02 November 2005

The Streetcars: Key to NOLA's Revival

The floodwaters got above the headlights.

Okay, maybe our streetcars aren't THE key to the revival of New Orleans--but I will argue that getting them back online (or at least online to some degree) is essential to the city's revivial for both psychological and practical reasons. The St. Charles Avenue Line streetcars are housed in a location that did not flood and the 1923 Perley Thomas green cars have sat idle since KTMB. The Riverfront and Canal Street red streetcars unfortunately were housed at the RTA facility on Canal Street in Mid City and they, along with a substantial number of RTA buses, did take in two to three feet of water.

The Canal Street Line 2k4 has only been back for sixteen months (April/May 2004) after the original Canal Street Line service was discontinued in May 1964 in exchange for the modern joy of smelly, polluting GM buses. Forty years and 500 million dollars later, back came the Canal Street Line. And KTMB has taken it away again at least for the time being. From what I can tell, the overhead electric lines for the Canal Street Line appear to be in decent condition (I need to do a quick drive-by of the entire route), but there are numerous places along the St. Charles Line where trees have taken out the line's wires and poles. One of the most bizarre things to see since KTMB are cars and trucks diagonally parked on the neutral ground (median) of St. Charles Avenue in complete disregard for the streetcar tracks since the Line is currently inactive. Also, vehicles parked on the grass chock-a-block at Lee Circle is another unsettling thing.

Like all major American cities, New Orleans had an extensive streetcar network pre-World War II. Unlike the other cities, we managed to hold onto at least one of the lines (the St. Charles Line is the oldest continuously running urban rail line in the world) and then somehow managed to get two more lines built in the past twenty years. Other American cities have recently created vintage trolley lines such as Memphis and Tampa and some places such as Miami/Miami Beach are also planning to install them. The difference is that our streetcar system is a real working transportation system versus a mostly tourist-aimed herding device (and hopefully a stimulus for in-fill re-development). I applaude the reintroduction of streetcars in those places, but since New Orleans is an older, relatively compact city comprised of fairly dense neighborhoods, the streetcar system can proportionately serve a higher amount of people since they live adjacent to the service. In those other mentioned places, the majority of the population live outside the core city and not along the rail routes.

It is imperative to get the New Orleans streetcar system up ASAP at least in some capacity. Obviously its not possible to have everything up and running as it was 28 August 2005 by tomorrow morning. A source told me to "look for something within a month," which may or may not pan out, but its something to hope for. Long term, build more streetcar lines in the City of New Orleans. Take the proposed Desire Line from impact and analysis statements to reality. Extend the St. Charles Line up South Carrollton to the Canal Street Line in Mid City. Extend the Riverfront Line. Extend the Canal Street Line to the Lake. Put a line back on Esplanade or Elysian Fields. Being a true urban place is one of the things New Orleans has most going for it. An aggressive streetcar plan can accentuate this.

Comments? Talk to me: seymourdfair@gmail.com


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