Monday, January 5, 2009

Streetcars for redevelopment

Several things have come to mind in the past few days.

First, the thought that a streetcar/light rail system could help pull Lexington and the rest of the nation out of the economic quagmire in which we find ourselves. Surely not, you say.

No. Not by itself. Not as a single effort. But as an essential cog of a larger effort, yes I think it can. It can not be a limited system serving a small section of downtown, but as a city-wide system reaching all the far-flung sections of population and destinations. It should be centered on the downtown, but not as a cross-hair or central station concept, but as an encircler of the business core. Think of the Ringstrasse and substitute the streetcar for the driving lanes. These would circle downtown about one or two blocks off Main and Vine Sts. That would mean Second or Third on the north, High or Maxwell on the south, the new Newtown extension on the west and a combination of Ashland, Walton or Midland etc. on the east.

Two streetcars, one running clockwise and the other running counter-clockwise would circle the downtown on a regular basis. Now, add to this a series of outward circles of routes. For example, a route running out Richmond Rd to New Circle Rd., around New Circle to Liberty and back in to Winchester Rd/Third St. and in to join the ring around town until reaching Main/Richmond and heading out again. Other similar ring routes would progress around the city, the outbound leg using the previous routes inbound leg, providing two way traffic on all inbound/outbound legs of all routes. Ideally no one should be more than three blocks or so from a streetcar line. Another set of ring routes would continue outside of New Circle Rd, at reasonable distances, until the urban area is covered. Some south-side areas may need to have a series of smaller ring or figure eight loops arranged in order to fully cover the residential areas.

This would be no small feat to accomplish and would need the backing of the Federal government, but if we subsidized transit the way we do roadways it is do-able. President-elect Obama has indicated that his administration will encourage and fund more mass transit projects.

Secondly, with systems similar to this in other cities and states, the steel industry, which has seen orders fall sharply lately, would be called on to supply the rails and rolled steel for car bodies and wheel sets. The auto makers by retooling to produce streetcars could be inundated with orders. The power companies would have to upgrade the entire statewide power grid in order to supply the electricity. New pylons and towers with wires and cables again helping the steel industry. More power generating capacity and distribution will require more design and production personnel. We have one of the premier rail service companies in the US in our own backyard, right down Nicholasville Rd, in the R.J. Corman Co. All of this means jobs.

Thirdly, and last, where two or more of these ring routes meet, there is the possibility of transit related development (TOD) . Some of these sites are already in decline or dead (i.e. Lexington Mall, Turfland Mall). Retail redevelopment of a mall site would not normally constitute a TOD, but adding some New Urbanist elements or large amounts of residential and deleting the auto centric design features similar to this Natick Mass. mall could revitalize some of our recognized underutilized property.

As big as this proposal sounds, it is just a first blush glance at how Lexington and a streetcar system could help lead an economic stimulus for the whole nation. Does anyone want to help flesh this thing out? Help push this to the powers that be?

Give me some feed back.

No comments: