Rybak: Bring Streetcars back to Minneapolis

Both of my parents were raised in Minneapolis in the 1940’s and 50’s. They wax nostalgically all the time about the streetcar lines and the freedom they gave them even as relatively young children to move about the city with having the expense of a car. The streetcar lines were ripped out in the mid 1950’s as part of an aggressive plan by General Motors, Goodyear Corporation and others to replace as many streetcars as possible with wheeled buses and other motor transport.

These days, the combined problems of rising gas prices and traffic congestion have brought streetcars back from the grave. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has inclued money in his 2007 budget to plan for putting two-way streets back in on the major thoroughfares and also to ponder the feasibility of adding new streetcar lines for the first time in 50+ years.

Rybak’s main argument for these changes are to “recreate the character of the city we grew up in,” but from a sustainability standpoint it makes sense to. The amount of space used in downtown for parking is huge, and if more people could use another form of transport to get around, that would only enhance the liveability and allure of Minneapolis, especially as gas prices continue to climb in coming years. A reverse flight back from the suburbs into the city, maybe?

The major hitch: currently streetcar lines are estimated to cost around $30 million per mile. Ouch. Still, it would be a good first step towards making the city a liveable, walkable place to live again, and for that reason, I’m all for it.

The next step: any new business district redesigns should also fit into the ‘walkable’ sity paradigm, and incorporate many aspects of the “New Urbanism” school of design, which Jame Howard Kunstler, peak oil writer and all-around curmudgeon, was advocating long before he got into the ‘peak oil thing.’

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