Interstate High Speed Rail & Rapid Transit
Streetcars once dominated American commutes and met at busy train stations. Their success attracted powerful enemies who convinced federal, state and local governments to rip out most streetcars. Four cities were exceptions because they also built rapid transit lines underground and overhead, and changed from private to public ownership. In the 2000s, most state and local governments made rapid transit a priority, but they only have resources to fund half the need. Now we need federal government making rapid transit a budget priority to reduce highway congestion, smog & GHG emissions and to compliment Interstate High Speed Rail.
Streetcars Needed To Evolve As Rapid Transit
America had the world’s largest streetcar systems and best intercity passenger rail network through World War II. Once war ended in September 1945, returning veterans got jobs and bought more homes in the suburbs, triggering demand for car purchases. Cities accelerated streetcar track removal for smoother avenues and boulevards. More state and national highways were upgraded and extended. In 1952, Federal Railroad regulation cut the top speed of intercity passenger trains down to 79 mph without funding under/overpasses for railroads. Many long distance passenger trains used to run 110-120 mph.
In 1956, President Eisenhower and Congress started funding Interstate Highways. In 1958, President Eisenhower and Congress authorized more Federal Aviation funds, plus states and cities ramped up funding of airport upgrades for the introduction of faster and smoother flying jets. They were right to invest in highways and aviation, but wrong to let auto-centric policy subvert streetcars and intercity passenger rail.
Driving on Interstate and State Highways has become a cultural right of sorts. Americans couldn’t get enough of them until the mid-1990s, when large metro areas re-congested despite lane-widening and highway extensions. Even before security hassles after 9-11-01, major airports congested with regional flights. By 2010, we learned in Part 4 that further Interstate Highway extension, with few exceptions, is dumb federal policy.
We can’t fault all of our leaders for this sorry state of affairs. To counter loss of streetcars in our cities before his November 1963 assassination, President Kennedy requested Congress to fund new rapid transit lines in large cities. In August 1964, President Johnson convinced Congress to start funding them. Based on 1964-67 federal funding applications, half a dozen more cities anticipated large rapid transit systems by 2008. Unfortunately, from 1965 to mid-1973, the Vietnam War drained away roughly half of federal funding that would have gone to rapid transit.
From 1973 to 1981, Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter returned inflation-adjusted rapid transit funding to levels planned in 1965, but not enough to recover lost ground during the Vietnam War. As a result, cities that moved forward with rapid transit had to lengthen timelines. Other cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, St. Louis, Denver, Minneapolis, Cleveland and San Jose delayed or canceled rapid transit projects. Then things really got bad.
In 1982, President Reagan cut transportation funding as a percentage of federal spending, leaving most of the budget for highway and airport expansion. Following that lead, most states and cities focused federal funding applications on new highway and airport projects, dropping or downscaling funding applications for rapid transit projects. President Bush I continued the same transportation policy. Though President Clinton modestly increased transportation funding, he never returned transportation funding to the inflation-adjusted levels of 1973 to 1981. The misguided transportation policy of President Bush II was the same as Reagan-Bush I.
By 2010, our Federal Aviation System remained top-notch and our Interstate Highway System was accessible to 90% of the populace because most Federal Highway funding was spent on new freeways or widening to 8-14 lanes in our Top 40 metro areas to absorb most, not all, of the 97 million population increase from 1980-2010. But since 1990, we’ve underinvested in repair of highway interchanges, bridges and concrete roadway bedding more than 35-40 years old.
Also due to under-investment in rapid transit and Amtrak, Americans drive more vehicle miles per person than any other nation. Today, most of our large metro areas drown in traffic congestion. Our largest airports also drown in traffic for regional flights because most of our mega-region corridors lack HSR alternatives like our Global Economic Competitors. Though the Obama Administration fixed as many bridges as it could with a stubborn Congress, the reckoning is upon us. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 20% of our bridges are structurally deficient. And America produces more transportation-related smog and GHG than any other country.
Between 1966-2008, America underinvested in rapid transit infrastructure and since the late 1990s, highway and railway bridge repair.
Only NYC remained at 55% or higher transit usage after World War II because it built the world’s largest rapid transit system to the world’s largest concentration of offices, hotels, residences, colleges, medical centers and retail centers on the island of Manhattan. The nation’s most expensive tolls per mile and ridiculous parking fees discourage solo-driving to Manhattan.
The most expensive part of rapid transit infrastructure, downtown tunnels and underground stations, was already built in NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Newark. San Francisco and Pittsburgh also preserved passenger rail tunnels leading to downtown. No other American metro areas had infrastructure suitable for conversion to rapid transit use.
Major cities in Europe and Asia confronted similar population-transportation issues. Take Paris, Madrid and Berlin, who opened rapid transit systems around the time of Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. Instead of building 10-14 lane super-highways, those European cities built 6-8 lane freeways in urban areas and 4-6 lane tollways between metro areas that discourage solo-driving. With cost savings from fewer highway lanes, European cities upgraded many streetcar lines to limited-stop Tramways (Light Rail), upgraded Commuter Rail and built more Heavy Rail (Subway) lines to train stations in their central business districts (CBD).
Other Asian metro areas followed the transportation models of Tokyo and Osaka. Consequently, 50-70% of Europe and Asia commuters in large metro areas use transit. They ride High Speed Rail between metro areas. Those public investments invited private development within and near Intermodal Transportation Centers. The combination of public and private investment preserved storefronts that kept CBD vibrant. Equally important, those metro areas have far less vehicle emissions contributing to smog and GHG. To be clear, the infamous smog & GHG emissions problem in China is from coal-powered electricity generation, not their fast-expanding electric Rapid Transit and High Speed Rail systems.
Understanding Types of Rapid Transit We Need
Americans are not falling for one Jedi mind-trick. Human-Driven Cars and Autonomous Cars sharing mixed-traffic highway is not the answer to congestion because they still increase the number of cars on the road. Nor is there polling proof that Americans will yield their personal desire to drive to Autonomous Cars. In fact, personal injury lawyers are salivating at opportunity to sue for big bucks on Autonomous Car accidents. Neither is their polling proof that Americans favor spending taxpayer dollars on Autonomous Car infrastructure ahead of Rapid Transit infrastructure in the next 30-40 years.
By expanding rapid transit systems, NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and San Francisco-Oakland eliminated many highway bridge and freeway widening projects, while transporting more people per taxpayer dollar. The shortcoming of Atlanta’s rapid transit system is that state and counties did not expand it in 4 more corridors when construction costs were a fraction of today. Like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle have recently done, other large metro areas must ramp up rapid transit investment to mitigate severe highway congestion by 2030.
Like all infrastructure, successful rapid transit systems are expensive and take a long time to build. They require best planning practices, public input and political savviness while avoiding “traps” by Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) citizens, critics backed by oil companies and some short-sighted politicians. Lets examine Rapid Transit modes to understand how they can be the right fit for the right corridors.
In the rest of this article, “Metrorail” means Heavy Rail or Light Rail. I use the formal name Heavy Rail instead of subway to differentiate it from Light Rail. That’s because Enhanced Light Rail has a percentage of subway and elevated track too. Consider these 2018 American cost factors and top speeds for rapid transit modes:
Heavy Rail: $650-725 million/mile, 55-86 mph, 75 seats/cabin, 4-10 cabins
Enhanced Light Rail: $300-350 million/mile, 25-55 mph, 75 seats/cabin, 3-4 cabins
Light Rail: $200-250 million/mile, 20-40 mph, 75 seats/cabin, 1-2 cabins
Enhanced Commuter Rail: $100-150 million/mile, 50-90 mph, 70-110 seats/cabin, 4-8 cabins
Commuter Rail: $40-75 million/mile, 35-79 mph, 70-110 seats/cabin, 3-4 cabins
Bus Rapid Transit: $25-50 million/mile, 20-60 mph, 50-75 seats/bus, 1 cabin
Streetcars: $45-60 million/mile, 9-12 mph, 40-75 seats/cabin
* Since Streetcars rarely average over 10 mph, they are not rapid transit.
Electric-powered Heavy Rail, Enhanced Light Rail, Light Rail, Enhanced Commuter Rail and Streetcars produce no emissions where they run. American transit agencies are also upgrading more fleets to electric buses between 2018-30. As a result, when more electric power plants convert from coal to natural gas, biofuel, wind and solar as their fuel source, electric-powered rapid transit will further reduce total smog and GHG emissions.
Existing track rights-of-way, number of trains to be purchased, number of new miles, number of tunnels & aerials to be built, number of stations per mile, length of station platforms with patron shelter, amount of fencing, overhead electric wires or 3rd rail transmitting electricity are cost factors. Although its tempting to judge cost-effectiveness based on one new rapid transit line, it takes high train frequency during operating hours and 25-30 years of continuous expansion to fairly assess a rapid transit system’s:
(a) Daily Ridership Potential
(b) Riders Per Mile
(c) Construction Cost Per Mile
(d) Drivers Diverted to Rapid Transit
(e) Transit-Oriented Development around Stations
Also, when a rapid transit line turns age 25-30, it must be overhauled to maintain a state of good repair.
Choose The Right Rapid Transit Mode
To maximize citizen benefits, the appropriate rapid transit mode should be chosen, not the politically expedient. Viewed over a 25-year horizon, the best solution may be a $700 million rail project, rather than a $350 million BRT project completed 2 years quicker.
Heavy Rail systems deliver the most (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) benefits named above. Heavy Rail lines are most expensive and take longer to build. They require tunnels and aerials to completely separate track from roadway, people and animals. They draw electricity from 3rd rail on the opposite side of boarding platforms. To board/deboard patrons faster, they require station platforms level with train floors. Most Heavy Rail lines have stations 1/2 mile to 2 miles apart. Heavy Rail expansion is best suited in the population dense corridors of NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Baltimore and Cleveland. Though Atlanta and Miami metro areas are not dense, they have 2 high-traffic corridors headed from CBDs to ATL and MIA airports, respectfully. Both corridors are suitable for Metro Heavy Rail lines.
You can identify good Heavy Rail systems by alignments in high-traffic corridors, Rush Hour trains at least every every 5 minutes, multiple intersecting lines, good patron shelter on platforms and good maintenance. Those factors are essential to high ridership of Heavy Rail systems.
Though recovering from a decade of under-maintenance, Washington Metro is in all other respects, a successful rapid transit system. A Washington Heavy Rail line can pack 175 riders per cabin in an 8-cabin train at 26 trains per hour to transport 36,400 riders per hour. The Highway Capacity Manual, assumes average vehicle occupancy of 1.57 people, lists a single lane of highway capacity without RVs or trucks as 2,250 passenger cars per hour. Therefore, a 6-lane Interstate Highway filled with cars, RVs and trucks transports approximately 11,000 passengers/hour — that’s less than a third of one Washington Heavy Rail line. Washington Metro enabled DC to avoid the scars and higher maintenance of too many urban freeways.
Enhanced Light Rail has good alignments, enough tunnels and aerials to prevent cars, people and animals from crossing 75-80% of their route, 1/3 mile to 1 mile distances between stations, and patron shelter on station platforms. Their light weight trains accelerate and brake faster, hence the name Light Rail. Some employ traffic signal priority at roadway crossings. If 3-cabin trains run every 5 minutes during Rush Hours and 10 minutes otherwise, a single line can transport 100,000 daily riders. Such Light Rail lines cost 40-45% of a Heavy Rail line to build. Enhanced Light Rail is well-suited to medium-traffic corridors that are growing.
Light Rail trains also run on dedicated track that is new or rebuilt from old Streetcar lines. Unlike Enhanced Light Rail, they have more roadway crossings per mile, no traffic signal priority at roadway crossings and stations 1/5 mile to 1/2 mile apart. Many have stops without station platforms, which slows boarding/deboarding and decreases patron safety. To avoid causing roadway traffic jams, they are limited to 2-cabin trains during commute hour and 1-cabin trains otherwise. They cost 25-30% of Heavy Rail to build, but can transport up to 3,000 riders per hour. Hence, Light Rail lines are best suited to medium-traffic corridors that are stable.
Enhanced Commuter Rail lines are Commuter Rail systems that have been upgraded by converting to electric-powered light weight trains that use catenary. Others may be upgraded using light weight Diesel Multi-Unit trains. They have additional overpasses/underpasses for higher average speed, higher on-time performance and safety. Upgraded Commuter Rail in NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington-Baltimore and San Francisco-San Jose attract Enhanced Light Rail patronage levels. Enhanced Commuter Rail is well-suited to longer medium-traffic corridors that are growing.
Commuter Rail lines are popular for their low construction cost by sharing existing tracks with freight trains and sometimes Amtrak. Since they are powered by diesel fuel, they don’t require overhead catenary or 3rd rail to supply electricity. But there are trade-offs. Few have station platforms for easy boarding/deboarding and patron shelter is often inadequate. It has on-time performance and safety issues because there are too many places where cars, people and animals cross tracks. It takes longer to reach top speed and brake, which limits train frequency during commute hours.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) runs on dedicated busway with or without traffic signal priority. BRT is cheaper to construct than Light Rail because it does not require tracks, overhead catenaries and few have dedicated aerials, tunnels. They usually have smaller, unsecured stations 1/4 mile to 1 mile apart. BRT has higher fuel & maintenance costs per rider. If BRT tries to match the rider capacity of 3-cabin Light Rail, it requires 3 times more drivers for the same number riders, which inflates labor cost. Therefore, BRT is only suited for less-than medium traffic routes that are stable.
Streetcars share roadway with autos over most of their route. Since they only average 9-11 mph, Streetcars are not Rapid Transit. Instead, they are electric-powered transportation suited for 1-3 mile distances where speed is not a requirement. Various studies indicate that restored vintage and modern streetcars are rolling tourist attractions that often entice Transit Oriented Development. Streetcars in New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Memphis, Portland, Washington, Tampa, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Cable Cars in San Francisco prove those points. Since streetcar lines are relatively cheap to build, their construction is enjoying a resurgence in America.
Choose Alignment Modes For All-Purpose Ridership
A study by Steven Higashide of TransitCenter found three common patterns of transit use: (1) occasional transit riders; (2) work commuters; (3) all-purpose transit riders. The study also found that:
• 80% of all-purpose riders walk or bike to transit stations
• All-purpose ridership is stronger where it’s easy to get from a transit station to major destinations
• All-purpose ridership is stronger when service is every 10 minutes (6 minutes or less preferred)
• All-purpose ridership is stronger when it provides access to many destinations
• All-purpose ridership is stronger when it provides adequate weather shelter for patrons
• All-purpose ridership is stronger when it provides Train and BRT arrivals on the smartphone app
• Too many metro areas over-commit rapid transit to commuters from low-density suburbs
Steven Higashide concludes that its better to expand the right rapid transit mode and right alignment within denser population corridors to attract higher Daily Ridership and Riders Per Mile of Construction, even when its more expensive up front and takes longer to build.
RAPID TRANSIT AND HIGH SPEED RAIL COMPLIMENTARITY
Today, only 5 American metro areas have rapid transit systems that compliment High Speed Rail stations. When you step off an Amtrak Acela train in NYC/Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington, a convenient transfer to rail rapid transit takes you within a quarter mile of most attractions in their CBDs.
Despite NYC’s 55% transit commuter percentage, transit fares and ad revenue only cover 55% of NYC Metro operating expenses. Taxpayers pay the difference for fares low enough to attract a staggering 10 million Metro patrons/day. Due to decades of NYC Metro & Commuter Rail expansion, taxpayers saved money by not having to build more highways and bridges, which are far more expensive to construct and maintain. NYC Metro Rail & Commuter Rail allow many households to own one fewer car.
NYC demonstrates the public value of Transit-Oriented Development around train stations. It transformed the neo-gothic Grand Central Terminal into a 700,000-daily rider Intermodal Transportation Center bustling with restaurants, hotel and shopping mall activity from dawn to midnight. NYC Penn Station features Amtrak-HSR, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, buses, Uber/Lyft, taxis and shuttles that attract 430,000 daily patrons as well. NYC recently opened two Heavy Rail extensions and an awe-inspiring World Trade Center Transportation Hub. A grander, more efficient Penn Station replacement, Moynihan Station, is coming. By 2020, NYC will burst through 11 million daily rapid transit passengers.
America has the opportunity to elevate Chicago, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and San Francisco-Oakland metro areas to 35-45% transit usage, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Seattle and Portland metro areas to 30% transit usage and the rest of our Top 45 Metro Areas to 20-25% transit usage by 2030.
Chicago opened America’s first elevated Heavy Rail line in 1892 and later added subway Heavy Rail lines, The city also created a Commuter Rail system from the leftovers of its intercity passenger rail. Chicago’s Heavy Rail goes to both airports. Its Heavy Rail and Commuter Rail network transport a combined 1.1 million daily patrons. Along with bus patronage, 30% of Chicagoans commute by transit.
To increase rapid transit ridership, the city is replacing old trains, restoring stations, expanding three Heavy Rail lines and building a BRT circulator connecting Amtrak, Heavy Rail and Commuter Rail lines at Union Station, Oglivie Transportation Center, The Loop, Millennium Park and Navy Pier. Three 110 mph Amtrak lines from Chicago Union Station run to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit. A master-planned Chicago Union Station and nearby Thompson Transit Center will connect via underground tunnel to enable trains from Minneapolis and Milwaukee to pass-through Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland or Indianapolis. The resultant Chicago intermodal transportation center will anchor a Midwest HSR network.
Boston’s rapid transit system began in 1897. By the 1980s, their transit culture resisted new Interstate Highway ripping through too many communities. Boston chose to balance Highway construction with Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail and BRT construction. South Station converted to an Intermodal Transportation Center for Amtrak Acela, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, BRT, Taxi/Uber/Lyft, and shuttle service. As a result, Boston enjoys 750,000 daily rapid transit patrons and a more vibrant downtown that is good for the city tax base. Now Boston is extending two rapid transit lines, and enhancing South Station capacity and amenities.
Philadelphia’s rapid transit system began in 1907. The city converted 30th Street Station to an intermodal transportation center for Amtrak, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, taxi, Uber/Lyft and shuttle service. Philadelphia has 575,000 daily rail transit patrons and a New Jersey Transit from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. Philadelphia is fixing bridges, upgrading old stations, replacing old electric power systems and buying new electric trains.
Opening its first Metro Heavy Rail line in 1976, Washington executed rapid transit expansion better than any American city. Its Heavy Rail lines traverse all high density & high-traffic districts except Georgetown. Washington Union Station has transformed into an Intermodal Transportation Center connecting Amtrak HSR, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, buses, shuttles, taxis, Uber/Lyft, rental cars and tour buses. Dramatic public space, a shopping center, food court and cinema have made it a tourist attraction near the U.S. Capitol. Metrorail and Metrobus enable 40% of DC residents go without cars. One Streetcar line has returned to DC. The next Metro Heavy Rail expansion to Dulles International Airport opens in 2020. Though Washington Metro Rail requires ongoing renovation, by 2021 it will likely transport over 900,000 daily rail transit patrons.
San Francisco-Oakland metro area opened their first Metro Heavy Rail line (called “BART”) in 1972 and crossed under San Francisco Bay to connect the cities in 1974. In 1980, San Francisco converted 4 Streetcar lines to Light Rail. In 1987, Commuter Rail service began in the 49-mile San Francisco-San Jose corridor. Today, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, Streetcars, Cable Cars and Ferries attract over 650,000 daily patrons. In 2018, Salesforce Transit Center opened for BRT, Greyhound, Megabus, shuttles, rapid buses, Taxis/Uber/Lyft and bicycles. By late 2019, San Francisco expands Enhanced Light Rail to Chinatown. By 2022, Commuter Rail service in San Francisco-San Jose corridor converts to lower vibration, higher frequency electric trains. By 2025, BART Heavy Rail is slated to reach DT San Jose’s intermodal transportation center. By 2027, San Francisco will open the tunnel to Salesforce Transit Center for Commuter Rail between DT San Francisco and DT San Jose. Light Rail will extend from Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Metro Area is on pace for 900,000 daily rapid transit and ferry patrons by 2028.
From 1964 to 1985, Los Angeles rejected more federal rapid transit funding in order to get more federal highway funding. City transportation authorities ripped out streetcar tracks and even cut off the streetcar tunnel to DT Los Angeles. Now it suffers the nation’s worst traffic congestion, most economic productivity lost from traffic congestion, and worst smog emissions from transportation. It’s also one of the nation’s worst GHG emitters.
Over 1990-95, LA finally opened two Light Rail lines, one Heavy Rail line, one BRT line and a few Commuter Rail lines. LA voters flipped the script in 2008 and 2016 when they voted for sales tax funding to accelerate rapid transit construction. Los Angeles Union Station in DTLA became an intermodal transportation center for Amtrak, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, BRT, shuttles and Taxis/Uber/Lyft used by 400,000 daily commuters. In 2020, Light Rail will go to Metro LAX Airport-Century Station. By late 2021, all Light Rail going to DTLA will conveniently interconnect for transfers. By 2023, Heavy Rail extends to Beverly Hills and an LAX People Mover goes to a new Metro LAX Airport-96th St Station. By 2026-27, Heavy Rail extends to Century City and Westwood — the home of UCLA. Many more projects complete for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
If LA builds smart rapid transit projects going forward, it can attract a 1.5 million daily rider system similar to this 2040 Los Angeles Rapid Transit Vision Map.
By 2020, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Houston are forecast to become our 4th, 6th and 7th most populous metro areas, respectively. All three lie in intercity passenger rail corridors designated to receive Interstate HSR funding at some point in the future.
Dallas opened its first Light Rail line in 1996 and converted its Union Station to an intermodal transportation center for Amtrak, Light Rail and Commuter Rail. Today, its combined rapid transit lines draws 100,000 daily patrons and extends to DFW Airport. More Light Rail extensions are coming. Nearby Fort Worth opened an Enhanced Commuter Rail line to DFW airport. By 2020, Dallas Light Rail will likely attract 110-120,000 daily patrons between the largest business districts, tourist attractions, colleges, medical centers, Intermodal Transportation Center and both airports. When gasoline cost and parking fees double, Dallas will have Rapid Transit capacity for 500,000 daily patrons.
In 2004, Houston opened its first Light Rail line and blew away the Riders Per Mile forecast. Consequently, Houston voters authorized an extension and two more Light Rail projects. They opened over 2015-17. In oil-centric Houston, the 4th Light Rail line out Wertheimer Blvd faces opposition from NIMBYs and lack of federal funding support. Given such opposition, the 4th line is unlikely to open before 2026. After that opening, Houston METRORail will likely attract 100,000 daily riders and establish momentum for expansion to both IAH and HOU Airports. Given that groundbreaking aproaches for a privately-built HSR line to connecting Dallas to Houston by 2024-25, anticipate Houston pursuing federal funds for an intermodal transportation center connecting Texas HSR, Amtrak, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, taxis and shuttles at a downtown Houston location.
Atlanta opened its first Heavy Rail line in 1979 and today draws 220,000 daily patrons. Atlanta is adding Light Rail, Commuter Rail and Streetcar lines that will intersect with its Heavy Rail system. Momentum is building for a Atlanta Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown. If so, Atlanta Rapid Transit might reach 325,000 daily patrons by 2022, with capacity to double patronage when gasoline and parking costs double.
For decades, older voters nationwide, acting on racial stereotypes and not understanding the benefits to their metro areas, resisted rapid transit systems. Younger voters fed up highway congestion and wanting to reduce car expenses, smog and GHG, are voting for rapid transit projects. Pollsters predict that the impact of younger voters will be felt to a larger degree in the 2020 election and beyond. Seattle, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Denver, Portland, San Diego, Honolulu, Buffalo, Orlando, Raleigh-Durham, Cleveland, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Austin, Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Las Vegas, Tulsa, Columbus, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Buffalo, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Omaha and Richmond metro areas have also re-ignited or begun the multi-decade building of effective rapid transit systems.
Unwilling to make rapid transit investment now, Cincinnati, Memphis, Tampa, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee and Hartford metro areas will regret not starting the construction process sooner.
Building More & Smarter Rapid Transit Will Help HSR Succeed
BRT, Light Rail and Commuter Rail have important roles to play in some corridors of large metro areas and in 1 to 2 million person metro areas. Since Federal Transit funds have been insufficient to present, too many metro areas have chosen BRT, Light Rail or Commuter Rail projects in dense corridors better suited for Heavy Rail, Enhanced Light Rail or Enhanced Commuter Rail. Metro areas can avoid the huge construction mistakes of others. Here are two name-withheld examples to avoid.
Politicians chose a $325 million BRT line for low cost and construction expediency, instead of the higher capacity $750 million Light Rail option that would have taken 2 years longer to build. A dozen years later, politicians in the same high traffic corridor are requesting a $1 billion conversion to Light Rail for more patron capacity and to integrate with the expanding Light Rail system. In another misguided example, a Light Rail line was so poorly conceived that it failed to qualify for Federal Transit funding and encouraged companies to leave the city. To be specific, politicians chose a 23-mile single-track Light Rail line though wooded area that restricted trains to 17-minute frequency, bypassed the metro area’s 3rd largest business district, bypassed five colleges, and crosses over the Heavy Rail line without connecting to it. On Downtown streets, the Light Rail runs as slow as a Streetcar.
If politicians could count on 50% Federal Transit funding, contingent on choosing the right alignments, right transit modes and interconnecting other rapid transit lines, there would be more Heavy Rail, Enhanced Light Rail and Enhanced Commuter Rail. We would see more Patron Per Mile levels approaching those for Boston Heavy Rail and that of San Francisco Light Rail.
Storefront streetscapes are vital to the economic and social health of cities that anchor large metro areas. High concentrations of storefronts near rapid transit stations are a key reason that people find NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston attractive to live in and visit. The growth of transit-oriented storefronts and smart business district planning are also making Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, Denver, San Diego, Atlanta and Portland attractive to more residents and visitors.
We need our next President & Congress to double rapid transit funding. If so, our Top 20 Metro Areas can increase to 30-60% transit usage and our Top 21-50 Metro Areas can increase to 20% transit usage by 2030. With that kind of federal investment anchoring state, local and private investment, we can mitigate traffic congestion, reduce smog and GHG emissions, while converting more Transportation use to Green Energy.
As you’ll see in the next article, you will see how traffic from rapid transit at intermodal transportation centers has a symbiotic relationship with Interstate High Speed Rail Progress.