In a big move to reduce traffic congestion, the tiny European country of Luxembourg has scraped transit fares and made all modes of public transportation free. Various European municipalities have enacted free public transit schemes, some on a restricted or resident-only basis, with Dunkirk, France, and Tallinn, Estonia, being among the largest cities to do so. Luxembourg, however, is the first country in Europe or elsewhere to do away with fares almost entirely on a nationwide basis. As Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, some evening bus services, as well as first-class domestic train travel, will still be subject to fares. Now that Luxembourg’s free transit plan has been unrolled throughout the entire castle-stuffed, landlocked country, officials hope that its congestion-curbing impact will prove most potent in the capital of the Grand Duchy, Luxembourg City. Historic Luxembourg City is home to roughly 122,000 of the Rhode Island-sized nation’s nearly 614,000 residents but the majority of its traffic woes. As reported by the Luxembourg Times, Luxembourg City has the sixth-worst congestion for a global city with a population of less than 800,000. Only the Polish cities of Lodz, Krakow, Poznan, and Wroclaw, along with the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, fare worse. This data, pulled from an illuminating/horrifying annual index produced by Dutch location technology firm TomTom, ranks Luxembourg City as having the 25th worst urban congestion of any European city of any size trailing Budapest, London, Brussels, Rome, Paris, and the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. The European cities where drivers sit in traffic the least are almost exclusively Spanish. Per the index, Luxembourg City motorists spent, on average, 163 hour—nearly a full week of their lives—stuck in weekday rush hour traffic in 2019. AFP notes that Luxembourgish transit officials expect that eliminating fares will affect roughly 40 percent of the country’s households, with each saving about $112 in transit fares annually—a figure that demonstrates that getting around the wealthy nation via public transportation was affordable to begin with. Per a 2018 transportation study cited by AFP, Luxembourgers are heavily dependent on private cars, using them for 47 percent of business-related excursions and 71 percent of leisure travel. But as CNN points out, much of Luxembourg City’s notorious rush-hour traffic isn’t generated by native Luxembourg residents. Germany, France, and Belgium can all be reached from Luxembourg City within a half-hour. This means that a large, non-Luxembourgish contingent of workers clog the roads every morning and evening as they stream in and out of the city. Many of those working in Luxembourg City that commute from other countries daily—roughly 214,000 people per Deutsch Welle—choose to live in neighboring countries due to the astronomical cost of housing in the capital city. These commuters are encouraged to ditch their cars at the border and take advantage of Luxembourg’s now-free public transit system instead. To help further alleviate congestion and enable commuters to get around with more ease is a new, growing modern tramway line in Luxembourg City. The first phase of the tramway was finished in 2017 and work on subsequent phases is expected to wrap up within the next several years. When completed, the line will link the southern outskirts of the Luxembourg City to Findel, a small village just north of the city limits that’s home to the country’s only international airport. Luxembourg’s national public transit system costs roughly $562 million annually to operate. Fare sales contribute about $46 million, about 8 percent, a year to those costs and the government will cover the lost fares. “The country at this very moment is in really good shape,” Dany Frank, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mobility and Public Works, told CNN. “We, the government, want the people to benefit from the good economy.”
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Kansas City, Missouri, may become the first major U.S. city to offer fare-free public transit. While the light rail system (opened in 2016) was already free, the City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to also make the bus routes open and accessible to all as well. The city’s new mayor, Quinton Lucas, said in a tweet, “We want this city to be as efficient as possible...we want to make it a city where a pedestrian has an opportunity to get to where they need to go.” The change has been a priority for the mayor whose “Zero Fare Transit” proposal has since been endorsed by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) as a way of putting money back into the local economy.
Robbie Makinen, the head of the KCATA, estimated that 20 percent of bus riders already ride for free, as rides are offered to both veterans and high school students. For everyone else, fares are currently $1.50 per ride or $50 for a monthly pass. Makinen believes that making the entire system free would cost about $12 million a year, and the city council has approved $8 million for the project so far. But the Kansas City metro area is large—seven counties and two states. The new system would only be applicable to buses originating and returning to Kansas City, Missouri, meaning residents could ride free in some areas but not in others. U.S. cities offering free rides on certain lines or within certain areas are not new, but Kansas City would be the first to offer a universal system. Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch, who co-sponsored the effort, said according to KCUR, “I don’t want to do it for any sort of national recognition, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, I believe that people have a right to move about this city.”
The City Council just took a monumental, unanimous step toward #ZeroFareTransit – setting Kansas City up to soon become the first major metropolitan city with free public bus service.https://t.co/BtkZtXDbwP— Mayor Quinton Lucas (@MayorLucasKC) December 5, 2019
Duke University just pulled the plug on a $3.3 billion light rail project that politicians and residents of Durham spent nearly two decades planning. The ambitious proposal involved constructing a streamlined, 17.7-mile-long transit line that would have connected Durham, home of Duke University, to neighboring Chapel Hill, with over a dozen stops in between. Voters approved a sales tax to support the project, and detailed maps and renderings were drawn. Now the project is fighting for its life after Duke withdrew its support. The university’s public and unwavering rejection of the route, which would pass directly through its property, was met with cries of outrage. According to The New York Times, democratic state representatives were shocked by Duke’s decision, criticizing the elite university and its officials for being “out of touch” with the needs of the community, particularly lower-income residents. Even former mayor of Durham, Wib Gulley, compared the situation to a time in 1969 when Duke urged police officers to “gas and beat students” amid civil rights protests. The demise of the transit line will directly impact African Americans and other minorities in the community, many of whom looked forward to opportunities for better housing and employment that the train would bring. It will also affect city contractors, who were excited to be put to work on such a large-scale and complex project. GoTriangle, the agency advancing the project, estimated that the transit line would support roughly 20,000 new jobs for Durham and carry over 26,000 commuters per day. Now Duke is putting the project—along with the education, healthcare, housing, jobs, and economic development it would bring—at great risk. While some university faculty and staff members have been outspoken in urging their higher-ups to grant the project access, Duke executives refuse to budge. In a letter, university officials blamed their decision to reject the proposal on concerns about how the project will affect their medical and research facilities on Erwin Road. Duke noted that the concrete barriers on the track might provoke hazardous conditions for ambulances, while the noise, vibrations, and construction work from the train could upset patients at Duke Hospital. GoTriangle argues that Duke’s worries and concerns are just the latest in a near decade-long laundry list that GoTriangle worked tirelessly to address. For example, GoTriangle agreed to build a $90 million elevated railway track in order to meet Duke's concerns, promising a safe, secure, and easily accessible path to the hospital. The public transportation company also agreed to a $1 billion insurance policy to guarantee that the noise and vibrations from passing trains would not affect Duke's research and diagnostic equipment. Despite these changes, Duke is still not satisfied. This is not an isolated incident. Conflicts like these are widespread. Some cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have worked toward developing new and improved transit lines. Other recent efforts at modernizing cities and implementing public transportation are thwarted by politics, high price tags, or resistance from upper-class citizens who don't want public transport—and the people and congestion that it brings—to "invade" their beloved neighborhoods. While the fate of the light rail line looks bleak, GoTriangle officials still have until April 30 to get 11 agreements signed—which will entail a great deal of negotiating with Duke—and submit an application for $1.2 billion to the Federal Transit Administration.
New York’s Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) is still alive and inching toward realization. Today the de Blasio administration awarded a $7.25 million contract to national land-use and transportation planning consultants VHB to oversee the waterfront streetcar project’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Questions over the $2.7 billion streetcar route’s feasibility have plagued the light rail project since the beginning. Officials still haven't released the exact route or said how the city would recoup the money needed for construction. Last August, Mayor de Blasio admitted that at least $1 billion would be needed from the federal government and that using the “value-capture” model (collecting increased tax revenue as the BQX boosted property values along its route) wasn’t wholly feasible. The route was shortened to 26 stops along 11 miles, from Astoria in Queens to Gowanus in Brooklyn, cutting out Sunset Park farther south, and the opening date got pushed back from 2024 to 2029. All had gone quiet since then, but speculation flared that Amazon could potentially chip in for the system after the tech giant announced that it would be building a second headquarters in Long Island City. That seems to have been confirmed by Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who pointed to the boom in investment along the Queens-Brooklyn waterfront as proof that new modes of public transport across the two boroughs were needed. The city expects that the BQX will accommodate 50,000 daily riders when it first opens and 60,000-to-90,000 riders by 2050. ”For some reason, everybody thinks we are not serious but we have always been serious,” Glen told the Wall Street Journal. “The mayor wouldn’t have re-endorsed and announced we were moving forward if we weren’t moving forward.” The nonprofit group Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector lauded the contract award as well, calling it a clear commitment on the part of the de Blasio administration to moving the project through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). With the EIS on track for completion in 2020, the BQX project will move to the next stage of the ULURP by the end of 2021. The city hopes that the project will begin construction by 2024.
The saga of New York City’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar has taken yet another turn, as Mayor Bill de Blasio placed responsibility for funding the $2.5-billion project on the federal government. At an August 24 media roundtable, de Blasio dodged questions about how much the city would be contributing to the project and claimed that while a detailed BQX plan was incoming, federal subsidies were necessary to move things along. “When we have a more detailed plan we'll speak to it,” said de Blasio, “but the primary focus I have beyond the resources that would be created via its very existence because of increased property taxes for that area, is the need for federal support. I don't think it's doable without federal support, but we'll speak to the details.” It looks like the federal government is throttling back its investments in mass transit, as the Federal Transit Administration has been consistently decreasing the amount of money allocated to intra-city projects. Still, it might not be impossible for the city government to secure federal funds for the BQX; the Gateway rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, long maligned by President Trump, has seen a consistent trickle of money through Congressional action. While the city still has yet to release a draft report of the BQX’s route, there has been no mention of changing the 2019 groundbreaking. The de Blasio administration was (and seemingly still is) shooting for a 2024 completion date, but even if funding is secured in time, the reconstruction of the decaying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway could alter any previously proposed route. De Blasio added that details on the BQX’s next steps would be forthcoming. “Figuring out how to do it is what we've been working on cause it is complex, we're going to have an announcement soon on the details. But, you know, bottom line is the original concept makes sense, we believe there will be some real funding created by its presence but, we're gonna need some additional support.” The nonprofit Friends of the BQX declined to comment.
New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) might be in a highly publicized “state of emergency” over its failing infrastructure at the time of writing, but much less attention is paid to how much it falls short in meeting federal accessibility guidelines. Only 24 percent of New York’s 472 subway stations are accessible overall; a fact not lost on disability advocates. But a recent New York Times article highlighted a case of community-based opposition to new elevators that would make a downtown station more accessible. Only blocks from the World Trade Center complex in Manhattan, residents on Broad Street have been trying to push back against a $20 million pair of elevators that would connect to the J/Z Broad Street station on their block. The elevators are a concession on the developer Madison Equities' part, in exchange for an extra 71,000 square feet of buildable area at the 80-story, mixed-use tower at 45 Broad St. Urbahn Architects will oversee the project. The elevators will provide access to a subway line that only has five accessible stations out of a total of 30. However, at a Community Board 1 meeting last month, approximately 270 residents of 15 and 30 Broad Street had signed a petition opposing what they called “dangerous structures.” Residents cited terrorism concerns, specifically a fear that the glass elevator booths would turn into shrapnel if a bomb went off. But disability activists have called the fear a thin veil for NIMBY-ism. “It’s total NIMBY,” Edith Prentiss, president of Disabled In Action, told The Times. “It’s ‘Don’t affect my property values, don’t affect my — I love this — my iconic view.’ I can understand that they paid a lot of money, I’m sure, but that does not abrogate my civil rights.” As the back-and-forth over elevators at this particular stop continues, so do several lawsuits brought against the MTA by a coalition of disabled residents and advocacy groups. The lack of elevator-accessible trains directly contradicts the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the MTA has claimed that bringing such service to every station would be an undue financial burden. For its part, the agency has responded that they are already spending $1 billion to bring 25 stations into compliance and that overhauling the entire system would cost $10 billion. As the NYC subway system runs 24 hours a day, and because retrofitting a station typically modifies how service runs there for several months, any planned upgrades will likely stress the already straining subway service even further. Still, with some of the deepest and highest subway platforms currently inaccessible to disabled riders, and as funding for much-needed MTA fixes are up in the air, it remains to be seen whether these concerns will be addressed in the near future.
With the recent revelation that New York City’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar project had missed its deadline for launching the public review process at the end of December, new questions have arisen over how feasible the project is. As the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has instead chosen to begin a review of the streetcar’s cost and feasibility this year, it’s worth looking back at the BQX’s bumpy ride through 2017. The last time AN wrote about the BQX, it was to report on the release of a leaked memo from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s advisory team to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen in April. While the 16-mile-long BQX line was originally envisioned as a way to transport residents up and down a revitalized Brooklyn-Queens waterfront by April 2024, the memo called into question the rising costs of relocating below-grade utilities along the line’s route. It was additionally suggested that the use “value-capture” for the $2.5 billion project, which would finance the BQX through rising waterfront property values, might not be enough. Fast forward to November 9th, when two anonymous sources with connections to the project told the New York Post that “It’s going to die.” Citing the contentious relationship between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, and breaking with the mayor’s assertion that the BQX would require no state-level intervention, the sources broke down why the streetcar relied on the governor’s approval. Several parcels of land along the BQX’s proposed route are owned by the state government and would need permission to build over, and the MTA has stated that it would not cross-honor BQX tickets for the bus and subway systems. Killing the “last mile” aspect of the streetcar is especially important, as the project was initially pitched as linking neighborhoods that lacked mass transit options. Four days later on the 13th, the nonprofit group Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector unveiled a life-sized streetcar prototype at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The mockup featured enough room for 150 passengers and open gangways, while Friends of the BQX have promised that the streetcar would have an average speed faster than the busses it would share the street with. As December drew to a close, the BQX missed a major milestone in failing to launch the public review process. As the EDC begins an in-depth review of the project, Crain’s has noted that the review would save taxpayers $35 million if plans for the streetcar were scrapped, but would delay the project’s launch another six months, potentially costing up to $100 million every year that it’s delayed. Only a few days after, on December 28th the Post reported that the Department of Transportation would need to repair the decaying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway directly over the proposed streetcar route, potentially delaying the project further. While the Friends of the BQX and the mayor’s office have remained adamant that funding for the project can be found, there are still significant hurdles in the way. A route has to be finalized, some sort of agreement between the city and MTA must be worked out, and protection measures for flooding will need to be discussed as the entire line runs along the most climatologically vulnerable part of the waterfront. As 2018 progresses, it will be worth keeping an eye on whether the BQX can meet its original 2019 groundbreaking date. A Friends of the BQX spokesperson gave AN the following statement in regards to the project's future. "The BQX will dramatically increase opportunity for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront who are clamoring for better access to jobs, education, healthcare and recreation. We're optimistic that the project will take significant, concrete strides forward in 2018."
2017 Best of Design Award for Infrastructure: The Regional Unified Network Designer: ReThinkStudio Location: New York
The Regional Unified Network (RUN) is a multistage proposal to unlock the full potential of the Tri-State area’s mass transit system by making a few crucial investments at key choke points. With the creation of new transit hubs and more useful service patterns, RUN will allow the region to develop as a connected whole rather than a series of parts. RUN repurposes existing infrastructure, reallocates or redirects proposed spending, and fits within the overall funding commitments already made. When fully built, RUN will enable travelers to get to any point in the region via mass transit, either directly or with seamless and easy connections just like London’s Crossrail or the Paris RER. “The idea that this is a game changer for New York is obviously an understatement. This city needs bold and big ideas to wrestle with its failings in infrastructure.” —Nathaniel Stanton, principal, Craft Engineer Studio (juror) Honorable Mention Project: Houston-Galveston Area Protection System Designer: Rogers Partners Location: Galveston Bay, Texas The Houston-Galveston Area Protection System (H-GAPS) is a regional surge protection system. The H-GAPS strategy involves multiple lines of defense, combining a coastal spine-type barrier system with an in-bay barrier system. Once complete, HGAPS will contribute 9,000 acres of publicly-accessible waterfront destination for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.
Only a few days before New York City’s Penn Station fills to capacity with Thanksgiving commuters, preservation group Rebuild Penn Station has begun an ad campaign that they hope will build popular support for their plan to reconstruct the original McKim, Mead & White station demolished in 1964. While their proposal is already ambitious in scope, it butts up directly against the $1.6 billion, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)-designed redevelopment that Governor Cuomo unveiled in July. Rebuild Penn Station, a project of the National Civic Art Society, has plastered posters on trains arriving to Penn Station from New Jersey, and has been handing out fliers to Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road commuters there since Monday. Filled with renderings of a “new old” Penn Station, the leaflets offer glimpses of “civilized arrivals” and “the station we deserve”. The group’s $3 to $3.5 billion plan would relocate Madison Square Garden, an action deemed prohibitively expensive by the governor’s office, and faithfully re-create the original Penn Station using modern construction techniques. “[…] Modern panelization technology will allow the station to be built with just one-fifth of the original stone,” according to the frequently asked questions section on Rebuild Penn Station’s website. A complicating factor in this grand vision is that work on SOM’s renovation broke ground earlier this August. Instead of moving Madison Square Garden, the James A. Farley Building on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue also designed by McKim, Mead & White, will be converted from a former post office into a transit hub and extension of Penn Station. The Farley Building’s new Moynihan Train Hall will add retail, restaurants, and nine platforms with 17 tracks. A 92-foot-high skylight will also be built over the Farley Building’s exposed steel trusses, echoing the cavernous glass ceiling of the original Penn Station. Still, Rebuild Penn Station feels that these changes aren’t going far enough. “Today Penn Station is an ugly, cramped, and ineffective transit facility that is an embarrassment to the city and indeed all Americans,” said Sam Turvey, chair of the Rebuild Penn Station Steering Committee. “We propose rebuilding the station to bring back an architectural masterpiece, while simultaneously improving and updating the station’s functionality.” This isn’t the first time an alternative proposal for a new Penn Station has been floated. Last year, the New York Times commissioned Vishaan Chakrabarti to further detail his plan to reclad Madison Square Garden in double-paned glass, creating a multi-level atrium over the station. However, this still remains a proposal. The new Moynihan Hall is on track for completion in 2020.
Yet another unusual attraction has joined Las Vegas’ iconic downtown strip. ARMA, an autonomous, all-electric shuttle bus designed by French start-up, Navya, has been introduced to the city's downtown traffic. The pilot project, made possible through Las Vegas’ partnership with the mass-transit company Keolis and the American Automobile Association(AAA), marks the country's first autonomous shuttle to operate freely within real-world traffic conditions. The bean-shaped vehicle carries eight passengers and is equipped with a computer monitoring system, GPS technology, electronic curb sensors, laser sensors, vehicle-to-infrastructure guidance and a variety of camera systems. Constant wireless communication between the vehicle and sensors set up throughout the area provide real-time information for ARMA to navigate its way through the bustling Las Vegas streetscape. While there are no steering wheels or brakes in the shuttle, an emergency stop button and a human attendant are stationed in the vehicle in case of emergency. Through the course of this year-long pilot project, the shuttle is offering free rides on a half-mile loop in the downtown Fremont East Innovation District of Las Vegas. The half-mile route has just three stops – located on Fremont Street and Carson Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and 8th Street – but is to-date the longest self-driving pilot project to operate in a fully-integrated manner within a real-world city environment. ARMA can operate up to 8 hours on a single charge, and reach a speed of 28 miles per hour. Over the next 12 months, the project aims to provide 250,000 free rides and help soothe public skepticism towards autonomous vehicles. In addition to familiarizing the public to these new technologies, this project will provide real-life research on the relationship between autonomous vehicles and pedestrians, bicycles and other human-operated traffic. Las Vegas will serve as a valuable test site for the future of autonomous transport within the urban environment. If Las Vegas can make it work, we can perhaps expect the expansion of self-driving technology on a broader scale throughout the country. Navya expects electric shuttles to be more affordable to maintain than combustion-powered vehicles. However, the cost of such projects are not cheap to install. Currently, a single Navya shuttle is estimated at around $260,000.
Last Wednesday, the Dallas City Council unanimously endorsed Commerce Street as the preferred location for a new subway project and a new streetcar line. Even though the decision is not yet final, this event is a significant milestone for a public transportation project that has been under debate for several years. The massive undertaking of embedding a subway line in downtown Dallas has a projected cost of $1.3 billion and is slated for completion in 2024. The line would begin above ground near the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Victory Station and make its way to a new station adjacent to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science before going underground. It is designed to relieve pressure on the existing four light rail lines, which all run on the same downtown track. Estimated at $92 million dollars, the new streetcar line would link already existing streetcars in Uptown Dallas with existing lines running in the north Oak Cliff area. While there are technically three locations still in consideration for the streetcar, the Elm-Commerce alignment seemed most attractive for its potential economic benefits. While two major public transportation projects in the same area may seem redundant, the subway and the streetcar lines will serve different rider populations. The streetcar is expected to serve local downtown residents, while the subway is aimed at transporting commuters who live further outside the city center. As these projects are nearing consensus, detailed planning will begin for their exact locations, budgets, and urban effects.
Picture the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, seven years from now: There will be a new garment district, design fairs, and expanded ferry service, but the city wants residents to see a streetcar, carrying passengers between the neighboring boroughs. Leaked information suggests, though, that plans for the brand new line may have to wait. Politico this week released a draft of a confidential memo from the Mayor Bill de Blasio's BQX advisory team to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen that outlines some of the challenges behind its developer-driven financial model, among other issues. The mayor officially declared the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) a priority project during his February 2016 state of the city address. The proposed 16-mile, $2.5 billion streetcar line would run along the waterfront, connecting Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. Unlike a new subway line under Utica Avenue or phase two of the Second Ave Subway, supporters say BQX could be built without financing from the MTA, which is run by the state, not the city. Instead, local backers like Doug Steiner and the Walentas family have endorsed a value-capture model, where the project would be financed by rising property values along the streetcar route. Another selling point was its tight timelines. The city estimated that the project could break ground two years from now and begin ferrying passengers up and down the waterfront by 2024. At one community meeting, a representative from Sam Schwartz, the project's transportation consultant, noted that relocating below-grade utility lines would be a challenging (and costly) aspect of the project, but it turns out the city is having serious second thoughts about the feasibility of relocating gas, water, and sewer mains: "Utility relocation continues to be the biggest single cost factor and if policies cannot be implemented to limit the impact, it has the possibility to make the project unaffordable and render implementation timelines unfeasible," the memo states. The letter outlines three possible timelines, fast to slow, to gauge the costs and benefits of breaking ground sooner rather than later. The memo suggests taking more time to study and review the project before making a final decision, though that would delay the groundbreaking, now set for 2019. But, the memo cautions, every year the project is delayed adds tens of millions more to the bill. Construction on the line was initially expected to take five years, but if the city chooses a longer timeline, construction costs will rise approximately $100 million per year. Ouch. The BQX team, according to Politico, meets bimonthly to discuss the project. If value-capture won't work and the streetcar proves too costly, the city may look into other financing models, or the BQX may be abandoned.