STREETCAR REVIVAL: What killed the streetcar before? - FOX 35 News Orlando

STREETCAR REVIVAL: What killed the streetcar before?

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  • STREETCAR REVIVAL? Minneapolis City Council to consider new line

    STREETCAR REVIVAL? Minneapolis City Council to consider new line

    Tuesday, June 18 2013 12:00 AM EDT2013-06-18 04:00:28 GMT
    An old form of transportation may soon be brought back into the future if the Minneapolis City Council votes to redirect millions in property taxes to build a streetcar line along Nicollet and Central avenues.
    An old form of transportation may soon be brought back into the future if the Minneapolis City Council votes to redirect millions in property taxes to build a streetcar line along Nicollet and Central avenues.
MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Now that two Minneapolis City Council committees have approved a plan to create a new streetcar line, trains and cars could share city roads once more -- but why did they vanish in the past?

There are quite a few conspiracy theories, and the streetcar's story is a sort of mystery of history. Even so, a peculiar sentimentality still surrounds the streetcar -- but as the saying goes, those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Streetcars saw a radical reversal of fortune, from completing 200 million trips a year in 1947 to extinction a few years later. To put that figure in a modern perspective, the streetcars provided twice as many rides as the 81 million Metro Transit offers annually.

There are plenty of theories about who killed the streetcar, but most of them are wrong. Most begin with legendary mob boss Kid Cann, who owned a 16 percent stake in Twin City Rapid Transit, the private company that ran the trolley.

"It makes a juicy conspiracy theory myth," said Aaron Isaacs, co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley and caretaker of the last trolley in town, by Lake Harriet.

Some say Cann threatened stock holders to dump the streetcars and then made a fortune selling them for scrap.

"There were kick-backs to scrap dealers in northeast Minneapolis, and that's the Kid Cann connection," Isaacs explained. "Some people went to jail, but Kid Cann never did."

Another theory points to the holy trinity of the automobile age -- General Motors, Firestone and Standard Oil.

"There's a little bit of truth, but not as much truth as people would like it to be," Isaacs told FOX 9 News.

While General Motors certainly sped up the process by financing the sale of 500 buses, that wasn't the only factor at play. In 1960, the bus company was bought by the late Carl Pohlad, who eventually sold it -- at a premium -- to what became Metro Transit. Yet, the fate of the streetcar was already sealed by then.

"Carl Pohlad had nothing to do with the streetcar's demise," Isaacs said.

So who killed the streetcar? In general, the public did by switching to automobiles in what became an inevitable, American love affair. Every GI who came back from the war wanted a car and helped contribute to the growth of the suburbs.

As the streetcar vanished, the city itself changed too. Businesses vanished along with the tracks, and conspiracy theories cropped up to take their place.

"People want to believe there's a villain," Isaacs said. "In reality, their grandfather who moved to Burnsville is the villain and there's no sexiness to that."

Isaacs is more than a streetcar lover. He's also a former planner for Metro Transit. When asked his opinion on the revival of the streetcar, he admitted he thinks the funding source isn't sustainable and said the city, quite frankly, has other priorities with buses and light rail lines. Yet, even he won't deny the streetcar has an inexplicable lure those other vehicles do not.

"I have never, ever met a person nostalgic about a bus," he said.

On Tuesday night, city leaders approved a plan to redirect about $60 million in property taxes from five new downtown developments to help pay for a new streetcar line that would run along Nicollet Avenue from the K-Mart on Lake Street to Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis. The full City Council will vote next week.

If it passes, the project will go before Hennepin County's board. From there, city leaders will need to convince state and federal lawmakers to pitch in the rest of the $200-million tab.

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