In this excellent video, Vox posits that the real motivation behind the recent resurgence of streetcar systems is their contributions to catalyzing economic development, not to provide transit. This results in superficial streetcar systems that aren’t large enough to fulfill their real function, and which often fail.
Washington, DC, Atlanta, Georgia, and Salt Lake City, Utah provide examples of slow, small projects that have stimulated redevelopment, but are of limited transit value.
Portland, Oregon is an example of doing streetcars right. There, they focused on serving the public, and the resulting system was so successful that the resulting redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization were of a far more substantial and sustainable nature.
The video concludes by asking: if attracting redevelopment investments is the chief goal, are streetcar systems the ideal means to that end?
NOTE: The problem described here is primarily a strategic issue, not one of planning and design. When a city uses a more holistic approach, such as the “3Re Strategy“, redevelopment becomes far more efficient, creating a much greater ROI.
Photo of Washington DC streetcar via: Washington.org