Happy Birthday, Streetcar!: Looking Back Over Sun Link’s First Year

July 27, 2015

Sun Link runs on electricity, meaning less pollution and fewer cars.

Sun Link runs on electricity, meaning less pollution and fewer cars.

by Mariana Colin

Tucson’s newest form of public transportation celebrated its first birthday this weekend. The Sun Link Modern Streetcar has now officially been around a while, and as such we can perhaps comfortably say we’ve gotten to know it as a definitive part of the Downtown landscape. Sun Link first opened on July 25th, 2014, connecting five major Tucson districts and quickly becoming a staple form of getting from point A to point B for the more than 100,000 people who live within a half-mile of the streetcar route, according to its website.

Reportedly, over a million passengers have used the all-electric streetcar since its opening, reducing a significant amount of pollution and traffic congestion in the Downtown area. This, in addition to the thousands of new jobs created as a result of Sun Link, its help in the ongoing Downtown revitalization, and perhaps most importantly, its offering of a quick means of transport between Gentle Ben’s and World of Beer on game night, means that on the whole the streetcar has a lot to celebrate on its first birthday.

People flooded the streetcar for free rides on Sun Link's first anniversary.

People flooded the streetcar for free rides on Sun Link’s first anniversary.

A large and important population that the streetcar brings to Downtown is students, many of whom don’t have cars. The Sun Link stops on University Blvd. and around campus means it’s easy for students to make good use of the many shopping and studying locations around Downtown and 4th Ave.

“Before the streetcar I never went Downtown,” says Alan Jaske, one such U of A student. “Taking the streetcar allowed me to go rock climbing, learn about Downtown, and just generally expanded my ability to commute to places that are fun.”

Additional to, and almost certainly because of the convenience the streetcar provides the visitors of Downtown and 4th Ave., businesses in the area are seeing the streetcar as something of a customer-generating machine, depositing people almost directly to their front doors every day.

“It caused a big change,” said Alex Molina, a manager at Tucson Olive Central. The olive oil and seasoning store is situated only a few feet away from one of the Sun Link stops, a fact that Molina says definitely contributes to their success.

Even businesses new to the Downtown scene know the streetcar can only be good for them. Christi Sisek, one of the owners of the brand-new Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market, more than agrees with Molina. “We consider it a blessing,” she says of the Streetcar, “it just seems like a win-win for both Downtown and 4th Ave.” With two Sun Link stops near the business, she expects the Streetcar to provide a swift and convenient way to get to Downtown’s only grocery store.

TEP, handing out energy-efficient lightbulbs to streetcar riders in celebration of the streetcar's first birthday.

TEP, handing out energy-efficient lightbulbs to streetcar riders in celebration of the streetcar’s first birthday.

Recently, however, the streetcar has taken on another job apart from just carting people around the city. Taking a note from cities with similar streetcar systems such as Portland, Sun Link has somewhat improbably declared itself a musical venue. The KXCI Presents: Sun Link Summer in the City Concert Series kicked off on June 20th, featuring on-streetcar concerts by well-known local musicians, open to anyone with a streetcar pass. The series will run through the summer and end on August 22nd, to be repeated next year.

The anniversary celebration on the 25th was exactly the kind of first birthday party Sun Link deserves. In addition to a Downtown-wide bash with games, music, food, and discounts everywhere you looked, the day saw a huge influx of people on the streetcar itself. Whether daily or first-time passengers, masses of people were there to take the opportunity of a full day of free Streetcar rides, provided by Tucson Electric Power and Tucson Medical Center.

Between job creation, eco-friendliness, a boost in local business, and its tireless and constant work in taking the people of Tucson to their various destinations, the streetcar has made a great first impression over the past year. So far, there is every reason to believe that Tucson will have just as big a party to throw next year, for Sun Link’s second birthday.