Streetcar alternatives

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Thanks to recent revival of neighborhoods served by streetcars in cities like Portland, Oregon, there’s a common conception that streetcars are a magic development bullet. The conventional wisdom suggests that the presence of “rails in the ground” sends a signal to developers that the transit infrastructure in question is permanent, while buses lack this sense of permanence. Like any claim of cause and effect, this assertion should be viewed skeptically on a number of grounds. Foremost, new streetcars are typically accompanied with a number of other public investments in the street-scape that are independent from the vehicle technology, i.e. transit stop enhancements like improved shelters, signage and aesthetic features; these other investments could help explain investments by the private sector. Furthermore, many of these street-scare enhancements could be implemented just as easily to enhance existing bus service to obtain virtually all of the mobility benefits. Various treatments associated with BRT can provide a transit experience that is similar -- if not identical -- to streetcar service.


Right of way enhancements

Enhancements to the right-of-way in which the vehicle travels to improve the speed and comfort of the ride.

  • Exclusive travel lanes
  • Signal priority

Station stop enhancements

Enhancements to the transit stop/station to improve out-of-vehicle waiting experience and increase the sense of permanence

  • Shelters
  • Level boarding
  • Curb extensions

Vehicle enhancements

Use of special vehicles

  • Iconic vehicles or livery to better brand service
  • Articulated buses for increased capacity

Service enhancements

Enhancements to the frequency and duration of service, or specialized routes to serve certain corridors

  • Increased frequency
  • Increased span of service
  • Specialized routes