November 12, 2013

Once nearly extinct, streetcars getting new life

Many U.S. city planners are convinced that old-timey cars tethered to overhead electric cables, or their futuristic descendants, ignite economic development in a way that buses cannot.

By Jason Keyser
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Johnathan Sainski, 2, points out his favorite streetcar to his grandmother Anna Sainski during Kenosha Streetcar Day outside the Joseph McCarthy Transit Center in Kenosha, Wis.

The Associated Press

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Passengers board the Johnstown (Kenosha) streetcar during Kenosha Streetcar Day in Kenosha, Wis.

The Associated Press

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Before the two-mile streetcar loop was laid, the downtown “was very dark,” said Joe Catuara, standing outside his bustling hot dog shop — aptly named Trolley Dogs. “Now it’s lit up more, there are businesses.” A row of shops, bookstores and cafes borders one side of the line.

The annual ridership of about 50,000 isn’t large, but that may not matter, said Mayor Keith Bosman because the aim is to create atmosphere, much like public art, more than just transportation. He said the line helped hook the developer who put hundreds of new condos on the site of the old demolished Chrysler plant.

The city plans to double the system beginning as early as next year with a new leg that would help take in 85 percent of the downtown businesses, as well as residential areas and a hospital, with the goal of luring more offices and housing downtown.

For now, the antique cars — drifting past almost empty and with a ghostlike whine — seem mostly an aesthetic touch, offering a burst of color against the dazzling blue backdrop of Lake Michigan.

Some are unimpressed. It’s a “trolley to nowhere,” said Pat Lawler, 83, sitting on a downtown bench. “In Kenosha, people drive their cars.”

Still, the streetcars have soaked into the town’s fabric. The old cars with their rounded edges and original bulbous light fixtures appear in street murals and in black and white photos on the walls of downtown shops, and each year the town holds a streetcar festival.

“It makes a bigger town seem smaller,” said Jenna Hass, 29, who pays $1 to ride the streetcars with her 3-year-old son, Tyler, between museums or just for fun.

On a recent outing, streetcar mechanic Brad Preston let his red- and cream-colored car linger so a woman leaning from a minivan could take a photo.

“We get that a lot,” Preston said with a grin.

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Additional Photos

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Work continues on a $133 million streetcar project recently in Cincinnati. More than $23 million has been spent demolishing buildings, moving utility lines underground, tearing up streets and laying the first part of the 3.6-mile track.

The Associated Press

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Wendy Larsen, third from right, sits with her granddaughter Madison Larsen, 7, and Madison’s aunt Dana Larsen, right, all of Kenosha, Wis., as thety enjoy a ride aboard the Cincinnati streetcar, one of several brightly colored antique trolleys that the city has re-introduced to its city streets to help reinvent the city and fill its depressed downtown with life.

The Associated Press

 


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