The Charles Street Trolley is a modern, fixed–rail streetcar system that will connect many of Baltimore’s most popular neighborhoods and destinations with a comfortable and convenient mode of transportation. Streetcars are designed to integrate with the existing urban environment and share the road with cars and buses. In communities around the country, modern streetcars have been shown to spur investment and economic development along their route.

Why Now?

What is a trolley?

Portland Streetcar in Motion

A streetcar, also known as a trolley, is a method of mass transportation. Larger than a bus, modern streetcars run on rails, and unlike light rail, streetcars do not require an isolated railway to operate.

Streetcars "co-exist" on city streets and easily share the road with other vehicles, like bicycles, buses, and cars. In fact, riders in other vehicles can rarely tell when they are driving on streetcar rails.

Why a trolley now?

The success of the first modern trolley system in Portland, Oregon, spurred many other cities across the country to build and plan for their own streetcar systems. Portland Streetcar began operations in July 2001, and what followed was an almost–unprecedented boom in mixed–use retail development along the trolley lines. The initial $60 million investment is estimated to have generated $3.5 billion in economic development for the city.

As a result, more and more Portland residents have sought public transportation options — transit ridership surged 50% after the first trolley line opened.

Other cities, like Seattle, implemented small-scale trolley programs and was so encouraged by its success, the city has rolled out with a plan for a city-wide trolley grid.

The McKinney Avenue Trolley Line has played a major role in the economic development and growth of Uptown Dallas. Before the trolley, Uptown Dallas had the largest collection of undeveloped real estate adjacent to a major Downtown in North America. Today the area is vibrant — with a total real estate value now at $3 billion. The Trolley has an established ridership base of daily commuters, families, and tourists.

Tampa’s streetcar system runs between downtown and historic Ybor City. Almost 3,000 residential and condominium units and 100,000 square feet of ground–level retail have been built along the route.

The Little Rock streetcar line was originally built as a tourist attraction using vintage cars. But with close to $1 billion in development in the downtown area along the route, the city has found that the alignment has attracted substantial economic development and ridership among residents.

More than $3 billion in development projects have been completed, planned or are underway along the route of the Memphis Trolley System.

Cities currently constructing new systems, or in the advanced planning stages, include: Atlanta, GA, Cincinnati, OH, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Salt Lake City, UT, St. Louis, MO, Tucson, AZ, and Washington, DC.

Why Charles Street?

Charles Street — one of the oldest thoroughfares in North America — is the spine of Baltimore City, connecting residents and visitors with historic neighborhoods, world-class cultural, religious, and educational institutions, and a wide variety of retail businesses.

Charles Street is one of only four federally designated urban scenic byways in the country. The Charles Street Trolley would build upon this history and transform Charles Street into one of the grand avenues of America, attracting residents, tourists and students to new and exciting places to live, work, and play.

Private Investment and Economic Development

The permanence of the fixed-rail investment gives developers, residents, and property owners assurance that the Trolley will remain in place for years to come and will encourage investors and developers to invest in the Charles Street Corridor.

Existing property values will increase, and new development will occur at a faster pace. Currently, more than 70 acres of undeveloped property lie along the route served by the Charles Street Trolley — mostly surface parking lots. Estimates are that more than $350 million in new private investment will be realized because of the Trolley.


Baltimore annually welcomes more than 20 million visitors. The Charles Street Trolley will provide a convenient and reliable means of public transportation for these visitors, carrying them from the Inner Harbor to the cultural institutions, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It offers a predictable route, measured pace, and the romantic image associated with trolleys as a historic means of travel. Like the cable cars in San Francisco or the streetcars in New Orleans, the Charles Street Trolley could become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Retail Businesses

Charles Street is a center for local businesses — unique retail establishments, eclectic restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife. These businesses rely on people walking through their doors, but parking can be a challenge, and the walk “up” Charles Street from the Inner Harbor discourages foot traffic.

The Trolley will bring residents and visitors to the doors of these establishments and will make Charles Street an even more attractive destination for shopping & dining.


Not only will the Trolley connect neighborhoods and destinations, it will seamlessly connect riders to the City’s existing transit systems, such as Amtrak, the Metro, the Light Rail, the Charm City Circulator, and the future Red line, allowing riders to reach other means of transportation for longer trips and easier travel to neighborhoods and destinations outside the Corridor.

Civic Pride

A high–quality trolley system is something in which our whole city can take pride. It provides physical evidence of a strong political and business commitment to overall economic health, vitality, and progress.

An attractive and efficient public transit system will increase the number of pedestrians, putting more eyes on the street, which has been shown to be a major deterrent to street–level crime. The Trolley itself can be monitored to ensure the safety of its riders and the streets and sidewalks it serves.

Educational and Cultural Access

Charles Street is home to 44,000 of the regions 120,000 students. Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore are on the Trolley line. Within easy walking distance are Loyola University, the College of Notre Dame, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland. The Trolley will allow students to connect more easily to the Inner Harbor and other downtown destinations.

Streetcar vs. Bus

Buses are a great way to get from point A to point B. They seat 76 people on average and often rely on Hybrid fuel technology, making them much better for the environment than automobiles.

Because streetcars are powered by electricity, they, too, leave less of an environmental imprint than cars. Yet they have an advantage over buses in that they offer more seating — up to 150 people!

Vehicle Characteristics
(Source: lastreetcar.org)
  Capacity Length Speed Cost
Bus 76 people 40 feet max 65 mph $450k-$550k
Streetcar 150 people 70 feet max 45 mph $3 million

Buses have not been proven to attract investment dollars along the routes they service because of the very mobile nature of their rubber tires. Why? Because there is no guarantee that their routes will remain fixed, and often, bus routes can and do change.

The “grounded” nature of a fixed–rail streetcar, on the other hand, ensures that its routes remain permanent. Thus, a developer who invests along the streetcar line can expect a regular flow of transit traffic, and, as a result, will enjoy a longer-term return on his or her investment.

While hybrid electric powered buses emit fewer pollutants than older, gasoline combustion engines, they still contribute to the roar and noise of the city. Yes, their emissions may be lower, but they’re pollution all the same.

Fixed–rail streetcars create a smoother ride for passengers because the vehicles are easier to get into and out of, do not lurch in and out of traffic, are less threatening to pedestrians, quieter than buses and do not smell of exhaust. They are seen as an extension of the sidewalk.

Cities with established streetcar lines develop a lively street life and booming businesses, becoming destinations for people from all over the area. Improved walkability and transit ridership reduce pollution, increase use of city institutions, support entertainment venues and boost retail development. A streetcar line for Baltimore simply makes sense – improved walkability and transit ridership reduce pollution, increased use of city institutions, amplified support of entertainment venues and increased retail development.


Trolley Benefits

Economic Development

Cities that have instituted trolley lines have seen tremendous growth. Portland is the standard bearer, witnessing half a billion in development projects along its streetcar line since 2001. Other cities, such as Memphis, Seattle, Tampa, Dallas, and Little Rock, have rolled out with their own trolley systems, and more than 50 other U.S. cities have development plans in the works. So what’s the appeal of a trolley? The very nature of its fixed–rail system welcomes development along its line. It allows for higher densities and lower parking requirements, making development projects more viable. And it not only increases economic development in already stable neighborhoods, but it also dramatically improves neighborhoods that have been neglected through time.


The Charles Street Trolley will connect many of Baltimore’s neighborhoods and most prominent religious, historic, educational, and cultural destinations, including:

  • Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
  • Basilica of the Assumption
  • Camden Yards
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Lyric Opera House
  • Maryland Institute College of Art
  • Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
  • Old Saint Paul’s
  • Station North Arts
    and Entertainment District
  • The Baltimore Museum of Art
  • The Enoch Pratt Free Library
  • The Peabody Institute
  • The Walters Art Museum
  • The Washington Monument
    and Mount Vernon Place
  • University of Baltimore

Linking the downtown with residential areas like Charles Village and Mt. Vernon, the trolley will make it much easier for residents to get to and from work, reducing the City’s parking needs.

In addition to improving short-route transit, the trolley will seamlessly connect riders to the City’s long-route systems, such as Amtrak, the Metro, the Light Rail, the Charm City Circulator and the future Red Line.

Retail Visibility & Development

Restaurants and retailers in Portland, Memphis, Seattle, Tampa, Dallas, and Little Rock have enjoyed big increases in clientele as a result of their trolley systems. The mixed-use neighborhoods along the Charles Street Trolley line will become the city’s primary cultural entertainment, retail and residential neighborhood.

Increased Pedestrian Traffic

Think of it as a “calming effect.” The trolley system will reduce the currently dense flow of city traffic moving along Charles Street, allowing residents and visitors to leave their cars behind and creating a more pleasant and livable urban experience.

Environmental Impact

Trolleys powered by electricity do not produce the exhaust that cars, trucks and buses do, leaving a far smaller carbon footprint on the City and reducing harmful pollutants to which residents are exposed.


While over 11 million people visit Baltimore’s Inner Harbor each year, many people do not experience all that our City has to offer. The long incline of Charles Street going north from the Harbor can be daunting. Historic Charles Street is rich with cultural destinations, restaurants and entertainment venues, but tourism is thin. We must become better connected to the Inner Harbor by a convenient, reliable and enjoyable means of public transportation. A trolley is the ideal choice.

Permanence and Predictability

In other cities, the permanence of fixed–rail investment has instilled faith in residents and property owners, letting them know that the trolley will remain in place for years to come. This knowledge also encourages investors and developers to move into the Charles Street corridor, and to Baltimore in general.


Trolleys create a positive image for the neighborhoods that surround them. As we have seen in places like Portland, Seattle, and Dallas, neighborhoods with trolleys develop a lively street life and booming businesses, becoming destinations for people from all over the area. Residents take pride in their trolleys, and the trolleys become identifying features for the neighborhoods they serve.

A Growing Trend

Since 2001, when Portland launched its Central City Streetcar project, many North American cities have begun to take notice of the transit and development potential of the modern streetcar. A number of similar systems have been completed in that time including Tampa, Little Rock, Tacoma, Charlotte and most recently, Seattle. All have seen dramatic economic growth and general redevelopment.

History of Baltimore's Streetcars


America's First

America's First Electric Powered Streetcar

Baltimore has had a long history of streetcars. The first horse-drawn streetcar line was actually introduced in New York City in 1832. But it was Baltimore that was home to the first electric-powered streetcar, which began service in 1885. Called the Baltimore & Hampden Railway, this line ran from present–day Twenty–Fifth Street to Hampden. Its cars were pulled by an engine that drew electrical current from a third, “live” rail. The system, although dangerous, proved to be an immediate commercial success, spurring the need to develop a safer and more efficient form of electrically powered street transportation.


Invention of the
Overhead Cable Car

For a short time, Baltimore had a cable car line, similar to San Francisco’s, that was powered by underground cables that pulled the cars between Druid Hill Park and Patterson Park, but it was very expensive to operate.

In 1888, inventor Frank Sprague developed a technology for the Richmond Virginia Passenger Railway that powered streetcars via an overhead wire. A pole mounted to the roof collected the electrical current, moving the vehicle forward. Other cities embraced this technology, and soon Baltimore followed. The city consolidated all of its disparate streetcar companies into one, unified conglomerate: The United Railways & Electric Company (UR&E), thus heralding the beginning of Baltimore’s age of mass transit.

Invention of the Overhead Cable Car

Baltimore's streetcar system allowed people to work more than a mile or two from where they lived, which was vital to the expansion of Baltimore in the early twentieth century.

Growth & Development of the Streetcar System


Growth & Development
of the Streetcar System

By the 1930’s, more than 2,000 streetcars crossed a spider web of Baltimore city routes, with cars running at a one-minute frequency during rush hour.

Streetcars also carried thousands of daily passengers to stops far out from the city center: Curtis Bay, Ellicott City, Woodlawn, Reisterstown, Druid Hill, Towson, Overlea, Middle River, and Sparrows Point were all serviced by streetcar lines.

The rising popularity of the automobile and bus transportation stopped the streetcar’s expansion. World War II had forever changed American consciousness, and by the end of the War, millions of returning soldiers not only desired a college education through the G.I. bill; they were also entitled to housing benefits from the Veteran’s Administration. Many bought new, single-family homes in the suburbs, which required the use of cars.


The Conversion of Streetcar
to Bus Lines

By 1960, nearly 80 percent of all American families owned at least one car. Large holding companies — partly financed by General Motors, Firestone Tire, and Phillips Petroleum — had bought more than 100 streetcar systems (including Baltimore’s), and converted them to bus lines.

As these new vehicles clogged the city streets, professional traffic engineers were called upon to ease congestion. They changed traffic patterns and made many two–way streets one–way, to the detriment of the streetcar.

The Conversion of Streetcar to Bus Lines

A New Dawn for Baltimore’s Streetcars:
The Charles Street Trolley Project

The proposed Charles Street Trolley would operate using the modern streetcar vehicle with low floors to allow easy boarding and wheelchair access. They are able to operate in mixed traffic on city streets and alongside parked cars.

Operating as a wireless system, the Trolley would use batteries and capacitors, capturing and storing energy every time a vehicle brakes. The Trolley would leave a much smaller carbon footprint on Baltimore than cars, trucks, or buses.

There would be significant environmental benefits as travel shifts from individual automobiles to mass transit, attracting residents from suburban, automobile-oriented locations to a more urban, transit supported corridor. In addition, the Trolley project will prompt infill development, which is “greener” than new urban or suburban sprawl.