Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gray issues statement refining, clarifying position on streetcars

Following questioning from concerned citizens and from NewsLanc at the October 14 meeting of City Council and his public statement at that meeting that the streetcar on display at the corner of Chesnut & Prince Streets is "public art," Mayor Gray on Tuesday read into the record the following statement, of which NewsLanc has obtained a paper copy:

Mayor's Report To City Council
October 28, 2008

Report On Status of Possible Streetcar in City of Lancaster

As you are aware, the Lancaster Streetcar Company, a non-profit entity led by a cross-section of dedicated community volunteers, recently placed a streetcar on the City property located at the corner of North Prince and West Chestnut Streets. The streetcar will be there for several months in an effort to encourage discussion regarding the possible future use of streetcars in the City. Due to its placement, some have wrongfully concluded that the City of Lancaster will now have streetcars without the prior study or public discussion necessary to make that determination. The following calls to the public's attention the facts as to the actual current status of streetcars in Lancaster.

In 2005, the Red Rose Transit Authority completed a study concerning streetcars in Lancaster. This was done under the direction of then Executive Director Jim Lutz, who was a strong supporter of the concept. I reviewed that report and concurred that a streetcar would greatly benefit transportation, economic development, and tourism in the City.

In 2006, a representative of the Brookings Institution examined the streetcar concept and lauded such a system as an economic development driver. With this in mind, the Strategic Plan adopted for the City of Lancaster includes the goal of increased mobility to "make it easier for pedestrians and vehicular traffic to access the core and surrounding neighborhoods." The Strategic Plan directs us to "encourage alternative transportation to automobiles." One of the alternative forms of transportation suggested in the Strategic Plan is streetcars.

Around the nation, the concept of streetcars has been explored in many cities and implemented in others. In those cities where streetcar systems have been implemented, such as Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, the streetcars have been a success and have led to additional economic development and expansion of the original systems. As a concept in New Urbanism, streetcars continue to be a growing area of interest.

The concept itself, I strongly support. But prior to proceeding, adequate planning and study must be done to assure its success. Thus, I support the following course of action:

1) Initially, we must analyze the economic impact of a streetcar system to determine if it is viable and sustainable. I have sought federal funds to conduct a study that will measure the economic impact in terms of both improved efficiency in the movement of people (User Benefits) and improved economic productivity (Community Benefits). An analysis of User Benefits would measure improvements in travel time and traffic safety, reduced congestion and vehicle emissions, and other overall cost savings. The Community Benefit analysis would measure how a streetcar system would impact the local economy, beginning from the initial economic stimulus that occurs with construction and continuing through to the cost of operating the system. A Community Benefit analysis would also examine long-term growth and productivity of the local economy as measured by increased employment, income, and property values.

2) Second, an engineering study must be done to determine the impact of a streetcar system on the City's infrastructure. We must know how a streetcar system would affect our streets and our sewer and water lines. We must also examine the accessibility of electric power to operate the system.

3) Third, if these two studies indicate that a streetcar system is viable, I would require that a financing plan be in place to show that such a system would be sustainable without reliance on City taxpayer dollars. Many private sources have been approached for naming rights and other methods of supporting the system thereby making it sustainable. Without this demonstrated sustainability, I would be very hesitant to proceed with such a line. If the above conditions were met, I believe we could then begin to put the system in place.

Needless to say, at each juncture, public input from City residents would be invited and discussions will be held as to the advantages and disadvantages of such a system. As shown, there is much work to do prior to any final decision regarding the construction of a streetcar system in the City of Lancaster. I continue to support moving ahead with the aforementioned studies, believing that if these steps are taken and questions are answered in the affirmative, such a system would be not only a great transporter of people, but also a significant economic development driver. I hope our City residents take the time to examine the streetcar currently on display and think about whether such a new/old form of transportation has a place in today's Lancaster.