Engineering reveals streetcar details

The downtown streetcar project team is in the process of Advanced Conceptual Engineering (the next Federally-required step before construction begins) and has confirmed some technical details:

- Yes, there will be actual steel rails in the street (believe it or not, we get this question a lot). There will also be catenary lines to power the streetcar vehicles (and, thus, six transformer stations along the route).

- Stations will be at even-numbered streets along the curb, on the far side of each intersection, except at Union Station. That station will be center-island with a new, signalized mid-block crossing to connect with the existing Link skywalk. A far side installation will allow vehicles to make right turns unimpeded by a stopped streetcar.

- Main Street would be reconfigured with a two-way left turn lane (see above image). Streetcars would operate in the traffic lane, while on-street parking would be retained. Curbs may be extended with bump-outs at station stops (similar to some streets today in the Power & Light and Library districts). Currently, Main is a hodgepodge of shifting and peak-only bus lanes that seems to change every two blocks.

- Baltimore, Walnut, and Charlotte will be converted to two-way traffic, which will reduce demand on Main Street. Existing bus routes will move to Grand for the same purpose. Bike lanes are still on the drawing board for Grand, so that will also be their main thoroughfare (as well as Charlotte, which will connect to the Heart of America bike lane). Main will become “the streetcar street”, while Broadway, Grand, and Oak will be major through streets for vehicle traffic — all three have plenty of existing capacity.

- River Market service may consist of a counter-clockwise loop. From Delaware, streetcars would turn east on 5th, north on Grand, west on 3rd, then south again on Delaware back towards the Central Business District. There will be three stops in the River Market (5th & Delaware, 5th & Walnut, 3rd & Grand).

- Maintenance sites have been narrowed to three.

- Environmental assessment is about to begin; the City expects a Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI) by September.

- Vehicles have not been ordered. This item has the longest lead time, but funding needs to be in place first. If TIGER grant and TDD elections are successful, current schedule is to begin operations by April 30, 2015. Other cities have pooled equipment orders to speed delivery. Dozens of cities are planning modern streetcars, so pooling is a possibility.

All of the above is preliminary, but looking more and more like reality. Major questions still remain with utilities. The good news is that much of the water and sewer infrastructure needs replaced anyway to comply with the Clean Water Act.
1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. Kevin April 9th, 2012 8:53 pm

    A center turn lane is the optimum option for busy city streets that aren’t divided.

    Think of all the parking garages and lots along streets that there’s no light to get to. Imagine you’re not the one trying to turn, someone in front of you is.

    Without a center turn lane someone is blocking you from moving forward in heavy traffic. There’s too much traffic in the lane next to you to get into it.

    With a center turn lane instead they pull into it and you have clearance to go straight just fine. They can sit there for 10 minutes and block far less people.

    It also helps with turning left onto the street with the turn lane. You need clear traffic both directions to turn left onto it without one.

    With a center turn lane you make sure no one is entering the lane and that it’s clear to your left. You turn into the center lane and wait for traffic to clear the direction you’re going.

    Additionally, they can help delivery trucks. A big UPS truck that’s start and stop is better off parking in the turn lane than blocking a through traffic lane like they do now all over downtown.