Once among America’s great trolley towns, Reading, Pennsylvania is among those cities considering streetcars as a tool for downtown revitalization.
As reported in Wednesday’s edition of the Reading Eagle newspaper, graduate students at Alvernia University in Reading offered three proposals to get such a costly project off to a running start. Reporter Darrin Youker’s main article on their presentation can be found here, while an overview of the three proposals by students in Dr. Scott Ballantyne’s executive leadership course at Alvernia can be found here.
The bad news, if you will, is that two of the options call for bus service — apparently hybrid electrics and/or the ersatz “trolley” bus replicas as a prelude to (or as a substitute for?) actual rail service. Given that Reading already has buses, it’s hard to see how buses that look like trolleys would add to desire for — or lessen the price tag of — a streetcar line estimated to cost in excess of $40 million.
Heated battles have been fought across the country over whether or not rail transit can be demonstrably shown to generate the level of economic development its supporters often claim (see my Sept. 4 post about Portland Streetcar for more on that debate). If the link between streetcars and economic development is tenuous in some minds, I would venture that for buses such a link is almost non-existent. Tourists — well, other than transit geeks like me — don’t go places to see, ride and photograph buses (with the possible exception of these).
The good news, of course, is that the students had an opportunity to learn about the project, bring some new ideas to the discussion and generate some news coverage in the process, helping keep the concept in the public eye.
Glancing backward a bit, this 2009 Reading Eagle article, also by Darrin Youker, reported on the release of a study recommending trolleys for the city’s Penn Street corridor, with reaction from local leaders.
For more on the history of Reading’s trolley system and its survivors:
- This nicely illustrated page looks at the history of trolley service to nearby Mohnton, Pa.
- Internet forum discussion on surviving Reading cars, with vintage and recent views.
- Electric City Trolley Museum vehicle collection page, with details on Reading cars 102 and 506.