Relationships between streetcars and the built environment


Once part of the urban fabric of the United States, streetcars declined as the automobile rose during the 1930s and 1940s. In the last several decades, however, streetcars have returned to popularity — more than 40 new systems are in planning, construction or operation.

To better understand the renaissance of this classic form of urban transportation and its potential development and land-use impacts, the Transit Cooperative Research Program conducted a study in 2010, “Relationships Between Streetcars and the Built Environment: A Synthesis of Transit Practice.”

To focus on the impact of newer systems on the built environment, the study specifically excluded legacy networks such as those in Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Fourteen systems were included in the study, including those in Astoria and Portland, Oregon; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas and Galveston, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.

The study found a range of impacts from streetcar systems, from residential housing to office and retail. The range of property value premiums for proximity to streetcar systems included:

  • Single-family residential: From +2% within 200 feet of a station (San Diego Trolley, 1992) to +32% within 100 feet of a station (St. Louis MetroLink Light Rail, 2004)
  • Condominium: +2% to 18% within 2,640 feet of a station (San Diego Trolley, 2001)
  • Apartment: +0% to 4% within 2,640 feet of a station (San Diego Trolley, 2001) to +45% within 1,320 feet of a station (VTA Light Rail, 2004)
  • Office: +9% within 300 feet of a station (Washington Metrorail, 1981) to +120% within 1,320 feet of a station (VTA Light Rail, 2004)
  • Retail: +1% within 500 feet of a station (BART, 1978) to +167% within 200 feet of a station (San Diego Trolley).

The survey includes information on its methodology as well as case studies of five systems. Each includes information on the system’s development, financing, management and impact on the built environment and economy of the city.

Tags: California, technology, municipal, infrastructure, mass transit, gentrification

Last updated: November 29, 2010


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Citation: "Relationships Between Streetcars and the Built Environment," Transit Cooperative Research Program, September, 2010,