Sunday, November 9, 2008

People of the Green Book

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The audio above is Andres Duany at this last weeks CNU Transportation Networks Summit. Now I don't agree with everything Andres says. A lot of times he drives me nuts when it comes to transit modes like streetcars because he'll go into a city and say something completely crazy like limiting streetcar distance or density before transit which are things I haven't agreed with. But in this instance he makes a lot of sense.

I often wonder if we're over engineering our light rail and streetcar lines as to render them so expensive that the BRT folks swoop in and say cheaper is better. The first lines we built in this country were on shoestring budgets with off the shelf vehicles and know how from folks that operated streetcars that were discontinued. As we get further away from that knowledge base, we continue to gold plate systems using super heavy catenary that is aesthetically displeasing and have been perhaps over lawyer-ed. But the technology remains basically the same, just as the automobile and we've lost a lot of that knowledge.

What Andres talks about in losing knowledge of how to build roads is seen in our cities where cars go too fast and road diets are often the new buzz word. What the engineer knows comes from the engineering manuals. Yet there is years of knowledge out there and best examples in our cities and existing rail lines that we can learn from. The clip is about 4 minutes. I cut out the part I thought was interesting from the 30 minute talk. So enjoy. I hope to do more of these audio things now that I have a recorder.


Jarrett Mullen said...

I wasn't able to hear the audio since the player seemed to be stuck in fast forward. However, from reading your summary, I think the speaker makes an interesting point about the overbuilding of light rail infrastructure.

I live in San Jose, and parts of the light rail system seem like it's built for high-speed rail service. For instance, VTA uses heavy duty catenary on parts of their lines that don't see speeds over 25 mph. In addition, the actual steel rail is pretty heavy. On higher speed lines such as the Gold Line in Los Angeles, I can understand the desire for more substantial infrastructure. But in San Jose, where streetcar-like running is the norm in many places, the infrastructure investment feels out of place.

kenf said...

Is the complete talk available somewhere?

Justin said...

There is a great report called "beware of LRT Oversell somewhere on the Transportation Research Board site. This is not a new issue, as even Buffalo seems to be overbuilt. The catenary in "Buffalo Place" looks like it can handle HSR easily, even though the LRV's barely get above 20 km/h! Insane.

jon said...

didnt kenosha, wi build their streetcar system for $10 million including all the track, cars (rehabbed) and carbarn? why havent more places emulated this?

case in point for this topic, the route of the lake oswego extension for the portland streetcar which already is used for seasonal tourist trolley service using vintage trolley cars and a pulled generator, yet it will cost $50-100 million to make it into a portland streetcar route.

whatever happened to taking an old unused rail branch and getting some old rail cars, putting simple stops in of off-the-shelf bus shelters, new crossing gates and either stringing really cheap overhead with wooden poles or using dmu cars? you can always upgrade it gradually over time. in fact this is more or less what was done to get this seasonal tourist trolley line in operation to lake oswego 20 years ago.

arcady said...

ADA is a big contribution to the expense of station construction and rolling stock expense, since you probably need low-floor cars and level boarding at all doors. But really, I think the problem is that this is big capital funding from the feds that comes along only once in a rare while, so everyone tries to pile on everything they can onto the project. On the other hand, sometimes it's much better to build the thing right from the start rather than suffer through long and disruptive upgrades.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Ken I'll post the whole thing tonight at my blip account. Once I do that I'll send you the link. I just didn't want to put up a full 30 minute clip because most people wouldn't listen and its a huge file. And Jarrett I'm sorry it sounded so weird. check the link here

Anonymous said...

Interesting clip.

What he spoke of reminds me a lot about the short sighted flawed logic of people like O'Toole or Cox.

ChiefJoJo said...

I was at the CNU-STN as well, but missed Duany's talk. I think there is a fine line between over & under building. In Charlotte, they engineered the 3-car platforms and other niceties out of the LRT project for cost-effectiveness, but for the extension, are having to add them back due to ridership being so strong.

I was in the metrics sub-group, and we talked about the need for life-cycle cost vs ROI calculation as being important. It's not just the up-front costs here.

FWIW, I heard Robert Reich say today that he has advised Obama that infrastructure is a good economic stimulus and he even mentioned rapid transit projects. Any word on likely Transportation Secretary?

Dave Murphy said...

I think the Purple Line through College Park is an excellent example of attempts to over-engineer a light rail train in the manner you were comparing to Duany's talks. Dig the audio clip.