Los Angeles was home to the world's largest electric streetcar system before it became the car capital of the world. Now, the city may get a dose of deja vu, at least in its booming downtown area, according to the L.A. Weekly.

The city approved a ballot measure that would free up about $62.5 million in local funding by way of property-tax assessments on land parcels on or near the proposed line, which would run about four miles through various downtown districts. That would provide about half the funding needed to get the line up and running, the L.A. Weekly said, citing the nonprofit L.A. Streetcar Inc.

If all goes well (but let's face it, this is a public project, so all rarely goes well), construction may begin as soon as 2014 with an opening date sometime in 2016. LA's old Pacific Electric "Red Car" system was the world's largest of its kind in the 1920s and once had 900 electric trollies using more than 1,100 miles of track throughout Southern California. The growth in popularity of the automobile during the ensuing decades cut into the Red Car's user base, and the trollies stopped running in 1963.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 26 Comments
      2 wheeled menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      They will probably find an endangered frog hanging out near where the railways would be put in and cancel the entire thing. Or there'll be lawsuits for 10 years and then it'll get canceled.
      throwback
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why not dedicated bus lanes?
        GR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @throwback
        There are some dedicated bus lanes in downtown now. But streetcars/subways tend to have less of a stigmatism to them than buses do in LA (ie: homeless and/or weird people ride the buses in LA). Plus as mentioned above, streetcars a quieter.
      Levine Levine
      • 2 Years Ago
      Electric buses provide the same transportation needs as light rails while providing much more flexibility and cost. Because the domestic electric bus industry is not well developed in USA, there is no lobby or political benefit to be had. The LA light rail project is primarily motivated by a light rail manufacture already providing them in LA, public-works building contractors, and trade labor unions as no private enterprise would consider operating a money losing business. Today, there is not one single public transit system in the world from America to Europe to USSR to China to Japan, whether light rail or subway or buses or bullet train, operating at a profit. Even the fabled cable car system in high population-density San Francisco operates at a lost. They all exist and subsist on taxpayer money. During the past two decades, LA had constructed various subway and light rail lines that stretch from Hollywood to Long Beach. Not one of those lines reach the ridership figures projected in their project report. Not one of those lines ever made a profit. Nevertheless, LA found reasons to build more light rails and California wants 90 billions for a high-speed rail connecting the Bay Area to Southern California. During Governor Jerry Brown's administration in the 70s, he and his transportation appointee Adriana Giantucco(sic) initiated and subsidized Amtrak passenger service between SF to LA to San Diego costing $600million per year in the hope of kick-starting train ridership along the busiest air transportation corridor in the entire USA. The fiasco remains, today, the costliest transportation experiment in California, if not the entire USA. Undeterred and defying logic, LA has successfully sold light rails to its residents despite the city's financial crisis. As a wise salesman said to customers, "We lose money on every sales but we make it up on volume."
        Ziv
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Logically, I agree with you Levine. The problem is that people aren't logical. I don't know any white collar worker that is willing to ride a bus. I know several that ride bikes, but not one bus rider. But if you slap steel wheels onto what is essentially a bus, or an articulated bus on busier routes, the same people will stand in line to hop aboard for fun and for commuting, all the while reminiscing about their month in Prague. That is the problem that kills bus routes every time in the US. People hate them and will not ride them unless they simply can not afford any other transit option. Buses are actively un-cool and trams/streetcars are kind of geekishly cool. The only way to make buses work is to make cars even slower than they are.
        Marco Polo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        @ Levine Levine The worlds largest tramway (Street-car) network, the privatizely operated, 'Yarra Trams', of Melbourne Australia, operates at a profit. This profit is despite the network growing in size significantely.
        Joeviocoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        With PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION... there is an indirect macro economy! You cannot look at it from a micro economic perspective of, "companies making profit" Mass transit benefits the economy in ways that cannot be easily or even directly measured. Getting people from their homes in residential neighborhoods to their jobs in commercial districts (or even industrial) and allowing customers to travel freely through shopping districts.... GENERATES TAX REVENUE that is not directly tied to a single company's 'profit margin'. Public transportation is an economic boom that DOES pay off... but only if you think of it from a city-planner's point of view. And the money is not easy to track.
      Marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      Any visitor to Melbourne, Australia can ride on the largest Tram (Street car network) in the world ! Trams are not really suitable for cities with narrow winding streets, but LA would benefit enormously from this form of Transport. A small levy on the price of petrol, or parking, would raise sufficient money to run the system without charging fares. This would make the system a definite urban asset and boost the systems popularity. Cars and Street cars cohabit cities very well. All it takes is the Desire ! (sorry, but that was irresistible:)
      onyerleft
      • 2 Years Ago
      What cut into the Red Car's user base was not so much the "growth in popularity of the automobile", but the 1930s General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy. GM, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, and Mack Trucks decided the streetcars were a threat to the profitability of the automobile, so they bought them and junked them. They'd still be running today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_Streetcar_Scandal
        Marcopolo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @onyerleft
        @ onyerleft That's what comes of selective reading. Did you miss the parts of the wiki article where these myths were refuted ? Conspiracy theories are a great American tradition ! Sadly the truth is far more mundane. GM and collaborators were not convicted of 'destroying Street cars', but for trying to monopolize their replacement. All over the world Street car systems were abandoned, along with trolley bus lines, because with the advent of suburban sprawl, urban decay, and lack of versatility, tramways became very expensive to maintain. Most of the Tramway systems were built, not a transport ventures, but to sell real estate. Once all the real estate that could be serviced by Trams was sold, the services became uneconomic and with the passage of years, very high maintenance costs. One the private companies either went broke, or relied on public subsidies, cities were left with the burden of an anachronistic expensive underutilized, service. Buses seemed a much better option. Only a few cities, kept their networks, either for tourist sentimentality , or because of unique conditions. None of the tramways that were bought would be running today, since most had already filed for bankruptcy, or were heavily in deficit. The GM led cartel was only interested in public transport licenses to operate a bus monopoly. Gm and it's cartel, simply saw a business opportunity to replace an unpopular and dying transport system with their own products. That would have been ok, but the GM led cartel tried to monopolize the replacement bus services by subterfuge, and secretly exclude all other competition, contrary to the Sherman Anti-trust Act.
          Val
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Marcopolo
          Name ONE city in europe that has had electrified transport and has abandoned it. And just as a fact check, the suburban sprawl you speak of is typically an american thing. Because there was no suburban sprawl in big european cities, there was no urban decay (at least not due to people moving to the outskirts of a city in single family houses with backyards). There is simply not enough land in europe to do that. And no government program after the war to build 2 million suburban homes for the veterans. Which led to the boom of the automobile industry and the 6-lane highways, something non-existent in europe even today.
          carney373
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Marcopolo
          Val, European governments would have been pressured by their electorates to do what American governments did - that is enable suburban "sprawl" via zoning, tax, and highway policies - if European city dwellers at the time had faced the same demographic realities that Americans did. "White flight" in Europe took the opposite tack in many cities - it's the suburbs ringing Paris that are heavily or exclusively minority, run-down, crime-ridden, etc. while the central city is prosperous and desirable.
      paulwesterberg
      • 2 Years Ago
      Streetcars seem like they would require a lot of expensive infrastructure while carrying less people than a bus. Also streetcars generally require 2 staff members which increases costs per passenger. If you are going to pay for infrastructure(rails etc) the system should carry more people - in amsterdam they have long bendy electric trams that run on rails. These carry more people than a bus and only require 1 operator with an automated ticketing system. Otherwise it seems like electric buses would be just as clean and carry more people on more routes with less new infrastructure costs.
        Marcopolo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Modern street cars also have only one operator !
      EZEE
      • 2 Years Ago
      'If all goes well (but let's face it, this is a public project, so all rarely goes well),' Well said. A bit snarky, but well said. :-)
        ElectricAvenue
        • 2 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        <sarcasm> Whereas of course all projects in the private sector always go according to plan, on time and on budget. </sarcasm>
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @ElectricAvenue
          Electric - as the resident right wing extremist (I starved 3 children today while keeping the black man down), I agree with you 100%. The whole 'privatize profit but socialize loss' is nonsense.
          Val
          • 2 Years Ago
          @ElectricAvenue
          You have only the government to blame for the bailouts. No matter how big or powerful a private company is, it cannot vote a bailout for itself.
          Actionable Mango
          • 2 Years Ago
          @ElectricAvenue
          Private companies basically do vote bailouts for themselves. They do so by: 1) Directly and indirectly funding the campaigns the politicians who actually vote. 2) Swapping between public and private sector jobs so their buddies with the politicians who actually vote. 3) Doing favors for the politicians who actually vote. 4) Writing the actual bills (yes, really) for the politicians who actually vote. 5) Even intermarrying with the politicians who actually vote.
          throwback
          • 2 Years Ago
          @ElectricAvenue
          The difference is it's not tax payer money so if a company goes over budget, the shareholders take the hit.
          ElectricAvenue
          • 2 Years Ago
          @ElectricAvenue
          "The difference is it's not tax payer money so if a company goes over budget, the shareholders take the hit." Yes, unless the company is bailed out by taxpayers. And you know *that* has never happened. :-)
      ElectricAvenue
      • 2 Years Ago
      They are not talking about streetcars in the sense of the small vehicles you see in those pictures. They are talking about modern articulated light rail vehicles. See http://www.streetcar.la/planning/70/what-does-it-look-like As to "why not buses?" If you're talking about diesel buses, then there are lots of reasons. Noise and pollution to me are big ones. A light rail vehicle two to three times the capacity of a bus (but only one operator) means the possibility of far fewer operators per passenger. The fact that the rails are right there in the street is also a major advertisement for the service. It says that this is a service which is not going to just be yanked or reorganized tomorrow. (It's just yanked once in a generation. ;-) )
        ElectricAvenue
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ElectricAvenue
        Oh, and ride quality. That's a big one. I meant to say that first. Those things ride and corner as if they're on rails!
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ElectricAvenue
        Thanks for the picture, those trams do look like they hold more people than a bus(similar capacity to a bendy bus?), but the trams they use in Amsterdam look a little longer.... https://eo.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dosiero:Amsterdam_Tram.JPG It looks like this is just proposed for downtown short destination transit to supplement the metro.
        throwback
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ElectricAvenue
        There are electric buses available that would not require the infrastructure build up that light rail would. One or two charge points, plus the buses and you are good to go.
          ElectricAvenue
          • 2 Years Ago
          @throwback
          Yes, that does sound good, but... available? Battery-powered buses with quick charging are a new thing, I don't think that they have been built in quantity anywhere yet. There are still advantages to rail, regardless. For starters, hauling a couple of tonnes of batteries around with you is expensive. And, again, route permanence and ride quality...
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