The Austin Chronicle

LIGHT RAIL U.S.A.: A Quick Scorecard on Other Cities

April 4, 1997, News

Atlanta has light rail as part of the extensive MARTA system, given its baptism by fire during the 1996 Olympics.

Baltimore has light rail, built and operated by the state transportation department. Is running into resistance from neighboring counties toward expanding the system as far as Annapolis.

Boise got the RegioSprinter for a four-month demonstration, compared to the 10 days we had it. No decision yet.

Buffalo has light rail, much of which runs underground to avoid the nasty weather. Has long contemplated a joint venture with transit authorities across the Canadian border in Niagara Falls.

Cleveland, of course, the nation's most famous urban-rebirth success story, has a light rail line.

Columbus is still at the civil-discourse stage. Columbus' mayor is a vocal light rail skeptic.

Dallas just opened the nation's newest light rail system. Also embarking on high-speed commuter rail in partnership with Fort Worth.

Denver has light rail, and recently broke ground on a new line.

Edmonton has the first system to actually be called "light rail," built in 1972.

Los Angeles's vast (400+ miles) MetroRail system has been more successful than most Angelenos predicted. Recent construction has run into engineering problems, including the embarrassing collapse of a stretch of Hollywood Blvd.

Memphis has light rail connecting the city to the Mud Island/Harbortown development, a New Urbanist showpiece.

Miami is one of the few cities to embark on both light and heavy rail projects. Early construction was hampered by engineering setbacks, most of which seem to have been solved.

Minneapolis/St. Paul is planning light rail as part of what might be the nation's most ambitious attempt to re-engineer an existing city for transit-oriented development.

Newark has the nation's oldest light-rail system, built in the 1930s back when they were still called "streetcars."

Portland is the granddaddy of modern American systems, but the MAX's plans to extend southward into Clackamas County are on hold after Oregonians rejected, in the wake of a bitter statewide campaign, a state appropriation to support the project.

Rochester -- hoping to duplicate Cleveland's example, the formerly rotting Roch-Cha-Cha is well on the way to building light rail.

Sacramento is proof that building one line, no matter how successful, does not guarantee smooth sailing for the next. The Big Tomato's RT Metro is now beginning work on its second rail line, six years behind schedule.

St. Louis has a similar tale to Baltimore's -- the Bi-State Development Agency's MetroLink, part of St. Louis' own urban-revitalization success story, was rejected by suburban voters who instead wanted plain old bus service.

Salt Lake City -- if you thought our fight was nasty, the Utah Transit Authority's light rail plan is running into resistance from anti-tax, property-rights conservatives who make Terry Keel look like a socialist; it became one of the main issues in SLC's last Congressional race.

San Diego -- the San Diego Trolley has done well, having become the method of choice for getting to the Mexican border.

San Francisco/San Jose, which has light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail, along with extensive bus service, is looking to expand light rail systems in both these cities.

Seattle has limited light rail -- along with the only monorail used for public transit in the U.S. -- but is working on a major plan ("SoundMove," as in Puget Sound) to serve the entire Seattle/Tacoma area. As one Rain City journalist puts it, "We do everything Portland does, 20 years later and at twice the cost." -- M.C.M.

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