Would you like to see a streetcar in Oakland?

Judging from the comments at like, every Broadway/Valdez District Specific Plan meeting, it seems like the answer for an awful lot of Oaklanders is yes.

Every time I go to one of these meetings, all sorts of people are like “What about putting a streetcar on Broadway?” and “Maybe you wouldn’t need to build more square feet of parking garages than of retail space if you had a streetcar!” and “Why is there no streetcar in any of those drawings. I think it would be better with a streetcar!” And every time it comes up, the consultant responds immediately with the same robotic answer. A streetcar, he informs us, is outside the scope of this study. Fair enough. But telling people that a streetcar is outside the scope definitely doesn’t seem to be enough to get them to shut up about it, since, like I said, it keeps coming up over and over and over again.

These streetcar obsessed mobs will no doubt be delighted to learn that they may soon get an opportunity to go to lots of meetings where they can sit around and talk about how much they love streetcars without having anyone tell them to shut up.

How can this be, you ask? Well, the City of Oakland is applying for a grant (PDF) from Caltrans to study doing a Broadway streetcar.

What is this grant? What would it pay for?

The grant would come from Caltrans’s Community Based Transportation Planning program, which also funded that HarriOak Transportation Plan that’s been going on for the last year. What would be involved in the plan? Here’s the description from the agenda report (PDF):

The Broadway Streetcar and Transit Improvement Plan will be a planning effort that assesses the advantages and disadvantages, and the feasibility of a streetcar line on Broadway. The study will produce a conceptual-level plan for a streetcar and other transit and pedestrian upgrades along Broadway that will improve livability and spur economic development. The plan will include schematics that show how the project would affect the “look and feel” of the Broadway corridor.

Transportation and urban design consultants will analyze several aspects of the proposed streetcar service – including dedicated versus shared lanes, median platform stops versus sidewalk stops, proposed locations for the maintenance and storage yard(s), and different route alignments. Consultants will also help to facilitate stakeholder collaboration and consensus building through community meetings.

Neat, huh?

Why would we want a streetcar on Broadway anyway?

Again, from the report (PDF):

Transit service that connects Jack London Square with the neighborhoods north of Interstate 880 along the Broadway corridor would link up several important Oakland commercial districts. While various AC Transit lines serve Broadway, no single line travels from Jack London Square to Grand Avenue and northward. A Broadway streetcar that connects the waterfront to the MacArthur BART station would help support the new development at Jack London Square, further energize the Uptown restaurant and entertainment scenes, and spur future development on vacant and underutilized lots in the Upper Broadway district.

There are, of course, arguments against building a streetcar. For example, at the most recent Specific Plan public meeting, one speaker noted that fixed guideway transit systems are inherently inflexible, and therefore, inferior to a bus in the event that there is a hostage situation somewhere along the route. A bus could just turn off on a side street and avoid the hostage situation. But if we had a streetcar, there would be no way to avoid the hostage situation and riders would be screwed!

There are also sane reasons to not be over the moon about streetcars. For one thing, they’re usually ridiculously slow. Personally, I have this crazy belief that transportation investment should be about actually moving people from place to place, ideally, relatively quickly. So I tend to not get that excited about shiny showpiece transit that exists mostly for tourists to gawk at and goes slower than walking.

On the other hand, I’m smart enough to know when I’m outnumbered beyond hope and it’s just not worth fighting. People love streetcars, there really isn’t any point in arguing with them. And Jack London Square desperately needs some kind of real connection with the rest of downtown, so if planning a streetcar is the way to get the City to look seriously at that need, well, I’m not going to argue.

Hooray! We’re getting a streetcar!

Um, not quite yet. First we have to actually get the streetcar planning grant. Then we hold lots and lots of meetings and do the plan. Then, if we still want a streetcar, we have to figure out a way to pay for it. Rail is expensive! Funding to build the thing, as with everything, will be an obstacle, but perhaps not as big of one as people might imagine. Possible funding sources include the FTA’s Urban Circulator grant program, redevelopment funds, and a variety of regional funding sources distributed by the MTC. There have been cases in other cities where property owners along planned streetcar routes have kicked down some cash to help build it, but if I were Oakland, I would not be holding my breath waiting for that to happen here.

In any case, there’s money out there for capital investment in transportation. And it’s not like a streetcar is going to cost half a billion dollars or something. The more important question with respect to a streetcar is who would pay to run the thing once it’s finished, and where that money is going to come from.

Of course, those are issues that will be addressed during the planning process (assuming, of course, that we get the grant and there is one). For now, all we can do is wait and daydream.

57 thoughts on “Would you like to see a streetcar in Oakland?

  1. Gene

    Bring back the Key Route! :-)

    Your opening paragraphs make me think of the monorail episode on “The Simpsons”, with the whole town at the meeting chanting “Monorail…monorail…”. Except this would actually go somewhere. And probably wouldn’t require an anchor and giant doughnut to stop.

  2. Aaron Priven

    My term for it is “mode chauvinism.” Buses, streetcars, light rail, heavy rail, etc. all have their advantages and disadvantages, and may be appropriate in particular circumstances. Picking one out and saying “we need streetcars!” is prejudice.

    Streetcars are not better at moving people, generally speaking, than buses. They are somewhat more attractive to choice riders because they have a smoother ride and (depending on how the stops are built) can be easier to enter and leave because they always line up directly with the curb (no getting down into the gutter and then back up onto the curb). And because they are rare these days, so perceived as cool (whether they are “modern streetcars” like Portland’s or historic ones like San Francisco’s).

    But a streetcar holds about the same number of people as a bus and costs more to operate (because you have to pay for rail and overhead wire maintenance in addition to labor costs).

    So streetcars are primarily advantageous as a redevelopment tool for making a city seem more attractive rather than as a transportation tool for moving people.

    And some of the arguments are ridiculous. “While various AC Transit lines serve Broadway, no single line travels from Jack London Square to Grand Avenue and northward.” So, move the bus line. Duh. Or do what the city already wants to do, and introduce a Broadway Shuttle.

    Personally I think a historic streetcar line would be a very attractive amenity — have it circle the convention center (connecting to BART on 12th at Broadway), run down Washington St. to 2nd, and then down 2nd to the Amtrak station. It would run through the heart of Old Oakland and hit the Jack London movie theater, get as close as it can to Jack London Square (since apparently it’s not OK to cross a streetcar track and a mainline railway at grade), and avoid Broadway traffic (such as the freeway intersection).

    It would be fun, and attractive, and some number of people would take it… but it would mainly be of advantage to entertainment venues and similar businesses, and shouldn’t be paid for with transportation funds. I can’t say I know what the biggest transportation needs in Oakland are, but I’m pretty sure replacing the perfectly-good 72-series lines with something slower and less effective isn’t it.

  3. Chris Kidd

    I’d like to weigh in more fully later, but just off the top of my head:

    Maybe dedicating lanes to streetcar traffic on Broadway will help move BRT forward, since a section of the route will already be dedicated to public transit.

    Streetcars can have strong placemaking effects, bring investment and raise property values along their routes. But let’s be honest with ourselves; we’ll be doing the above three things with a streetcar (and all the divisive issues that go along with them) and not actually improving public transit all that much. We shouldn’t ever let a streetcar get in the way of funding our real people mover, ACTransit.

    That said, if there’s money, let’s study/build it.

    LA’s a step ahead of us in trying to get a streetcar in their downtown. It may be instructive to watch the results.

  4. Ken O

    Hell yes I’d like to see a streetcar in Oakland. I am a train-chauvinista :)


    1. New streetcar lines always, always, get more passengers than the bus routes they replace.
    2. Buses, are susceptible to every pothole and height irregularity in the pavement (and in Chicago we have plenty). Streetcars ride on smooth, jointless steel rails that rarely develop bumps.
    3. Streetcars don’t feel “low status” to transit riders. Buses often do.
    4. Mapmakers almost always include streetcar lines on their city maps, and almost never put any bus route in ink. New investment follows the lines on the map.
    5. The upfront costs are higher for streetcars than buses–but that is more than made up over time in lower operating and maintenance costs. In transit you get what you pay for.
    6. There is a compelling “coolness” and “newness” factor attached to streetcars.
    7. Streetcars feel safer from a crime point of view.
    8. Steel wheel on steel rail is inherently more efficient than rubber tire on pavement. Electric streetcars can accelerate more quickly than buses.
    9. Streetcars don’t smell like diesel.
    10. Streetcars accelerate and decelerate smoothly because they’re electrically propelled. Internal-combustion engines acting through a transmission simply cannot surge with the same smoothness.
    11. The current length limit for a bus is 60 feet, but streetcars can go longer, since they are locked into the rails and won’t be swinging all around the streets, smashing into cars.
    12. Streetcars have an air of nostalgia.
    13. New streetcar and light rail lines usually come with an upgraded street experience from better stops, landscaping, new roadbeds, and better sidewalks, to name a few. Of course, your federal transit dollar is paying for these modernizations, so why wouldn’t cities try to get them!
    14. Perhaps the most over looked and significant difference between street cars and buses is permanence. You’ll notice that development will follow a train station, but rarely a bus stop. Rails don’t pick up and move any time soon. Once a trolley system is in place, business and investors can count on them for decades. Buses come and go.
    15. Streetcars are light and potentially 100% green. Potentially they could be powered by 100% solar and/or wind power. Even powered with regular power plant-derived electricity, they are still 95% cleaner than diesel buses. [Source? -Ed.]
    16. Streetcars stop less. Because of the increased infrastructure for stops, transit planners don’t place stops at EVERY BLOCK, like they do with buses (SEPTA in Philly is terrible for this). Instead, blocks are a quarter to a half mile apart, so any point is no more than an eigth to a quarter mile from a stop.
    17. People will travel longer distances on streetcars. At one point, in the 1930s, a person could travel to Boston from Washington solely on trolleys, with only two short gaps in the routes.
    18. Buses are noisy. I ride them every day in Chicago, and I am constantly amazed at how loud a diesel bus engine is–even on our latest-model buses [and] the valve chatter is an irritant to the nervous system. By comparison, streetcars are virtually silent.
    19. Technological advances already make the current generation definitely NOT your grandfather’s streetcar. Low floors are standard, for easy-on easy-off curbside boarding. Wide doors allow passengers to enter or exit quickly. So streetcar stops take less time than buses.
    20. Passengers can take comfort from seeing the rails stretching out far ahead of them, while ever fearing that the bus could take a wrong turn at the next corner and divert them off course.
    21. Once purchased (albeit at high cost) streetcars are cheaper to maintain and last way the hell longer (case in point, streetcars discarded in the US in the 40’s, snapped up by the Yugoslavs, which are still running).
    22. Streetcar tracks are cheaper to maintain than the roadways they displace.
    23. People get notably more excited about the proposed extension of the streetcar system and expect revitalization of the neighborhoods around the planned stops.
    24. Streetcars create more walkable streets. This is because streetcars, as mentioned above, are more attractive to riders than buses, which in turns prompt to more mass transit usage in general, which in turns prompts to more walking–a virtuous cycle that creates more attractive city streets.
    25. Most European cities and countries kept investing in public transit during the decades when America was DISinvesting. Now I look across the pond and see dozens of European cities extending or building new rail transit systems, including many streetcar lines, and conclude: ‘They probably know what they are doing; we should do some of that too.’
    26. You know exactly where a streetcar is going – but have you ever tried looking at a bus route map?
    27. Streetcars are faster than buses or trackless trolleys (aside from 2 lines in Philly, do any other cities run trackless trolleys, or trolley buses anymore?) because trams tend to have dedicated lanes. Even if they don’t, if they operate on streets with multiple lanes, people stay out of the tram lane, because it’s harder to drive a car along tram tracks (the wheels pull to one side or the other as they fall into the groove).
    28. In buses you’re still jostled by every pothole and sway at every bus stop. I thought bus rapid transit would be a significant improvement – there’s still a bit of sway and they concrete was not installed as smoothly as line of steel rail.
    29. With buses transit planners are pushed by funding formulas to capture every pocket of riders thus you can get a very wiggly route – something that’s less practical on a fixed rail system
    30. Buses lurch unpredictably from side to side as they weave in and out of traffic and as they move from the traffic lane to the curb lane to pick up passengers. In streetcars turns occur at the same location on every trip, so that even standees can more or less relax knowing the car is not going to perform any unpredictable lateral maneuvers.
    31. Most streetcar riders don’t consciously think about the differences between a bus ride and a streetcar ride. But their unconscious minds–the spinal cord, the solar plexus, the inner ear and the seat of the pants–quickly tally the differences and deliver an impressionistic conclusion: The streetcar ride is physiologically less stressful.
    32. An internal-combustion engine is constantly engaged in hammering itself to death and buses tend to vibrate themselves into a sort of metallurgical dishevelment. Interior fittings–window frames, handrails, floor coverings, seats–tend to work loose and make the interior look frowzy and uncared-for. By age 12 the bus is a piece of junk and has to be retired. A streetcar the same age is barely into its adolescence.
    33. Streetcar stops are typically given more attention than most bus routes and the information system is more advanced. In Portland, the shelters even have VMS diplays that tell you the times of the next two streetcar arrivals. This valuable information gives people the option to wait, do something else to pass the time, or walk to their destination.
    34. One great advantage of streetcars is that the infrastructure serves as an orienting and wayfinding device. The track alerts folks to the route and leads them to stops. Because they are a permanent feature of the streetscape, the routing is predictable and stable (unlike bus routes). So unlike a bus, a streetcar informs and helps citizens to formulate an image of their city, even if folks don’t ride it. It is a feature of their public realm. Because of this, these streets get greater public attention.
    35. When you ride one of the remaining historic cars in Toronto or San Francisco you can tell they’re “old” in the sense of “out of style,” but when you look around the interior everything still seems shipshape, nothing rattles, the windows open and close without binding. The rider experiences a sense of solid quality associated with Grandma’s solid-oak dining table and 1847 Rodgers Brothers silver. And that makes everybody feel good. Unlike, say, an aging bus.
    36. For those of you who cannot see the difference between a bus and a streetcar, I suggest riding a streetcar when you get the chance. Then, if you can locate a bus that more or less follows the same route, give that a try. Compare the two experiences.

  5. len raphael

    if you are trying to force people to use buses, why not provide a baggage/freight/package section on each bus like the airporter mini buses. maybe removable seats used for rush hour.

  6. Nicole Wilkins

    I agree that a street car seems a little silly. But the truth is that plenty of people who normally drive are totally unwilling to take a city bus anywhere, no matter how fast or easy to use. Those same people would be willing to take a street car b/c they’re sort of fun. Heck, I’m a carless person who goes everywhere via public transit, walking, or a bike and I still prefer to take the F line when I’m in SF because it is just sort of fun. So I could see how putting in a street car would encourage people to use transit when a normal bus wouldn’t.

    Having said that, I’m unclear as to how a street car from 14th street car to JLS would be useful. Is this intended for people just for people who are staying in downtown hotels? Because I’m pretty sure that if you’re driving between Bart and JLS, you’re driving in from out of the neighborhood. Now a street car going all the way up Broadway to, say, College? That might be kind of awesome.

  7. Art

    @Nicole, looks like they’re exploring JLS to MacArthur BART, not 14th Street—but agreed that connecting to College would also be great (c’mon, redevelopment of Pleasant Valley Safeway with a streetcar turnaround?? I can totally see that!)

    I like both buses and streetcars, but there is a difference in both quality of service and ridership. Take Boston, which has streetcars that date back to the early 20th century. One line has five branches, and in the 80s they shut down one of the five and replaced it with a bus that literally runs along the old streetcar route. Same transit agency, same route, theoretically same frequency, but very different performance from the other branches that stuck with streetcars. At the end of the day, having a dedicated lane and fixed infrastructure does give transit a leg up. Whether it’s worth the added cost is another question all together, though! (And true BRT would probably address some of these issues, too.)

  8. Ralph

    I use the following modes of transportation Bart, Muni, my dawgs, and car. And as proof of what Nicole said, I do not use AC Transist, but as silly as a streetcar seems, I would definitely ride a streetcar. In an ideal world, I would love to see a couple of street car routes, one which takes passengers from JLS to the Lake, another which shoots up Broadway. I am trying to figure out the benefit of a SC to MacArthur Bart.

    My gut tells me that the people of Upper B-way and the Lake would also find a SC to JLS attractive.

  9. Robert

    A streetcar connecting JLS with the rest of Oakland shouldn’t be thought of as an essential element of the transit network, but mostly as an attractive amenity to lure tourists to/from JLS, and as an amenity to help make Oakland more attractive to residents and business. And regardless of whatever the objective criteria may say, streetcars are found by discretionary riders to be far more attractive than buses.

    It would be important for the designers to take account of compatibility and extensibility issues during the planning. It seems like it would be important for compatibility with BRT so that duplicate stations would not be needed along Broadway for example.And future extensions such as along Telegraph to Temescal, College to Rockridge or even Berkeley, and up Grand to the Grand Lake Theater. If it went up Grand I might have a practical transit alternative to getting to Uptown or JLS from my home.

  10. Max Allstadt

    Every time the light rail vs. BRT debate comes up, I go back to the dutch airport BRT system that was linked to during the Oakland Airport Connector mess.

    Anybody have a link to that thing? It is everything to everybody! It’s got epic amounts of bling, it looks exactly like light rail, but it has tires, so if the route changes, we don’t waste money tearing out or laying in tracks.

    Plus, for those pesky hostage situations, I bet it’s perfect…

  11. len raphael

    Chris, I was only half joking about forcing people to take public transit, but i bet if one plied some of abo’s harcore public transit boosters with the right intoxicant, they’d say what’s wrong with fixing the mistakes of the past century by using fees and taxes to pricie people out of their privately polluting vehicles.

    By street car, i assume we mean something like SF where you can easily get off or on and it more open than a bus.

    if so, that’s physically much more attractive to middle and upper middle class types who don’t want to get stuck sitting on a bus next to mr or mrs stinky homeless person. to be harsh, they probably don’t want to be forced to sit next to someone who’s more than two notiches than the social ladder from them. maybe it reminds people how easy it is to drop down a few rungs. for all i know, this is true further down the ladder also.

    suppose you could achieve the same effect on a brt by running “premium” lines with leather seats, wifi etc which i think is done by private bus lines in NYC going to downtown areas.

    -len raphael

  12. Frankie D

    Our downtown streets are certainly wide enough to accommodate trolleys imagine this one extending from JLS to Downtown, Uptown and Lake Merritt, attached is an interesting article about the class aspects associated with using public transit in the US, this is changing now with some of the most desireable and expensive housing in walkable areas with plenty of transit options.


  13. Andy K

    Here is an article about the BRT in the Netherlands to the airport.


    If we are talking street car, why not just go light rail, and put it where people will use it – like Telegraph and International.

    One thing I like about BRT is that in theory, once installed, other bus routes could use the same right of way. So like with the BRT to the airport, it would be simple to have buses from downtown use the right of way on Hegenburger. With rail, any expansion has to use the same technology – which can be cost prohibitive.

  14. Max Allstadt

    Andy K,

    Thanks for that link. It’s not as slick as the system I was thinking of, but it’s good info.

    The BRT system I saw a few months back had a train-like nose on the vehicle, boarding with no step up, and an interior that looked like MUNI trolleys, but slicker. It was as much of a tram as it could be without having rails.

    Becks? V? Do you know what I’m talkng about?

  15. dto510

    While I support studying a streetcar, I would like to point that empirical evidence does not support the ‘rail is better than bus’ arguments that Ken I believe reposted from a rail supporters site. All of these arguments boil down to a few points that I would like to address here.

    In the US, BRT systems have a much better track record of success as measured by meeting expected ridership goals than light-rail or streetcar investments. Houston’s light-rail system led to an overall reduction in transit ridership and is kind of a disaster. Portland’s streetcar has not changed mode-share downtown, and it took several years for the streetcar to recover the ridership lost when it replaced faster and more popular bus lines. Today, Portland has a complete downtown circulator, yet its ridership only half of the 1/1R, which mostly runs through low-density areas. BTW, AC Transit finally has accurate ridership numbers, and they are pretty impressive (24k riders per day on the 1/1R, 20k riders/day on the 51, and 15k riders/day on the 72/72M/72R).

    Rail’s maintenance and operating costs are not significantly lower than a bus’s, because labor costs are the same, fuel costs are’t very different (electricity is not free, nor is it green), and maintenance costs aren’t lower either. Many of the perceived comfort benefits of rail have to do with street maintenance – urban rail requires well-maintained pavement because otherwise the rail cars can stall, but if bus lanes are maintained at the same level there is no bumpiness difference between rail and bus. The capacity and schedule efficiencies of removing transit from regular car traffic are the same for BRT as they are for rail.

    Finally, there is a perception that fixed rail investments generate more ancillary development than bus systems. In Los Angeles, high-quality bus and BRT systems have spurred significant development investment, while Houston’s rail line hasn’t led to any new development. A BRT system is a fixed-guideway investment with permanent stations that can signal the need for more investment just as well as a rail line can.

    While people may say that they prefer rail to buses, what people really prefer is high-quality transit that doesn’t get stuck in traffic. BRT is just as good as rail for this, and much cheaper. But we should look at a streetcar, because in this very dense context, it could make sense, and there may be unique opportunities for capital fundraising.

  16. Aaron Priven

    I think some of Ken O’s points are (understandably) confusing streetcars, which are generally small vehicles about the same size as a bus, and light rail vehicles, which are larger vehicles that can be connected in trains. Three full light rail cars can hold the same number of people as 4 or 5 buses, but use only one operator. That’s a great efficiency and definitely worth considering in very high usage areas. (At one point they were running buses 90 seconds apart on the Wilshire Rapid in Los Angeles, if I recall correctly. That’s somewhere it definitely makes sense to think about rail.)

    But streetcars hold about the same number of people as a bus, and take the same number of operators.

    I agree that the ride is smoother, and this does attract some number of people. Most of the other advantages are more a matter of planning — you can have a bus that stops as infrequently as a streetcar, you can have one that runs as directly as a streetcar, you can have one that runs on nicely landscaped right of way, you can even have one that runs on electricity.

    What should we be spending our limited funds on?

  17. Ken O

    Limited funds is a stickler.

    I’m all for BRT, don’t get me wrong. I simply have train lust. Trains aren’t always great of course — BART/NYMTA can be as bumpy as a used up, end-of-day Disneyland(TM) ride. In Japan/China at least, the vast majority of trains were silky smooth on their stainless steel swishers. I haven’t taken a train or bus in LA though I’ve been dying to. (I did check out the LA river though!)

    If funds are limited, Oakland should limit itself to funding amenities for Walking and Bicycling. Officially triage Oakland’s X miles of roads.

    How many square miles of public roads do we have? –vs– Can we afford to maintain? As the song goes “Bro, I got ta’ maintain”

    I say we tear out the aerial highways 24 and 980 and 13. Or use them for recreation and farming only. Those are towers waiting to fall. Move 880 underground in the Jack London area? The car underground Russian style.

    The ONLY roads which should be maintained in Oakland are the Oaklandish Tshirt streets: Bway-Tele-East14th-Sanpablo-Shatt-MLK + freeway exits + roads that lead to hospitals, food warehouse districts and our Port.

    All other roads can go to gravel/dirt purgatory.

  18. Navigator

    A street car system in Oakland has to be done as a tourism/redevelopment endeavor. The transportation aspect would be a secondary benefit. The main benefit would be the “cool factor” along with the charm factor.

    Oakland has so many possibilities to draw on the lucrative tourist trade. Can you imagine a historic street car system linking a new Oakland Athletics ballpark on Victory Court, next to the Lake Merritt Channel, with the downtown BART stations?

    From 14th & Broadway the street car would head south on Broadway with stops for Old Oakland and Chinatown, it would then make a left on 2nd Street through a revitalized Produce District full of restaurants, pubs, and jazz clubs, on the way to a stop at the ballpark at 3rd & Oak. The street car would then head up Oak Street to the Lake Merritt BART station, pass the Lake Chalet on Lakeside Drive, (this is one of the most scenic views in all of Oakland looking out on Lake Merritt) turn left on 20th street, with another stop at Kaiser Center connecting to the Lake Merritt Financial Center and Christ the Light Cathedral. The street car would then head to 20th & Broadway, which would be the “Uptown Stop” to link the FOX and Paramount. It would then head up Broadway to Pill Hill and the new Kaiser Medical Center before turning on Macarthur and on to the Macarthur BART station.

    Oakland has these beautiful, picturesque, charming and historic neighborhoods which need to be linked together in what would create a tremendous attraction for visitors. Picture the 12th Street Measure DD improvements at Lake Merritt. This is going to make Lake Merritt into a spectacular attraction. Oakland needs to show itself off and a street car system downtown would bring all the great attributes this city has to offer together with a charming, fun transportation system which would be enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

    Also, I was under the impression that there already exists a study regarding a street car transportation system on Broadway.

  19. dto510

    Navigator, there is a DTO streetcar study, it was a follow-up to the study that recommended Bus Rapid Transit along the Telegraph-International route. I think that CM Kaplan’s office has dug it up, it was never online and disappeared after a pessimistic meeting at the Congestion Management Agency in 2003, which I attended. The streetcar study looked at going through Chinatown and having two lines. There is a modified Oakland streetcar proposal based on the 2003 streetcar study at SFCityScape.com. I don’t think the study got very far into feasibility and other details, so a new study would be required anyway.

  20. linusalf(baseballoakland)

    Both DTO and JLS has a classic charm to it that I think has the potential to drawn from the surrounding areas. A streetcar would tie into this perfectly. While BRT may be a very efficient in getting people around and I am not opposed to it, a street car can be more of a draw and giving people with $$ a draw and more reasons to spend in Oakland.

  21. Navigator

    DTO, Thanks for the link. It’s quite interesting. The waterfront extension to the future Oak to 9th development definitely makes sense. However, I’d run the line all the way up Oak Street passed the Oakland Museum and then make the turn on 20th heading for Broadway. There is no way that Lake Merritt or the Lake Merritt Financial Center should be omitted in favor of a 12th Street route back to Broadway.

  22. Steve Lowe

    Oakland has so many possibilities to draw on the lucrative tourist trade. Can you imagine a historic street car system linking a new Oakland Athletics ballpark on Victory Court, next to the Lake Merritt Channel, with the downtown BART stations?

    Navigator, your dreamscape is likely to remain just that unless you can identify a champion on Council who is willing to twist arms, win friends and influence people from ABAG on down to CEDA and make it happen. When I first began here in 1973 to work on the Old Oakland project, we would always show a streetcar going past the project on Broadway in our model. Never enough money…just wait until this or that happens…when BART is fully operational…when your District Councilmember is voted out…Wait until I’m Mayor…etc., the same old stuff you’ll hear until you’re as old as I am and can finally turn down your hearing aid enough to the point where you don’t have to listen to the blather anymore.

    The plan to revitalize the Produce Market and move the produce wholesalers out onto the Base has been before all these same guys for years (specifically, 14 years since official adoption by Oakland–Sharing the Vision), but the real deal is that there’s money enough flowing into every candidate’s coffers to influence practically everyone on Council to tear the whole place down, even though it’s an API, so that more highrise can be built directly adjacent to that practically empty, obviously out-of-place Ellington thingamabub now jutting out on Broadway between 2nd & 3rd. Now, some folks will say around town that the real reason is that someone did something wrong along the way – maybe didn’t use a civil enough tone in an official letter to some policymaker or other – and that’s why the City never got behind the effort to save Oakland’s historic (c. 1916) Produce Market, but the reality is that the development community for the past several years has wanted highrise built there, and as long as Jacques Barzaghi and his ilk were in charge of the City’s official Enemies List, guess who got listened to when it came time to plan the Waterfront, not the heritage alliance, that’s for sure. And those lists don’t go away either, because scuttlebutt has a way of metastasizing into institutional memory when it pleases this or that developer, politician or department head.

    What’s really happened in this country is that political factions have all retreated back into their snail shells and are unwilling to cooperate with one another to ensure the public good. Sabotage and snark are faster ways of forcing change than gaining a reliable consensus, just as negative campaigning has proven more effective than projecting any straightforward plans for improvement. So if you want to help plan the route for a streetcar – and see it happen faster than the near 35 years that geezers like me have had to wait – ask your favorite Councilmember to create some sort of Citizen Advisory Group and make sure that its recommendations are both unanimous and timely enough to receive federal stimulus funding prior to the departure of this Mayor, otherwise there will very likely be no voice for Oakland back in DC at when check cutting time rolls around.

    Will the trolly go up as far as the Fox where we have an opportunity to create a retail-jammed, Union Square-like center for Oakland? Or should we continue to let Forest City dictate how our downtown should look through infrastructural default?

    As to the new ballpark, let’s hope that the MLB decisionmakers are as visionary as you are and can see Oakland thriving in a few short years because citizen clamor will not only demand trollycars this time around but a more reasonable transportation grid for the entire City. Otherwise, they’re likely to take the same kind of view that MTC already has and snuff us out like Boss Tweed’s cigar butt.

  23. Drunk Engineer

    “What should we be spending our limited funds on?”

    BART and the MTC nearly got away with blowing $500 million on an airport _cable car_.

    $500 million = 50+ miles of streetcar track.

  24. Navigator

    Steve, I agree with you. This town has way too many naysayers and to many plans which are never implemented.. We need people with vision who can get things done.

    Why not get that 500 million which we derailed from the BART extension and build a trolley system in Oakland similar to the old Key Route street cars which ran from College and Piedmont all the way to downtown? This town has a whole lot of energy to stop things from happening but not much energy in MAKING things happen.

    Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel should be all over this. A ballpark on Victory Court linked to a street car with connections to four BART stations would energize Jack London Square, the “no man’s land” between Chinatown and the edge of Lake Merritt, along with increasing the possibilities to save the historic Produce District as a tourist and entertainment area full of restaurants, pubs, and jazz clubs. A ballpark on Victory Court is the linchpin which would bring 30,000 people on 81 dates per year through Jack London Square, the Produce District and Chinatown.

    Oakland talks a good game but nothing ever happens. With the exception of a visionary like Phil Tagami who had a wonderful vision for what the Fox Theater could mean to Oakland, this town is full of naysayers. Let’s get that money which we gave up to the region, back to Oakland. Let’s get a street car system in Oakland which will join the various downtown neighborhoods together and make Oakland a tourist attraction to the huge Bay Area tourist industry. Oakland sits back and gets peanuts from this huge industry as if Oakland offers no compelling attractions or attributes. Oakland is FULL of possibilities and yet we have people living in this town who have an inferiority complex about their own city. Let’s wake up and get something done. No more excuses.

  25. Steve Lowe


    Part of the problem is lack of unanimity from constituents, leading to claims of confusion from those policymakers whose real agenda can remain thus free from view. To gain consensus, a public process has to begin and enough folks have to commit to it, as opposed to sitting back and taking potshots at it – otherwise the real. well-paid potshooters who work for this developer or that special interest will be able to keep the trolly, Produce Market, ballpark, whatever, off track.

    The Mayor – despite all of Chip Johnson’s invective – has authorized several Task Forces to help democratize the decisionmaking process here in Oakland, and though many actively dislike Ron for beating Ignacio, the fact is that he’s in office and trying to make things work – and will defer to vox populi. So, as all of the Task Forces were in synch about greening the Port, hiring more Oaklanders for City-subsidized projects, creating a more vibrant downtown, etc., the greater task now remains for those who want to see your dreamscape realized (with maybe one or two changes here and there) to take the official Task Force Recommendations and build off of them so that the man can have a mandate to stand behind when he’s back in DC trying to get federal doll;ars iunto Oakland. That’s his expertise, so let’s use it – rather than continuously carp about why he isn’t as perfect as this or that doppelganger wannabee in sheep’s clothing.

    There’s this guy Breualt whose letters to the Tribune always get printed even though he has absolutely nothing positive to say about anything (other than his own smug pronouncements) and always something crummy to say about Oakland and its political leadership. In my decades on this planet, I’ve never seen anyone so perfect at anything that their total success rate tallied at anything more than maybe 50% at best. Just about every Senator you can name has had some sort of boondoggle associated with his or her name, and God help them if they’re ever in a position where the swiftboat crew can launch a broadside.

    If you want it done right, check into what’s there and help build to make it better. Zach Seal is going around now to every community group he can arrange to meet with and explaining how the trolly will work. Great guy and lot’s of enthusiasm for a project that could still have its pinfeathers plucked by a tightfisted MTC or ACTIA or Vity Council, etc., so you’ve just got to become an ally and help see to it that he’s not forced to fumble because the vision of some ostensibly smarter Doofus-Come-Lately wants to derail everything all over again.

    [As to the Fox, at least some small credit accrues to the stalwarts at FOOF (Naomi, Joyce, Pat 'n Pat, Judith, Leal, Erika, et al) for all the work they did c. 1999 in setting up the whiffle ball for Phil, Jeff and even Jerry to knock out of the park. I think Phil did a great job – as he did so wonderfully with the Rotunda – and when the history buffs are finally finished fingering through how it all came to be, maybe FOOF will gets its due, too.]

  26. Ralph

    Steve, people do not actively dislike Ron for beating Ignacio. They dislike him because he is useless. The only thing he is trying to make work is his bank account after giving away his federal pension to his first wife.

    He is incapable of making a decision. He does not communicate with the residents. He was absent when a 10 year old boy was struck by a stray bullet. I’d be surprised if anyone knows what if anything these taskforce have produced. Heck, that he believes that we need 101 taskforce is a bit disturbing. 400,000 people are not going to agree on one thing. Someone needs to be a leader.

    I look forward to the day when this clown (note to len, i did not call him cottontop) is no longer in office and we have an executive with a vision and the brass to implement that vision.

  27. Navigator

    Steve, You’re correct about the Fox. There are others who helped that project come to fruition including Naomi. However, I wonder how many of the usual naysayers put up a big fight.

    Ralph, I agree that we need more energy from our Mayor. He hasn’t been as visible as he should have been or as much of a cheerleader for the city as he should be. He wasn’t proactive on the A’s and basically allowed Lew Wolff to pacify him as far as the “hopelessness” of keeping the A’s. Now, it seems that the Mayor has changed his view from the previous “flight of fantasy” talk on the possibilities of keeping the A’s in town.. To be fair, he isn’t the only one in Oakland to sell the A’s off to San Jose. There are a some in Oakland who have sold out to Lew Wolff.

    I will say this. I feel that part of the personal attacks on the Mayor are over the top, and have racial overtones. Also, It’s obvious that Chip Johnson has a personal vendetta against Ron Dellumns. As far as Dellumns not showing up when Christopher Rodriguez was struck by a stray bullet , I vaguely remember him making statements in the media regarding that horrible crime.

  28. Ralph

    Nav, I’d be interested in seeing these attacks that have racial overtones. I’ve talked to former cottontop supporters, who span the race spectrum, and all are pretty much disappointed with his performance. They were expecting a big shining knight (why I don’t know) and got a Marion Barry less the crack and ho problem (i’ve no idea why people did not see this coming).

  29. Antonio

    BART conducted this study on a streetcar line in 2004:

    It never got off the ground because the affordable plans were deemed to small to be very effective, and the larger track plans were considered too expensive. In general BART’s models are more of a circulator than an actual transit solution with the same pitfalls of things like the Seattle Monorail and the Detroit People Mover, they just don’t really travel far enough to be that useful. Bart’s proposals though rather weak do suggest several practical ways to fund such a project using private public partnerships based on other cities.

    A much better model (though without the numbers to back it up) is this route put forward by sfcityscape.com:

    This map represents a real transit solution, effectively connecting Jack London and perhaps eventually Oak to 9th’s shopping and population to BART, as well as connecting to the Kaiser Center and Piedmont Ave. to BART. Even if just the green line were built it would be a great boost to the image, commerce and livability of downtown Oakland. In any case the perception coolness and safeness that streetcars have that buses conspicuously lack, would go a long way to encourage more transit discretionary ridership, which would help commerce by encouraging foot traffic and maybe even modestly (existing Van Hool AG300 60ft articulated buses have a capacity of about 100 passengers while modern streetcars 10 T3 have a capacity of 170 passengers). While AC Transit is not really as bad as many people make it out to be, it is pointedly ineffective at getting people to use their buses when other transits methods are available according to an internal survey http://www.actransit.org/pdf/planning_focus/planning_focus_182.pdf
    Nearly 60% of all AC Transit riders are of low or extremely low income (p.8) and 60-70% have no alternative to public transit for mobility(p.10,20)

  30. Antonio

    On another note I find it hard to believe streetcars are still considered economically inefficient solutions with the success of the Portland streetcar and such a wide variety of cities now considering rebuilding their lines. It is telling that cities like Cinicinnati, Detroit and LA, are considering modernizing they transit systems faster than a major Bay Area city:

    See a complete list of proposed projects here:

  31. Steve Lowe

    Well, having been here in Oakland for going on four decades years (we bought our first building in what is today Old Oakland back in 1972 – 73) and trying to work with all sorts of policymakers from all over the political spectrum, I just have to say that I think having Ron Dellums here is a real plus if you stack up his accomplishments side by side with his various predecessors. At some point, someone is going to add up all the funding that’s arrived here from DC since Ron began making Oakland’s case to key friends and colleagues in Congress who regard him as anything but “worthless.” How many other mayors have met on a fairly regular basis with Obama and members of his cabinet almost since the onset of this administration?

    I confess to knowing not much about his personal finances, but he obviously hasn’t made a whole lot of money, like some others, due to his political connectivity with mega-multinationals, big time developers, etc., so I’d guess that he’s more like you or me, prone to difficult choices about spending what where. If there’s someone out there who hasn’t deferred payment of taxes for a certain amount of time because their budget was so tight that it made more sense to incur a penalty and squeeze through a hard time until a certain payday further down the road could offer relief, then that individual must be a for-sure saint or something, because he or she is that unique. But if Chip says the man is Satan himself, it must be true – gosh, unless Chip is some kind of mean-spirited, vindictive, vicious little stoat who’s toadying for some Limbaugh-like partisan agenda…you think? When he openly said in his column that he hoped Ron would fail, it pretty much channeled Rush’s comments about Barack back about a year ago and showed everyone what stripe he was wearing.

    Areas of Dellums’s decisionmaking is flawed, I agree: mostly in that he’s too damn loyal to the people he’s asked to be on his staff, thinking that some of them, even though they live in San Francisco, might actually care about Oakland – mostly because they say they do, I guess. One guy seemed eager to hop on BART over to Frisco every night, relieved to spend his high-end salary anywhere else other then here. But then, a lot of people lie right to Ron’s face, knowing that there’s that trusting side to him that they can take advantage of. I think that’s why some of the people closest to him try to keep him away from the press, knowing that, given the editirial bent of the particular reporter, there will likely be some sort of clever little trap set to trip him up with. But come on, why did he have to fire Edgerly in whom the previous administration had placed such trust? Why bring Batts aboard, or are all the Dellums haters clinging to the arcane belief that Don Perata engineered that hire?

    I just don’t get the constant stream of criticism unless it’s because we’ve become so enamored with splash and dash in our celebrities that we just can’t believe that this Strong Mayor process that he inherited can exist without some sort of daily sensation.

    So, I was on the Port Task Force and, unlike previous efforts to critique our near-perfect, totally isolated, but somehow on the brink of failure anyway Port, we were able to provide a list of Recommendations that, by the end of this year, ought to be in full force and effect. Maybe not too many people have been keeping up with the Port lately because community process is of supreme indifference to the media, yet here we are with (a) a fenceline resident already on the Port Board (fought strenuously by a Council claque of powerbrokers for no good reason), (b) a Citizens Advisory Board most likely in place by mid-June (fought strenuously by staff for no good reason other than to “protect” the Commissioners right to remain aloof), and (c) a study to show whether a Regional Port Authority would be of benefit to Oakland (still being fought strenuously by just about everyone who thinks that “we’ll lose control!” but, because the State is likely to take over anyway after this horrific year of more and more layoffs – and still more to come – we have little choice but to take the extraordinary step of looking out to starboard for once instead of through our rose-colored portside porthole).

    I’d be interested to see in print any objection to those Recommendations which came about only because the Task Forces met for months on end and came up with commonsense decisions where, before, way too much head-in-a-hole-in-the-sand thinking existed. Some people write off such Board-generated smugness to the kind of mere anal retentiveness that all Commissions bask in, but if that’s the case, let’s just imagine a head not in-the-sand but maybe elsewhere in the anal area if all we’re going to get is a collapsed pier instead of the foundations of a better economy.

    Anyway, that was the work of just one of the Task Forces, and slowly but surely we’ll get the rest done too – Council permitting, of course. (It’s eerie to think that certain Councilmembers now want a whole brand new task force of their own to figure out whether we’re doing enough to hire Oakland residents in City-supported projects, when the Workforce Compliance / Hire Oakland Task Force already formally presented ts Recommendations to the Mayor, and he then to Council. Let’s see: Council doesn’t believe that the citizens who participated in WC/HO were smart enough to figure out a sensible policy because those individuals weren’t hand-picked by Council and were basically, ugh, volunteers? Or is it that anything the Mayor does has to be fought just like the (is it really all white?) Tea Party Poopers fight Obama over everything? My guess is that it’s a little bit of both; people push against this guy because they know he’s not vindictive (like you know who), so they think that they’ve got a right to cut and undermine as viciously as they can, no matter what the overall benefit to the larger majority of Oakland citizens may be.

    No? Someone please explain why the appointments of Ada Chan, Mike Lighty, Margaret Gordon and other proposed Commissioners were fought so hard when it’s perfectly obvious that these individuals are intelligent, hardworking, worthwhile, civically-involved, first-round draft picks. When that’s been explained to any reasonable extent, then maybe I’ll start to think less of Ron Dellums, but until then, keep on a-carpin’.

  32. Robert

    Just a note for all the streetcar haters out there, the BART report Antonio linked to suggests that the capital costs for each new rider on a downtown streetcar would be similar to or even lower than the capital cost for the transit advocates favorite solution, BRT.

  33. len raphael

    Hard to take Johnson’s opinions seriously, pro or con. For the longest of times he was gung-ho supporter of our mayor, then he gradually decided our mayor was the main impediment to progress around here. As a 90 year old buddy of mine who used to work in JFK’s administration puts it: Dellum’s performance in Congress was mediocre, and when you look at how the base closing was handled, harmful to Oakland.

  34. David

    Mediocre in Congress? Wow, you’re kind. Dellums was/is a nutcase socialist who squandered his entire Congressional career hanging out on the race-baiting, hard-core Marxist wing of Congress (Pete Stark, Maxine “crazy” Waters etc).

    And give me a break with the racist crap. Again, when are you all going to realize that “racist” has pretty much lost all its meaning when you’re charging a black moderate/liberal columnist (Chip Johnson) with being Rush Limbaugh in a KKK sheet for criticizing the black mayor of a city with 30ish% black population. Get real and get another ad hominem attack, cuz “racist” ain’t workin no more.

    One thing I’ll say about Dullums is that he started out terribly and actually has gotten a bit better. But, as he should know, first impressions count, and I don’t think he has it in him to overcome the first impression of him as a race-baiting (remember it’s white people’s fault for crime in Temescal?), but lazy dilettante.

  35. dk

    as an answer to the question i would offer an emphatic “yes!”

    i’m very glad to see at least a couple posters here- -DTO510 (11 Mar @ 5:45P) and Antonio (14 Mar @ 1:16P)- -are familiar with BART’s JLS study (from 2003-2004- -my, how time flies) and SFCityscape’s oakland streetcar proposal. i was at a JLS feasibility study meeting held at the pacific renaissance plaza in december 2003. (SFCityscape was also in attendance, and maybe Steve Lowe, too. mr. Lowe?) there was also a representative of shorenstein present who seemed supportive of a streetcar, though i was not clear on who exactly he was or whether he held any position of influence at the company. if the city is seeking a public-private partnership to fund streetcar construction…

    anyway, for anyone interested, check the link below for the first three chapters of the study linked to by Antonio several posts above. it touches on some of the other options under initial study, most notably an infill station on the M-line between west oakland and the washington street portal and a single-station shuttle spur between 12th street station and JLS. (the shuttle option was deemed infeasible because of the high capital cost, but the idea of an intermediate JLS station on a 12th street-to-alameda (-and beyond!!!) line was deemed worthy of further study (but was outside of the scope of this particular study)).


    getting back to the subject of the streetcar, i think linking oak-to-ninth, amtrak/JLS, and broadway (as SFCityscape does) is key to a solid streetcar proposal. my ideal line (IOS only… heheheh), which would operate both historic and modern streetcars, would veer off broadway onto telegraph, head by the fox (picture this: “fox theater by streetcar” a la MSR posters), then turn onto 20th street and serve the uptown “transit” (not until it gets rail!) center. the line would continue along 20th street to the lakefront where it would turn onto grand avenue bound for a terminal in the vicinity of splash pad park.

    returning from fantasyland, i would love to see something substantive (i.e., tracks on the ground) result from this go-around. but i wouldn’t bet on it.

    V Smoothe: i tried posting a few days ago (before DTO510 beat me to the punch), but was post-blocked by the spam filter for having a post that was too “spammy”. i think the problem was that my post had too many links (couched in ‘a’ tags). is my assessment correct? is there a limit to the number of links one can include in a single post?

  36. hedera

    I went through this at the speed of light, so I can’t claim to have read all posts in detail; but I’m fascinated by the numerous references to streetcars as being “new” and “cool.” Cool they may be, but if you think they’re new, you don’t know your Oakland history. We live in Rockridge, and our house was built in 1917. As far as I can tell, Rockridge was developed about then because it was at the top of the Broadway street car line! Back to the future we go…

    I don’t really know why they tore up the original streetcar tracks but it probably is related to the reasons they shut down the Key System, and that’s a whole other story.

    Personally I’d be happy to see a streetcar line if it would come all the way up Broadway to 24. Stopping at MacArthur wouldn’t help me at all.

  37. Steve Lowe


    As to streetcars, they are are a huge plus for retail development, but without a champion on Council they just ain’t a gonna happen in this budget-minded world. So link them into the bigger picture and, in unanimity, compel our policymakers to take a new interest in the reatil crossroads of the East Bay.

  38. Ralph

    Has anyone suggested and/or proposed a streetcar running across San Pablo? I would think that if you could get a street car on San Pablo you might be able to spur economic development and keep pace with what is happening at the border. This of course would require some cooperation with Emeryville, but it would be nice to see. I also like adding the line that runs up telegraph to the berkeley border.

    And Steve, with all due respect it isn’t like Q-tip had a high barrier in terms of Federal $. It wasn’t until recently that Oakland had a real mayor. This dimwit was also the chair of Hillary’s Urban Policy Committee. A remarkable achievement for a man who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. And has done little in terms of Urban Policy. Heck Luther Mahoney was more in tune than this clown.

    Len, people should be allowed to change their mind especially with the ever-growing evidence that they were wrong in the first place. Using your logic, the ordinary resident who has changed their opn of Q wouldn’t be worth listening to either. Dum-dum’s incompetence should speak for itself. {done}

    What Oakland needs right now is another J West Martin. He cut through the bull to get stuff done.

  39. len raphael

    Ralph, my dismissal of Johnson’s journalism, is that he over personalizes the problems of Oakland, as if Dellums was ever our savior or is now our Satan. I’d put his comments on RK in the same category.

    His column reads like a sports column instead of coverage of Oakland city politics, let alone government.

  40. Ralph

    Len, it isn’t like Chip is a journalist; he is a columnist. His beat really isn’t Oakland politics/government; it is Oakland. I am convinced that the Chron only keeps him because he adds just enough eyeballs to keep them from hiring someone who actually takes the time to research his work.

  41. Nathan

    As a transportation planner, I’m often frustrated by these discussions. A streetcar as a cute rolling urban object is one thing. A streetcar as an actual mode of travel requires different consideration. I’m posting to raise questions, not state answers.

    The most important question in developing transit is where do people want to go. From which Points A to which Points B do they want to travel? Surprisingly, this question is often neglected or slighted as people get caught up in enthusiasms for their mode of choice, be it streetcar, personal rapid transit, or whatever. Having adequate right of way is a neccessary condition for modes that are going to dedicate right of way–like a streetcar or Bus Rapid Transit. But right of way is not a sufficient condition, the right of way is useless if nobody wants to go there. This is actually a mistake that transit agencies have made repeatedly–they build light rail lines where there is space rather than where people want to go.

    Once you have some idea where people want to go, and some reasonable notion that existing transit service in that market needs improvement, then you can think about how to do it. How much would it cost to provide service using different modes? How fast could each mode go (e.g. streetcars are generally slow)? How much ridership is it likely to attract?

    You also have to think seriously about what’s possible. Would the city really dedicate a lane of Broadway downtown to streetcars? They’re far more of a fixed presence than buses, but the city hasn’t wanted to create a bus lane downtown. I don’t know the answer to this question, but it’s an important one to raise

    You’ve also got to do apples to apples comparison. Somebody argued that streetcars are no more costly than Bus Rapid Transit. I’m not sure that’s right, but it’s irrelevant, even if it is true. Bus Rapid Transit is a long distance, line haul mode–the proposed East Bay BRT is 16 miles long. Streetcars are a short haul, distributor mode–covering something like 2 or 3 miles. BRT can be compared against light rail, streetcars can be compared against downtown circulator buses/shuttles.

    My understanding is that comparison of rail and bus service with the same characteristics–same speed, same frequency–shows about a 10% greater ridership for rail. That’s not trivial, but it raises the questions of whether the additional cost and disruption of rail is worth it.

    One other point–streetcar advocates often cite the success of the Portland Streetcar. And they should–it’s a great little ride in a great city. Portland built literally thousands of units in an old industrial district around it, something unlikely to happen in Oakland. These advocates don’t mention the empty streetcars running in Tacoma or around South Lake Union In Seattle. The 3 cases taken together show that putting a streetcar out there is not a magic bullet, you need a market of people who want to ride it.

    As I said, I want to raise questions, not answer them.

  42. david vartanoff

    coming late to the party, butrr…
    , @ Nathan First, outside of transit plannerspeak, streetcar includes “light rail” so your citation of the several lines in the PNW needs to include Portland MAX as well which tips the balance back toard success. Besides, right across the Bay we have streetcar/lightrail mixed together which although despicably managed/operated attract huge ridership.
    Second, I totally agree that ANY proposed transit service must first identify existing origin/destination pairs or, TOD to be built along the proposed ROW which will attract riders.

    That said, I also agree w/ several previous posts that rail is universally better by my aesthetics than bus, all other things being equal). As to routes within Oakland, the streets w/space are (no surprise) the former Key System streets–B’way, San Pablo, E143th, University, some parts of Shattuck, Tele, Claremont, etc. The misdesigned BRT traces back to a multi modal study which at least considered rail though mostly claiming it would be too expensive. They did NOT look at any “nrew” routes or radical changes to existing alignments.

  43. Drunk Engineer

    “Bus Rapid Transit is a long distance, line haul mode–the proposed East Bay BRT is 16 miles long. Streetcars are a short haul, distributor mode–covering something like 2 or 3 miles. BRT can be compared against light rail, streetcars can be compared against downtown circulator buses/shuttles.”

    Well, this is just a load of nonsense. And you call yourself a “professional” planner?

    Outside the US, we find many examples where streetcars are the backbone of the transportation network (100s of thousands of daily trips). Here is Prague (to use one example):


    But would such a network make sense in Oakland? That obviously depends on a a lot of factors, but let’s at least understand the technology first.

  44. Daniel Levy

    I think I heard that the Uptown/JLSq streetcar in the BART study could have been built for something like $50M, maybe $70M now. In the study, they configured the line so that they would have to buy as little land as possible. They had the ingenious idea of using the land next to the BART subway entrance near JLSq as a small storage yard for the vehicles. One option for the line would be to it run into Frank Ogawa Plaza, possibly going down the 16th street alley next to the rotunda building, then turning right looping around to back broadway (but maybe it should stop at 14th street for now since that would be a lot cheaper).

    Check out http://www.oberail.org for more info on east bay transit history and to see where some of the key system lines ran.

  45. Drunk Engineer

    The BART study was clearly set up to fail, for the same reason that all MTC/BART rail “studies” do.

    Any study of streetcars should be done by an agency with vested interest in the outcome, and capabilities to implement the project. Unfortunately, that is not City of Oakland either (who can’t be trusted to build or run anything). It would have been nice if AC Transit were doing it, but they have hard enough time just with BRT.

  46. Nathan

    Call them what you will, there is a difference between the large, heavy rail cars that travel long distances (which are customarily called light rail in this country) and the small, light rail cars that travel short distances (customarily called streetcars),. In Portland, the MAX light rail cars which travel long distances are very different from the Portland Streetcar vehicles. Indeed, the advocates of the Portland streetcar, rightly or wrongly, cite the differences in vehicle as part of the streetcar’s success.

    The point is that analysis of longer distance, line haul travel markets is a different thing from analysis of local, circulator markets. The fact that a given mode or service succeeds or fails in one situation does not guarantee that it will succeed or fail in another.

  47. Antonio

    I agree that a fixed guideway system does face the problem of correctly choosing its alignment between real and lasting areas of interest. There are good examples and poor examples of this. I would suggest San Francisco’s Muni metro lines are relatively successful because they employed and extended the historic streetcar line that existed in the city which were already integrated with population and commercial centers. San Jose VTA (apparently Tacoma’s street car as well) is a good example of a system which consistently gets low ridership for its size in part because the lack of historical precedence of its alignment. Because Oakland was in many ways built around the historic Key System streetcar lines by the Key System in a clever real estate marketing scheme, the major transit corridors in Oakland are relatively stable. David Vartanoff mentioned some of these routes, generally the really wide streets. They are common and generally have centers of interest and population built around them. I would argue that while there is no large plot available for redevelopment in downtown Oakland there are large areas (Uptown, Jack London and Oak to 9th) which have already been redeveloped or are in the process of being redeveloped. There has been little response from the transit system to these projects as of yet. In addition there are a lot of scattered parking lots and under utilized downtown buildings that seem very suitable for infill redevelopment. It would be unrealistic to suggest anything like the Key System could or should be rebuilt, but using streets like Telegraph, Broadway, Park and Macarthur to connect downtown to the near periphery by some means other than buses seems like something worth considering.

    My attraction to streetcars is more technical than aesthetic though I do think they are attractive vehicles. Modern streetcars are able to move one of the largest amounts of people in the least space for the least energy and their overall maintenance costs are typically lower than equivalent bus service with similar capacity. This essentially means that a well placed/used line will have lower environmental and monetary costs than comparable transportation methods, such as a large articulated bus.

    I would also argue that before the 50s and outside of the US, streetcars and what we’d now in the US call light rail are nearly indistinguishable. Historically large street cars like the Los Angeles’ Red Cars and the key systems transbay bridge units (interurban rail) essentially functioned as both light rail and streetcars, but even the local lines were often city wide or larger. Internationally, perhaps most notably in Europe and Australia streetcars function as long distance transit arteries, and not circulators. While I understand that light rail usually has dedicated right of way with larger and faster rolling stock and typically makes fewer stops, the idea of a streetcar as solely a circulator vehicle and not a long distance mode of transit is a recent and predominantly American concept. While Portland has had great success with what is essentially a circulator loop, I’d argue that it is a transit route as well as circulator, being a 40 minute walk from end to end. In the future it is going to be made more of a line and less of a loop with the Lake Oswego extension. While there are perfectly legitimate arguments why there are few remaining large scale streetcar systems in the US, such as auto dominated roads, the idea that street cars are only useful as circulators seems erroneous to me. As David mentioned Muni metro which functions as a combination street car style mixed right of way and light rail style dedicated right of way, its also does not really travel that fast on average (9.6 mph according to wikipedia), yet it is extremely successful. The key seems to be choosing an alignment which is somewhat faster than the alternative modes of transit between consistently popular destinations. Muni Metro’s case suggests that providing a useful alignment is far more important than the trappings of vehicle type as most of the Muni Metro lines were built before 1925 and ran streetcars until the 1970′s.

  48. Drunk Engineer

    “The idea of a streetcar as solely a circulator vehicle and not a long distance mode of transit is a recent and predominantly American concept.”

    That’s because American contractors are #1 in the world for gold-plated infrastructure.

    Why do a $1 million/mile tramway if you can sell a $50 million/mile LRT?
    Why do a $10 million/mile conventional rail if you can sell $250 million/mile BART?
    Why do $1 million/mile BRT if you can sell a $150 million/mile airport connector?
    Why do a $25 billion HSR system if you can sell a $60 billion project?

    The whole enterprise is so unbelievably corrupt.

  49. Robert

    Nathan, you are right that the goals of a transit project need to be understood in order to design it correctly. But the goals of a transit project are seldom (never?) limited to just getting people from A to B. Other frequently cited goals are environmental (energy) and congestion reduction. While these may overlap with moving people, they are not identical. For example, rail systems have lower energy costs, and at least in CA, have a far lower greenhouse gas footprint, even if they both serve the same people moving goals.

    Major transit projects also need to consider economic and aesthetic impacts. While these again overlap with other goals, they are certainly not identical. For example, I have visited a lot of cities in this country on business and fun, and never has a concierge suggested that I take the public bus to get somewhere, whereas they have on occasion suggested the train or streetcar. This is much more an aesthetic consideration that a people moving consideration.

    All these goals need to be openly discussed and weighted in order to come up with a proper transit/transportation design. A streetcar in DTO is likely to have more benefits in attracting both business and tourists than a bus system, even if both provide equivalent transportation.

    Once the goals are properly understood and weighted, then the discussion can properly be about whether the benefits are worth the additional cost.

  50. len raphael

    Patrick, i don’t know if city council can issue bonds without getting 2/3 approval, but i think they need approval from the state to issue the bonds. Regardless, they would have to pay a usurous rate to get investors to buy essentially “general obligation” junk muni bonds that would not be secured by a specific source of revenue such as parking tolls, sewer fees, etc.

    at the peak of the financial meltdown, you could buy (i think) merced irrigation district bonds at a discount that effectively yield 14% free of all state and fed tax. in oakland’s one and a half feet on a banana peel fiscal condition, investors would be looking at a city that has to take out a second mortgage to cover it’s living expenses. that worked for nyc 40 years ago, but nyc was too big to fail.