INC NEWS - Streetcar system resurrection gains traction (Herald-Sun)
bwatu at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 30 09:22:25 EDT 2008
Streetcar system resurrection gains traction
By Ray Gronberg, Herald-Sun, 30 Oct 2008
Neighborhood activists, architects and environmentalists have banded together to push the idea of resurrecting the streetcar system that linked residents to downtown Durham in the early part of the 20th century.
Supporters have been meeting quietly over the past few months and are talking up the idea with officials in the city government, with Duke University and with Triangle Transit.
The next step is to see if there's enough interest to assemble an ad-hoc committee to drum up more backing for the project, said Jeff Ensminger, a southwest Durham resident who's involved in the effort.
Ensminger and another supporter, Old West Durham Neighborhood Association leader John Schelp, said the discussion so far deliberately has avoided settling on specifics such as routes and technology.
"We don't want to get locked down early on [things like] routes," Schelp said. "We want to talk about ideas and get as many people involved as possible."
But the impetus for the discussion is clearly a wish to link downtown more closely with outlying neighborhoods.
One suggestion, for example, is to establish a system that connects Duke University, the Ninth Street and Brightleaf areas, downtown and N.C. Central University.
The most prominent supporter of that idea is Dan Jewell, an architect and member of the Durham Area Designers. He said local leaders have to find a way to beef up transit within the city as they work toward a regional network.
Durham needs "a starter transit system," whether based on streetcars or high-quality bus routes, Jewell said.
It should be "small but highly successful so we can tout that and say, 'It's not like the [current] bus system in Durham, it's something people will ride, and it's going to work and ridership will be greater than expected," Jewell said.
Ensminger added that successful downtown redevelopment efforts such as the American Tobacco project are building the business base for a new transportation network.
"With all that's still going on downtown, it's going to need support infrastructure to get people to and from" the area, he said. "It's an opportunity to build less parking decks. If citizens can ride a trolley to the ballpark instead of driving, that's good for everybody."
Regional transit planners envision the eventual construction of a 56-mile commuter rail system from north Raleigh to the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.
But a study committee earlier this year said local governments should first beef up bus service, and consider setting up special "circulator" services to help people travel between RDU and RTP and get around the core areas of the Triangle's leading cities.
Jewell and the Durham Area Designers were involved in shaping the circulator proposal, which observers say could dovetail with the streetcar effort.
It could "be a way to say that once folks got to one of the Durham stations [of an inter-city] line, they could hop on a local streetcar circulator to take them to different destinations," said Wib Gulley, Triangle Transit's general counsel and a former Durham mayor. "They're actually complementary."
Gulley also noted that streetcars tend to be cheaper to build than heavy inter-city rail projects.
Durham once had an extensive streetcar system that helped spark the development of neighborhoods like those around the Lakewood shopping center. Ensminger believes the system's demise by the middle of the 20th century contributed to some of the struggles those places experienced.
Conversely, "my personal inclination is that if the neighborhoods sprung up around the trolley, then the reinstatement of the trolley would be good for them," he said.
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