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Megan McArdle

A Streetcar Named Progress

Why are cities going streetcar-mad? 
Staging a comeback?
Staging a comeback?

One of my favorite former colleagues, Emily Bobrow of the Economist, explains why streetcars are a bad idea. The short version: They don't move faster than buses, at least not in the U.S., where they're rarely given dedicated lanes. And because they require a big fixed investment, they're very expensive, and inflexible, compared to buses.

So why are cities suddenly going streetcar-mad? Oh, you can cite the small advantages of streetcars -- they're less likely to give people motion sickness, for example -- but these advantages don't really seem to outweigh the huge costs. Yet American cities are laying streetcar track as fast as they can get financing.