Thursday, June 11, 2009

I Wear My Sunglasses At Night

Over at Politics and Place they're talking about the effect of train goggles with an excellent discussion on this issue that I mostly agree with. Yes I have them too. Apparently I'm a Choo Choo Head. I won't go into the dog whistle effect that the term choo choo has for rail transit opposition but it's there and it's strong. But as Paz states:
Munch on this for a second. If all of the sudden every streetcar and commuter train that ever ran was to suddenly reappear, would we still need buses? I would argue "absolutely, yes".
Ditto. As Bruce McF always says, buses and trains should be friends.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Buses have an important role to play, but the absence of rail had made things harder for America.

Peter Smith said...

i disagree with just about that entire referenced post, but primarily with this statement:

There is nothing inherently wrong with bus transportation.

actually, there is. bus travel is not comfortable. it is not dignified. it should not be tolerated. generally speaking, the only people who ride the bus are people who have no other option.

people prefer rail because of nostalgia and novelty?

Justin said...

A good transportation network has a mixture of commuter rail, ligth rail(or streetcars),and bus transportation! It just makes sense. Too bad any sort of discussion is overshadowed by the BRT lobby who would prefer to compete with rail, rather then work with rail. Not to say some LRT advocates are totally innocent. But the BRT lobby is the most vocal.

Alon Levy said...

Peter, the crosstown buses in Manhattan connecting the Upper West Side and Upper East Side see plenty of upper-class riders.

JimS said...

The big difference is trains are STABLE. They don't wobble around a lot because they have straight guideways. They give a far more stable ride than any bus or automobile can.

I don't get carsick in trains. I do in buses, or in a car when I'm not driving (for some reason that helps mitigate it).

beyonddc said...

Of course we need both. But we also need to make the case for why streetcars are different than buses, because for goodness sake, people ASK WHY THEY'RE DIFFERENT all the damn time.

If you're a blog writer and you've written about streetcars, there is a 99% chance someone in the comments has said "streetcars are just like buses but more expensive. why build them at all?"

Infrastructurists 36 reasons were a necessary response to a common question.

Paz said...

If I may speak in defense of the author of the post in question (who I'm sure is a brilliant and extremely handsome man)...

Why is there no water taxi service in Phoenix (at least to the extent of my knowledge)? I would argue that it is because the geography isn't suited to it. And in the same way that the natural environment can affect our transit decisions, the built environment also should affect decisions about what mode of transit to develop.

In the past, streetcar lines were often constructed on little-developed farmland, which created density on transit corridors. Is that a reasonable model for the transit community today ("you want to build a train with taxpayer money to WHERE?")? Of course not (though there is a double standard, highways do it all the time). So we have developed new uses for rail technology, the most important of which, I believe, is to improve quality of life in populated areas and create density in de-populated areas. But there are hundreds of neighborhoods in a metropolitan area, and not all of them fit the bill for rail transportation, for various reasons. And that's where efficient bus transit fits in.

We all probably have very different ideas as to where rail development should take priority in our respective metros. But I find it difficult to believe that, if it's helping to create social equity, bus transportation is a "bad" thing, particularly if the other option is no transit at all.

arcady said...

There really is nothing inherently wrong with bus transportation, but as with any other mode, there are things that buses do well, and things they do poorly. And given the fact that in much the US, the public transport network is almost exclusively bus-based, the mode has been greatly overused in places where it's really not the best idea. Buses don't work well as rapid transit: their capacity is limited. On intercity corridors, they have limited speed, limited comfort, and poor ability to serve intermediate points. On the other hand, buses can take good advantage of the extensive highway and street infrastructure that exists in this country, and the maintenance of way is almost never part of the bus company's budget.

arcady said...

"But I find it difficult to believe that, if it's helping to create social equity, bus transportation is a "bad" thing"

Except bus transportation does not create social equity. I only have the statistics for LA, but I'm sure they hold for most places: bus riders are overwhelmingly poor, minority, and a lack drivers' license and access to a car. If you rely heavily on buses and cars as the primary form of transport, you end up with a totally inequitable system where those who can afford it will drive, while those who can't are stuck on the buses, which take three times longer to get anywhere. Rail, in LA at least, has a much more diverse ridership base because it's actually attractive compared to driving. That said, buses do still have their applications: freeway expresses on uncongested freeways, peripheral routes where there is lower ridership (and lower congestion), local shuttle type service, and in overcoming natural obstacles that are difficult for rail.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Peter do you really think that rail can be used in every transit application? Buses have their place and sometimes do things better. I think we do ourselves a disservice and will make our arguments fall on deaf ears if we really believe that buses have no place in the transportation network just like those who believe that rail has no place in the network.

Spokker said...

For those who think buses don't serve a purpose, Japan has buses. The passenger rail capital of the world has buses. Even as a tourist I had reason to ride some.

Anyway, the reason people might have these "Train Goggles" on is because cities are blanketed with grids of bus routes and rail has been neglected. I have Train Goggles on because where I live the only bus service is local quarter-mile stop service and light rail was killed by a referendum years ago.

As a part-time automobile driver and a part-time bus user, I have Train Goggles on and I do not apologize for it.

Alon Levy said...

I have train goggles because the bus I commute on, the M72, comes from the same family of the slowest buses in New York. In one sense it's worse than all the other crosstown buses: it detours from 72nd to 66th Street to cross Central Park, adding to travel time. Unlike its cousins in Midtown, like the 42nd and 34th Street buses, it's faster than walking, but most of the speed benefit is canceled by the detour.

neroden@gmail said...

Thing is, trains are simply more comfortable. You are not going to get as smooth a ride on a bus.

If the volume just doesn't justify a train, fine, go for a bus. Probably a minibus. If the volume does justify a train, take advantage of the fact that essentially everyone prefers to ride a train and that they fit more people.

Matt Fisher said...

As somebody who lives in a "role model" for BRT, Ottawa, I certainly have "train goggles". But buses, and possibly even BRT, have as much of a place as rail.

Matt Fisher said...

Okay. Anyway, I should have made my comment earlier. I really tend to have my "rail bias" and "train goggles" based on my argument that in North America, there isn't enough "good" rail. I'm not saying we should wage "mode wars" between trains and buses, though. I am not anti-bus, and I will say that BRT is not a totally bad idea, but not a perfect idea either.

Maybe some places are better suited for BRT, if this can be believable. But not BRT as a substitute for rail for me or for anyone. BRT is not the same as rail and you can't expect to come away with saying that a bus can be "rail like". BRT is rapid transit when compared to a local bus, but is not as good as rail. And I don't think any rail lines should be paved over and turned into busways. Maybe it can be useful in the short term to build ridership for rail in the future and make it appear more feasible, or maybe not.

And maybe BRT can be better for the environment if it uses trolleybuses, even with all the advances in diesel bus technology that allow the buses to produce fewer emissions in 2009 than in 1959, at which point the road lobby and government bureaucrats were still disposing of streetcars in much of the few American, Canadian, and Australian cities they were still in (with a few exceptions).

Nevertheless, while I still say that BRT has as much of a place as LRT, I don't agree with the move by BRT proponents to interpret "BRT" to mean practically any kind of non-local bus. I fervently disagree with a number of ridiculous assertions as made by BRT proponents, including that BRT is "rail on rubber tires" and is "just like rail, but cheaper".