In an attempt to discredit the concept of streetcars, some opponents erroneously claim that other first-world countries don’t build mixed-traffic rail. So let’s set the record straight: Yes they do. Plenty.
Mixed-traffic tram in Manchester, UK, opened in 2013.
Photo by Howard Pulling on flickr, used with permission.
I’m not an expert on European transit, but it takes about 5 minutes on Google to find numerous examples of recently-built mixed-traffic European trams.
Here’s a (most likely partial) list. The dates in parentheses are either the year trams were reintroduced to the city in question, or the year the specific mixed-traffic segment pictured in the link was built.
- Tours, France (2013)
- Manchester, UK (2013)
- Le Mans, France (2007)
- Nottingham, UK (2004)
- Dublin, Ireland (2004)
- London, UK (2000)
- West Midlands, UK (1999)
- Sheffield, UK (1994)
- Manchester, UK (2013)
That’s actually longer than the list of US cities currently running newly-built mixed-traffic streetcars. As of this writing, that list is exactly two cities long: Portland and Seattle. Granted, it is about to explode, but over the past decade Europe has unquestionably built more mixed-traffic streetcars than the US.
Of course, all transit functions better in dedicated lanes. It’s completely true that many mixed-traffic streetcars in the US would benefit greatly from dedicated lanes, and will only lack them for political will. It’s also completely true that Europe is better at providing transitways for their streetcars more often than the US. None of that is in dispute.
But the fact is, many European cities have indeed recently added new mixed-traffic lines, because whether streetcar opponents care to admit it or not, there are many benefits to rail transit aside from where it runs.
But wait, there’s more
In addition to the true mixed-traffic streetcars listed above, Europe also has an entire category of trams that often run in mixed-traffic that’s completely absent from the US.
Guided tire trams run on rubber tires like a bus, but have a single in-ground track to guide them, as well as overhead wires. They’re a middle ground between buses and streetcars, and are present in mixed-traffic arrangements in multiple cities in France and Italy, at least.
It’s not exactly fair to call guided tire trams streetcars, but neither is it fair to exclude them from a discussion of mixed-traffic European trams.
If a US city wants to prove it’s serious about providing a rail-like BRT experience, they might experiment with one of these. So far, none have done so.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.