A Proposal for a Downtown Trolley in Madison, Wisconsin
By John DeLamater (October 1999)
- To provide fast, comfortable and convenient transportation between downtown venues, including Monona Terrace Convention Center, Civic Center, the proposed Arts district, and the Kohl Center, and hotels and public parking facilities.
- Improve the attractiveness of the State Street Mall by replacing diesel buses with historic electric streetcars.
Originate at Monona Terrace Convention Center, at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Wilson Street (Convention Center Hotel). The line would travel northwest on Martin Luther King Blvd., circle counterclockwise around Capitol Square (Concourse Hotel), and travel the length of the State Street Mall (Civic Center, Arts District) to Lake Street. The route would turn north on Lake to Langdon Street (Pyle Center), then west on Langdon to Park Street (Memorial Union), turn left onto Park Street (UW campus), and proceed 3 blocks south to Dayton Street. The route would turn east on Dayton (Southeast dormitories) to Francis Street (Kohl Center), turn left/north onto Francis (Fluno Center), and proceed to State Street. The route would turn east on State Street and proceed to Capitol Square, proceed counterclockwise around the Square to Martin Luther King Blvd, turn right and proceed to Monona Terrace. The route is 3.4 track miles.
At least nine American cities have built trolley lines through the central business district or downtown pedestrian malls in recent years. The city of Kenosha, WI, is presently building the Electric Streetcar Circulator Project, a two-mile line connecting the central city, METRA commuter rail station and Harborfront Park. In Memphis, TN, the Main Street Trolley is a 2.5 mile line that interconnects the Central Business District, Main Street Mall, and several Memphis Landmarks. The Trolley began operations in 1993, and annual ridership had almost doubled by 1998. In San Francisco, CA, a highly successful six mile streetcar line through the central business district was introduced in 1995 (F - Market Street). Other cities with new streetcar systems include Dallas, TX (McKinney Avenue), New Orleans (Riverfront), and San Jose, CA. In addition to Kenosha, systems are under construction in Colorado Springs, CO, Portland, OR, and Little Rock, AR.
I propose that the line utilize PCC streetcars. They are quiet, fast and comfortable, powered by four 55 horsepower DC electric motors, with a top speed of 50 mph. They are 46-48 feet long, and 8 feet, 5 and 3/8 inches wide. Depending upon internal configuration, they seat 50 to 60 passengers. PCC cars are well-built and very reliable. Cars built in the 1940s continue to provide daily service in Boston, MA, Newark, NJ, and San Francisco, CA. The lines being built in Kenosha, WI, and Colorado Springs, CO, will utilize PCC cars. The cars are standard railroad gauge, 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches. They require rails permanently embedded in the street, and an overhead wire system for current distribution. The current is 600 volts DC. The tracks do not impede auto traffic. The overhead wire is 18 to 20 feet above the pavement.
The proposed route is 3.4 miles in length. The Downtown Madison Line could provide service every 6 minutes on weekdays, more frequently at lunch time and during rush hours, less frequently at night. On Saturdays and Sundays, headways could be lengthened to 8 and 10 minutes. Service would be offered between 6:00 AM and 1:00 AM. These frequencies would require a fleet of 10 cars, with the expectation that 8 would be in service at any given time.
The streetcars require a storage and repair facility. An ideal location would be the surface parking lot between Gilman and Gorham Streets. This lot would accommodate a building with three tracks, two for storage and one for maintenance and repairs. Cars could exit State Street on Gilman and enter the rear of the facility. Leaving the facility, cars would turn right on Gorham and enter State Street. An alternative location would be at the south end of Francis Street, adjacent to the Kohl Center and the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad track.
Possible Funding Sources
This project should be eligible for federal funds, either through the Urban Mass Transit (UMTA) program or the TEA-21 program. These sources may contribute up to eighty percent of the cost of the system. If so, the construction would require an approximate $2.13 million contribution by local sources.
Integration with Other Proposals
This proposal integrates smoothly with several current efforts to maintain and improve the social and economic health of the Lower Campus/State Street/Capitol Square area.
- State Street Strategic Plan - "make transit an asset without compromising environmental quality." (P. 49)
- Recommendations of Downtown Partners (275 members) to Mayor Sue Baumann for continuing improvements to State Street and the central business district
- The Overture Foundationšs plans for an Arts District on State/Fairchild/Mifflin Sts.
- Univ. Of Wisconsin Prof. Tino Baliošs proposal for a Lower Campus Arts District.
- The Madison-Dane County commuter rail proposal. The proposal envisions train stations at the Kohl Center and at Monona Terrace; the streetcar line would directly connect both stations with Downtown venues.
- The long-range Regional Rail Transportation Plan being developed by the Dane Alliance for Rail Transit.
- The Downtown Trolley would provide convenient access to State Street businesses, downtown attractions, and the University of Wisconsin campus. It would reinforce State Street's role "in connecting The University of Wisconsin to the larger community and to public places such as the State Capitol and Monona Terrace." (Strategic Plan, Vision)
The Downtown Trolley would be quiet and non-polluting.
- The Downtown Trolley would interconnect 11 major locations/facilities which attract residents and visitors and house visitors.
- The Downtown Trolley route passes within two blocks of each of the eight downtown parking ramps; this allows easy access from any parking ramp to any downtown venue.
- Service to Monona Terrace and the Convention Center Hotel would increase access of convention-goers to State Street venues, especially during inclement weather.
- The Downtown Trolley would itself attract riders; people will ride streetcars just for the ride. The experience in every city has been that streetcars attract substantial numbers of riders. This will increase the visibility of State Street businesses and area attractions.
- The cars could be painted in the colors used by various Wisconsin cities for their streetcars, celebrating the heritage of the street railway. This would attract as riders many Wisconsinites who visit Madison because it is the state capitol.