Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Usual Conversation

Sigh. Can we get past this type of discussion about light rail and BRT already?


Cavan said...

At least the commenters seem to get it.

Justin said...

That's a good sign.

I am surprised the New York Times would even print that.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

The problem is that, on paper, BRT is a good way to implement rapid transit without laying tracks or stringing up overhead wires. Buses on tires with conventional engines on a street are never as comfortable as electric steel-wheeled railcars, but from a travel time and cost perspective it makes sense.

The problem is that BRT does not ever end up looking like light rail transit as BRT advocates suggest. The stations are too close to allow significant travel time improvements; signal priority isn't effectively done; buses are more narrow and crowded, which slows down boarding/de-boarding.

Additionally, BRT is not scalable: transit agencies can't just couple buses together to add capacity. They have to hire an additional driver and add a new run to the daily schedule.

On a final note, I find it particularly amusing that they cite LA's orange line as an example of low-cost BRT. I agree that it is low-cost, but to call it rapid is just a incorrect.

It's all here:

Rollie Fingers said...

I can comment #9 on that thread. When I wrote it, only the first three comments were up, so I was pleasantly surprised that the commenters didn't take the bait.

Appears I spoke too soon.

Rollie Fingers said...

I *was* comment 9

AJ said...

BRT offers what LRT can't: flexibility. If a problem happens on LRT tracks, it's stuck. BRT, even if implemented fully, can go around the problem.

I don't see why you have to spend so much money on a train when a bus can do just as fine a job.

Robert said...


How often are light rail systems actually obstructed?


Justin said...

AJ, that is an argument that doesn't hold up in reality. It is rare for accidents to occur on LRT lines, and even when they do, they are cleared pretty quickly.
Buses can NOT do the job of rail. Bus, and rail serve different purposes, and one cannot expect to build a cheap bus line, and reap the benefits of rail. BRT is constantly a victim of oversell. Promoters promises gold, and delivers bronze.

AJ said...

Well, for an example, you see that Portland's MAX will not have service from Gateway TC to the Airport for 6 days-- how are they compensating? A bus.

Portland's also had incidents like people driving into the Robertson Tunnel and tie-ups on the tracks in Hillsboro in the past couple of months. How did they compensate? Buses.

And that's just Portland.

Robert said...

AJ Said:

"Well, for an example, you see that Portland's MAX will not have service from Gateway TC to the Airport for 6 days-- how are they compensating? A bus."

Frankly, AJ, I'd rather have the right solution for 359 days than have the right solution for 6 days. Bottom line is that the "flexibility" of BRT is of limited utility -- light rail is simply not offline that often.

Thinking back to the cities where I've lived in which there is light rail, which are San Diego and Houston. The incidents that cut off light rail that I remember is:

San Diego -- contractor lost a load of debris at grade crossing with Blue line. Light rail never went offline -- they just ran one track.

Houston -- hurricanes, floods, and power outages.

These things just don't happen enough to merit a solution that is flexible, but are a poor solution.

AJ -- I'd like your thoughts on my earlier post on how BRT is poorly implemented.

Justin said...


The Airport MAX is offline because Trimet is tying in signals for the new Green Line at Gateway T.C.. Busways are prone to disruptions, and closures too. The Ottawa Transitway is regularly closed, or restricted to one lane, so they can repave the road.

Justin said...

Here is the service alert:

dcsouthpaw said...

I'm no urban planning geek. But even I know, there is no such thing as a "dedicated lane."

Just because lanes are dedicated doesn't mean drivers will be.

Today there was chatter on the cable news about a new funding initiative for Amtrak. Some lawmakers want to completely defund Amtrak, without providing for the hundreds of thousands of extra commuters on the Interstate that such a move would create. Every day.

If they don't get Amtrak, I despair that they will ever understand light rail RT. The usual conversation creates business for the auto industry
(aka bus builders). But it's not like auto and truck manufacturers can't tool up to build light rail.
Maybe if they had, they wouldn't be in such dire financial straits.

AlexB said...

Yeah, OK, but the Metro Rapid in LA is not BRT. It's a faster limited stop bus...

Anonymous said...

Large windows in buses and light rail crack me up. In my city it's mostly "downtrodden types" riding the buses...(i.e. bums, proles, etc.) There is no light rail.

If light rail is ever introduced, I know most people wouldn't ride it. The bus station is disgusting and the people riding them are disgusting. It's usually warm and the city isn't hard to walk in already.

Adding light rail won't change much in my opinion.

Matt Fisher said...


I've heard more than enough of the "flexibility" argument and heard it about 10,000 times. It's the same old stuff.

By the way, I'm not saying rail should be a "magic wand" everywhere in which all our problems will just melt away.

The problems of LRT are not unique to transit. Accidents are rarer than you say. It's not like these closures are going to be three years, or indefinite.

"Flexible", yes, but BRT is not as good as light rail. And it is no substitute. Trains and buses have different purposes as much as automobiles do.


Your "The problem is that..." in your first comment is a valid point. How can it be like light rail, as bus boosters will tell us? I question this assertion by them.