Infrastructure

By Hiding Wires from Disneyland, Anaheim Making Its Streetcar Too Expensive

Map of a proposed 3.2-mile streetcar line in Anaheim, Calif.

Like a number of cities in California, Anaheim has streetcars on the mind. A proposal now under consideration by the Orange County Transportation Authority would span seven stops from the city’s main transit hub to its convention center, hitting Angel Stadium and the famed Disneyland Resort in between.

What makes the Anaheim streetcar proposal singular, however, is its exorbitant cost: $319 million for a 10-vehicle, 3.2-mile route.

On Monday, the local investigative news non-profit Voice of OC reported on what’s keeping the price tag so high. It turns out that the inclusion of Disneyland on the route map, and the delicate measures Anaheim must take when building transit on an immense resort with a global reputation, has made things more expensive than usual.

A similar project in nearby city of Santa Ana, for instance, will cost an estimated $110 less and run a mile longer than the Anaheim streetcar. The latter city, in order to deal with the projected number of riders using the system expressly to visit Disneyland, will have more cars and bolstered station infrastructure on its streetcar line. Santa Ana doesn’t have that added responsibility.

But there’s also this detail:

Streetcars are usually powered by what many consider unsightly overhead wires. Out of concern for the look of the resort, the city is proposing a hybrid system in which there are overhead wires in some parts of the route, but not around the resort, city officials said.

Overhead wires are a common flash point in streetcar debates the nation over. Among the many controversies that have helped delay implementation of a streetcar system in Washington, D.C. were gripes about the wires impeding downtown views.

But do overhead wires really harm the picturesque character of urban streets to such an extent? For about a year I lived on a third-floor walkup on W. Girard Avenue in Philadelphia. It’s a wide commercial street with a quaint, historic building stock — much prettier than the boxy offices of Downtown D.C., anyway. The on-again, off-again 15 Trolley also ran the length of the avenue, passing by my window day and night.

Overhead wires power the 15 Trolley. Did they manage to blot out my daily view of a charming Philly corridor?

Yeah, not quite.

It’s promising that a hugely popular, all-American theme park and Anaheim’s number-one tourism magnet — not to mention a major economic driver in the region — would not only welcome additional public transit to the city, but also encourage visitors to ride. Yet the pains taken to hide some wires, in an effort to make the system slightly better looking near a big resort, have created an outsized burden that throws the whole project into question.

The Anaheim City Council voted 3-2 last October to move the streetcar project forward. At least one of the dissenting council members, according to another Voice of OC story, cited concerns about operating costs. Others have said that the streetcar’s true purpose is to bring more visitors to Disneyland, and question whether a revamped bus system would do a better job serving locals trying to get around Anaheim.

Tags: infrastructure, transportation, public transit, streetcars, disneyland, anaheim