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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 1, 2010 10 years ago

High-speed streetcar coming to Main Street

by: Robin Roy City Editor

APRIL FOOLS — As government budgets continue to tighten, the group trying to bring a streetcar to Main Street had to make a tough decision — keep its plans as is and face a significant risk that funding would not be available or modify the project to secure federal funding.

It chose the latter.

“We were faced with the possibility of giving up on the streetcar,” said a spokesman of the Sarasota Streetcar Initiative. “And we didn’t want to do that.”

The federal government is currently on a high-speed rail kick. In January, President Obama promised more than $1 billion in federal funds to build a high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.

That got the spokesman thinking.

“What we’re looking at is a high-speed streetcar traveling the length of Main Street,” he said.

He acknowledges the plan is not ideal. For example, federal guidelines dictate that the streetcar has to maintain an average speed of 50 mph to get funding.

To meet that requirement, the streetcar may not be able to make a full stop and travelers would have to run and jump on board.

“It could be tough for seniors,” the spokesman conceded. “But on the other hand, it might make riding a streetcar more attractive to younger people looking for a thrill.”

Pedestrian safety could also be an issue, and cars may also have to maintain the same speed as the streetcar just to avoid collisions.

To minimize injuries, the streetcars will come equipped with cattle-catchers similar to those on 19th-century locomotives.

The spokesman feels those are minor drawbacks to what could be a streetcar system of the future in downtown Sarasota.

The Sarasota Streetcar Initiative is looking for other ways to help provide operational funding after the Main Street system is installed.

Finding sponsors is currently the main goal to achieve this. The group wants to convey that this is a fast means of transportation, so it has begun talks with The Cheetah Lounge to place life-size ads on the streetcars.

“Well, the cheetah is the fastest land animal,” explained the Sarasota Streetcar Initiative spokesman.

For more on this story, click here.

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