When I first started this blog, one of the first big stories I covered was RTC's long-range plan for South Virginia Street, and the process of converting it into a Transit-Oriented Corridor. Transit-Oriented Development, or TOD for short, has remained a hot topic for  years now. The concept of a TOD centers around creating a transit-rich corridor that promotes (usually) dense development along the corridor where people live, work, shop and play, thus reducing the amount of cars on the road, and instead favoring transit options like RAPID lines, light rail, trolleys, and the like.

Light rail was always in the long range vision of RTC. There was a method to their madness when they built the platform-style RAPID stations along Virginia Street and Center Street. The stations were built to double as light-rail stations when the time came to make the switchover to something with a bit more tourist-appeal and capacity.

The Reno Streetcar Coalition thinks that time is now.

Check out a regional snapshot below of who has streetcars, who has light rail, and the cities currently in the planning stages of adding such services, courtesy the Reno Streetcar Coalition.

The arguments for a streetcar system in Midtown and downtown are convincing.

Studies have shown that streetcars/light rail;

- Promotes dense, mixed use, pedestrian-friendly building near transit systems
- Reduces travel between living, working and shopping activities 20-40%
- Attracts a different rider than bus systems, just as the RAPID bus system has attracted different ridership (more tourists) than other traditional bus lines.
- Stimulates economic revitalization with investment 12 to 60 times the cost of putting it in.
- Creates urban environment and a sense of place attractive to millennials
- Can lower infrastructure cost
- Reduces air pollution and energy consumption

To get an idea of the scale between a light rail and trolley/street car, let's take a look at a cross section:

The Planned Route

So where will it go initially? Let's take a look.

Serving key regional hubs now…

  • Education (University of Nevada)
  • Downtown Reno
  • Midtown

And in the future

  • South (resorts, Convention Center, shopping)
  • Southeast (Renown Regional Medical Center, resort, Reno/Tahoe International Airport)
  • Downtown Sparks

How Will It Be Designed and Installed?

The rail can easily be installed in existing street lanes, and could be installed in conjunction with the South Virginia Street Rehabilitation Project when much of Virginia Street will be replaced with a new street.

Upon completion of street design for South Virginia Street Rehabilitation Project, the Coalition in conjunction with RTC will identify and select funding and financing options, and potentially start construction in conjunction with the 2017 Virginia Street Rehabilitation Project.

The streetcars will be designed to be self-powered with renewable energy with no electrical rail or overhead guide-wires required.

The cost, according to the Reno Streetcar Coalition, is marginal.  With 2.4 miles of track affected by the Virginia Street replacement project (1.2 miles each way between Liberty and Plumb) the cost could be as low as $4.8 million ($2 million/mile depending on amount of reinforcement and pouring method) for this section. 

The remaining rail segments would be installed by retrofitting 2.3 miles (4.6 miles in both directions) of streets for approximately $14.2 million.

Having no overhead electrical system and no sub-station modifications reduces costs significantly.

So How Would a Public-Private Partnership Work?

According to the Reno Street Car Coalition, capital costs can come from:

  • Federal grant (50%)
  • Converting roadway impact fee to fixed guide-way transit impact fee in Virginia Street area
  • Advertising revenues
  • Private sector self assessment in Virginia Street corridor for matching funds

Operations and maintenance costs can come from:

  • RTC funds used for service being replaced (Sierra Spirit and Ride)
  • Fares
  • Advertising revenues
  • Taxes currently used and/or available for transit (e.g., gas and sales tax)
  • Private sector self assessment in Virginia Street corridor
  • Not-For-Profit private entity can finance, construct, own and lease to RTC to operate

So who supports the idea of a streetcar in Midtown/Downtown/University? Nearly everyone who has a stake in downtown and midtown, including Basin Street Properties, Marmot Investments, Peppermill, Nevada Museum of Art, E-Dawn, University of Nevada Reno, Washoe County, Reno Aces, the RSCVA, and more.

This is an idea that could actually gain traction and happen, if the right people support it and push it forward.

What are your thoughts? Ready for a streetcar/trolley in Midtown/Downtown? Check out the Reno Streetcar Coalitions' web site and sign up for updates. They also have a great report on Transit Oriented Development.  I'm not buying the argument that Reno isn't big enough yet for one...because Reno's first original trolley line opened Thanksgiving Day, 1904, when Reno and Sparks were much, much smaller. Check out this fascinating article on the history of Reno's prior trolley system, and a cool clickable high rez map below.