A Marvelous Machine: Creative Approaches to Securing Funding and Building Public Support for Streetcar Projects in Four U.S. Cities

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, mode - tram/light rail, land use - planning


Streetcars, transit projects, public opinion, planning


The resurgence of streetcars in American cities has presented planners and civic leaders with a novel means of transportation and redevelopment for cities, many of which have a history of failed regional transit votes and suburban domination of regional planning bodies. To overcome these political and financial obstacles, supporters have engaged in a host of creative strategies to satisfy or bypass streetcar critics. Using a case study of four American cities with recently built streetcars (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Tucson), this paper explores these strategies from the perspective of streetcar supporters. Results indicate streetcar projects in these cities were pursued in part because each city had faced at least one failed rail-transit vote in recent years (usually involving light rail). Supporters of streetcar plans anticipated vocal citizen opposition based on those past failures; however, in most cases this did not materialize to the expected degree. This suggests that narrowly focused and lower-cost streetcar projects can avoid the contentious opposition of pricey regional light-rail proposals by offering a different product and/or seeking fewer local dollars. Results also indicate widespread distrust for regional planning structures and a willingness of local boosters to bypass those entities and apply directly for federal funds. Although not all four cities ended up with the streetcar they envisioned, the findings nevertheless document an eagerness on the part of proponents to seek transit projects that transform public opinion, circumvent a burdensome regional planning process, and take advantage of a national funding environment willing to fund streetcars in urban areas.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by SAGE, copyright remains with them.