Modern streetcars operate on steel embedded tracks and are generally powered by overhead power lines. Typically mixed with automobile traffic, the streetcar acts as an urban circulator using the existing street system to navigate its travel. Many cities, including Portland and Seattle, have successful modern streetcar systems in service. The streetcar differs from light rail in its smaller vehicle size and single-car operation.
Streetcars can operate with mixed traffic, unlike light rail, which typically operates in an exclusive lane. The stops are also different, as the streetcar stops more frequently, similar to a local bus service, and employs a stop design similar to a bus.
The streetcar, like any fixed rail investment, has the ability to:
- Strengthen existing neighborhoods and communities by attracting new riders
- Enhance the unique character of an area
- Anchor high-density development in a way that a bus cannot by providing a permanent infrastructure investment
- Create walkable urban environments through the length of the route
- Generate jobs for local residents by stimulating economic development
Streetcars also fit well into a multi-modal transit system, focusing on short trips and conveniently connecting with other rail and bus modes. Streetcars work in complement with other transit modes to improve regional mobility.