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Streetcars to roll back into New Orleans

Vancouver can’t hold a candle to New Orleans when it comes to food or music. And now the Terminal City is trailing the Big Easy in the Greenest City category as well.

Buildings and transportation each account for roughly half of community greenhouse gas emissions. The Lower Ninth Ward is already on track to displace the Olympic Village as the largest neighbourhood of LEED Platinum Homes in the world. And now the Crescent City is rebuilding its streetcar lines.

New Orleans announced plans last week to spend up to $90 million rebuilding its historic streetcar lines. The new lines will reconnect Canal Street, the city's main boulevard, with the working-class and Creole neighbourhoods such as Bywater, Marigny and Treme.

The city will build 2 1/2 miles of streetcar lines by the end of 2013. One will run from the French Quarter eastward down Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue. A spur track would go down Elysian Fields Avenue, the street where Stanley and Stella Kowalski live in Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, "A Streetcar Named Desire"

As was the case in Vancouver, New Orleans' streetcars once stretched into every corner of the city. And like Vancouver, New Orleans ripped up its tracks in the middle of the 20th Century. By the 1960s, the Big Easy was left with only a single line running past the mansions of St. Charles Avenue. That line remains and its olive-green cars carry school children, commuters and tourists through the city's Garden District.

Unlike Vancouver, New Orleans' streetcar comeback is gaining momentum.

A short line used almost exclusively by tourists was constructed along the Mississippi River in the French Quarter in 1988. Then, the city restored its first major streetcar line in 2004 when a residential line was added along Canal Street. Last year, transportation officials announced plans to build a one-mile line in the city's Central Business District.

Tuesday's announcement was considered a major breakthrough. For years, officials have talked about bringing back a line on the Downtown side.

"We fully expect the presence of this rail line will have a catalytic effect," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "It doesn't just move people, it also creates economic development. It fits with our culture, it fits with our history."

New Orleans leaders hope this isn't the end of the line for streetcar expansions. They are seeking federal help to expand lines down St. Claude Avenue -- crossing Desire Street -- and loop back to the French Quarter along the Mississippi River.

Monte Paulsen researches sustainability for the nonprofit Tyee Solutions Society. This article includes a report from The Canadian Press.

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