Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Desire Named Streetcar

Some recent posts at Dayton Most Metro made me think of the ongoing attempts in Dayton for some form of rail transit.

The first suggestion was from the early 1960': The "Backbone Transit System". I was really suprised to come across this is transportation planning document from that era, to see in incorporated into the local transportation plan.

The idea actually would have worked, as this very concept is used in the modern-day Sacramento Light Rail system, as a system of feeder bus lines to a backbone rail rapid transit system. But its interesting to see how limited this was, too, with the rapid transit line ending t around Fairmont or Hillcrest on the north side and Dorothy Lane on the south end.

An interesting aspect of the line is that they were actually considering walking distances from stations, which implied a possibility of transit oriented developement...way ahead of its time.

One of the problems with this system is that if it was intended to be a light rail system they would had to import rolling stock from Europe as there was nothing available stateside at that time.

In the late 1960s and very early 1970s the Feds came up with the "Corridor Study" for the south suburban area, which was pretty much a dedicated right-of-way busway on an old railroad line. This was rejected and agitation ensued for a true ligh-rail system...Dayton Area Rapid Transit (DART). DART advocates got a fairly in-depth study for a line south, and actually had some high-powered bi-partisant political support, including Ohios' GOP senator of that time.

This was truly a turning point for the Dayton region as at the same time I-675 was mired in controversy. Some politicians suggested using I-675 appropriations to fund this rapid transit system. Though this might seem really "out-there", the very thing was happening in Sacramento, California around the same time...and the transit advocates and freeway opponets did suceeed...voiding a LA-style freeway system and constructing a light rail system instead.

This did not happen in Dayton. DART was killed by bureaucratic veto, and local politicians opted to support I-675 instead, rather than fight for DART. The die was cast, and cast well, for decentralized auto-oriented suburbia.

For more detail on DART, including station layouts and route alignments link here. ...there is quite a bit on this system, and the planning went pretty far along before the concept was deep-sixed by the Feds. If built, this would have been one of the very first light-rail systems in the US.

With the advent of the Dayton Aviation National Historic Park light rail concepts revived. Since the Wright Brothers took trolleys to their flying field, some sort of rail interpretation was considered. The first plan from the mid -1990s was pretty agressive...suggesting a light rail system under the guise of a "heritage rail":

This plan was rejected and a revised , limited heritage rail system was propose in early 2004. This system would have linked the Wright-Dunbar area with downtown and the Oregon district, and provided shuttle bus service out to the more distant sites.

In 2005 a revised and expanded version was suggested, which appears to go beyond mere tourism to function as a sort of transit link between downtown and the UD/MVH area, but also to connect with DAI, too, in a later phase.

What is "heritage rail"? Well, its sort of nostalgic and touristic as it uses reproduction or vintage rolling stock from early streetcar lines, but runs them on modern systems. Good examples are the systems in Charlotte, NC (which is actually fairly long) and lines in Memphis and Kenosha, Wisconsing (the Kenosha line is being expanded).

Whither the desire named streetcar in Dayton? No word on the proposals for heritage rail. the last info dates to 2005 on the MVRPC website.


Matthew Sauer said...

Philly also has heritage cars running on the Girard Street line. This line was deactivated for a while and replaced by buses, but they rehabbed a bunch of 1940s streetcars and recently began running them again. Of course, the tracks were there already...

Jefferey said...

Really? Cool! I knew Philly was one of the very few US cities that had surviving streetcar lines (as well as commuter rail via SEPTA) but didn't know they had a heritage rail program going.

The examples I gave are brand new lines. The one in Kenosha is the most suprising as Kenosha is really pretty small..more like a Springfield or Hamilton.