Suppose that next year, instead of restoring passenger service on the Northern Branch, New Jersey Transit rebuilt the North Hudson County railway along Broad Street in Palisades Park and Leonia. Would people jump back on the trolleys and ride them to the ferries to the city?
Judging by the number of photos out there, these streetcar tie-ups are fairly common in Toronto. Photo: windsordi / Flickr.
Some, probably, but most would either keep driving to work or keep catching the Red and Tan buses that take the Turnpike and the XBL to the Port Authority. The simple reason is that any suburban streetcar or interurban built today would face a lot more congestion than its ancestors in the golden age of streetcars. In 1912 there were hardly any cars, and people didn't own horse-drawn carriages at anything like the numbers that they own cars today.
If we go back to our goals (see above), the reason I at least support streetcars is that they allow people to access goods and services without driving their own cars. But mixed-traffic streetcars have never competed well. They were preferable to walking or horsecars, but whenever people could take elevated or underground railroads they did. When cars and even buses came along, they abandoned the streetcars for those as well.
I am not saying that we should all love the bus. Buses lurch, they're expensive to operate, they keep losing their rights-of-way, and they are no easier to install than trains. But until private cars are few and far between, mixed-traffic streetcars will be a waste of effort. We need to be pushing for transit that can compete with cars, and that means transit with its own right-of-way. In cities, that means subways, elevateds or green tracks trolleys.
Of course, here I'm talking about transit that operates in mixed traffic for its entire length. A line that operates in mixed traffic for a segment of its route may turn out to be worth it. It all depends on how well it can compete with cars.