Trolleys for Austin

Austin, a city of great natural beauty, with the Colorado River gliding by south of downtown and the pleasing congruence of hills and lakes flanking its west side, has a unique chance to beautify and humanize its central business district.

Led by architect David Graeber, the East Sixth Conservation Society is pushing ahead with plans to bring trolleys back to serve the downtown area.

Atlanta entrepreneur and lawyer James Bradley found seven of the turn-of-the-century streetcars stored in Lisbon and is offering them to the city for $20,000 each.

The twenty-eight-foot long “horseless buggies” have a dark brown mahogany interior, velvet seats, stained glass windows, and brass gates at each end for the 24 passengers to debark. They are similar to models used in Austin during the early 1900s and run on 600 volts of DC electricity.

City council members are excited about the idea, voting unanimously (something as rare as the trolleys) to ask Urban Transportation Director Joe Ternus to study advantages and disadvantages of trolley systems now in use in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Boston.

Ternus is withholding judgment. “I don’t think our preliminary report would necessarily kill it or mean that trolleys would come back to Austin. Despite the charisma of the plan, we must consider all sides before recommending anything,” Ternus concluded.

If councilmen do vote to include the trolleys in the master transportation plan (due to be submitted within the year), federal funding would pay for 80 per cent, including costs of all seven cars. Graeber estimates total cost to the city at $120,000.

The proposed tracks would run west from East Sixth and Sabine, turn north on Brazos by the Driskill Hotel, up to and left on Eleventh in front of the Capitol Building, left again and south on Colorado passing by the Governor’s Mansion, and back east on Fifth Street.

If approved, the trolleys and the Society’s plan to plant sycamores along East Sixth would return an early 20th-century tone and flavor to a forgotten part of downtown Austin.

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