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Streetcars are just a tool

Earlier this month the Toronto Star published an article talking about the resurgence of streetcars in American cities. According to the Star, 89 cities in the US are currently implementing or at least considering building some form of surface-rail system.

But the article also goes on to argue that it could be a snobbish fad. Streetcars are new. They’re shiny. And they make yuppies –  who don’t like taking buses – feel better about themselves. But is the ROI really there? Is the economic impact of streetcars as big as people are making it out to be?

To support this argument, the Star quoted transportation planner Jarrett Walker, who I’ve mentioned here before on Architect This City. But according to a follow-up post that Walker did on his blog, it would appear that he was misrepresented in the article. Here’s a snippet of his response:

Here’s the bottom line. Streetcars are just a tool. They can be used in smart ways and in stupid ways. Asking a transit planner for an opinion about a transit technology is like asking a carpenter what his favorite tool is. A good carpenter sees his tools as tools and choses the right one for the task at hand. He doesn’t use his screwdriver to pound nails just because he is a “screwdriver advocate” or “hammer opponent”. Yet the Toronto Star assumes that nobody involved in transit debates is as smart as your average competent carpenter.

I wanted to share this because I think it’s a great way to approach transportation planning and because I think it gets at a larger issue that we continue to face here in Toronto: We keep politicizing mobility tools. Cyclists have become pinkos. Streetcars are a war on the car. And the list goes on. How about we just look at the problem, and figure out what solution would work best?

Image: Flickr

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