CBD streetcar funds approved, neighborhoods still left out

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In February 2010, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) announced a streetcar-funding grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) — a funding initiative under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (or TIGER. Cute).

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced yesterday that the funds — $45 million for a 1.5 mile-long streetcar route on Loyola Avenue from the Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street — were approved. (The project is to be completed in 2012.)

LaHood said the project and funds mean "more jobs for workers in New Orleans, and greater access to the central business district, where the jobs are."

LaHood also toted the project as a job booster and creator, and FTA administrator Peter Rogoff said it "will also expand the streetcar network to new communities and stimulate development and job creation along Loyola Avenue."

What new communities?

The network is the first in RTA's appeal for more CBD transit: another stretch would supplement the French Quarter route with a 4-mile route on Convention Center Boulevard. But nearby neighborhoods — Marigny, Bywater and Treme — are left out. Transport 4 NOLA proposed a line linking downtown neighborhoods with French Quarter and CBD lines. Those neighborhoods are "primed for transit," according to Transport for NOLA founder Jeffery Schwartz. That proposal was shut down.

The only "communities" the Loyola line will connect are the already in place French Quarter and Warehouse District lines, connecting to the "streetcar suburbs" and tourist-dependent St. Charles Avenue and Carrollton lines (which ends at Claiborne Avenue, cutting out a large portion of dependent riders in Uptown and Mid-City neighborhoods.) The streetcar picks back up at Canal Street, where it meets Carrollton and continues to City Park. Beyond Esplanade and into Treme, and into the 9th Ward and beyond, public transit options are limited to buses.

The RTA and FTA should be commended for introducing more public transit options to New Orleans. But suggesting "new communities" will link up to the thriving CBD is just wrong.

In November 2010, Schwartz said: "Parts of New Orleans are as dense or more dense than Boston or San Francisco. If you look at the corridors, the neighborhoods, they're totally supportive of transit. The trick is, how do you get the politicians ... to start talking about it?"

Maybe if we can get them behind this thing?

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