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January 24, 2012

Dreaming Trolley Dreams…

by at 9:11 pm.

Outside of LHA appointment manufactured controversies and a vote to violate the flag rules of the United States on behalf of former City Councilors, tonight’s Council packet included a very pretty, and very ambitious Trolley Study report.

It’s better and more extensive a proposal than even I expected! The report proposes (and mind you, it’s an initial proposal, so lots of changes could happen between here and build out, if it happens at all) to have a trolley line from the Gallahger, through Hamilton Canal District to downtown, and using the existing LNHP track (which they use mostly as historic ambiance than moving people from place to place), the trolley would split and a small branch heads to Middlesex College, and the other down Father Morressette Blvd past University Ave Bridge, then down Fletcher to Broadway to UML’s South Campus. Other stops include the Inn & Conference Center, the Tsongas Arena, and LeLacheur Park, as well as existing locations such as Boott Cotton Mills and the Mogan Center. Follow me after the flip:


The proposed extension of the trolley system

The report is ambitious in that it proposes up to 20 stops and no more than 10 minutes wait time for any waiting passenger. If that can be accomplished (and this would likely be doable with a few active trolleys on the track at once), imagine the shift this would make in several arenas of Lowell.

First, imagine the value to the the Lowell Historic National Park. Currently, the trolley only runs some of the time. It doesn’t operate as a regular go-between of the LHNP’s various venues. If the trolley had real hours of continuous operation, not only does this provide a logistical way to move visitors between buildings and historic spots, but it really ups the ambiance of Lowell as a historic treasure. So massive win for the Park Service.

Also, the proposal takes into account all of the major venues in the area, which I appreciate. I don’t do local baseball (LeLacheur) or college hockey (Tsongas) and don’t really go to Memorial Auditorium much or anything. However, this would give visitors an opportunity to eat downtown and the hop a trolley to watch some baseball, or go from Hamilton dinner spots to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium without having to move their car and try to find more parking, or walking a significant distance (it’s definitely walkable, but not in winter, or for older folks, etc).

I don’t think I have to bother mentioning the benefits to anyone who lives in downtown, JAM, Hamilton, near South campus, etc. Suddenly, going carless and becoming an urban hiker becomes appealing in a way that you don’t normally see in a city like Lowell. It’s more the purview of Cambridge or Boston. The report mentions that a 1,000 new units of residential space is planned in the coming years in close proximity to the proposed route. As a downtown resident, you’d have access to many places in Lowell without using the convoluted bus system (which I bet can be improved once the complex downtown routes can be assigned to the trolley), to Boston via the commuter rail, and if need be, outside of Lowell via the LRTA’s regional routes.

And check out the proposed hours in the report:
Mon-Thurs 6am - 10pm
Fri-Sat 6am - midnight
Sun 10am - 8pm

People have been clamoring for bus service past 6pm for ages.

Now, all of this - the route, the number of stops, the hours of operation, the frequency of service - are pie in the sky dreams. Will all of these come to pass? Maybe not. I won’t handicap its chances by being cynical, but a lot can happen on the way to the funding.

However, this study is not short on vision, and even some realistic clarity on what would be necessary. It outlines what it thinks is are the costs and possible ways to achieve it. Because it partners with UML and the LRTA and the LNHP, and would serve both an environmental and also a public transit goal, I think it has a shot. Maybe better than one.

After all, aren’t public-private federal-state-local partnerships what Lowell is best at?

8 Responses to “Dreaming Trolley Dreams…”

  1. pablo Says:

    This is beyond wonderful. It’s also doable. The tie-in to the funding for the university bus service provides a solid financial foundation for a trolley that will also be a draw for tourists and residents alike.

  2. GrayOne Says:

    I think the leg that joins Gallagher Terminal to the existing trolly should be built first. This will attract more immediete ridership, and create more momentum to build out more stops.

  3. Sean L. Says:

    So, they’re going to rebuild the Trolley network, then? Or are they just toying with the idea, for nostalgia’s sake?

    I still remember when they repaved Westford street in the late 70’s - first they dug up the old street, revealing the trolley tracks (and cobblestones). Then they stripped those out, and laid down the new under-pavement and nice, smooth asphalt surfacing. Would be really neat to see trolleys operating outside the Historic Park, again.

  4. Lynne Says:

    I know people are serious about making this happen as part of the larger picture of redevelopment. Whether or not one can get the funding going? That can only be answered in the next few years. It’s still tough out there.

    If anyone can make it happen, this DPD and their partners can do it.

    Actually, partnering with Marty and UML is one of the most clever bits of this whole thing. Tie this with Meehan’s legacy at UML - he’s obviously committed to leaving UML more prestigious, bigger, and better than when he arrived, given the number of buildings bought, built or rehabbed by UML these last few years. Adding a new integrated trolley system that is efficient, green, and part of UML’s system of getting students around could only help that.

  5. joe from Lowell Says:

    Not to jump ahead too much…well, okay, I’m going to jump ahead a whole lot now:

    How about eliminating the zoning code’s off-street parking requirements for properties along the trolley line? Or in the entire downtown and JAM districts, for that matter?

  6. Joe S Says:

    Eliminating the off-street parking requirements is an idea that should be followed up on, although there may be a need to limit on-street parking along the planned trolley line.

  7. stomv Says:

    I read the plan but am not too familiar with Lowell. Are the tracks shared with autos for the entire length, part of the length, or none of the length?

    I ask because if the tracks are shared with autos, I’m not sure why this would work better than a bus system. After all, if both have to wait in traffic, the bus has the advantage of being able to steer around hazards like broke down autos, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong — I love trolleys. However, as an MBTA Green Line user, I can’t begin to emphasize how much better the B and C are than the E, and the D is than the B and C. What’s the diff? The E line runs along the roadway. The B and C have isolated tracks, but share intersections with autos (and therefore it is common for 150 people on a trolley to wait for 5 people in 4 autos to turn left at a light). The D line is a completely isolated track — no autos can ever touch the rail, driving on or driving across. As a result, the D line is much faster and much more predictable.

    So… isolated tracks? Semi-isolated? Entirely sharing with autos?

  8. Lynne Says:

    The existing track is off to the side of the main road (Dutton St) and crosses a couple of streets there (Market, Merrimack), and the part extending to the Gallagher would go through the new Hamilton Canal development so I am not sure how that is being proposed (it might even be possible to have its own crossing at Hamilton Canal, but not sure what the crossings would look like on the other side, in the JAM (Jackson/Appleton/Middlesex)region into South Common. It certainly would have to cross Thorndike if it wants to go into the Gallagher terminal, and Thorndike is already a painful intersection at that crossing. Maybe a trolley would actually simplify it…

    But our buses are (and I say this with respect for the LRTA which I think has a lot to contend with) atrocious. It takes soooo long to get from one area to another via the bus system. In the places where this trolley is semi-off track, it will speed up the travel exponentially, since the traffic can get really jammed there at the center of the city, with the number of cars, and the number of lights (which BTW NEED to be synced someday, people!). A few less buses on the road there would help the auto traffic, too. Buses are always turning and entering and mucking up the intersections around that area.

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