Interstate High Speed Rail and Rapid Transit
High Speed Rail, Regional Rail and Rapid Transit are the most space efficient, high capacity and zero-emission transportation modes to mitigate traffic congestion. When those three transportation modes are well-designed, expanded and meet at train stations, their Benefits over Costs multiply. Since our large metro areas are growing fast, we must accelerate Rapid Transit projects in tandem with Regional Rail and High Speed Rail projects. — Thomas Dorsey, Soul Of America
Rapid Transit Definitions
High Speed Rail and Regional Rail require good Rapid Transit connections and frequencies to maximize service that increases ridership. Rapid Transit divides into several types of routes and vehicles whose operating traits vary. Let’s review common Rapid Transit Definitions then examine their Benefits and Costs.
Depending on the naming convention by each American transit agency, “Metro Rail” means Heavy Rail, Light Rail, or both. Since they have substantially different Benefits over Costs, I differentiate them as “Metro Heavy Rail” and “Metro Light Rail.” What Americans call “Commuter Rail” is considered “Suburban Rail” in other parts of the world. Since all forms of Rapid Transit attract commuters, I prefer the term, Suburban Rail. What Americans call a “Modern Streetcar” is defined as “Tram” elsewhere. For consistency and comparison purposes, I prefer Tram as well.
Vintage Streetcars are not Rapid Transit.
Metro Heavy Rail Routes support 62-87 mph Top Speeds & 27-35 mph Average Speeds: Electric trains draw current from a 3rd rail opposite the passenger boarding side; they have subway tunnels and may have aerial viaducts; they have over/underpasses separating railway from the roadway for very high schedule dependability & safety; stops are typically 1/3 mile to 2 miles apart; station platforms are level with train floors for faster onboarding & offboarding; stations are designed for 6 to 10-cabin trains that have 550-900 rider capacity; they run every 2-6 minutes at Peak Hours, every 8-15 minutes Off-Peak; A Metro Heavy Rail line can transport 175 riders per cabin in an 8-cabin train to transport up to 36,400 riders/hour; By comparison, a 6-lane Interstate Highway transports only 8,000 riders/hour under optimal conditions; Metro Heavy Rail Routes have Very High Construction Cost Per Mile, but Medium Operational Cost Per Rider Mile since a driver is required.
Automated Metro Heavy Rail Routes support 55-62 mph Top Speed & 27-35 mph Average Speeds: Electric trains draw current from a 3rd rail opposite the passenger boarding side or from a linear middle track under trains; they have aerial viaducts and downtown subway tunnels separating railway from roadway for high schedule dependability and safety; stops are typically 1/3 mile to 1 mile apart; station platforms are level with train floors for faster onboarding & offboarding; though new lines often start with 2 cabins with 190-200 rider capacity, stations are designed for future 3 or 4-cabin trains with 300-400 rider capacity; they run every 2-5 minutes Peak Hours, every 6-10 minutes Off-Peak; since Automated Metro Heavy Rail has smaller stations and mostly viaduct its Construction Cost Per Mile is lower than Metro Heavy Rail having larger stations and more subway; since Automated Metro Heavy Rail is driver-less, it has Low Operational Cost Per Rider Mile; NIMBY resistance to long aerial viaducts makes it difficult to pass Environmental Clearance for most of these projects.
Metro Light Rail Routes support 56-62 mph Top Speeds & 22-32 mph Average Speeds: Electric trains draw current by extending pantographs up to overhead electric wire called “catenary”; Metro Light Rail requires dedicated lanes; It has fewer stops and larger capacity than Trams, but more over/underpasses and viaducts to achieve average higher speed, frequency, and safety; Some also have tunnels under Central Business Districts (CBD) to avoid roadway traffic; station platforms are level with train floors for faster onboarding/offboarding; stations are designed for 2 to 4-cabin trains with 150-300 rider capacity; They typically run every 5-8 minutes Peak Hours, every 10-15 minutes Off-Peak; one line can transport 40,000-75,000 daily riders; Metro Light Rail Routes have Medium Construction Cost Per Mile and Medium Operational Cost Per Rider Mile.
Tram Routes support 40-50 mph Top Speeds & 16-22 mph Average Speeds: Electric trains draw current by extending pantographs up to catenary; Unlike Metro Light Rail, Trams have low-floor cabins to easily step from station curb to cabin; Their low-floor cabins have bumpier rides than Metro Light Rail; Trams have dedicated lanes, some street closures, and fewer stops than Vintage Streetcars, but rarely have over/underpasses which makes their average speed lower than Metro Light Rail; Their stations have short platforms for 2 to 3-cabin Trams of 140-210 rider capacity; Trams typically run every 8-10 minutes at Peak Hours, every 12-18 minutes Off-peak; Tram Routes have slightly Higher Construction Cost Per Mile than Bus Rapid Transit, but Lower Operational Cost Per Mile.
Suburban Rail Routes support 60-80 mph Top Speed & 30-40 mph Average Speed: Commuter trains run on legacy rail shared with freight trains; Their trains use diesel locomotives but are transitioning to diesel-electric locomotives for lower smog and greenhouse gas emissions; these routes often have 1-track segments that limit the frequency of trains traveling in opposite directions; though routes are adding better gates at railroad crossings and automated train control for safety, they have lower average speeds and schedule dependability issues because autos, people and animals cross tracks at too many places; a Suburban Rail Route typically transports 2,000-7,000 daily riders and runs every 45-60 minutes at Peak Hours, every 2 hours Off-Peak; Suburban Rail has Very Low Construction Cost Per Mile, but many miles per route.
Enhanced Suburban Rail Routes support 62-93 mph Top Speeds & 35-50 mph Average Speeds: Their trains run on 2 Main Tracks with intermittent Siding Track for freight trains to pull aside; The begin with diesel-electric locomotives; Over time, they upgrade to electric trains that draw current by extending pantographs up to overhead electric wire called “catenary”; Along with automated train control, they have more over/underpasses and street closures than Suburban Rail for higher speed, frequency, schedule reliability, and safety; a route typically transports 15,000-50,000 daily riders and runs every 15-30 minutes at Peak Hours, every 30-60 minutes Off-peak; Enhanced Suburban Rail has Low Construction Cost Per Mile, but many miles per route; Paris RER in the video below is a great example.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Routes support 50-60 mph Top Speeds & 16-22 mph Average Speeds: They mostly run on Dedicated Busway, but have fewer over/underpasses and street closures; they typically have more stops per mile than Rapid Transit modes; sub-par BRT designs run a portion of their route in mixed traffic like local buses, crippling their average speed; BRT has 75-90 seats; they typically run every 6-8 minutes at Peak Hours, every 12-15 minutes Off-peak; BRT is best suited to corridors transporting under 20,000 daily riders that feed Central Business Districts, train stations, and rapid transit stations; though BRT Routes have the Lowest Construction Cost Per Mile, by 2035, most will transition to electric power and better stations, drawing their construction costs closer to Trams; since it requires more drivers per rider, BRT has higher Operating Cost Per Rider Mile than other modes of Rapid Transit.
America Has a Problem That Highway Widenings Can’t Fix
NYC metro area has transportation options like most big cities around the world. It’s an American outlier with the highest Construction Cost Per Mile for Rapid Transit routes. But its hyper-dense population supporting 24 Metro Heavy Rail lines, 12+ Suburban Rail lines, and 2 Light Rail lines form an expansive network that attracts very high ridership-per-mile, particularly in Manhattan, while Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx attract high ridership-per-mile. In fact, one Metro Heavy Rail line in Manhattan can attract 500,000 daily riders.
NYC is the only American metro area where over 50% of commuters use Rapid Transit and local buses. And yet the Big Apple has shortcomings. NYC Metro Heavy Rail System needs modernization and new lines crisscrossing Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx. NYC Suburban Rail Network needs a faster transition to Enhanced Suburban Rail.
As of 2021-end, America’s America’s Top 53 Metro Areas had at least 1 million population. Our Top 36 Metro Areas had at least 2 million population. Our Top 19 Metro Areas had at least 3 million population. Our Top 15 Metro Areas had at least 4 million population. Our Top 9 Metro Areas had at least 6 million population. Our largest metro areas are Chicago (10 million), Los Angeles (19 million), and NYC (21 million).
Los Angeles metro area set the standard for high-centric sprawl development. Other metro areas and the newer suburbs of NYC and Chicago, embraced similar sprawl development. As a result, America has a Herculean task to build comprehensive Rapid Transit networks in our largest metro areas.
Metro area sprawl development and population growth are increasing Vehicle Miles Traveled. That, in turn, increases highway & boulevard congestion. The results are lower average speeds at Peak Hours that sap American productivity. Highway and boulevard congestion also maintain high air pollution levels despite newer automobiles with lower emissions per mile driven.
Our 1.0-1.9 million population metro areas experience traffic congestion on their busiest highways during Peak Hours. Our 2.0-3.9 million population metro areas are dipping to 22-24 mph average highway speeds at Peak Hours. Drivers in our 4-20 million population metro areas slog through 20-22 mph average highway speeds during Peak Hours. Weekday Peak Hours are getting longer.
These trends are no surprise to transportation planners. Widening freeways beyond 3 Standard lanes & 1 HOV lane per side does NOT reduce highway & boulevard congestion. It’s a fake solution. Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Denver, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Orlando metro areas have each proven that freeway widening to 4-8 Standard lanes & 1-2 HOV lanes per side re-congests 2-3 years later. Building a 20+ lane freeway like Houston is insane on the membrane.
Further freeway widening is like loosening your belt to treat obesity.
Sorry Autonomous Vehicle fans. They will not solve highway congestion in the next 40-50 years. Read this informative article by The Conversation explaining why.
What should successful Rapid Transit networks look like? How many lines are appropriate for 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, and 20 million population metro areas. How many Enhanced Suburban Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Automated Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, Tram, and BRT lines should a metro area build?
One rule-of-thumb proven in Europe, Asia, and Latin America is that large metro areas need expansive Rapid Transit Networks that form a mesh of intersecting lines at strategically located stations. Those intersections to more lines create more transit journey options that attract higher ridership. Another rule-of-thumb is to match Rapid Transit Construction Cost Per Mile with corridor economic activity, population density, and growth rate.
Since European metro areas have similar economic activity those in America, but higher population densities afforded by decades of continuous rapid transit construction, American metro areas should follow their best practices:
• Do not build BRT lines in corridors likely to draw over 15,000 daily riders, since those corridors are better suited to Metro Light Rail or Trams.
• Upgrade train stations to Intermodal Transportation Centers that host High Speed Rail, Regional Rail, Enhanced Suburban Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Automated Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, Tram, BRT, Intercity Buses, and Bikes as appropriate for metro area size. Higher foot-traffic Intermodal Transportation Centers attract retail, dining, offices, hotel, and residential development nearby.
• In 1.0-1.9 million population metro areas, build 3-4 Rapid Transit lines with 2 lines intersecting at the Intermodal Transportation Center and 2 lines intersecting at another central station.
• In 2.0-2.9 million population metro areas, build 5-6 Rapid Transit lines with 3 lines intersecting at the Intermodal Transportation Center and 3-4 lines intersecting at other stations.
• In 3.0-3.9 million population metro areas, build 7-9 Rapid Transit lines with 4 lines intersecting at the Intermodal Transportation Center and 5-6 lines intersecting at other stations to form a mesh network.
• In 4.0-5.9 million population metro areas, build 12+ Rapid Transit lines intersecting at the Intermodal Transportation Center and multiple other stations that expand the mesh network.
• In 6.0-8.9 million population metro areas, build 16+ Rapid Transit lines intersecting at 2-3 Intermodal Transportation Centers and multiple other stations in a comprehensive mesh network.
• In 9.0-13.9 million population metro areas, build 20+ Rapid Transit lines intersecting at multiple Intermodal Transportation Centers and multiple other stations in a robust comprehensive mesh network.
• In 14-21 million population metro areas, build 30+ Rapid Transit lines intersecting at multiple Intermodal Transportation Centers and multiple other stations in a world-class comprehensive mesh network where most commuters are within a 4-block distance to a network station.
Below are European metro area examples of small to large Rapid Transit networks. When you click on their names, consider these important traits. Since the 1973 Oil Embargo, they have been gradually converting Suburban Rail to Enhanced Suburban Rail routes with over/underpasses, street closures, 2 Main Tracks, intermittent Siding Track, and electric trains. European nations target completion of Enhanced Suburban Rail conversions by 2035-40.
European metro areas have also been building Metro Heavy Rail, Automated Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, and Tramlines faster to form Rapid Transit mesh networks that attract higher ridership per mile than counterparts in America:
942,000 Nice metro area – 3 Trams, 3 Enhanced Commuter Rail lines
2.3M Lyon metro area – 4 Heavy Rail, 7 Trams, 5 Enhanced Commuter Rail lines
3.2M Rome metro area – 3 Heavy Rail, 3 Trams, 7 Enhanced Commuter Rail lines
4.7M Berlin metro area – 9 Heavy Rail, 24 Enhanced Commuter Rail lines
4.9M Milan metro area – 7 Heavy Rail, 9 Enhanced Commuter Rail lines
6.0M Madrid metro area – 12 Heavy Rail, 3 Trams, 9 Enhanced Commuter Rail lines
14.7M London metro area – 11 Heavy Rail, 15+ Enhanced Commuter Rail, 3 Trams lines
America used to have the world’s best Streetcar infrastructure. Lines that went through all high-activity corridors of a city. But after World War II ended in 1945, White Americans developed a preference for sprawl development plus highways and boulevards to larger home lots in the deep suburbs. New suburban developments often leapfrogged roadway, water, sewage, and electrical infrastructure. Their sprawl development required higher state & county taxes to build and produced lower residential densities. Entire suburban communities were designed without rapid transit or thinking of boulevards with pedestrian walkways.
Enabled by highways & boulevards growth, sprawl development converted America into an Automobile-centric nation. President Kennedy became aware of the implications of that trend. If it continued unabated, auto-centricity would hollow out the CBDs of major cities and dramatically increase taxes for infrastructure rather than consumer spending. So JFK proposed a federal agency to fund rapid transit projects radiating from the CBDs of our major cities. After JFK’s death, President Johnson ushered his vision to reality with the Urban Mass Transit Administration (now called Federal Transit Administration).
Once the Vietnam War escalated in 1965, our leaders maintained a high percentage of Federal Highway funding but reduced Federal funding of Rapid Transit projects. Following that federal lead, our state leaders invested more in highway & boulevard expansion, less in Rapid Transit projects. This chart by TheTransportPolitic.com only covers 2010-19, but accurately summarizes America’s 1965-2020 over-investment in Highways compared to under-planning and under-investment in Rapid Transit.
With less federal and state funding in high-activity corridors that justified Metro Heavy Rail, our metro areas canceled Metro Heavy Rail projects or downscaled to Metro Light Rail projects. In medium-activity corridors that justified Metro Light Rail, our metro areas canceled Metro Light Rail projects or downscaled to Tram or Bus Rapid Transit projects. In lengthy medium-activity corridors that justified Enhanced Suburban Rail, our metro areas settled for Suburban Rail.
The results are starkly evident in America’s Top 35 Metro Areas. Excluding NYC Metro Area, only 6 metro areas have 8+ Rapid Transit lines that form partial mesh networks:
9.5M Chicago Metro Area – 8 Heavy Rail, 12 Commuter Rail lines
4.9M Boston Metro Area – 3 Heavy Rail, 11 Commuter Rail, 5 Metro Light Rail lines
6.1M Philadelphia Metro Area – 3 Heavy Rail, 12 Commuter Rail, 4 Light Rail
6.3M Washington Metro Area – 6 Metro Heavy Rail, 4 Commuter Rail, 1 Light Rail
18.8M Los Angeles Metro Area – 2 Heavy Rail, 7 Commuter Rail, 4 Light Rail
9.7M San Francisco Bay Area 5 Heavy Rail, 1 Regional Rail, 2 Commuter Rail, 8 Light Rail
Washington, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay and Atlanta metro areas are modernizing rapid transit infrastructure, but need 50% more mileage to form mesh networks. Miami, Baltimore, and Cleveland stunted Metro Heavy Rail expansion due to federal, state & local under-funding. Due to its late start building rapid transit and 19 million residents, Los Angeles Metro Area needs 5x more rapid transit infrastructure than today.
The rest of America’s large metro areas overbuilt highways and delayed rapid transit construction. As a result, they need 3x to 5x more Enhanced Suburban Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Automated Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, and Trams to rapid transit mesh networks. Though BRT has a valuable place in Rapid Transit networks, they should not be a substitute for Trams or Metro Light Rail in dense urban areas.
Make Rapid Transit a Funding Priority
In America, Metro Heavy Rail, Automated Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, and Enhanced Suburban Rail projects take 6-15 years to build. Metro Heavy Rail takes the longest to build due to longer tunnels, larger underground stations and lengthier viaducts.
Opened in 2003, AirTrain JFK in NYC is America’s first Automated Metro Heavy Rail Line. Honolulu is opening America’s second Automated Metro Heavy Rail Line in 2022. Across from Manhattan, Northern New Jersey has two expanding Metro Light Rail lines. NYC Metro Area best illustrates how decades of Enhanced Suburban Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Automated Metro Heavy Rail and Metro Light Rail saved taxpayer money by avoiding more expensive highway bridges and tunnels.
In the 1990s, Grand Central Terminal’s the Neo-Gothic architecture transformed into a 750,000 daily rider Intermodal Transportation Center bustling with restaurants, hotel and retail activity from dawn to late night. NYC recently opened Metro Heavy Rail extensions and NYC New York Penn Station features Amtrak-HSR, Enhanced Suburban Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Intercity Buses, Tour Buses, local buses, and Uber/Lyft/taxis that attract 650,000 daily riders. The grand Moynahan Hall expanded New York Penn Station capacity in January 2021. Awe-inspiring World Trade Center Transportation Hub and the vibrance of transit-oriented Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens enable NYC to be the most visited international destination in North & South America.
Our largest metro areas have substantial transportation projects underway with new, upgraded, or planned connections to High Speed Rail and Amtrak Regional Rail that will boost Rapid Transit ridership.
Chicago opened America’s first elevated Metro Heavy Rail line on viaduct in 1892 and shortly afterward added subway. Later, the city extended Metro Heavy Rail to both airports and Suburban Rail lines from its 4 train stations. Chicago’s pre-pandemic Metro Heavy Rail and Suburban Rail network transported 1.1 million daily riders. Chicago is upgrading old Metro stations, buying new Metro trains, expanding three Metro Heavy Rail lines and building a BRT circulator connecting Amtrak, Metro Heavy Rail, Regional Rail and Suburban Rail lines. Two Amtrak lines are being upgraded to 90 mph from Chicago to St. Louis and to 110 mph from Chicago to Detroit. Chicago Union Station has been restored. Eventually, Chicago Union Station and nearby Oglivie Transit Center will connect via underground tunnel to enable pass-through Commuter & Amtrak trains.
Boston’s rapid transit system began in 1897. By 1990, their rapid transit culture pushed back against more Interstate Highway ripping through communities. Instead, Boston chose to build or enhance Amtrak HSR, Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, Enhanced Suburban Rail, Suburban Rail, and BRT anchored to three train stations. Pre-pandemic Boston enjoyed 750,000 daily rapid transit patrons, more Amtrak Northeast Corridor visitors, and a more vibrant CBD. Now Boston is extending two Metro Light Rail lines, planning a transition to Enhanced Suburban Rail and upgrading train stations.
Philadelphia’s rapid transit system began in 1907. Today, 30th Street Station has been upgraded to an Intermodal Transportation Center hosting Amtrak, Regional Rail, Suburban Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, and Intercity Buses. Philadelphia has 575,000 daily rail transit patrons and a Regional Rail line to Atlantic City. Philadelphia is fixing old bridges, updating power systems and buying new electric trains for Enhanced Suburban Rail. In the years ahead, more office residential and retail space is being built around 30th Street Station. At long last, Philadelphia plans a Metro Heavy Rail extension to Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Opening its first Metro Heavy Rail line in 1976, Washington expanded that mode of Rapid Transit better than any American city. Its Metro Heavy Rail lines form a mesh network and several lines go to Washington Union Station. It has transformed from a train station to Intermodal Transportation Center for High Speed Rail, Regional Rail, Enhanced Suburban Rail, Suburban Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Intercity Buses, Tram, and Uber/Lyft/taxis. Dramatic public space, a retail center, food court, and location near the U.S. Capitol made it a tourist attraction. By 2024-25, Washington Union Station waiting area expands and more Transit-Oriented Development will be built over its tracks. Metro Heavy Rail expansion to Dulles International Airport opens in 2022. A Metro Light Rail line is under construction that will ring Maryland-side of Washington Metro Area.
In 1972, San Francisco-Oakland metro area opened their first Metro Heavy Rail line called Bay Area Rapid Transit or just “BART.” In 1972, BART connected both cities via a tube under the San Francisco Bay. In 1980, San Francisco converted 4 Streetcar lines to Metro Light Rail. In 1987, Suburban Rail service began in the 49-mile San Francisco-San Jose corridor. BART and Metro Light Rail systems expanded. In 2019, BART, Metro Light Rail, Suburban Rail, Vintage Streetcars, Cable Cars, and Ferries attracted over 650,000 daily patrons. Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco CBD re-opened for BRT, Greyhound, Megabus, shuttles, taxis, and Uber/Lyft. In 2022, San Francisco expands a Metro Light Rail line to Chinatown. In 2024, the San Francisco-San Jose corridor upgrades from Suburban Rail to Enhanced Suburban Rail with more over/underpasses to follow. By 2028, a 1.4-mile tunnel is planned to open for Enhanced Suburban Rail extension into Salesforce Transit Center located in San Francisco CBD. By 2029, BART reaches San Jose CBD and San Jose Intermodal Transportation Center.
In 2008 and 2016, Los Angeles County voted for 50 years of sales tax increase, primarily to accelerate Rapid Transit projects. In 2022, Los Angeles Union Station will host 3 Amtrak lines, 2 Metro Heavy Rail lines, 2 Metro Light Rail lines, 6 Commuter Rail lines, and several BRT lines. In 2023, a Metro Light Rail line connects to LAX Airport People Mover. By 2027, a Metro Heavy Rail line extends to the Museum District, Beverly Hills, Century City, and Westwood/UCLA. A major upgrade to Los Angeles Union Station, more Metro Light Rail lines, Suburban Rail and Amtrak Regional Rail enhancements, and more BRT lines will complete before the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympics. Some time afterward, Los Angeles Union Station will host California HSR and Las Vegas-Los Angeles HSR lines. As more federal and state investment arrives, Los Angeles Metro Area is building towards a network similar to this 2050 LA Rapid Transit Vision Map.
Dallas opened its first Metro Light Rail line in 1996 and upgraded Dallas Union Station to intermodal transportation center status for Amtrak, Metro Light Rail and Suburban Rail. Its Metro Light Rail system connects Dallas CBD and its 2nd largest business center to DFW Airport and Love Field Airport. Dallas Metro Light Rail extensions are coming. Nearby Fort Worth opened an Suburban Rail line to DFW airport. groundbreaking approaches for a privately-built Texas HSR line connecting Dallas to North Houston.
Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami, and Cleveland need to resume Metro Heavy Rail and Metro Light Rail expansions to form mesh networks that expand transit options and invite more Transit-Oriented Development. Seattle, San Diego, Baltimore-Washington and Miami-Fort Lauderdale Suburban Rail lines need conversion to Enhanced Suburban Rail.
San Diego, Portland, Sacramento, Denver, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Norfolk, St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Newark, Buffalo, and Hartford need accelerated expansion of Metro Light Rail systems, conversions to Enhanced Suburban Rail and more Transit-Oriented Development near stations. If they don’t expand Metro Light Rail faster, public pressure will increase to widen highways.
Though many people consider Seattle, Houston and Phoenix to have Metro Light Rail systems, they actually have Tram-like low-floor trains and many streetcurb-level stations. Seattle Tram system is best because its expanding rapidly, has more over/underpasses, tunnels and viaducts for higher average speed, frequency & safety, along with Transit-Oriented Development. Houston and Phoenix Tram systems need over/underpasses, tunnels, viaducts and Transit-Oriented Development as they expand.
Fast-growing Austin, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Orlando, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Tucson need Metro Light Rail expansion in the worst way. Even Detroit, Milwaukee, Little Rock, Louisville, and Richmond Tram & BRT systems need Metro Light Rail conversion & expansion. Slow-growth New Orleans and Memphis seem content with Vintage Streetcars for tourists.
Its well known that Rapid Transit connected to frequent electric bus service mitigates highway congestion, lowers air pollution, and increases job & school access. Yonah Freemark of the Urban Institute also studied the importance of expanding Rapid Transit and increasing bus frequency in 100,000+ population urban areas. His study reveals a strong correlation between people with no Rapid Transit access and low bus frequency to higher unemployment levels.
Consider those benefits as our Top 250 Metro Areas head to 200,000+ population and our Top 60 Metro Areas head to 2+ million by 2050. In summary, America’s Transit Infrastructure needs 3X more investment to make our Top 250 Metro Areas a two-way partner to High Speed Rail and Regional Rail discussed in Part 6.