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The Desirable Streetcar (Trolley, Trolley Car, Tram Or Tram Car).

August 20, 2008

In Tennessee Williams’  A Streetcar Named Desire, written in 1947, one of the main characters,  Blanche DuBois, rides the streetcar to her sister’s place in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans. For Blanche to have to ride a streetcar feels like a come down for her; a big change from her life as a Southern Belle living on a once prosperous plantation. The steamy, urban ambiance is a shock to Blanche’s nerves. Wikipedia.

But for us “regular” folk today, a streetcar ride might be a pleasurable experience; and a less “steamy” one. For us gas guzzling drivers, riding a streetcar would be an economic and more environmentally correct way of getting around. Not a comedown, in fact just the opposite as we would be doing our “civic duty” riding clean public transport. That is if there were such a vehicle to be ridden. But wait…………..

The streetcar is making a comeback.

From Portland to Miami, from San Francisco to Lowell, Mass., several dozen cities have either already resurrected modest streetcar lines or are planning to bring them back. And that includes Seattle.

The photo below is from the site: On December 12, 2007 the city, county and state elected officials joined the public to celebrate the official start of passenger service on the Seattle Streetcar’s South Lake Union Line.

In the New York Times of August 14th, 2008: Cincinatti and at least 40 other cities are exploring streetcar plans to spur economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs, according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar construction.


More than a dozen cities have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., have introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars.

“They serve to coalesce a neighborhood,” said Jim Graebner, chairman of the American Public Transportation Association’s streetcar and vintage trolley committee. “That’s very evident in places like San Francisco, which never got rid of its streetcar system.”

Photo below from the SFMTA site.

 photo of new electric trolley bus (25kb)

There were many cities in this country that had streetcars up until the middle of the 20th century, which, surprise, surprise, then disappeared as a result of The Great American Streetcar Scandal. This happened when streetcar systems throughout the US were bought out and replaced by buses by the National City Lines (NCL) holding company, formed by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum. It is alleged that NCL’s companies had an ulterior motive in their purchase of streetcar systems of forcing mass use of the automobile  among the U.S. population.

Convicted of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, GM was fined $5,000 and each executive was ordered to pay a fine of $1 for a conspiracy to force the streetcar systems to buy GM buses instead of other buses (but not for dismantling the streetcar systems, which were also being dismantled by non-NCL owned systems).


So, unlike Blanche who has to travel on a streetcar route named “Desire” to reach her sister Stella’s home on “Elysian Fields Avenue,” names filled with obvious symbolism, 21st century urbanites stepping onto a streetcar – in some of the above mentioned cities – might find more of a realistic, easier on the pocket book and less symbolic nature to their journey. 

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