Interstate High Speed Rail & Rapid Transit - Part 5

Interstate High Speed Rail & Rapid Transit

Rapid transit and streetcars once dominated American commutes and met at busy train stations. Over time, their passenger success attracted powerful enemies in the Highway Lobby. Aided by flawed federal and state policies, those enemies kicked intercity passenger trains to the curb. Federal and state investment in rapid transit lagged for decades, stifling streetcar evolution to rapid transit. Good news since 2009 however, is that state & local governments made rapid transit investment a priority again. Now we need Congress working with the President to make rapid transit a larger priority.

Streetcars Needed To Evolve As Rapid Transit

America had the world’s largest collection of streetcar systems and best intercity passenger train network up through World War II. Once that war officially ended in September 1945, returning veterans got jobs, bought more homes in the suburbs, which triggered the buying of more cars. Cities and states accelerated streetcar track removal as they built more avenues, boulevards and highways to accommodate automobiles. In 1952, Federal regulation slowed down intercity passenger trains.

SEPTA Girard Streetcar in Philadelphia, Rapid Transit

SEPTA Girard Streetcar in Philadelphia

In contrast, we started funding Interstate Highways in 1956 and airport expansion for jets in 1958. We were right to invest in highways and airports, but wrong to subvert streetcars and intercity passenger rail.

Since 1956, driving on Interstate Highways has become an birthright of sorts. Americans couldn’t get enough of them, until they congested, despite every lane-widening expansion project. Hence, we learned in Part 4 that funding further freeway expansion, with relatively few exceptions, is dumb federal policy.

We can’t fault all of our leaders for this sorry state of affairs. To counter the loss of streetcars in our cities before his assassination in November 1963, President Kennedy requested Congress to fund the expansion of rapid transit systems. In 1964, President Johnson convinced Congress to start funding them. Based on 1964-65 engineering plan start dates, cities that submitted funding requests for new/expanded systems (San Francisco-Oakland, Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami) anticipated that they would have comprehensive rapid transit systems similar to Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia in 40 years. Since those are large projects, many to 2-3 years of engineering plans before construction — longer if there is lawsuit delay or racism like Atlanta Baltimore, Cleveland and Miami experienced.

From 1966 to mid-1973 however, the Vietnam War drained away over half of federal rapid transit funding. From mid-1973 to 1981, Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter returned rapid transit funding to initially planned levels, but not enough to recover 7 1/2 years of lost ground during the Vietnam War. As a result, cities that moved forward under-scoped original rapid transit plans or lengthened timelines, thereby incurring inflation costs that infuriated taxpayers. Even worse, many large metro areas delayed rapid transit plans for decades (Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, St. Louis) or never built them (Detroit, Cincinnati).

Then things really got bad. In 1982, President Reagan cut transportation funding as a percentage of federal spending, leaving most of what remained for highway and airport expansion. Following that lead, most states focused most transportation funding on highways and airports again. President George H.W. Bush continued the Reagan transportation funding policy. Though President Bill Clinton modestly increased transportation funding, he and President G.W. Bush never returned transportation funding to inflation-adjusted mid-1973 to 1981 levels.

By 2010, our Federal Aviation System remained world-class and our Interstate Highway System was accessible to 90% of our populace. Our Top 35 metro areas built 8-14 lane freeways to absorb a larger percentage of the 97 million population increase from 1980-2010. A direct result is that Americans drive more vehicle miles per person than any other nation. Due to rapid transit under-investment causing over-reliance on cars, every large metro area highway has become engulfed in Congestion Delay described in Part 4. Though China produces more smog and GHG in total, America produces more transportation-related smog and GHG than any other nation.

Between 1966-2008, America experienced 33 years of underinvestment in rapid transit infrastructure combined with 43 years of over-investment in new highway infrastructure.

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, retail centers and restaurants on an island. The island of Manhattan also has the nation’s most expensive tolls per mile and parking fees.

The most expensive part of rapid transit infrastructure, downtown tunnels, was already built in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. But given 33 years of federal under-investment, even Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia could not expand their rapid transit systems to be more comprehensive for urban and suburban patrons. Federal underinvestment delayed San Francisco-Oakland and Washington rapid transit projects too. With the originally planed investment and timelines, those five metro areas would average 40-45% transit commuters, instead of 27-35% transit commuters today.

All of other large metro areas in America have woefully under-built or no rapid transit systems.

U.S. Large Metro Area Transit Usage; credit Arturo Ramos

U.S. Metro Area Transit Usage; credit Arturo Ramos

Major cities in Europe and Asia confronted similar population growth-transportation issues as America. 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-lane tollways between metro areas that discourage single-passenger driving. With cost savings from fewer highway lanes, European cities upgraded many streetcar lines to limited-stop Tramways (Light Rail) and built more Heavy Rail lines to train stations in their central business districts, attracted more buses, taxis, and Uber/Lyft rides. Asian metro areas followed the transportation models of Paris, Madrid and Berlin.

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 also preserved small business storefronts that kept their Central Business Districts vibrant.

Understanding Types of Rapid Transit We Need

By building & expanding rapid transit systems, NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and San Francisco-Oakland canceled many highway expansion and highway bridge projects, while transporting more people per taxpayer dollar. Drawing from their lessons, the rest of our top metro areas must increase rapid transit investment to mitigate highway congestion before 2035. And no matter what hi-tech boosters want you to believe, Autonomous Cars are not the answer to congestion on mixed-traffic highway.

Like metro area freeway-tollway systems, rapid transit systems are expensive and take a long time to build. They require adoption of best practices and political savviness to avoid traps by Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) critics who would have us build the wrong way. Lets examine the modes of Rapid Transit for a layperson to understand how they can be well designed.

In the rest of this article, “Metrorail” means Heavy Rail or Light Rail. I use the formal name “Heavy Rail” instead of Subway or Elevated track to differentiate it from Light Rail. In well designed systems, even Light Rail has a certain percentage of subway and elevated track. Consider these 2016 American cost factors and top speeds for modes of rapid transit:

Heavy Rail: $200-700 million/mile, 50-86 mph, 75 seats/cabin, 4-10 cabins
Enhanced Light Rail: $175-250 million/mile, 35-55 mph, 75 seats/cabin, 3-4 cabins
Light Rail: $100-150 million/mile, 35-60 mph, 75 seats/cabin, 1-2 cabins
Enhanced Commuter Rail: $100 million/mile, 50-90 mph, 70-110 seats/cabin, 4-8 cabins
Commuter Rail: $30-50 million/mile, 40-79 mph, 70-110 seats/cabin, 3-4 cabins
Bus Rapid Transit: $25-50 million/mile, 35-60 mph, 50-75 seats/bus, 1 cabin
Streetcars: $45-60 million/mile, 9-12 mph, 40-75 seats/cabin

Electric-powered Heavy Rail, Enhanced Light Rail, Light Rail, Enhanced Commuter Rail and Streetcars produce no GHG or smog emissions where they run. As more electric power plants convert from coal to natural gas, wind and solar as their fuel source, energy for rapid transit will further reduce total smog and GHG emissions. Natural gas-powered Bus Rapid Transit and diesel-powered Commuter Rail produce higher GHG and smog per passenger than the aforementioned modes, but far lower levels than cars.

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 (“catenaries”) or 3rd rail transmitting electricity are all important cost factors. Although its tempting to judge cost-effectiveness based one or two rapid transit lines in their first 5-10 years of operation, it takes about 40 years of continuous expansion to gauge the effectiveness of a comprehensive rapid transit system in terms of:

(a) Weekday Patronage
(b) Patrons Per Mile (of track)
(c) Construction Cost Per Mile
(d) Drivers Diverted to Rapid Transit (which lowers highway & bridge construction)
(e) Transit-Oriented Development around stations

Always Choose The Right Type of Rapid Transit

To maximize Weekday Patrons, Patrons Per Mile, Drivers Diverted to Rapid Transit and Transit Oriented Development, the appropriate, not the politically expedient modes must be chosen. They must align in corridors whose commuter-volume over a 25-year forecast, are commensurate with construction cost per mile. To use a plumbing analogy, don’t install 10 inch pipe when three plumbing contractors tell you the job requires 30 inch pipe.

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 road traffic, people and animals. They draw electricity from 3rd rail on the opposite side of patron 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 and their trains average 25-35 mph. Heavy Rail expansion is best suited in the dense high-traffic corridors of metro areas like NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland, Baltimore and Cleveland. Though Atlanta and Miami metro areas are not dense cities, they each have 2 or 3 high-traffic corridors capable of supporting Heavy Rail lines.

NYC Metro train whizzing by; (c) SoulOfAmerica

NYC Metro heavy rail train whizzing by; (c) SoulOfAmerica

You can identify good Heavy Rail systems by route alignments in their heaviest traffic corridors, Rush Hour trains every 2-5 minutes, multiple intersecting lines, good patron shelter on platforms and good maintenance. All those factors are essential to maximize Weekday Patronage of Heavy Rail systems.

Washington Metro System meets that test. A Washington Heavy Rail line can pack 175 passengers per cabin in an 8-cabin train at 26 trains per hour to transport 36,400 passengers 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.

Los Angeles Metro light rail train headed to Long Beach

Los Angeles Metro light rail train headed to Long Beach; (c) SoulOfAmerica

Enhanced Light Rail has good alignments, enough tunnels & aerials to prevent cars, people and animals from crossing 75-80% of their route, 1/3 mile to 1 mile distances between stations, and substantial patron shelter on station platforms. Their light weight trains accelerate and brake faster and employ traffic signal priority at roads. By using 3-4 cabin trains and trains every 3-5 minutes, they can transport 6,500-9,000 patrons per hour and average 20-27 mph. Such Light Rail lines cost 40-50% of a Heavy Rail line to build. Boston Light Rail system is a good example of how streetcar rights of way can be upgraded to form an Enhanced Light Rail system, as measured by Patrons Per Mile and Weekday Patronage. Enhanced Light Rail is well-suited to medium-traffic corridors that are growing.

Standard Light Rail trains also run on dedicated track that is new or rebuilt from old Streetcar lines. Their differences from Enhanced Light Rail are more road crossings per mile and stations 1/5 mile to 1/2 mile apart. Many have stops without station platforms, which slows boarding/deboarding and increases risk of getting hit by automobiles. Their safety risk and lack of shelter discourages patronage. To avoid causing roadway traffic jams, they are limited to 2-cabin trains during commute hour and 1-cabin trains otherwise. They cost about 20-25% of Heavy Rail to build, but average speed is 16-18 mph and they transport up to 3000 patrons per hour. Hence, Standard Light Rail lines are best suited to stable medium-traffic corridors.

Enhanced Commuter Rail lines are Commuter Rail systems that have been upgraded by converting to electric-powered light weight trains that use catenary. They have additional overpasses/underpasses for higher average speed coupled with more frequent & dependable service. Upgraded Commuter Rail in NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington-to-Baltimore and soon, San Francisco-to-San Jose attract Enhanced Light Rail patronage levels. Enhanced Commuter Rail is well-suited to growing medium-traffic corridors.

Standard Commuter Rail lines are a favorite among politicians for their low construction cost by sharing existing tracks with freight trains. Since they are powered by diesel fuel, they don’t require overhead catenary or 3rd rail to supply electricity. But there are severe trade-offs. Few have station platforms for easy boarding-deboarding and there is less patron shelter. It has many places where cars, people & animals cross tracks. It takes longer to reach top speed and brake, which limits service frequency. Most only run 3-4 trains during rush-hour to divert suburbanites from driving.

Electric MARC commuter train that runs between Baltimore and Washington

MARC electric commuter train that runs between Baltimore and Washington

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) runs on dedicated guideway with traffic signal priority. BRT is cheaper to construct than Light Rail because it does not require tracks and catenaries and very few have dedicated aerials & tunnels. They usually have stations 1/5 mile to 1/2 mile apart. On the flip side, BRT has higher fuel costs, higher maintenance costs and higher labor cost because it requires more drivers to transport as many passengers as one Light Rail train. Therefore, BRT is best suited for stable low- to medium-traffic routes.

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 attractions that aid Transit Oriented Development. Streetcars in New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Memphis, Portland, Tampa and the Cable Cars of San Francisco prove those points. Since they are relatively cheap to build, streetcar construction is enjoying a resurgence in America.

Choose Alignment & Mode Types For All-Purpose Ridership

A study by Steven Higashide of TransitCenter found three common patterns of transit use: occasional riders who take transit once in a while, commuters who take transit regularly but only for work, and all-purpose riders who take transit regularly for multiple purposes. The study also found that:

• 80% of all-purpose riders walk to transit, while just over half of commuters and occasional riders walk to transit
• All-purpose ridership is stronger where it’s easy to walk from home to transit stations
• All-purpose ridership is stronger where it’s easy to get from transit station to major destinations
• All-purpose ridership is stronger when service is every 10 minutes or less
• 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 a bus or train arrival app
• Too many metro areas over-commit resources to attract occasional riders in low-density suburbs

In the long run, Steven Higashide found that its far better to expand the right mode and right alignment of rapid transit within denser population districts to produce better Weekday Patronage and Patrons Per Mile of Construction – even when its more expensive up front.


Today, only 5 American metro areas have rapid transit systems that compliment High Speed Rail. When you step off an Amtrak Acela HSR train in NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington, a convenient transfer to rail rapid transit takes you within a quarter mile of most attractions in the central business district.

Despite NYC’s 55% 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 their century-plus investment in NYC Metro, taxpayers save money by not having to build more highways, which are far more expensive to construct and maintain than subways. NYC Metro allows many people who can afford multiple cars, to buy one fewer car. Many people who can not afford cars use transit to work and school. For all those combined reasons, NYC Metro keeps this 21 million-person metro area humming.

NYC Grand Central Terminal, the great hall

The great hall in NYC Grand Central Terminal; (c) SoulOfAmerica

NYC demonstrates the value of Transit-Oriented Development in and around train stations. It transformed the Grand Central Terminal into a 700,000-daily patron Intermodal Transportation Center of dazzling neo-gothic architecture, restaurants, hotel and shopping mall from dawn to post-midnight. Penn Station features Amtrak-HSR, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, buses, taxis and shuttles that attract 430,000 daily patrons as well. NYC is adding two Heavy Rail lines, an awe-inspiring World Trade Center Transportation Hub and a bigger Penn Station replacement, Moynihan Station. 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 40-45% 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 2035.

Chicago, opened America’s first elevated Heavy Rail line in 1892 and later added subway Heavy Rail lines and a substantial Commuter Rail system. Chicago’s Heavy Rail system goes to both airports and 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.

Unlike NYC however, Chicago is flat, there are no toll bridges to reach downtown, its central business district is less dense than Manhattan and parking costs less.

To raise its patronage, the city is replacing old trains for greater dependability, restoring/enhancing patron shelters, 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. By 2017, three 110 mph Amtrak lines from Chicago Union Station will run more frequently to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit. Plans are underway to connect Chicago Union Station and nearby Thompson Transit Center via an underground tunnel that will enable the same train from Minneapolis and Milwaukee to pass-through Chicago, then head to St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland or Indianapolis. The resultant intermodal transportation center will set the stage for Midwest HSR in the future.

Boston’s rapid transit system began in 1897. By the 1980s, their transit culture resisted new Interstate Highway ripping through too many communities. That is when Boston chose to balance Heavy Rail, Light Rail and Commuter Rail, Freeway and Tollway construction. South Station converted to an Intermodal Transportation Center for Amtrak Acela, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, BRT, taxi and shuttle service. As a result, Boston enjoys 800,000 daily rapid transit patrons and a more vibrant downtown. Now Boston is extending two rapid transit lines, and enhancing South Station with more capacity and amenities. By 2020, Boston Metro Area will likely serve 900,000 daily rapid transit patrons.

Philadelphia’s rapid transit system began in 1907. The city converted 30th Street Station to an Intermodal Transportation Center for Amtrak HSR, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, taxi and shuttle service. Philadelphia has 575,000 daily rail transit patrons and claims a portion of 282,000 daily New Jersey Transit patrons riding in the NYC-Newark-Phildelphia corridor. As more federal funds arrive, Philadelphia is upgrading old stations and plans to expand rapid transit to more districts.

Metro-Center Station in Washington

Metro-Center Station in Washington; (c) SoulOfAmerica

Opening its first Heavy Rail line in 1976, Washington has executed rapid transit expansion better than any American city, save NYC. Its Heavy Rail lines traverse high density districts to high-traffic destinations. Washington Union Station has transformed into an Intermodal Transportation Center connecting Amtrak HSR, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, buses, shuttles, taxis, rental cars and tour buses. Dramatic public space, a shopping center, food court and cinema have made it a tourist attraction overlooking the U.S. Capitol. Metrorail and Metrobus enable 40% of DC residents go without cars. The next Heavy Rail expansion to Dulles International Airport opens in 2018. Though Washington requires several years of system renovation, by 2020, it will transport over 900,000 daily rail transit patrons. The only dense corridor missing a Heavy Rail line is Georgetown-Union Station-National Harbor.

In 1972-74, San Francisco-Oakland opened their first Heavy Rail line and crossed under the San Francisco Bay. In 1980, San Francisco converted 4 Streetcar lines to Standard Light Rail. In 1987, Standard Commuter Rail service began in the 47-mile San Francisco-San Jose corridor. Today, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, Streetcars, Cable Cars and Ferries attract over 650,000 daily patrons. By 2018, San Francisco Transbay Transit Center will interconnect BRT, Greyhound, Megabus, standard buses, hotel shuttles, taxis and car rentals. BART Heavy Rail will extend from Oakland to northeastern San Jose. By 2019, San Francisco will open an Enhanced Light Rail line to Chinatown. By 2020, San Francisco 4th & King Station-to-San Jose will become an Enhanced Commuter Rail line. Most old Heavy Rail and Light Rail trains will be replaced. By 2026, San Francisco will have upgraded 4 of 5 light rail lines and a tunnel will open between Transbay Transit Center and 4th & King Station for Enhanced Commuter Rail between downtown San Francisco and downtown San Jose. BART will also reach downtown San Jose with more connections to San Jose’s light rail, commuter rail and BRT systems. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose consolidated metro area is on course to serve 1,000,000 daily rapid transit patrons by 2026.

From 1964 to mid-1980s, Los Angeles rejected federal rapid transit funding in order to get more federal highway funding. Despite building the world’s best freeway system, LA now suffers the nation’s worst traffic congestion, most economic productivity lost from traffic congestion, worst smog and GHG emissions from cars.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Between 1990-95, LA opened two Enhanced Light Rail lines and one Heavy Rail line. It launched several Standard Commuter Rail lines. In 2008, Los Angeles County approved its first transportation tax where the majority of funds expand rapid transit and improve bus service. Los Angeles Union Station became an intermodal transportation center for Amtrak, Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail and BRT lines. In 2016, LA extended an Enhanced Light Rail line from downtown LA to Santa Monica and another Enhanced Light Rail line extended east of Pasadena to Azuza-Pacific University. Metro Rail and Metro BRT now transport 400,000 daily commuters. In 2019-20, all Enhanced Light Rail lines will interconnect and one will go to the new Metro LAX Airport Station. By 2023, an Automated People Mover will connect Metro LAX Airport Station to the Car Rental Center and LAX Airport terminals. By 2024, one Heavy Rail line will extend to the Museum District, Beverly Hills and Century City.

The City of Los Angeles absorbs the majority of congestion delay and smog in 10 million person Los Angeles County. LA mayor has passed local funding measures to greatly expand projects, projects enabling a jump to as many as 700,000 daily rapid transit patrons by 2024.

Metro Aviation-Century Station serving LAX, under construction

Metro Aviation-Century Station serving LAX Airport, under construction; credit Los Angeles MTA

Don’t forgive decades of poor Los Angeles County transportation leadership so easily. A Southern California Rapid Transit District founded in 1964, planned for a comprehensive system. If LA acted with vision 20 years earlier, like Washington and San Francisco-Oakland metro areas, it could have had a comprehensive rapid transit system like this 2040 Los Angeles Rapid Transit Concept Map, serving 1.5 million daily patrons by 2020.

By 2020, freeway-sprawled 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 future federal HSR funding.

Dallas opened its first Light Rail line in 1996 and converted its Union Station into an intermodal transportation center for Amtrak, Standard Light Rail and Standard Commuter Rail. Today, its combined rail transit draws 100,000 daily patrons and extends to DFW Airport. More Light Rail extensions are coming. By 2020, Dallas Light Rail will likely have 125,000 daily patrons reaching the largest business districts, tourist attractions, colleges, medical centers, Intermodal Transportation Center and both airports. The lines are lightly patronized today, but when gasoline cost and parking fees double, Dallas will have Rapid Transit capacity for about 600,000 daily patrons.

Atlanta MARTA subway at North Avenue

Atlanta MARTA subway at North Avenue

In 2004, Houston opened its first Standard Light Rail line and blew away patronage forecasts by hitting reaching 2nd highest in the nation on a Patrons Per Mile basis. Consequently, Houston voters authorized an extension and four more Standard Light Rail projects. The extension and two new lines opened in 2015. In oil-centric Houston, the 4th Standard Light Rail line is facing political opposition from those who want more highway expansion that re-congests in two years. Nevertheless, Houston’s transit supporters have enough clout from a good performing light rail system to get 50% of the cost covered by federal funds in the latest Surface Transportation Bill. Given that the 4th line will take 3-4 years to build, it seems likely to open in 2021-22. At that time, Houston METRORail will likely attract 100,000 daily patrons and establish expansion momentum to IAH and HOU Airports. Given that groundbreaking aproaches for a privately-built HSR line to connecting Dallas to Houston, by 2021-22, we can anticipate Houston pursuing federal funds for an intermodal transportation center connecting Amtrak, Light Rail, taxis and shuttles at a downtown 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 to break ground on Atlanta Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown. If so, Atlanta Rapid Transit might reach 350,000 daily patrons by 2022, with capacity to double patronage as gasoline and parking costs double. Amtrak also wants to speed up and increase the frequency of service between Atlanta and Charlotte.

For decades, older voters, acting on racial stereotypes and not understanding the long term benefits to their metro areas, resisted rapid transit systems. Younger generation voters fed up highway congestion and trying to avoid car expenses, reduce smog & GHG, are voting for rapid transit projects.

Along with metro areas listed above, Rapid Transit patronage in Baltimore, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Honolulu, Hartford-New Haven, Buffalo, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Orlando, Raleigh-Durham, Cleveland, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Denver, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Austin, Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Las Vegas and Richmond metro area should be 30-50% higher in 2022 than it was in 2008. That’s 35 of our Top 45 Metro Areas building Heavy Rail, Light Rail, Commuter Rail and BRT.

Building More & Smarter Rapid Transit Will Help HSR Succeed

Since federal transit funds have been insufficient from 1966-73 and 1982-2008 and 2011-present, too many metro areas have chosen for Standard Light Rail, Standard Commuter Rail or BRT projects in traffic corridors better suited for Heavy Rail, Enhanced Light Rail or Enhanced Commuter Rail. Though its good to see BRT projects under construction, they should only be built in stable medium-traffic corridors. Too many metro areas had to decide between worthy rapid transit projects or cuts to regular bus service.

Here are two name-withheld examples to illustrate the point. Politicians chose a $325 million BRT line for low cost and expediency, instead of the $750 million Light Rail recommended by transit engineers. Ten years later, politicians in the same corridor are requesting a $1 billion conversion to Light Rail for more patron capacity and to integrate with the expanding Light Rail system. For low cost and expediency, politicians chose a 23-mile single-track Light Rail line though wooded area that restricted trains to 17-minute frequency, bypassed the 3rd largest business district, bypassed five colleges, crosses over the Heavy Rail line without connecting to it and encouraged companies to exit to the last suburban station on that Light Rail line.

If politicians could count on 50% federal transit funding, contingent on choosing the right alignments and transit modes, there would be more Heavy Rail, Enhanced Light Rail and Enhanced Commuter Rail. We would see 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. Storefronts tend to thrive around downtown Metro stations, streetcar stations and intermodal transportation centers. High concentrations of storefronts are a key reason that people find central NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans, Baltimore and Portland attractive to live in and visit. The recent growth of storefronts is also making downtown Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington attractive to more residents and visitors.

President Obama proposed a transportation budget to Congress in mid-2010 that called for $600 Billion over 5 years. Its goal was for surface transportation to catch up with the needs of our economic, population & urbanization growth. After the November 2010 Election, Congress delivered less than half that amount.

Now we need Congress and the next President to boost surface transportation funding to levels proposed by Obama. If so, our Top 45 Metro Areas can increase to 20-60% transit usage by 2035. With that kind of federal investment anchoring state & local investment, we can mitigate traffic congestion, reduce smog and GHG emissions, while cutting another 0.8 billion barrels of oil/year from Transportation use by 2035.

That still leaves us 0.4 billion barrels of oil/year short of reaching the 3.5 billion barrels of oil/year reduction goal by 2035. Read Part 6 to see how new dynamics are setting the table for Interstate High Speed Rail and Rapid Transit to compliment each other.

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