprehensive Transportation Plan, branded as SmartwaySA. The prospect to provide economic development opportunities adjacent to Prímo stations will initially be pursued at the transit centers. Future development opportunities may arise at each of the Prímo stations, which will enhance many of city of San Antonio and Balcones Heights’ economic development initiatives.”

    Well, more than one year later and I have yet to see anything of substantive value being developed around either the Westside Multimodal or any of the Primo stations.

    I don’t doubt there will be economic development in some of the areas of the streetcar footprint. It’s happening today and we haven’t even torn up a street. But when we desperately need comprehensive transit solutions at a time when bus service is being cut back across the city, this is not the way to solve our problems. After this project there is NO MORE MONEY for transit solutions. VIA will have expended any capital they have left. The city can’t fork over any more at a time when budgets are constraining services. The county is overextended, in terms of debt. State and federal funds are all but dried up unless there are matching funds. VIA definitely can’t go back to voters for more funds.

    Besides, this project will not come in at the expected price tag of $281 million. No streetcar project in America today has come in at or under budget. DC’s project is already over budget and the DC council has voted to slash that budget, leaving the project in peril of completion.

    I agree that this should be connected to a light rail or true BRT system. But those should come first to provide the necessary transit needs for the city and county. Use streetcar to augment those solutions when the time is right. Doing streetcar first strands the system with no foreseeable funding for the future, leaving it to scramble for riders in a constrained footprint. Why ride streetcar if you have to drive in to use it?

  14. They are not taking Texas A&M San Antonio into account. I know several individuals, myself included, that are investing on that part of town.

  15. You streetcar opponents have totally missed the point. This is all part of San Antonio’s brilliant strategy: Do it in the most poorly conceived half-assed mismanaged way possible, so you can say “see, we tried that and it didn’t work!”

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