Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Streetcar Named Stupid

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority is hosting an informational meeting tonight at 6pm at Joseph Craig Charter School about the N. Rampart / St. Claude streetcar line, which is already under construction.

According to the Bywater Neighborhood Association's Facebook page, "During the meeting, the project team will be introduced and track alignment, station stops, shelter design, and the project schedule will be presented. Traffic control, major events and community outreach during construction will be addressed as well. Representatives from the construction and management team will be available after the presentation to answer questions."

Rampart St. Claude streetcar map

Unable to attend the meeting, I offer the following input:

As someone who lives and commutes along St. Claude Avenue, I am concerned that this project demonstrates a kind of shortsighted, tourism-centered approach to New Orleans urban planning that actually diminishes the quality of life for residents.

St. Claude Avenue is also known as State Highway 46, and is one of few entry points to the city from St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward.

Commuters and other locals will bear the brunt of construction-induced inconvenience over the next two years, only to reap the arguable benefits of a streetcar line that extends through the touristic French Quarter and only partially through the more residential Marigny neighborhood.

Moreover, engineers have identified the potential for environmental degradation that streetcar construction may cause.

Bus lines already exist to connect downtown's Canal Street to the Lower 9th Ward, via N. Rampart / St. Claude. Buses here are cheaper than streetcars, as they operate along existing infrastructure. They are just as safe as streetcars, can fit more people, and are wheelchair and stroller accessible. They even have bike racks on them!

Investing in more intuitive bus schedules would yield greater returns for people interested in travel along St. Claude and N. Rampart, and to other destinations. There is no reason why a person should wait upwards of an hour to catch the bus home when the City is spending resources on a stunted streetcar line for tourists who want the "authentic" New Orleans experience.

In truth, waiting for public transit has become a pretty authentic New Orleans experience, and we'd be better served if transportation money were spent where it is needed and useful.

UPDATE 8/19/15: I'm not going to say I told you so, but
"Report: New Orleans RTA focusing too much on streetcars, ignoring needs of local commuters"