Tucson Trolley

mural3.JPGIt’s a crisp, fall morning in Tucson, Arizona and my wife and I woke up to some great hospitality from our friends Mary Lou and Dave. They are hosting us once again for the annual visit to Tucson for the El Tour de Tucson, a huge bicycle ride and benefit that takes place each November. I see my wife and our friends off for their bike ride, and I set out for my day of exploring around.

I am a walker and hiker rather than a bicyclist, so I have decided to look around a bit on foot and by using Tucson’s Sun Link Streetcar, tcarpassing.JPGnew to the city this year. The streetcar line is about a four mile route that connects the Menlo Park neighborhood to the West with the University of Arizona campus to the East. Between are Tucson’s Central Business District and the 4th Avenue district. It was built and stood up with about a $200 million investment. One percent of the total was put toward public art at the stops and the operations facility.

LOC-140725-Tucson-Sunlink-Trolley-Route.jpgStreetcars currently operate at a frequency of about every 10 minutes during workweek working hours and every 20 or 30 minutes on weekends and after working hours. You can catch it until 10 pm most nights — 2 am on Friday and Saturday nights. A 24 hour pass costs $4 while a single ride ticket is $1.50. Both can be purchased at machines at each stop using cash or credit card. Sun Link has a real-time display of the current location of streetcars on its website, and a third-party smartphone app called Tucson Streetcar Tracker provides this info as well.

tcar_through_trees.JPGI find it interesting to ponder what makes the difference between a streetcar as opposed to a bus doing pretty much the same thing. I walked this same route last year before the streetcar went into operation, and I have to say that the same area seemed more lively and appealing to me this year. I’m sure that I could have used a bus line for a functionally equivalent travel experience last year. What is it about the streetcar that makes the difference? Please comment below if you have ideas about this.

Following are some images of places that interested me along the way — captions where provided appear above the related images.

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Each stop has its own unique artwork …

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The coolest piece of art along the line is at the Eastern-most stop.  In the foreground is the ticketing machine that is provided at each stop.  Cash, Mastercard, or Visa (no AMEX) …

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The Mercado San Augustin is a pleasant little commercial place at the Western-most stop.  A coffee shop, a Mex-food snack bar, a bakery, a wine tasting room, a fine dining restaurant, a bike shop, frozen treats, and more …

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Tucson is in the land of Saguaros …

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One of several theaters in the Central Business District …

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Part music store and part museum, the Chicago Music Store is a Tucson institution …

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For all your wigged out needs …

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The historic Hotel Congress has been a Tucson institution since 1919 …

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4th Avenue is a funky pedestrian area with many cafes, taverns, and generally funky retail businesses …

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The Hippy Gypsy shop has all your hippie supplies …

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The Bookstop has an impressive used book collection/selection …

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One of the better Goodwill stores that I have visited and shopped at over the years …

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The welcoming figurine at a piercing salon …

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D&D Pinball rebuilds pinball machines and provides a venue for playing them …

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One of many eateries …

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Miller’s Surplus is a well-organized Army (and other) surplus store ….

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Take care of all your combat boot needs at Miller’s …

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… and your pith helmet and cowboy hat needs …

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… and your Mexican wrestling mask needs …

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The small commercial area near the University of Arizona campus was pleasant, but not nearly as eclectic or interesting as the other commercial areas along the streetcar line …

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According to Sun Link’s marketing materials, the streetcar takes you near 100+ eateries, 150+ shops, 30+ bars and clubs, and 30+ galleries and museums.  I spotted a couple breweries but didn’t have time to stop at either …

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I did stop at the World of Beer, a bar that had an impressive selection of domestic and imported brews …

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There are many huge murals along the way …

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I ended my trip trying to meet up with my wife and friends at the finish line of El Tour de Tucson — I gave up after a while and jumped on a streetcar back to our friends place.

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Set to the strains of “Old Pueblo Ska,” here’s a tour of the entire route of the Sun Link streetcar from the Tucson Sentinel. Sped up almost 200 percent, the hour-long complete circuit takes just under three minutes in this video. Music is by the late, great Tucson band, Dave’s Big Deluxe.

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