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The real reason streetcars are making a comeback

They’re about economic development — not better transportation.

Since the late 20th century, modern streetcar proposals have been rippling across municipalities in the United States. They’re touted as infrastructure with benefits ranging from social to environmental. But these projects often make appearances in the news as costly, blunder-filled experiments.

So why are so many cities willing to bet big on these expensive streetcars? Experts point to the economic development that tends to follow any corridor built for transit. Yonah Freemark of says:

They are almost entirely designed to support economic development and not increase mobility. And the way that they are designed on the ground in most of the cities where they have been built today in the United States supports that argument.

America’s streetcar renaissance is actually fueled by a desire to support new centers of economic activity within cities. The catch is that the streetcar may not be necessary to achieve these goals.

Watch the video above to learn more about the motivation behind and impact of streetcars.

For a deeper dive into which cities are building transportation and where, you can check out this interactive from You can also check out this documentary for a closer look at the debate around New York's Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar proposal.

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