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Winston-Salem Streetcar Plan

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By Victoria Cherrie

JOURNAL REPORTER

The city's transportation staff is starting the second phase of its study of whether to resurrect streetcars downtown.

The first part, which began last year, showed that streetcars are feasible in Winston-Salem. Whether a system is worth the $130 million it will cost, and who would pay for it, are among the questions to be dealt with in the study's next phase.

The city will use a $140,000 federal grant and about $35,000 budgeted by the transportation department to pay for the second part of the study.

The study will include more public involvement, such as workshops, and will look closely at what routes would work best in Winston-Salem. It will include conceptual plans for tracks, said Stan Polanis, the city's transportation director. Another goal is to estimate ridership and determine what effects a streetcar system would have on utilities, he said.

Winston-Salem had an extensive streetcar system in the early 1900s but, as in many cities, the tracks were abandoned as more people began to drive cars.

Most of the original tracks were covered by street paving and are still found by construction workers today. Modern streetcars typically use trams, which are guided by rails in the road and powered by electricity from small overhead lines.

The first phase of the study recommends that the city bring back the cars in phases over several years, saying that the work could be paid for with various foundation funds, bonds, parking fees, federal grants and possibly a tax increase.

City officials and downtown leaders have researched how light rail has succeeded in other cities, such as Portland, which paid for its own system with federal grants, private money and money from property owners who benefit from being on the routes. Light-rail lines are seen as a long-term and permanent investment that drives economic development.

City Council members Vernon Robinson and Robert Clark voted against continuing to study the issue, the only people to vote against it when the issue was approved 6-2 by the council last week.

"In my opinion, there is a select market that wants this and that's it," Clark said. "I think the study is 10 years too soon."

Proponents of a "light rail" system in Winston-Salem say that a benefit would be the connections made between downtown and such places as the Piedmont Triad Research Park and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

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The firm hired to plan the routes, select the cars, and estimate the cost did the image. I'm very excited about this. The first line will only cost $34 million to build. Some exploratory work is being done on the old tracks on Second Street now. The whole system will consist of lines named after colors connecting colleges, research and development companies, historic sites, sports facilities, and neighborhoods to Downtown-Midtown. It will connect the whole city like nothing else and is exactly the transit system we need. We had one of the nation's first streetcar systems and one of the biggest in the southeast at one time. When you walk around the victorian neighborhoods you can see the lines in worn areas of the streets. The streetcars were repaired and stored at Third Street where the H. Ward United States Federal Building now stands. Our old neighborhoods need the streetcars they were built around to return.

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I agree that our old neighborhoods do need the streetcars to return. The streetcar developers built most of our great Victorian neighborhoods and they used the streetcars to connect the neighborhoods to downtown. I have seen the streetcar tracks and the cuts made to look and check the condition of the lines in Holly Avenue Historic District. The west line of the system connecting Ardmore, Hawthorne Hill, Westview, and West End to Midtown and Downtown will go through Holly Avenue Historic District on Second Street.

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STREETCAR STUDY will go into its second phase after the City Council approved continuing to explore this method of transportation. The first part, which began last year, showed that streetcars are indeed feasible in Winston-Salem. Part two will explore the cost and level of interest with more public involvement being planned. One goal will be to estimate ridership and determine what effects a streetcar system would have on utilities. The City Department of Transportation is overseeing the project.

THE INFRASTRUCTURE COMMITTEE of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership has formed a Streetcar Subcommittee that will be chaired by Steve Mason, President of Geoscience and Technology, Inc. Current action items of the sub-committee include the recruitment of new members from organizations and businesses served by the proposed streetcar route, monitoring the progress of the City DOT study and make recommendations to the Infrastructure Committee. Anyone interested in serving should call the DWSP office at 354-1500 or e-mail Mr. Mason at [email protected]

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I want to be a part of this. Like I said this is a unique system in the Carolinas. The CATS trolley is nothing like this. This will run on the streets beside the sidewalks along with the street traffic. It will replace city buses. It will have its own tracks in the road surface. It will be a new contemporary design system with streamlined railcars. It will connect everything in the city to the core and its attractions. It will open the city up to convention goers and tourists. It will make getting around town so much easier. It is great when you can see the tracks and see the streetcar coming. They are also so much fun to ride! I was talking to a friend at work and I agree with him that this will make our city look almost European with the old architecture and modern streetcars.

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I've searched high and low for a while and the last update I have found for this system is the announcement of the phase II study back in November 2004. I believe it is about time for them to move forward and provide another public update.

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These sorts of studies take a LONG time. You don't pay a consultant $175,000 for a study that's a "quick few page report.

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Maybe we should un-ban one of Matthew's alter-egos. We could at least then here some creative stories about the planning sessions.

In all seriousness, I hope they move forward with this. Almost all rail transit (and yes, I KNOW this would be more of a tourist/people mover type system not a serious mass transit system) should be built with an eye on the future, and what it CAN develop rather than the current need.

I think this project is more like the streetcar system of New Orleans, and could really add some flair to the neighborhoods around downtown.

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Maybe we should un-ban one of Matthew's alter-egos. We could at least then here some creative stories about the planning sessions.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Haha, you win the cigar.

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Joking aside, I went searching for information on this system and I did find one lead, though I don't know if it is up-to-date. The WSDOT 2030 Long Range plan mentions the streetcar study and says that new information should be available in late summer 2005. :)

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Revised Streetcar Route Links Downtown, Hospital

With an initial workable route proposed, engineers will begin focusing on the other aspects of the project including exactly what it will cost, how to pay for it and the number of people expected to ride it. Estimates now call for the first phase of the project to run between $40 million and $50 million to build and cost about $2.5 million a year to operate, engineers said.

The revisions cut costs by shortening the route and disturbing fewer underground utilities, consultants said.

Keeping costs as low as possible would make it easier for the community to support the project, Hales said.

This is great- talk about tying all of the best stuff going on in Winston in one fell swoop! There's going to be some skepticism, but the numbers in Charlotte that the trolley has created are undeniable.

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This is a great piece of news, and I'm glad there's a map to go with it. I hope Winston-Salem can pull it off. Even though the streetcar doesn't use a dedicated ROW, the fact that it's rail and not tire greatly enhances its image amongst most people. I suspect many more good things will follow if they secure funding and build it :)

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There's going to be some skepticism, but the numbers in Charlotte that the trolley has created are undeniable.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Just curious, are there any ridership numbers for the Charlotte trolley? I heard that the first month or two exceeded expectations, but what about now?

I think it will be great for Winston by the way.

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Just curious, are there any ridership numbers for the Charlotte trolley?  I heard that the first month or two exceeded expectations, but what about now?

I'm not sure. The website is www.charlottetrolley.org

The numbers I was referring to was the amount of private sector development which has occurred along the Trolley line in Charlotte, which I belive is over $400 million dollars. It has nearly doubled the value of South End real estate.

This, in turn, is increasing tax revenue to the city.

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For heaven's sake, lets get these trolleys rolling. lol My hair is turning gray waiting for better transit options. No seriously, glad to hear things are moving along in W-S. I do hope we can see some trolleys on track in the near future. Greensboro too!

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This is interesting news. It will be also be interesting to see the plan that Winston comes up with to pay for the trolley as that will have great effect on when and if it gets built. The current Trolley in Charlotte was built completely with local funding, volunteers and donations.

The upcoming light rail line is being paid for with a 50% grand from the Feds but to get this, they had to come of with 50% local funding. Charlotte had to pass a special tax to pay for that part.

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Charlotte trolley is more of a touristy thing. There aren't that many people who need to get from Atherton Mill to the Comedy Club every day. <_< I see it go by every morning with the driver and flagman, and maybe one or two people on board.

Don't take the ridership totals too seriously. I think it includes a lot of promotional (free) passes.

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Charlotte trolley is more of a touristy thing. There aren't that many people who need to get from Atherton Mill to the Comedy Club every day.

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I walk over the tracks every morning near Ried's store. Never seen more than a few riders in it at 9:30 am.

Yes, maybe I have seen it about 1/2 full on a Saturday. Parents taking kids on it for something to do. Cheaper than a movie.

Oh well, it isn't about Winston. Threadjack over. :whistling:

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charlotte trolley's ridership is great, and vastly exceeds expectations, but it definitely isn't being used as a commuting tool. The revenues have been below estimates, which does seem to indicate that a lot of riders are using the promo passes (i never used them, but they sent me 4 free tickets in the mail). I actually try to overpay when i ride it, as i really want it to be perceived as a success in every way.

It is absolutely packed on weekends, and i think at various times during week days, with families and school kids.

The winston proposal seems more analogous to charlotte's planned modern streetcar plans for Trade Street, Central and Beatties ford (and a few other spurs). These would be much more friendly for commuters as they are faster, have higher capacity, and don't need a flag man get out and dance at every intersection.

Hopefully winston can get this off the ground. It would be nice if it were enough of a success that they could extend it incrementally to 5pts, and then down Stratford to Thruway and eventually to Hanes Mall. That way, they could help focus some redevelopment energy and redeem that road from commercial highway hell.

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The Journal has an update article on whether having streetcars in the downtown area of Winston. They are solicting comments from readers.

Personally, I like streetcars. The quiet steady ride and non bus like feel is one I appreciated when I lived in Toronto and Germany. I think with all of the new development on Fourth St, a line there will add immense value to the properties. Sitting on your balcony, drinking your morning coffee and seeing a streetcar glide below says to you that you are truly living in an urban environment.

Still, the cost-benefit analysis for a streetcar is still negative until there is more residental density along the routes and that people use it for all of their downtown travel for work, shopping and the like. Recent developments like One Park Vista and the Civic Plaza while high profile do not really bump up the urban density by too much. It is when the proposed line crosses into the West End that there is sufficent density to provide the basis for ridership. Furthermore, the Piedmont Triad Research Park right now has only 700 people working there, a long way from the 10,000 or so projected to work in the area when completed. Not enough to justify being an anchor destination for the line.

Perhaps, a streetcar line is premature now for Winston. When the current downtown development projects are completed and some supporting businesses like retail and entertainment in the Arts District become more prevalent, then the economics of a streetcar should become better.

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