Provocateur: Light Rail Can Save New York!
By George Haikalis
An artist's rendering of the proposal for a pedestrian-only 42nd Street with a river-to-river light rail system. Light rail--the modern version of streetcars--is a cheaper, faster and better-received solution to to expanding the transit system than many of the current proposals for new subways and regional rail lines.
Proponents of plans to build the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway, Mayor Bloomberg's single-minded advocacy of an extension of the 7 subway line to the West Side of Manhattan and champions of a long list of other transit mega-projects have sparked a great deal of debate about the best way to expand New York City's transit system given limited funding sources. As the MTA weighs its options, it must consider three key issues: cost, construction time and public reception of the project. One proposal that is not currently a top contender for MTA approval is a light rail transit system on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Though it may not be as well known as the subways, light rail-the modern version of streetcars-would actually be a cheaper, faster and better-received solution than many of the proposals for new subways and regional rail lines.
Cheaper to Build, Cheaper
A Fast Solution
Well Loved in NYC and
Around the World
But the trend is changing. Over the past twenty years, new light rail lines have been installed in more than two-dozen North American cities. These new lines have proven very popular, often doubling or tripling ridership in corridors where they replaced bus service and stimulating economic development in the cores of these cities. The appeal of light rail is its panache, offering something new and attractive, and its reliability and sense of permanence. New York City should be especially interested in the role that light rail can play in revitalizing the ailing post-9/11 tourist economy, much as San Francisco has used its heritage trolley to stimulate tourism along its now-vibrant waterfront.
Popular and Political
George Haikalis is a civil engineer and transportation planner, a long-term member of T.A. and a perpetual provocateur--chairing Auto-Free New York and co-chairing vision42 (auto-free.org).