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Fort Worth City Council Smothers Streetcar in Its Crib

9:00 AM PST on December 8, 2010

Sound planning suffered a setback last night in Fort Worth, Texas, where the City Council abruptly pulled the plug on a streetcar proposal, iterations of which have been germinating in the community for decades.

Just a few weeks ago, our friends at Network blog Fort Worthology were celebrating the delivery of a modern streetcar to be displayed on a city street to help build support for the project. Streetcar proponents in Fort Worth had won a $25 million commitment from the federal government. Early phases of study showed the project to be feasible and beneficial for the community.

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In a split decision last night, however, council members moved to halt the streetcar study prior to its final phase, due to "concerns over funding." The project was expected to cost $88 million in total, according to The Star-Telegram.

In a post preceding last night's vote, Fort Worthology's Kevin Buchanan called the funding concerns a pretense for killing the project. Buchanan blames retrograde and risk averse downtown business interests for canceling the project before its feasibility and merits were even fully calculated.

While some critics have said the project has been “rushed,” if tonight’s vote goes this way this will bring to a close a streetcar study process that has been going on now for nearly 15 years, dating back to the Linkages Study in 1996, which recommended a streetcar be part of the city’s transportation systems. In fact, studies of streetcars and other similar central city rail projects can be traced back to the ’70s.

Remember, this was not a vote to commit to building the streetcar – this was a vote to finish the latest study of the project, for which money had already been allocated. Finishing this study would have given us a finalized business plan, full preliminary engineering, and more to give us a complete information package to make the final fully-informed yes/no vote on the project at that time. Even as some of these critics, including councilmembers Jordan, Zimmerman, and Burdette have said we “don’t have enough answers” to build the streetcar yet, they’re actively going to stop looking for those answers. What sense does that make?

As peer cities like Tucson, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma City roll ahead with their streetcar projects, we’re not even going to finish the study that would have given us all the data we need to make our decision. Meanwhile, we keep repeating the mantra that Fort Worth has “the best” revitalized downtown in the United States, a statement that’s getting increasingly creaky as the years roll by and cities across the US continue to build real downtowns that function as true neighborhoods integrated with a larger urban core.

There is a huge vacuum of leadership and vision at City Hall these days. A streetcar supporter recently put it this way: Good ideas don’t die, but they sure as hell take longer when our political leaders can’t muster a few drops of courage.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Velo admires the corporate culture at IKEA, which has given its employees 12,400 bikes for the holidays in an effort to support "a healthy lifestyle and everyday sustainable transport." Wash Cycle reports that Washington D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare is expected to break-even financially in three years. And -- a good one for map nerds -- Second Avenue Sagas outlines a discussion among the makers of some of New York City's most iconic subway maps.

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