Posts tagged with "Streetcars":

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NYC unveils possible routes for Brooklyn-Queens streetcar

This week the City of New York unveiled potential routes for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), the $2.5 billion streetcar line that could connect East River–adjacent neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. A key goal of the BQX is to deliver reliable public transportation to the waterfront, where many residents a half-mile or more walk separates many residents from the subway. In May, a representative for engineering firm Sam Schwartz, the streetcar's transportation consultant, said that available maps are “very and deliberately vague description of the route” because city agencies, in collaboration with Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector [sic], the project's nonprofit spearhead, were still hammering out exact routes. After months of anticipation, these routes are out for public review. Maps released by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the city's Department of Transportation (DOT) show potential routes for the 16-mile line, which is set to open in 2024. The BQX maps are both descriptive and ideative. Williamsburg's Berry Street could be turned into a streetcar- and pedestrian-only thoroughfare—like Downtown Brooklyn's bus-only Fulton Mall, only sexier, because buses. On the other hand, new crossings over the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek could raise project costs, though this wouldn't impact (state-led) MTA projects like the Second Avenue subway because the BQX is financed by local government and speculatively by a projected rise in real estate value along the route. By New York City walking calculations, there is less-than-desirable pedestrian access for some proposed routes: Of the four streetcar scenarios in Astoria, Queens, two are more than ten blocks from the waterfront, a "transit-starved" area. Residents will have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Over the next few months, the city is soliciting feedback on the BQX routes at community boards in Brooklyn and Queens. Pending a successful environmental review, the project could break ground as early as 2019.
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New details emerge for the BQX, New York City’s proposed waterfront streetcar route

At breakfast talk hosted by the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center earlier this month, Harris Schechtman, national director of transit at Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, gave academics and members of the public a full run-down of plans for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed waterfront streetcar link that would connect neighborhoods between Sunset Park, Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens.

The nonprofit Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a coalition of real estate investors, transportation planners, and development boosters, hired Sam Schwartz to develop the plan in December 2014. 14 months later, the mayor officially debuted the plan in his State of the City address. (Schechtman noted the "unprecedented" turnaround time from concept to debut.)

A New Yorker himself, Schechtman presented a case for the streetcar by confirming what most commuters observe every morning: Buses are feeders from the subway, while existing subway lines are overcrowded. Ferries, meanwhile, can only accommodate only 3,000 riders per day. The streetcar is a "Goldilocks solution," enthused Schechtman, who, prior to joining engineering firm Sam Schwartz in 2001, spent nearly 32 years at the MTA, including nine as the vice president of operations. The catenary-free, battery-powered streetcars can carry 175 passengers, compared to the Select Bus Service's (SBS) 100.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22XH4-nNjlA

The route map that's circulating in the media is a "very and deliberately vague description of the route," explained Schechtman. "The BQX project is a project in motion." Even so, Schechtman was able to lay out some specifics: When it begins operations in 2023, the streetcar will glide along a 15 mile north-south route from Astoria to Sunset Park, with 30 stops, each about a half-mile apart. Exclusive lanes, where streetcars can travel at 12 miles per hour, will comprise about three-quarters of the route, while 15 percent of the tracks will feature a contiguous-with-the-roadway, "SBS-style" design, that will slow travel to 10 miles per hour. Trains will arrive five minutes during rush hour, and every ten minutes off-peak; Sam Schwartz estimates that daily ridership will reach 52,000 by 2035.

Schechtman had strong words for those who view streetcars, like the one in car-dependent Dallas that has 200 riders per day, as dinky tourist boondoggles. "The [streeetcars] that are failing are the ones that were failing when they went to the drawing board. These efforts give streetcars a bad name. The BQX is not a cute tourist attraction, but real transit that carries a helluva lot of people." The annual operating costs are estimated to be between $26 and $30 million, with $17 million in projected fare revenue.

With the MTA struggling to finance even basic capital improvements, where is there money for a new infrastructure project? The BQX is a NYC DOT project, and thus operates outside the MTA's purview. Its design relies on existing zoning, doesn't compete with other development priorities, and assumes a 3.5 percent growth in taxes that go to the city, according to Schechtman. The biggest cost will be the relocation of below-grade utilities.

According to Schechtman, the city hired an independent consultant to review the work and the consultant validated Sam Schwartz's findings. A third consultant is now reviewing the streetcar plans. "We offered the plan to the city on a silver platter," Schechtman explained. "We took an idea on no one's radar—and [dealt] with all the key issues and fatal flaws. The plan so powerfully supports the goals of the city; we said to the city, 'We are going to take that burden off of you, we invite you to take a look at our plan.'"

AN reached out the DOT and the Mayor's press office, but as of this time AN has not been able to confirm Schechtman's description of the planning and review process.

A highly skeptical crowd grilled Schechtman on specifics. How will the streetcar pass smoothly through bustling downtown Brooklyn? (There are fears that a dip inland towards Atlantic and Flatbush avenues will be a bottleneck.) Why build a new transit system in a floodplain? (The embedded tracks are more flood- and stormproof than other forms of transit.) This seems like a gentrification plan. (It is, although the line should benefit residents of waterfront NYCHA projects, too. The streetcar is intended to entice developers to build housing, which could be required to respond to newly-enacted zoning that mandates affordable housing construction along with market-rate development.) Will fares be cross-honored with the MTA? (We're working on it.)

The public input process has just begun: on May 9, a public meeting was held in Astoria, and on May 19, another meeting will be held in Red Hook. A draft of the final route should be ready by the end of this year. In the meantime, check out the Friends of the BQX's recently launched website for updates, project FAQs, and a spate of shiny new streetcar renderings.

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After years of delay and $200 million, Washington D.C.’s 2.2-mile-long streetcar route opened to the public this weekend

After years of delay, Washington, D.C.'s $200 million dollar streetcar opened to the public this Saturday. Initially, the D.C. Streetcar was intended to be a modern-day streetcar network that would make other cities' streetcars bow down. The first segment was supposed to open ten years ago, and the planned route was to run 20 to 40 miles. Today, though, the streetcar scales a modest 2.2 miles, with a route that begins from behind Union Station and runs along H and Benning streets to end at the RFK Stadium parking lot. As expected by the public and feared by public officials, opening day was full of excitements and fraught with delays. Some riders were incredulous: https://twitter.com/ShortFormErnie/status/704311908585881601 Others, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, right, selfied on a packed ride... https://twitter.com/MurielBowser/status/703615386445443072 ...while The Washingtonian captured a video that reminds viewers that this streetcar has average speeds of 12 to 15 miles per hour. https://twitter.com/washingtonian/status/703604307615158272 Despite a fare of $0 for the first six months, the streetcar has limitations. Trains run every quarter hour, only run until 2 a.m., and not at all on Sundays due to limited capacity. (DDOT officials, The Washington Post reports, left three cars outside, unprotected from the weather, for a few years, damaging one so badly that it was not put into service.) For those with more burning questions about the streetcar, the paper produced a handy streetcar FAQ for the grand opening.
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Back to the Future: New York City explores streetcar transit route linking outer boroughs

Remember the New York City streetcar? Unless you're a New Yorker of a certain age, you definitely don't. Advances in transportation technology (what die-hard conspiracy theorists refer to as Great American Streetcar Scandal) drove streetcars all over the U.S. straight to the last stop. Yet, it's now very possible that two neighboring boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens, will be reunited once again via a new streetcar line of their very own. The streetcar plans legitimate what transportation planners (and Michael Kimmelman) have known for years: commuting patterns in the city have changed, and the hub-and-spoke model no longer serves diffuse, inter- outer-borough commuting patterns. In his State of the City address last week, Mayor de Blasio proposed a 16-mile waterside streetcar route, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), that would run through 14 neighborhoods, from Brooklyn's Sunset Park through Astoria, Queens. These areas have seen swift transitions from their industrial origins and rapid population growth as the waterfront settles comfortably into its post-industrial future. Renderings are credited to a nonprofit called the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector. According to The Daily News, members include "transit experts, community leaders and business giants like Doug Steiner of Steiner Studios, investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization real estate firm." When the plan was announced in January, AN reached out the the nonprofit repeatedly for comment to confirm stakeholders and received no response. With backers like these, concerns about gentrification and potentially developer-driven policy have been raised. Some see the streetcar idea as a way to spur already-high land values along the waterfront, although the streetcar could also provide the more than 40,000 residents of waterfront NYCHA complexes with better access to public transportation. Others have raised concerns about locating the line in a flood zone. Still others have questioned why the city needs to spend billions on a new form of transportation, one that moves at a pokey 12 miles-per-hour, when bus service could be offered along a similar route. There is time to debate: Although energy around the plan is high, the groundbreaking is a long way off. The plan's timeline states that construction is expected to begin in 2019, and service could begin in 2024. The city pegs the cost at around $2.5 billion, although earlier estimates ran $800 million lower.
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Over a quarter of the streetcar systems taking shape in the U.S. are in Midwest cities

According to the American Public Transportation Association, a public transit advocacy group, there are more than 90 cities in the United States that are actively considering implementing streetcar systems. Of those 90, over a quarter are in the Midwest. Though all in different stages of planning, development, and construction, a handful are well underway, with service beginning as early as 2016. Kansas City and Cincinnati are both in the process of live testing their newly manufactured cars, while Milwaukee debates expanding its current plans. Though hundreds of cities across the country once had streetcars, by the 1960s most had been dismantled with the rise of the private automobile and public bus systems. The current renaissance of streetcar construction is often attributed to cities interested in bolstering downtown transit options, and encouraging more ecologically sustainable modes of transportation. Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, may be the first of the new Midwest streetcar lines to open in early 2016. Dubbed the RideKC Streetcar, the light blue electric trolleys will services a 2.2-mile street along Main St. The system will have four cars running between 16 stops for 18 hours a day. Similarly to streetcars of the past, electricity will be drawn from overhead wires. Unlike past services, the new cars will be wi-fi enabled and free to ride. This first leg of construction is being positioned as a first step in a much larger plan to link the entire Kansas City region with multi-model integrated transit system. Detroit’s new streetcar system will be unique in that it was masterminded by a private non-profit organization. The M-1 Rail, to open by 2017, draws on the economic power of small and large businesses along its route, philanthropic institutions, and a close tie with city government to realize a complex funding and administrative system for the public-private venture. At one point the project was envisioned to expand to a 9 mile route, with more involvement from regional transit partnerships. After multiple feasibility studies it was found that, for economic reason, the 3.3 mile current route was more viable, with possibilities of expansion in the near future. The path to building streetcar systems is often far from smooth. With resistance from state and local governments, it took Cincinnati voters electing new city councilors and rejecting multiple anti-rail ballot initiatives to realize their new transit system. With discussions starting in earnest in 2007 and construction starting in 2012, it will be nine years in the coming when the system finally opens in September 2016. The 3.6 mile loop will service the Over the Rhine neighborhood and the downtown, highlighting the original intent of the system to encourage development in both districts. The Over the Rhine neighborhood, a member of the National Register of Historic Places, has been experiencing a renaissance in the last 10 years, after decades of struggles with crime and declining population. In the case of Milwaukee’s streetcar project, set to open in 2018, the resistance has not been coming from the government as much as from a small group of vocal opponents, who have taken issue with the $124 million project. Though, with a recent failure of a petition to stop further expansion of the already approved first leg of the system, the opposition seems to have dried up. The majority of the funding for the Milwaukee Streetcar is coming from U.S. Department of Transportation grants and Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) Districts. The city and the federal government are betting on the street car to relieve vehicle congestion and pollution while raising property values along the route. Anticipating the rail’s impact on downtown Milwaukee, a 44-story residential tower by local architects Rinka Chung is planned to begin construction in 2016. The base of the project will integrate a streetcar stop along with shopping and office programs. Though it may have been 50 years since many U.S. cities have had street cars, the next five years will see large moves to reverse that situation. Along with KC, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis, MO, and St.Paul, MN, are making moves to implement their own streetcar systems. With the rise of the suburbs and automobile travel often being blamed for the decline of the streetcar, it would seem that this new trend might be pointing towards yet another indicator of the tendencies of contemporary city dwellers. A greater environmental consciousness, neighborhood investment, and a shifted understanding of economic stability, define the values of a young population that streetcar systems across the Midwest, and the entire country, hope to leverage into success.
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West 8 delivers dynamic Queens Quay, a complete street in Toronto

After more than a decade of planning and three years of construction, Queens Quay in Toronto has been turned into a veritable urbanist's dreamscape on the waterfront. Four lanes of traffic have been reduced to two making room for a separated bike path, separated light rail, benches, thousands of new trees, and extra-wide pedestrian promenades with pavers set into maple leaf patterns. https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=54&v=gIv4dCDfIlc In 2006, West 8 and local firm DTAH, won an international design competition led by Waterfront Toronto to fully reimagine the area. "Once uninviting, the opening of the new world-class Queens Quay, links major destinations along the water’s edge creating a public realm that is pedestrian and cycling-friendly," said West 8 on its website. "It offers a grand civic meeting place and an environment conducive to economic vitality and ground floor retail activity." (In April, West 8 won another Waterfront Toronto competition to reimagine the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal and Harbour Square Park.) In the video above, West 8 explains the massive undertaking, which included significant infrastructure upgrades below the new public amenities. While the long-awaited revitalized Queens Quay has been celebrated and enjoyed by pedestrians and cyclists, the new configuration (notably the reduction of traffic lanes) has been confusing, and frustrating, some Toronto drivers. This learning curve should straighten out soon, though, as the Toronto Star reported that new signs and street markings are on the way to clear up any questions about who and what goes where. Check out the video below, as Toronto Star reporter Stephen Spencer Davis bikes along the Queens Quay.
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Construction finally underway on Detroit’s 3.3-mile-long M-1 rail line

After years of planning, Detroit's M-1 Rail Line took an important step into physical reality this week, as piles of 80-foot-long, 3,000-pound rails arrived on construction sites that will build the 3.3 mile streetcar line by the end of 2016. Streetcars in Detroit made their final run in 1956, but the new $140 million public-private infrastructure project could renew public transit in the Motor City. It's a small stretch of rail in the context of Detroit's massive urban footprint and widespread depopulation, but despite the system's shortcomings, some see M-1 as a reason to be optimistic about the city's future. Others say it's a boondoggle. At 3.3 miles long, the line will include 12 stops along Woodward Avenue, connecting pockets of development in Downtown and Midtown. It was originally intended to be almost 10 miles long. If the M-1 catalyzes development in the area, as its supporters predict, it's possible there would be an extension of the rail line. Rides are expected to begin by late 2016, around the same time as portions of an ambitious plan to attract development with cultural destinations and a new Red Wings arena. Meanwhile Detroit-based construction firm Farrow Group is already at work laying the rails, which arrived earlier this week from an Indiana factory of L.B. Foster Co.
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After delays, new D.C. streetcar line hopes to open in November

After missing its 2013 deadline, Washington D.C.’s streetcar could possibly open this fall—that’s according to a source involved with the project. The in-the-know individual told American University's radio station, WAMU, that the H Street-Benning Road line could be up and running the first week of November. But, according to WNYC, a lot has to get done for the city to hit its revised target. In the coming months, the District Department of Transportation must run system tests, train operators, and receive safety certification from the Federal Transit Authority, all while project managers start “pre revenue operations.” Work on the 2.4-mile line began in 2008 and is just a small piece of the proposed 37-mile system.      
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Twin Cities celebrate first inter-city rail connection in decades

For a metro area as widely praised for its alternative transportation options as Minnesota’s Twin Cities, it’s surprising Minneapolis and St. Paul are only now celebrating a new light rail connection between their downtowns. The U.S. Department of Transportation called the Central Corridor, also known as the METRO Green Line, “the single largest public works project in the history of Minnesota.” The Twin Cities' Metropolitan Council says construction employed 5,500 people and created 200 permanent new operations jobs at a total cost of $957 million, $480 million of which was in federal funds, including TIGER grants. State and local governments split the rest. The METRO Green Line runs between Target Field in Minneapolis and Union Depot in St. Paul, stopping 23 times. Some 45,000 people rode the new transit line on June 14, its opening day, reminding many of the more than 500 miles of streetcar tracks that crisscrossed the Twin Cities 50 years ago. Some criticized the project for its costs, the Star Tribune reported, labeling the 11-mile route “the money train.” Others used an opening day with no major hang-ups to call for a slew of other rail projects around the city and state. Now that the Green Line's hoopla is over, as the Pioneer Press put it, “its real test begins.”
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Michael Kimmelman Proposes A Queens-Brooklyn Waterfront Streetcar

As development along the Brooklyn and Queens’ waterfront has increased dramatically over the years, transportation options—for residents old and new—has not. The number of glass towers, startups, and parks along the East River has only been matched by style pieces on new “it” neighborhoods from Astoria to Red Hook. But, now, the New York Times' Michael Kimmelman has used his platform to launch a plan to change that equation, and give these neighborhoods the transportation system they deserve. Kimmelman is proposing a modern streetcar to better connect these waterfront neighborhoods. He explained that a streetcar system takes less time to build than a new subway line, needs less space on the road than light-rail, and is more romantic than a city bus. “By providing an alternative to cars, streetcars also dovetail with Mayor De Blasio’s vow to improve pedestrian safety,” Kimmelman said, adding that the mayor wouldn’t need Albany’s blessing for this plan. The streetcar would, of course, not run cheap, but Kimmelman said the upfront costs are more than worth it. “The city’s urban fabric can’t be an afterthought,” says Kimmelman. “The keys to improved city life—better health care, housing, schools, culture, business, tourism and recreation—all have spatial implications.” Read Kimmelman's full proposal at the NY Times.
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2014 will be a big year for streetcars in Kansas City and Cincinnati

Although it hasn’t yet broken ground, Kansas City plans to revive a long-dormant streetcar network. Voters approved a ballot measure in 2012 to fund a 2-mile starter route from Union Station to the River Market, nearly 55 years after the city halted its original streetcar service in 1957. Now Kansas City residents are likely to vote again to help pay for streetcar construction, this time to approve taxes that would help fund a new streetcar taxing district. The measure goes to City Council on Jan. 23. kc_streetcar_03The district goes far beyond the terminals of the streetcar’s starter line. As the Kansas City Star reported, it would run from State Line to I-435 and from the Missouri River to 85th Street. In a November election, voters need to approve the district and a one-cent sales tax increase there, as well as special property taxes for properties generally within about a half-mile along the actual streetcar lines. To avoid double-taxing some residents, the taxing district would replace an existing downtown transportation district currently funding some of the starter line’s construction. Streetcar expenses could reach $400 million. Some of that could be scrounged from federal dollars and other sources, but supporters say local funding is the critical first step. In Cincinnati, too, boosters of a similar streetcar plan in that city celebrated news last month that work would resume on the project after City Council members narrowly voted to halt construction. Though the governor and members of city council had previously attempted to strip the partially completed project's funding, construction has since resumed. The project is on track to finish in 2016.
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San Diego Re-Imagines Balboa Park With Car-Free Transportation, Increased Connectivity

It’s been nearly 100 years since the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the world’s fair celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal, was held in San Diego. In preparation for the centennial, AIA San Diego and the San Diego Museum of Art recently held an ideas competition for improvements to Balboa Park, the site of the fair. The 1,200-acre park is home to a number of museums and other cultural facilities, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Art Institute, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the San Diego Museum of Art, plus cultivated gardens and family-friendly amusements. The Balboa Park Centennial Gateway Competition received 44 entries from both professional and non-professional designers. The jury met December 7th to award five merit prizes and two top-place awards. “Overall, the jury was impressed by the quality of the presentations and the renderings and grateful for the time and effort expended on their preparation,” an AIA San Diego press release stated. The five entries earning special recognition from the jury included two transit-oriented designs. A submission from San Diego Historic Streetcars showcased that organization’s ongoing efforts to bring streetcars back to the city, while a team from Place Architecture proposed an elevated tramway connecting Balboa Park to the waterfront and Petco Park. The three other merit-award winners were “P.R.A.D.O,” from Di Donato Associates; “Balboa Park Experience,” from NewSchool of Architecture + Design, and “Soaring Above,” from a team led by Jonathan Chau. In a modern take on City Beautiful logic, “P.R.A.D.O.” features a series of architectural monuments placed throughout the park, with a covered pedestrian walkway along its eastern edge framing views of the city beyond. “Balboa Park Experience,” which the press release called a “surprising green solution,” threads a linear park under and around the freeway entrance to the south end of the park. “Soaring Above” envisions a network of towers orienting visitors within the park, and offering elevated viewpoints in and around the green space. The People’s Choice Award, selected by visitors to theSan Diego Museum of Art, was “Reflections” by Jeffrey Taitano, a student of NewSchool of Architecture + Design. Taitano proposed the installation of a large abstracted gate at the park’s entrance, with other park elements—including event boards and bus stops—built to match the main structure’s minimalist aesthetic. The Balboa Park Centennial Gateway Competition jury awarded the second-place prize to “Hillcrest Fruit Farm,” from an undergraduate team at NewSchool of Architecture + Design. The submission imagines the creation of a fruit orchard along the northern boundary of Balboa Park, paying homage to horticulturist Kate Sessions as well as landscape architect Samuel Parson’s vision for the park as the city’s food producer. Finally, the jury split the first-place award three ways, recognizing elements of submissions from De Bartolo + Rimanic Design Studio (“Gateway of Connectivity”), domusstudio architecture (“Park the Dump/Dump the Cars”), and N. Looney Architecture (“Park Boulevard is not an Edge”). “While the Jury felt that each had individual flaws,” the press release explained, “collectively they captured important goals for the Park.” “Park the Dump/Dump the Cars” and “Park Boulevard is not an Edge” both addressed the disposition of the former landfill within Balboa Park, as well as the reabsorption of land currently used for parking. All three winners emphasized the need for to better connect the park and neighboring communities.