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.
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.