Monday, July 20, 2015

Charlotte streetcar technology: 1915 vs. 2015

Charlotte's streetcars started July 14, 2015, 77 years since last running in 1938, and 2015's first streetcar/car crash occurred on July 18 - why?

That question's still up in the air with safety investigators, etc., but another question arising from this considers 1915 technology vs. 2015 technology.

Charlotte is currently running three Gomaco replica trolleys (leftover from South End Trolley days) which seem to have modern systems, at least based on a glance of the manufacturer's website.  The image below is a spec sheet on Charlotte's current Gomaco vehicles.

Still, the long-term plan is to run modern streetcar vehicles, which one assumes would have better braking/safety technology.  Siemens S70 rail vehicles have the ability to run on LRT tracks and be linked up for multiple-car sets (spec sheet images below).  Would these S70s, based on 2015 technology, perhaps be safer and more reliable than 1900s replica streetcars?  If the answer is ultimately "yes," then let's keep the nostalgia in a streetcar museum and the meaningful, safe, and modern transportation on the street.

Atlanta's new streetcar is running S70s which experienced crashes as well in May 2015, albeit with admitted human error, not technical issues.

Driver error aside (both streetcar operator and parked vehicle in the Atlanta example), costs are the ultimate constraint on transit operators like CATS.  Gomaco replica trolleys were estimated at $1 million or less/each in 2007, while Siemens S70s run around $4 million/each.

Would a $12 million investment in three modern streetcars to replace the Gomacos be worth it for transportation safety and reliability?  That's a question that may come up if crashes keep occurring.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A snapshot of Elizabeth/Plaza Midwood

What do a 1920 apartment building, an LGBT book/gift store, and a 2015 apartment building (The Gibson, 250 apts. under construction) have in common? They're all in this photo I took and they're a snapshot in time of July 18, 2015.  How this image will change in the future is an interesting question.

First off, this image is technically only showing Charlotte's Elizabeth neighborhood, but I captioned it Elizabeth/Plaza Midwood, as the stick-built frame rising above The White Rabbit is emblematic of changes in that more well-known neighborhood. (Sorry Elizabeth, as a relative Charlotte newcomer (moved here in 2012), it seems like Plaza Midwood and NoDa are more well-known - perhaps I'm wrong?)

I took this photo while sitting on the front porch of The Frock Shop, a vintage clothing store housed in a 1912 Craftsman Foursquare house on Central Avenue.  It was a hot Saturday night, with some merciful breezes, as I joined a PACKED house (inside and out) listening to Charlotte Storytellers' Story Slam.  I'll definitely keep an eye out for their next event, and am curious to see how the corner of Central Avenue, 10th Street and Louise Avenue changes over the months and years (NOTE: Street View image is from May 2014)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Memorial Stadium .. forgotten?

Major League Soccer (MLS) may consider an expansion team in Charlotte, but would this come at the expense of our historic built environment?

That's the impression given by a June 26 Charlotte Observer article discussing demolition of Charlotte's American Legion Memorial Stadium, begun in 1934 and completed in 1936 (Art Deco, Art Moderne architectural style period) by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Like many venues of its time, it was built to honor and remember soldiers lost in World War I.

Since we're in 2015 and just over 100 years removed from World War I, does this give us license to demolish history?  A July 2 Charlotte Agenda headline noted "I will strap myselft to the gate of memorial stadium to prevent it from being torn down" and raised some good questions about alternate sites:

Why not look at sites on the west side, along Freedom Drive or Wilkinson Boulevard? Or, how about the old Eastland Mall site? There are options out there that could not only be more cost effective, but revitalize parts of the city.

Major League Soccer (MLS) stadiums don't have to be brand-new, as demonstrated by the creative reuse and updating of Portland, Oregon's Providence Park stadium.  Originally built in 1926 as Multnomah Stadium, its name evolved with ownership by an athletic club, a power company and a window manufacturer, but its core location and character remained constant.  Renovations to support MLS occurred in 2001 ($38.5 million) and 2009-2011 ($31 million), with the MLS Portland Timber being one of the league's most popular teams today.

Tearing down Charlotte's Memorial Stadium would erase a bit of history, but building upon and modifying the historic base would provide continuity in our built and social environment.  The site is also near Charlotte's newly developing CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar, so Memorial Stadium could benefit from transit proximity, just as Portland's Providence Park's MAX light rail station serves legions of Portland Timber fans.

Charlotte has the potential to have an East Coast counterpart to Portland's stadium, a stadium that balances the past and present, so let's shift our mindset from "demolishing/replacing" to "modifying/updating".  The end result will be a more interesting stadium gained through the honoring of history.