Categories
General Infrastructure

Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2019

Despite recent declines in transit ridership in the U.S., the construction of major transit networks continues across the country—as well as Canada, Mexico, and the rest of North America.

Use Transit Explorer

to explore transit

projects across

North America.

In 2019, there will be 89 major heavy rail, light rail, streetcar, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail projects under construction across the continent. These projects will add more than 830 miles of new fixed-guideway transit—generally high-quality service that will improve the lines of residents. In total, they’ll cost more than $91 billion to complete—most of which is funded by local governments.

In the U.S., the Trump Administration has repeatedly been reluctant to invest in new transit lines, even as the U.S. Department of Transportation has continually poured money into highways across the country. Nevertheless, following the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House after the November 2018 elections, the government has begun releasing funding commitments for major new projects. Those grants are likely to continue as long as Democrats continue to hold control of the House.

But, as in years past, high construction costs plague infrastructure projects in the U.S.—and those high costs make the completion of effective transit networks more difficult. Among heavy rail projects under construction in 2019, the average line in the U.S. will cost $650 million per mile—compared to just $362 million per mile in Canada (when adjusted to U.S. dollars). Among light rail projects, the average U.S. line will cost $339 million per mile to build, compared to just $146 million per mile in Canada.*

In this article, I first compare the networks that are being completed in cities in the U.S. and Canada, showing how different regions are promoting different priorities in their investments. I then document all of the projects planned for opening this year and that are under construction. These are all also mapped out, with additional data, on Transit Explorer, which I update throughout the year. Finally, I provide a table with data on all the projects under construction in North America.

This is the 11th year of my compilation of new transit projects on The Transport Politic. Find previous years here: 2009  | 2010  | 2011  | 2012  | 2013  | 2014  | 2015  | 2016  | 2017 | 2018


Network effects and scales of construction

The investments in new rail and bus corridors documented here will certainly alter the manner in which people move around cities across North America. Yet the effectiveness of these investments in making it possible for people to conduct their lives using transit will depend on more than just whether new lines are constructed. It also depends on where those lines are located and how they relate to one another.

It is possible to induce high levels of commuting into downtown office jobs by creating a radial network of lines from throughout a region into the central business district. This type of transit system works best for 9-to-5 commuters and is frequently the model used by commuter rail agencies in the U.S. Yet a radial system is less likely to allow people to conduct other elements of their lives—getting to school, to shopping, or to entertainment—because it fails in serving other parts of the city. Moreover, other than in the downtown core, where it promotes hyper-concentration, it encourages dispersal elsewhere. The alternative is a grid of routes that creates a multi-nodal, multi-destination system of transportation. This allows people to not only get downtown, but to other parts of the city, and it makes denser development possible in other neighborhoods.

The other important question in orienting the design of a transit network is whether to prioritize dense, central communities, or whether to extend the system as far as possible into the hinterlands of the region. The first approach has the advantage of serving neighborhoods that are already walkable and that have the greatest chance of encouraging people to use transit for many trips. The second approach serves people who take the longest trips, though it does so in a way that will likely work most effectively only for those aforementioned 9-to-5 commuters.

Metropolitan regions in different parts of the U.S. and Canada are using varying methods in designing their networks, as illustrated in the following maps, taken from Transit Explorer, all of which are at the same scale. I’ve included a comparison with New York City for context.

Denver, Minneapolis, and Portland are developing primarily radial networks, focusing on expanding access into their downtowns. Their lines—not only those that already exist, but also those under construction and proposed—are widely spaced across the region.

On the other hand, Atlanta, Montréal, and Toronto are largely pursuing a grid of new lines that focus on their respective regions’ densest areas. This approach is likely to increase overall transit use more effectively, though it may not provide as useful an alternative to regional traffic. Los Angeles and Seattle are pursuing transit investment programs that tow the line somewhat between the two.


Atlanta

Denver

Los Angeles

Minneapolis

Montréal

New York City

Portland

Seattle

Toronto

Projects planned for 2019 opening

In 2019, two heavy rail lines, seven light rail lines, ten bus rapid transit lines, and six commuter rail lines are expected to open. Of these, the most expensive to build was the 10-mile extension of San Francisco’s BART network to San Jose. This project, which has been under construction since 2013 and was supposed to open in 2018, is expected to serve about 46,000 daily riders; it will eventually be complemented by a further extension of BART to Santa Clara.

Yet the most expensive does not mean the most transformative. Ottawa’s Confederation Line, a new light rail project that replaces a preexisting busway and complements it with a downtown subway, will serve far more users—an expected 240,000 daily riders. In Guadalajara, the city’s third light rail line will serve even more: almost 350,000 trips a day.

Among others, San Francisco’s new Central Subway, which will extend its T-Third Muni Line through downtown, is also remarkable in that it’s been being actively discussed since the 1990s and is the first subway completed in central San Francisco since the BART Market Street tunnel in 1973.

BART Silicon Valley
Ottawa Confederation Line
San Francisco Central Subway

These projects will feature frequent, all-day service. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for each of the new lines opening this year. Fort Worth’s TEX Rail project, which commences operations on January 10, is only scheduled for hourly service between downtown Fort Worth and the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. That will limit the route’s usefulness for people who rely on transit and can’t wait an hour for the next train to show up. The system is planned for half-hourly service once additional trains arrive, yet the project is indicative of a problem among many major transit projects in the U.S.: we’re willing to spend billions of dollars on construction, but we have less interest in paying the long-term costs of making sure trains and buses on these lines are frequent and reliable.

Find a full listing of these projects below; to access their route maps on Transit Explorer, click the icon.


Other projects under construction in 2019—but opening in 2020 or later

Dozens of additional projects will be under construction in 2019 but aren’t planned for opening this year. Of these, by far the most expensive to build will be New York’s East Side Access project, which will extend Long Island Rail Road service to Grand Central Terminal by 2022 ($10.3 billion), and Honolulu’s rail transit investment, which will cross Oahu using automated, elevated trains in 2025 ($8.2 billion).

Yet other regions feature more new projects under construction. In Los Angeles, the new downtown subway for light rail trains—the Regional Connector—is expected to open in 2021, and in doing so improve service for two other light rail lines, the Crenshaw Line (2020) and the Gold Line Foothill Extension (2026). LA also has construction underway on all three phases of its Purple Line subway extension to the city’s west side (2026).

In the Seattle region, the massive expansion of the Link light rail system funded by voters in 2008 is underway, with three expansions from central Seattle east and north. In Montréal, the REM automated metro network is under construction, with scheduled completion in 2023. And in Toronto, four new light rail lines, a subway extension, and several bus rapid transit projects will be under construction this year.

Find a full listing of these projects below; to access their route maps on Transit Explorer, click the icon.


Comparing projects across the continent

The following sortable table provides detailed information about each of the 89 major transit projects under construction in North America in 2019.

The projects that are expected to serve the most number of riders on a per-mile basis—a typical measure of project effectiveness—are Monterrey’s Linea 3, New York’s East Side Access project, and Los Angeles’ Regional Connector. Each will serve more than 45,000 riders per mile on a typical weekday.

Expensive projects that nonetheless are expected to serve very few riders per mile include Fort Worth’s TEX Rail, Denver’s Gold Line, and Los Angeles’ Crenshaw Line, all of which will serve fewer than 2,000 riders per mile.

Of the eight most expensive projects in terms of their per-mile construction cost, seven are subways, including New York’s East Side Access project, San Francisco’s Central Subway, Toronto’s Scarborough Subway Extension, and Los Angeles’ Purple Line extensions and Regional Connector. Boston’s mostly at-grade Green Line extension will be almost as expensive to build.

ModeRegionProjectMilesCost ($)Cost/ MileConstructDaily ridersRiders/ MileGradeROW
Heavy RailBay Area CABART Silicon Valley Berryessa Extension1024002402013-2019460004600At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitBay Area CAEast Bay BRT9.5176192015-2019360003789At gradeIndependent (mostly)
Light RailBay Area CACentral Subway1.715789282013-20193510020647SubwayIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitBay Area CAVan Ness Avenue BRT23091552016-20212500012500At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitBay Area CAGeary BRT6.63552018-20219400014242At gradeSemi-Independent
Commuter Rail DMUBay Area CASMART Train Phase 22.143212017-2019800381At gradeIndependent
Light RailBoston MAGreen Line Extension4.723004892013-2021450009574At grade (mostly)Independent
Bus Rapid TransitCalgary ABSouthwest Transitway13.7304222016-2019460003358At gradeSemi-Independent
StreetcarCharlotte NCCityLYNX Gold Line Phase 22.5150602017-202057002280At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitChicago ILPace Pulse Milwaukee Line7.61422017-20194100539At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitChicago ILPace Pulse Dempster151012019-2020At gradeShared
Commuter Rail DMUDallas TXTEX Rail27.2996372016-201913700504At gradeIndependent
Commuter RailDallas TXCotton Belt261100422019-2022At gradeIndependent
Commuter Rail EMUDenver CONorth Metro Phase 1 (N)13343262014-2020At grade (mostly)Independent
Light RailDenver COSoutheast Rail Extension2.32331012016-201966002870At gradeIndependent
Commuter Rail EMUDenver COGold Line (G)11.221001882012-2019180001607At gradeIndependent
Light RailEdmonton ABValley Line Stage 1 Southeast8.118002222016-2020420005185Subway/At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitEl Paso TXBrio Alameda Corridor12.23632016-2019At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitEl Paso TXBrio Dyer Corridor10.23642017-2019At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitGrand Rapids MILaker Line13.37152019-20204400331At gradeShared
Light RailGuadalajara MXLinea 313.3994752014-201934800026165Elevated/SubwayIndependent
Heavy Rail AutomatedHonolulu HIHonolulu Rail Transit2081654082011-20201196005980ElevatedIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitHouston TXUptown (Post Oak) BRT4.5193432016-2019190004222At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitIndianapolis INIndyGo Red Line13.19672017-201911000840At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitIndianapolis INIndyGO Purple Line14.813992019-20219600649At gradeIndependent (mostly)
Bus Rapid TransitKansas City MOProspect Avenue MAX542018-2020At gradeShared
Light RailLos Angeles CACrenshaw Line8.520582422014-2020160001882Elevated/Subway/At gradeIndependent
Heavy RailLos Angeles CAPurple Line Extension Phase 13.928407282014-2023168004308SubwayIndependent
Light RailLos Angeles CARegional Connector1.917569242014-20219000047368SubwayIndependent
Heavy RailLos Angeles CAPurple Line Extension Phase 22.624779532018-20253610013885SubwayIndependent
Heavy RailLos Angeles CAPurple Line Extension Phase 32.520008002018-2026SubwayIndependent
Light RailLos Angeles CAFoothill Gold Line Extension to Montclair12.315001222017-2027At gradeIndependent
StreetcarLos Angeles CAOC Streetcar Santa Ana/Garden Grove4.14081002018-202173001780At gradeShared
Heavy RailLos Angeles CALAX Airport Connector2.3270011742019-20239500041304ElevatedIndependent
Heavy RailMexico MXLinea 12 Extension2.5153612016-20212600010400SubwayIndependent
Commuter RailMexico MXTren Interurbano de Pasajeros Toluca-Valle de Mexico35.91978552014-20182300006407Subway/At gradeIndependent
StreetcarMilwaukee WILakefront Line0.429732017-2020At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitMilwaukee WIEast-West BRT75482019-202095001357At gradeSemi-Independent
Light RailMinneapolis MNSouthwest Corridor/Green Line Extension14.518581282017-2023340002345At grade (mostly)Independent
Bus Rapid TransitMinneapolis MNC Line302018-20199000At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitMinneapolis MNOrange Line1715192017-2021At gradeShared
Commuter RailMonterey CAMonterey County Rail Extension3813742018-2022At gradeIndependent
Light RailMonterrey MXLinea 34.7439932013-202028000059574Elevated/SubwayIndependent
Automated Heavy RailMontreal QCReseau Express Metropolitain (REM)41.644801082018-20231670004014Elevated/Subway/At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitMontreal QCSRB Pie-IX6.8264392018-20227000010294At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitMontreal QCSauve/Cote-Vertu2.92019-20204000013793At gradeIndependent (mostly)
Commuter RailNew York NJLackawanna Cutoff Phase 17.32014-2020At gradeIndependent
Commuter Rail EMUNew York NYEast Side Access31033334442006-202216200054000SubwayIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitOmaha NEOmaha BRT83142019-2020At gradeShared
Light RailOttawa ONConfederation Line7.721002732013-201924000031169Subway/At gradeIndependent
Light RailOttawa ONTrillium Line South9.92019-2021At gradeIndependent
Light RailOttawa ONConfederation Line West9.32019-2023At gradeIndependent
Light RailOttawa ONConfederation Line East7.52019-2022At gradeIndependent
Heavy RailPanama PALinea 213.12014-2019ElevatedIndependent
Commuter RailPhiladelphia PAMedia/Elwyn Extension to Wawa3151502017-2020At gradeIndependent
Light RailPhoenix AZGilbert Road Extension1.9184972015-201940002105At gradeIndependent
StreetcarPhoenix AZTempe Streetcar3202672017-2021At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitPortland ORDivision Transit15175122019-202210000667At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitReno NVVirginia Street BRT1.880442018-2020At gradeShared
StreetcarSacramento CADowntown Riverfront Streetcar1.22091742019-2022At gradeShared
Commuter Rail DMUSan BernardinoArrow Redlands Passenger Rail Project9285322019-20211200133At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitSan Diego CASouth Bay Rapid2612852016-2019At gradeShared
Light RailSan Diego CAMid-Coast Corridor Transit10.921121942015-2021338003101At gradeIndependent
Light RailSeattle WANorthgate Link4.321004882012-20216000013953Elevated/SubwayIndependent
Light RailSeattle WAEast Link1428002002016-2023500003571Elevated/Subway/At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitSeattle WASwift 2 Green Line12.46752017-20194700379At gradeSemi-Independent
StreetcarSeattle WACenter City Connector1.31971522017-20202010015462At gradeIndependent
Light RailSeattle WALynnwood Link8.530703612018-2024700008235At gradeIndependent
StreetcarSeattle WATacoma Link2.4166692018-2022At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitSpokane WACentral City Line672122019-20213000500At gradeShared
Bus Rapid TransitSt. Petersburg FLCentral Avenue BRT114142019-20215400491At gradeSemi-Independent
Light RailToronto ONEglinton Crosstown11.849904232011-202117000014407Subway/At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitToronto ONViva Next Rapidways Yonge (Phase 1)52015-2020At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitToronto ONViva Next Rapidways Yonge (Phase 2)1.32015-2020At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitToronto ONViva Rapidway Highway 7 West Phase 22016-2020At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitToronto ONViva Highway 7 Rapidway Phase 22016-2020At gradeIndependent
Light RailToronto ONFinch West LRT6.812001762018-2023400005882At gradeIndependent
Commuter RailToronto ONRichmond Hill Line Extension to Bloomington822017-2019At gradeIndependent
Commuter RailToronto ONGO Extension to Niagara Falls42.612032017-2019At gradeIndependent
Commuter RailToronto ONLakeshore East Bowmanville Extension12.42019-2024At gradeIndependent
Light RailToronto ONHamilton LRT B-Line6.77601132019-2024310004627At gradeIndependent
Light RailToronto ONHurontario LRT11.61000862018-20221100009483At gradeIndependent
Heavy RailToronto ONScarborough Subway Extension3.933508592019-2026SubwayIndependent
Heavy RailWashington DCSilver Line Phase 211.427782442014-2020Elevated/At gradeIndependent
Light RailWashington DCPurple Line16.221001302017-2022690004259At grade (mostly)Independent
StreetcarWashington DCAnacostia Initial Line1.15449?-?At gradeSemi-Independent
Bus Rapid TransitWashington DCUS 29 Flash BRT13.53132018-2020At gradeShared
Light RailWaterloo ONION Light Rail Transit Phase 111.8770652014-2019270002288At gradeIndependent
Bus Rapid TransitWinnipeg MBSouthwest Rapid Transitway (Stage 2)4.75081092016-2020At gradeIndependent

Note: Canadian projects are listed in Canadian dollars, which as of January 8, 2019 are each worth 0.75 USD.

* Costs are not uniformly presented (some are year of expenditure, others are in year of planning).


Categories
General Infrastructure

Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2018

» Despite significant hostility from the Trump Administration, cities are pushing ahead with major new transit projects nationwide. Here’s the annual roundup, with dozens of projects on the way with planned openings in 2018.

In 2018, 340 route miles of new fixed-guideway transit projects, representing a total investment of $13.2 billion, are expected to open for riders in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. An additional 366 miles of lines, costing a total of more than $75 billion to build, will be under construction in 2018 but are planned for opening in later years. The continent’s cities, then, continue to be active sites of expansion for relatively high-quality transit improvements.

Projects are described in more detail below. They’re also accessible on the updated Transit Explorer map and database, on which it’s possible to view project routes, stations, and details throughout North America.

This is the 10th year of my compilation of new transit projects here on The Transport Politic. Find previous years here: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017.

A 2017 round-up

The first year of the transit-hostile Trump Administration was never going to be fun, but the fact that transit ridership declined throughout the U.S.—particularly on bus services—didn’t help. Competition from ride-hailing services, reductions in service provided, and low gas prices all conspired to encourage Americans to get into automobiles. That said, transit systems in Canada and Mexico did fine.

The Trump Administration’s budget officially cut off federal funding for new transit projects, but—as I’ll document in an upcoming post—cities kept on, and keep on, building.

Last year, a number of new projects opened. The extension of the Bay Area’s BART heavy rail system to Warm Springs, the creation of Denver’s new R light rail line, the building of Detroit’s new QLine streetcar, and the addition of Toronto’s Spadina Subway Extension stand out as particularly remarkable. High-quality bus rapid transit routes in Albuquerque, Eugene, Mississauga, and New York City also opened for riders.

2018, however, is expected to be a much more significant year in terms of transit line openings, as I detail below.

Above: Expected to open this year, among many other projects: BART to Berryessa heavy rail extension; Boston’s Silver Line Gateway BRT; Miami Central station; Ottawa’s Confederation Line light rail project; and St. Louis’ Loop Trolley streetcar.

Projects we can expect to open in 2018

One heavy rail extension, five new light rail lines, four streetcar lines, six commuter rail lines, 11 bus rapid transit lines, and two major station projects are expected to open next year.

Of these projects, the extension of the Bay Area BART heavy rail system to San Jose is the most expensive (it has rung up a more-than $2 billion price tag), but the line won’t serve any downtown, let alone any particularly dense residential areas. On the other hand, Ottawa’s Confederation Line, a light rail project that will replace a decades-old dedicated bus corridor, will provide direct access to the center of Canada’s capital; its planners project it will attract 240,000 daily riders.

The four streetcar projects expected to open—in El Paso, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, and St. Louis—will share many of the deficiencies that have frustrated recent streetcars across the U.S. Namely, they’ll run in lanes shared with automobiles, meaning they get stuck in traffic. Fortunately, as a share of overall expenditures on major new transit projects, streetcar projects represent less than two percent of the total.

On the other hand, bus rapid transit projects continue to improve. Boston’s Silver Line Gateway, which will bring frequent service to Chelsea, a suburban city north of Boston’s downtown, will have dedicated lanes and high-quality stations.

Find a full listing of these projects below; to access their route maps on Transit Explorer, click the icon.

Heavy Rail

Light Rail

Streetcar

Commuter Rail

Bus Rapid Transit

Major rail stations

Above: Under construction this year, among many other projects: Boston’s Green Line light rail extension, Los Angeles’ Purple Line subway extensions, Montréal’s REM automated heavy rail project, Seattle’s East Link light rail line, and Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown light rail subway.

Projects under construction in 2018… but opening later

A large share of the transit projects across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada won’t open this year, but they’re either already under construction or are scheduled to enter the construction process later this year.

Los Angeles and Seattle, whose voters passed very large funding packages for transit expansion in 2016, account for some of the most significant projects. In L.A., the Purple Line Subway is being extended west toward UCLA, through some of the densest neighborhoods on the west coast of the United States. Authorities there are also building a new light rail line on the Crenshaw corridor, which will connect to a new people mover for LAX Airport, and a new light rail subway through downtown called Regional Connector, which will allow trains to run directly from East L.A. to Santa Monica and from Long Beach to Pasadena, saving commuters time.

In Seattle, light rail extensions are underway in virtually every direction: East Link is connecting downtown to Bellevue, Northgate Link and Lynnwood Link will extend the system north, and Tacoma Link is lengthening the short line that currently runs through that city at the southern edge of the region.

Several other projects are noteworthy: Honolulu and Montréal are both investing in automated heavy rail projects. After years of delay, Boston is finally taking the first steps forward in its Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford. And a streetcar line with dedicated lanes—Seattle’s Center City Connector—will finally be added to the streets of a major American city.

The full list of projects under construction is below, and they’re all accessible on Transit Explorer using the icon.

Heavy Rail

Light Rail

Streetcar

Commuter Rail

Bus Rapid Transit

Updates: Jan 5, 13:20 EST: Added Tren Interurbano de Pasajeros Toluca-Valle de México. Jan 6, 15:40 EST: Added Raleigh Multi-Modal Transit Center. Jan 9, 10:30 EST: Added OC Streetcar. Jan 10, 9:30 EST: Added Redlands Passenger Rail Project. Jan 16, 10 EST: Added Minneapolis C Line and Orange Line BRT Projects.

Categories
Finance General Maps

Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2017

Transit construction in 2017

» There are major transit infrastructure projects under construction throughout North America thanks to significant interest from local officials and support from national governments. That momentum is likely to continue thanks to the passage of several transit-supporting tax referenda last November. But in the U.S., there are big questions about the impact of the incoming Trump Administration.

New rail and bus routes are being built by virtually every large metropolitan area in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Almost 800 route-miles of new transit infrastructure–most of it with dedicated lanes–is now under construction, at a total cost of almost $80 billion, to eventually serve some three million daily riders.

Transit Explorer has been updated to offer the latest information on existing, planned, and proposed routes.

Every January, I compile information on all the transit projects to keep track of what kind of investments are happening. See the end of this post for a full list of projects opening in 2017, as well as a list of projects that will enter the construction phase this year. I keep this information up to date on Transit Explorer, but this post serves as a summary of all that is happening in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

This is the ninth year of my annual compilation of new transit projects on The Transport Politic. Find previous years here: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 .

Transit investment in 2016

The new year’s eve opening of New York’s Second Avenue Subway, or at least its first three stations, capped off an impressive year in new transit investments. Though it certainly meant a lot to New Yorkers, it was arguably less transformative than new projects that opened elsewhere. Seattle’s light rail system grew both north and south, instantly doubling ridership and allowing direct connections to the University of Washington. Denver linked its rail network to its airport. Los Angeles extended its light rail lines both east and west, finally offering its residents direct access to the beach. Vancouver’s SkyTrain became the world’s longest automated rail network. Meanwhile, streetcars returned to Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C.

In November, voters approved referenda in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Raleigh, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle that will direct billions of dollars in the coming decades to massive transit expansions. Voters in cities across the U.S., at least, seem to think investing in transit is a good idea.

The Obama Administration’s Department of Transportation capped off 2016 and began 2017 by approving several major Full Funding Grant Agreements, which essentially guarantee federal support for the completion of transit projects. The agency officially lent its support to the reconstruction of a portion of Chicago’s North Side Red and Purple Lines; it provided $1.6 billion for the extension of Los Angeles’ Purple Line subway further west; it provided $500 million to a commuter rail project connecting Fort Worth to its airport; and it offered millions for bus rapid transit projects in RenoSalt Lake, and San Francisco.

What impact will the Trump Administration have?

Yet the future of these projects, and ones like them, is murky. In her confirmation hearing this week, President-elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, failed to promise to support existing transit funding contracts. Does that mean projects that are now under construction could be cancelled? Probably not. But it does add a degree of mystery about what the federal role will be in funding future projects.

Indeed, President-elect Trump’s entire infrastructure plan is an unknown entity. During the campaign, his advisors floated the idea of a $1 trillion plan whose primary beneficiaries seemed likely to be profit-seeking corporations and toll roads, but the prospects for such a proposal are unclear in the incoming Congress. We don’t know what the new administration’s first moves will be in terms of actually supporting new transit.

In Canada, in contrast, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to providing billions of dollars in new federal funding for transit projects across the country. Toronto’s ability to continue expanding its transit network seems assured at least for the moment.

Projects underway this year

Despite the concerns about changes in Washington, 2017 will be a big year for new transit expansions. San Francisco’s BART and Toronto’s TTC heavy rail systems will both be extended. New light rail lines will open in Charlotte, Denver, Guadalajara, and Monterrey–as well as new streetcars in Detroit and St. Louis. And new bus rapid transit routes will serve customers in Albuquerque, Fresno, Oakland, San Jose, and the Chicago suburbs.

Moreover, construction is set to begin on some game-changing investments in a number of cities. Montréal’s REM project, notably, will by 2020 or so provide a brand-new, 42-mile automated heavy rail network that will double the city’s metro system. Indianapolis will invest in the country’s first electric bus rapid transit line. And the Caltrain system will be electrified to provide more frequent, faster trains. These are important and beneficial improvements.

Gloomy trends

Whatever the environment for expansion, the future of transit in the U.S. is threatened by deeper problems having to do with the economy as a whole, as well as low gas prices. Since mid-2014, the number of vehicle-miles traveled in the U.S. has skyrocketed, meaning people are driving more than they ever have on American roads. At the same time, transit ridership for most agencies around the country is declining.

What is unquestionable is that spending on new projects–despite the glitz associated them them (and the attention they get on this site and others)–is not adequate to support increasing transit ridership. More must be done to make transit more appealing, and alternatives less so.

Projects opening in 2017 (click on the to see the route on Transit Explorer):

Heavy rail

Commuter rail

Light rail

Bus rapid transit

Streetcar

Projects beginning construction in 2017 (click on the to see the route on Transit Explorer):

Heavy rail

Commuter rail

Light rail

Bus rapid transit

Streetcar

There’s more…

Dozens of other transit projects are under construction around the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, but are not listed here because they won’t open for service this year or they started construction before 2017. Information about all of them is available on Transit Explorer. The five most expensive projects in the U.S. and the most expensive in Canada fall onto that list: New York’s East Side Access (more than $10 billion); Honolulu’s Rail Transit project (more than $6 billion); Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown light rail ($5 billion); Los Angeles’ Purple Line Extension Phase 1 ($2.8 billion); Seattle’s East Link Light Rail ($2.8 billion); and Washington’s Silver Line Phase 2 ($2.8 billion). None of these projects will open before 2020.

On the horizon, there are two equally large projects that have yet to get started but seem likely to move forward. New York’s Second Avenue Subway Phase 2, recently entered into the federal funding approvals process. That potentially-$6 billion project would extend the Subway to 125th Street. And a new tunnel under the Hudson River, connecting New York to New Jersey and providing access for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, could end up costing more than $20 billion.

Despite local support for more transit infrastructure, the high costs of new investment in the U.S. are limiting the number of projects that can be funded. The massive cost of tunneling is especially problematic; the San Francisco Central Subway, at more than $900 million a mile, is particularly expensive, but so is the Los Angeles Regional Connector ($750 million a mile) and Purple Line extension, phase 1 ($730 million a mile), as well as Seattle’s Northgate Link ($490 million a mile). Seemingly simple, mostly at-grade light rail projects, like Minneapolis’ Southwest Corridor ($130 million a mile) and Charlotte’s Blue Line extension ($125 million a mile), are expensive.

Even the seven streetcar projects under construction in 2017–other than Seattle’s Center City Connector, they don’t even remove a lane of traffic for their construction–average almost $60 million a mile. Suffice it to say that U.S. transit costs a lot more to build than similar investments in other countries.

If cities don’t get these costs under control, even their billions in new local-taxpayer-provided funds won’t be enough to make an adequate dent in their overall mobility needs. If nothing else, this is the challenge for 2017.

Categories
General Urbanism

Reorienting our discussion of city growth

los angeles

» Over the decades, cities change size, but they gain and lose population in varying ways: Some in-town, some on greenfield land. How does that impact our understanding of population change?

Every few months, the U.S. Census releases new data on population change, chronicling the rise and fall of America’s cities, counties, and regions as they grow and shrink. The data are fascinating, bringing us useful insights about migration flows and economic shifts. They also point to fundamental changes in the places Americans live: Houston over Chicago, Phoenix over Philadelphia, and so on. And they produce breathless news reports that emphasize that the fastest-growing places are 15 cities you’ve never heard of.

Yet as data are released and evaluated, the trends as described by the levels of information presented by the Census often fail to directly represent underlying facts about how cities are changing–or they at least do not do so adequately. Comparing the changes in population size in the Birmingham and Buffalo regions, for example, explains very little about the health of their respective center cities. Comparing how the cities of Houston and New York have grown overall tells us little about how their in-town neighborhoods have held up over time.

This post delves into the question of how to measure population growth in urban environments by examining frequently used measures of demographic change and comparing them to alternatives. It is geared toward a discussion of demography rather than transportation, but its implications are important for how we think about cities and their component parts, including transportation. Indeed, as I’ll delve into in this article, the question of what cities are growing and what cities aren’t is at the core of some of the most pressing debates in today’s urban planning–so understanding how a place’s population change is occurring is essential.

Levels of data reporting

The U.S. Census collects data about people, either as a full sample (on decennial years) or using sample-based estimates (through the American Community Survey). These data are aggregated by the Bureau to different geographical levels. Depending on the sample used and the year collected, they are aggregated to the block, block group, tract, place (city), county, metropolitan statistical area (region), and other geographies, which are then used by analysts to make conclusions about the way in which the country’s population is changing.

The typical way for demographers to make comparisons between centers of population is to use regional (MSA) data and to track their changes, as MSAs provide a broad view of a place’s demographics and offer insight into how that place is evolving, regardless of political boundaries. The justification for this approach is based on the fact that boundaries in different places work differently.

For example, the city of Philadelphia is the major center city of its region (and jobs center), and it happens to share borders with Philadelphia County, the major county in the region. On the other hand, while Boston is the largest city in its region, the city of Cambridge next door has a large share of the region’s jobs and many of its dense, urban neighborhoods. Meanwhile, while Boston is in Suffolk County, there are other municipalities also in Suffolk County, and Cambridge is not in Suffolk County. As a result, comparing trends in Philadelphia with Boston as cities or Philadelphia with Suffolk as counties with one another at the national level could result in inappropriate conclusions.

Yet there are significant tradeoffs in using a regional level of analysis, as well. Indeed, every level of analysis has advantages and disadvantages, as summarized by the following table.

Level Advantages Disadvantages
Region (MSA)
  • Represents broader economic and commuting geography.
  • Does not require abiding by “arbitrary” political boundaries.
  • Allows reasonable region-to-region comparisons.
  • Fails to account for differences in politics between jurisdictions, which may influence growth. MSAs are not political entities.
  • Masks issues occurring at the local level and fails to compare suburb to suburb or inner city to inner city.
County
  • Usually has fixed boundaries.
  • Counties at the center of a metro area often represent the “inner city” dynamics of a place.
  • Counties typically have minimal political power compared to states and cities.
  • Counties are rarely “understandable” for lay people.
  • A county in some cases can be regional in scope (Bexar, TX) or just be a part of a city (New York, NY).
City (“place”)
  • Cities are the base level of local jurisdiction most people understand, so they are relatable.
  • Cities often have strong political environments that likely influence growth significantly.
  • Boundaries change over time, especially in Sunbelt cities with annexation powers.
  • City trends do not necessarily represent the region as a whole, and suburbs are usually cities in their own right, confusing matters.
Tract, block group, block
  • Represent local-level trends most effectively.
  • Do not represent broader trends.
  • May not accurately represent “neighborhoods” because of arbitrary boundaries.

How, then, can we compare cities across the country with one another? If no Census geography is problem-free, are cross-regional comparisons useless?

The answer is to first determine what it is, exactly, that we are trying to ask. If the question is, for example, which areas of the country are growing most quickly, looking at regional demographics make sense (rather than, say, emphasizing large percentage growth in tiny cities). If the question is whether different political approaches are affecting growth differently, then examining population in cities may be effective.

But if the question is something more complicated, such as how similar neighborhoods in different places around the country are acting, these Census geographies often cease to be relevant. This is particularly important for understanding transportation trends, since the way people move around is often directly related to the physical characteristics of the places people live and work. But cities or regions as a whole rarely respond to this issue because cities are often too big and inadequately uniform.

Components of urban population change

More than just pondering the rather simple (but important!) question of what metropolitan regions are growing or declining most quickly, I wanted to get a better sense of how specific parts of regions changed over time. I wanted to be able to answer questions more relevant to urban transportation patterns, like how downtowns in various cities grow or shrink over time. Downtowns are almost uniformly the places in urban regions with the highest transit, walking, and biking mode shares; their health is indicative of whether a region is moving in the right direction on that front. Similarly, how much are already-developed areas of cities changing over time? This is particularly relevant for understanding the pace of infill development, to determine whether cities are adapting to become denser places, or whether they are focusing on suburban growth instead.

To conduct this analysis, I moved beyond the standard Census geographies and to create more appropriate and nationally comparable methods. Taking as a base the 100 largest U.S. cities in 1960 (many of which, though not all of which, are the same as today’s 100 largest cities), I compared changes in not only (a) the overall population within city boundaries, but also (b) the areas of those cities that were already built up in 1960 (with a density of at least 4,000 people per square mile*), and (c) the areas within 1.5 and 3 miles of city hall, irrespective of whether those areas are within the relevant city or not.

The following four maps illustrate how these geographies look for four representative cities–Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Houston, and New York City. The cities have changed dramatically between 1960 and 2014. Las Vegas, Indianapolis, and Houston increased the area within their city boundaries dramatically through annexation or, in the case of Indianapolis, a merger with the surrounding county. New York City, on the other hand, has the same boundaries, with the exception of some landfill such as at Battery Park City.

The areas that were built up in 1960 also differ considerably between the cities. Whereas most of 1960 Indianapolis had neighborhoods of densities of more than 4,000 people per square mile, less than half of Las Vegas did and Houston’s density was arrayed along corridors emanating from downtown. Finally, while the areas within 3 miles of Houston city hall are entirely within the city, those within 3 miles of Las Vegas and New York city halls include suburban jurisdictions (including parts of New Jersey, in the case of New York City).

las_vegas indianapolis
houston new_york

When examining just a comparison between changes in population in the city as a whole and those in the neighborhoods that were already built up in 1960, some remarkable trends become apparent.

As the following interactive graph shows (mouse over the graph to get more information; not all cities are shown in the X-axis), very few cities saw significant overall growth between 1960 and 2014 in neighborhoods that were already built up. Houston and San Antonio, which each gained hundreds of thousands of people overall during that period, also each lost more than 100,000 people in their already-built up areas. So did Indianapolis, Columbus, Louisville, and Memphis. What’s surprising is that these are cities often acclaimed for their dramatic growth over the past few decades. Yet their growth has been premised largely on annexation–suburbanization–even as their already-built up cores have declined.

In fact, the average of the 100 largest cities grew by 48 percent overall. Yet the average city also lost 28 percent of its residents within its neighborhoods that were built up in 1960.

Some cities did expand through infill quite dramatically, and Los Angeles is a true outlier on this front, gaining almost 1,000,000 people in areas that were already at least partially built up. Other coastal cities had similar but less dramatic trends, like San Diego, San Jose, Long Beach, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Arlington (VA) and Oakland. San Francisco is often singled out as a place where growth is not moving fast enough, yet this chart illustrates that the city is at least as willing to accept infill growth as most others.

Of course, change from 1960 is just one criterion to measure change in urban environment. The following graph illustrates how the built-up neighborhoods in 1960 fared over the next few decades. In some cases, they rebounded from significant declines in the 60s and 70s; in others, their populations have continued to fall. (Note: this paragraph and the following graph added in a post-publishing update.)

Looking at areas within 1.5 and 3 miles of city halls produces equally interesting results. While these areas often overlap with the areas that were built up in 1960, they do not match directly as many downtowns had few residents in 1960 (look at the map of downtown Manhattan above, for example), and they often include communities outside of the city itself.

When looking at these neighborhoods, as shown in the following chart, the overall trend is negative: The preponderance of U.S. cities has lost a significant number of people within 1.5 miles of city hall and between 1.5 and 3 miles of city hall, with Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and St. Louis leading the way.

There are some clear exceptions, however: San Jose, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Long Beach, Honolulu, Arlington, and Austin each grew dramatically within these core areas. New York City and Chicago grew dramatically (in fact, more than any other cities) very close to their city halls–but they also lost a significant number of people between 1.5 miles and 3 miles of downtown.

It is worth pointing out that these trends have changed over time and that choosing a starting point in 1960 was an arbitrary choice based on the availability of Census tract-level data for that year.

As the following graph illustrates, the population of the neighborhoods within 1.5 miles of city hall in the 100 largest cities has changed dramatically over time, and while the change from 1960 to 2014 is a key indicator, it is not all meaningful. Indeed, it is interesting to point out that of the areas within 1.5 miles of city hall of the 100 largest cities, only 5 grew between 1960 and 1970, but 6 grew between 1970 and 1980, 35 between 1980 and 1990, 51 between 1990 and 2000, and 53 between 2000 and 2014. In other words, while the central areas of most large cities are still less populated than they were in 1960, many have recovered a significant share of their population in the intervening years.

Diverging paths to growth

Of the 15 largest U.S. cities in 2014, 13 grew between 1960 and 2014. Yet of those 15, only 7 grew in the areas within 1.5 miles of city hall, and only 5 grew in their respective neighborhoods that were already built up in 1960. Even New York City, whose growth has been outpaced by just a few cities, has increased in population only in areas that were underdeveloped before from the perspective of residential occupancy, such as on Staten Island, in the financial district, and on land that was reclaimed from the rivers.

Los Angeles is an outlier, seeing stellar growth both overall and through infill development during this period.

15-largest-cities

Seen alternatively, examine the following chart illustrating how the 100 largest cities in 1960 have changed over time when separated by region (by chance, 1960’s 100 largest cities are roughly evenly distributed between the Midwest, Northeast, South, and West).

What’s intriguing is that though large cities in the South and West grew spectacularly over this period (the median city grew by more than 50 percent overall even as the median cities in the Midwest and Northeast lost people during that period), their infill development–particularly in the South–stalled out. Indeed, the median city in the South, much as in the Midwest, saw its 1960 developed areas decline in population by more than 40 percent; the median city in those two regions also experienced a decline in population in the 1.5 miles closest to city hall of more than 50 percent.

From the perspective of these alternative measurements, cities in the Northeast actually appear closer in trends to those in the West than those in the Midwest and South.

regions_quartiles

Implications for discussing population data

The U.S. has gained more than 140 million people since 1960, and the growth of its largest cities has at least to some degree corresponded to that; the total population of the 100 largest cities in 1960 grew from 47.5 million then to 57.4 million in 2014. Yet this growth has come largely through annexation and not through infill development or construction downtown, as I’ve noted above. This gives some clue as to why the country’s residents continue to rely on personal automobiles to get around. Overall, this paints a worrying picture about the renaissance that many cities appear to be going through; is it simply a blip on the overall continued suburbanization of the country?

Yet by evaluating growth from a different perspective using the indicators I presented above (surely there are other measures that would also be helpful) suggests that we need a more nuanced look at population growth. It is simultaneously true that Chicago lost the country’s second-largest number of inhabitants between 1960 and 2014 and that the same city gained the second-largest number of inhabitants living within 1.5 miles of city hall. It is simultaneously true that San Antonio gained almost 800,000 people in the city as a whole even as it lost more than 100,000 people in the areas that were already developed in 1960.

nominal percent

Why take these alternative measures of city growth so seriously? They should help us question whether the cities that grew fastest from 1960 to 2014 were Las Vegas, San Jose, and Austin or, alternatively, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Miami or perhaps New York City, Chicago, and Honolulu. Each tells a different but useful tale about demographic change.

These measures might help us to understand, for example, how it is possible for half-vacant neighborhoods to exist just blocks from central Houston, which is otherwise booming. Or it may help us to understand why that city’s transit ridership has increased by just 5 percent since 1996 even though the city has grown by more than 25 percent since then. And they might help us get a better idea of what cities are truly regenerating their inner-city neighborhoods versus those that are simply gobbling up suburban growth to feed into their growing population counts.

Much of the rhetoric in the urban planning discourse over the past few years has focused on the lack of adequate housing construction in many of our cities’ most-desired communities. This is, no doubt, one of the most pressing issues facing places where supply has not kept up with demand and, as a result, rents have risen out of control.

Cities like San Francisco, notably, are frequently cited for inappropriately preventing growth, whereas places like Houston have been lauded for their unbelievable growth. Yet the data presented above should make us question this argument, or at least make us evaluate whether it conclusions correspond to actual demographic change. How is it that “growing” Houston lost almost 120,000 people in its neighborhoods that were already developed in 1960, while “growth-inhibiting” San Francisco gained more than 70,000 in its similar communities? Context matters.

* I used this density measure because it approximates mid-level suburban density levels.

Image at top: Construction in Los Angeles, from Flickr user fliegender (cc)

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Finance General Maps

Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2016

Construction

» More than 240 miles of new fixed-guideway transit is expected to come online in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico this year. Also, check out a new way to visualize existing, planned, and proposed transit lines in North America: Transit Explorer.

Cities across the country are waking up to new bus and rail lines in droves. In 2016, North American transit agencies are expected to open 245 miles of new fixed-guideway transit lines, including 89 miles of bus rapid transit, 93 miles of commuter rail, 7 miles of heavy rail, 39 miles of light rail, and 18 miles of streetcars. This is more than triple the new mileage of such lines opened in 2015.

Use Transit Explorer to visualize the routes of existing, planned, and proposed transit lines, and to learn about their individual characteristics.

Thanks in part to significant expenditures by national governments—such as the Urban Circulator and TIGER grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Transportation—but also due to the allocation of significant new funding from cities and states to transit agencies, 2016 will be a banner year, bringing new rail and bus lines to neighborhood after neighborhood. Projects opening this year, listed in detail below but including nine bus rapid transit lines, eight streetcar routes, seven light rail lines, six commuter rail lines, and two heavy rail extensions, will have cost more than $15 billion to build.* Three of these projects—the Second Avenue Subway in New York, University Link in Seattle, and BART Warm Springs Extension outside of San Francisco—each took more than seven years to build.

In the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, projects costing a total of $70 billion and representing more than 470 miles of new, fixed-guideway transit will be under construction by the end of the year, with completion expected in the coming decade. Much more is in planning.

This is the eighth year of my annual compilation of new transit projects on The Transport Politic. Find previous years here: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015.

In order to provide a comprehensive view of the scope of investment planned, I worked with Steven Vance to develop a new resource, Transit Explorer, that offers readers an interactive and open-source mechanism to view these projects, an improvement over the Google Maps system I’ve used in the past. Transit Explorer shows new projects in the context of existing fixed-guideway lines.

A long route to 2016

More than any recent year, 2016 will be marked by the return of the modern streetcar in the U.S. A total of eight streetcar projects will open, including five in cities with no previous service—Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Washington. While the two Missouri projects have advanced relatively easily, the three others have had long and sometimes tortuous histories that demonstrate the lengths to which many American cities struggle to get new transit projects off the ground.

After having been advanced by transit advocates, Cincinnati’s line was subject to a failed fatal ballot measure in 2009 that would have killed it, later funded by the city, and then awarded state and federal support. In 2011, the project lost its state funding thanks to an intervention by now-presidential aspirant, then-Ohio governor John Kasich and in 2013 it was practically killed by new anti-streetcar mayor John Cranley. But now the line is finally ready for operation, and downtown Cincinnati and the nearby Over-the-Rhine neighborhood have been gentrifying in bubbly anticipation.

Perhaps more than anywhere else, in Detroit civic leaders have pinned their hopes for the city’s renaissance on a proposed new rail line. Just a three-mile line, the streetcar will undoubtedly have little ability to cure what ails the Motor City, but it has been a long time coming. In the 2000s, local leaders proposed a 9.3-mile light rail line connecting downtown with the suburbs on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main drag, but the project became mired in delays such that in 2008 private investors representing local companies drew up a competing, much-shorter project that has evolved into the “M-1 Rail” line to open this year.

This project took a number of remarkable leaps towards its realization, including the assembly of funding not only from private funders but also non-profits, including the Kresge Foundation, which contributed $35 million. The project was supposed to be completed by 2013, and received aid from the U.S. Department of Transportation in the form of a $25 million TIGER grant. By 2010, state leaders developed a proposal for a regional BRT network, a plan that could be seen as complementary or potentially competing, depending on whether funding could be identified. Indeed, despite the streetcar’s federal support, facing overwhelming municipal funding problems in late 2011 city officials proposed shutting off the project because of a fear that Detroit wouldn’t be able to pay operations costs. After intense negotiations in 2012, including an agreement from private backers that they would fund operations, the federal government committed another $25 million TIGER grant to the project, securing enough support for the line to move toward completion this year.

Political troubles may have been the name of the game in Cincinnati and Detroit, but in Washington there has been relatively steady commitment from elected officials for building a streetcar—combined with poor technical execution. Originally promised to Northeast D.C. in 2002, the streetcar on H Street and Benning Road east from Union Station was meant to link a neighborhood far from the region’s Metro system. But the city government was distracted, initially building another set of tracks across the river in Anacostia instead. That line began construction in 2004, received streetcars in 2007, had tracks laid in 2010… and has yet to open for service.

Cincinnati Streetcar Detroit M-1 Rail Kansas City Streetcar Loop Trolley H St/Benning Rd Streetcar
New streetcar lines are expected to open in Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Washington in 2016.

In the meantime, city officials made big plans, in 2009 announcing a 37-mile, eight-route, $1.5 billion streetcar system that would serve virtually the whole city. At the center of the network would be an east-west line running from Georgetown to Anacostia, including the aforementioned initial H Street Northeast link. Construction there began in 2009 with completion expected in 2012. Tracks were installed in 2011, but service kept being delayed by problem after problem and cost increase after cost increase. In 2015, new mayor Muriel Bowser evaluated the possibility of cancelling the project, but decided instead to focus in on the east-west segment, leaving the rest of the system for some future decade. Now this first route is supposed to be up and running in the next few months, though given this fraught history, one never knows.

In 2016, existing streetcar networks in Dallas, New Orleans, and Seattle are expected to be expanded for riders. Meanwhile, construction will continue or begin in El Paso, Milwaukee, and Oklahoma City as planning ramps up for streetcars in Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Tempe.

The large number of streetcar projects opening this year should not be mistaken for a nationwide consensus about the benefits of these new transit systems. Already, mostly funded projects in Arlington, Virginia and Fort Worth, Texas have been cancelled. The merits of mixed-traffic streetcars as mobility providers have always been, and will continue to be, questionable: They’re slow; they get stuck in traffic; they’re not even particularly good at moving a lot of people around.

Yet they’re likely to remain a growing element of American transit planning because, more than anything else, they offer mid-sized cities the opportunity to create new rail networks at relatively low costs.

Which isn’t to say that streetcars are the only investments cities are making. To the contrary. In fact, we’ll see several gigantic, expensive, and most certainly not mixed-traffic transit projects open in 2016, at least according to agency officials. L.A.’s Metro light rail network will finally (almost) reach the beach thanks to the $1.5 billion expansion of the Expo Line to Santa Monica; Seattle will open a $2 billion tunnel for its light rail trains to the University of Washington; and the Bay Area’s BART system will extend another few miles south in the East Bay.

In New York City, the Second Avenue Subway’s 1.7-mile, $4.9 billion first phase, theoretically to serve 200,000 daily riders, will run Q trains into the Upper East Side after nine years of construction. Maybe. And the $4 billion World Trade Center transportation center—perhaps the most expensive station in the world, and definitely one of the most extravagant—will finally open its winged lobby to the public.

Second Avenue Subway World Trade Center transportation center Denver commuter rail University Link Expo Line
The most expensive new projects expected to open in 2016 are New York’s Second Avenue Subway and World Trade Center Transportation Center; Denver’s three-line electrified commuter rail system; Seattle’s University Link light rail tunnel; and Los Angeles’ Expo Line light rail extension to Santa Monica.

To round out this surprisingly long list are a series of new rail lines in Denver constructed by what is likely the largest design-build-maintain-operate contract ever signed in the U.S. for a transit system. The Eagle P3 was finalized in a $2.1 billion, 2010 agreement that includes about 37 miles of electrified commuter rail operating on newly built tracks running west, north, and east from downtown’s Union Station. Declining sales tax revenues in 2009 almost killed the project, but in 2016, riders will get fast, sort-of-frequent service to the Denver airport, among other destinations.

If all this new rail hasn’t been enough to raise your inner transit-loving glee, perhaps you’ve been hoping for buses. Good golly, don’t be worried; there are several BRT routes planned for opening later this year, and even more after that planned for new construction. Check out the following lists—or use Transit Explorer.

The following new or expanded lines are expected to open to the public in 2016:

Construction is expected to begin on the following projects in 2016:

Progress in 2015

Cities across the continent outfitted themselves with significant new transit infrastructure in 2015. The most expensive project, by far, was New York’s 7 Subway extension, which added about one mile and one station to Gotham’s network—for the remarkably high cost of $2.4 billion.

Loop Link CTfastrack Viva BRT
In 2015, BRT lines with significant infrastructure opened in Chicago, Hartford, and Toronto.

But the year may also be remembered for adding four significant BRT corridors to the continent. CTfastrack’s connection between downtown Hartford and New Britain is a full-scale busway offering service in an entirely dedicated corridor. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jacksonville, and Toronto, dedicated lanes opened with significant stations and other features for their buses. If these services are successful in attracting new ridership to transit and in providing measurable speed improvements, we are likely to see more of these lower-cost BRT projects in the future.

Projects that were completed in 2015:

Looking ahead

One need search no further than the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel proposed to connect New Jersey and New York City to know that even after funding has been secured and construction has begun, changes in estimated costs or new political leadership threaten to derail the completion of transit expansions. In 2015, the Baltimore Red Line, a light rail project that would have run east-west through the city, fell victim to a change in gubernatorial leadership. Several of the projects noted above will also likely be cancelled in the coming months.

But the broader story presented here suggests dramatic and nationwide commitment to expanded fixed guideway transit in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Though 2016 may be a high-water mark when it comes to transit line openings, we’re likely to see many years like it in the coming decade.

Indeed, regions are continuously searching for ways to ramp up investment on better transit. In November 2016, Los Angeles County and the Seattle metropolitan area are likely to ask their voters to devote new tax revenues to building more. In L.A., a repeat of 2008’s Measure R could fund a new subway through the Sepulveda Pass, among other projects. In Seattle, the passage of a third Sound Transit referendum could fund light rail to Ballard and West Seattle. There’s a lot to look forward to.

* The average cost per mile expected to be completed in 2016 will be:

  • $4 million for bus rapid transit
  • $30 million for commuter rail
  • $778 million for heavy rail (though the sample is very small—just two projects!)
  • $141 million for light rail
  • $46 million for streetcar

2016 streetcar photo credits: Flickr users 5chw4r7z, Sean_Marshall, Glithander, Scott Thomas Smith, and mariordo59, respectively (cc).
2016 major projects photo credits: Flickr users Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Anthony Quintano, airbus777, Sound Transit, and Steve and Julie, respectively (cc).
2015 BRT projects photo credits: Flickr users John Greenfield, airbus777, and wyliepoon, respectively (cc).