By John Owens
Streetcars are as much a part of New Orleans as beignets, Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Saints. Rolling down the most well-known streets in the city, the unmistakable whir of their electric power and sound of the old-fashioned suspension fills the air for blocks around. The wooden seats hark back to a time when craftsmanship ruled over mass-production. Streetcars are an institution here.
Recently, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has poured millions into revitalizing the aging rails that underpin the system. It tore up track bit by bit, starting before the 2013 Super Bowl and continuing through now. It is the kind of investment that implies a commitment to a long future with the streetcar in New Orleans.
In the run up to the Super Bowl, the RTA even added a 2.8 mile spur with 13 stops. It took less than a year to complete, an unusually quick project by New Orleans standards.
With streetcars running down more streets and on better tracks, it begs the question: are streetcars a viable transit solution, a tourist attraction or both? Continue reading