For public transit, 2022 could be a huge year. Across the U.S. and around the world, dozens of new train, bus, and streetcar lines are scheduled to begin operations, according to a newly released overview of transit projects compiled by urban researcher Yonah Freemark. After two years of the pandemic slashing ridership, the planned openings of these years-in-the-making transit lines represent a glimmer of hope that public transit is, if not well, at least alive.
“2021 was a particularly bad year for actually getting projects done,” says Freemark, pointing to delays in projects from Honolulu to Washington, D.C. “I think maybe 2022 is the year we get out of that.”
The surge of openings includes 22 fixed guideway lines—think subways and streetcars—as well as dozens of major limited-stop express bus lines in cities across the U.S. Notable projects anticipated to complete construction across the country this year include Boston’s Green Line Extension, San Francisco’s Central Subway, Milwaukee’s lakefront streetcar extension, Minneapolis’s D Line bus rapid transit line, and the Tempe Streetcar in Arizona.
Freemark has been meticulously tracking the progress—or lack of progress—on transit projects around the world since 2009. His website, the Transport Politic, is a favorite among the urban planning and transit-obsessed, and he’s turned his increasingly detailed collection of transit project information into a database called Transit Explorer. The second version of the database lists more than 21,000 transit stations and 5,500 transit lines around the world. Freemark’s list focuses primarily on the U.S., but he’s also begun to track activity in other countries, notably projects that are inching toward operation in Montreal, Cairo, Johannesburg, London, Paris, and Milan.
Over the years, the level of transit development in the U.S. has grown and expanded, says Freemark, who’s also a senior research associate at the Urban Institute. “We have gone from a lot more streetcar projects to some really exciting bus rapid transit projects that I think were not [envisioned] in many U.S. cities 10 years ago,” he says, noting that the U.S. still has a long way to go to catch up with other countries. “I’m optimistic about seeing change, but I’m skeptical that we’re going to see a dramatic expansion in people using transit.”
It also doesn’t help that many of these projects cost billions of dollars and rarely get delivered on time. In Los Angeles, the Crenshaw Line light rail segment that’s expected to begin operating near Los Angeles International Airport this year was originally planned to open in 2020. In New York, the East Side Access commuter rail link anticipated to open this year was originally set to complete construction in 2015—an especially delayed project in a city where subway costs can sometimes skyrocket due to mismanagement, graft, and corruption. “This is a frustrating reality for transit in the United States, and probably other countries,” Freemark says. “We just have trouble being able to actually achieve the deadlines and opportunities we have in front of us.”
Freemark stresses that his list of openings is a reflection of what transit agencies say they’ll be finishing each year and are not necessarily realistic. “Unfortunately, almost every year you see agencies being way too optimistic about what they think they’re going to be able to do,” he says.
Transit agencies around the world have 11 months to hit their ambitious 2022 targets. Freemark will be watching closely.