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Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the 21st Century Workshop

10:46 AM PDT on May 23, 2008

(The following post was written by Ron Milam, longtime transportation advocate, co-founder of the LACBC, Eco-Villager and self-employed consultant. Read more about Ron at his website.  Also, our friend Darrell Clarke has more images from the conference at LA Visions.)

Imagine streetcars returning to Los Angeles. Picture a modern, quiet streetcar going down Broadway in Downtown weaving together residences, business and cultural institutions while also facilitating a vibrant street life.

On May 22nd, over 250 people not only imagined what a streetcar in Downtown Los Angeles would look like, they also gained inspiration from places like Portland and Seattle that recently launched their own modern streetcar lines.

Earlier last century, Angelenos abandoned the streetcar. Now it seems, a critical mass is coming together to bring it back to life, and in the process, create more livable communities with welcoming pedestrian environments, mixed-income housing and locally owned businesses.

In attendance were the usual planners and policy makers, as well as local elected officials (such as Councilmembers José Huizar, who's the streetcars biggest advocate, Jan Perry and Tom Labonge). A large contingency of Downtown LA stakeholders attended, including local business owners, residents, downtown BID's, Neighborhood Council and those just curious about the concept.

I sensed an excitement in the air, especially as people lingered and networked outside the official panel discussion during lunch and in intermissions. The workshops were informative and covered multiple aspects of streetcars: what other cities have done, the feasibility of bringing the streetcar back to LA, design issues and local case studies.

Several morning panelists referred to streetcars as "development oriented transit" as opposed to the more common term of "transit oriented development". Streetcars are as much about place making and they are about people moving.

As someone who helped spread the word about this conference, I'm pleased with both the attendance and excitement about the streetcar. While my sense is that the major stakeholders downtown agree on the concept, the challenge moving forward will be going from a good idea to implementation. One of the early morning panelists urged attendees not to get bogged down in planning and studies, but rather just build a simple, short first segment, which would build future momentum. Will the Downtown leadership come to consensus and make this reality? We'll just have to wait and see.

Photo: Ron Milam

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