A streetcar runs through Tucson.

Department of Transportation

Why More Cities Should Desire Streetcars Like Tucson's

The Arizona city's Sun Link transit system is eco-friendly, and it's largely made in America.

Last month, residents of Tucson welcomed a new form of transportation: Sun Link, a new line of zero-emission streetcars.

The eco-friendly option connects the University of Arizona campus and Medical Center with the 4th Avenue Business District downtown area, as well as the new Mercado community west of the Interstate, according to a Department of Transportation (DOT) release.

These sleek, modern streetcars may be a nod to the country’s transportation past, but the $196.5 million revival is directed at creating an environmental-friendly, seamless public transit experience in addition to other forms like buses. In fact, the Arizona Public Interest Research Group found that Tucson increased its transit ridership by 25 percent (per capita) over the last five years, Government Technology reports. While a population growth and the millennial generation’s proclivity for public transit are contributing factors, it’s important to see Tucson’s urban planners responding with initiatives like Sun Link.

The Downtown Tuscon Partnership estimates the four-mile route has raked in about $1.5 billion in public and private investments, which includes more than 1,500 new units in housing development, restaurants and retail.

“Roughly 100,000 people live within a half-mile of one of the new Sun Link streetcar stations, and that’s great news for everyone looking for an opportunity to leave their car at home and take transit instead,” said FTA Chief Counsel Carter.

That foot traffic alone is enough to sustain a transit system like Sun Link. In fact, on opening day 17,000 residents boarded the green streetcars.

Sun Link was partially funded by the DOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, while its Portland-based manufacturer, United Streetcar, is supported by the country’s Buy America program, which ensures at least 60 percent of each vehicle bought with taxpayer money is American-made and assembled in the U.S. That means Sun Link’s economic stimulation extends to Portland as well. 

As Government Technology points out, investing in future transit combined with domestic manufacturing incentives is essential to spurring economic development and job growth. Strengthening that concept through the GROW AMERICA Act, which would increase the domestic requirement for transit vehicles to 100 percent by 2019, is one way the more cities can benefit from a system like Sun Link.

MORE: Why Salt Lake City May Become the New Leader in Public Transportation

Source: Government Technology

Courtney is a writer and reporter based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She previously worked for Time.com and TIME International.