Study Exposes Myth of Economic Boon Streetcars Bring to Cities

By Robert Miranda, Editor, Wisconsin Spanish Journal

After the recent Milwaukee Common Council vote to approve the streetcar project, a new study was released by the Metropolitan Council entitled, Streetcar Policy Development: Case Study Report in which, among other things, the report gave detailed analysis and sobering findings on the contributions streetcars will have in the future economic development plans of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) Minnesota.

The report talks about nine cities with streetcars, but highlights the streetcar system in the City of Portland, Oregon, as the national model many urban planners, city officials, and local politicians throughout the United States look to as the system that makes an impact on economic development of that city.

Many of these leaders see streetcar investments as a strategy and tool to help revitalize communities, to support new development, and to provide more transportation options to serve the mix of residential, commercial, and retail markets, according to the report.

The Metropolitan Council report cites a 2008 study prepared by the City of Portland in which the city estimated $3.5 billion in new investment within two blocks of the Citys starter line, a widely referenced argument repeated by streetcar supporters around the nation.

The Metropolitan Council report also highlights a Return on Investment analyses made in Arlington County, Cincinnati, to demonstrate future economic benefits that would be gained from streetcars in that area.

And while everyone is mesmerized by the positive projects and outlooks for having a streetcar, the reality of all this pipe dreaming by the urban planners, city officials, and local politicians, according to the Metropolitan Council report, is that measuring the actual impacts of streetcar investments on the local economy versus other City policies and development incentives is elusive, and debatable.

Let me say that again. The report states that streetcars as a tool for economic development is at best “debatable,” and at worst “elusive.”

Indeed, the Metropolitan Councils report tells the leaders of the Twin Cities that there is no universally accepted methodology for estimating the economic benefits of streetcars in isolation from other public and private initiatives aimed at creating vibrant and sustainable urban areas.

Which begs the question: What methodology for estimating economic benefits that streetcars would bring to Milwaukee did the mayor and his staff use to argue that the Milwaukee streetcar would be a boon for Milwaukee?

Guesswork does not guarantee a sound investment and economic growth.

2016 is around the corner. Only you can prevent this foolishness from happening again by voting out these irresponsible people from office.

Back to top
Back to In My Mind’s Eye

Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on February 15, 2015

Legal Information |  Designed and built by Emergency Digital. | Hosted by Steadfast Networks