Category Archives: Transportation development

The “Trabway”



Traffic in downtown Casa has been particularly congested in the last few months due to tramway construction. Drivers found some boulevards suddenly reduced from four lanes to two, and the historic Boulevard Mohammed V is almost completely blocked. Here’s what it looks like these days:

I think Casa is still in the “grumbly” phase of this major infrastructure project, because I’ve rarely seen much enthusiasm from Casaouis about the new Tramway, scheduled to be finished on 11/11/2011. One friend told me that the project is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “trabway.” “Trab” means dirt, which is all that we see so far of the tramway project.

A rep from Casa Tramway says that the company did a lot of outreach, both to take into account the public’s input and to let them know about the project once it was underway–where to park, how to drive around the blocked streets, etc–but having never heard of any of this from anyone else I’m skeptical about the efficacy of their outreach… (although a very cute animated tram popped up today on their website to give tips on avoiding roads under construction)

It’s hard to imagine how a city will look like, and feel, and function, once a project like this is completed, but here in Morocco Casablanca will not the guinea pig. Rabat, just an hour away, is very close to offering tram service to the public. Right now the system is up and running, but only on a testing basis. What a tease…

In my very unscientific poll of taxi drivers in Rabat, I’ve found that there are some mixed, but generally positive, feelings about the tramway. The construction and newly narrowed boulevards have caused some traffic headaches, I’m sure, but at least the project has taken shape. And compared to the mess that is downtown Casa right now, boy does Rabat look sleak and sexy. Check out the “zellige” (mosaic) motif on the trams.

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Filed under Casablanca, Morocco, Rabat region, Transportation development, urban development, Urban Morocco

New modes of circulation in Rabat


I was in Rabat last weekend and I got to re-take some pictures that I’d lost on my first trip (earlier post: “Which is better, Rabat or Casa?”)

Tramway construction is well under way in Rabat, and in some places is in test-run mode.

In the meantime, this particular tramway route serves as a pedestrian-friendly area along the walls of the medina. It’s a rare open space where people don’t have to compete with cars, and during my walk I didn’t see so much as a moped or donkey cart. It’s not meant as a pedestrian hang-out spot, and there isn’t much along the road besides some bench-like structures right near the wall.

In some spots it’s clear that the tramway track area is not meant for circulation, but the fence that encloses those areas can easily be pushed aside. It’s just too useful an alternative to the very busy Hassan II boulevard, which runs parallel to the wall, or the inside of the medina, which is congested all day long, to resist the shortcut.

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Filed under Rabat region, Transportation development, urban development, Urban Morocco

“Which is better, Rabat or Casa?”


I feel full of energy and enthusiasm after spending the weekend in Rabat. Or I should say returning to Rabat. Although even as I write this I’m coming down from my high because it’s around midnight and I’ve finally adjusted to the different time zone. One week, right on schedule.

Rabat is at the same time exactly as I remember it and drastically changed in the past five years. The few months I spend living in the medina were the most stimulating of my life so far, so I have every detail of my stay burned into memory. I’ve been away long enough that all the children I knew have grown a foot or more, but I feel like I never left when I hang out with Safa and her family or walk around the medina. I am happy to brag that I was walking around with a fellow Ambassadorial Scholar and found the English bookstore on my first try—I’d only been there once. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I have to say that I did get a little bit confused when I thought it would be fun to try to find my way from the CCCL to my homestay family’s old house…

The city is undergoing a lot of exciting changes. The tramway I mentioned last year is underway, and I really hope to see it in operation. Construction is a pain, but it looks promising.

I wouldn’t have really noticed the quality of the roadways in 2005 since I almost never left the medina but Safa says that the city has done a lot of repaving. Oh, and I did a double take when I saw…a bike lane!

The riverfront has been completely redeveloped, although on the other bank it looks like about half a dozen hotels sit unfinished. That project was started not too long before the economy went down the tubes. They were supposed to accommodate the ten million tourists who were supposed to visit Morocco in 2010.

Yes I know, all this would be more interesting with pictures, but I accidentally erased all of mine from this weekend.

I also paid a visit to the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning, which houses the SIT program I attended. After catching up with a few wonderful staff members, I had the surreal experience of sitting in on an orientation lecture with the newly arrived American students. They spent the last fifteen minutes of class discussing how to be a guest in this country, and what it means to be sensitive and respectful in an unfamiliar culture.

On Saturday night I gave my first formal introduction in Arabic—and to a minister, no less. A real bigwig, apparently, although neither Safa nor I can remember what he’s the minister of. The occasion was a very fancy ftour hosted by I’m not sure who, but attended by members of Safa’s Young Researchers Association. I was underdressed. In any case, I am always a little bit lost these days but found myself sitting at the table where louazir wanted introductions all around. So I let loose: Ana Taliba fi bi3ta tha9afia bilmaghreb min Chicago, 3andi minha min ljama3ia Rotary linqra fi 7assan teni. *

*I am a cultural exchange researcher in Morocco, from Chicago. I can have a scholarship from the Rotary foundation to study at Hassan II.

This weekend I also reached the point where I actually believed that I will be conversant in derija by the end of the year. It’s one thing to be given that assurance by everyone here, it’s another to actually start to understand whole bits of conversation.

As for the title: Rabat and Casa, like Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, are only an hour away from each other by train. The rivalry is alive and well, and I am being pressured from both sides to accept that each is better than the other. Recording vocabulary in my little red book was confusing this past weekend because Casaoui and Rbati derija are slightly different. I am sure to get some laughs when I use a Rbati word in Casa, or a Casaoui word in Rabat.

This picture business is getting silly. I promise to work on that.

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Filed under Ambassadorial Scholarship, Arabic, Casablanca, derija, Rabat region, Rotary, Transportation development, Uncategorized, urban development, Urban Morocco

Illinois Adopts H + T as Planning Tool : Center for Neighborhood Technology


Some news from Chicago’s own Center for Neighborhood Technology. Full article below.

The bottom line is that the state of Illinois buys into the importance of factoring in both housing and transportation costs when making planning decisions, and when assessing the impact of planning projects on households.

Why is this important? As we have become more aware of the environmental impact of relying on cars, and as increased housing costs have driven people farther away from jobs, organizations like CNT have advocated for more “transit-oriented development.”

Illinois’s adoption of the “H + T” planning tool represents a victory for transportation development advocates.

Taken from the CNT website (emphasis mine):

In an important step toward creating affordable communities, the Illinois legislature has adopted the measure of housing and transportation affordability as a planning tool for five agencies and as a consideration for those agencies’ investment decisions in metro areas.

Senator Kwame Raoul led the effort to pass the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index Act (SB 347) in the Illinois Senate last month, and on Tuesday the bill passed in the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, led by Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, Chief Sponsor, and seven co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

CNT has been working with Illinois legislators since early 2009 to advance this valuable piece of legislation that applies CNT’s framework of combining housing and transportation costs to planning and making public investment decisions.

Used as a planning tool, the H + T Affordability IndexSM can effectively measure the impacts on household budgets that result from public investments, so that decision makers can choose investments that make sense for our taxpayer dollars as well as for our individual wallets.

Five state agencies participated in the development of this legislation that will provide better access to the costs of both housing and transportation. Having a tool to use as a benchmark will give these agencies the ability to screen how investment decisions will impact the cost of living for residents in metro areas.

The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), the Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) can use CNT’s H+T Affordability Index, or a similar measure that includes both housing and transportation costs, to screen and prioritize public investments in MPO areas. In addition, the Capital Development Board (CDB) and the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) will recommend the use of the Index for new siting decisions.

By encouraging public investments that take advantage of existing areas of greater density, which all communities have, the State is taking initial steps that contribute to lowering the cost of living for families.

Illinois has the opportunity to set a valuable example to other states for how the use of combined housing and transportation data can move regions towards decisions that create more sustainable and equitable growth. While the Partnership for Livable Communities is driving Federal priorities to coordinate housing, transportation and environmental investments, Illinois is leading the states by example to create better and more affordable places to live and work.

CNT joins state leaders to now urge Governor Quinn to sign the Housing + Transportation Affordability Act into law with no delay.

Illinois Adopts H + T as Planning Tool : Center for Neighborhood Technology.

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Filed under Chicago, Housing, Transportation development, urban development

Improving quality of life through urban development in Bogotá


This morning I’m super pumped after reading an article on pedestrian and bike-friendly urban design initiatives in Bogotá, Colombia. (Can We Design Cities for Happiness? shareable.net)

The article focuses on the basic premise that development should aim to improve people’s quality of life.

I have a ton of questions after reading this article, which zooms in on Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá of three years. He’s described as a tireless advocate for “promoting human happiness.”

Here’s a key excerpt:

Peñalosa’s ideas stand as a beacon of hope for cities of the developing world, which even with their poverty and immense problems will absorb much of the world’s population growth over the next half-century. Based on his experiences in Bogotá, Peñalosa believes it’s a mistake to give up on these cities as good places to live.

That last sentence really resonates, because this is not the first time in history that people have looked at rapidly-growing cities with fear and pity for its teeming denizens. (see Dickens’ London, Hugo’s Paris, et j’en passe).

I like that, according to Peñalosa, quality of life isn’t a trivial matter:

“We live in the post-communism period, in which many have assumed equality as a social goal is obsolete,” [Peñalosa] explains. “Although income equality as a concept does not jibe with market economy, we can seek to achieve quality-of-life equality.”

The list of the city’s accomplishments under Peñalosa’s is dizzying–major public transportation projects, huge increase in green space and pedestrian-friendly zones, improved water systems, to name a few.

Yet this article serves as a good example of the cult of the “social entrepreneur.” That is to say, the idea that social progress happens thanks to the tireless efforts of extraordinary people. There’s an aura of magic around such stories. Sure, they’re inspirational, but they tend to ignore the larger socio-political context, and therefore give us a skewed idea of how to go about replicating such a model–or if that’s even possible.

I want to know what, besides the mayor’s charisma, made these developments happen! What kind of political support, and resistance, did his administration have? How long did it take to develop these projects? And for good measure I hope some impact analysis is in the works. I’d be sad if this image of urban improvement were too good to be true.

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Filed under South America, Transportation development, urban development, urbanisation

New tramway connects Rabat and Salé



It was announced last week that testing will begin on a tramway that will link Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, with Salé, a city that sits right across the Bouragreg river just 6.5 km, or a little over 4 miles, away.

The tram line has been built and will undergo eights months of testing. It’s scheduled for general public use starting in January 2011. If things move according to schedule I’ll be able to report on the tramway en direct!

Magharebia.com reported that the price of a one-way ticket between the two cities will run around 6.5 to 7 dirhams. That amounts to approximately 80 cents. According to Magharebia, this is less than the current cost to travel between the two cities.

Normally, the same commute requires taking either a city bus or a “grand taxi.” Grand taxis are larger than normal taxis and cover bigger distances. Typically, you pay for or negotiate the price for your seat and wait until there are enough passengers to fill the car before driving on to your destination.

You can also cross the Bouragreg in small boats. (**edit: no longer! see comments below) There has been so much development in the region, particularly along the coast in the region that the agency overseeing regional development (Agence pour l’Aménagement de la Vallée du Bouragreg) reached an agreement with the boat owners whereby the “barcassiers” would be paid to sit by during some riverside development.

One student is quoted in Magharebia as saying that her commute by bus from Salé to Soussi University in Rabat normally takes three hours. If the tram system works, it will greatly ease commute times.

Here, in wanting to comment on this news, I bump into my lack of knowledge not only about the new tramway network (I can fill in some of those holes thanks to Google) but also the bigger political picture. What does urban and transit development look like in Morocco?

TelQuel, an incredibly valuable francophone source for political news (sometimes to its detriment–the editors have been sued and censured several times) has an article out today on a proposal by the Interior Minister to create a structure, independent of municipal planning agencies, that will facilitate the “Bouragreg Valley Project.” (**edit: the article is actually a several years old.) The project covers not only the Tramway, but also various transportation, commercial, and tourism development. According to TelQuel, these are projects that would normally have to be submitted to the review of various local governing bodies or committees. The Bouragreg Valley project has the blessing of the king, however, which will expedite the process. The urban development agency of Rabat has been told, for instance, that authorization for development projects is delegated by the “administration” in the first place (meaning the national government, i.e. the king), and as such can be taken away.

The implication, of course, is that a rubber stamp government serves mostly to turn the wishes of the king into reality. This is a recurring theme in TelQuel’s coverage of Moroccan news.

The Tramway offers a great example of the puzzle of urban development–that is, fitting together the picture of day-to-day city life with the process of pushing ahead with development meant to improve people’s lives and contribute to the general health of a region.

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Pour mes amis francophones, obtenez plus d’infos sur le réseau tramway, ainsi que sur la région, ici.

Et pour un article du mensuel TelQuel sur l’Oued Bouragreg barcassiers, ici.

Pour la version française de l’article Magharebia.com, clickez ici.

N.B. On voit le lien Maroc-Québec dans l’article TelQuel du 19 Avril:

    “Le seconde tranche, évaluée à 5 milliards de dirhams, comporte une île artificielle pour le fun.”

Comme on dit, “Je trippe!”

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Filed under Morocco, Québec, Rabat region, Transportation development, Urban Morocco

One more reason to invest in transit


The Center for Neighborhood Technology, Smart Growth America and U.S. PIRG published a study analyzing last year’s federal stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). They find that for every billion dollars spent on transit development, twice as many months of labor were created than for every billion dollars spent on highway projects.

From the Smart Growth website:

As Congress and the Administration discuss a possible jobs bill, the implication is clear: shifting available funds toward public transportation will increase the resulting employment.

Apparently this is not the first study to reveal that investing in transit is a better better, in terms of job creation, than highway projects.

Download the full report

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Filed under Chicago, Transportation, Transportation development