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Appendix I
   

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Appendix I: Getting Started

OK, we've sold you. You want to see a streetcar operating in your city or town. Perhaps you are a businessman, or a local official, or a citizen activist. Your first question is likely to be, “How do I get started?”

This short guide to getting started may be helpful. We do not say it is the only way to go. But it does reflect what people in cities with streetcar lines have learned in their own successful projects.

Step #1: Find other people with the same interest and desire. You are not likely to make much progress alone, although one person can certainly get the process started. As that one person, you may find other people who are familiar with the concept and are quick to sign up. Or, you may have to start from scratch, educating other local citizens about streetcars, explaining what they are and how they can benefit your city or town. Your goal should be to form an organization of some sort—perhaps a 501(c)(3), so donations are tax-deductible—that can help design and promote your local streetcar project. This organization should not plan to go out of business once a local streetcar line is running. It will continue to have many important roles to play, from promoting the streetcar line through raising funds for its operation to providing volunteers to maintain and operate the streetcars.

Step #2: One of the things successful streetcar projects all have in common is people to fill two key roles: the “champion” and the “spear-carrier.” The “Champion” is someone who is a community power “player”   usually but not always a political figure—who will be the pusher and the public voice for the project. The “spear-carrier” is the man who actually gets the job done by organizing and directing the project. You need both roles filled from the beginning.

Step #3: Design a streetcar project that can garner widespread local support. That means thinking not just in terms of fellow streetcar fans, but about building a coalition. Coalitions are powerful because they bring together people with a wide variety of interests—and local political clout. Some people may be businessmen who know a streetcar line will bring them new customers. Others may be property owners, builders or developers who see a streetcar line as a development tool. Environmentalists may want streetcars to reduce automobile use and resulting air pollution. City activists may see streetcars as a way to bring new life to downtown. You want to appeal to all these groups, and as many more as you can identify. The broader your coalition, the greater your chance of realizing your project.

Step #4: When it is time to get specific about the route your streetcar will take, remember that to be successful, it has to serve a real transportation function. It should not simply be a “ride” on a streetcar for the fun of it. Your rule needs to be, “The line must take people where they want to go.” Your streetcar should tie together parking lots, cultural and entertainment venues, restaurant districts and shopping districts. In short, it should serve the central business district, and serve it well (remember, Americans don’t like to walk very far). And, it should be tied in with the rest of your city’s or town’s public transit system.

While we are strongly in favor of keeping costs down, there is a danger here you need to be aware of. Sometimes, a very inexpensive right-of-way can be available that seems to make the project easy, but that does not take people where they want to go. Don’t use it! Remember, your real “product” is not streetcars but people riding streetcars. You are not building a model train layout. You are building a transportation line. If your streetcars fail to carry many people, your project will not be seen as successful. All those folks in your coalition who hoped for one effect or another from the streetcar line will be disappointed. And that means they won’t support getting more streetcars—or even keeping the initial line in operation.

Of course, whatever route you select for your first streetcar line, you are almost certain to run into some NIMBYs. When you do, remember that most of these people don’t know what a streetcar is or what it does. They will think it is noisy, or as big as a freight train, or that the overhead wires are dangerous, or that the streetcar will bring undesirable people into their neighborhood. None of these things is true, but they won’t know that. It is up to you to show them what streetcars are really like and what they do. You may even want to take their leaders to a city that has streetcars and let them see for themselves. If you try to ignore them or run roughshod over them in the political process, you will probably fail.

Step #5: Keep it simple! With streetcars as with most things, simplicity is a virtue. Simplicity keeps down costs. Simplicity makes the project easy for ordinary people to understand and support. Simplicity ensures that once it is built, the line looks good instead of being visually intrusive. In fact, one of the best things about streetcars is that, by nature, they are simple—unless you muck it up. Most often, if it is mucked up so that your streetcar line becomes expensive and complicated, it means you have a bad advisor (there are lots of bad advisors out there). There is no shortage of the species, and you can find another one easily. If you are smart, before you hire an advisor, you will make sure that in other projects, he did keep it simple.

Step #6: Before you acquire your first Vintage streetcar or lay your first rail, you should have a plan not just for building your streetcar line, but for operating it well into the future. Here, the hard part is developing a credible funding plan. Getting money to build a streetcar line is one thing; lining up operating funds is very different. Most of the government money you may find for building the line is not available for operating costs. Operating funds will almost certainly have to be local money, and you will need credible, long term commitments. Remember, it will probably take time for ridership to build and businesses to benefit from the new line. Enthusiasm alone is not enough; you need legally binding commitments, on paper.

Step #7: You also need a solid plan for recruiting, employing and retaining volunteers. As our study has made clear, volunteer labor can be a great asset to a streetcar line. But employing volunteers is not as easy as it sounds. People who say, “Yea, sure, I’ll volunteer,” don’t necessarily show up, or keep showing up, when and where they are needed. Often, the most important work is hard, dirty or boring. As with operating funds, you need a credible plan, based on experience elsewhere, that will carry you beyond construction and into years of operations. Places like McKinney Avenue and good streetcar and train museums can help. Talk to them.

In fact, in everything, from the first day you decide to try to get streetcars running in your city or town, talk to people who have already done it successfully. Their successes (and their mistakes along the way) are almost certainly your best guide. Don’t reinvent the (trolley) wheel. As Bismarck said, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” And not just from others’ mistakes, but also from what they did right. Enough streetcar lines are operating now to build a base of experience. Learn from it. Appendix III suggests a few places to start looking for it.

 

 
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