Surveys & Opinions

 

Initial Feasibility Assessment
Downtown Streetcar System

Prepared for the
City of Des Moines
by
Franklin B. Conaway & Associates, Ltd.
Chillicothe, Ohio
franklin@fbconaway.com
April 14, 2008

I. Assessment is Clearly Positive
Based upon an initial field survey, information provided by various potential stake holders and consideration of each criteria included in the consultants Streetcar Circulator Evaluation Matrix, I have concluded that sufficient necessary conditions are in place within the overall downtown area of Des Moines to successfully demonstrate the unique transit and economic development benefits of a well planned streetcar circulator system. An advantageous combination of circumstances provides the foundation for a downtown streetcar circulator to be rated with an approximate positive rating of twenty (in the evaluation matrix) within only a few years after initial operation of the system begins. This is an exceptionally high rating on a nationally comparable scale for medium sized cities. (The highest possible rating is twenty-one).
II. Summary of Des Moines Assessment
A. Evaluation Summary and Approximate Initial Route
All points within the central core area of Des Moines that could be served by a downtown streetcar
circulator are well within the recommended physical limits for such circulators in medium sized cities. There are no apparent physical barriers to building the system. The street grid is such that a streetcar circulator can effectively serve a high percentage of the overall downtown area. Additionally, the high density of employment in the downtown area, the accessible locations of emerging and vital mixed use neighborhoods, and the location of areas that are targeted for major re-development all come together to create a nearly ideal set of conditions necessary to predict the success of a streetcar circulator. These conditions are such that downtown Des Moines could well become a nationally relevant demonstration city that would affirm the special advantages of streetcars in their new role as circulators over all other forms of transit that might be utilized for the same purpose.

1. In downtown Des Moines, the pattern of primary streets, the scale of the urban core, the location of major business institutions and civic places, including the Iowa State Capitol, have all evolved in the context of a strong east-west alignment that was established in the earliest days of town development. Based upon this alignment and the most desirable destinations identified through the assessment process (including the evaluation (including the evaluation matrix), and taking into account future community sanctioned development and land use objectives, an initial streetcar circulator would logically operate between the State Capitol area on the east and possibly as far west as Fifteenth Street. The high projected rating (Chart B of the Evaluation Matrix) is founded upon these assumptions.
1 Please see Attachment “A” Primary Function of the Streetcar in Today’s Medium-Sized Cities in the column to the right. Traditionally, streetcars operated primarily on linear routes as most buses do today. For the purposes of this report, the term “circulator” defines the transit function only and does not denote that a specific route has been recommended. However, the primary purpose of the assessment process and the evaluation matrix is to determine whether certain existing and/or future conditions within a given area will support a streetcar circulator and whether the streetcars themselves will foster the achievement and/or sustainment of these conditions. The areas to be served are known and therefore at least an approximate route is assumed based upon the findings in the matrix. Later extensions to an initial streetcar system could be linear or in the form of loops.
2
B. Matrix Summary
Introduction
The Streetcar Route Evaluation Matrix is an assessment of conditions. It is intended to serve as a general guide that will assist any medium sized city to determine if they are ready for streetcars. Although it can be utilized to evaluate linear routes (Columbus, Ohio, page 17), the matrix is more specifically oriented to help determine the likelihood for success of a streetcar circulator. Because the matrix is a guide, all of
the planning categories (considerations number four through twenty-one) are intended to be fluid in nature, not definitive or decisive on their own. For example, a hospital may have fewer beds than recommended in the matrix or there may not be multiple performing arts venues within the proposed streetcar operating area -- – but the streetcar circulator may still be successful because of the sum of all positive conditions. The most important condition is that a large number of people live within the area to be served by the circulator. If there is already a trend towards downtown living, the streetcar circulator will dramatically accelerate this process and thereby contribute to its own success in a manner that is not characteristic of other modes of transit. Streetcars function best where the intention is to enhance place and access. This means convenient, pedestrian oriented access to the heart of the city , as contrasted to other primary modes of transportation that are oriented towards speed and distance.
A streetcar circulator is a pedestrian oriented mode of transit with a unique ability to connect the many vital parts of a downtown community in such a way that new and sustainable community vigor is
created. This is not unlike the new vigor experienced by the human body with improved circulation. The additional benefit of a streetcar circulator (where the conditions are right) is an accelerated rate of new investment in the urban core that, when integrated into a well-conceived transportation development strategy, ultimately results in a well balanced and permanently vital center city area. This new vitality is characterized by high densities of both people and buildings. While streetcars work best under such high-density conditions, they have the special ability to also foster such conditions. The end result is that a real choice in lifestyles is available to many more people.
It is important to remember that the finding in each category in the matrix would be supported by much
more information and data as additional planning for the system is undertaken, but the conclusions remain the same. Also, the assessment should be viewed as a two-step process – an evaluation of conditions as they are now (assuming the circulator is in operation today), and a projection of conditions as they will be after the
streetcar circulator system matures (five to ten years after operation begins).
With respect to current conditions, a low rating would generally be considered to be any number under
nine. A good rating is generally twelve or above. There is always both a positive and a negative rating. Assuming the physical considerations are all positive (first three matrix categories) the evaluation can be based solely upon the eighteen streetcar planning considerations (consider-ations four through twentyone).
For Des Moines, all twenty-one categories are summarized.

See Charts
The charts on the following pages summarize current conditions in Des Moines (Chart A) and projected conditions five to ten years after a downtown streetcar circulator enters service (Chart B). With a rating of twenty for a mature system, Des Moines would be extremely well serviced by a downtown streetcar cjirculator. Please note that this evaluation does not include any consideration for later extensions of the circulator, which should be anticipated in any ongoing planning process. Where appropriate, considerations d-addressed in the matrix are combined sequentially to facilitate the preliminary assessment
process.

3. Field Survey
A high quality survey will provide and/or confirm all of the necessary data and information necessary to determine the best downtown economic development and land use objectives that can be more quickly realized with the benefit of a streetcar circulator. This information will include, but not be limited to, demographic data, land area available for development, current rates and types of development, and the amount of existing building space available for reinvestment. Fortunately, much of this data and information is currently available as a result of previous studies and the just completed Downtown Des Moines Planning Project. Preliminary route determination can therefore be undertaken simultaneously with confirmation of such information through the field survey. The streetcar based transportation oriented development (TOD) strategy (below) would be significantly based upon information obtained and or confirmed in this survey.
4. Preliminary Costs and Methodology
The process of developing realistic preliminary cost estimates should begin as soon as the initial route(s)
is determined. Such estimates can include alternate routes or portions of alternate routes. While it is not within the scope of this report to detail the cost estimating methodology, it is strongly recommended to bring qualified contractors into the initial estimating process at the very beginning of this process. (See foot note #5 for approximate initial cost assumptions.)
5. The Transportation Oriented Development Strategy
High quality community data and information are crucial to establishing the base for measuring the success of the TOD strategy. All development objectives contained in this strategy are contrasted to this base in accordance with a pre-determined timetable.
Streetcar based transportation-oriented development strategies differ from other approaches to TOD in several respects, including the fact that development takes place and is sustained along the entire length of the streetcar line (not just around station stops). Because streetcars are by far the most effective form of transit that actually induces economic development we sometimes refer to them as “development oriented transit”.
The streetcar based transportation oriented development strategy will be the foundation for both realistic economic development projections and ridership projections. These, in turn, are fundamental to obtaining funding to build and operate the initial streetcar system. While it is not within the scope of this report to detail the elements of a sound, streetcar based TOD strategy, such a strategy will include very clear goals, priority projects that include the adaptive use of existing buildings as well as new construction, firm timetables, realistic measuring standards and confirmation of a public/private partnership that will administer and implement the strategy with determination.

6. Economic Development and Ridership Projections
After the preliminary route (or routes) are determined and the outline for the TOD strategy is completed, projections regarding the amount of economic development (in dollars) and the number of riders can be realistically estimated by qualified professionals.

Economic development projections are forecast based upon the rate of accelerated development induced by the streetcar circulator as compared to the current rate of development without the streetcar circulator. Ridership projections are based upon several considerations not currently utilized in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA’s) recommended ridership forecasting methodologies for buses.
One of the most reliable methodologies for forecasting streetcar ridership utilizes community comparisons for medium-sized cities with similar circumstances and characteristics. Although it is not within the scope of this report to outline the details of this methodology, a significant element in the ridership forecasting process would be the success of DART’s Unlimited Access Program, which brings many workers downtown who would otherwise travel by car. The more people who are downtown without their automobiles, the more successful the streetcar system will be. Interestingly, after the streetcar circulator becomes operational, the Unlimited Access Program (and DART’s Pass Program) will be even more intensely utilized as workers learn how easily they can move about in downtown Des Moines. The many other positive circumstances existing within the proposed operational area for an initial streetcar circulator lend themselves to projecting a high level of ridership.
7. Funding
It is not within the scope of this report to detail all of the many funding options available for building and operating a streetcar circulator. As costs, development opportunities and ridership levels are confirmed, the best options available for funding become clearer. However, based upon the approximate route suggested in this report it seems reasonable to assume that one third of the cost for building a Des Moines streetcar circulator might come from local sources, one third from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and one third from other sources, which might include an FTA “Small Starts” grant. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) could be utilized to pay down a federal loan originating from the TIFIA program. The Small Starts program is a new, still emerging funding program that is intended to benefit transportation projects that cost no more than $250,000,000 with a simpler review process than larger projects are required to undertake. As an integral part of the overall recommended course of action, an initial funding plan should be included in the next phase of analysis for a proposed downtown streetcar circulator.
Commentary
Significant amounts of public funding are required to build and operate a streetcar system that will serve transit needs while also accelerating the realization of a community’s economic develop-opment and land use objectives.
However, private sector funding is by far the most efficient way to complete the recommended next course of action summarized above. Because the rate of economic development is greatly accelerated
by streetcar circulators–under the right circumstances (as in Des Moines)–the private sector has stepped forward in other cities to pay for most of the costs associated with preliminary planning, design and estimating.

The costs are minimal compared to the benefits derived.

If we assume an approximate initial streetcar circulator route of 4.5 miles, the approximate estimated cost (in today’s dollars) should not exceed $80,000,000, including streetcars and a maintenance facility.
TIFIA provides for three forms of credit for qualified projects, including a long-term low interest loan.
There are considerable cost savings to be realized, as well as timesavings, in developing initial project concepts and realistic cost estimates when financed primarily through private funding. Private sector contributions can provide for central control of the initial planning and estimating process at the earliest stages of project development, which results in cost efficiencies throughout the long term planning and project financing process. Also, the nexus for a durable private/public partnership can be created that will greatly benefit the ability to secure public funding for the actual project.
Contingent upon the approval of estimated costs for completing the proposed course of action (provided upon request), together with any other items proposed by others, it is highly recommended that private sector contributions be solicited to support any next level of investigation and planning for a proposed streetcar circulator.

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UPDATE: 5/4/2010 Funding constraints have put the project on hold. (Based on preliminary cost estimates, construction of this initial phase could be completed at a current dollar cost of $104 million. Annual operating costs are estimated at $5.6 million.) View the findings of the June 2009 report online at

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Attachment A
Primary Function of the Streetcar in Today’s Medium-Sized Cities


The primary function of today’s streetcar is not the same as its traditional primary function. During the first 50 years of intense streetcar use (1890’s-1940’s), the principal use of streetcars was to service linear routes, connecting the city center to nearby neighborhoods and then to the ever expanding surrounding environs.
The initial rapid expansion of urban areas nationally was significantly fostered almost entirely by streetcars servicing both existing and newly established linear corridors. By the mid 1950’s automobiles had almost entirely overtaken this traditional streetcar role, with buses assuming any gap in the passenger capacity of the linear route.
The streetcar is now quickly coming back to life because its distinct advantages as a center city circulator are being newly discovered. The need for efficient downtown circulators is greater than ever as more and more people return to the center city to visit, work and live. The automobile, now in frequent gridlock status in many cities, is far too inefficient to effectively perform this role. Now that streetcars have again proven their passenger attracting capabilities – greater than any other form of transportation for circulator purposes – they are destined to become the preferred transit alternative in dozens of American cities during the coming decades. Streetcars are becoming the proven way to significantly reduce dependence on the automobile in the urban core areas of many medium-sized cities
.