Remaking what we once had

“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,
Ding, ding, ding went the bell…”

— “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944

Streetcar in downtown Fort Worth

There’s a bit of irony in Fort Worth’s tentative steps to create a network of streetcars to reduce commuters’ dependence on cars and trucks: Like many American cities, Fort Worth once had a fine streetcar system and a light-rail line to Dallas.
That earlier network got nary a mention Tuesday night as the Fort Worth City Council unanimously decided to spend about $800,000 for an engineering study to determine whether a modern streetcar network would well serve America’s 17th-largest city.
By a vote of 9-0, with some members expressing reservations, the City Council awarded a contract to HDR Engineering of Omaha, Neb., to do a feasibility study for the “Modern Streetcar Planning and Design Project.” At a previous meeting, the council had debated spending nearly $1.9 million for a broader study, but voted Tuesday for a scaled-back effort.
Like many cities facing increasing traffic congestion and air pollution, Fort Worth is examining various means of alternative transportation.
On Feb. 9, the City Council approved a “comprehensive bicycle transportation plan,” which aims to “attain official designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community through the League of American Cyclists” by 2015. Called “Bike Fort Worth,” the plan also calls for expansion of the bike transportation network to nearly 1,000 miles, including off-street trails, dedicated on-street bike lanes and shared-roadway bike routes.
Light rail lines from outlying areas, which would link to the streetcar network in the urban core, are also part of a broader plan for alternative transportation in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Interurban heading from Dallas to Fort Worth near what is now the Handley neighborhood, circa 1930

Sadly, in retrospect, Fort Worth once had one of the nation’s best streetcar systems, which linked downtown with neighborhoods on the near south side, the west side and the Stockyards area.
The Stop Six neighborhood on the southeast side is so named because it was the sixth stop on the North Texas Traction Co.’s Interurban to Dallas.
“The Fort Worth Street Railway dates back to 1874 as a horse-powered streetcar operation,” says the Web site “It was renamed the Northern Texas Electric Company in 1902 and again changed hands in 1938 as the Fort Worth Transit Company. Streetcar service survived until 1939 when buses took over transit operations.”
That transition from streetcars to buses — during a time when rails were dug up and streetcars destroyed — seems to be one of the saddest episodes in U.S. transportation history.
Some argue that it was a result of a cabal involving General Motors and the big oil companies so that GM and the oil companies could sell more buses, cars and gasoline.

Streetcar on Main Street, looking north from 10th Street, circa 1920s

Others contend that the demise of U.S. cities’ streetcar networks was an inevitable result of the invention of the internal combustion engine, the increasing popularity of the private automobile and the construction of streets and roads that catered to motorized transport.
Also, goes this argument, buses were seen as the new technology at the time and were more flexible than streetcars because they could travel any designated route, rather than on a fixed track.
Whatever the reason, between the early 1920s and early 1950s, cities all over the United States ripped up their streetcar tracks or buried them under asphalt and started using buses.
Now we’re trying to remake something that we once had.


1 Comment

Filed under Americana, Cool stuff, Texana, Urban cycling

One response to “Remaking what we once had

  1. Pingback: A ‘sea change’ in how we get around « Jim’s Bike Blog

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