(Photo: Pittsburgh Channel)
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Light Rail Now!
Produced by the Light Rail Now! Publication Team
This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.
15 December 2011
Opening day for Port Authority of Allegheny County's 1.2-mile-long North Shore Connector light rail transit (LRT) extension is fast approaching, reports a November 17th article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
According to the paper, the project is already 98 percent complete and "on track for the debut of passenger service" next March. A tentative date of March 25th has been announced..
Part of Pittsburgh's LRT system branded as the "T", the extension will allow trains to run from downtown Pittsburgh to the city's north side.
Project manager Keith Wargo has announced that testing of trains on the new line will begin in December. Tests using cutouts matching the profile of new LRT raiclars have already been running. to make sure there are proper clearances on the extension.
"Trucks also have towed pantagraphs, the arm-like devices that connect rail vehicles with the overhead power lines, through the system" reports the Post-Gazette.
The new segment includes a new Gateway Center station, an underground station adjacent to PNC Park, and an elevated station next to Heinz Field.
"The Gateway station is 93 percent complete," reports the article, "and the Romare Bearden mural from the old station has been refurbished and reinstalled." In addition, Wargo said the two brand-new North Shore stations are more than 99 percent complete.
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
2 November 2011
"Building a downtown streetcar line is a risk worth taking" that was the assessment of an Oct. 19th lead editorial in the San Antonio Express-News, that city's major daily newspaper, with the headline "Streetcars a start toward rail future".
The plan now on the table is an L-shaped route in the city's CBD, developed and put forward in late September by Mayor Julián Castro and Councilman Reed Williams.
As described by a Sep. 24th Express-News report, "The line would move along Broadway, wind through downtown and turn east at HemisFair Park, where it would end at the Robert Thompson Transit Center at the Alamodome." (See map below.)
Broadway, a wide boulevard-style street for much of its length, is one of the inner city's most heavily traveled corridors, fronted by retail stores, restaurants, and other commercial establishments, with residential neighborhoods just beyond on both sides. The streetcar line would be double-tracked, according to the Sep. report.
In addition, Mayor Castro is proposing "a bus circulator that would travel east and west through downtown, between the Thompson station and VIA's planned West Side Multimodal Center, in the city's former train depot on Medina Street", according to the Express-News article.
The plan to finance the project includes $40 million from the city, using a portion of a 2007 bond savings reserved for HemisFair Park, combined with assessments collected from the River North Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and other city money.
"The city also will pursue commitments from developers along Broadway to invest in the corridor and spur more economic investment" reported the paper, which further noted that "In August, Bexar County commissioners allotted $55 million of advanced transportation district funds to VIA's $180 million, five-year plan, which includes the streetcar line, revitalization of two downtown transit centers, and two Park & Rides."
However, the article notes, "The county vote was contingent on both VIA and the city providing additional funds $70 million from VIA, based on its bonding capacity, and $55 million from the city." How the $15 million reduction in the city's commitment would affect this is not explained.
The new L-shaped route proposal "combines economic development with transportation" Mayor Castro told the paper, calling the route the one "we believe stands the best chance for success."
In its endorsement, the Express-News noted that "The $180 million streetcar plan is a less-expensive precursor to light rail and an overdue attempt to recast the transportation culture in San Antonio in preparation for a future that undoubtedly will include higher gas prices and most likely will feature tougher air pollution standards.
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
27 October 2011
"Here they go again."
That's how columnist Kevin Osborne began his commentary this past August 3rd on the latest effort by rail transit opponents to bollix rail development in Cincinnati, as posted online to the CityBeat alternative newspaper.
"Just as Far Right conservatives in Congress created a crisis over the federal debt ceiling so they could advance their true goal of nibbling away at Social Security and Medicare," writes Osborne, "so are fringe factions closer to home using a backdoor maneuver to block Cincinnati's mass transit options for the next decade or more."
"In short," says Osborne", "it's overreaching and short-sightedness taken to an absurd extreme." And "If you don't believe me, just take a look at the wording being used on petitions" he challenges.
Osborne also charges that "People who have been collecting signatures on behalf of COAST and the NAACP have been purposefully underplaying the amendment's impact, telling residents it just affects the streetcar project. Baloney."
Drilling down into possibilities of motivationa and strategy, he focuses first on the extremist-right component of the anti-rail coalition.
Osborne then turns to the issue of why in the world groups supposedly championing the interests of black Cincinnatians and advocating "progressive" causes would back such a virulent and disonest attack on mass transit development.
Next, Osborne addresses one of the extremist-right's most overowked (and woverworn) myths in their attack on mass transit that somehow public transport (and rail in particularly) is supposedly utterly unique in receiving public subsidies to help sustain it:
"So," concludes Osborne, "even if you're opposed to Cincinnati's current streetcar project, anyone with an eye toward the future should quickly reject the charter amendment that likely will be put on the November ballot. It could have consequences that will scar the city and its development potential for years to come."
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
14 October 2011
Seattle, Washington Streetcar-type light rail transit (LRT) development is advancing fairly briskly in the major West Coast city, according to recent summary reports from Rail Transit Online (posted by the APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley website).
Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar line has achieved goals of both improving mobility and
attracting adjacent economic development thus inspiring local planners and officials to pursue development of much larger streetcar network.
Last year, on 26 October 2010, reports RTO, the governing board of Sound Transit (which so far has operated express buses, the Sounder regional passenger rail service, and the Seattle Link LRT system) "approved funding not to exceed $132.8 million for the 2.5-mi. (4 km) First Hill Streetcar project."
The First Hill line (the basic concept of which was first proposed by Light Rail Now technical consultant Lyndon Henry in early 2001) is planned to operate "along a meandering route between the Chinatown/ International district, First Hill and the Link light rail station on Capitol Hill, with a service every 10 min, during peak periods and every 20 min. at other times", according to RTO.
The article provides additional details:
The streetcar project replaces a Link LRT (higher-speed semi-metro) station initially planned for First Hill that proved too expensive and difficult to install as part of Central Link's northern extension.
Further information on the First Hill Streetcar project is available at the following link:
According to another RTO summary, in August 2011, Seattle's City Council is pursuing its own plans for an extensive citywide streetcar network.
The Council's Transportation Committee "has unveiled a 20-year Transit Master Plan focused on four corridors that could potentially support high-capacity transportation modes such as streetcars or bus rapid transit" reports RTO.
The RTO report quotes Seattle Department of Transportation official Tony Mazzella who affirmed, as summarized by the article, that "the focus will be on funding the highest-priority corridors."
"On these corridors, rail is a very strong alternative" Mazzella told the online news site seattlepi.com (formerly the Post-Intelligencer daily newspaper).
"Over time, rail is going to be a more cost-effective way to meet a certain demand. That's partially because you're meeting the demand with fewer labor costs and you're spending less in capturing new riders" he emphasized.
Light Rail Now! NewsLog
5 October 2011
United States The legally authorized passenger capacity of the entire US transit industry could be reduced dramatically if new federal average passenger weight guidelines go into effect.
"It's official: The federal government says more overweight Americans are squeezing onto buses, and it may have to rewrite bus safety rules because of it" reports a March 1st article in USA Today, which says that the US Federal Transit Administration (FTA, which the article erroneously names as the "Federal Transit Authority") "proposes raising the assumed average weight per bus passenger from 150 pounds to 175 pounds, which could mean that across the country, fewer people will be allowed on a city transit bus."
Given that there are many thousands of buses across the nation, that would seem to imply that the entire US transit bus fleet capacity may be suddenly downsized.
The federal agency, which regulates how much weight a bus can carry, "also proposes adding an additional quarter of a square foot of floor space per passenger" says the article. The changes are being sought "to acknowledge the expanding girth of the average passenger" the agency says.
"This change is really just a bow to reality" suggested Joseph Schwieterman, described as someone "who studies bus ridership as director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago."
"With no small number of bus passengers tipping the scale at 200 pounds or more, this is much more realistic" Schwieterman claimed.
Ironically, other studies have noted that many Americans are overweight because the difficulties of mobility in suburban areas and the lack of convenient and accessible transit, plus the lack of safe pedestrian facilities, all conspire to make people dependent on personal motor vehicles rather than the healthier exercise of walking.
The news article provides further background on the passenger weight issue:
In another bitter irony, the threat of passenger capacity reduction comes just as transit agencies nationwide are increasingly stressed trying to cope with higher operating costs and more passengers, desperate for a les costly alternative to driving:
APTA president William Millar warns that the economic recession has left the nation's transit systems unprepared for that kind of ridership increase. Without additional investment, he says, "people will be stranded on the street corner or in the stations."
"It's too soon to know what effect the proposed weight changes could have for riders whether reducing the number of passengers per bus or changing bus design" concludes the article.
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