At the moment, urban rail systems are en vogue. Every city envies New York, they want density, transportation, and a low footprint. Which are all fantastic goals.
However, we forget that most cities had some form of rail – trolleys, cable cars, street cars, etc – In the early 1900’s. During the middle and latter half of the 20th century, most of these systems were de-commissioned in order to create room for highways and automobile traffic. Only in a handful of cities were these original rail systems maintained – most notably Boston, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and New York’s subway system.
These systems were constructed in a time of less density and urban complication. There are now infinitely more buildings, roads, structures, and utilities to work around. In short – it’s too late to build rail systems cost-effectively in major cities.
These systems incur massive upfront costs with uncertain real ridership and benefits. Not to mention the delays and impediments transferred to current transportation routes during construction.
Does anyone truly have the long term in mind? We are 5-20 years away from driverless cars inhabiting our roadways – depending on who you speak with. In all likelihood, this will revolutionize transportation. Making on-demand, efficient, inexpensive transportation a reality. If this does occur, like most experts predict, then we don’t need new road capacity, nor will we need bulky and cumbersome light rail systems. What we need is an interim solution.
Bus Rapid Transit – in it’s true dedicated lane format – is effective and relatively inexpensive. We already have the roads. The capital outlay is a fraction of light rail. And the system can be scaled up or down easily to meet passengers’ needs.
Council people, legislators, and voters are well-intentioned in building rail systems. However, by the time we spend billions of dollars and 5-15 years of construction occurs – we will most likely no longer need light rail.
Please think of the real long term investment required with rail. Think of the inefficiencies in development under today’s conditions. And email your city council, write a letter to Puget Sound Regional Council, Sound Transit, and your state legislator. Start the conversation. Rail is a worthy goal, but it is not a good investment.
We need transportation upgrades, and we need them now. Implementing Bus Rapid Transit could be immediate, helping those in need while they need help, not in 2022 when the rail system might be finished.