Ann Arbor and San Francisco may soon have another thing in common besides the cities’ liberal leanings and populations of pot enthusiasts.
Roger Hewitt, chair of Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Authority, hopes to bring trolley cars to Ann Arbor by 2015.
But Hewitt envisions modern-day trolley cars far from the quaint wood-paneled wagons of San Francisco. The trams city officials are considering more closely resemble futuristic subway cars powered by overhead electric lines.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Heiftje said the system would reduce traffic congestion and pollution in the city.
Heiftje said the trams would be more efficient than traditional city buses because they would be able to make fewer stops by avoiding high-traffic areas and could also carry twice as many passengers.
Plans for a trolley car system are still in the very early stages, Hewitt said. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority approved a survey of the city to prove a need for the system earlier this month.
Hieftje and Hewitt plan to explore financing the system with federal funding. The proposed system is eligible for “Small Starts,” a federal program that offers grants of up to $250 million for transit projects like trolley cars.
If the city can prove that it needs the streetcar system, the federal government would cover about 80 percent of its cost, Hewitt said.
Without federal support, Hieftje said the system could cost the city “tens of millions of dollars.”
Hewitt estimated that the system could be completed in about five years if the city decides to fund the entire project, or up to seven years if the city decides to apply for the government funding.
If trolley cars come to the city, Ann Arbor’s existing bus system would not be eliminated, but significantly reduced, Hewitt said.
Hewitt has been working with representatives of the city and the University to develop a proposal for the streetcar system. So far discussed routes include rails between “major activity” areas like downtown, Briarwood Mall and the University’s Central, North and Medical campuses.
Hewitt said one goal of the project would be efficiency, cutting a ride to the mall that would have taken 30 minutes by bus to 10 minutes by trolley.
The potential trolley car system was pitched as part of an initiative called Model for Mobility launched by Hieftje in June of 2006, which aims to relieve transit problems like parking, traffic and pollution.
Hieftje said about 70,000 people drive to Ann Arbor for work every day, traveling an average of 26 miles each way.
Hewitt said city traffic would be reduced if many of these commuters chose to use existing railroad lines running from Detroit and Howell and then travel by trolley from the edge of the city to downtown.
Although trolley car systems are more common in larger cities like San Francisco, New Orleans and Portland, Ore. Hewitt said trolley cars would not be frivolous for Ann Arbor, which has a population of about 115,000.
“Every metropolitan area that’s growing has mass transit,” Hewitt said. “And if you don’t have mass transit, you’re just not going to be attractive to the next generation of workers.”
LSA freshman Kevin Zhang said he doesn’t hate the bus system, but he has been frustrated by congestion in the city during peak hours.
“After like seven, and on weekends, it sucks,” he said. “A lot.”
Kristen Lee, an LSA freshman, said that the trolleys would fit Ann Arbor’s character.
“I think it’d be pretty cool,” she said.