By comparison, "We're talking about a relatively small upfront cost" for the streetcar line, Counselman said, who estimated the trolley would run $150 million to $200 million in capital costs.

He also said that "waiting for city hall to come join the 21st century" isn't an option, and that "a broader vision" for mass transit is needed.

With the hiring of Budish, the group is hoping to convince the public of the trolley's worthiness and for the city to get on board sooner rather than later.

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"Baltimore City has been in financial crisis for decades," he said. "The streetcar is an investment in the future."

Whether or not the city actively backs the project, "we would need somebody on the street, spreading the word" about the importance of a streetcar line, Counselman said. He said Budish's job is to talk to community groups, merchants and residents, not to be a lobbyist.

Bolton Hill resident Jimmy Rouse, a trolley line supporter and longtime advocate for the hiring of a community organizer, said the time has come for the group to be more public in its approach into implementing the project.

Rouse, the son of the late Columbia developer Jim Rouse, confirmed that the mayor's current view on the project did influence the creation of the position.

"Although I think Stephanie Rawlings-Blake understands and likes the idea, it's not her No. 1 priority at this time," Rouse said. "We need to make it clear why it should be at the top of her list."

Building streetcars serving cities and downtown areas is a growing trend nationwide. The District of Columbia Department of Transportation plans to begin opening 37 miles of streetcar tracks next fall, and the Obama administration has been awarding millions of dollars through its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, including $63 million for Tucson, Ariz., and $23 million for Dallas, Texas, to build streetcars in their cities.

Counselman said questions have been raised as to why the city doesn't expand the routes of the Charm City Circulator instead of building a new transportation system. He said it's a matter of foot traffic and potential redevelopment along the Charles Street corridor.

"I love the circulator, but we need restaurants, houses need fixing up, we need to fix up vacant lots. And the streetcar is a foundation for reinvestment because it's a permanent system," he said. "I see the circulator as a precursor to a more permanent streetcar."

The streetcar line is designed by Kittleson & Associates, based on a similar trolley in Portland, Ore., that Kittleson also designed.

Counselman thinks an innovative streetcar line could put Baltimore on the proverbial map as a model for urban transportation.

"Light rail is very much the last generation of technology compared to what we're looking at now," he said. "Streetcars are much smaller than the light rail and ride right in the traffic lanes."

He said the Baltimore light rail is the last rail built in the U.S., and perhaps the world, that doesn't have low-floor technology, the four steps that riders have to climb to go from the station to the vehicle. That design resulted in the installation of a handicap ramp at every Light Rail stop. Newer light rails, such as the Red Line, and the designs for the Charles Street Trolley, would allow passengers to walk or roll right into the vehicle, making them a better fit in an urban environment, he said.

Editor Larry Perl contributed to this story.