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.