This week’s readings contained many interesting points about funding those transportation projects deemed most beneficial using new metrics to evaluate the relative merits of one project verses another. Instead of the old metric of funding by vehicle miles traveled, we should fund for the most efficient methods of moving people quickly. In our growing cities, adding highway lane miles is not the answer. The Sightline post clearly emphasized how increasing lane miles will increase carbon emissions over the long term. By instead using the metric of travel time, economic stimulus, and carbon emissions, we can feel confident that rail mass transit is the most prudent use of our limited transportation dollars.
Rail transit that is grade-separated (meaning out of the automobile right of way) can move very quickly through (or under) a city and can carry far more people than other forms of mass transit. Because trains operate on fixed schedules and are not slowed by traffic, they offer predictable timetables for getting riders around town. Their ease of use tends to attract more people than typical with bus transit. Busses suffer from unreliable schedules. Trains can also easily scale up to accomodate more riders as demand dictates. It’s simply a matter of adding more traincars.
Rail transit offers a considerably larger economic multiplier effect than does bus or automobile infrastructure. Bus routes may be moved or discontinued all together. Roads become clogged with traffic. Rail lines, however, are fixed in location. That permanence lends itself well to attracting investment dollars from real estate developers eager to cash in on the inflated value of land proximate to rail stations. If a developer is going to build an apartment building or office complex, he would much rather build near a rail transit station than a bus stop.
Finally, rail transit offers a very efficient means of moving people and cargo while emitting low levels of carbon relative to busses and automobiles. BNSF touts the merits of train freight on their website: “Railroads are by far the most environmentally friendly mode of surface transportation”. “A BNSF train can move one ton of freight 495 miles on just one gallon of diesel fuel.”
As a society, we need to stop subsidizing suburban lifestyles and instead focus on growing our city centers as a way to be more efficient with the use of our resources. Rail transit is the most efficient proven mode of transportation to move large numbers of people very quickly at a low cost and with few carbon emissions.