Tag Archives: BRT

Environmentally Friendly?

While many environmentalists quickly point out the adverse impact of the automobile — they quickly gloss over the environmental impact of near-empty light rail trains. The environmental impact of light rail, as a system, is considerably worse. The automobile takes passengers directly point-to-point (from origin to destination), but light rail requires supplemental trips to/from the station, whether via park-and-ride, kiss-and-ride, or bus.

Let’s look a little closer at the DOLRT Environmental Impact Study. Buried on page 4-254, you will see two interesting tables (4.13-1 and 4.13-2). VMT : BTU.jpg

The first outlines Vehicle Miles Travelled or VMT which is a measure of how DOLRT is projected to impact traffic. Comparing the DOLRT projection with (build scenario) and without (no build scenario), the savings is less than -0.09% in traffic congestion (assuming that they hit projected ridership exstimates and Passenger Miles Travelled). If the projections are off, by say 10%, then DOLRT will actually have a negative effect and actually worsen traffic congestion.

The second outlines annual energy consumption as measured by BTU (British Thermal Units). Comparing the projection with and without DOLRT, the savings is less than -0.06% in energy consumption.

Annual Vehicle Miles Travelled -0.09% and Energy Use -0.06% is a negligible savings,
within the margin of error and not statistically significant.

Greenhouse Gas?

Much of the environmental rhetoric assumes that DOLRT will reduce CO2 emissions. Let’s look on page 4-201, section 4.9.5 Greenhouse Gas and Climate

From a NEPA perspective, it is analytically problematic to conduct a project-level cumulative effects analysis of greenhouse gas emissions on a problem that is global in nature. It is technically unfeasible to accurately model how negligible increases or decreases of CO2 emissions at a project scale would add or subtract to the carbon emissions from around the world. Given the level of uncertainty involved, the results of such an analysis would not be likely to inform decision-making at the project level, while adding considerable administrative burdens to the NEPA process. The scope of any such analysis, with any results being purely speculative, goes far beyond the disclosure of impacts needed to make sound transportation decisions.


Many environmentalists support rail-based transit for environmental reasons, but to date only BRT projects have been certified as greenhouse gas-reduction projects by the Clean Development Mechanism defined in the Kyoto Protocol (see Bogotá and Mexico City).  Additionally, the volume of vehicle-specific emissions that LRT and electric trolley bus systems produce depends on how their electric power is generated. If the source is coal-fired power plants, then the system may actually produce more CO2 than normal diesel vehicles do, even though people are exposed to fewer emissions on the street. Buses are major producers of particulate emissions unless they use low-sulfur fuels, have particulate traps and clean engines, or run on some source of fuel that is an alternative to diesel.

Compared to rail systems, BRT systems also tend to be less intensive users of concrete and steel. Producing steel and concrete and building underground or elevated concrete structures generates a large amount of CO2. Many heavy-rail metro projects cannot reduce enough operations-related carbon emissions during their first twenty years to compensate for their construction-related CO2 emissions. Surface LRT generates less construction-related CO2 but still tends to generate more than a BRT project does. — ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar

Using the overly optimistic 24,000 daily boardings projection (revised with NCCU extension in 2040) running 150 train trips per day across the end-to-end 17.7 mile line will result in an average ‘load factor’ of 10 passengers per vehicle mile traveled; or utilize 2% of the 500 passenger capacity heralded by GoTriangle. So for every one train that travels at the cited 500 passenger capacity, there will be ~50 trains running empty. Low capacity utilization is not  environmentally or economically sound.

From an energy intensity perspective, this low utilization has a devastating impact on DOLRT energy efficiency. With an average of 10 passengers per mile results in 6327 BTU per DOLRT passenger mile (63265 BTU per vehicle mile / 10 passengers per mile) compared to 3144 BTU for car travel or 4071 BTU for bus transit. So per passenger mile, DOLRT uses over twice the amount of energy of an average car!

Transportation Energy Ed34 - table 2.14.png

SOURCE: US Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory – Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 34, page 2-19, Table 2.14

Due to the limited coverage of light rail stations, light rail requires altered bus routes to “feed the beast”. These feeders add cost, consume more energy, increase travel distance and increase travel times, while compounding the traffic congestion they are supposedly trying to alleviate. The light rail system is forced to provide an entire, high-capacity vehicle even when there are only a few riders.


The inconvenient truth is that not a single light rail in the US carries as many passengers as a single highway lane. The myriad of alternatives, like walking, bicycling, carpooling, van-pooling, congestion pricing, telecommuting, flexible working hours, parking reform, pricing strategies to improve bus utilization, etc — largely ignored while the money and attention is consumed by light rail.


The proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail train has NO new renewable energy requirement and electricity sourced from Duke Energy which has been repeatedly cited for environmental transgressions. Duke Energy generates electricity primarily with nuclear, gas (sourced from ‘fracking’) and coal power plants. The Political Economy Research Institute ranks Duke Energy 13th among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the United States. The ranking is based on the quantity (80 million pounds in 2005) and toxicity of the emissions. When the high energy costs and carbon emissions during construction are counted, the light-rail line is far “browner” than autos and highways.



Forgetting greenhouse effects during construction?

Neglecting to take into account the emissions associated with constructing buildings like train stations and laying the tracks may make train travel appear far more environmentally friendly than it actually is, the authors found.

“Most current decision-making relies on analysis at the tailpipe, ignoring vehicle production, infrastructure provision, and fuel production required for support,” wrote the authors. “We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63 percent for on road, 155 percent for rail, and 31 percent for air systems,” relative to those vehicles’ tailpipe emissions. — How Green is Rail Travel?

Cement manufacturing releases CO2 in the atmosphere both directly when calcium carbonate is heated, producing lime and carbon dioxide, and also indirectly through the use of energy if its production involves the emission of CO2.The cement industry produces about 5% of global man-made CO2 emissions, of which 50% is from the chemical process, and 40% from burning fuel. The amount of CO2 emitted by the cement industry is nearly 900 kg of CO2 for every 1000 kg of cement produced. — Cement wiki


The promise, when Durham (2011) and Orange County (2012) residents approved the 1/2 cent sales tax / public transit referendum, was for DOLRT to cost $1.4 BILLION (in 2011) of which 25% or $350 million would come from local funding and take 34 minutes end-to-end to start service in 2025 with $14.3 million operating cost.

Today’s reality, DOLRT will cost $3.4 BILLION (YOE) or 17.7 miles @ $192 million per mile, with 40% or $1 BILLION to come from local funding, travelling at 19mph and take 56 minutes end-to-end travel with service in 2029 with $28.7 million operating cost. For reference, Charlotte BLE cost $126 million per mile. And GoTriangle has yet to break ground!

So 5 years into the project we get a slower train delivered 4 years later, requires 3X more local funding, costs 80% more to build (so far) that is financed into 2062, is 35% slower, 2X more expensive to operate, with 1/3 less platform capacity.

Meanwhile, Chapel Hill is building NS-BRT for $125 million (YOE) or 8.2 miles @ $15 million per mile, with service in 2022 and $3.4 million operating cost. http://nscstudy.org/

Chapel Hill BRT will deliver mass public transit 7 years sooner at a fraction of the cost. In fact, FREE BRT service would be cheaper for riders (and taxpayers), while providing better service, sooner than DOLRT!

For the cost of a single DOLRT mile, you could build an entire BRT system like Chapel Hill. For $2.5 BILLION, you could build 166 miles of BRT (vs 17 miles of DOLRT). Now THAT would be mass public transit!

The Transit Tax Referendum of 2011 and 2012

In 2011-2012, voters in Durham and Orange County approved a ½ cent sales tax increase to fund regional transportation needed for the growing Triangle Region. The tax was to provide partial funding for a plan developed by Triangle Transit (TTA – and now “GoTriangle”) to increase bus service, and provide light rail transit (LRT) connecting UNC and Duke.durham_ballot_turnout

Wake County’s decision changes everything

Last year, the situation changed when Wake County decided to not pursue GoTriangle’s plan and abandoned plans for LRT. Instead, Wake is exploring Bus Rapid Transit and/or Rail Rapid Transit (diesel cars running on existing rail lines) deliver county-wide transportation in a flexible, cost-effective manner.

During the same period, GoTriangle has spent approximately $40 million on LRT studies and has provided a small increase in bus service in Orange and Durham Counties. The LRT planning process has been fraught with issues ranging from route problems to degrading assumptions about speed, capacity, and value to the community. The Durham-Orange LRT does not provide service to Wake County, the largest and fastest growing segment of the Triangle.

Smart Transit Future is an alliance of community and civic groups throughout the Triangle that are asking Orange and Durham leaders to reconsider the DOLRT plan and pursue alternatives. We believe that the Durham-Orange, LRT should be put on hold, in order to work more closely with Wake County on alternatives that connect the entire Triangle. At the same time, funds in the short term can be redirected to improve bus transportation in Orange and Durham.

Durham-Orange LRT is beset with circuitous route, safety concerns, and funding gaps

In addition to Wake County’s exit from the plan, unexpected challenges are facing the Durham-Orange 17.7 mile LRT project including:

  • Routes and locations of facilities have changed and now negatively impact vulnerable seniors, schools, and residential communities;
  • The expected capacity, speed and convenience has degraded. Route travel time has degraded to 56 minutes from an original estimate of 34 minutes, and the existing bus routes used for comparison were grossly distorted (link to page showing comparison).
  • DOLRT will make it difficult for the rapidly growing Triangle Region to respond to changes due to telecommuting, decentralization of UNC and Duke facilities, and emerging automated vehicle (AV) technologies
  • DOLRT costs are escalating, and under new laws, the project will be short millions of dollars. Federal funding is even more uncertain.


The original plan overlooked other important factors, including:

  • It does not serve the exploding growth centers including Chatham Park, NC Commerce Center, and the redevelopment of RTP.
  • Durham and Orange County need more funds to modernize bus fleets and add routes, and implement BRT which is much more cost effective.
  • The DOLRT relies on at 42 unsafe at-grade crossings along the 17 mile route.

Bus Rapid Transit, Rail Rapid Transit and emerging technologies offer a more flexible and cost-effective platform for Triangle-wide transportation.

LRT is expensive, inflexible technology that will not effectively serve the growing Triangle Region. Federal, state and local dollars would be better spent on bus and bus rapid transit with dedicated guideways through dense corridors, and the reuse of existing rail lines with rail rapid transit.

With the final recommendations unveiled by GoTriangle. many communities are now actively seeking to stop this project. Upon deeper investigation, many of the GoTriangle planning assumptions are either highly questionable or so erroneous that making an informed decision on the options is impossible, We urge local, county, state and Federal decision-makers to require an independent review by external parties that have no role in the development of the PLAN and do not stand to benefit from decisions regarding the PLAN.

We the undersigned urge you to REJECT the current DO-Line plan.

Stop Durham-Orange Light Rail Train Petition

Reduced Congestion?

Unfortunately, the often promised traffic congestion relief has not been experienced by communities that implement LRT. You can look at two local examples (Charlotte & Los Angeles) or even in aggregate across the nation.

  • Charlotte LYNX daily ridership has stagnated at 16,000 over last 7 years, while the population grew 20%. Despite all this investment in LYNX, Charlotte was rated as the having the worse traffic in NC.
  • “L.A. Expo Line hasn’t reduced congestion as promised, a study finds.” article

In North Carolina, Eric Lamb, Manager of the City of Raleigh Office of Transportation, is not so sure about the correlation between transit and congestion abatement. He cites South Boulevard in Charlotte which directly parallels that city’s Lynx Blue Line light rail system. Despite the light rail line … there has been no corresponding reduction in traffic volumes along South Boulevard.

David Hartgen, emeritus professor of transportation studies at UNC Charlotte has authored a study concluding that the Triangle project would not reduce vehicle congestion or travel time, the very benefits supporters tout in seeking the outlay needed to fund the project.

“the presence of the rail line didn’t have a significant or consistent impact on the average speeds of motorists on the freeway and major, nearby surface streets.”L.A. Expo Line hasn’t reduced congestion as promised, a study finds

Generally, one-half or more of the light rail riders formerly rode bus services that were replaced by the rail service. The new ridership attracted to light rail from freeways is in fact quite small compared to the carrying capacity of a single freeway lane. The average freeway lane in US metropolitan areas that have built new light rail systems (since 1980) carries four times as many people per mile as light rail. Even signalized surface streets average twice as many people per mile as light rail. Breach of Faith: Light Rail and Smart Growth in Charlotte

Many advocates continue to claim that light rail reduces traffic congestion. However a closer look at the total national ridership statistics collected by APTA (1990 to 2014) reveals that total ridership over a 25 year period of massive investments in light rail development, the total ridership of local travel as represented by light rail and bus service has remained surprisingly flat at approximately 6 billion annual riders. Even with 28% US population growth, there is no evidence of increased ridership across these two modes of local public transportation. Evidence suggests that bus ridership has merely been shifted towards the more expensive light rail systems and has had no impact on reducing overall traffic congestion. Reference: Quarterly and Annual Totals by Mode – Collected by APTA


This passenger shift from bus transit to rail transit has also been experienced elsewhere. Researchers Shin Lee and Martyn Senior of Cardiff University (Do light rail services discourage car ownership and use? concluded thatGrowing rail shares in the light rail corridors have mainly come from buses and the evidence for light rail reducing car use is less clear. This latter finding is of particular significance, given that a major justification for investment in light rail rather than bus schemes is their presumed ability to bring about major modal shift by attracting substantial numbers of car users.

“There’s just the little problem of the evidence. With few exceptions, studies tend to find limited signs that transit has much of an impact on nearby road congestion. Some places see slight congestion gains or mileage declines in the short term, and well-designed service should lay the foundation for reduced car-reliance in the long run, but the direct transit-traffic link is tenuous at best.” Eric Jaffe, City Labs, Public Transit Does Not Have to Reduce Traffic Congestion to Succeed

So what happens if we don’t build the light rail project?

The mean travel time to work according to the 2014 US Census is 21.5 minutes (Durham County) and 22.0 minutes (Orange County). So what happens to travel times if we do not implement the DOLRT project? According to the DCHC MPO Alternatives Analysis, 2040 travel times using Existing+Committed is projected to be 27 minutes.

MPO_EC_travel_timesYet the proposed DOLRT will take 46 minutes (+10 minutes at terminus) . Now include the waiting time for the next train, the time to get to/from the station (via Park&Ride, Kiss&Ride, bicycle, walking, or bus transfer), it will even be LONGER. So how is this faster than the automobile that it is supposed to replace?

But it’s still more efficient than other alternatives?

The latest revised DOLRT optimistically projects 27,000 daily boardings (with NCCU extension in 2040) during 18.5 hours of daily operation across the 17.7-mile circuit (at a cost of $2.5 BILLION or $141 million per mile) to serve an average 730 passengers per hour (on each track). While advocates will argue that LRT has higher ‘capacity’, it will not necessarily mean that it has higher ‘usage.’ We should not confuse capacity with usage.

So how does that compare to the much hated highway? Well, not so well. A typical highways can accommodate 2,200 vehicles per lane per hour (human driven), utilizing about 5% of roadway capacity. And you can place 4 lanes within the same 50′ right-of-way required for DOLRT.


And as autonomous vehicles become pervasive, this capacity will increase significantly, as the vehicles will be able to drive in much closer proximity thereby dramatically increasing the capacity of our existing roadway infrastructure. By using BRT, we will be able to organically add to this capacity; whereas with LRT relying on a roadway of steel rails, we will not, as it will be dedicated solely for the train and we will not be able to share with other autonomous vehicles.