The city’s budget for 2007 includes funding at the mayor’s request to continue studying options for bringing streetcars back to Minneapolis. Mayor R.T. Rybak has said transportation will be a major focus in the coming years, and streetcars are an important piece of his vision. So what do others think about streetcars? Are bus commuters as enthused about rail as the mayor? Below are highlights of interviews with city transit users.
Commuter Bruno Davis of Hopkins transfers through Minneapolis on his bus trips to and from work at Shop NBC in Eden Prairie. He used to be a bus driver in New Jersey, and one of the drawbacks with those vehicles he says is “you’re still at the mercy of traffic.” If Minneapolis leaders wants streetcars to run more efficiently than buses they need to give them their own lane, possibly down the center, he says. “You put it in the middle of the street and that’ll separate it from traffic.”
Retired painter Robert Boehmar, 62, says he’s seen in New Orleans how streetcars can give tourism a boost, but he worries rail transit is too inflexible and dangerous. “They’re not an improvement over buses. Buses give you a lot of options. If you’ve got construction Downtown, you can reroute buses. If you’ve got the Hollidazzle parade, you can reroute buses.” He says he worries about light-rail traffic across Nicollet Mall during the parade because of the number of young children in the area.
“I like the romantic notion of a streetcar,” said Annie U’Ren, a 23-year-old student and bookseller, as she waited at the Uptown transit station. U’Ren’s enthusiasm stems in part from experiences in European cities with rail systems that “worked great.” She also thinks streetcars would be more reliable than buses. “I pay an arm and a leg every month to ride the bus, and they’re not always dependable,” she says. “I would just love streetcars.”
“If there was a streetcar, it’d be here already,” said Dennis Stoddard, 56, of South Minneapolis, as he sat waiting for a bus, one finger wrapped up from a doctor’s visit that day. He remembers riding the city’s original streetcars as a kid and, like many others, perceives them as more efficient than buses. “I don’t know if the novelty would wear off, but I think initially people would embrace it.”
“It depends on where they put it. It depends on the capacity and how much they stop,” said ReAnna Robinson, 56, of her interest in streetcars. Still, any investment in public transit in Downtown or Uptown would be helpful, she said. On this day, she’s most interested in a route heading out to St. Louis Park past her home near Lake Calhoun. “It doesn’t run on time,” she said.
“I can’t see what benefit they would have over the current bus system,” said Alex Bolton, a 19-year-old University of Minnesota student, who was absorbed in a book at the Uptown transit station. “I think the bus system works fine enough,” he said. Adding streetcars to an already crowded street like Hennepin could make traffic worse, he said.
“If they run like the light rail, that’d be awesome,” said Diana Harris, 22, of St. Louis Park. The Hiawatha Light Rail line is much more reliable than her number 12 bus route home, she said, which doesn’t run as often as the train. She said she’d be OK with adding more buses instead, though, if it makes the system more dependable at a lower price.
Sue Watkins, who lives in the Stevens Square neighborhood, questioned the necessity of constructing a streetcar system in Minneapolis. “They can’t even keep the libraries open,” she said, waiting to catch a bus home after an afternoon of shopping. “You’ve got the bus already. I don’t see any need.”
Oswald Lopez, 77, of Venezuela, was visiting his daughter in Minnetonka last month and experienced the city’s transit system. “I’m used to seeing transit run on electricity,” Lopez said. As long as designers can make sure streetcars can hold up in Minneapolis weather, they’d be a good investment for their environmental benefits. “You’ve got the tires and you’ve got the contamination in the air. If they do it in Europe, I don’t see why they can’t do it here.”
Jim Vaitkunas of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum said a route connecting Uptown and Downtown would be a good starting point for streetcars. The two activity centers would generate some significant ridership, he guessed. The city should strongly consider dedicating a streetcar lane separate from other traffic. “You’re going to have to dedicate a center lane or eliminate parking. People are kind of used to buses. Buses get out of the way. They pull over to the curb. But people in this day and age are not used to driving and competing with streetcars.”