Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mass Transit In Tampa: Past, Present and Future?

Sixty-seven years ago this week, Tampa Electric Company ended Tampa's electric streetcar service. A popular and efficient method of mass transit that had existed in the city since 1885 came to a halt, replaced by buses and, more importantly, cars.

That the city and county were at the brink of incredible change in 1946 is undeniable. The end of World War II saw millions of people moving to Florida, with Hillsborough County one of the main beneficiaries of this growth. New neighborhoods, mostly outside of Tampa's compact city limits, grew virtually overnight. The idea of mass transit connecting these was almost unheard of. Cars, and new roads to carry them, were the answer. Sprawl wasn't a bad word; it was a new way of life.

The streetcar system, which connected the old neighborhoods of West Tampa, Ybor City, Hyde Park, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights, Ballast Point and Port Tampa City to downtown Tampa, was seen as a relic of the past rather than a key part of the future. Tracks were pulled up and inventory was sold off soon after the last car entered the TECO carbarn.

We have changed as a city and as a society in those intervening 63 years. The streetcar system was revived, in a very abbreviated way, in October 2002. The current system connects downtown Tampa and Ybor City, but the new streetcar is more tourist attraction than commuter transport. The time it takes to travel between downtown and Ybor -- about 20 minutes -- is unacceptable to many. Part of the reason it takes so long is that streetcars are not given priority in traffic. Cars still rule the roads.

There has been a lot of talk of late concerning mass transit in Florida, specifically high speed rail crisscrossing the state. If we are going to have efficient mass transit connecting Florida's cities, those cities need to have effective intra-urban transportation connecting business and population centers. Perhaps it is time to look to the past for the answer. We probably cannot return to the streetcar system of yesteryear, but maybe there is something to be learned from a system that carried generations of Tampans to work, play, school, and to their homes, every day for over 60 years.


No comments:

Post a Comment


Share |