Tag Archives: light rail

Unclear on the concepts

Norman City Council candidates clarify views at public forum before April 1 election

Key quote:

““Something I would love to see — some type of light rail from Norman to Oklahoma City all the way to Tulsa,” [Matthew] Leal said.”

Dallas’ DART system pushes the limit on how long a light rail line can: it’s about 20 miles from the Parker Rd stop in Plano to Union Station in Dallas.  The San Diego Trolley has a similarly long lines down to the Mexican border and out to Santee, California.  DART’s route is scheduled for about a 45-minute run and I’m not sure you’d want to spend that much more time on that type of vehicle.

“Light rail”, at least for buzzword-compliant politicians and candidates, seem to be short-hand for high-speed rail, commuter rail, intercity rail, light rail, heavy rail, subways, streetcars, etc, etc, etc.  Pro tip: though they all share a 4′ 8.5″ track gauge, the technologies aren’t the same.   In fact, by law, some of them can’t even share the same tracks with the others.

Maybe I need to do a series on the different technologies.


“Streetcars make a comeback as U.S. cities seek to stimulate economy, increase transit options”

Streetcars make a comeback as U.S. cities seek to stimulate economy, increase transit options.

I never quite know what to make of articles like this one. I like railways of almost every type, so you’d think I would be on this particular bandwagon. But I’m not. Not exactly.

All these cities seem to want to catch the lightning in a bottle that Portland seems to have been able to catch (“$3.5 billion in development!”).  What none of them seem to understand is that by the time the Portland Streetcar came along in 2001, Portland had already been investing seriously in public transit for 15+ years, with an extensive light rail system, a downtown transit mall, and cancelled and dismantled freeways.  They even had a “fareless square” that lasted from 1975 until 2012 when the bean-counters killed it.

So by the time the streetcar started service, the city was already a transit city where people knew what public transit could be and voted with their feet and used it.

Tucson hasn’t done that.  Cincinnati hasn’t either, nor has KC.  Detroit?  Well …  bad example of anything.  

Nor has OKC for that matter.

Good luck to them, but I’m not optimistic.

“Record 10.7 Billion Trips Taken On U.S. Public Transportation In 2013”

Record 10.7 Billion Trips Taken On U.S. Public Transportation In 2013.

Much good news here, but I think APTA buries the lede.  “Most since 1957” sounds good until you adjust for population growth – many more rides per capita than now.  And no, I was not riding transit that year.

To me, the bigger deal is that since 1995 transit ridership is up 37.2% while population is only up 20.3%.  That means the number of trips per capita is rising and that’s a good thing.  Transit is even outpacing VMT which grew at 22.7% over the same period.

One thing thing that bugs me is the emphasis on mode.   Except for the fact that commuter trains generally serve suburbs and heavy rail usually serves large cities, mode doesn’t tell you a lot.

(Also remember that these are “unlinked trips” – if a passenger’s journey to work requires her to take a bus to the subway, that’s two trips.)