Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pitching Streetcars

The Rotary Club of Lancaster listened to a presentation on the idea of trolley cars for downtown Lancaster at their weekly meeting Wednesday.

The speakers at the event were Tim Peters and Jack Howell who direct the Lancaster Streetcar Company.

The Streetcar Initiative is "composed of many important leaders from many important organizations," Peters explained by way of introduction.

They propose installation of a streetcar system in downtown Lancaster that would run "from the AMTRAK train station down North Prince Street to Vine, across Vine stopping at the Visitor's Information Center, and then coming up Queen past the Convention Center, up Queen Street, returning to the AMTRAK station where it started," according to Peters.

"We've even daydreamed about extending it to Park City or to McCaskey," he said.

"One of the things that the streetcar will do," Peters continued, "is pull together a lot of the separate, disparate places and activities downtown."

"Imagine a visitor to the Hotel and Convention Center asking the concierge what's downtown," he said, going on to explain that the Concierge could then direct that individual to the streetcar just outside, which would take the visitor to any of a number of city attractions, which could also include Fulton Operahouse and Clipper Stadium.

"Studies have shown that people will only walk about 3 blocks to get somewhere in the city," Peters pointed out.

He indicated that many other cities including Memphis, Little Rock, and even nearby Media, Pennsylvania have implemented streetcar systems with success.

Peters said a streetcar is preferable to a bus because "a rubber-wheeled streetcar would require replacement every 5-7 years," "it will not attract the corporate sponsorships we're seeking," and "it would not send the message of permanence like a rail."

"With a bus," he said, "you're never sure it's going to come by."

According to Peters, the total cost of the project will be $20 million and the Streetcar Company is currently petitioning both the Federal Government and the State of Pennsylvania for grants.

The Streetcar Company would be the primary operator of the system, although Red Rose Transit would also be involved.

Peters said, "We're looking for 3 and a half to 4 million for the naming rights to the system."

In response to a question about why they expect the streetcar system to attract any more riders than the current Red Rose buses, Peters responded, "we have several constituencies we believe will use the system," pointing out that its ridership would be produced by its various popular downtown destinations, including Clipper Stadium, the Convention Center, and the Amtrak Station. He revealed that the Streetcar Company also plans to construct an "intermodal" trolley station and parking garage at the AMTRAK station.

Another listener raised concerns about congestion.

Jack Howell responded that the Trolley Car should actually help relieve downtown congestion. "Which would you rather have?" he asked, "this?" (he held up a model of a streetcar) "or this" - he tossed a handful of change from his pocket onto the stage, apparently to signify automobile traffic.

Peters suggested that streetcars are "working in other cities" and pointed also favorable results from a telephone poll Franklin & Marshall College conducted about resident attitudes toward such a proposal.

Tim Peters served as President of the Rotary Club of Lancaster from 1993-1994 and Jack Howell is also President of the Lancaster Alliance, a consortium of local business leaders who seek to invest in the future of Lancaster.