April marks the 60th anniversary of the final DSR streetcar to run down a Detroit thoroughfare. There were many reasons the streetcar largely disappeared from U.S. cities: inflation, labor costs, the automobile, popular attitudes, with an able assist from automaker propaganda. But streetcar systems weren't scrapped everywhere. Many European cities did not get rid of their "tram" systems, and U.S. cities that didn't pave over their rails never fell quite as far as Detroit did in the 1970s and 1980s. Our urban rail system was the circulatory system for the city. To remove it and to expect private cars to do the same quality of work seems to have contributed to our city's decline. Perhaps our starter system downtown, scheduled to open in 2017, will be built into a real rapid transit system. We could use it again.
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