City envisions network of streetcar lines

The city’s new streetcar, the Gold Line, on a test run along Elizabeth Ave. near Presbyterian Hospital on July 09, 2015.
The city’s new streetcar, the Gold Line, on a test run along Elizabeth Ave. near Presbyterian Hospital on July 09, 2015. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

The streetcar is the second new commuter rail project for the city in recent years, following the light-rail line’s opening in 2007.

But the streetcar has met even more opposition than the Lynx Blue Line and has stayed controversial since the City Council first debated paying for the Gold Line in 2009.

Proponents say it will bring economic development to low-income areas, and they cite the success of the Lynx Blue Line in attracting riders.

When the line is expanded, the city said it will be an important east-west connector.

In the meantime, the 1.5-mile segment is unlikely to be a vital part of how people get around. It will likely be used by Central Piedmont Community College students going uptown, or perhaps workers wanting lunch on Elizabeth Avenue.

Critics note that unlike the light-rail line, the streetcar doesn’t offer riders faster service than the buses that operate there.

And the projected cost to move a streetcar passenger one mile is higher than a bus.

The ridership projections submitted to the federal government estimated the streetcar would carry 1,100 passenger trips a day.

When the streetcar opens, the existing free Gold Rush trolley will be shortened. It will run from Johnson C. Smith University to Time Warner Cable Arena.

The city hopes the first segment will be the start of a larger network of streetcar lines to Beatties Ford Road, the old Eastland Mall site, and possibly along Monroe Road and to Charlotte Douglas Airport.

Today’s streetcar line follows the path of one of the city’s previous streetcar lines. During construction, the city unearthed some of the old rails from the original line. The streetcar system stopped in 1938.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

Rules of the road

The streetcar will share Trade Street and Elizabeth Avenue with vehicles.

If you are driving and see a streetcar in your rear-view mirror, you don’t need to change how you drive. You don’t have to pull over and let the streetcar pass.

The streetcar will stop when you stop, but CATS has a warning: The streetcars can’t stop quickly, taking almost 100 feet to stop at 16 mph.

There is one place where cars have to be aware of the trolleys: The intersection of Hawthorne Lane and Elizabeth Avenue.

If you are trying to make a right turn from Hawthorne Lane onto Elizabeth Avenue, heading toward uptown, the streetcar will be in the middle of the street, to your left. It will have priority to make its right turn onto Elizabeth Avenue before you. Steve Harrison

About the cars

CATS eventually wants modern streetcars that would be similar to the cars that operate on the light-rail line. For now, CATS will use three replica cars.

Don’t worry, the cars have air conditioning.

The cars are powered by electrical wires, a catenary, that now is a canopy over Trade Street and Elizabeth Avenue.

There also is a small link from the streetcar line to the Lynx Blue Line rails alongside the arena. That will allow CATS to bring the streetcars on the light-rail line so they can be stored at the vehicle maintenance yard near South End.

The streetcars are handicapped accessible.

Construction costs

The federal government awarded Charlotte a $25 million grant, which paid for most of the streetcar’s $37 million construction.

Despite a three-month delay by the contractor, a joint venture between Balfour Beatty and Blythe Development, CATS said the project is within its budget.

The city of Charlotte will spend $1.6 million operating the streetcar for the fiscal year that began July 1.

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