Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Night Linkfest: Streetcars & Secretaries

Streetcar projects are still having problems getting past the FTA Cost Effectiveness measure. Can we rewrite this thing already?
Sources say former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk is one of two supposed finalists for the Transportation Secretary job along with Steve Heminger from the Bay Area MTC. The article says nothing about what Kirk has done on transportation issues and only that he was an early supporter and friend to Obama. Who wants cronies! Anyone have any more info on this person? I will note that he was in Office when light rail started running in Dallas.

Heminger on the other hand took any mention of electric transit out of the report for the recent Revenue Policy Study. It was put back, but he's also famous around the Bay Area by progressive transport nerds for his stance on promoting HOT lanes as the only way short term to cut congestion and pollution.
Rep Peter Defazio is certain that an Obama administration will fund the East Side Streetcar project in Portland. This could bode well for other projects.
This is heartening, but I'd really like to hear more about it than this.

While details have not been finalized, the bill is expected to include tens of billions of dollars for highway, mass transit, airport, and intercity passenger and freight rail improvements.

Bush's transportation philosophy "seemed to be, 'This is what the federal government should be responsible for and nothing else.' And the 'nothing else' category was public transportation," said William Millar, executive director of the American Public Transportation Association, whose members include transit agencies.

Obama, on the other hand, has described himself as a strong advocate of mass transit.

While Bush proposed what some lawmakers described as "starvation budgets" for Amtrak, Obama has pledged support for the passenger rail carrier and for developing a national network of high-speed passenger trains.

The BRT - Light Rail saga continues on the Purple Line. A bad frame was used at a recent meeting. David Alpert fixes it.
It's too bad Gonzalez is thinking about the project using this analogy. A Lamborghini and a VW both get you from point A to point B, and except in a drag race, in pretty much the same amount of time. Not so with the bus versus light rail option. The light rail is faster, carries more people, and would use its own right of way for big chunks of the route, avoiding a lot of traffic. A better analogy would be, if the County builds a new school, should they buy big yellow buses or little golf carts to transport kids to school? Even if they're much slower and hold fewer students, they cost less, so why not?


Cap'n Transit said...

I'm confused. Shouldn't the County build a light-rail system to bring the kids to school?

AJ said...

East Side Streetcar is pretty much going ahead, even if they have to stand outside the White House with a tin cup rattling it.

jon said...

eastside streetcar is scheduled to start construction May 1, 2009 (according to the latest east side committee minutes). i'm not sure if the route has been selected to connect with the existing line in the pearl, its either a northrup or lovejoy option.

JimS said...

Streetcars are only really effective if you have something to feed them (although this can include parking lots in a parking scarce downtown).

They are slow and only useful for short distances. As a downtown circulator, they do work really well though (short distances where it makes no sense to drive, but takes a while to walk). i.e. they're useful for about the same distances as a bicycle, but for people who don't want to lug a bicycle around.

Peoplemovers work really well in this situation too, although they aren't as pretty and cost more up front (somewhat defrayed by cheaper operating expenses).

None of these benefits will show up in an FTA assessment -- just about the only thing that makes that happy is commuter rail or light-rail-on-the-cheap.

dto510 said...

I'm constantly amazed by evidence-free hyperbole spouted by rail lovers. BRT is not slower than light-rail, and light-rail's marginally higher capacity is very unlikely to be needed in any city's planned transit expansion (do BRT opponents think it will be so successful that it will be overwhelmed with passengers?). Like many people who don't like BRT, the blogger you quote doesn't even understand it - BRT has its own right-of-way, that is the whole point.

Also, because streetcars can't meet cost-effectiveness standards, we should throw cost-effectiveness out the window? Attitudes like that are why many Americans do not support public subsidies for transit.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

DTO, cost effectiveness is a measure used by the FTA to rank rail projects. It's not a true measure of the ultimate cost effectiveness of a project. We've written about it here many times. If we used that cost effectiveness measure at any time during the history of this country, you wouldn't have BART, the Washington Metro or many of the successful rail lines that are running now around the country built before 2005. That's how distorted it is. Just because its cheaper, doesn't mean its better. This is the mantra of the Bush Administration.

Also, just because a bus has its own right of way doesn't mean that it will be anywhere near as fast as light rail or electric transit. Case in point the Gold Line Orange Line in LA. There is a 15 minute difference between the two even though they are the same length.

I think you've been hoodwinked by AC Transit propaganda on BRT. Not all BRT has its own ROW. Check out my planetizen post:

dto510 said...

I have not been "hoodwinked by AC Transit propoganda." I have followed the BRT proposal from the Long-Range Investment Study I read in 2001 as an intern at BATLUC (now TransForm) to the Downtown Oakland transit investment meeting of the Congestion Management Agency in 2004 to being on the No on KK Campaign Committee this fall. Even a cursory knowledge of the transportation needs of the East Bay and the limits and costs of various options makes BRT the clearly superior choice (East Bay LRT, BART at JLS, and a downtown streetcar have all been shown to be expensive and impractical). I would posit that you and other rail worshippers are blinded by a shallow aesthetic preference for trains and a callous disregard for limited public resources.

Fully built-out BRT with dedicated ROW is the proper comparison to LRT. Using existing infrastructure (streets) is the speed limit on rapid transit, not technology.

The federal Small Starts program allows the federal government to pick up the majority of the cost of new local services. Large-scale projects like BART that are primarily funded by local funds do not have to meet cost effectiveness criteria. And BART's insatiable and wasteful expansion plans make it a bad example of transit investment.

Are we going to continue this conversation at the blogger get-together this evening?

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it. My parents flew in today from Texas and I hung out with them. We'll be able to chat about it at some point in the future though.