Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Streetcars coming to Treme, Marigny and beyond

Posted By Google on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 6:30 PM

A week following the Federal Transit Authority's (FTA) announcement securing a new streetcar line on Loyola Avenue, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) officials approved plans for another line — one running through Marigny, Treme and St. Roch neighborhoods.

Last week I wrote that those neighborhoods have largely been ignored from the streetcar conversation, echoing transit advocacy groups and the proposals they've written to build a streetcar line connecting the neighborhoods to the Central Business District and French Quarter.

Jeffery Schwartz, founder of Transport for NOLA, helped draw up the Loyola line's funding request that last week met final approval. Another funding proposal for a primarily residential line — one would link neighborhoods beyond St. Claude Avenue with Elysian Fields Avenue and the already-in-place line along the Mississippi River in the quarter — was shot down. The RTA's next focus would be planning a line along Convention Center Boulevard instead. Today, that changed.

The RTA has decided to put that project on hold, and thanks to a supportive city council and a bit of fiscal wiggle room in RTA's budget (and an additional $80 million from a bond sale in 2010), the "French Quarter loop" will commence.

Early plans for the line send streetcars from Basin and Canal streets and continue down Rampart Street to St. Claude Avenue and Press Street — where it meets railroad tracks. The line also would split at Elysian Fields Avenue and run to where it meets Esplanade Avenue.

Schwartz commended Mayor Mitch Landrieu and RTA officials for their support in the project but suggests that the plans should move the streetcar tracks to the neutral ground on St. Claude rather than in existing traffic lanes. ("A dedicated right-of-way for the streetcar will save time, and time is so important in transportation,” Schwartz said in a statement.)

Whether those lands end up in the neutral ground or the street, residents in those neighborhoods — as well as anyone in New Orleans — should be thrilled. This isn't about increasing "tourist" ridership, like the heritage routes on St. Charles and Carrollton avenues. And it isn't a commercial land grab, like the recent Loyola corridor plan.

This addition will expand streetcar service beyond clusters of the city and link neighborhoods to neighborhoods, all without a car. One could take the Canal Street line from Mid-City to the Marigny and ride all the way — pending approval of expansion plans beyond Press Street — to Poland Avenue.

Construction is expected to begin next year.

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