Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Trolley... HERE?!?!

This is a serious proposition. Knoxville needs a trolley system and I think I know where it should go.

First let's Discuss some back story.

It's no secret that Knoxville used to be a trolley town. Anyone who has walked down by the 100 Block on Gay st. can see the old tracks lying piled up. The legacy of a bygone era when mass transportation meant something other than a bus.

But why a trolley you might ask. Why not just improve our bus system? It' much more flexible, right? Yes it is and that is part of it's problem. A trolley creates an inflexible and continuous bond between points A and B which is what is needed in this circumstance.

Knoxville has a wasted opportunity that it stares at everyday. The most high-density urban residential neighborhood is half a mile from the center of the city and yet there is a distinct disconnect. Not only is there a large group of people who live so close to downtown, but another large group that work in that area. Two large hospitals employ a great many people who could feed back and forth between the two areas.

Perhaps you're starting to see the picture. I think we need to install a fixed track trolley line between downtown running through Ft. Sanders.

It's not my opinion that Knoxville needs to develop an extensive trolley system to feed places like Bearden, Old North, Turkey Creek, or Cairns.

The Plan.

What we need is a track that runs east-west between Gay St. and Tyson Park along Clinch Ave. (I'm up for a detour along Summit Hill to the old city but that would be more expensive.)

Clinch provides a direct link cutting through both the financial and retail parts of downtown linking it up with the heart of Ft. Sanders residential and hospital districts. This gives us a way to bring together two communities separated by a horrible gulch, Henley st.

There's alot to discuss about this idea so I'll trow out some bullet points:

  • Two trolleys running continually
  • The distance from A to B is 1.5 miles
  • Low or no fare, like the current "trolley" system
  • Purchase refurbished historic trolley cars (cheaper than new)
  • Pet friendly service (here's hoping)

Other cities are looking into fixed track trolley systems right now as well which is where I have gotten a lot of good information. Look into the Birmingham, AL proposed system. Here and Here. Cities like Charlotte, Portland, Little Rock, all have trolley systems, knoxville can too.

It's hard to get exact costs, but it looks quite "affordable". (Meaning in the millions apprx $4 Million a mile, but the fixed costs are a capital improvement and have a century long lifespan.)

I believe this would give Knoxville another character point unique to Tennessee and is a small enough scale project that it can be more easily justified than a drastic overhaul of our entire system.

It could be done in two years. Who's with me?


ck said...

I'm with you!

I think the whole "DoNo" concept would have more punch with a direct link to downtown. I think a north-south route would be more feasible for the first line.

One problem with east-west Clinch route is how narrow it gets between Market, Gay, and State. Any thoughts?

Patrick Beeson said...

This is an interesting idea. I'd like to see it extend to Fountain City since that's where the old line used to go (I think) and because I live there. You could have stops along the way for North Knoxville folks as well.

This would go a long way in cleaning up the horrible congestion along Broadway.

The Modern Gal said...

Ybor City! That's a great example right there.

I think you've got the right idea, Pol. Short and fixed. Many cities have done it, with varying degrees of success. A Ft. Sanders artery certainly would drive more students downtown.

Unknown said...

Why not extend it to the hospital or at least to the new sorority village being built. There will be a lot of sorority traffic because the new houses are so far away from campus.

Anonymous said...

Real trolleys scare me. They always have. I don't know why. That said, I am not opposed to your idea. But I am very tired of construction downtown at the moment...

Lo said...

trolleys are an excelent idea! first, you would reduce competition on roads, which is better for pedestrians and cyclists, and have the effect of reducing cars from existing roads. second, a consistent schedule might attract more riders. oh yeah, if it extended to "DoNo" my property value would probably increase!

Anonymous said...

A nice thought but I disagree that a fixed-line trolley is needed. For that short a distance and limited route (point A to B), why not just schedule a dedicated bus/"trolley" to go back and forth? I'm not sure of the current bus routes but I'm guessing there is something close to this route, perhaps along Cumberland to downtown Main St. I like the idea of trolleys in general but if we're going to spend a bunch of money it should be extended to reach further neighborhoods. -M

Lo said...

FYI M- there is a trolley line currently: four lines to be exact(blue, orange, green, late line). Oh, they're free! While I've never planned a bus line, it seems relevant that extending to far reaching neighborhoods would have to be justified in terms of marginal benefits to marginal costs (remember econ 101). the farther out you go, the greater the marginal costs. i don't know how planners would actually determine those marginal benefits, but it seems from recent work in the broadway, central ave area that there are areas within reasonable distance to downtown with attractive returns.

The Modern Gal said...

I could be wrong in this, but I think people find something more charming about a trolley than a trolley-bus or just a bus, and therefore are more likely to ride. Or better publicity/more simplicity is needed for the trolley-bus or whatever it is that runs between the fort and downtown.

carman said...

I lived car-less in an area with both extensive fixed-track systems and extensive bus systems for a good long while, and I have to say ... Trolleys went out of style for a reason. They're a really cumbersome technology when it comes right down to it. Old fashioned trolleys are neat for touristy areas and the like, but they're pretty impractical otherwise.

Anyway, we have a trolley system. It's pretty great, too. And free. And no one is ever on it. Why not simple spend the money to improve and popularize the pretty good public transport system we've already got?

Anonymous said...

It might be nice to have an old-school trolley, but if you want it, then you have convince people of the need of it. In this economic climate and ultra-cynical political cycle locally it's unlikely. The current city mayor is running for governor and likely will not want to undertake such a project with his successor literally months away. One comment above, perhaps tongue in cheek, mentioned that it could be taken out as far as the sorority village. Can you imagine how that will play in the proverbial Peoria? The folks out in the burbs(and their purse strings) will on first instinct see it as for students and downtown hipsters and that attitude will have to be worked on.

A broad PR campaign will be needed to challenge and change entrenched ideas.


Dark Daisy said...

Bring on the trolleys! I love that idea! Someone needs to get on that NOW! It would be a great investment and make Knoxville more unique (than it already is) compared to other TN cities. Can we get any stimulus money for this!? Create jobs, create cool addition to the city...!

Anonymous said...

As a student without a car, I make use of the current 'trolley' system quite a bit. It feeds into all the areas I like to go to, especially the late-nite line that runs on weekends; it will take me straight from my dorm all the way from Old City. Even if I have to walk a bit to the orange or blue lines, it's not nearly as bad as my walk to class.

I suppose the only appeal to 'real' trolleys would be their kitschy old-timey feel and the fact that they're electric. But the system went out of style a long time ago, and like someone said before me, it probably went out for a reason.

If it really matters to you that much to have a trolley system in place in the Fort (which would honestly be nice, because walking there at night IS dangerous and I avoid it as much as possible), the most efficient course of action would be to extend the current system in place to serve that area. As in, adding more fake bus-trolleys and a new route. Surely that would cost less than $4 million, and could get done faster than in 2 years. And wouldn't it function the same?

Wax S. said...

I'm unclear as to why a fixed form of transportation would be a benefit...

Also, as somebody who lived near Boston's intermittently above-ground Green Line, trolleys are loud.

Knoxville seems hardly dense enough to support the KAT..

B said...

I think the idea of trolleys is quaint, and people like quaint, but I'm not sure if that's enough for people to start using public transportation. Because it's still public transportation.

Right now, whether I'm on foot or bike, my least favorite place to travel is from North Knoxville to the Old City/Downtown on Central. As development is occurring on North Central in Happy Hollow, I would love to see Central in between Fifth and Jackson spruced up.
I wonder if a trolley would help.

Anonymous said...

There's a good video by a Cincinnati streetcar advocate interviewing riders in Portland and Germany about their trolley systems:

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What we need is a track that runs east-west between Gay St. and Tyson Park along Clinch Ave. (I'm up for a detour along Summit Hill to the old city but that would be more expensive.)
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