41 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: El Paso Streetcar”

  1. In El Paso right now. It’s obvious how closely entwined the two cities are. The Rio Grande is a muddy trickle in a concrete ditch (think the Los Angeles River, but narrower).

    Beto would have made a great Senator; he grew up in an International city.

    1. Yeah, they really are twin cities, separated by an international border. You can see in the map (https://goo.gl/maps/3mkzH4GDPWq) how close downtown El Paso is to the southern border (and how development in Jaurez spreads south from there).

      In contrast, San Diego and Tijuana are just too far from each other. Sprawl connects the two, but only because San Diego is so huge (and sprawling). Windsor, Ontario is really just an industrial suburb of Detroit (which has many industrial suburbs). Niagara Falls is pretty much evenly split, but not in the same league as far as size.

      El Paso and Jaurez are one of the worlds great twin cities, with no obvious match in North America (if the world). It is a shame that twenty years after passing NAFTA, the border is as tough to cross as ever.

  2. Recently Juarez has been investing tremendously in the development of its city just across the bridge and taking out the “seediness” of the area in the process. If Beto beats out Trump in two years I see the line moving across the bridge.

  3. Investment is about to boom in downtown El Paso. About a dozen primarily located but dilapidated downtown buildings owned by a miser were recently auctioned off to some of the wealthiest Texans in the state. This and the fact that a new arena and future soccer stadium are in the works bode well for the city. Building around this line will be substantial in the coming years.

    1. One thing about futbol, er “soccer”: Much as El Paso would love to have an MLS club, I have seen no interest from MLS to open a franchise in El Paso. FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami (formerly known as Beckam United), Austin, Sacramento, and San Antonio are the sites talked up on MLS’ website. The franchise fee for each will get higher and higher. MLS owners are shooting for a 29-club league, which leaves scant hope for El Paso.

      Any new downtown futbol sports palace would be about a mile from el Stadio Benito Juarez, where plays FC Juarez, a club that, through promotion and avoiding relegation, could soon end up in Liga MX, North America’s actual best futbol league, by far. I’m puzzled why any investors would waste money on a non-starter prayer to get an MLS Club, when they could invest in FC Juarez, and potentially make a fortune by getting lucky and finding themselves suddenly co-owners of a Liga MX club.

      Just make crossing the bridge more enticing, and El Pasoan futbol fans will become a larger and larger presence in el stadio. For El Pasoans afraid of taking their cars across the border, extending the streetcar back into Juarez might fit the bill. Yeah, I realize today’s border control practices make that impractical. It is painful enough wasting an hour in line and have everything we carry with us get put through a scanner just because we enter and exit Canada via transit. And then we wait in another (but much faster) line, have whatever we carry get scanned again to get into a futbol match that barely counts as rivalry. But it is still worth it.

      1. The USL (Locomotives) start play in the new Southwest Park in 2019. Meantime the Locomotives are looking for a suitable site for a new downtown stadium. MSL is 20+ years away.

  4. I was in El Paso just a couple days ago. I’ll have more to say about the streetcars, the new Brio, the new transit center network, the route restructures, etc, later.

    I grew up in El Paso. The death of the streetcars was before I remember. Ironically, while El Paso went on to become the safest city in America, before accounting for traffic deaths, Juarez went on to become the murder capital of Mexico, thanks largely to the drug cartel wars, as well as the poor pay for Mexican law enforcement officials. El Pasoans grew to fear for their lives crossing the border. Mexicans continued to cross the border daily at the bridges, to get to their jobs, and then go back home at night. That has been the major source of ridership, with nearly all the routes converging on Plaza San Jacinto, several blocks north of the bridge at the north end of the popular downtown tiendas district, until a few years ago when the transit centers were opened.

    The downtown transit center is a few blocks away from the plaza now, on the far west end of downtown, next to the brand new minor league baseball stadium, replacing the minor league baseball stadium in northeast El Paso that replaced the minor league baseball stadium just east of downtown. The taxpayers never learn that the “multi-purpose sports centers” they keep on getting conned into paying for are still nothing but single-use baseball stadia.

    The tiendas are still bustling. The bridges are places of heavy car and foot traffic, with an express lane on one of the bridges for bikes. The housing on the outskirts of downtown appears to have barely changed in decades. There are single-story stucco houses next to downtown, and along the border, painted in traditional pink, lime green, and yellow – stuff that would never survive design review in Seattle. There is some housing above the tiendas, and a handful of multi-story tenements in the eastern portion of downtown.

    The rest of the city is overwhelmingly single-family sprawl and the occasional two-story apartment complex, stretching over the horizon, with I-10 clogged despite having up to 6 lanes each way in the city center to carry all those cars. I don’t know whether zoning or cheap desert land is to blame for the sprawl. One can buy a house for under a quarter million dollars in most of the suburbaneque neighborhoods.

    El Paso is roughly twice the land footprint of Juarez, with roughly a quarter the population of Juarez. Juarez has some buildings that are a few stories tall, but mostly, people are just used to living in tighter quarters. There is a distinctly different feel to the housing, the businesses, and the traffic on the two sides of the river. Crossing an arterial on foot in Juarez can be downright scary if you are too accustomed to American traffic lights.

    1. This is exactly why I-1631 didn’t pass. Macron will soon learn there are better ways to solve climate issues.

    2. You must still be hopping mad that we didn’t get to vote on the last gas tax increase for new highway construction, the other part of the bill that authorized ST3.

      1. My own theory is that only remaining car-related problems will be one, evacuating hundreds of thousands of people from cars which, no matter how much fuel their gas tanks are carrying, have completely occupied every inch of space in America.

        And two, how top return a trillion tons of metal to the Mesabi iron range, and wherever the great fiberglass deposits finally ran out of salable car body material. Whose use is frustrating normal removal process, which requires a Sikorski helicopter with a 100′ rotor sweep and a cable with a giant donut shaped magnet at the bottom.

        Almost time for NPR and “Let’s Do The Numbers”. Though only question is which market will crash first, steel, fiberglass, or thousands of rescue helicopters with no more fuel or room to land. Any bets?

      2. Big differences!

        Gas taxes for tangible projects such has North Spokane highway, I-90 and other known projects vs taxes for the sake of taxing with no specified projects.

        Gas tax “put Washington into a tie with New York…” ….” for the nation’s third-highest gasoline tax. Lets add I-1631 so we can be #1!

  5. El Paso did a nice job with the layout of the system. El Paso currently runs 3 BRTs to the streetcar line which will be a nice people mover for the bus arrivals. However El Paso has also recently maxed out the I-10 choke point in the city. In 20+ years they’re going to have to start thinking light rail if they want to continue their growth, ie, no more room for possible I-10 expansion.

    1. TXDoT is proposing to make Montana Ave, the path of the planned fourth Brio, another freeway into downtown.

      Only one of the Brios is open yet, the Mesa one serving the rich Westside, and more-or-less duplicating the streetcar path between the downtown transit center and UTEP. I’m writing a review of both.

      El Paso can’t possibly afford a light rail line unless the federal government pays for most of it. Heck, restoring old ugly streetcars was the only way the new line(s) was/were possible.

      The Alameda Brio will be a good test of whether there is enough potential ridership through the densest stretch of the Lower Valley to Ysleta and maybe Socorro. I’m also not sure where a light rail line would fit unless it is built as an at-grade streetcrawler on Alameda, in mixed traffic. Continue the Alameda Brio line on up to UTEP, and that will test the best-case scenario for a path. And then do everything possible to speed it up, and see how that impacts ridership. And then come up with multi-modal strategies to solve the last-several-miles problem. Alameda is decently situated to serve some cross bus-routes south of I-10, but I don’t see people riding a train, much less a Brio bus on Alameda, to get to most of the semi-rich Eastside north of I-10.

      1. I posted my response at about the same time you did. It sounds like we are saying much the same thing, but you have a better understanding of the area. The only thing I disagree with is that I think the streetcars look kind of cool. If your goal is to revitalize an area, or attract tourists, then classic streetcars seems like the way to go.

    2. Hard to see how light rail would work for the area. As mentioned, the city sprawls quite a bit, with most of the density very close to downtown (https://arcg.is/fe50T). I could see a line from the university to downtown, but that is about it.

      I think the so called BRT routes* are the right way to go. Ridership is by no means big, nor are the buses frequent (by big city standards). Ten minute peak frequency along with 15 minute off peak is fine, but obviously shows room to grow. Ridership, at least according to them, is not especially high on the first line: about 50,000 a month (not a day). It seems like it would make the most sense to max that out first by increasing frequency as well as adding more right of way (which they would have to do with light rail to make it worth building anyway). I’m afraid if they went with light rail they would probably create a system like Sacramento’s: infrequent, with poor ridership outside of the core of the city.

      Wikipedia doesn’t call them BRT routes, but express routes. Apparently they have little in the way of exclusive right of way, but at least have signal priority.

    3. I’ve ridden the Mesa Brio when it first opened. I just assumed that two others were operational by now; it has been what seems ages ago since Mesa Brio opened.

      They’ve done studies for light rail and commuter rail to Las Cruses; i would have to do some digging for the specifics. Sure, feds and state would have to foot the bill, just like they footed the streetcar and Brio. But note I said 20+ years and I-10 and Montana are not complete yet.

      They used the old ugly streetcars, more than anything, because the old-timers wanted them. To restore and modernize those things was not cheap.

      i found it:

      1. That’s a little different, though, isn’t it? That just looks like classic commuter rail (run a train on existing track) as opposed to laying new rail. That seems quite reasonable as a way to avoid rush hour traffic. The alternative is to add HOV lanes to the freeway (which is probably more expensive). Both of those are different than running a new light rail somewhere within the city (which is what I thought you were talking about).

      2. That I-10 stretch from beyond Anthony to far east El Paso can be a nasty parking lot. It will be interesting following how I-10, Paisano and Trans-Mtn expansion alleviates it.

        The problem is they keep tearing up the state park (Franklins) and building sprawl. And given New Mexico has significantly lower property taxes doesn’t help!

      3. @RossB The discussion at one time was light rail. Most recently it turned to commuter. It’s always changing. But the point is, the Franklin Mountains and Mexican border form a major league choke point. In 20 or so years, assuming the fringe sprawl and downtown development continue, El Paso will need a Bertha or rail like solution.

      4. Definitely not light rail. That would be like building light rail between Everett and Bellingham. Non-starter.

        A key factor for commuter rail is the missing major stop: UTEP. I have a bad feeling the new second freeway northwest of downtown, a.k.a. “The Border Wall”, is removing any space where a UTEP station with a half-mile bike ride to campus could have been.

        Las Crucens and other Upper Valley residents who work and/or study at UTEP would probably take a reasonably-frequent peak-hour train that gets within (somewhat long) walking distance of campus, but might be less inclined to take it if they then have to back-track on a semi-frequent Brio or streetcar. I’ll reserve my comments on the quality of that backtrack ride for later.

        In the meantime, the public transit options between El Paso and Las Cruces appear to be nearly nonexistent. Average wait-time of a half hour even during peak, plus an hour and nine minutes for the milk run, is horribly uncompetitive with hitchhiking. Having a semi-frequent two-way peak bus route to start building non-car commuting seems an important step toward convincing the feds that a commuter rail line is justifiable.

      5. You’re right, the way TXDOT has been spending billions on roads in El Paso the chance of rail becomes less likely. This last decade has seen the disappearance of major options. The only option for UTEP is probably down at Union station. But even then there is no good connection to

        UTEP did recently purchase ASARCO land. Maybe an entry through the “back door” is a possibility. UTEP went through tremendous growth this last 10 years and appears to have choked itself off from any other transpo access points.

      6. Given that the freight line is as far as it is from campus, and the half-mile walk in between is the Car River Stynx, a shuttle or two from Asarco Station across campus, picking up right after the commuter train departs, would probably be a master stroke.

        UTEP has acres of parking sewers to turn into classrooms. It is just a matter of priorities, and allowing buildings more than four stories tall that still meet the Bhutanese architectural style book. And do they really still need two stadia on campus?

      7. I think the Texas Tech expansion has taken the wind out of UTEPs need for much more expansion. You’re right, they do have some huge parking lots near Sunset Heights and Sunbowl drive, and also the old Chevy dealership yet to develop. There are options.

        Personally, I would love for the Sunset to expand to daily service and the streetcar to have made a stop at Union Station. From what I’ve read, it sounds like the students are loving the streetcar.


      8. Having taken courses at UTEP I particularly liked this quote:

        “Anguiano disagrees adding that the streetcar is a great and new form of public transportation that is perfect for the UTEP community including the students that take the Sun Metro buses to UTEP.

        “If you want to take a quick bite, but don’t want to move your car from a UTEP parking lot out of fear that there won’t be any spots when you get back, you might want to opt for the streetcar. It’s less complicated than a bus,” Anguiano said.

        Whereas the Brio is perfect for moving maids up Mesa St to the wealthier west side residences, the streetcar is perfect for quick hops between Cincinnati and downtown destinations.

    4. The only thing I would disagree with somewhat is that statement about the restored cars being “the best of both worlds”.

      I like having historic looking cars around, but Seattle did a much better job of getting the “best of both worlds” because the Benson line had raised platforms to allow floor level boarding. There are a lot of reasons to avoid using lifts when it is possible to do so.

      Sadly, the only remaining low floor heritage streetcar I know of is in pieces in Australia (a Perth Hedley-Doyle Stepless car), awaiting restoration.

    5. On San Francisco’s F line the prewar streetcars are loud and bumpy, while the 1950s streetcars are as quiet and smooth as modern ones. So I hope El Paso’s restoration restored only the decor, and not the noise and bumpiness. There’s such a thing as adhering too closely to tradition.

  6. One of the pleasant surprises I got while in El Paso was getting to attend a charette down at the Ysleta reservation’s courthouse, put on by TXDoT. The topic: land use.

    TXDoT is guiding conversations on changing land use patterns in Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario, “the Mission Trail”, before adjusting Alameda and Socorro Blvd to fit planned uses.

    A bike trail is on the menu and likely to happen, albeit largely not on the busy arterials.

    Taller (as in 2-3 story) urban villages around the four-century-old Socorro and San Elizario missions are getting a lot of support from stakeholders.

    They used anonymous electronic voting devices so that everyone in the room had an equal voice, with no pressure from rich loud-mouth bullies to keep their hands down.

    My only complaint was that TXDoT assumed everyone wanted no net loss of parking spaces around the missions. While I didn’t participate in the voting, I knew others in the room who would have gladly voted to reduce car parking spots to improve street activation.

  7. Every comment above makes sense, and well worth the time to read. However, we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted from our main problem by believing there is how to get Carl Jackson back here at bullet train speed at a time when there aren’t any. An assumption now visibly proven false.






    While it is true that in theory an 80 mile an hour bullet train can also run stop-sign-controlled city and small-town streets is indeed possible, the concept and some other things fall apart when a train operator with five minutes’ training has to bring speed down to thirty for a curve long-known to be dangerous with only a road sign to mark the exact place where he was passing the sign at 80.

    Also, every week ever fewer people remembered what a “malted milk” even was when their freckles faded and all their teeth got straightened. Or insisted that no reputable pharmacy would come to smell more like plastic wrap than honest iodine. Also, customer base required ever fewer five foot high milk cans be delivered. And no tractor motors at all.

    Usually only use YouTube before midnight to see which adorable intelligent well-educated early-twenty year old nazi (who always makes it clear that they are not one) is front runner for Miss Auschwitz Boxcar of 2018 instead snapped my attention .

    But this time, (she really is cute, maybe we can give her a Kiddie ORCA card with her own little swastika on it to remind her that our fare inspectors all carry Lugers in case she taps on without tapping off) there suddenly flashed before me the solution to this day’s true topic in the face of not politically-correctly having one.


    Now we see real purpose for the CCC. That orange car will clear Thomas Street at sixty, and will be a little blazing comet when it demolishes five cars in the Stadium parking lot on its way to Texas via the BN tracks. Assuring that now Carl will be able to supervise operations temporarily out of both Fairview and El Paso ’til Tierra del Fuego LINK opens in 21whatever.

    Should be at least enough time to demolish Amazon’s ugliest all-black-glass building across from the car-barn, and restore Cafe Moka, so that Cafe Kakao will once again have competition worthy of it. Though will get with Carl about the field-testing to let one of those PCC’s beat that Skoda as it goes screaming past Alderwood.

    Just to show that if we can get Broadway closed to traffic going by Swedish Hospital, a least these pages will never again say buses are faster. Wish I could come visit you, but Texans all know that minute I was born at Fort Sam Houston, the doctor handed me a Springfield and pointed out the window to show me what a Confederate was.


  8. I thought the Waterfront Shuttle was over with the tourist season but they were running today. Anyone know the story?

    1. Long Island City is not the entire New York City, and New York City has much better transit access to it than Pugetopolis does to South Lake Union. I hear the subways are at capacity but they can figure out something about that given all the new taxes the Amazon jobs will bring.

      New York does not have to consult the STB comment section because it allowed highrises and mixed use throughout Manhattan and in large parts of Brooklyn and Queens decades before Pugetopolis allowed small urban centers in downtown Bellevue and SLU. Take any bus in Mahattan and tell me how many single-family houses you see. I’m not as sure about Brooklyn and Queens because I’ve seen only parts of them, but in any case they have multifamily areas as large as West Seattle.

      1. Quiz time. If Amazon and their workers aren’t even there yet, and supply isn’t an issue, why are rents skyrocketing?

        Sam. Fluent in 27 languages.

      2. The article says “sale prices” not rents. These may all be condos. The rentals may be rent-controlled. Prices are skyrocketing because there are enough buyers able and willing to pay the high prices, and the article says they’re doing it because they think they’ve struck a gold mine if the price is sustained over the years. The same thing happens in Seattle. The sellers will raise the prices as far as they can until they can’t get enough buyers; and rents work the same way.

        But there isn’t not just one housing market: there are different markets for owning and renting, and at different income levels, and at different locations. Because it’s not the same set of people that are willing to either buy or rent, at every price point, at every location. If more buyers/renters are competing in one of these submarkets, sellers/landlords can sustain higher prices. So you’re looking at the specific subset of people who can pay a premium, and think it’s an attractive investment or are willing to pay that price to avoid commuting. Most of them are probably millionaire investors, not future Amazon workers. Most Amazon workers will likely be shut out by the prices.

  9. The war on cars moves to Spain. Madrid bans cars from downtown. 100 other cities are next.

    “The greater level of support in Spain could be partly down to the layout of the country’s cities, which are not just dense, but hyper-dense. Across Europe, only Paris matches the heavy concentrations of residents found on Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia… Spanish suburbs, meanwhile, are often denser than many North American downtowns, with large numbers of people living in taller buildings and more likely to be exposed to road traffic. The issue of pollution in dense urban areas is thus a central one to a large section of the population. It may not be a coincidence that the only major European city to have something similar to Madrid’s ultra-low emissions zone is Paris, the only other European metropolis to match Spain’s urban densities.”

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