Ferrys make good sense for metro NOLA commuters (@chrisjohnston blog article)


Morris car on the old West End line, 1941

Christoher Johnston had some thoughts yesterday on a plan originating in Mandeville to run a high-speed ferry from the north shore to New Orleans. The plan (as reported by Jeff Adelson of Da Paper) is interesting:

Shuttles would bring commuters from several locations in western St. Tammany Parish, including Louisiana 59 in Abita Springs, U.S. 190 in Covington and Louisiana 22 in Covington, to the departure point. Shuttles would also be available to various locations on the south shore, such as the Central Business District in New Orleans.

Preliminary plans call for the ferry service to cost $30 for a round-trip or $20 one-way. Weekly passes would be available for $135, monthly passes for $500 and "executive level" seating for $700 a month. The shuttle service taking commuters to and from the ferries would cost extra, Schild said.

As Chris points out in his blog, the problem comes in when the boat gets to West End (the assumed landing point in New Orleans. The marinas there aren't well-suited for commuter operations. NORTA's Lakeview bus line is a hybrid/combo of the pre-storm Canal Blvd and West End lines. A ferry commuter would board the bus at Pontchartrain Blvd and Robt E Lee, then it's 15 minutes to City Park Ave. Transfer to the streetcar and head into downtown. Given the layout of Orleans Marina and the Municipal Yacht Harbor, the ferry operator would have to run a shuttle bus to the RTA bus stop, for sure.

What this project could do, however, is bring back the West End bus line as it was pre-storm. This line was originally the West End streetcar. It converted to bus service in 1948. When the Canal streetcar was discontinued in 1964, the service became the Canal-Lakeshore line. You could ride to West End and RE Lee all the way from the foot of Canal. With the return of streetcars to Canal in 2004, the line was given the West End name again and ran from Cemeteries out to the lake. The old streetcar ran on tracks on the eastern side of the New Basin Canal (West End Blvd) inbound and outbound. With the closure of the canal and change to buses, the outbound route went up West End and down Pontchartrain Blvd (the western side of the old canal). If ferry ridershp was substantial, beefing up Lakeview bus service would be a no-brainer, as well as working re-routing the NORTA line to hook up with the ferry dock.

In the meantime, shuttle service to downtown would be attractive (if not cheap), since that's one-stop-shopping for commuters. Chris hits that nail right on the head:

I think both of these issues will be worked out as this moves further along. Some enterprising entrepreneur could have a decked out bus with comfy seats and wifi and offer contract service from the dock to downtown for commuters. You would buy a monthly pass and the bus service would be timed with ferry arrivals so you could go quickly from ferry to bus to work. With wifi on both you get work done from the house to the office and avoid the stress of morning traffic.

As much as I'm a fan of NORTA and the streetcar, if this was my daily commute, a bus with wi-fi would be wicked attractive.

Another potential group of customers forf the ferry service might be New Orleanians who want to day-trip it to Mandeville and points north. Chris' idea here is brilliant:

For those going in the other direction a ZipCar location at the Mandeville landing would be a perfect solution. Imagine you plan to spend the day in Mandeville so you book your trip with the Causeway ferry Android app and then open your ZipCar app and book a car for the day. When you arrive you use the app to locate the car, get in and spend the day tooling around town, shopping, eating at Lakefront restaurants, and enjoying the scenery. At the end of the day you turn in the car, hop back on the ferry, and enjoy the traffic free ride home.

What a great idea! If someone living in NOLA who doesn't own a car wants to get to Mandeville, it's complicated. ZipCar makes perfect sense for them. Combine the ferry with a ZipCar on the other side, and you might have more folks willing to come up for the day.

Crossing Lake Pontchartrain is different than the water shuttles used in cities like Boston.  We're talking a 25-27 mile trip.  Avoiding the challenges to sanity posed by driving the Causeway, then getting on I-10 with the Metairie/Kenner commuters may well be enough to make this ferry concept happen.

Not quite to Desire, but streetcars to go back to Da Ninth...


Carrollton Cars at the French Market Terminal

Two interesting streetcar-related developments this week. The big news is that NORTA approved the back-a-town line proposal:

with Canal and Riverfront covering the Uptown and riverside portions of the perimeter of the French Quarter, this new line will cover the lakeside and downriver segments. St. Claude Avenue at Press St. is still a hard boundary, because of the Norfolk Southern RR tracks at that intersection. It's not "train safety" that's the issue here, but the overhead trolley wire. NS runs those three-decker automobile transport cars on that trackage, and those cars have a higher clearance than the wire. Still, getting at least *to* the Bywater is a start.

Getting the back-a-town route moving makes sense in light of the retail/commercial development proposed for along Loyola Avenue. It would be difficult for the private development to move forward with the street ripped up while NORTA puts down track.

The other interesting item, from a streetcar history perspective, is things are moving on the development of the Market Street Power Plant. Developers are saying Bass Pro Shos will move into the massive structure on Tchoupitoulas, but nothing is official yet:

Despite Ullian's shameless pitch, Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whiteley said he's in charge of announcing stores and hasn't been told to announce anything in New Orleans. "It doesn't mean that we're not looking. But if they are, we're not at the point of announcing it," Whiteley said.

But elected officials and convention center executives have been told about the Bass Pro project, while local business groups such as the Magazine Street Merchants Association and Downtown Development District say they've been invited to briefings for plans at the site.

Both of these projects are huge boosts for the city!

Train Thursday: NOPB's "Business Cars"

Back when rail was king, each railroad had one or more "business cars" that were used by company executives to travel around.  These cars were custom-fitted with top-quality furnishings, and often had kitchens staffed by private chefs. 

The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad came under scrutiny last summer for what have been characterized as extravagent expenditures by its management. NOPB is responsible for about 100 miles of track along the New Orleans riverfront, including the Huey P. Long Bridge.

The daylight shone on the NOPB also put the railroad's business cars in the spotlight. NOPB owns three ex-Pullman cars. Two were refurbished and were used until last summer as meeting facilities, and to hold private events. The third is in storage, its restoration only partially complete. NOPB would donate use of the cars to various charities. The non-profit charity group would cover catering costs for their event, and NOPB would take them from Esplanade and the river (near the NORTA's French Market streetcar terminal), up and over the Huey P. Long Bridge, then back. In addition to charity events, NOPB used the cars to entertain prospective customers of the railroad.

The scrutiny of the railroad's finances forced NOPB to suspend use of these cars. In terms of railroad preservation, they're a wonderful thing to have, and we hope that NOPB can work out a way the business cars can return to operation, for Louisianians to enjoy.

New look at CanalStreetCar (dot com)

OK, I've finally settled on a template for the site. Feel free to comment on the layout and color scheme.

Vienna Trolleys!

Trolley on the #18 line in Vienna, Austria. When I teach in Austria, it's at the Fast Lane office near Gasometer City. Gasometer is a stop on the U3 "Orange" Metro line that runs (more-or-less) east-west across Vienna.

On Sunday, I wanted to go to the Austrian Army History Museum (sorry, no English website), so I took the U3 to the Schlachthausgasse stop. This metro stop is the end of the line for the #18 trolley, which took me to two blocks from the museum. Trolley rolling stock in Vienna is an interesting mix of older and more modern, like this train.

The other interesting feature about this particular street is the separate track area for street rail. While we have our neutral grounds in New Orleans, the Viennese built their "neutral ground" off to the side. Auto drivers still have to look behind them when making a left turn, though.

Walking is good for your city and neighborhood...

"Walkable" neighborhoods help build cities with "high social capital":On the whole, the more walkable neighborhoods scored higher on every measure of social capital than the less walkable neighborhoods. The authors found that individuals in more walkable neighborhoods tended to have higher levels of trust and community involvement, whether that was working on a community project, attending a club meeting, volunteering, or simply entertaining friends at home. Residents in the more walkable neighborhoods also reported being in good health and happy more often than those in the less walkable neighborhoods.Read the entire article, it's fascinating. Of course, streetcars on the perimeter of "walkable" neighborhoods to tie them together makes perfect sense.

Excellent example of streetcars' economic impact...

While the city of Fort Worth may not believe a new streetcar line will generate enough economic impact to justify continuing its development process, New Orleans businsses are embracing a new line:

Spurred by the future Loyola Avenue streetcar line,a local development firm plans to transform a sea of downtown parking lots into 450 apartments and 125,000 square feet of shops and restaurants that it calls the South Market District.

Domain Companies plans mix-use development

(RENDERINGS PROVIDED BY PETER MAYER)

Domain Companies plans to convert a parking lot-heavy section of the city near the Superdome into a mixed-use development featuring apartments and retail spaces. The project, which involves construction of four 8 and 14-story buildings along Girod between Baronne and Loyola, will be anchored by the new Rouses. Domain Companies plans mix-use development gallery (6 photos)

The Domain Cos., a New Orleans- and New York-based firm that developed successful mixed-income housing along Tulane Avenue, has four blocks of parking lots under contract in the area between Loyola Avenue and Baronne Street, Julia Street and Lafayette Street -- a largely empty area of downtown that was cleared in the mid-20th century to help increase automobile capacity downtown.

This development is very encouraging, since many that follow developments at NORTA were skeptical of the Loyola Avenue line. It's those very parking lots that created the skepticism; other than linking Union Passenger Terminal and Canal Street, there wasn't much else there. Not that tying the train station with the street rail system was a bad idea for the future, but the odds that lawyers would ride the streetcar to Civil District Court on Loyola Ave aren't that good.

This is looking much better for streetcar development!

Fort Worth's misguided philosophy on streetcars

The City of Forth Worth, TX, voted not to move forward with a streetcar plan:

The city's discussion and study of the viability of a modern streetcar system for the central city is over for now.

The City Council voted 5-3 on Tuesday to pull the plug on a feasibility study of running a streetcar line to the near north side through downtown and the near south side.

The proposed line seems to be pretty straightforward as streetcar projects go:

The line, according to city plans, would have consisted of three cars traversing a six-mile round-trip. It would have operated 14 hours a day, 365 days a year and carry an estimated 2,000 people a day.

The total cost of construction would have been offset by the federal grant. The rest would have been covered by the Trinity River Vision and Southside tax increment financing districts, or TIFs.

Officials estimated the system's operating cost at $1.6 million a year, which initially would be funded by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or the T.

At a time when the value of urban street rail/light rail transit systems is recognized worldwide, some of the reasons Fort Worth killed their streetcar plan are curious:

Critics were also skeptical of a study that projected $334 million in new residential and commercial development along the line. Not to mention that the federal government didn't need to be spending the money, either, their thinking went.

Questioning the accuracy of economic develoment projections is always a fair topic. Not using federal stimulus money is a silly notion, but that's just tea party ignorance and not relevant to streetcars. Arguing that a streetcar line won't bring economic development flies in the face of conventional wisdom and street rail's track record, so using this as an excuse to discontinue the project indicates to me that there was something else at work.

My immediate reaction to reading this is the downtown-versus-suburbs conflict you often find in a metropolitan area. The worst of this conflict with resect to public transit was in southern cities whose (mostly white) suburban residents wanted to keep "inner city" (code-word for "black") residents out of their neighborhoods. As suburban and ex-urban areas continue to sprawl, however, the gated-community folks run into a serious problem: Who will work the minimum-wage/low-wage jobs in their malls, fast food joints, restaurants, etc.? Requiring upper-middle income residents to own personal vehicles to get into the city is one thing; demanding that a minimum-wage barista at the corner Starbucks drive from low-cost housing in the city out to suburbia is a problem. With no decent public transit, however, that's the situation many find themselves in.

Then you've got the trend of affluent middle-class residents who desire to live back in the city rather than the suburbs. Many of these folks can walk or use public transit to get just about wherever they want to go in the city center. Their jobs, however, are often outside the city center. These residents would welcome street rail/light rail that would take them from the city out to the industrial parks and suburban malls. Since many city residents (even the affluent ones) are renters rather than property owners, their voices are often not as well-heard as the homeowners.

The conclusions of city government in Fort Worth are also curious:

The council is unanimous in agreeing that a comprehensive mass transit plan to deal with congestion and moving people from the suburbs to the central city is a priority.

Whether the streetcar is a part of that discussion is still a question.

[Mayor] Moncrief and [Council Member] Scarth both said streetcars would and should be discussed again, but with investors and not taxpayers bearing the burden of the cost.

City government agreeing they need a mass transit plan is a no-brainer. It's bigger than Fort Worth, however; the entire DFW metroplex should form a regional transit authority of some sort to examine the even-bigger picture. Getting people to and from the baseball park and the new football stadium in Arlington from the two cities is important, as is moving people to and from Dallas and Tarrant Counties into the vast wasteland in between. Just one city looking to itself isn't going to fix the metrolex's problems.

The third paragraph quoted above makes so little sense that I can only attribute this to tea party ignorance as well. Just who are the "investors" mentioned here? The model of private investors building municipal street rail systems vanished by the 1920s. The legal hurdles involved today are just too great. With the federal government offering up huge sums of money in the form of matching grants, only local/regional governmental agencies are capable of working the system. The "investor" is indeed the taxpayer. The city bets that improving transit will improve commerce, thereby raising tax revenues.

Cities without modern transit systems will stagnate as other cities attract business and affluent residents. They will continue to have downtown-versus-suburbs issues.

Changing Themes...

Pardon the dust here for the next day or two, I'm working on changing the theme for the site.

Two-hour power outage on St. Charles Line Yesterday

The St. Charles line was out of service for about two hours yesterday, due to a lightning strike.  According to Da Paper, lightning hit a feeder line to an Entergy substation, taking out several sections of Uptown, including the 600VDC feed to the streetcars.

Service resumed around 6pm CDT.

Judging by the reports, this must have been a significant outage.  After the storm, one of the reasons the St. Charles line was slow to come back was because NORTA and Entergy did significant power upgrade/modification work at the same time as the storm repairs.  A minor outage (lightning hitting a substation, for example) should not have brought the line to its knees. 

Market Street in the news


Market Street Power Plant, Franck Studios Photo from the 1940s

Da Paper reported this week on proceedings in bankruptcy court concerning the Market Street Plant. The property was originally owned by New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI), and passed to Entergy New Orleans. Market Street generated the 600VDC power used by the city's streetcar system for over sixty years. NOPSI shut down the plant in 1973, and it's been a dormant industrial site ever since.

Entergy New Orleans sold off the plant as part of its post-K bankruptcy re-organization. The sale has been complicated by a number of players, so nothing on the project has gone forward. Given that this week's losers plan to appeal the bankruptcy judge's decision, it's uncertain whether plans to develop Market Street into retail space by the 2013 Super Bowl will materialize.

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