The Maroon publication of Loyola University reports on reactions to the newly opened N. Rampart streetcar line:
Businesses, residents react to new streetcar line
Following a 70 year absence, the Regional Transit Authority St. Claude/N. Rampart streetcar line has returned.
After 18 months of construction, the $41.7 million streetcar expansion, leading from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue and down N. Rampart Street, began operation on Oct. 2.
Local businesses ranging from restaurants to hotels have offered their stances on what impact this installation will have on the historic stretch of North Rampart.
Rolita Vigne, front desk agent at the French Quarter Suites Hotel on North Rampart, said she noticed a slight decline in business resulting from the noisy construction down the street, but the newfound transportation and bike lane ended up being beneficial for their business.
“Guests were reluctant to stay in the past year resulting from the jackhammers and appearance of the street, but our customers, particularly tourists, greatly appreciate being able to take the streetcar down to Canal Street and find a restaurant or location rather than depending on the RTA bus stops,” Vigne said.
Sam Saadeh, a clerk at Key’s Fuel Mart on North Rampart, laughed that the construction could be a nuisance during the last year, especially for semi-trucks that would bring his station gasoline, but he believes the entire street will benefit from the expansion.
“I think busy seasons like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest will prove this was not a waste of money. Tourists and locals will enjoy being able to get to Canal and past Canal into the Central Business District more easily, and we’re already seeing an increase in traffic to the area,” Saadeh said.
The installation of the line marks a move from the RTA toward restoring infrastructure to areas like St. Claude Avenue, while at the same time preserving the appearance of the street.
Patrice Bell Mercadel, marketing director for the Regional Transit Authority, maintained that providing more access points of transportation in the area, while keeping communication strong with local establishments, was the whole objective of the project.
“We worked to preserve historic light fixtures, repaved the roads for smooth transit for cars and cyclists, and worked with businesses and residents to provide a service that could really increase their business and expand their livelihood in the area,” Mercadel said.
After vocal concern from Treme residents that the neighboring bus routes would be disrupted with the presence of the new St. Claude streetcar line, federal judges worked to ensure that the bus services will go largely unchanged.
They also relieved concerns following a 2015 lawsuit by residents that the line construction would damage buildings and flood streets.
Krewe to Ride N. Rampart Line
The New Orleans Advocate reports that the Rampart streetcar line will provide an homage to the traditional Uptown heralds of Carnival. The streetcar will be filled with masked riders and a band for the inaugural ride of the Societé du Champs Elysées, disembarking at every stop for a toast and some bead throwing before continuing their route from Elysian Fields Avenue to the Union Passenger Terminal and back.
The krewe was inspired by the completion of the new streetcar line and the investment it has brought to nearby neighborhoods below Canal Street, said David Roe, the founder and captain of the krewe. “Already the attitude in the neighborhood has changed,” said Roe, who said he can see the streetcar’s last stop from his porch on Elysian Fields.
Roe was inspired to form the krewe on the first day of the new line, when the streetcar he was riding in was joined by a flash mob of accordionists
The musicians were told they had to stop playing partway through the ride, but Roe said the experience made him think of the Phunny Phorty Phellows, the small but well-established krewe that has marked the beginning of Carnival with its yearly streetcar rides along St. Charles Avenue each Jan. 6 since the early 1980s. That’s when, he said, he “had an epiphany about Epiphany” and decided to form a small group to bring the experience to the downriver neighborhoods.
The Rampart streetcar line, which opened at the beginning of October, has been greeted by skepticism by some who worry it will cater mainly to tourists. But Roe said he’s seen his neighbors using the line frequently, and the new stops and improved lights have encouraged more foot traffic and renovations along North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue, he said.
Roe said the new krewe's membership will be capped at 40 people and most of the spots are filled.
For its first year, Chuck Rogers, who bought Buffa’s Bar and Restaurant on Esplanade Avenue six years ago, will serve as King Kronos. Roe said Rogers was picked because he long saw the potential of the streetcar to revitalize the neighborhood. Al “Carnival Time” Johnson will serve as Titan and will perform at a party after the ride with the Davis Rogan Band at Buffa’s.
In an effort not to overshadow its forebears, the Societé du Champs Elysées won’t start its route until 7:30 p.m., giving the Phunny Phorty Phellows a half-hour head start. The members will get out at each stop for a champagne toast and to throw beads, something that Regional Transit Authority rules prevent them from doing while in the streetcar.
Given the different route lengths, Roe said he hopes the timing means that both streetcar-riding krewes could find themselves on Canal Street at about the same time, separated by a few blocks.
In fact, Roe said he hopes the idea spreads to other streetcar lines. He said he’s heard some Mid-City residents are considering forming a krewe of their own on the Canal Street route. “We want to bring the whole town into this thing,” Roe said.