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Winton slams streetcars during "moving press conference"

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: May 30, 2013 - 2:14 PM

Riders on a bus cruising down Nicollet Mall Thursday were lost in their books and iPhones when Cam Winton started talking about streetcars.

The independent candidate for mayor opted to hold the campaign season's first "moving press conference" huddled with reporters in the back of the Number 10.

The location was meant to illustrate the value of an enhanced bus system over the streetcars city leaders hope to build along Nicollet.

"To build a streetcar line would be an epic mistake," Winton said. "Minneapolis can achieve its transit goals and meet its transit needs with an enhanced bus system. And the facts show that an enhanced bus system is the only way to meet the transit needs of Minneapolis in a responsible way."

The city recently got state approval to fund a potential streetcar line using property taxes generated by several major developments already underway near the corridor. While the city is expected to play a major role in funding streetcars, it is expected that a large chunk will be paid by federal grants.

But Winton believes the cost of building streetcars, which he estimated to be about $40 million per mile (a 2007 city feasibility study said the cost could be between $20 and $40 million per mile), is too steep when the existing bus system could be improved.

Some of those bus improvements? Allowing people to pay before boarding the bus, adding more heated bus stops and sending real-time text message updates about bus arrivals.

"Streetcars look neat. Streetcars have a certain magic to them," Winton said. "But as I've said before and I'll say it again, our city has to make choices about what we are going to buy. What services we are going to provide."

The common argument for streetcars over buses is that the rails in the ground attract private development. Winton said he disagreed, noting that the streetcar would be funded by existing development projects.

The number of press conferences in the mayoral race is accelerating -- SEIU endorsed Betsy Hodges Friday and Mark Andrew announced a solar initiative Wednesday -- but Winton is gunning for the creativity factor. His last press event was held inside a pothole.

Fittingly, it was a bus driver who ended Thursday's event, pulling into the Leamington parking ramp. "End of the line, folks!"

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