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The trolley’s a major player on downtown’s C Street. Conflict about its service there has put the street’s revitalization process in a “holding pattern” since September, said Sachin Kalbag, the street’s project manager at the Centre City Development Corporation. Click over to the C Street Corridor Master Plan site to see the relevant documents and a summary of the plan.

The problem boils down to a plan from the Metropolitan Transit System, the regional transit authority, to put low-floor three-car trolleys (newer, more accessible cars) on the routes served by those stations. The problem? Those newer cars are each 10 feet longer than the current trolley cars — and adding 30 feet to a downtown trolley means it would become longer than the city block. There’s opposition to nearly all of the proposed compromises; many downtown residents and business owners hope to avoid street or sidewalk closures and mechanized railroad crossing arms, but they do want to revitalize the street.

This afternoon at a meeting to discuss the C Street dilemma, the Downtown San Diego Partnership says it will ask MTS to implement a center-city loop trolley. That means trolley riders coming into downtown would transfer from the Blue or Orange lines to another trolley that would be circling the downtown area in a continuous loop.

From the Downtown Partnership’s news release:

“This proposal should greatly increase Metropolitan Transit Service efficiency by eliminating the need for the Blue and Orange lines to make frequent and unnecessary Centre City traffic signal and station stops(,)” said Downtown Partnership (President) Barbara Warden. “This will also allow MTS to operate trolley consists in the Centre City that are in scale with the existing block sizes, thus allowing pedestrians and the disabled community to navigate Downtown streets safely.”

MTS already plans to put some renovated historic trolleys on a “Silver Line” that would circle through downtown in August 2008, but the downtown group wants that service to increase the frequency to as much as a shuttle every four minutes.

Rob Schupp, spokesman for MTS, said the transit authority wants to work with the downtown group and CCDC, but that limited funding and several safety and logistical concerns might prevent the agency from implementing that downtown loop. He said especially troublesome is the fact that riders would be discouraged if they would have to get off the train and wait for another one to get into the heart of the city.

“Forcing transfers within minutes of your destination is not what you want to do,” he said. He said a forced transfer like that has proven to knock off about 25 percent of that route’s ridership. The trolley has been on the street for 25 years — enough time to warrant its seat at the table in these discussions, Schupp said.

Apparently, some of this dilemma is rooted in the decision by downtown developer Alonzo Horton to make San Diego’s blocks a bit shorter than the city blocks in other localities nationwide. He thought the corner spots in a building were most desirable, and shorter blocks would mean more corners. Here’s a bit from the San Diego Historical Society’s biography of Horton:

Some businessmen called him “Corner Lot Horton.” This term of derision came from his practice of offering smaller-than-normal corner parcels at prices twenty-five percent higher than lots next door, recalled Don M. Stewart in Frontier Port. The canny Horton, however, knew shop owners and some home buyers preferred the higher visibility on the corners. His new addition lacked alleys. People just used them for trash, Horton maintained, based on what he had seen in San Francisco and other cities, so he eliminated them.

I’m heading over to the meeting in a bit; it’s at 3:45 p.m. today in the CCDC headquarters. Check back for an update later.

KELLY BENNETT

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