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Stamford streetcar in 1933
(Photo: Stamford Historical Society)

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Light Rail Now! NewsLog

Produced by the Light Rail Now! Publication Team

This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.

25 March 2009

Proposed streetcar system favored in study

Stamford, Connecticut — A streetcar circulator system, connecting Stamford's railroad station with the South End, High Ridge Road, and Bulls Head areas, could provide some relief to traffic congestion and stimulate redevelopment, according to an interim report from consultant URS Corp., which has been conducting a $141,000 study since last August to determine what impacts such a project might have on the city.

The developments in Stamford were recently reported by Rail Transit Online (February 2009) and posted on the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Site:

"The rails that are installed are permanent in the road, while bus routes can change" planner Stuart Popper told the Transportation Committee of the city's governing Board of Representatives. "It seems that installation of streetcars attracts development to the areas where they are."

Popper suggested a two-mile (3.2 km) starter line with three new streetcars that he eestimated would cost up to $10 million. (That cost would roughly cover the cost of the rolling stock, but not the infrastructure.) Using refurbished rolling stock could lower the price tag. "Construction costs depend on the route and where it is" Popper added. "There's a range of costs."

According to the Rail Transit Online report, "The final report from URS will contain a deeper economic analysis, route alternatives and more specific cost estimates."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/03/25

More on Stamford Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

20 March 2009

Salt Lake:
One-third of campus travel via light rail

Salt Lake City — Detractors of public transportation – almost always with the aim of disparaging the impact of rail transit – like to contend that public transit ridership is basically irrelevant in urban areas. To argue this, they often compare the ridership of a relatively weak transit system, or a single rail system, with virtually all the street and highway traffic of a huge region, typically much of which is outside the transit service area.

In reality, public transit in major urban areas tends to be a true workhorse, carrying much of the traffic load into concentrated, highly congested areas.

An excellent case in point would seem to be one of Salt Lake City's TRAX light rail transit (LRT) lines that serves the University of Utah. Although TRAX ridership has somewhat "leveled off" since motor fuel prices dropped from the $4.50-per-gallon levels of last fall, an article in the Salt Lake Tribune (2009/02/16) reports that approximately 45,000 travelers a week ride the LRT system – representing 33% of total travel to the campus.

That means that – even with the cost of using a car lower, and ridership down – fully one-third of trips to the campus are handled by the Utah Transit Authority's light rail service. That's a relatively huge number of trips that would otherwise mean more private motor vehicles clogging streets and highways, and contending with one another for scarce parking ... and a lot less pressure on the university administration to devote valuable real estate to providing more parking facilities.

So much for the "irrelevance" of rail transit – at least in Salt Lake City.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/03/20

More on Salt Lake City Public Transport Developments

More on Transit Industry Ridership issues...

27 February 2009

San Jose:
Transit ridership keeps growing ... but economic crisis threatens service

San Jose, California — Transit ridership continues to soar, as San Jose's major transit agency responds to increasing light rail transit (LRT) ridership and overallall systemwide ridership growth with major service improvements.

According to a news release from the transit agency (Feb. 26th),

» The trend of record high ridership continues at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), one full year after VTA introduced its New Bus Service (NBS), the implementation of a revamped bus system that included more frequent service on many major routes, expanded express bus service and a significant increase in low-fare community bus routes. «

Rail transit advocates often contend that, by reducing the unit cost and increasing the efficiency of transporting transit riders, rail enables many agencies to gradually expand overall bus transit services. This also tends to refute the contention of rail critics that rail transit "sucks money" from the system as a whole, degrading service. In any case, exactly the opposite seems to be happening on VTA's system.

According to VTA’s news release, the agency's ridership increase has been "system-wide". LRT has recorded an average weekday ridership of 31,368 for January 2009, an increase of 5.9% compared to January 2008, "and the highest January light rail average weekday in VTA history." LRT recorded monthly ridership of 826,553, a 4.7% increase from 2008.

» VTA’total monthly system ridership for bus and light rail was 3,618,530, an increase of 7.5% over January 2008. January 2009 bus average weekday ridership was 108,807, 10.5% higher than January 2008, and the highest January bus average weekday in six years. «

VTA also notes that "There are many factors that contribute to the ridership increases recorded during the last year."

» In addition to more 15-minute frequencies added to VTA’s core routes as part of NBS, the increased ridership is also a result of residents looking for ways to save money, acting more environmentally conscious and responding to the fluctuating gas prices. «

Abdul Bhatti, described as a "longtime VTA rider", expressed his enthusiasm for VTA's transit service. "I live with my son, who has a home in Evergreen, and taking VTA is a very positive option for seniors like me, especially in this area. I’m really happy with the community buses that VTA adopted last year."

But VTA's transit operations and service levels are (like those of many other transit agencies) being threatened by the current economic meltdown.

"The loss of revenue from the state combined with decreased sales tax will make it difficult to continue the high level of bus and light rail service" said VTA General Manager Michael T. Burns. . "This comes at a time where the public is using inexpensive transportation to get to work.”

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/02/27

More on San Jose Public Transport Developments

More on Transit Industry Ridership issues...

20 February 2009

PBS news report focuses on mass transit success vs. crisis

USA — On Feb. 13th, the Public Broadcasting System's weekly news analysis program Now focused on the issue of America's mass transit with respect to the economic stimulus program being undertaken by the administration of newly elected President Barack Obama.

Titled "Stimulus Roadblock?", the 25-minute news program asks, "President Obama's stimulus money is nearly out the door and on its way to the states, but will it be spent in the way it is intended?"

» One alarming example: Mass transit. Cities and states, strapped for money, are cutting back on mass transit even as it becomes more popular with Americans. Meanwhile, President Obama is calling for increased mass transit as a necessary step toward energy independence. Will the government's investment dramatically revitalize our national travel infrastructure, or will states spend the money according to 'business as usual'? «

An installment of a PBS-wide series on the USA's infrastructure problems called "Blueprint America", the Now story focuses on the new light rail transit (LRT) system in Charlotte, North Carolina as a case study in an investigative report "to see what the future holds for mass transit in these troubling financial times."

The report underscores that, while the new system &ndash'; like other major transit operations across the country – is having huge success in attracting passengers out of motor vehicles, the prospects of maintaining adequate service levels are threatened by the nation's economic crisis.

Transit's dire straits are portrayed as persisting despite some aid forthcoming from the Obama administration's stimulus package. For example, the report emphasizes that the stimulus will not help with ongoing operational costs.

Furthermore, some fundamental obstacles to the funding of mass transit capital projects are highlighted – especially the enormous disparity between the preferential treatment given to roadway funding vs. the constraints and delays imposed on public transit funding.

Now reporter Maria Hinojosa.proceeds to point out how transit projects are subjected to more intensive bureaucratic scrutiny than road projects: Transit projects, she notes, "have to pass more vigorous environmental reviews than roads, and are forced to compete against projects from other states. That's not the case for road money."

Moreover, says Hinojosa, "The more roads a state builds, and the more gas people guzzle, the more federal money a state receives."

The result is described by a representative of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG):

» So, what that means in effect is that if you are a state that is trying to do the right thing in terms of reducing our dependence on oil, you're going to be getting less money. So we have the incentives that are punishing people for doing the right thing, and that is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. «

A video of the show "Stimulus Roadblock?" is currently available at the following URL:

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/02/20

More on Policy & Political Issues ...

More on Cost, Budget, & Financial Issues ...

15 January 2009

Des Moines:
Light rail eyed for downtown "people mover"

Des Moines, Iowa — Community interest continues to build in support of a streetcar/light rail transit (LRT) system for the city's downtown.

In early January, according to a report in the Des Moines Register (Jan. 9th), the Downtown Community Alliance hosted public meetings focused on the feasibility of a "tram" in downtown Des Moines.

Charlie Hales of Omaha-based HDR Community Planning and Urban Design Group provided an overview of tramway systems, followed by a discussion of opportunities for such a rail transportation system in downtown Des Moines, and a question-and-answer session.

The 2006 Downtown Des Moines Planning Project, a study co-sponsored by the City of Des Moines, Polk County, and the Downtown Community Alliance, has identified the city's Walnut Street as an area for a downtown transit system. In March 2008, Nationwide Insurance committed $250,000 for the study of a "light rail people mover" to run along Walnut Street, with an aim of connecting the Western Gateway Park and the East Village neighborhood.

The overall goal is to inter-connect major sections of downtown. Cost, type/style of tram, routes, infrastructure needs, financing options, and timelines are yet to be determined.

Public interest in some type of LRT system seems to be growing. "Light rail is the way to go for Des Moines" enthused local resident Don Suyeyasu in a letter to the Register in May 2008.

Mass-transit ridership in major cities is substantially up. Where is that option in Des Moines?

A light-rail system needs to be installed. Installing mass transit in a city makes it more attractive for business to relocate to areas made accessible by mass transit.

Downtown Des Moines has come a long way from an abandoned city core. Add a light rail, and make it more accessible for shoppers, workers and the public in general. If plans are in the works, let it be known. Enough parking garages.

 Des Moines streetcar Des Moines was another city once served by a pervasive electric streetcar network.
[Photo: Bill Volkmer collection]

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/01/15

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

15 January 2009

Ft. Worth:
New streetcar plan moving forward?

Fort Worth, Texas — Is Ft. Worth another city it the grips of "analysis paralysis", or are city leaders and planners at last serious about the latest streetcar proposal?

According to a report in Rail Transit Online (January 2009), an 18-member Streetcar Study Committee finally completed a comprehensive plan for financing and construction a 12-mi. (19.3-km), three-route downtown streetcar system. "The project could be completed in five years and would cost around $250 million, but some funding sources have yet to be identified" says RTO.

Initial routes would include:

• A downtown loop...
• West Seventh Street to the Will Rogers Center and the University of North Texas campus...
• South Main Street with spurs to Evans Avenue and Rosedale Street and to the medical district along Magnolia and Eighth avenues.

These routes are shown in the map below from the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website. In addition, subsequent lines could be built further along East Rosedale and on North Main Street to the Stockyards area (now mainly a restaurant and entertainment district).


In terms of financing the project, reports RTO,

>> About $89 million of the capital cost would be generated by existing tax increment financing districts, supplemented by the downtown improvement district. Another $97 million would be contributed by the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, gas well revenue and hotel taxes, leaving a $64-million gap.

RTO also reports that "There is strong political support from local elected officials who have already visited streetcar operations in Seattle, Tacoma and Portland."

What next? "The next step will be hiring a consultant for detailed planning."

Information for this article has been adapted from an article on the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Site:

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/01/15

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

5 January 2009

Analysis paralysis? Yet another light rail study...

Omaha, Nebraska — When it comes to rail transit, is Omaha just another city caught in "analysis paralysis"? on 25 Nov. 2008, Omaha's city council by a 4-3 vote approved $40,000 for a downtown streetcar study, which, as Rail Transit Online (December 2008) points out, is the fourth undertaken in recent years. The $40,000 appropriation for the latest streetcar study is part of a $350,000 appropriation for a new downtown master plan.

Omaha has been debating a streetcar system for more than half a decade, since former Mayor Hal Daub proposed a $50-million streetcar plan in 2003, but his proposal failed to get council approval by just a single vote. In 2006, a study by the HDR, Inc. consulting firm, funded by Heritage Services (a nonprofit group of community leaders) focused on a 3.5-mi. (5.6-km) downtown streetcar circulator line, finding that a loop between the Old Market district and Creighton University could help economically revitalize the area.

That same year, reports Rail Transit Online, "a contract with URS Corp. to continue studying transportation options, including light rail, was approved by the Metro Area Transit board of directors."

In regard to the latest study, City Planning Director Steve Jensen told the council the project will examine potential ridership and financing issues and "...will help us determine if a streetcar makes sense." Heritage Services will supervise consultant HDR Inc., which will be hired again to conduct the new analysis.

Mayor Mike Fahey, who leaves office next June, is regarded as a strong supporter of streetcar development, and sees the project as the first stage of an eventual regional light rail line between Omaha and Lincoln. "If, in fact, we have that connection through Omaha with a light rail system, it would merge all these cities" Fahey told the Omaha World-Herald.

 Omaha streetcar An extensive electrically powered streetcar network once extended throughout Omaha and its neighboring city of Council Bluffs, Iowa, until it was destroyed in the Transit Devastation era. Now, community leaders and transit advocates would like to re-introduce streetcars with an initial starter line in Omaha's downtown.
[Photo: Bill Volkmer collection]

Information for this article has been adapted from an article on the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Site:

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2009/01/05

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Streetcars...

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