Tucson streetcars draw crowds

By DAVID J. DEL GRANDE

Tucsonans heading to Second Saturdays Downtown on Sept. 13 will likely pack the city’s new streetcar route.

About 6,700 passengers filled the streetcars during the monthly Second Saturdays event on Aug. 9, and approximately 60,000 people hopped aboard July 25-27 during the transit’s system’s free opening weekend.

Sun Link’s 3.9-mile route runs between the University of Arizona, Fourth Avenue, Downtown and the Mercado area just west of Interstate-10. Visit sunlinkstreetcar.com for full details on using the system.

Travis Hall, 38, stood attentive and eager to board the streetcar from a Fourth Avenue platform on opening day July 25.

Hall works downtown, and receives a monthly bus pass from his employer. He considers himself a foodie who depends on the bus system, and has set a goal of eating at every restaurant on Fourth Avenue.

“I can see myself using it at least two or three times a week,” he said.

He thinks the streetcar system will improve accessibility.

“I’ve been downtown on the weekend and it’s hopping,” he said. “So I suppose it would be easy to get from one place to another if somebody was going to bar-hop.”

Pima County voters approved a Regional Transportation Authority plan in May 2006. The special election set in motion a 20-year $2.1 billion RTA plan that included $87.7 million to build a downtown trolley.

The streetcar service mirrors transit systems found in cities such as Portland, Ore. and Tacoma, Wash.

Daniel Matlick, president of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association, took to a podium set up at the Sixth and Seventh streets stop during one of many ribbon-cutting events held on opening weekend.

Matlick first delivered a warm good morning and a bright grin that matched his crisp yellow dress shirt.

He welcomed the 50-person crowd before making a pointed acknowledgement to business owners, merchants and patrons who endured almost two years of road construction on Fourth Avenue.

“Today we give thanks and show our appreciation for all of you that displayed perseverance, and had enough creativity to sustain your business through adverse conditions,” Matlick said.

He gave a special shout-out to patrons.

“I would like to especially thank all of our Fourth Avenue customers that remained loyal and true to our local businesses, because that is what sustained us,” he added.

Sun Link’s local funding included $75 million from the RTA, $12.6 million from grants and public utilities, $13 million from the Cushing Street Bridge construction, $20 million from a Tucson Certificates of Participation grant and $2.9 million from the Gadsden Company.

But the streetcar became possible after Tucson was approved for a federal Transportation and Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant, according to Sun Link.

The federal streetcar budget included $63 million from the TIGER grant, $6 million from a New Starts grant and $4 million from a Federal Transportation Authority grant.

The Sun Link unveiling hub was centered on Congress Street at South Fifth Avenue.

A tall, well-dressed couple rolled their eyes as they walked toward Fourth Avenue, but said their glare of disapproval stemmed from a shared disdain of crowds.

As they continued north past The Book Stop, the pair said they were excited about the streetcar system and plan to use the trolley regularly.

Nowhere to Land, a self-proclaimed shop of kitsch antique treasures at 414 E. Seventh St., posted a special opening-day message on its sandwich board sign: “Clang. Clang. Clang. Went the streetcar. Yay, it’s here.”

Co-owners Anthony Hinckley and Lori Miller opened Nowhere to Land a block from the corner of Seventh Street and Fourth Avenue in November 2012, at the tail-end of major streetcar construction.

Hinckley is grateful that “awesome” local customers help support his shop, but said he relies heavily on out-of-town visitors.

He thinks the streetcar system will bolster tourism.

“Most of our clientele is tourists and I think the streetcar is going to bring much more tourism,” he said. “And if there’s economic growth down here, it’s going to affect the entire city.”

Hinckley said he is realistic about obstacles the Old Pueblo faces.

However, he believes the streetcar system places Tucson among the handful of U.S. cities developing exponentially, which will provide economic viability for future generations.

“I don’t think there’s any point in complaining about it and we’re all in this city together,” he said.

“Adjustment periods are hard for everyone but a change has come. This is a major project but I think it’s going to be a good thing for the city ultimately.”

Streetcar main

Sarah Harris watches Tucson’s modern streetcar travel south on Fourth Avenue toward the final ribbon-cutting stop during the unveiling ceremony held on July 25. (David Del Grande/Aztec Press)

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