Most who ride the St. Charles Avenue streetcar through New Orleans' Garden District are immediately smitten, not only by the city's charm but also by the convenience and nostalgia of the historic trolley. Many other cities, Baltimore included, have tried to offer light rail as a more modern take on that classic form of street-level transportation.
So it's not surprising that many folks who live in
But the latest grass-roots effort by local residents, the Baltimore Streetcar Campaign, to lobby Mayor
What Mayor Rawlings-Blake recommended last February — to expand the
The Circulator has already carried millions of passengers, but its cost is tiny compared to that of building and operating a single trolley line. This year's service was financed chiefly by $5.5 million in parking fees. And that's for all three lines, Orange, Purple and Green, running from downtown to as far as
So why is a bus — one that is far more comfortable than the average
The answer, of course, lies almost entirely in perception. A streetcar like the version in New Orleans is cool, while a bus is not. For too many people, a bus is thought of as how poor people get around. They are viewed as crowded, dirty, poorly ventilated and inhospitable. Transit planners have been fighting this perception for years.
But the Charm City Circulator isn't like that, and Baltimore residents and visitors are gradually learning to appreciate the difference. Charles Street residents and business owners will, too, if they are willing to give it a chance to succeed.
Baltimore made a mistake when it abandoned its streetcar system decades ago, but it would also be a mistake to invest in a boutique trolley now. Transportation dollars are simply too scarce to justify it. At the moment, there isn't the money set aside to build the $2.2 billion east-west
Trolley proponents can trot out all the studies they like demonstrating the commercial investment that accompanies rail projects, but they need only look to Howard Street and the impact of light rail there to see those benefits aren't guaranteed. And as for attracting more families to the city? Higher property taxes required of a benefits district (the likely way the city's share of a Charles Street trolley's cost would be financed) are unlikely to help bring new homeowners. Isn't the city supposed to be lowering its property taxes?