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Mass Transit in New Orleans


NCB

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Ah, nevermind, looks like I misread their system map. So yes, the Saint Charles line still consists only of the downtown loop. It was reported a few weeks ago by the Times-Picayune and WWL-TV that the Saint Charles Ave. tracks and electrical wires had been restored up to Napoleon Ave. I figured they would then begin running the Saint Charles streetcar up to Napoleon, and then just go back the other way, as they do on the Riverfront line. Apparently that's not the case? :dontknow:

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Well, I was extremely bored this evening, so I decided to do what everyone does when they're bored...create an overlay of the New Orleans streetcar system on a Google map! ;)

nolassmh2.jpg

I'm sure most of you guys are more than familiar with the system, but I'll go ahead and identify the lines anyway:

Red- Riverfront line

Blue- Canal Street line

Purple- North Carrollton spur

Green- Saint Charles Avenue line

Another potential route for the St.Charles Ave. line would be from the Ponchartrain Expressway to the end of S. Claiborne. This way, the St.Charles Ave. line will completely cover the Uptown region. The N. Carrollton spur could continue south until it meets at S. Claiborne.

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I've had very similar ideas, Derrick. I put this together in a few minutes, with the black lines representing new lines/exensions of current lines.

nolass2vd0.jpg

First, I have what would be the most simple of them all, an extension of the Saint Charles Ave. line all the way up S. Carrollton, where it would hit Canal and meet the N. Carrollton spur.

Next, I have a line running on Poydras Street from the riverfront up to Claiborne, where the line would turn and head down Claiborne until it hit Carrollton, where the line would simply end or run into the Saint Charles line and its extension up to Canal, to meet with the N. Carrollton spur.

And finally, and probably least realistic, I have an extension of the riverfront line down to Louisiana Ave. The streetcar line on Louisiana would also be revived, and would run from Tchoupitoulas up to Claiborne.

These new lines would connect Uptown, and especially the Garden District, with the CBD/French Quarter through three seperate lines. And the extension of the Saint Charles line would connect Uptown with Mid-City, City Park, and Lakeview through the Canal line.

Just some ideas to keep me busy. ;)

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That's OK....us folks on the downriver side of Canal really don't want to be involved in the streetcar renaissance. We weren't really interested in that Elysian Fields line that featured so prominently in the district's UNOP plan. One running down one of the city's only avenues going unbroken from River to Lake. Down the historic right of way of the city's first rail line, and one of the earliest rail lines in the nation. Situated so as to provide access to the Quarter and CBD to UNO, Dillard, SUNO, and Baptist Theological Seminary students.

LOL (Sarcasm off....) LOL

Just pulling you Uptown, World-Ends-At-Canal guys' collective chain a little. LOL

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In all seriousness, the stretch from Poydras onto Claiborne faces similar obstacles as would an Elysian Fields line or the pre-K proposed revived Desire line (which would run down St. Claude to Poland to serve the proposed cruise ship terminal and expected Bywater riverfront development).

For Desire, the problem would be the grade-level crossing of the railroad tracks at Press St.

For Elysian Fields, it's the railroad tracks and canal at Florida Avenue.

And for Claiborne, it would be the fact that a crossing of the Pontchartrain Expressway at that point would be problematic.

Should streetcar lines be able to utilize overpass crossings (I have no idea of the maximum grade possible for a streetcar), then the Elysian Fields and Claiborne could be worked out....maybe. It would sure drive the costs up for the two lines. I don't think an elevated crossing at Press St. would even be considered.

More likely for the Elysian Fields line, some have said, is an extension of the Carrollton spur up Wisner to Desaix on on to Gentilly Blvd (which intersection is only a few blocks from the Fairgrounds--think streetcar access from Uptown to Jazzfest), proceeding on Gentilly right past the front of Dillard's campus to the intersection with Elysian Fields (one of the city's designated recovery zone "redevelop" sites) and then Lake-bound on Elysian Fields to the UNO campus.

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While many of the aforementioned future streetcar lines will be wonderful, the first place New Orleans should look to make dramatic new improvements in public transit is on the rights-of-way already owned by the Public Belt Rail Road. The PBRR ROWs do not conflict with on-grade traffic crossings; the streetcars can run at full-speed, unimpeded by vehicular traffic or having to stop every two blocks, thereby creating a viable transit system that will move people as efficiently as if they were in a subway. Furthermore, the route is a circumferential one that can immediately impact ridership. Radial routes can be added as funding permits, either to lay new in-street tracks or to move to BRT (like Curitiba). Here's an illustration I made for another context...

RTA_Rail_2.gif

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NCB, your idea for a Poydras-Claiborne follows a similar route to the proposed light rail to the airport from the Unified New Orleans Plan. I have cobbled together the portions of the UNOP light rail route proposed in the District 1 (downtown + French Quarter) and District 3 (Carrollton/Broadmoor/Hollygrove/University), but have not yet been able to find the remaining portion of the proposal that extends to the airport. It should be noted that there is a proposed alternative rerouting the line between Union Station and the intersection of Claiborne and Martin Luther King.

This is a completely separate proposal from the East-West Corridor initiative, which features light rail as a large component in a multifaceted attempt to improve transit between the I-310 / Airline Drive interchange and downtown. There are 4 route alternatives shown for the downtown leg of the light rail line, the East-West Corridor site, and the videos about the road improvements illustrate a park-and-ride station at Airline/Williams and a smaller station at Airline/Lester Ave.

jeffschwartz, do you know of any maps outlining all of the rail corridors in the New Orleans area, who owns them, and their current state of usage ?

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The only thing I've ever been able to dig up that's relatively recent is this image, which I got directly from the NOPB:

New_Orleans_NO_RR.gif

What's interesting is that the NOPB/Norfolk Southern tracks would run directly into the end of the current Riverfront streetcar line (see both my previous post as well as that of the UNOP light rail route that blackcoat illustrated in the previous post). We already have the rights-of-way in public ownership, and they're graded and outside of automobile traffic, to boot. That is ideal--akin to what the el is in Chicago, or Philly's aboveground lines, and even better than Boston's T Greenline. If we only had people who would go to bat for it at the RPC, NOPB, CPC, etc. Our streetcar's two biggest failings are that they are relatively slow, and they don't circumnavigate the city. The NOPB route could kill both those birds, and have plenty of ancillary benefits as well (park n rides within the city--for instance, at City Park--could provide City Park with much-needed revenue).

Another note I'd like to add to this discussion: In addition to New Orleans having the most Class I railroads in the country, we also have the most intercontinental Amtrak routes (three)--the Crescent (to New York), the City of New Orleans (to Chicago), and the Sunset Limited (to LA)--moving right through our dinky UPT. I'll just say that we need to break out of the mindset of high speed rail just moving along the Gulf. The Illinois Central has long-connected New Orleans to the Midwest, and we need to think of ourselves as the spine of the country. The Illinois Central connects New Orleans to Jackson, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, and (because it is owned by CN) Toronto and on to Montreal. We need to think N-S in addition to E-W, which would place New Orleans at the intersection of an inverted T that has a total population of more than 70M people. Look what Houston DOESN'T have the we still do, and that is one HELL of a competitive advantage:

Amtrak_National_Map.gif

Canada_National_Map.gif

IC_1971.gif

Edited by jeffschwartz
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NCB, thank you very much for the warm welcome to the forum.

Jeffschwartz, I completely agree with you that a dedicated right-of-way for rail transit would be ideal. However, I'm fairly certain that the New Orleans Public Belt (NOPB) is still actively used to route freight between the various rail lines feeding into the city, and I speculate that new investment in the port can only strengthen the NOPB's current function. That, and I swear that I've seen trains going by Canal Place since Katrina. Are you suggesting that we change the function of the NOPB, or is there enough room in the easement for light rail and freight to co-exist?

(Aside: planned route for the rail portion of the East-West Corridor would use space in at least 2 different active rights-of-way)

Abandoned easements were mentioned in at least one of the UNOP planning district proposals as well as a recent RPC transit plan, so the rights-of-way are there... somewhere. I will see what I can turn up, but back to cartography for a moment.

-----------------------

I mapped out the Desire streetcar proposal as well as the existing streetcar routes (NCB, I couldn't find your Google Map layover, so I made my own). According to some information that's several years old, it sounded like the Desire proposal won't be happening any time soon. The portion of the Norfolk-Southern Railway between Oliver Yard and the NOPB was hotly contested in August of 2002, and the RTA's later write-up for the Desire line in November 2004 shows that little had changed:

"The Desire Streetcar Line is Not Recommended at this time based on the absence of a current capital and operating financial plan to evaluate. FTA notes that NORTA and Norfolk Southern Railroad have not reached an agreement on how to accommodate both freight and streetcar service at the Press Street grade crossing in the eastern portion of the corridor. Since the surrounding community has rejected above- or below-grade alternatives at the crossing, the failure to reach an agreement impedes NORTA’s ability to move forward with the project. NORTA must resolve this alignment issue and demonstrate progress in advancing the project within the next year, or risk being removed from preliminary engineering status."

Interesting tidbit there. I imagine that within a year's time, the RTA's focus shifted from reinstating the Desire line to figuring out how to continue normal operations while staying out of the red. Has anyone come across any newer material about the Desire project?

Edited by blackcoat
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  • 2 months later...

I will be the first to admit that I don't know much about streetcar engineering. I always figured that the underpass would be the biggest obstacle facing a streetcar extension along Carrollton from Claiborne to Canal. But why would the underpass actually be a problem? I have a few thoughts on potential hang-ups, but I would appreciate it if anyone could provide more than mere speculation on the matter.

* Flooding. How much water (depth) can a streetcar safely traverse? Any flooding heavy enough to prevent cars from crossing would also disrupt streetcar service. But what if there is only an in or two of water in the underpass? Cars would be fine, but how would the streetcar fare? Depending on the maximum safe water depth for streetcar operation, the underpass may flood too frequently to provide reliable service (though reliable service is not exactly a strong suit of the RTA).

* Slope. I image that this is a non-issue since the trolleys in San Francisco climb some fairly steep hills, and above- and below-grade proposals were made for the Desire crossing. Then again, those trolleys are powered using a different type of technology than our streetcars, and it is possible that the Desire proposals, though shot down at the objection of community members, were put away before the engineers ever had a chance to deem the proposals physically feasible.

* Physical space. There may not be enough physical space to fit a streetcar into the underpass with an appropriate amount of clearance for the streetcar cables overhead.

* Expense. If the problems above are too great to overcome, the I-10 overpass / offramps might need to be reconfigured, which would be a huge expense in addition to the construction of the extension itself. Also, there are the operating costs to consider, as this is an extra 2 miles worth of track. Does anyone know RTA's operating cost per mile of streetcar line?

On that note, I'd like to speculate positively about a streetcar extension from Claiborne to Washington Ave. at Xavier. S. Carrollton is near the top of Blakely's priority list of streets to repave, and a streetcar extension would probably need to run in the street (at least partially) given the very thin strips of median near several left-turn lanes. If the street is going to be torn up and resurfaced, could there ever be a better time to lay down the track and set up the overhead wires? In addition to increased accessibility to the university, the presence of the streetcar could help spur additional development in an area already being targeted for development. It might even bolster future arguments for uniting the St. Charles line with the Carrollton spur, as this extension would close 50% of the existing gap.

So, what do you think? Any thoughts, comments, or hard facts ?

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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 month later...

WWL radio had a blurb on their website today about a light rail system between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which the article mentioned is a fairly high priority to the recovery people. I was a little surprised by that, since I didn't even know that light rail was still on the radar. I know it was talked about, but did anything serious come of it? Also, if we're gonna have light rail, it seems to make more sense to me to have it go to places like Slidell, Mandeville, and LaPlace before it goes to Baton Rouge?

http://wwl.com/Passenger-rail-service-betw...and-Bat/1551094

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  • 4 weeks later...

I was just in Washington D.C., where they have replaced many of their old city buses with new biodiesel units. After seeing those buses without trailing black plumes of exhaust, and hearing the quiet engines, I couldn't help but think "man, I with New Orleans had those!" Well, it looks like I'll be seeing that happen very soon!

RTA overhauls bus fleet with biodiesel units

New Orleans CityBusiness Article

NEW ORLEANS - In restoring public transit post-Katrina, the Regional Transit Authority is rebuilding a better fleet, RTA board chairman Cesar Burgos said.

The first of 39 new RTA buses will be delivered in April, a $15-million step toward replenishing a 372-bus fleet Hurricane Katrina cut by 205 ruined buses.

Biodiesel.jpg

(Photo by Frank Aymami)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Having lived in the D.C. area (Arlington) since Katrina, I can definitely attest to the quality of Metro, and it is an excellent model that New Orleans can learn much from. In terms of the types of service provided, San Francisco's MUNI might be a better model for New Orleans, though I think that anyone interested in expanding public transit in New Orleans should take away as many lessons as possible from Metro (website, factsheet PDF).

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I totally agree, blackcoat; Metro in D.C. is an absolutely fantastic mass transit system. I've been to D.C. 7 times, so I'm familiar with much of the city and know the Metrorail like the back of my hand. I've also used the Metrobus many times, and have found many of the bus routes easy for an outsider to understand. I also agree with you, though, that it is very difficult for RTA to truly look at Metro in D.C. as anything more than a model for leadership and efficiency. There is far more money invested into mass transit in D.C. than we see here in New Orleans, and not because the D.C. region is more wealthy, but because it is our nation's capital. I've read that many of Metro's largest projects, including the Metrorail system and the expansion and improvement of its bus service, have been as much as 86% funded by the federal government. New Orleans doesn't have that wonderful luxury, (if only!) so it needs to look at other progressive cities such as Boston, Portland, and as you mentioned, San Francisco, as models. A serious look back at our own history would probably do alot of good for the mass transit system in this city, as it wasn't that long ago that New Orleans worked to build and mantain one of the largest mass transit systems in the nation, which centered around the huge streetcar system.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The RTA anticipates full restoration of the St. Charles streetcar line 6 weeks from now. No promises, but that's the anticipated timeframe.

NCB, don't be fooled by federal transit funding numbers. Most of that is for road construction, and the current administration + congress have slashed funding for new rail construction (not that there was much to begin with). There hasn't been any new construction for Metro since the 80's, the current proposal for the Silver Line may not get off the ground due to a wide variety of funding issues, and the organization itself is in the red. Yes, Metro and Metrobus are excellent systems, but the funding picture is far from rosy. On that note, I think that overall transit funding in Louisiana will increase, but hardly any of it will go to mass transit. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that most people in Louisiana really understand mass transit concepts, but, more importantly, there is an overwhelming backlog of roadwork that really does need to be taken care of.

Edited by blackcoat
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Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that most people in Louisiana really understand mass transit concepts, but, more importantly, there is an overwhelming backlog of roadwork that really does need to be taken care of.

I completely agree. For one thing, New Orleans is the only city in the state with a serious mass transit system, so for most people in the state, "mass transit" doesn't extend too far past the nearest interstate or major highway. But that's understandable, as 95% of the South is that way, and (thankfully) most of New Orleans developed before the automobile. You're right about the backlog of roadwork that needs to be handled before any expansion of mass transit can take place. Thankfully, much of that seems to be rolling along since Jindal came into office, especially some much needed projects in the New Orleans-Saint Tammany-Baton Rouge triangle.

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Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that most people in Louisiana really understand mass transit concepts, but, more importantly, there is an overwhelming backlog of roadwork that really does need to be taken care of.

I don't know if it's as much understanding as it is conveinence. I think most people will drive cars until it becomes too inconvenient to use them, and since most people don't mind traffic, finding parking places is the real issue IMO. People will drive to places where there is parking. It's when they have to go places where they can't easily find parking, like the CBD or the French Quarter is when it becomes easier to take mass transit.

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  • 1 month later...

Now on to expanding the system again! I hoping for a loop to the Superdome- New Orleans Arena off of loyola! The return of the Desire Streetcar would be huge! Also, the riverfront to Napoleon- St charles would help plenty too! And after that a line that goes all the way to West End on the Lakefront!One can hope!!!

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