APTA Streetcar and
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Heritage Trolley Site
Hosted by the Seashore Trolley Museum


The street railway was a major catalyst of urban development in the last half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th. Streetcars provided mobility that enabled workers to reach their factory jobs while living further than walking distance from their places of employment. They enabled growth of suburbs and then brought people to city centers in sufficient density to support the development of department stores, major league sports, large theaters, and even created America's classic amusement parks, where streetcars could take workers on weekends.

But the decline of American cities in the 20 years after World War II was paralleled by the decline of electric streetcars. Paved roads and affordable autos sent workers and often jobs further from downtown, and buses were developed that could transport the few who couldn't afford cars, but consequently helped give public transit a down-market image.

But a renewed interest in America's downtowns, spurred in part by ever-longer commutes on traffic choked arteries, and by the soullessness some found in suburban life, served to reverse that trend. 

Remarkably, the electric streetcar has again emerged as a catalyst that helps encourage redevelopment of often-derelict downtown neighborhoods, but more importantly encourages a density of development that makes the neighborhoods they serve efficient in land use and highly desirable places to live.

Since the pioneering second generation downtown streetcar lines began to appear in the mid-1980s, there has been an ever growing appreciation of the roles they can play in helping focus redevelopment.

This web site and its sponsors are dedicated to sharing information about the streetcar resurgence in America and to providing technical guidance that can help ensure safe and effective employment of streetcar technology in 21st century cities.

Streetcars are energy efficient and the electricity that powers them can be generated from domestic, renewable sources. The permanence denoted by the track installed in street pavement and the power wire erected above encourages developers to concentrate their investments near streetcar lines. The close spacing of streetcar stops means that development can be spread along a corridor, not simply clustered around a rapid transit or light rail station.

The fact that streetcars—be they first generation cars, replicas, or modern designs—can operate in mixed traffic with automobiles and run at relatively low speeds makes them suitable to share urban streetscapes with both pedestrians and vehicles.

Though modern streetcars resemble smaller versions of the light rail cars used in a growing number of cities, the key distinction between the two is that light rail lines tend to bring passengers from suburbs to downtown while streetcars circulate passengers among downtown locations. As well streetcars typically stop every few blocks and operate in mixed traffic while light rail stations are further apart, stations are much larger, and they infrequently share lanes with motor vehicles.

Consequently streetcar lines tend to cost about one-third as much per mile as light rail systems and are much less disruptive to an urban environment as they are built. Streetcars are well suited to carry passengers brought from suburbs by light rail, heavy rail or buses to their destinations throughout a downtown area. This provision of high quality transit for the final part of a passenger's journey makes the entire system more effective.

Though those cities that have pioneered second generation heritage trolley and modern streetcar systems over the past 20 years have been able to cite considerable anecdotal evidence of economic development along the lines, only recently have benefits been quantified. The below table, prepared by Reconnecting America, helps to quantify the impressive record in four cities with new streetcar systems:

Streetcar systems do not necessarily increase the amount of development in a downtown area, but they do make the development much more effective. Neighborhoods along streetcar lines are more likely to be high density, to offer a mix of commercial and residential uses, and imply to developers that they can build higher densities with fewer parking spaces.

Follow this link for an overview of heritage trolley lines as prepared in 1998 by Jim Graebner:


Overview of heritage trolley benefits prepared for Little Rock



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