Eyes on the Street: Bicoastal Streetcars

Brooklyn

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San Francisco

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Like Clarence Eckerson, I recently returned from a visit to San Francisco. I left with a feeling that San Francisco has the best urban surface transportation in the country: emissions-free buses drawing power from overhead wires, regular buses, cable cars moving up and down steep hills, many cyclists despite those hills, partially buried lightrail and a regional subway. But the most heartwarming thing to see was the streetcars. What a joyous and democratic mode of transportation, the streetcar.

Sure, we have light rail over in Jersey City, and it’s great to have that. But there is nothing like an honest-to-God fully functioning streetcar system like the one San Franciscans have managed to preserve restored on Market Street and the Embarcadero (the F Line). Think they’re just for tourists? Maybe the cable cars, but the streetcars I saw were standing-room-only, with a mix of visitors and natives. There are probably other models visible in museums, but these old cars and the ones New Orleans still only partially restored after Hurricane Katrina are the last in the country still doing the heavy lifting. At least for now.

Now that the corpse of the ill-fated attempt to bring streetcars to Red Hook (pictured above) is cold, we can begin to think about the new efforts to bring streetcars back to Brooklyn. ‘Frisco proves that it is possible.

(Top two photos by Futurebird.)

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