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Ask the trolley driver to drop you at the mirage

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

This is embarrassing.

See, all along I’ve been mocking this idea of spending $126 million for a trolley that follows the same route as a bus.

A trolley folly, I said. Rails to ruin. A Tweetsie at Tryon.

Now it has all been explained to me. Though the trolley will waddle down the street like a bus, picking up and disgorging riders from its shiny belly, it’s not really about getting anywhere.

This trolley is actually a wizardly thing, a supernatural conveyance. Once we send it clanking on its way, perfectly intelligent folk will rush to improve the corridor it serves.

They will do this, experts tell us, because people thirst to plop their businesses and homes along a trolley line. A trolley, they say, whispers permanence and prosperity.

No one rhapsodizes about buses. No romantic poetry is composed, no love songs are written.

Buses snort and sigh like some beasts of burden. They come, they go, they make their rounds, and no hearts skip a beat. Buses are brunettes, the consultants growl. Trolleys are blondes.

Plant tracks, harvest riches – that’s the modern trend of thought. Riding the pulse of a trolley, blighted byways will turn to canyons of commerce.

I feel so foolish. I thought a streetcar was a linear device to get you here to there. Apparently, it sprinkles urban pixie dust laterally.

If you buy this theory, you will join me in advising the city that the name of the line must be changed.

This week, it was suggested it be called “CityLynx Gold Line.” This won’t do.

First, the Lynx is the light rail that shrank to minutes the daily commute for thousands. It is about speed and distance and time. By combining those three legs of Einstein’s ponderings, the results have been dramatic.

Development has surged along the Lynx. Uptown’s alluring destinations have come into easy reach.

But Lynx is run by CATS, the transportation people. They’ve studied the streetcar project and want no part. In their narrow world view, they want to spend their millions to build rails where people want to go.

Gold Line, too, is a nonstarter. It echoes the name of the free motorbus known as the Gold Rush that efficiently shuttles people along Tryon Street. It’s on the chopping block. Budget problems.

I say the streetcar gets a name reflecting its magical powers. Maybe we call it the Transformer. Or the Houdini. Or the Sha-Zam.

Or maybe we go down another track, one that recognizes it’s a $126 million gamble on whether a streetcar extension could do what some people say it can.

Maybe we name it The Figment.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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