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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans

New Orleans Streetcars

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Back from a week in New Orleans (there was a wedding in the middle of that) where riding streetcars became a central theme. People were asking me if I was going to rent a car, but that seemed to me to be pointless. The French Quarter, where we were staying has very narrow streets and a distinct lack of parking. We intended to rely on NORTA (buses and streetcars) and walking. There were bikes, but my partner did not bring her phone with her, and there is no way to rent two bikes on one phone. As a matter of principle I will not install the Uber or Lyft app on my phone – though we did share my son’s Lyft for one ride. We did use taxis – but that would have to be another post.

Riverfront car at Jackson Square

You may have heard about the Hard Rock Hotel collapse four months ago. That occurred on a site at Rampart and Canal streets.

The Hard Rock Hotel

Entire blocks on all sides have been closed to traffic as a precaution – but there is still no work underway to remove the damaged building. Canal and Rampart streets are both streetcar routes. The Canal Street routes have a bus bridge. The Rampart Street route has simply been cancelled.

Rampart St at Ursulines streetcar station

We knew none of this when we arrived. We relied on the Transit App on my iPhone. That showed – and still does by the way – regular streetcar service on Rampart – with arrival times and the “real time” symbol – so not just the schedule. We sat at a streetcar station at Ursulines waiting for trams that never came. On RTA truck whipped past us and driver yelled something unintelligible – probably “there’s no service” but it didn’t sound like those words. There was no signage anywhere on the station showing the stop was closed. Though the street has bus services, no bus stops had been placed at the same intersections to allow intending streetcar users to board a bus instead of the tram.

Now it is true that there is information on norta.com – though you do have to dig around a bit to find it.

There is also a major hiatus on the Riverfront line as construction is under way at the foot of Canal Street. So the Riverfront cars now turn up Canal instead of proceeding south along the river. The new terminus is convenient for the St Charles streetcar which is unaffected by either blockade.

I took up the issue of misleading information with the Transit App people. This is their reply.

“Although we do work with transportation agencies to display prediction times, service alerts – such as notifications about the streetcars not running – are updated by the agencies directly.

We’re a third-party app based in Montreal, Canada, so we’re not involved in the operation of the agencies. I’d suggest getting in touch with the RTA about this. You can reach the RTA here: https://www.norta.com/About/Customer-Service

So basically the RTA just relies on its own website and does not update the information on the Transit App, nor does it do any street postering. Some buses did have service change cards – but again not on display, just for the driver to give to passengers who asked questions.

Much of the New Orleans system has exclusive reserved rights of way for the streetcars: the St Charles route south of Lee Circle and most of the Canal Street route. But not the branch along South Carrollton to the City Park. There is a median but the streetcars are in traffic in the centre lanes. This of course results in streetcars being held up behind left turning traffic. I saw no evidence of any on-street priority for transit.

Along St Charles St the streetcar is actually better for sightseeing as the car proceeds at a leisurely pace and the tour busses whizz past in the traffic lanes. If you want to look at the charming old houses in the Garden District the hop-on hop-off bus service cannot be recommended. By the way, if you are concerned about trying to board a St Charles car at Canal, at least half of the load there gets off halfway to do the guided walk through the Garden District and most of the rest at Audubon Park.

St Charles streetcar at Canal St

There are also a number of streets that have wide medians that I suspect may once have been streetcar lines. Of course wikipedia is the place to go to find out about that.

I have also heard a lot about how streetcars are only for tourists but that is a gross misunderstanding. Where the streetcars run, and their general reliability, means everybody uses them. In fact the schedules for the streetcars seem to much more frequent than many bus routes. It is reliability and frequency that attracts ridership no matter what the vehicle.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 31, 2020 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Light Rail, tourism, transit

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