Can streetcars save America's cities?

(CNN) -- In a down economy, pursuing the American dream can be challenging, but restaurant owner Todd Steele was willing to take a chance.

For nearly 20 years, Steele worked all levels of the restaurant game, from dishwasher to general manager, before partnering with his mom and opening his own eatery called Metrovino on Portland, Oregon's, 11th Avenue streetcar line.

"I would not have picked this spot if it weren't for the streetcar, and my business has certainly benefited from our location," Steele said. "Streetcars are also a romantic way to travel, and they are fun to watch from inside Metrovino."

While America lost much of its love for streetcars as public transportation during the 1960s, a few cities have kept the romance burning. The heart of San Francisco includes its nearly 140-year-old electric cable car system. In New Orleans, the location for Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," many tourists are drawn by the picturesque St. Charles Avenue Line.
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The Obama administration recently offered some U.S. cities a piece of a $130 million federal fund for streetcar projects aimed at reducing traffic congestion, cutting pollution and reliance on foreign oil, and creating jobs. Transit systems in Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Charlotte, North Carolina, are slated to share grants from the Federal Transit Administration's Urban Circulator program.


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