I Dream of Light-rail I Dream of Light-rail
Infographic Issue 015

I Dream of Light-rail

by Jordan Hruska

April 24, 2009
Soon, neighborhoods and suburbs that used to take hours to drive between will be connected by subways, buses, and light-rail.  At least, that's the plan. Here are five of America's most innovative public-transit projects.

Baltimore: Red Line

Almost a third of Baltimore residents don't have reliable access to an automobile. That would seem progressive (from an environmental perspective, anyway) if the city had a reliable public-transportation system for its residents. Baltimore's current bus, subway, light-rail, and commuter-rail systems lack consistent integration, making it difficult for any rider to piece together a trip. Adding insult to injury, the city's only light-rail line shut down last fall due to the impassable obstacle of… wet leaves. Enter the Red Line-a transit project that will not only unify these existing modes on an east-west axis, but will also be the first to serve the new developments in the Inner Harbor and Fell's Point areas. It is envisioned as a 14-mile bus-rapid-transit line or light-rail train. In addition to shuttling crab-shucking tourists to harbor sites, the line would serve 42,000 daily riders commuting to Baltimore's burgeoning biotech research incubators, resource-sharing offices, and the new Inner Harbor East cultural district. If federal funds are granted, it could open as early as 2015.The Red Line would serve 42,000 daily riders commuting to Baltimore's burgeoning biotech research incubators, resource-sharing offices, and the new Inner Harbor East cultural district.LEARN MORE baltimoreredline.com

New York: TriboroRX

Since New York's subway opened, in 1904, outer-borough residents of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx have been unfairly forced to traipse into Manhattan every time they want to travel north or south, even if their final destination is not in the city's heart. Sure, there's the G train, the only line that doesn't touch Manhattan, but it skirts only a sliver of Brooklyn and barely even enters Queens on a consistent basis. The proposed TriboroRX line could conceivably connect light-industrial and residential districts in these circumferential neighborhoods by using the Long Island Rail Road's dormant Bay Ridge tracks, which stretch from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx through Queens all the way to south Brooklyn (with an easy extension to LaGuardia Airport). Originally proposed in 1996 by the tristate urban advocacy group Regional Plan Association, the TriboroRX was conceived with information from census maps of the neighborhoods served by the existing 21.8-miles of tracks. The RPA expects that the TriboroRX's proposed 38 stations would serve more than 76,000 daily commuters and that the city would benefit from attracting an estimated 32,000 new riders. Sadly, the beleaguered Metropolitan Transportation Authority has only barely begun to work on a Second Avenue subway line that residents initially voted to fund way back in 1951.Originally proposed in 1996 by the tristate urban advocacy group Regional Plan Association, the TriboroRX was conceived with information from census maps of the neighborhoods served by the existing 21.8 miles of tracks.LEARN MORE transit.frumin.net/trx/TriboroRX

Washington, D.C.: Purple Line

Washington's notorious Beltway is said to constrict politicians' views and, at times, it also seems to have limited the area's foresight in terms of mass transit. The massive highway through Maryland and Virginia handles more than a quarter of a million vehicles a day and is so congested that there has been discussion of constructing another, larger beltway outside of it. But a 16-mile mass-transit line in suburbanMaryland might be a simpler and faster way to circumnavigate the city. If constructed, the Purple Line would run along one quarter of the Beltway as part of Washington's Metro, the second busiest transit system in the nation. The $1.6-billion line would serve 63,000 daily riders between the sprawling areas of Bethesda and Silver Spring in the west and the major academic center of the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the east. And the Maryland-D.C. suburbs need all the help they can get when considering the impending migration of 16,000 new Department of Defense jobs to the region by 2011. Funding roadblocks aside (Maryland's governor, Martin O'Malley, has been seeking federal help in funding the project), some residents oppose the idea of light-rail tracks astride a popular recreationalpath, but it seems they're slowly turning purple.If constructed, the Purple Line would run along one quarter of the Beltway as part of Washington's Metro, the second busiest transit system in the nation.LEARN MORE purplelinenow.com

Seattle: East Link Light Rail

The sun is breaking through Seattle's endless transit woes. Washington State residents recently approved tax hikes to fund a regional transit system to combat some of the nation's worst traffic. The city's transportation organization, Sound Transit, has conceived the ST2 plan, which is dedicated to constructing 36 miles of new light-rail as part of a 55-mile system buttressed by increased commuter rail and express-bus service. A cornerstone of the light-rail development is the East Link, which will connect downtown Seattle to Mercer Island and the satellite urban areas of Bellevue and Redmond, terminating near the Microsoft campus. This area of suburban Seattle is also a hotbed of tech companies like Nintendo and Google, whose employees will be among the 48,000 projected riders able to travel to downtown Seattle without slogging through the traffic on the highway. Underground tunnels through Bellevue seem to be favored by the city government and residents, but it's unclear whether or not this pricey plan would drain funds from the final phase of the line's development to Redmond.A cornerstone of the light-rail development is the East Link, which will connect downtown Seattle to Mercer Island and the satellite urban areas of Bellevue and Redmond, terminating near the Microsoft campus.LEARN MORE soundtransit.org

Los Angeles: Westside Subway

It's been easy to criticize Southern Californians for staying parked when it comes to mass transit, but last November Los Angeles County residents made their interest clear with a sales-tax increase to fund a slew of new transit projects. Already, a projected $4.1 billion of this revenue is being allocated to fund the Westside extension for Los Angeles's often-overlooked subway, which, with a touch of manifest destiny, is dubbed"the subway to the sea." This two-line extension project would include a Purple Line addition down traffic-choked Wilshire Boulevard, connecting the cultural, media, and academic districts of Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, UCLA, and, ultimately, Santa Monica. A Red Line extension, looping down through West Hollywood, would make a connection with the new Purple Line in Beverly Hills. Altogether, these two additions are projected to carry nearly 80,000 riders daily. The Westside subway has been a pet project of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa-he flew to Washington for less than 48 hours to lobby President Obama specifically for the other half of the funds desperately needed to complete the project. Even if the city does receive backing from Washington, the time line for completion stretches all the way to 2030-a destiny that needs a bit more manifestation.This two-line extension project would include a Purple Line addition down traffic-choked Wilshire Boulevard, connecting the cultural, media, and academic districts of Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, UCLA, and, ultimately, Santa Monica.LEARN MORE metro.net/projects_studies/westside/default.htm
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I Dream of Light-rail