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A Streetcar Named Aspire 

RTA to extend streetcar service to neighborhoods

  A week after the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) announcement securing a new streetcar line on Loyola Avenue, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) officials approved plans for another line running down North Rampart Street between the French Quarter and Treme and continuing into the Faubourg Marigny and St. Roch neighborhoods. That line — known as the "French Quarter Loop" — would send streetcars to Press Street with a spur down Elysian Fields Avenue to the riverfront. Construction will begin next year.

  Neighborhood organizations applaud the plan. Bywater Neighborhood Association vice-president Sr. Joyce Hanks said the group supports streetcars in the neighborhood. "I wish it would go further," she said. Current plans end the line at the railroad tracks dividing Marigny and Bywater. With more project funding, the line would extend to Poland Avenue.

  Transit advocacy group (and self-described "transit geeks") Transport for NOLA, which helped draw up proposals for funding both the Loyola line and the French Quarter Loop, said those neighborhoods have largely been ignored during the streetcar conversation; existing lines and previous proposals didn't connect those neighborhoods to the Central Business District and French Quarter. Now, the RTA will put a Convention Center Boulevard streetcar project on hold while it finishes its plans for the French Quarter Loop — thanks to a supportive City Council and an additional $80 million from a bond sale in 2010.

  Transport for NOLA founder Jeffrey Schwartz suggested the plans should also move the streetcar tracks to the neutral ground on St. Claude Avenue, like the Canal and St. Charles Avenue streetcar tracks, rather than building them in existing traffic lanes. Current plans for both the French Quarter Loop and the planned Loyola streetcar line have streetcars and vehicles sharing existing traffic lanes.

  "A dedicated right-of-way for the streetcar will save time, and time is so important in transportation," Schwartz said. Transport for NOLA also points out that building the Loyola line in the neutral ground will help keep traffic flowing during big events at the Louisiana Superdome and New Orleans Arena. — Alex Woodward

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