Streetcar desire

New plan brings region closer to resurgence

Streetcars could return to the city’s core.

Streetcars could return to the city’s core.


Are we getting closer to the return of the Sacramento streetcar?

A recently revealed component of regional leader’s ambitious streetcar project would connect West Sacramento, and downtown Sacramento and now also includes a draft starter line that would run from West Sac’s City Hall, past Raley Field, across Tower Bridge and toward the current Amtrak station, and possibly a future arena/transit center, before winding its way along K Street.

“It’s all part of our goal of dense, walkable developments, and it provides a way for commuters to get to work [in Sacramento],” explained Maureen Daly Pascoe, a West Sacramento redevelopment program manager. “We also see it as an opportunity open up the parks and trails, particularly along the riverfront, and make it easier for people to get there.”

For Sacramento officials, the streetcars are less about commuters and more about moving people around downtown efficiently while lessening the need for vehicles.

“These will be pedestrian accelerators, which is a wonky way of saying there’s only so far people are willing to walk on foot, and this provides broad options and way to expand that distance a little bit,” said Sparky Harris, a senior planner for Sacramento’s Department of Transportation. “These will be different than [Sacramento’s] previous cars when people lived in first ring suburbs and used them to get to work downtown or in the rail yards.” (In the past, Sacramento’s trolleys were also owned by PG&E rather than the city.)

As part of that vision, more foot traffic in the urban core would also encourage more businesses to open and spark growth in under used buildings and old industrial sites known as brownfields. At the same time, downtown residential developments could open, including affordable housing mandated by state policy.

“Starter routes are a way to draw in customers, you point them where you want growth to go,” William Burg, a local historian and streetcar expert, explained to SN&R, adding that cars have found success in such cities as Seattle; Tucson, Ariz.; and Portland, Ore.

Sacramento’s initial routes would concentrate on an area between the Sacramento River and 19th and 20th streets to the east, and H Street to the north and Broadway to the south. Two other routes centering on the rail yards/river district and Arden Fair mall/Cal Expo are also on the table.

But before that can happen, funding has to be locked down in a tight economy and at time when governments are slashing programs.

Daly Pascoe added that if all went smoothly and funding is secured, construction could begin as soon as 2014. West Sacramento has also approved a sales tax, kicking in 2013, to help fund its expected annual operating costs of $1.5 million.

“We are open to all funding options, especially with private-sector businesses” Harris said, adding as examples, a business sponsoring a car, or wraparound advertising on the car exteriors in the style of European trams.

Burg also pointed out that San Francisco’s use of historic 1920s-style trolleys on its F Line has brought in tourists, as well as local day trippers.

“We are working with everybody, neighborhoods, businesses, city councils, counties, the [Sacramento Area Council of Governments],” Harris added. “If people are interested, they should definitely get in touch with us.”

The cost for the starter line is expected to be between $125 million and $165 million. Federal funding is also a possibility, though it comes with strings attached, such as additional environmental reviews.

“If [the city council] authorizes it, we’ll try to cobble together the funding and proceed,” Harris said.

Otherwise, officials are crossing their fingers.