Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Trolley Follies

I've got to admit that there's something appealing about honest-to-goodness, run-on-tracks streetcars in general, but these recent additions to downtown Little Rock are mainly just a costly nuisance.

Background: The Clinton Presidential Library is just a few block away from the Statehouse Convention Center – close, but too far for walking in the time I had available, so no photos. Before the library was built, that area on the edge of downtown was mostly just warehouses and boarded up buildings. (Some might say building the Clinton Library in a sleazy part of town was appropriate, but I couldn't possibly comment on that.)

Once the library location was approved, revitalization of the surrounding area began immediately. (Accusations of rampant land speculation by insiders prior to the official announcement are merely unsubstantiated rumors, probably generated by the sore losers over in North Little Rock.) Boutiques, bistros and art galleries are now open for business where derelict buildings once stood, though some of the new arrivals are having a tough time staying afloat.

The Central Arkansas Transit Company's “River Rails” Electric Streetcar division is part of this River Market revitalization, but problems abound. The geographic area covered is too small to be of much use to anyone and, consequently, ridership is anemic. Also, since there was no extra space available, the rails were laid right down the middle of a traffic lane. Part of the area covered consists of two-way streets with only two traffic lanes, so when the trolley stops, the traffic in that lane stops. Still, public transportation that doesn't go much of anywhere, few ride and actually increases traffic congestion is not a boondoggle. If you don't believe me, just ask the Little Rock city fathers.

The trolleys do make a token run just across the bridge into North Little Rock, probably just a clever ploy to con NLR into subsidizing part of the cost of operation.



Lisa at Greenbow said...

Well you know Marvin someone is getting their pockets greased. You never know they might come in handy some time.

Marvin said...

You're probably right on both counts, Lisa. As that area of Little Rock grows, there's definitely a need for some type of shuttle to get visitors from one place to another in additional to the regular bus lines. While streetcars do add to the ambiance, they are the most expensive and least flexible way to get the job done. Time will tell.