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RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN STREETCARS AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT SUMMARY This synthesis summarizes the limited literature and documentation regarding the impacts of modern streetcar systems on the built environment, underscoring the need for further empirical analysis. Streetcars represent a growing transportation alternative, with more than 45 systems built or in various stages of planning or construction. Their popularity has resulted from a range of factors, including relatively lower cost of construction than other forms of rail transit and their relative ease of integration into the existing urban fabric. Little in-depth work has evaluated this streetcar resurgence, leading to an interest by policymakers and planners to have a better understanding of how this mode of transportation interacts with the built environment, particularly since changes in land use and development patterns are often cited as a justification for investment in streetcar systems. Great diversity exists among operating and planned systems, and this synthesis begins to identify several stages of streetcar system development. These stages are potentially but not necessarily sequential and include the following: · Demonstration: a volunteer or local agency establishes the feasibility of a modest streetcar line · Targeted trips: expanded service is focused on certain groups, typically tourists and residents but not necessarily commuters · Full service: frequent daily service, including during commute hours with service to downtown or business centers · Urban connector: multiple routes between various districts and full integration into the regional transportation system These stages have distinctly different implications for the potential impact of street- cars on the built environment, and the types and amount of economic development and changes in the built environment that might occur. Because federal transportation poli- cies, along with most local governments' land use and transportation planning are increas- ingly emphasizing "green" development, smart growth, reduction in carbon emissions, and increased links between land use and transportation, the need to systematize the study of streetcar impacts is dramatic. This synthesis presents an overview of published literature on the relationship between streetcars and the built environment, a survey of 13 streetcar systems that have been recently built or expanded, and in-depth case studies of five systems to describe the current state of knowledge and elaborate on the relationship of streetcars to the built environment. A challenge in considering these questions is the lack of a common and consistent definition of what constitutes a streetcar as opposed to a light rail system. Furthermore, some systems blend characteristics of these two modes. For example, the LINK system in Tacoma, Washington, is termed "light rail" by SoundTransit, its operator, even though its vehicles are the same as those used in the Portland and Seattle streetcar systems. For this
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2 synthesis, a broad definition of streetcar systems was used that builds on rail advocacy orga- nization Reconnecting America's typology of streetcars. Streetcar systems typically run in the street at grade on embedded rails, stop every several blocks, operate at average speeds of less than 12 mph, and have lower construction cost per mile than light or commuter rail. For this synthesis, "impact on the built environment" was defined as broadly as possible. The definition includes indicators that describe economically vibrant neighborhoods as well as indicators that measure the actual changes in the quantities and types of physical and economic development adjacent to streetcar systems. A literature review for this synthesis considered the substantial literature on the "value premium" or increase in property values or related economic activity that can be created by fixed guideway transit. This is a key consideration because of policymaker interest in "capturing" some of this value to help finance streetcar construction and operating costs. Because of the broad range in methodologies used and findings from various studies, how- ever, it is difficult to distill conclusions that can be applied broadly. Premiums vary by land use and range from minimal (1% to 2%) to substantial (100% plus). A key challenge in evaluating value premiums is controlling for changes in zoning or other policies permitting greater density in conjunction with new fixed guideway transit, because these alone can increase the value of land and existing properties, separate from any direct transit impacts. Other literature measuring actual changes in economic activity, such as retail sales, visitors, or job growth is nearly nonexistent. General findings from the streetcar systems surveys and case studies highlight a vari- ety of differences between systems, including that smaller-scale systems typically evolved from community or business initiatives, while larger systems generally were created through more extensive planning efforts, and some have evolved to become an integrated compo- nent of overall regional transit systems. A broad range of funding sources and management arrangements are available, encompassing such efforts as repurposing highway funding (Memphis), completing substantial property assessments (Portland and Seattle), and using local nonprofits for development and management of systems. Almost all representatives interviewed believed that streetcars positively affected the built environment, particularly in attracting new development or enhancing revitalization, although the degree of impact var- ies. Few systems, however, reported the types of ancillary changes in the built environment, such as reduced parking garage construction, increased pedestrian or bike lane investments, or explicit parking reductions that often are associated with light rail systems. Few, if any, streetcar system operators seek information on their impact on economic activity, although most interviewed consider economic-related questions to be vital and desire further research on this topic. Based on the literature review, case studies, and surveys, a series of suggestions have been developed for future empirical research to augment the limited literature and documentation of impacts of streetcars on the built environment. These are outlined in the Conclusions.