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    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal Seeks Taxpayer-Paid Feasibility Study For East-West Streetcar Service Linking Downtown And "Vital Points of Interest"

    (May 14, 2007) -- Following-through on her comments at the April 17 City Council meeting urging reduced parking requirements for new downtown density and developments coupled with city "investment" in public transit, 2nd district Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal has agendized a May 15 item seeking Council approval for spending taxpayer funds (a city manager contract) for an "independent study of the feasibility in developing a streetcar service with east-west linkage to downtown and vital points of interest in Long Beach that may include California State University Long Beach, Long Beach City College, East Village Arts District, Long Beach Memorial, St. Mary's Hospital and our small business corridors."

    Councilwoman Lowenthal's agendizing memo specifies no maximum sum or budgeted source for the study, whose goals she says should include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Complements other transportation options offered by Long Beach Transit.
  • Provides a green transportation alternative for moving people between City landmarks
  • Determines the physical and financial viability of establishing a streetcar line.
  • Fits the scale and traffic patterns of existing neighborhoods.
  • Reduces short inner-city auto trips, parking demand and traffic congestion.

    During her April 17 Council remarks, reported at length at the time by, Councilwoman Lowenthal said in part:

    So if we say we need higher density in the downtown, well, we need to actually invest in what would require [invite] a higher density to come. And so why is it that Vancouver can have their developments park at such a lower rate that we think ours must? Why is it that Portland [OR] does it? And why those cities now and not us today?...

    ...I want to live in a city where we can have a Manhattan of our own, or we can have a Vancouver or a Portland. What that may also mean is that we need to invest in other forms of transportation. I for one will be advocating for a light rail such as a streetcar that I saw in Portland. Nothing excited me more than that streetcar...

    As background for her May 15 agendized request, Councilwoman Lowenthal tells the Council:

    Throughout the nation, cities are rediscovering the benefits of streetcar systems linking emerging downtown business and residential districts with nearby points of interest such as universities, hospitals, retail corridors and tourist destinations. Streetcars are becoming the preferred mode of alternative transportation in dense urban centers, enabling people to park once then navigate a city's many sectors jumping on and off at will . The streetcar is serving as a catalyst for change and helping communities maximize their public/private investment . This is due in part to the fixed nature of the rail infrastructure, which implies permanence - generating confidence that it is going to be there for a long time . The rail system is also highly visible, with an easily understood route, and the quiet, pollution-free electric trolleys blend in well with the community.

    Numerous cities, including Portland, Philadelphia, Little Rock, Tampa, Dallas and New Orleans have integrated streetcars into their existing transportation network using new low cost, low impact rail design and smaller cars that minimize changes to infrastructure and utilities.

    As I mentioned during my travel report at our April 10th Council meeting, the City of Portland is emerging as a leader among U .S . cities by demonstrating its commitment to mobility through the implementation of alternative transportation options like the streetcar, which connects Portland State University with other parts of Portland, including its high-density residential and economic centers in downtown such as the Pearl District and South Waterfront . This innovative fusion of residential, arts, commercial and academic sectors attracts a creative class of individuals to the city's urban core and actively contributes to its longterm sustainability.

    The Portland Streetcar is designed to fit the scale and traffic patterns of the neighborhoods through which it travels . Streetcar vehicles, manufactured by Skoda-Inekon in Plzen of the Czech Republic, are 2.46 meters (about 8 feet) wide and 20 meters long (about 66 feet) . They run in mixed traffic and, except at platform stops, accommodate existing curbside parking and loading . The Portland Streetcar is owned and operated by the City of Portland . A unique shallow 12-inch deep track slab design reduces the construction time and utility relocations . Maneuverability of the shorter and narrower Skoda vehicles has allowed the 8- foot wide track slab to be fitted to existing grades, limiting the scope of street and sidewalk reconstruction .

    Long time residents of Long Beach will remember our own streetcars, which were fondly called "red cars" or "Blimps" due to their large size . Charles Rivers Drake, a new resident to Long Beach and a former employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad, petitioned the city council to consider a plan for the creation of an electric interurban transit line connecting Long Beach and Los Angeles . Reaching a top speed of ten miles per hour, this "high speed" system was considered a sure-fire means of enticing potential residents and supporting a growing tourist industry. With the first run of the red car in 1902, Long Beach solidified its place among visitors as the "Coney Island of the West" . More trolley lines followed so that by 1927, Long Beach had over 30 miles of streetcar tracks offering 30 all-steel, open air cars that seated up to 64 passengers . Combined with the development of the harbor and discovery of oil in Signal Hill, the streetcar helped make Long Beach one of the fastest growing cities in the country .

    The streetcar's return on the national scene has been dramatic as an urban circulator and economic development catalyst . Projects across the country have delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in private development investment for the communities they serve . A streetcar system with east-west linkage will attract more people to our downtown and waterfront areas and serve ongoing residential and commercial development.

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