Ever wonder what happened to Pittsburgh's Streetcars? I'm sure many of you, like I, have wondered, why did the streetcars of Pittsburgh, and most major US cities, disappear? The blog, Carectomy, ponders the question "Who Killed the Streetcars?" and provides some evidence, via About.com, that the auto manufacturers were behind the demise of the streetcar.
The book Supercapitalism covered GM and it's power and ability to dictate the US economy in the 1940's and 50's. The following sentence pretty much sums up the power of big corporations during those times: "If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars."
GM first replaced trolleys with free-roaming buses, eliminating the need for tracks embedded in the street and clearing the way for cars. As dramatized in a 1996 PBS docudrama, Taken for a Ride, Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s president at the time, said, “We’ve got 90 percent of the market out there that we can…turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars.” And they did just that, with the help of GM subsidiaries Yellow Coach and Greyhound Bus. Sloan predicted that the jolting rides of buses would soon lead people to not want them and to buy GM’s cars instead.
Back in January of 2007 the Pittsburgh Tribune Review's Bill Steigerwald wrote a column on the revival of streetcars in a number of US cities.. He wrote that Pittsburgh would be better off investing in reviving it's system of streetcars instead of the billion dollar tunnel to nowhere known as the Northshore Connector. But Mr. Steigerwald, along with a Port Authority official, says don't count on a streetcar revival here in the burgh.
It's a shame Port Authority is blowing so much of its fiscal and political capital on "The Tunnel to Nowhere." It's a blatant waste of taxpayer money that is certain to be as underused as the rest of Port Authority's inventory of expensive busways, rail lines, tunnels and parking garages.
In a better, more rational, more imaginative transit world, instead of tunneling under the Allegheny River the Port Authority would throw away several hundred million dollars less and put together a modern streetcar fleet.
Think how much cooler it'd be to have sleek European streetcars quietly plying Downtown's lonely streets again -- instead of hundreds of smelly, thunderous buses.
Think how much cooler it'd be to have streetcars -- with big windows for viewing Pittsburgh's fabulous sights -- climbing the Hill (past the new arena) and looping out to Oakland and back. Or to have streetcars on bridges zipping over the Allegheny to the North Shore's ball fields and gambling parlors.
A streetcar system still would be a waste of taxpayer money -- state and local. But because it'd be above ground it would tie parts of the city together, attract tourists and make the act of riding it an end in itself.
It'll never happen. Port Authority has over-invested in giant buses and tunnels. The "T" is already under Downtown. For Pittsburgh, streetcars -- last seen on Downtown streets on July 2, 1985 -- are forever part of the past.
Besides taking cars off the road, there would be many ancillary benefits associated with streetcar lines in the city of Pittsburgh . Riding a streetcar through Bloomfield's business district, and then down through the Strip District on the way to downtown would be a draw for tourists and locals alike. The lines between downtown and Oakland would help to develop the uptown and lower hill district neighborhoods - and would come in particularly handy when there are games at the new Penguins arena. What's not to like about that?
Opponents of these lines say that driving a car between those areas would be more difficult. Sure, but isn't the point to stop driving your car all the time?