Tag Archives: transportation

Desiring Streetcars

Not Even Past,” a blog produced by the history department at the University of Texas at Austin, just posted a piece about streetcars in the city. It’s amazing how similar the story of one American city is to the next.

Austin street scene

MADD Highways

If I were a historian, I might write a book about the relationship between the drinking age and car driving in America. I might wonder how much of our lives have been fragmented by these two devices. I might marvel at their intertwined stories and their combined affect on the way we live. I might mourn the loss of American tradition and culture.

I think I might be too emotionally invested to be a historian.

C-T-D: The Complete Loop

Ok, I’m changing my vision for reconnecting Tyler. In my post “Connecting the Dots: Intro,” I called for a loop of streets to be beautified with bike lanes, street trees as well as connected with street cars. My original vision saw the street car loop connecting down Broadway, but today I changed my mind. My imaginary Tyler now has a network of complete streets and a two-way street car loop. The map I have drawn (to the right) is the culmination of about a month of work on my Connecting the Dots project (C-T-D). It’s not a conclusion, but this is this skeleton that will be my foundation for future posts on infill development in Tyler. These developments are the dots themselves: The high-density nodes that should be developed throughout the older parts of Tyler. “The Loop” is the public investment that is necessary to make the entire concept a reality.

It begins with a paradigm shift from the current philosophy on street construction in Tyler. Currently, a street in Tyler (left) is where cars drive. While it seems like a basic statement, this is a relatively new phenomenon credited to 20th century engineers and planners who gave cars complete precedence in matters of urban travel. Before the advent of the automobile, streets were places to walk, gather, transport and protest. Bicyclists were the first promoters of “good streets” in America and streetcars (started in Richmond, VA) were the first modes of suburbanization. When the car became affordable, it trumped all of these previous developments and occluded their progression. In the past century, streets became very dangerous spaces as car-related deaths increased. The gathering spaces in America were lost. In his TED Talk, “The Tragedy of Suburbia“* (*F-Bomb warning) James Howard Kunstler argued,

“The public realm in America has two roles: It is the dwelling place of our civic life and it is the physical manifestation of the common good. And when you degrade the public realm you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and the character of all the enactments of your public life and communal life. The public realm comes mostly in the form of the street in America …”

In Tyler, we have certainly experienced this degradation of the quality of our civic life. There are few public gathering spaces. Just so we’re clear, Starbucks is not a public space, it is a private, money-making enterprise. There were once some incredible public spaces in the city, but many were destroyed or neglected … the downtown square is a sad example. Public space today is a scattered system of lovely public parks typically accesible by car. Our streets are often these large asphalt rivers running through the city with cars zooming by at deadly speeds. I drive one of these cars so I understand their utility, but I also understand the benefits of alternative transportation.

The National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) states that “Complete Streets are for everyone.” While there is no singular definition of a complete street, NCSC states that a city committed to transportation choices will ensure that “every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists – making your town a better place to live.” (NCSC also listed the “elements of an ideal Complete Streets policy” to help local citizens tailor the concept to their locality.) Thus, a complete street will have defined spaces designated to those citizens not driving in cars:

I really can’t expound on this concept any more except to say this: Complete Streets are a message to the citizens of a city. It says, “Come outside, experience our streets and enjoy your city.” Currently, the message is, “Drive here, this speed, when I say go.”

The next stage in revitalizing this section of the city is the addition of a two-way street car loop. This will be an incredible statement of commitment from the public sector and will stimulate private investment at every point along the route. In my map (above) I have designated some locations that are prime for infill development. These typically have a ton of underperforming asphalt and outdated strip centers. The street car loop will be a convenient novelty for tourists as well as a viable commuting opportunity for a number of large employers along the loop. In addition, the street car loop will finally connect the parts of Tyler that are culturally, financially and historically significant: The Rose Garden, downtown, the hospital district, and the Azalea District. I’ll admit, the primary shortcoming of this loop is that it currently ignores the area north of the square. I response, I think that Broadway should be “completed” all the way to Gentry (banner photo of this post) which should also be retrofitted with bike lanes and street trees all the way to the amazing Caldwell Zoo. If you haven’t driven on Gentry lately you might not know how big that street is … it is due for a full retrofit.

So this is my “Complete Loop.” Unlike the car loop (323), it’s beautiful and versatile and it invites everyone to come and enjoy.

Check out my other Tyler projects at my Tyler, TX page.

*I also had a policy thought: Developments and businesses along The Loop would be exempt from zoning laws that require on-site parking. Instead, public parking would be provided at points along The Loop to encourage a “park-and-ride” system.