Feds Announce Winners of $293 Million in Transit Grants

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA chief Peter Rogoff announced the winners of $293 million in competitive grants for bus and streetcar projects today. The biggest chunks of funding will help build streetcar projects in Cincinnati, Charlotte, Fort Worth, and St. Louis, as well as rapid bus corridors in New York and Chicago. All told, the funding will be distributed among 53 projects, chosen from more than 300 applicants.

cincy_streetcar.jpgImage: Cincinnati Enquirer

While streetcar projects got the largest individual grants, most of the funding will go toward bus projects, including a number of grants for smaller cities to build, expand, or improve stations like Des Moines’s Multi-Modal Transit Hub. Several bus projects have an information component, promising to make service more predictable and convenient by giving riders a clear sense of when buses will arrive.

Also on the list is Boston’s regional bike-share network, slated to receive $3 million to help build more than 500 public bicycle stations. The bike-share project made the cut because of its potential to expand the reach and accessibility of the bus and rail system. Boston’s bike-share launch recently got pushed back to 2011, but at that scale, it would be, by far, the largest system in the country.

Here’s a sample of the major projects that got a boost:

  • Cincinnati will receive $25 million to help build a six-mile streetcar route, with an eye toward spurring mixed-use development downtown. The city planning commission recently took the enlightened step of reducing parking requirements along the future streetcar route.
  • Chicago received support for a pair of rapid bus projects: $11 million for the Jeffery BRT corridor, which will improve service to major job center on a route with poor access to trains, and $25 million for a two-mile, east-west bus priority street serving several routes downtown.
  • New York City’s 34th Street busway got an $18 million grant. Streetsblog NYC readers have been following this project for a couple of years. NYCDOT recently announced its intention to make 34th Street the first physically separated busway in the city.
  • One of the surprise winners was Fort Worth, which received about $25 million for a 2.5-mile one-way streetcar loop, intended to serve as the hub in a future network. Streetsblog Network member Fort Worthology called the grant "incredible and extremely positive news" for the larger streetcar project.

You can see the complete list of projects here.

The funds are being distributed through two competitive grant programs that LaHood unveiled last December. The "Urban Circulator" and "Bus and Bus Livability" programs are tied to the Obama administration’s multi-agency livability initiative. The funding streams are separate from DOT’s larger competitive grant program, known as TIGER.

In an announcement this morning, LaHood indirectly tied the transit grants to the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. "This investment by the Obama Administration in our nation’s communities will create jobs, boost economic development and recovery, and further reduce our dependence on oil," he said in a statement. Note: He said "oil," plain and simple. Not "foreign oil."

Advocates for reforming national transportation policy applauded the grant program, noting that demand for funding far outstripped supply. "As the grants show, communities across the country are clamoring to use transportation investments to boost their economy while making their communities better places to live and work," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. "FTA did a great job in rounding up this money to put wheels on President Obama’s livability initiative, but we think that more communities should be able to benefit from these sorts of programs. DOT needs to have more money for smart, accountable, competitive programs like this in the future."

  • Mark Walker

    $18 million for the 34th St. Busway in NYC is nice. But remember when the feds offered us $500 million for implementing congestion pricing? Ah, those were the days (that never were).

  • Bolwerk

    It’s a shame that New York is still not forward-thinking enough to consider employing streetcars on denser bus routes.

    Start with northern Brooklyn. The settlement patterns defined by the Myrtle Avenue El and Lexington Avenue El are still there. Those lines are gone, replaced with lousy buses and the overcrowded G. A smart streetcar or LRT network could connect Red Hook to LIC, and spur across each East River bridge except maybe the Manhattan.

  • Bolwerk, the BMT would not approve of your plan. The BMT’s policy was always to upgrade the technology on the busiest routes first. In Brooklyn, the busiest bus is the one running on Utica, and the next four are Nostrand, Flatbush, and two circumferential routes.

  • Bolwerk

    The “busiest routes” were probably the Myrtle El and Lexington Avenue El. The routes were, frankly, downgraded to buses. There are ~4 pretty slow/busy buses running between Bushwick/Ridgewood and downtown Brooklyn replacing that traffic partly or wholly: the B54, the B38, the B52, and the B26. You can arguably count the B57 too. The B54 certainly exists today to parallel what once was the Brooklyn-running part of the El and a parallel streetcar.

    BTW, there’s still a streetcar terminal under Essex Street that can be glimpsed on the eastern end of the J Train station.

  • Lavern M Wilson

    nice to see the rewarded carry the flows, but its the affordability of livability that needs addressing first, traffic at Ports should tell the story and the direction of those dollars!

    maybe transportation command and Dot can coordinate some better outlooks on what works and who gets it, connecting the big picture, Opportunity:)))our countries RED should allow us to think bigger.

  • Those five routes you mention, combined, have about the same ridership as Utica’s B46.

    Bear in mind, the BMT’s approach was just one way of doing things. The more modern approach in the first world is to build whole networks, which means lines that complement the subway, even if their ridership isn’t the best. Thus, for example, the M14 would be a low priority for upgrade, even though it’s the city’s ninth busiest route, while the M86, which ranks eighteenth, would be a higher priority.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, yes, I was trying to think in terms of economic potential and a few network-oriented possibilities: get more people across the bridges faster, connect disconnected neighborhoods, and de-congest key bus routes – maybe partially the B46 as well, since it does travel that general area, though in another direction. Feeding people into the various subways would be nice, if there’s a market for it. Of course, I have no objection to the B46 becoming a rail option. It’s probably politically untenable because of the severe poverty of its riders.

    I think current ridership is of course important, but it might not always be the best indicator of potential. Frankly, in the case of that area I was talking about (which can broadly be defined as Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, and Fort Greene), current ridership might simply be the consequence of now seven decades of deliberate disinvestment. The els were demolished and the streetcars were torn up, and ever lousier transportation no doubt drove out the bourgeois class – along with traditional housing being replaced with Le Corbusier monstrosity housing projects. The G Train is the only rail link left, and you probably know what most people think of it it – I share their opinion. I used to live in that area. It was pleasant enough sometimes, but had qualities of an urban ghetto. Many middle class people will not live there today on account of its impoverished transportation.

    Really, I wish the city/state would look at building an LRT network and holding it out to the TWU as a potential solution to the OPTO problem. I know, of course, the TWU pretends saying no to OPTO is about safety, but the truth is it’s about jobs. An LRT network can be quickly built and it’s a good opportunity for experienced labor to be “promoted” to motormen on new rail lines, while preserving jobs and expanding connectivity.

  • The problem with Bed-Stuy isn’t poor transportation. The fringes of the neighborhood have the A/C and the J/M/Z, but still don’t attract any middle class people.

    The B46 provides the same service level as the buses that replaced the els, and still gets more ridership. It’s perfectly reasonable that if the els had stayed up, they’d be severely underused, just like the Rockaway subway branches or the Southern Division: there would be too many lines for the amount of demand.

    Past networks should not be the primary influence on where to build or upgrade new lines (and, bear in mind, LRT is only needed on lines with capacity problems; every other putative advantage of LRT over city buses can be implemented on city buses, too. For example, head over to Human Transit and read the latest about Paris’s buses.) Population and travel patterns change: for example, I doubt anyone in New York seriously advocates the return of the Centre Street Loop. It’s understood that what made sense when the city’s primary business hubs were Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn may fail to make sense now that the primary hub is Midtown.

    The only time a past line may make sense solely because it existed or was planned is when its remnants make future construction less expensive. For example, if only old streetcar avenues had their roadbeds built to handle streetcars, then a new streetcar network should leverage the old rights of way to avoid requiring street reconstruction.

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