Residents squared off at a public meeting Monday night over a plan to extend the Canal Street streetcar line a block past City Park Avenue, with those concerned about the project’s impact on traffic clashing with others who said the extension is needed to prevent pedestrians from having to cross a dangerous intersection to transfer from one transit line to another.
The proposed extension, which would bring the streetcar tracks into the first block of Canal Boulevard, was part of the original plans for the Canal streetcar line, but it was not built then and has been a source of controversy over the years.
The current, $9.7 million proposal includes shelters for transit riders and lighting but is a scaled-back version of the original plan, which called for a building with restrooms and other facilities.
“The goals and objectives are to improve the safety for transit riders using this intersection,” said Fred Basha, the director of infrastructure for TransDev, the company that manages the day-to-day operations of the Regional Transit Authority.
The idea is to bring all the transit riders — those from the streetcar line and the four RTA bus lines and two Jefferson Transit bus lines that stop at the intersection — to a single hub. That would mean riders would not have to cross a busy street on foot to make a transfer to or from the streetcars.
The project also would involve new traffic signals at the Canal Boulevard-City Park Avenue intersection, something Basha said would be an improvement over the stop sign that is now there.
The Federal Transit Administration still has to give the final go-ahead for the project, but that approval is expected in early April. The project would then have to be put out to bid and a contract awarded.
Construction is expected to take between 12 and 15 months, Basha said.
Many residents said such improvements are needed at the intersection.
“I’ve actually seen cars pushing into people trying to cross,” Gerald Burns said. “It’s very dangerous and unpleasant for everybody involved.”
There were 245 accidents that resulted in 80 injuries in the area around the intersection from 2007 to 2009, according to the RTA’s report on the project, which used statistics from the Regional Planning Commission. That total included 28 collisions that involved something other than a motor vehicle, though the statistics do not specify how many of those incidents involved pedestrians.
There were no fatalities at the intersection during that period.
The rate of crashes around the intersection exceeded the statewide average for four-lane divided roadways, according to the report.
But other residents questioned the project’s impact on traffic in the area and argued against spending so much money for such a minor extension of the streetcar line, rather than committing money toward better transit service.
Money for the extension would come from the original funding for construction of the Canal streetcar line, which began rolling in 2004 for the first time in 40 years.
Edward Feinman, who lives in the nearby Lakewood South neighborhood, said the plan would create traffic problems throughout the area, including on nearby streets. That could exacerbate the time it takes for emergency vehicles to reach areas west of the underpass, he said.
“You all should expand your survey and do an honest-to-goodness traffic count on every street,” Feinman said.
Others worried that the centralized hub would create problems with trash and loitering.
But supporters of the project pointed out that the project would not mean new lines or riders would be coming to the area, just that people wouldn’t have to dash across the street to connect to another line.
“We’re just taking the same people from four or five different corners and giving them a safe place,” Alice Crumrine said.
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