The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning

Assessing the Impacts of Streetcars on Economics, Equity, and Quality of Urban Life

This research project, Assessing the Impacts of Streetcars on Economics, Equity, and Quality of Urban Life, aims to explore the benefits and costs associated with the “streetcar movement” taking place in cities nationwide through the lenses of economic development, equity and quality of life. We will answer the question: Can streetcars perform as an economic revitalization tool while enhancing urban quality of life equitably for all residents?

Statement of the Problem

Inspired by the success of the Portland streetcar at rejuvenating urban neighborhoods, streetcar systems are currently popular transit infrastructure investments in cities across the nation. They are credited with catalyzing economic development along their routes, with revitalizing inner city neighborhoods and with improving urban quality of life. There is a risk, however, that the economic development that accompanies the streetcar may increase housing costs and thereby drive out low-income residents who most need access to the transit infrastructure. This research will explore the balance between the positive and potential negative outcomes of streetcar developments based on three existing case studies. Within this larger context, the project will initiate a long-term study of Salt Lake City’s Sugarhouse streetcar, scheduled to begin service in December 2013. The case studies will include economic development, public attitudes across different populations over time, and the need for and effectiveness of affordable housing initiatives associated with the project.

Methodology
The project will consist of a series of comparative before-and-after case studies, using existing and newly-collected data, on non-tourist-oriented streetcar developments in North America with an in-depth study of the new Sugarhouse streetcar in Salt Lake City. Methods will include quantitative economic analysis of development attributable to the streetcar, qualitative survey analyses of attitudes toward the streetcar and quality of life in the streetcar corridor, and a synthesis of affordable housing initiatives associated with transit-oriented development.

Valuable Contribution to Existing Research
To date, the arguments in favor of streetcars as urban economic redevelopment catalysts are primarily anecdotal and are usually presented simply in terms of total development dollars. We propose an approach that quantifies and weighs the costs and benefits from a broader comparative perspective. As a result of this research, communities interested in investing in streetcars will know better what questions to ask, and a toolbox of programs that have been effective at maximizing the positive and minimizing the negative outcomes of streetcar projects.

In Utah, this research is of tremendous value to local agencies and the community. By initiating this research at the outset of the Sugarhouse streetcar project, we lay the groundwork for ongoing study of the project and future phases of the streetcar system. The research will provide critical data to the agencies involved upon which future decisions may be based.

Broader Impact
It is the goal of any city to spur development of neighborhoods that are economically vibrant, socially cohesive, and equitable. Streetcars carry much promise of being able to accomplish these goals, however, little empirical research has been conducted to support this promise. This research proposes to quantitatively explore the potential of streetcars as urban revitalization catalysts. As a result, communities interested in investing in streetcars will know better what expectations are reasonable, what questions to ask, and what approaches have been effective at maximizing the positive and minimizing the negative outcomes of streetcar projects.