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Solar-Powered Streetcars in Riverside’s Future?

Sullivan Solar Power

Riverside may go back to the future. The city's mayor, William "Rusty" Bailey, wants to bring back the streetcars that used to ply the roads of Riverside in the first half of the last century. But these streetcars could have a modern spin—they would be electric and possibly run on solar batteries.

Bailey's plan, dubbed Riverside Reconnects, is only in the preliminary stage right now, with the city waiting to hear on grant funding for a feasibility study. Under the plan, the streetcars would run on a 12-mile route stretching out from the University of California, Riverside on University Avenue and south on Magnolia Avenue. It would reach to the western boundary of Riverside.

The streetcars would transport more than 200,000 residents, commuters, and students, according to initial reports. While costs haven't been finalized, similar projects have cost about $25 million for each mile. One possibility to pay for the project would be a special transportation bond, which would require approval from voters.

Solar-powered streetcars would be a natural fit for the city of Riverside. UC Riverside is well known for its research and work in solar energy. The school's Bourns College of Engineering recently developed a mobile solar power system, an assistant professor is conducting groundbreaking research on the possibility of improving solar cells and batteries using the teeth of a sea snail, and a new solar research and development center is being created by the Winston Chung Global Energy Center and the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy.

The university's newspaper, the Highlander, applauded the streetcar plan in an editorial that also encouraged Mayor Bailey to pair it with a revitalization of the downtown area to make it more appealing to students.

"Right now we're encouraging people to get in their car and disconnect from each other," Bailey was quoted as saying in the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "I would love to say to people outside Riverside, you don't need a car to live in Riverside."

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