Tag Archive: streetcar

Aug 04 2014

Sunday Train: Fast and Slow Transit Should be Friends

As noted this week at The Overhead Wire:

There has been a lot of chatter recently on the issue of fast vs slow transit.  This week is the perfect time for this discussion as two major United States transit projects of differing stripes opened up; the Metro Silver Line in Washington DC and the Tucson Streetcar.

On the one hand you have neoliberal Matthew Yglesias as the neoliberal “let us explain to you why There Are No Alternatives (TINA)” site Vox saying:

Without a dedicated lane, a streetcar can’t really run much faster than a bus under ideal conditions. And since unlike a bus, a streetcar can’t shift out of its lane to avoid an obstacle, in real-world circumstances it’s likely to move slower than a bus. There are some objectives related to real estate development and tourism that this kind of project can serve, but they’re nearly useless in terms of transportation.

And on the other hand you have the piece by Robert Steuteville at Better Cities and Towns, Place Mobility: Sometimes good transportation is slow, which observes:

The Portland streetcar has been a catalyst for $4 billion-plus investment and up to 10,000 housing units in the Pearl District and other neighborhoods close to downtown. All of these people and businesses have Place Mobility. They use the streetcar for quick trips and to make connections – it doesn’t matter that it moves very slowly because they don’t have to go far. But the new people and businesses in the Pearl and downtown are not the only beneficiaries. All of the existing businesses and residences also benefit from rising Place Mobility.

When a streetcar — or other catalyst — creates a compact, dynamic place, other kinds of mobility become possible. The densest concentrations of bike-share and car-share stations in Portland are located in the area served by the streetcar. That’s no coincidence. You can literally get anywhere without a car.

Of course, much of the “debate” falls into the logical fallacy of the false dichotomy, as if there is a choice between either having slow transit or having fast transit, when the reality is that we not only need both, but that improving either one improves the utility of the other.

Nov 25 2013

Sunday Train: Trains & Buses Should Be Friends

The Salt Lake Tribune adopts the familiar mode-warrior framing in comparing rail and upgraded buses, typically called “BRT” for “Bus Rapid Transit”:

The Utah Transit Authority figures the many new rail lines it opened in the last three years attracted $7 billion to $10 billion worth of new development near stations as a side benefit to improving transportation. Since it spent $2.4 billion on those lines, it sounds like a good return on investment.

But a new study says governments get even more bang for their buck in revitalizing areas if they instead build “bus rapid transit” (BRT) systems. While far cheaper to construct, they attract just as much development.

… which elicits a measured response from the UTA:

The UTA says there is no need for buyer’s remorse for its new TRAX, FrontRunner and streetcar projects – because they do more than revamp areas. But UTA adds that BRT is a focus of its future plans. It is sort of a TRAX on rubber wheels where buses have exclusive lanes, passengers buy tickets from vending machines before boarding on platforms, and buses have priority at intersections.

The “odds and sods” system in the US for funding transit improvements encourages this type of mode-warrior framing … which mode delivers more:

  • … bang for the buck
  • … diversion of motorists to transit
  • … Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction
  • … development impact
  • … reduction in the annual slaughter of Americans by motorists
  • … amenity to the rider
  • … farebox revenue
  • … (and etcetera and etcetera) …

And that framing for studies like the one that the Institute for Transport and Development Policy is presently promoting, claiming that BRT delivers 31x the bang for the buck that rail does.