» The city will begin studying dedicated lanes for its streetcar. Will it be the first among many to do so?
During its first four years of operation, Seattle’s South Lake Union streetcar—the nation’s second modern streetcar (after Portland’s)—recorded rapidly growing ridership. Annual passenger counts on the 1.3-mile line increased from 413,000 in 2008 to 750,000 in 2012 (about 3,000 riders on a peak summer day). The figures reflected the blossoming of the South Lake Union neighborhood into an extension of the downtown business district, as well as the region’s growth as a whole (Seattle is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities) and the strong performance of transit there. The share of people taking public transportation to work in Seattle increased from 17.6 percent in 2000 to 19.3 percent in 2013—a remarkable growth spurt brought on in part by the opening of the streetcar and the Central Link light rail
Continue reading Does Seattle offer the path forward for the national streetcar movement? »
» New Orleans fantasizes about new streetcar routes as its buses barely make the grade.
Public transportation expenditures are typically divided into two buckets: One for operations expenditures — the money that goes primarily to pay the costs of gas, electricity, and driver labor — and the other for capital investments, which sometimes means maintenance but often means new vehicles and system expansions. Because of the way in which these two buckets are funded, a transit agency that may be in dire straights in terms of paying for system expansions may be providing excellent, well-funded daily services. Or the opposite could be true. This is a consequence of the fact that federal transportation grant support, and also often local system revenues, are required to be spent in one of the two areas, with little ability to transfer funds between them. The division between capital and operations funding produces some strange dynamics
Continue reading When transit service is substandard, can we plan for capital expansion? »
» Streetcar projects promise new development along their rights-of-way. But cities must allow new transit-oriented buildings to be built nearby. A look at St. Louis and Portland.
In the United States, streetcars have assumed a dramatic new prominence, in part because of increasing federal support. In dozens of cities, new lines are under construction, funded, or in planning thanks to local political leadership that recognizes the benefits of such investments in relatively cheap new rail lines. While streetcars are typically not the most efficient mobility providers — compared to light rail lines and often even buses, they are slower and more likely to be caught in traffic — they are promoted as development tools. Streetcars, it is said, will bring new construction and the densification of districts that are served by the new rail lines.
But streetcars alone aren’t enough to spur construction of residential and commercial buildings in neighborhoods with
Continue reading Don’t Forget the Zoning »
» Over the past twelve years, the total route mileage of tramways systems in France has multiplied by five — at a cost reasonable even for small cities.
Last weekend, the city of Brest, on the far western coast of France, opened its new tramway, a 14.3-km (8.9-mile) line that connects the center city to the west and northeast. 50,000 daily riders are expected in a city of about 140,000 inhabitants. This Friday, Orléans, an even smaller city in central France, will open its second, 11.3-km tramway line. The first already attracts about 40,000 daily users.
These two cities are far from alone in France. Across the country, cities large and small have adopted the construction of modern tramways* to bring their citizens a modern form of public transportation that has led to improved circulation, more convenient networks, and renovated downtowns. Like American streetcars, these tramways operate at
Continue reading Commitment to Tramways Makes France a World Model for New Urban Rail »
» Los Angeles submitted an application for U.S. TIGER funds with the intention of building a downtown streetcar line. But the alignments proposed are very similar to those offered by existing rail and bus services — and each would operate in a one-way loop, a failed transit concept.
Los Angeles has big hopes for its downtown, and, like most of the country’s major cities, it has seen significant population growth in the inner core over the past ten years. Now, to extend this renaissance, the city — also like many others — is planning a streetcar line that would traverse the district from north to south. Last month, it applied for $37.5 million in U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant dollars, which it hopes to supplement with local and private funds to complete an initial route of between 3 and 5 one-way track miles at
Continue reading Los Angeles’ Streetcar Plans: Too Duplicative of Existing Services? »