Get on Board

Modern mass transit is no longer an option for Great Lakes cities; it's an imperative. The environmental and social benefits that accrue to cities that invest in rapid public transit are well documented. Now mounting evidence suggests that public spending on transit systems yield significant economic returns as well.

The streetcar is a particularly stong economic engine, according to a presentation at the recent Railvolution conference in Chicago. Among the findings:
  • Little Rock, Ark., opened a 2.5-mile route in 2004 at a cost of approximately $20 million and already has experienced more $1.2 billion in new development.
  • Tampa's 2.3-mile, $56 million streetcar system, opened in 2003, already has leveraged $1 billion in private investment.
  • Tacoma's $89 million streetcar system, opened in 2003, already has generated nearly $1 billion in redevelopment.
Still, the majority of elected leaders across the Great Lakes region continue to view mass transit not as a crucial economic development tool that can revitalize cities and chart a course for 21st century prosperity, but rather as an expensive, big-government social service for getting poor people to work and old people to the doctor.