Urban Circulator Grants Promise Better Rail and Bus Service to a Select Group of Cities

» Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Fort Worth, and St. Louis each plan streetcar projects. Chicago, New York City, and Stamford will build new downtown bus transitways. Many other cities win bus improvement grants, and Boston wins backing for its bike share.

After months of anticipation, the U.S. Department of Transportation finally announced the winners of $293 million in grants designated for urban bus and streetcar projects. The program has breathed life into the transit programs of a number of cities, though few of the projects are ready for implementation immediately.

The DOT has in several places fulfilled a promise it made months ago: Cities that commit to spending some of their own funds on projects, rather than relying entirely on the federal government, will benefit from federal grants. Other communities that have been less inclined to establish local funding sources for projects did not receive grants today.

The Urban Circulator Grant program was announced by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood last December in a visit to New Orleans. Like the TIGER program, whose first awards were introduced earlier this year, this program represents an effort by the DOT to emphasize transportation that serves to improve the “livability” of communities. That means convenience over speed and service to inner-city neighborhoods over suburban communities. The government has not announced whether more grants will be awarded later; this could be a one-time only allocation.

About $163 million in funds were derived from the Bus and Bus Livability grant programs, a source of funds that has been budgeted in years past.

With $130 million specifically allocated for streetcar projects, the DOT reaffirmed its effort to spread this mode of transportation to cities across the country. Four cities received $24.99 million grants specifically designated for new systems. Politicians in Cincinnati and Charlotte, each of which has dedicated a major source of municipal funds to its respective project, must be celebrating today after years of work. Both cities are likely to have their systems under construction in the next year or so. Fort Worth and St. Louis, whose projects will require a longer timeframe to be completed, also received these awards.

Dallas, which already won a TIGER grant to implement a new downtown streetcar, got $5 million more to extend the McKinney Avenue Trolley, a traditional streetcar system.

Several urban bus circulator projects were also lucky recipients. Chicago received $24.6 million for its Central Area Transitway project, which will connect the Navy Pier and Union Station with dedicated bus lanes. New York’s transformation of 34th Street into a mix between bus transitway and pedestrian mall, received more than $15 million, as did Stamford for the creation of its Urban Transitway, also a bus improvement project.

A panoply of cities received money for intermodal transfer facilities, road upgrades, or pedestrian trails. Projects worth more than a million dollars are listed in the table below.

Perhaps the most unique of the awardees was Boston, which proposes to use federal funds for the creation of a bike share program. It will be the first city to receive direct U.S. government funding for such a system.

A number of cities across the country will be disappointed today; Washington, D.C.’s hope for federal funding to ensure the completion of its first streetcar line, for instance, has come home without money, probably thanks to political squabbling last month. It, along with many others, will have to wait for future aid.

Major U.S. Urban Circulator Grants
PlaceProjectUrban Circulator Grant ($m)Description
Fort Worth TXStreetcar Loop25.02.5-mile one-way streetcar loop downtown
Cincinnati OHStreetcar System25.06-mile streetcar route between downtown and Over-the-Rhine
Charlotte NCStreetcar System25.01.5-mile starter route in central city
St Louis MOLoop Trolley25.02-mile urban streetcar connecting several urban destinations
Chicago ILCentral Area Transitway24.7Dedicated lanes will connect commuters between destinations downtown
New York NY34th Street Transitway18.4BRT and plazas in Midtown Manhattan
Stamford CTUrban Transitway16.02.25-mile bus rapid transit route through downtown
Chicago ILJeffery Boulevard BRT11.0South Chicago rapid transit route near lakefront
Syracuse NYTransfer Hub8.5New bus transfer hub
Broward FLBroward Blvd Mobility8.0Upgrade of street for both bus and pedestrian service
San Francisco CAPhelan Loop Bus Facility6.8Improvement of bus maintenance facility and surroundings
Albuquerque NMIntermodal Center6.7Connects buses and New Mexico Rail Runner services
Des Moines IAMultimodal Transit Hub6.5Connects city's bus system
Denver CO16th St Mall Shuttle5.2Improvements to existing line
Stockton CAHammer Lane BRT5.26.3-mile route between I-5 and SR 99
Provo UTIntermodal Center5.0Bus and rail transfer facility
Lexington KYMultimodal Transit Hub5.0New bus transfer facility
PA DOTHuman Services5.0Improvement of human services provisions
Anaheim CAARTIC Terminal5.0Major transit facility including high-speed rail
Mansfield CTStorrs Center Intermodal Hub4.9New transfer center for University of Connecticut and other local services
Dallas TXOlive/St Paul Loop4.90.65-mile extension of existing McKinney Trolley
Prince George's MDSouth County Circulator4.1New buses for circulator services
Philadelphia PAWayne Junction Intermodal4.0Renovation of existing transit facility
Bownsville TXMultimodal Terminal3.9Bus transfer facility
Beaufort SCMultiuse Trail3.16.7-mile multiuse trail facility
Boston MABike Share3.0Bike share system
Canton OHMahoning Transit Corridor2.8Revitalization of 3.4-mile corridor
Burlington WAChuckanut Park and Ride2.8Park and ride facility
Las Vegas NVUNLV Transit Center2.8New bus transfer hub
Phoenix AZ11th Street Pedestrian Improvements2.4Enhanced bus and walking corridor
Seattle WAIntermodal Hub2.4Restoration of King St Station and Westlake Hub
Eugene ORGateway Park and Ride2.0New park and ride facility, will service EmX BRT route
Portland ORHybrid Bus Project2.0New hybrid bus purchases
Union City CAEast Plaza Transit Loop Road1.9Centerpiece of reworked neighborhood centered around transit
Orlando FLUrban Trail1.21.5-mile urban trail to central station
St Paul MNTransit Signal Priority1.2Will improve bus service availability and reliability

Image above: Map of St. Louis Loop Trolley Proposal, from Loop Trolley

8 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Ted King

    Re : San Francisco’s entry
    “Phelon Loop Bus Facility”
    s/b “Phelan Loop Bus Facility”
    This is located near Ocean and Phelan, across from City College of S.F., on the edge of the Ingleside neighborhood next to Balboa Park. The B.P. BART station is just a few blocks away.

  • Dan

    That St.Louis proposal is awful. The loop already has really good transit access. In a city that has struggled for generations to improve the lives of it’s impoverished citizens, it’s just dumb to throw money at this non-problem. I assume this is basically a giveaway to Joe Edwards and his empire of Loop businesses.

    • The conclusion does not follow from the premise … one of the two Metrolink branches connects to one end of the loop, which extends more than a quarter mile or even half mile radius from that station, and the other Metrolink branch is one to two miles away from destinations in the Loop.

      A streetcar can compensate for that kind of partial transit connectivity while opening up new opportunities for walkable development.

  • So San Juan got no money?

  • Ted King

    More on San Francisco’s Phelan Loop -
    The project is part of a series of upgrades along the Geneva Ave. corridor – Transit Preferential Streets (TPS) . Also, a few details from the San Francisco Chronicle – “Muni snags nearly $7 million in federal funding” (8 July 2010) .

  • Dan

    So I guess we no longer have old fashioned streetcars. They are now urban circulators. Hmmmm.

  • Jake

    Why is Chicago doing a big busway like this? Why won’t officials wake up and realize that streetcars have such a larger benefit than whatever Chicago’s going to do. (It’s not even BRT is it?) Chicago, of all cities, should know this. At one point they had the most extensive and heavily ridden streetcar system in the United States. Cities like Chicago are PERFECT for streetcars. Just like Cincinnati’s urban core is perfect for a streetcar, so is Chicago’s. Only difference is that it’s like Cincinnati’s times 1000. I wish cities would just go straight to the best bet, streetcars, and stop this roundabout stuff with busways.

  • Cincinnatis streetcar is only 3.4 miles not 6. It doesnt benefit the city it is actually gentrifying the poor people in over the rhine by kicking them out. Duke energy sued the city for forcing them to remove electrical lines for a streetcar that only goes 3.4miles. the street car lost state funding to the tune of $50million dollars because of the feasibility of such a slow moving vehicle that doesnt service but .5% of the city. Federal Goverment you should be ashamed an held accountable.

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