In the US, streetcars mixed with traffic are popular with developers and some urbanists. But when it comes to actually getting you where you’re going, a bus can do anything a streetcar can do, and it can go around many obstacles (accidents, poorly parked cars, etc.) that shut down a streetcar line. US streetcar starter lines also tend to be very short, forcing people to make connections to reach most destinations.
Last year, Rhode Island leaders decided that the streetcar wasn’t the right answer for downtown Providence. Instead, they redirected their federal funding for a streetcar into a bus-based project in the same place. The Downtown Transit Connector will run through the center of the city, from the medical center in the south to the train station (also a major development node) in the north. Its buses will come every 4-5 minutes, more frequently than any modern US streetcar. Frequency is critical in downtown circulation; we experience waiting time as a percentage of travel time, so we need extremely high frequency if we’re going only a mile or so.
This is not just a streetcar run with buses. It’s more powerful, because the buses running along this path, forming the high frequency, will continue onto other routes across the city. The genius of the project, then, is that it solves two urgent downtown problems at once. It provides the attractive and legible very-frequent spine that makes so many American urbanists want streetcars, but it also solves the problem of getting major bus line through downtown, so that the whole city benefits.
It’s an excellent project with relevance to many US downtowns. I encourage you to follow its progress.