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Pasadena Considers Trolleys of Its Own

January 29, 1989|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

It may be a decade or more before commuters can take a trolley from Pasadena to Los Angeles, but trolley cars could be running within Pasadena before that.

The Pasadena Board of Directors has authorized studies to find out whether a trolley line within the city would have enough appeal to justify the expense.

Mayor William E. Thomson Jr. said there is no doubt that a trolley system would attract tourists.

"I'm convinced it would," he said. "The issue is: How much of an attraction would it be? Would you bring in enough people on a daily basis to make it pay for itself?"

Several Options

A trolley line along Colorado Boulevard from the Norton Simon Museum east to Rosemead Boulevard and south on Lake Avenue from Colorado to California Boulevard is one of several options the city is considering to tie in with the construction of a regional trolley system, also known as a light-rail line, between Los Angeles and Pasadena.

The regional line and the proposed local line would both be electric-powered trolley systems, but with large differences.

The regional line will employ trolley cars that are 90 feet long and are boarded from platforms three or four feet above ground that are nearly the length of a city block. The system is designed for efficiency and speed, eliminating steps up or down as passengers board and disembark from the trolley cars.

The proposed city line would employ small, old-fashioned trolley cars that could be boarded from the street, designed for local service rather than commuter trips.

The city has invited consultants to submit proposals for a study to estimate the economic impact of running the regional rail line, local trolleys, buses that look like trolleys or a combination of those systems through the downtown area. The city wants to find out how the systems could help retail sales, increase hotel occupancy, attract tourists and bolster city revenue.

This study is in addition to other traffic and engineering studies already under way to help the city select a regional light-rail route.

Key Decision

Douglas C. Reilly, city transit and commuter services coordinator, said the key decision is whether to run the light-rail line on downtown streets or put it in the center of the Foothill Freeway. If a downtown alignment is selected, he said, the city would be less likely to build a local trolley line.

But Reilly said no matter where the light-rail line is placed, the city will need to connect other transportation services with it.

Reilly said the city has good bus service from the Southern California Rapid Transit District but needs a downtown shuttle to move people around the business districts. He said the city tried an RTD minibus as a downtown shuttle in 1984-85, and although the minibus attracted some riders, it was not distinctive enough to be a success.

"The way to get people to ride your vehicle is to make it fun and interesting to use," Reilly said.

Monterey Park and a number of other cities run buses that look like trolleys. Reilly said such buses can be "comfortable, cute and convenient" and attract more attention than ordinary minibuses.

Buses Less of a Draw

But drawing tourists, he said, would require a rail system. "There are a lot of rail buffs throughout the world," Reilly said. "You don't see as many bus buffs. That says something about the interest in rail generally."

Rick Cole, a member of the city Board of Directors and of committees studying light rail and the local trolley, said a trolley system "makes sense (only) with the assumption that Pasadena wants to do something unique and spectacular that will bring people to Pasadena."

Cole added: "Clearly, Colorado Boulevard is very anemic today" and a trolley system by itself is not going to make business boom overnight. But, he said, a trolley system could draw visitors, spur the creation and expansion of businesses and contribute to economic growth as people find more and more reasons to visit Pasadena.

Although the light-rail line and the local trolley are projects that will require coordination, Cole said the city could build a local trolley system without waiting for construction of the regional line.

Reilly said the cost of installing a trolley system in Pasadena will not be known until studies are completed but that a rough estimate is $4 million to $5 million a mile.

Mayor Thomson said that before the city spends millions on a local rail system, he would favor running trolley buses to test the demand.

But Cole said he doubts that the potential success of a rail system could be predicted from bus ridership. He said rail experiences in other cities and marketing studies can provide only rough guidance for Pasadena because so many factors can only be speculated about.

The Pasadena Board of Directors has allocated $110,000 to study the economic impacts and financial feasibility of trolleys downtown. Reilly said proposals are being solicited from consultants, and a contract will be recommended to the board in March.

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