Bekah S. McNeel

VIA officials and citizens took a break from the rhetoric flying over VIA‘s proposed modern streetcar project at another public hearing last night, and instead spent most of the evening looking at facts and figures. And maps.

In a conference room at Temple Beth-El, VIA hosted an “Open House,” inviting the public to examine the four routes moving forward to the next phase of analysis.

The alternatives analysis phase has now rendered eight routes, or “alternatives,” overall.

Numbers 1-4 were met with public concern about the potential impact on Alamo Plaza and Hemisfair Park. Alternatives 1 and 4 passed right in front of the Alamo, and all four ran down HemisFair Plaza Way.

“Alternatives 1-4 have not been eliminated at this point, but we are advancing alternatives 5-8,” VIA’s Public Information Coordinator Andy Scheidt said yesterday.

Alternative 7 was added more recently due to public interest in seeing Market and Commerce Streets incorporated into the East-West axis; however concern has been raised about that route’s conflict with the Market Street realignment.

VIA

That brings us to Monday’s meeting, and the debut of Alternative 8 and a new request for feedback by VIA.

Kyle Keahey of HNTB Corp. formally presented the advancing alternatives. He said that VIA is taking into consideration cost, benefits, potential impact of each route. The costs are broken down into the cost of building the streetcar, and then operating it. Benefits include ridership, connectivity to bus routes and other modes of transit, and potential to aid economic development. Potential impact has to do with how the route plays into wider development plans for the city, connectivity to current and future transit, and environmental impact. Not just the natural environment, but the built environment and its historical significance.

The current analyses are as follows (all images courtesy of VIA):

Streetcar, alt 5, July 2013

Alternative 5 connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It would offer a short walk to Main and Alamo Plazas. It has high connectivity to current bus routes.

Capital Cost Projection: $201-228 million

Projected operational cost annually: $6.4 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,202,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge (With the north-south axis pretty well set, the Navarro Street bridge is a common environmental impact concern in all four alternatives.)

Streetcar, alt 6, July 2013

Like Alternative 5, Alternative 6 connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It also incorporates El Mercado. It, too would require only a short walk to Main and Alamo Plazas, and has high connectivity to current bus routes.

The main different in Alternative 6 is about a mile of added track, extending services along César Chávez. Predictably, this raises costs, but also ridership.

Capital Cost Projection: $240-272 million

Projected annual operational cost: $8.1-8.5 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,403,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge and Milam Park

Streetcar, alt 7, July 2013

With the same north-south axis, Alternative 7 also connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It also incorporates El Mercado, Sunset Station, and the Convention Center. It would also offer a short walk to Alamo Plaza. It has lower bus route connectivity than Alternatives 5,6, and 8.

Alternative 7’s outstanding feature is the straight shot along Market and Commerce as an east-west axis.

Capital Cost Projection: $196-216 million

Projected operational cost: $5.6 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,120,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge, Milam Park, as well as the historic district of Main and Military Plaza.

Streetcar, alt 8, July 2013

Alternative 8 is the latest route under consideration. It connects Hemisfair Park, the Tobin Center, Lower Broadway, Southtown, UTSA Downtown Campus, and the Downtown Core. It also incorporates Sunset Station, easy access to the Convention Center, and a short walk to Main and Alamo Plazas. It has high connectivity to current bus routes.

It is somewhat of a hybrid, using Martin/Pecan to stretch west of downtown and Market/Commerce to stretch east.

Capital Cost Projection: $204-231 million

Projected operational cost: $6.4 million

Projected annual ridership: 1,130,000

Sensitive locations impacted by the route: Navarro Bridge

Now that you’ve seen the routes, VIA wants to hear from you. Weigh in on the alternatives you support or oppose, or propose more alternatives. VIA officials hope to announce the final route at the end of August, but that means there’s still time for citizen engagement. Post your comments by August 16 by going online at www.viasmartmove.com/modern-streetcar/. Or do it the old-fashioned way and drop transit officials a line at VIA Metropolitan Transit, Attention: Modern Streetcar Feedback, P.O. Box 12489, San Antonio, TX 78212.

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.