Our weekly roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects around the world.
Chicago Revisits Rail Transit Wish List for Downtown
It sometimes seems that ever since it opened in the late 19th century, Chicago civic leaders have sought to dismantle the Union Loop Elevated Railway that gives the city’s downtown its name. Ever since work began on the city’s first two subways in the Depression, there have been repeated efforts to add to that “initial system of subways” in the city center, both to replace the Loop and serve parts of the city not well served by rapid transit.
For a number of reasons, those other downtown subways never got built, though not for lack of trying. Now, planners, local transit professionals and businesses who stand to gain from added service are studying low-cost options that could relieve pressure on increasingly congested downtown rapid transit lines while fixing what a 1939 transit plan called an “outstanding flaw in the existing pattern of Chicago’s rapid transit system” — namely, a lack of north-south crosstown service.
Crain’s Chicago Business reports [paywall] that the Chicago Central Area Committee brought interested parties together July 16th to discuss options for adding service, improving connections and increasing capacity on currently congested Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) rapid transit lines.
The possible service addition dusts off a proposal that’s been kicking around for some 20 years and expands on it. It would consist of either a light rail or bus rapid transit route that follows an unused rail right-of-way that runs east-west under the Tribune Tower, Trump International Hotel & Tower and Merchandise Mart, all north of the Chicago River, and connects to a north-south right-of-way on the Near West Side. That right-of-way would in turn provide connections to several commuter rail stations, the Red and Brown lines in Lincoln Park and the Orange Line to Midway Airport. A third extension — the new part of the proposal — could use an existing lakefront right-of-way that currently serves as a busway for McCormick Place events and ultimately run beyond the convention hall to a redevelopment project on the site of a former steel plant in southeast Chicago.
The other idea floated at the meeting, a variant on a project the CTA is already working on, would install two crossovers on the Red Line just north and south of the Loop. These would be used to short-turn rush-hour trains rather than have them operate through to the end of the line, balancing service patterns to match travel demand.
Crain’s politics blogger, Greg Hinz, citing studies showing that population and employment growth in Chicago’s core could have all of CTA’s rapid transit lines operating at capacity in a few years, wrote, “All of [this] has the possibility to generate lots of applause and lots of bickering over costs, routes and timing” — the same sort of bickering that has doomed previous expansion attempts in the core. “But if the downtown system is nearing capacity — and the downtown job generator is to continue to grow — something has to be done.” I’ll keep an eye on this to see if that something actually happens.
Luxembourg Resurrects Trams
Luxembourg, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is now on its way to joining the list of European cities that have brought tram service back from the dead.
On July 14th, the Luxembourg City Council approved legislation creating a new company to build and operate a light rail system to serve the capital and adjacent communities. The company, to be called LuxTram SA, will be owned jointly by the Luxembourg municipal and national governments. The national government approved its enabling legislation last month.
LuxTram will begin work on the initial segment of the system in the fall of 2015, according to an item in the International Railway Journal. The starter segment will connect Luxembourg’s main train station in the city center with its exhibition center in Kirchberg. The 14-station initial line is projected to cost €230.5 million ($311.2 million U.S.), with the cost split evenly between the Grand Duchy and the city.
Luxembourg’s last tram line ceased operation in 1964.
New Orleans Transit Study a Wake-Up Call for Veolia, RTA?
Hard on the heels of a study (reported on Next City last Wednesday) that shows that New Orleans’ reconstituted transit system is skipping the city’s minority neighborhoods, Veolia Transportation Services has released a proposal to replace and expand its bus fleet and add 33.5 miles of streetcar track by 2030.
Veolia operates the city’s buses and streetcars for the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority. The study, produced by Ride New Orleans, a local non-profit transit advocacy group, criticized both agencies for not having a long-term plan for improving service while reining in spiraling costs and for prioritizing the city’s streetcars over its buses, which provide the bulk of the service.
A report on the proposal in the New Orleans Times-Picayune states that Veolia will revive, revise or expand 13 city bus routes this September at a cost of $5 million. The company will reduce its payments to the RTA’s employee pension fund to cover the added cost. The proposal also calls for replacing the entire bus fleet by 2021 and adding another 51 buses by 2023, building 187 new bus shelters throughout the city, and extending or creating seven new streetcar routes.
Veolia’s chief maintenance officer, Brendan Matthews, stressed that this was more of a wish list and that much depended on the RTA’s ability to secure federal funding for the projects listed. The RTA is expected to provide only 20 percent of the funds needed to carry out these proposals.
That may be an iffy proposition, given that the RTA’s current service is operating at a deficit that could put the budget $10 million in the red by next year, but Matthews said the blueprint would still be valuable as a tool to begin the planning process Ride New Orleans called for in its report.
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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.