We’re developing a plan to replace buses with a modern streetcar line on Clark Street from Wrigley Field to Daley Plaza.

What’s a streetcar?

It’s not an old-fashioned trolley or an elevated train, but a long, a low-floor light-rail vehicle that runs in the street with level boarding through multiple double doors and no waiting. On most of the street there would be local access for cars, but no through traffic, so the streetcar would run free in a dedicated lane. It would be faster and much cheaper than driving or taking a taxi, and probably three times as fast as a bus stuck in traffic.

Faster commuting and convenient shopping

This is more of a local business and neighborhood improvement initiative than a transit project. The streetcar brings a lot more foot traffic to Clark Street, and it’s the foot traffic that drives local retail. It brings commuting and shopping together. It’s like a much more convenient shopping mall: a great pedestrian environment, but instead of being out by the highway, it’s on the way home and right in the neighborhood, with thousands of apartments right upstairs and seventy thousand commuters walking through it twice a day on the way to and from work.

Sounds expensive. How do we pay for it?

Streetcars cost about 10% as much as elevated trains or subways, so you could do two complete 5-mile streetcar lines for the cost of extending the Red Line just one mile. They’re cheaper to operate than buses because each driver can deliver a lot more passengers. And unlike buses or elevated trains, they generate business and property development all along the line, so that over time they can pay for themselves in increased tax revenue.

How does that impact traffic?

We want to convert some of the diagonal streets that radiate out from the Loop into streetcar commuter shopping streets. Taking the diagonal streets out of traffic would simplify those huge three-way intersections and allow traffic to move more smoothly on the grid—especially since much faster transit service would attract lots of people who now drive. The only disadvantage of streetcars is that they take the place of cars in the street, but once you have the kind of traffic congestion we have in Chicago, that’s actually a good thing. It’s a way to send more people and fewer cars into the Loop every year: a permanent solution to the congestion problem that just gets better and better, because the more people use it, the more frequently the trains come.

Sounds great, but people just want to drive.

The Clark Street line would run through the four zip codes with the highest transit ridership in all of Chicago. In these neighborhoods, drivers are the minority. They’ll still be able to drive to work, but not down Clark Street: Clark is going to be optimized for commuting and shopping.

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