To help guide the project, planners last week hosted officials and businesspeople from Portland, the city that launched the nation's first successful streetcar revival project a dozen years ago. One of them, developer John Carroll, who has built lofts near the streetcar line in that city's Pearl District, warned that Sacramento is embarking on an effort that will take decades to bring a full return.
"You're looking 10, 20 years down the road," he told a group of local leaders last week. "There is not a lot of immediate gratification."
Yet Portland businessman Mike Powell, owner of Powell's Books, said he saw an immediate, positive effect on his business when the streetcars arrived in Portland. They stop on both sides of his blocklong store.
"I can't say my business went up 20 percent because of it, but I just see people getting off it and coming into my store," Powell said. "It adds eyes on the street. They aren't driving. They are looking out the window. They see your business."
Powell said one interesting irony he's noted with Portland's streetcars is that they barely go faster than pedestrians, because they deal with traffic, red lights and frequent stops. It's left him wondering why people hop on the trolley, but they do, he said. "Last in year in Portland, 5 million people opted not to walk."
Planners say choosing the right route will be critical in determining whether the rail line can be a success. Planners have fiddled with the route for several years, and recently published a plan that has trolleys running on what is now the light rail train line on the K Street Mall, as well as closer to Old Sacramento, and as far east as 19th Street in midtown.
To make room on K Street, city and RT officials say they are talking about moving light rail operations off of K Street and onto H Street three blocks north.