By Robert E. Field
My son Richard and I have been conducting business in Eastern Europe over the past 15 years. As such, I have had considerable experience with trolley cars. In fact, we have had to design entry ways in a manner to minimize the lethal risk that trolleys engender.
They do run silently. And they cannot be quickly stopped. Pedestrian fatalities take place each year. At least in Eastern Europe people have been admonished by parents about the danger since earliest childhood.
The initial route is to be between the Amtrak Station and downtown. How would you like your children or grandchildren to live on a city street with a trolley car that cannot be readily heard and cannot be quickly stopped?
I am old enough to recall riding trolleys in Philadelphia during my youth. There are good reasons why street cars were phased out by trackless electrical vehicles and finally by busses. Riding behind a trolley is comparable to riding behind a school bus. They impede traffic. They cannot pull over to pick up pedestrians, let alone the physically challenged. And if they run along curb side, they eliminate vital on street parking.
Of course when built in dedicated lanes in the center of broad boulevards (six to eight lanes including the center trolley lanes and platforms) street cars work very well. We have no boulevards in Lancaster.
I went to school at Cal Berkeley and love to visit San Francisco and ride on the cable cars. But they are something very unique and they can stop quickly under most circumstances since the brakes grab onto a cable. (Those of us who hung on from the sides learned to anticipate this.) And I have visited the New Orleans waterfront and seen the street car named Desire. If it wasn’t the object of the play and the movie, it probably would not be running now. It does serve the river front.
I suspect that a slow moving trolley on flat ground on a broad avenue along a waterfront in a town with many tourists attractions might be worthwhile. But that is hardly Lancaster. Our downtown is a mixed use commercial, retail and residential community with very little tourism. This is pointed out in the Feasibility Report. (I encourage readers to use this link to read the actual Stone Consulting & Design, Inc., February 2006 report.)
The study indicates that the initial project would cost $14 million. (The initial estimate for the Convention Center / Hotel Project was $70 million and ended up $200 million, all things considered.)
The estimated annual operating loss (that is before debt service) is about $400,000. However the report acknowledges the difficulty in anticipating ridership.
I see here a pattern of “Lancaster exceptionalism” whereby the power elite ignores hard facts and chase federal and state largess, regardless of whether the outcome will be good or bad for the community.
I have made no secret of my feeling that the convention center project is the worst thing that could happen to downtown and will be a major obstacle if not the death blow to the town’s ongoing revitalization. People revitalize a downtown, not boondoggles. Condominiums and shops draw people. Convention Centers generate dead zones in the heart of a city.
The Convention Center will likely be a community debacle. But fatalities resulting from trolley cars running on narrow streets will be a human tragedy.