Streetcar Resurgence in the Pacific Northwest

This paper describes how, during the latter part of the 19th Century and the first third of the 20th Century, communities throughout the Northwest experienced an era of growth that coincided with the emergence of the electric streetcar. The result was a marriage of convenience that resulted in streetcars serving essential transportation functions while helping shape each community. In fact, many, if not most of the initial investments in streetcar systems within each of these communities were made by private land developers in order to provide access between outlying residential developments and the downtown areas. Within the downtown street systems of communities such as Seattle, Spokane, Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia competition became fierce between numerous private developers for space within the street right of way for tracks, as streetcars solidified their status as a focus of each community’s social and work fabric. With the emergence of the automobile the economics of maintaining streetcar systems became increasingly more difficult, resulting in some lines becoming insolvent, then ceasing to operate. Others experienced a series of consolidations and ownership changes that resulted in many lapsing into ownership by various utility companies that provided the necessary electricity to support the systems. By 1940 the majority of the systems and individual streetcar lines had ceased to operate. Their dramatic role in shaping numerous communities throughout the Northwest became the subject of fond memories and pictures on the walls of public buildings. A very few lines did survive into the 1950.s before they succumbed to insolvency tied to the pressures to accommodate the automobile. With the demise of these systems, communities not only lost a primary element of their transportation systems, but also systems that had shaped development and provided an ongoing reinforcement of the development through the presence of a permanent transportation infrastructure investment. The streetcar systems were also an important element in the social fabric of each community, providing their own entertainment on weekends as well as providing access to many of the early amusement parks and other forms of entertainment that were created along streetcar alignments. Given the close association between the very existence of so many communities in the Northwest and the early era of the streetcars, it is not surprising that Northwest cities have become the North America focal point for the resurgence of the streetcar technology. Thirteen communities have implemented or have conducted formal planning efforts to explore the possibility of implementing a streetcar system. The reason for exploring investments in streetcar systems varies widely, as does the types of systems being explored. This paper reviews the status of the thirteen proposed or operating streetcar systems in the Northwest and the basis for the interest in developing each project.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: CD-ROM
  • Features: Figures; Maps; Tables;
  • Pagination: 8p
  • Monograph Title: 2007 Proceedings Rail Conference

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01051810
  • Record Type: Publication
  • ISBN: 1931594260
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jun 18 2007 2:49PM