Categories
General Infrastructure

Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2020

20 new transit lines will open in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in 2020.

These new transit lines won’t be adequate alone to counter the large-scale investment in highway construction that dominates most metropolitan regions. But they will significantly improve public transportation for thousands of riders in many large cities.

There’s also a lot more on the way. About 60 more major transit projects will be under construction in 2020 and are expected to open by 2026. Some cities, like Montréal and Seattle, will essentially double the size of their urban rail systems during that time.

Transit Explorer
Use Transit Explorer 2 to examine current, under construction, and proposed transit projects throughout North America.

This compilation of new transit projects is based on The Transport Politic’s transit database, Transit Explorer 2. This database is frequently updated and provides information about existing, under construction, proposed, and cancelled fixed-route transit throughout North America.

Thanks to support from Chicago Cityscape, Transit Explorer 2 is much faster and more usable for people accessing the site than previous versions.

In addition, the data it includes has been improved and expanded dramatically compared to the past. It includes almost 7000 transit stations (including for commuter rail, not previously included), and almost 1000 transit lines. Now additional information, such as the year that stations were opened and their grade—e.g. subway or elevated—is also available.

Data can be viewed freely on Transit Explorer 2 or purchased for $25 in Shapefile or GeoJSON formats for those who would like to use the data for research or other uses, such as using ArcGIS or QGIS.

This is the 12th year of my compilation of new transit projects on The Transport Politic. Find previous years here: 20092010 | 2011  | 2012  | 2013  | 2014  | 2015  | 2016  | 20172018 | 2019


New transit investments completed in 2019

In 2019, roughly 200 miles of new fixed-guideway transit service was opened throughout North America; these projects cost a total of roughly $7 billion to complete.

In Canada, the most exciting intervention was the opening of the Confederation Line in Ottawa, which includes a new downtown tunnel and a light rail network that replaces an oversubscribed busway; it is designed to eventually carry about 240,000 daily riders. The Confederation Line’s benefits will be magnified by several extensions planned for the next few years.

In the U.S., the opening of a new busway on 14th Street in Manhattan attracted considerable attention, as the project immediately increased transit ridership but did not ramp-up surrounding traffic. It may be a model for other American cities looking to improve their bus options—demonstrating that giving bus services dedicated lanes and freeing them from being stuck behind cars is an effective way to get people to ride.

Throughout this article click on to explore the line on Transit Explorer 2.

Regional rail (Relatively frequent service on mainline rail tracks) opened in 2019

  • Denver Gold Line—11.2 miles, part of an overall $2.1 billion project including other lines
  • SMART Train Phase 2—2.1 miles, $43 million
Denver Gold Line station at 41st and Fox. Credit: RTD.

Commuter rail opened in 2019

  • Fort Worth TexRail—27.2 miles, $1 billion

Metro rail opened in 2019

  • Panama Linea 2—13.1 miles

Light rail opened in 2019

  • Denver Southeast Rail Extension—2.3 miles, $233 million
  • Ottawa Confederation Line—7.7 miles, C$2.1 billion
  • Phoenix Gilbert Road Extension—1.9 miles, $184 million
  • Waterloo Ion Light Rail—11.8 miles, C$770 million

Bus rapid transit (Improved bus service with dedicated lanes) opened in 2019

Indianapolis Red Line. Credit: IndyGo.
  • Albuquerque ABQ Rapid Transit—14 miles, $133 million
  • Calgary Southwest Transitway—13.7 miles, C$304 million
  • Indianapolis Red Line—13.1 miles, $96 million
  • New York City M14 SBS
  • San Diego South Bay Rapid—26 miles, $126 million
  • Seattle Swift 2 Green Line—12.4 miles, $67 million

Arterial rapid transit (Improved bus service, but no dedicated lanes) opened in 2019

  • Chicago Pace Pulse Milwaukee—7.6 miles, $14 million
  • El Paso Brio Alameda—12.2 miles, $36 million
  • El Paso Brio Dyer—10.2 miles, $36 million
  • Kansas City Prospect MAX—10 miles, $56 million
  • Minneapolis C Line—$30 million
  • Tulsa Aero—18 miles

Planned openings in 2020

In 2020, several long-awaited projects will open across the continent, including three heavy-rail routes, two new light rail lines, two commuter or regional rail extensions, and 13 improved bus projects.

In Vancouver, the metropolitan region has already opened four RapidBus bus rapid transit routes, which include dedicated bus lanes, queue jumps, all-door boarding, and relatively high levels of frequencies. A fifth new line is planned for opening in April.

Miami’s new downtown station, to serve Tri-Rail trains. Credit: Tri-Rail.

In Miami, a new downtown rail link will leverage the infrastructure built by Virgin Trains to extend the region’s Tri-Rail commuter rail system into the center of the city for the first time.

But the largest investments by far are being completed in the Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington regions. In Hawaii, the first phase of that state’s first rail line—an elevated route—will open. In Los Angeles, the Crenshaw Line, a $2.1 billion light-rail route that includes a subway portion and a new station near LAX Airport, will be completed. In the Bay Area, the BART rapid transit system will continue its slow path toward downtown San Jose with a $2.4 billion extension to Berryessa station. And outside of Washington, the Silver Line will finally reach Dulles Airport, thanks to a $2.8 billion extension

L.A.’s Crenshaw Line tunnel at Martin Luther King Jr. station. Credit: L.A. Metro.

Each of these projects is considerably delayed compared to original projections. Honolulu’s rail transit first phase was supposed to open in 2012; the Crenshaw corridor was supposed to open in 2016. BART’s extension all the way into central San Jose—now put off for many years into the future, was supposed to open in 2018. And Metro service to Dulles was originally planned for 2016.

Regional Rail opening in 2020

Commuter rail opening in 2020

Metro rail opening in 2020

  • Honolulu: Rail Transit Phase 1—10 miles (East Kopolei to Aloha Stadium; remainder of project should open by 2025)
  • San Francisco Bay Area: BART to Berryessa—10 miles, $2.4 billion (first phase of project that will eventually extend to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara)
  • Washington: Silver Line Phase 2—11.4 miles, $2.8 billion (to Dulles and Loudoun County)

Light rail opening in 2020

Winnipeg’s Southwest Transitway, under construction. Credit: Winnipeg Transit.

Bus rapid transit opening in 2020

Arterial rapid transit opening in 2020


A busy decade to come

Despite the relatively limited investments made in transit improvements in the 2010s, cities throughout North America will expand their fixed-guideway transit networks substantially beyond 2020.

In this final section, I document all of the transit projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that are already under construction or will enter construction in 2020 (at least preliminary work will be underway), and thus that are highly likely to be completed. The same cannot be said for the dozens of other proposed projects on Transit Explorer 2, many of which will fall to the wayside thanks to funding crises, political backlash, and other problems.

Four metropolitan regions will see extensive improvements to their transit systems in the coming years if projects under construction this year are completed.

Montréal will open the new REM automated heavy rail system in phases, roughly doubling the scale of its current metro network and creating new transit links throughout the metropolitan area.

A rendering of a future Montréal REM station. Credit: REM.

Thanks to referenda passed in 2016, both Los Angeles and Seattle will open large new extensions to their rail networks. In L.A., a new subway line will open to the west side, making travel to UCLA far less burdensome, and a light-rail subway downtown will allow commuters to travel from the west to the east side of the region without having to change trains. In Seattle, meanwhile, new light-rail extensions will open south, east, and north of the existing route, creating a regional transit network out of what is now a relatively limited service.

And in New York, the opening of the East Side Access project—which will bring Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal—and the Penn Station Access project—which will bring Metro-North trains to Penn Station—will radically improve the accessibility of the region’s central business district. The two projects will make it possible for people commuting from Connecticut and Long Island to have direct access to both the east and west sides of Manhattan’s central business district, saving hundreds of thousands of people each up to an hour a day in travel time.

The new terminal station under Grand Central for the East-Side Access Project. Credit: MTA.

In addition, Vancouver is expected to complete the first phase of its subway underneath Broadway—now the heaviest-used bus corridor in North America. Honolulu will complete its rail project. Boston will expand its urban rail transit system for the first time since the 1980s. San Francisco will get a new subway downtown for light-rail trains. And Washington will get the U.S.’ first true circumferential transit line with the Purple Line light-rail project.

Transit projects expected to open in 2021

Transit projects expected to open in 2022

Trans it projects expected to open in 2023

Transit projects expected to open in 2024

Transit projects expected to open in 2025

Transit projects expected to open in 2026


Despite the massive investments planned throughout North America in the coming years, cities throughout the U.S. and Canada should be investing considerably more in improved transit—especially through better buses. These countries continue to under-allocate street space for buses compared to much of the rest of the developed world, and the result is that most cities are failing to take advantage of the lowest-cost mechanism to improve public transportation options and reduce automobile dependency.

We can only hope that, as we move into the 2020s, more cities will learn from New York’s success on 14th Street and find the political means and financial capacity to dedicate more space on their streets to people, rather than to cars.


Image at top: Based on “Public Roads of the contiguous United States,” by WClarke (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Categories
General Infrastructure United States

Too little, too late? A decade of transit investment in the U.S.

» Cities across the U.S. added more than 1,200 miles of expanded transit service between 2010 and 2019. But all that construction isn’t keeping up with the need.

It’s been a busy decade for many cities throughout the U.S. From coast to coast, they’ve been building up their transit networks, offering riders something more than run-of-the-mill bus routes.

Overall, American cities added more than 1,200 miles of new and expanded transit lines between 2010 and 2019, spending more than $47 billion in 2019 dollars to do so. They’ll continue making such investments into the 2020s, as I document on the interactive Transit Explorer website, and in The Transport Politic’s annual update article (coming later this month for 2020).

In this post, I’ll document those investments—but also show that they have been inadequate, at least so far, in stemming declining transit ridership in many U.S. cities.


First things first: What do I mean by improved transit service?

What I don’t measure here is perhaps the most important element of transit effectiveness: The frequency and speed of service. Trains and buses that show up more often and that travel more quickly are more useful, and thus more likely to be attractive to potential riders. Some, such as David Levinson, have developed effective measures of accessibility that measure how such services change over time. The costs of providing more frequent journeys are typical reflected in transit operating expenditures.

But what I do consider are the capital investments, in the form of new and extended transit lines, that can play an important role in dramatically improving peoples’ day-to-day transit experience. If done right, these investments can also actually improve the efficiency of transit operations by, for example, giving buses dedicated lanes so they can travel more quickly, or replacing a bus with a train that can fit more passengers.

Using data from Transit Explorer and available in this spreadsheet, I’ve documented all of the new and extended ‘quality’ transit lines in the U.S. completed from 2010 to 2019. By ‘quality’ I mean something more than a basic bus route.

I’ve categorized the investments made by U.S. cities according to their modes—arterial rapid transit, bus rapid transit, commuter rail, regional rail, metro, light rail, and streetcar.

To clarify, bus rapid transit projects include at least some dedicated lanes (such as Indianapolis’ Red Line), whereas arterial rapid transit projects (often marketed as BRT, such as Tulsa’s Aero BRT) often involve improved station amenities and better buses, but no dedicated lanes. Regional rail projects typically involve the creation of all-day, relatively frequent, two-way service (such as Denver’s A Line)—whereas commuter rail concentrates on peak-hour, inbound services.

As noted, U.S. cities added about 1,200 miles of quality transit services between 2010 and 2019.

Just over half of new miles added were through bus lines, with the rest added in the form of extended rail lines.

Of those rail projects, just 26 miles were in the form of metro investments—heavy-rail lines like new subways or elevated trains that often carry the most passengers through the densest parts of the country. And just 37 miles were in the form of streetcars, perhaps a surprising fact given the frequent discussion of that transportation mode’s deficiencies.

Rather, the majority of new rail projects in terms of mileage came in the form of either light rail or regional rail, two dependable, effective transit options.

Mileage added to quality public transit networks, U.S., 2010-2019

The growth in mileage of quality bus lines has not been matched by the spending local, state, and national governments have dedicated to transit. Indeed, over the past decade, only about 8 percent of transit-expansion funds have been allocated to arterial rapid transit or bus rapid transit projects. The rest has gone to rail lines.

Whether this distribution of expenditures is a good or bad thing is a question that can be interpreted subjectively—rail projects may attract more riders, they typically provide a higher quality of service, and they’re typically faster and more reliable—but what is unquestionably true is that American cities have underinvested in expanded quality bus lines.

A total of about $3.6 billion was spent on new bus expansion projects over this period. That means the average American contributed just $1.10 in tax dollars annually to the construction of facilities for new or expanded quality bus lines, out of a total of about $14.50 every year on transit expansion overall.*

The average American consumer spent $8,427 on automobile transportation in 2016.

Expenditures on quality public transit networks, U.S., 2010-2019

These costs, of course, do not include expenditures on transit operations, such as the salaries of drivers and the costs of fuel. Those costs often significantly outweigh those of capital investments. Nevertheless, it is unquestionable that Americans are spending very little to expand their bus systems. They’re spending a bit more on expanding their rail networks.

Whatever the distribution of new transit mileage and expenditures, how can we explain the fact that ridership on public transportation throughout much of the U.S. has declined substantially over the past decade? Shouldn’t all those new, higher-quality bus and rail routes have produced some positive outcomes in terms of ridership? And why are other countries seemingly capable of building transit ridership?

One explanation is that many new American transit routes are poorly designed, typically remain inadequately integrated into urban development projects, and focus more on low-density suburban areas than urban neighborhoods likely to attract more riders.

Yet another key cause is undoubtedly the continued investment of American cities and states in new roadways.

Even as the country was adding 1,200 miles of expanded transit service, it added an estimated 28,500 new lane-miles of arterials—roadways like Interstates, highways, and the four-plus-lane “stroads” that constitute many of our cities and suburban areas. This is infrastructure hostile to pedestrians and transit users—and likely to reinforce patterns of automobile dependency and sprawl.

That’s roughly 24 times as many new roadway miles as improved transit miles. Who can blame Americans for continuing to drive? Transit offerings simply have not kept up.

2010 to 2019: A nation overwhelmed by new roads

Ceasing the continuing expansion of the public roadway network is an essential element of any effort to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation, which is now the single-largest contributor to American greenhouse gas emissions.

From this perspective, it should be concerning to U.S. policymakers that, not only do Americans contribute about 3.6 times as many carbon emissions per capita as their peers in countries like France, but also that per-capita emissions in the U.S. fell by only 21 percent between 1980 and 2014, versus by 50% in France.

If the American addiction to the automobile has been aided and abetted by the growth in roadways, it has also been encouraged by inadequate construction of new and expanded transit lines, at least from a relative perspective.

Below, consider the mileage added to quality public transit networks in the U.S., Canada, and France between 2010 and 2019, which I’ve divided up between bus investments on the left and urban rail investments on the right (I have not included regional or commuter rail in this calculation because of inadequate data from France).

In both cases, U.S. cities added roughly similar mileage compared to their peers in France, and significantly more than cities in Canada. So far, so good.

Mileage added to quality public transit networks, Canada, France, U.S., 2010-2019

But it won’t escape readers’ understanding, of course, to recognize that the U.S. is in fact far more populous than either Canada (1/9th as large) or France (1/5th as large).

Indeed, when adjusting those investments in new transit mileage to each country’s population, all those new projects in the U.S. seem depressingly modest.

Over the past decade, U.S. cities added an average of fewer than 2 miles of urban bus improvements per million inhabitants—and fewer than 1 mile of rail improvements. France, meanwhile, gained more than 10 and 3, respectively.

Let’s now consider just those projects with dedicated lanes—in other words, excluding streetcar and arterial rapid transit lines. Dedicated-lane transit expansions are most likely to actually improve peoples’ commuting habits because they’re less likely to get stuck behind traffic.

On this count, shown on the red, rightmost section of the following chart, the U.S. has fallen truly behind these two peers. Over the past decade, it produced less than one-fifth the dedicated-lane transit mileage as France on a per-capita basis, and about 50% less than Canada.

Mileage added to quality public transit networks per million inhabitants, Canada, France, U.S., 2010-2019

We’re left with a dismal portrait of transit expansion in the U.S.—especially since, compared to most other developed countries, it already had poor transit offerings in 2010.

Despite 1,200 miles of new transit lines, states and cities in the U.S. have added far more mileage to their roadways. Despite tens of billions of dollars in expenditures, U.S. cities have increased their transit systems less substantially than cities in Canada and significantly less than those in France. The U.S. has a lot of work to do if it wants to encourage more transit ridership and identify mechanisms to reduce transportation-related greenhouse-gas emissions.

The good news that that American residents are, from a comparative perspective, spending very little on investing in transit-system expansion through new lines and the extension of existing lines.

It’s true that American transit projects are significantly more expensive to build than those outside the U.S., especially in cities like New York and San Francisco. Indeed, if costs were lower, we could build more. But we’re still dedicating very little of the public purse to new and expanded lines.

Every reasonably sized city in the country should be identifying corridors for bus rapid transit, reallocating street space for that purpose, and ceasing roadway expansion. The speed of implementing such improvements has been far too slow given the poor quality of most bus service throughout the country and the relatively low cost of making such changes.

But that requires cities to take seriously their responsibility to find the means to get people out of their cars. It requires activists to make the case that the era of automobile dominance must come to an end.

The federal government, meanwhile, should expand its support for new busways and rail lines, dramatically increasing the share of Americans with easy access to high-quality transit lines.

In today’s climate, such a proactive agenda has no real political legs in Washington—it would be very unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, let alone be proposed by President Trump. But there’s an election in 2020.

For further information about the projects in the U.S. and Canada examined in the writing of this article, the database of projects is available here.

* It is worth noting that these figures are in estimated 2019 dollars, based on the midpoint of the construction period of each line. Also, I do not include projects that were under construction between 2010 and 2019, but which will not open until 2020 or later. This means that the figures quoted in this article represent spending only on projects that were completed between 2010 and 2019; thus spending occurred in a period roughly ranging from around 2005 to 2019.