As mentioned in my Fact Book column, much of how we will look back on 2016 depends on what happens in November, which will be past our press time. Yet 2016, to date, was quite momentous, even without the election results.
Growing number of openings
In 2016, agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico opened more than 170 miles of new major capital projects, including six new bus rapid transit lines comprising roughly 60 miles, more than 45 miles of commuter rail, seven miles of new heavy rail, nearly 40 miles of light rail extensions, and nearly 20 miles of streetcar lines. This total more than doubles the volume and length of new projects opened in North America alone in the year before. Several openings were pushed into 2017 due to various kinds of delays, which would have tripled 2015’s openings if original schedules had held.
More than with other modes, this past year may be known as the year when streetcars made their comeback. In all, seven streetcar projects began revenue service in 2016, including four in cities with no previous modern service (Cincinnati, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.). Several of these systems have had struggles, and many more have been delayed in planning stages (the most prominent of these in Detroit and Los Angeles), which could call into question how many more streetcar projects get this far.
Some of this rapid expansion is the result of the new programs and expenditures that funded public transportation projects in both Canada and the U.S., as well as other countries in Europe and Asia. They are the fruits of political decisions made in response to the global “Great Recession.” It is also in part to the growing recognition that good public transportation is important to a city’s economic development, particularly in attracting business and talent.
The year 2016 also saw a growing interest in what could be several breakthrough technologies, including battery-electric buses, positive train control, and the use of transportation network companies by transit agencies. All of these could portend great change in the coming years.
2017 could be even more eventful
While a lot has happened this year, all of this could even accelerate dramatically next year and through the end of the decade. In the next edition, I will provide a short outlook of what we might expect next year, including possible impacts of the outcomes in the November elections.