Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Orleans Mass Transit

A certain European I know likes to say there is no mass transit in New Orleans.  I point out that there are plenty of bus lines and three street cars.  Her reply?  "I think of mass transit as being faster than driving."

While I disagree with the semantics, I do agree with the aesthetics.  In order to be more tempting than propelling yourself by whatever means, public transportation should be more convenient.  Mind you, this is someone who takes the Riverfront street car line to cross the quarter while I forget it even exists.  The Riverfront Line is faster than walking from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue even if you don't catch it on time.

A bus will never be faster than a bicycle unless the bus doesn't have any stops.  RTA buses have stops, plenty of them, most people pay cash with wrinkled, dirty dollars bills the machines can't read.  The buses can take circuitous routes.  I have nothing against a bus.  It just isn't a way to get anywhere in a hurry.

The same can be said of the street cars.  They stop for traffic lights and their tracks can be blocked by cars crossing over.  I understand New Orleans can't have a subway because of the expense of burying a tunnel in mud, but in a city with so many elevated highways on which no commuter pays a fare or a toll, why not an elevated street car line that would zip over traffic and everyone boarding would have already paid before entering the train?

I'm happy enough to take my bicycle anywhere, but for long trips a limited access train would be a nice way to connect the far-flung parts of the vast city of New Orleans and knit it together even more.  While the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority may be too safety-conscious, it does a good job of keeping a dense city connected with all its component parts.

Mass transit is a vital part of New Orleans' civic life and it is a popular tourist attraction and service.  It isn't really a part of the city's identity.  Aside from the three street car lines, every city has mass transit buses and buses are considered the bottom rung on the ladder of options to get around.  Even walking is higher in the hierarchy.

I can't seem to post an image at the moment so I will direct you here, to this link of the Boston transit map that also includes the major bus lines.  The name of the map's code is "subway-spider jpeg."  That's aptly descriptive.  NORTA doesn't publish anything as elegantly simple and certainly not anywhere on signs where the public can read it on the hoof for direction and bearings.

Even with four lines that are composed of tunnels, elevated lines and street-level trolleys, Boston's MBTA is iconic.  It's abstract map arranges how people visualize the city's layout and it is visible throughout the system for reference and reinforcement.  New Orleans doesn't have such a far-reaching or comprehensive system in terms of visibility.

This article isn't a complaint, just a review of different ways of doing business with different expectations.  The MBTA's jurisdiction extends to all the communities around Massachusetts Bay, not just Boston.  NORTA's jurisdiction ends at city limits.  As far as I can tell, only one Jefferson Parish bus connects New Orleans to the airport.

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