Historic Mode Of Transportation To Return With OKC's Modern Streetcars

Monday, June 20th 2016, 10:45 pm
By: Karl Torp

Streetcars hit the rails in Oklahoma City in the early 1900s, but in 1940, the streetcar system in Oklahoma City took a downhill turn.

The rail lines were scrapped to make way for automobiles and city buses.

Today, through the city's MAPS 3 project, six new streetcars will jump back on the tracks.

"The route has essentially two loops," said David Todd, MAPS 3 Program Manager.

Nearly seven miles of rails, flush with the street, will connect the Central Business District with the entertainment district, with stops in Bricktown, Automobile Alley and Midtown.

"I think it will be attractive to everybody, certainly tourists but I think it also expands the parking possibilities within different areas so that you can park in one area and easily ride into the other area," Todd said.

Other cities are already on board, like Dallas where the first leg of its streetcar system opened last year.

"By building a transit system that enables people to live and work without having to utilize a car to get around that's real valuable and it helps attract millennials to your city," said Mark Rauscher, Interagency Transportation Construction Administrator with the City of Dallas.

Dallas' streetcars are identical to the ones that will run in Oklahoma City; powered by overhead wires on certain parts of the route and a battery on-board for the rest.

The ride in Dallas is short and ridership is down as construction continues to extend the rails with stops near a hospital and a local arts district.

Alycen Cuellar owns The Local Oak restaurant in the nearby Oak Cliff neighborhood and hopes once the construction is complete, business will boom.

"It's the most Austin-like area that Dallas has," said Cuellar. "There is a price to pay with progress and you know we have to live through it right now but in the long run it's going to be good for the city and good for this part of town."

Like Oklahoma City, Dallas is catering the line to locals and tourists alike.

"You could come down and park at a variety of locations in downtown Oklahoma City and with the streetcars still get to your intended destination at the end," said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

A recent transportation study showed streetcar lines fared best when taking residents to places with a purpose, like their homes or jobs. That's what they do in cities like Portland, Oregon and Seattle compared to lines in Little Rock and Tampa, which are used primarily for tourism.

"We think the streetcar is the first step in a much more comprehensive rail based transportation system," Cornett said. "We can foresee a day, perhaps a decade or two away when we have some sort of commuter rail that might bring people into the metro area from Norman and Moore and Edmond and if so when they arrive in downtown Oklahoma City, they're going to need to get around without a car."

Until then, Mallory O'Neill, with Downtown OKC, Inc., said that extra connectivity will be beneficial for local residents traveling among the eight districts downtown. Those districts include Automobile Alley, Deep Deuce, Central Business District, Park Plaza, Bricktown, Film Row, Midtown and the Arts District.

"We're really excited about having the opportunity for people that work in Auto Alley or in Midtown or in the Central Business District to be able to quickly in a few minutes get to Bricktown for a lunch hour or after work for a happy hour or whatever it may be," O'Neill said.

The rails and streetcars are ordered and construction begins this fall. If all goes as planned, free passenger service will begin by late 2018.

Click here to learn more on Oklahoma City's Modern Streetcar System