60,000 people didn’t let the heat stop them from riding Tucson’s new streetcar during its opening weekend July 25th – 27th. The Grand Opening Friday morning was just the kickoff to three days of excitement as Tucson welcomed its new light rail. “The new Sun Link Streetcar line is a great addition to Tucson’s growing transit network, connecting residents and students with work, school, and other ladders of opportunity, while also spurring tremendous economic development that creates jobs in the city,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. According to the US Department of Transportation “The Tucson Streetcar is one of two federally-funded streetcar systems in America, along with the Portland Streetcar, to take delivery of modern streetcars from a U.S.-owned streetcar manufacturer in the last 60 years.” There were ribbon cuttings at major stops along the route Friday morning. At the Grand Opening downtown at 5th and Congress, Local First AZ set up shop to hand out Small Wonders Maps to first time riders. Our Small Wonders Maps highlight unique, local businesses and attractions along the streetcar route and folks snapped them up as quickly as we could hand them out. Connect Coworking was there handing out fans to help keep folks cool and Ben's Bells gave out scavenger hunt maps with clues hidden in Ben's Bells murals near streetcar stops. Mayor Rothschild and others spoke about the importance of Tucson’s new streetcar.
The streetcar has already spurred major private investment as new businesses have flocked to become part of a revitalized Tucson corridor. In addition to attracting new businesses, many of which are expanding local Arizona businesses such as Pizzeria Bianco and Diablo Burger, the streetcar brings new crowds to the existing local businesses. The streetcar is also seen as pivotal in attracting new talent for the jobs of tomorrow. Speaker after speaker at the grand opening cited the fact that accessible urban centers and public transit are one of the key factors cited as desirable by the next generation of workers. When we make the city attractive to people who want to live here, it makes it desirable to businesses looking to hire good people.
Economics aside, the streetcar celebration was one of the biggest celebrations the city has seen. Streetcar ridership was free for the opening three day weekend and there were parties and events at almost every stop to greet the riders. Living Streets Alliance hosted a ‘pop-up’ party at one sidewalk stop complete with refreshments and a DJ. At and near the Mercado San Agustin, riders were greeted with live mariachi performances every time the doors opened. At the University of Arizona’s Main Gate Square there were jazz performances and, on 4th Avenue, merchants set up shop outside with crafts for kids and slideshows. Downtown at 5th and Congress, the MLK parking lot was converted to "The Beach", with 170 tons of sand trucked in to create an urban oasis for beach parties all month long.
Spirits were high even among those crowded tightly together in the streetcars. “It feels like we are all in this together,” commented Mik White, owner of downtown Habitation Realty, after riding the streetcar Friday night. “Strangers are talking to one another, people are looking out for each other. It feels like Tucson is finally coming into its own as an urban center, but still retaining that sense of community.”
For more reactions to the streetcar, check out this video from Tucson Sentinel and this Voices from the Streetcar story from Arizona Public Media.