Tag Archives: LRT

Greater Capacity?

Many advocates claim that LRT has higher passenger capacity than lower-cost alternatives like BRT. A closer review of available research shows this to be an often repeated misconception that is unsubstantiated by recent real-world experiences. Using transit best-practices (like interlining and passing lanes at BRT stations) can substantially increase BRT infrastructure capacity as measured by people per peak hour per direction (PPHPD). In addition, using new technology like automated vehicles and double-articulated hybrid buses (eg Vossloh Kiepe and Hess) with 250 passenger capacity can further expand BRT capacity and efficiency.

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When the TransMilenio system in Bogotá, Colombia, opened in 1998, it changed the paradigm for limited BRT capacities by providing a lane for buses to pass each other at each station and multiple sub-stops at each station; and by introducing express services within the BRT infrastructure. These innovations increased the maximum achieved capacity of a BRT system to 35,000 PPHPD. Light rail, by comparison, has a maximum theoretical capacity of about 20,000 PPHPD, but these levels have rarely if ever been achieved under real-world conditions, and they require very long multicar vehicles on fully grade-separated rights-of-way (either elevated, as in Manila, the Philippines, or underground). On normal city streets, the highest-capacity LRT systems are in Europe, and they typically carry a maximum of about 9,000 PPHPD. There are conditions that favor LRT over BRT, but they are fairly narrow. Meeting these conditions would require a corridor with only one available lane in each direction, more than 16,000 but fewer than 20,000 PPHPD, and a long block length, so the train does not block intersections. These specific conditions are rare, but where they exist, light rail would have an operational advantage. Otherwise, any perceived advantages of LRT over BRT are primarily aesthetic and political rather than technical. ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar

BRT

In the US, current transit capacities are significantly lower than those of the BRT and LRT systems mentioned above. This is because domestic capacity is measured as a function of the number of vehicles currently serving the corridor (at peak hour, in peak direction), and the physical capacity of those vehicles. Yet no corridor in the US has sufficient demand to justify vehicular frequencies high enough to saturate the corridor. For example, the current capacity of Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT is 1,965 PPHPD based on the existing fleet. However, the system’s theoretical capacity is much higher: were demand to grow and more vehicles put into service, capacity would increase. The LRT corridors in Los Angeles—the Gold Line and the Blue Line—have similar capacities based on the existing fleet: 2,090 PPHPD. This capacity, too, could grow with an increase in demand. Note, however, that in order to provide capacities that more or less meet current demand, Los Angeles provides less frequent services on its LRT lines due to the size of the LRT vehicles.

US cities generally search for the sweet spot in the demand-to-capacity ratio and try not to provide service frequencies that are so high that their vehicles run empty. Thus, since LRT vehicles are larger, in order to justify providing LRT capacities that are similar to a BRT, LRT tends to operate at lower frequencies. As mentioned above, due to the perceived capacity constraint of BRT there are currently no cases in the US where LRT should be favored over BRT. ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar

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Socially Equitable?

A closer look at the proposed DOLRT routing demonstrates that the intent does not align with the reality. The DOLRT project will not serve NC Central University (our nation’s first public African-American liberal arts college) or Durham Community College (an institution that provides affordable, technical and career education).  These educational resources strengthen our local business community with the wide reach of their programs, particularly offering accessible, low-cost acquisition of life and job skills to our citizens. The disconnect between DOLRT direct service to these educational and job opportunities does our community and local businesses a grave disservice.

“Transit today is, in almost all US markets, slower than driving. People who depend on transit can reach fewer jobs than those who have automobiles available. Some people use transit by choice, for instance to save money (if they need to pay for parking), and the rest without choice. In my opinion, it is more important to spend scarce public dollars to improve options for those without choices than to improve the choices for those who already have alternatives. Perhaps ideally we could do both, in practice, one comes at the expense of other.” David Levinson, Who benefits from other people’s transit use?, 5/13/2015

Ironically DOLRT advocates claim that the proposed DOLRT alignment helps low-income population, but include UNC and Duke University students thereby artificially inflating the low-income area statistics. These typically affluent students increasingly seek off-campus housing, further compounding the dwindling supply of affordable housing within the community.

Accelerating Gentrification?

Often transit advocates support their claim that light rail is economically progressive by alluding to its correlation to the development and sustainability of affordable housing near light rail stations that serve lower-income, transit dependent communities. However, recent demographic studies suggest otherwise.

In Los Angeles, the NAACP successfully sued the Metro Transit Authority for building light rail, arguing is was so expensive that the city was forced to cut bus service in minority neighborhoods, resulting in an overall decline in transit ridership.

In the mean time, Los Angeles median rent prices for one-bedroom units jumped 46% along Los Angeles’ new metro line.  “Previous studies across the country have noted how new public transit stops drive up nearby rental prices – we’re talkin’ 25-67% … Los Angeles may be especially susceptible to this type of increase, given we have the highest renter and lowest homeownership rate of all metropolitan areas in the country.”

Examining changes relative to areas not near light-rail or subway projects from 2000 to 2013, neighborhoods near those forms of transit are more associated with increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and greater increases in the cost of rents. Conversely, neighborhoods near rail development are associated with greater losses in disadvantaged populations, including individuals with less than a high school diploma and lower-income households” according to a recent study from the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Accelerated gentrification has had a dramatic impact in Philadelphia’s lower-income communities:

“Roughly a fifth (21 percent) of all residents who moved to a different area ended up in a neighborhood with a lower median income than where they were previously, and this share was higher for low-income movers from gentrifying neighborhoods in particular.

Moving to a lower-income neighborhood takes an additional toll on residents, with their credit risk scores declining by an average of 15 points after three years. Gentrification also increases housing costs, thereby pricing out low-income residents.”— The Closest Look Yet at Gentrification and Displacement (Philadelphia)

Recent demographic studies of Washington DC show that rail transit projects have accelerated gentrification of communities around  stations resulting in African-American, ethnic and lower-income residents being pushed away from the very facilities that were justified on their behalf. The studies demonstrated that a concentration of higher-income families, typically white between the ages of 25-35, now live in close proximity to the transit stations; while minority and low-income families have been driven away from light rail locations by ever increasing rents and into other low-cost communities. One of the unexpected consequences of light rail, as demonstrated in the recent studies, is its regressive housing outcome, despite the project having been ‘sold’ as progressive.

Below are excerpts from the recent Transit Access and Population Change: The Demographic Profiles of Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods in the Washington, DC Area by BRIAN McKENZIE, U.S CENSUS BUREAU, SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND HOUSING STATISTICS DIVISION, SEHSD WORKING PAPER NO. 2015-023 DECEMBER, 2015


Findings reveal that young adults, recent movers, white workers, highly educated workers and workers with high earnings all disproportionately live near rail stops in Washington and the five surrounding counties with at least one Metrorail stop.

… white workers are disproportionately represented in neighborhoods near rail stops. For the 2011-2013 period, 56 percent of workers living near rail stops were white, whereas 38.3 percent of workers who did not live near rail stops were white.

… a growing body of research examines displacement of low-income residents from transit-rich neighborhoods. One study examined the relationship between affordable housing and TOD, finding that barriers such as the high cost of land near rail stops present considerable challenges to developing and maintaining affordable housing within transit-rich neighborhoods. Another Washington, DC- based study found that the transportation-related savings associated with the most transit-rich neighborhoods are unlikely to offset the high cost of housing in these areas for low-income workers.

The Proportion of Black Workers Declined in Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods. The racial and ethnic makeup of the Washington, DC region has changed notably over the last decade, but shifts in the racial and ethnic composition of neighborhoods are disproportionately reflected within rail-accessible areas. Within Washington, DC, between 2006-2008 and 2011- 2013, the proportion of Black workers declined from 32.9 percent to 24.1 percent within rail- accessible blocks, whereas the proportion of all other groups either increased or did not experience a statistically significant change (Figure 5). The proportion of workers in rail- accessible neighborhoods who are Black is about half that of workers with no rail access who are Black in 2011-2013, at 24.1 percent and 47.3 percent.

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An influx of relatively young workers to Washington, DC has contributed to a decline in the median age from 34.6 years in 2000 to 33.8 years in 2013.

Within Washington and the surrounding areas, about four out of 10 workers living in a rail-accessible neighborhood were between ages 25 and 34 for the 2011-2013 period. Moreover, between 2006-2008 and 2011-2013, the proportion of workers in this age group increased at similar rates for Washington and the surrounding counties at about 8 percent. Neighborhoods without rail access have a more even distribution of workers across age groups, both in Washington and the surrounding area.

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A Better Solution?

While there has been much attention on light rail, the fact is that there are better alternatives that provide our communities with a better and more flexible infrastructure that can evolve to take advantage of new technology advances like autonomous vehicles, electric batteries, new business models and power distribution. By using asphalt roads, we can have a more flexible addition to our transit infrastructure that can be used by BRT, interlined with existing buses in congested areas, promote car pooling by using HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) and eventually leverage that infrastructure with emerging autonomous vehicles … instead of building a ‘steel road’ with rails.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has gained attention as a potentially cost-effective form of high-capacity transit. This is particularly the case in small to medium-size cities that do not have high enough densities or serious enough peak-period traffic congestion to justify fairly expensive fixed-guideway transit investments. — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

growth-of-brt-systems-world-1970-2013

What is Bus Rapid Transit?

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) continues to expand globally, with over 400 BRT lines in 195 cities serving approximately 32.4 million people daily. BRT is a high-quality, high-capacity rapid transit system that improves upon traditional rail transit systems at a significantly lower cost (eg Chapel Hill Transit implementation along NS corridor is estimated to cost less than $15 million per  mile). Vehicles travel in dedicated lanes with traffic signal priority thereby avoiding competing traffic. Passengers walk to comfortable stations, pay their fares in the station, and board through multiple doors just like a train.

So this allows us to take advantage of all of the best attributes of LRT while providing additional flexibility of sharing with other wheel-based (not rail-based) systems and the ability to reconfigured routes to adjust to our changing population and commuting patterns. For example, allowing other buses (potentially autonomous in the future) to ‘interline’ within the dedicated guideway, and ‘platooning‘ automated vehicles within the same guideway. A sort of flexible smart vehicle HOV lane which can evolve as technology changes and adapt to changing traffic patterns.

Interlining refers to the ability of local bus routes, including feeder bus services to utilize the BRT running way for a portion of their trip. It is an accepted practice for BRT systems and allows more transit users to benefit from the guideway investment.

And with the federal government expected to cover 80% of the BRT costs, would allow us to stretch our local taxes even further. In addition, BRT guideways could provide additional utility for emergency response vehicles (improving response times) and could be used for evacuation route due to natural disaster, etc

Indy-Connect_Explaining-BRT-1024x654Graphic courtesy of Indy Connect

Coming soon to Chapel Hill and Wake County!

BRT is coming to the Chapel Hill as part of the North-South Corridor that will connect Southern Village with UNC and continue north along MLK. The study area runs from the Eubanks Road Park & Ride lot (a northern terminus) and the popular Southern Village (the southern terminus) and points in between. The NS BRT with a projected cost of $125 MILLION (8.2 miles @ $15 MILLION per mile) to start service in 2020 with annual operating cost of $3.4 MILLION.

So with BRT, Chapel Hill will get mass public transit sooner (a decade earlier than DOLRT) at fraction of the cost (11% of the cost per mile to build and 12% of the operating cost) with lower local funding requirement due to higher federal grants!  In fact, passengers could ride BRT for ‘fare-free’ and it would still be cheaper (for riders and taxpayers) than DOLRT to operate.

For the same amount of money, we could build 166 miles of BRT (vs 17 miles of DOLRT). Now that would be mass public transit!.

corridor-map

In addition to Chapel Hill, Wake County is planning to implement cost-effective BRT for 20 miles at $347 million ($17M per mile). Financially, Bus Rapid Transit is a better ‘price performer’ and maximizes our return on tax dollar investment over Light Rail. As a matter of fact, for the estimated $400 million in local taxes set aside for DOLRT, we could fund the NSCBRT and an equivalent Durham Orange BRT and still have funds left over! All from changing the technology to use rubber wheels rather than steel wheels.

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A study by the Institute of Transportation and Development Planning that analyzed 21 transit projects in 13 cities across the United States and Canada. Based on their in depth research and analysis, they concluded that there is no case in the United States where Light Rail should be favored over Bus Rapid Transit. Any perceived advantages of LRT over BRT are primarily aesthetic and political rather than technical.

Long term potential of BRT versus LRT?

One of the major advantages of BRT over proposed DOLRT is that it is much more flexible and can be integrated into our overall transportation infrastructure. Think about all of the rail lines and how much space they consume (50′ right of way for LRT vs 12′ for a highway lane or roughly equivalent to 4 lanes), and the majority of the time they are not being used. Sitting there, waiting for the next train to arrive. And only trains can use it, and cannot be shared with other vehicles. LRT also requires additional constraints (and expense) with limits on how steep the steel roads can be and require (exclusive) “overhead” electrification infrastructure to distribute the electricity (and losing 7% in distribution along the guideways) along the 17 miles.

LRTvHWY_capacity

BRT on the other hand uses roadways that can be shared now! For example, with a dedicated BRT lane, other buses can ‘hop on and off’ in short segments to bypass areas with traffic congestion. As new technologies continue to evolve, BRT and it’s infrastructure can potentially take advantage of these disruptive innovations. For example, advances in wireless / induction charging, solar roads, batteries, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, autonomous vehicles, and many other breakthroughs. Investments in BRT infrastructure would provide flexibility and ‘future-proof’ our transit investments.

Wireless (induction) charging is already powering buses in Texas, Utah, Berlin, Mannheim (Germany) and London. eBuses in Torino, Italy have used induction charging since 2003, Utrecht (Netherlands) since 2010, Gumi (South Korea) since 2013. And France is installing 1000 km of solar roads over the next 5 years.

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SOURCE: The UK Is Getting All Charged Up Over ULEV Roadways

Automated buses

The self-steering bus developed by California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways follows magnetic strips embedded in the road, although drivers still handle acceleration and braking and can take full control of the bus at any time. The technology could make life better for passengers by increasing efficiency, and could cut the cost of rapid transit systems.

“The magnetic guidance system developed at UC Berkeley can both improve safety and provide a smoother ride for our passengers,” says Chris Peeples, president of the board of directors for the Bay Area transit agency AC Transit. “The system has the potential to make bus rapid-transit routes — particularly those that involve bus-only lanes — as efficient as light rail lines, which in turn will make buses more efficient in getting people out of their cars.” — Look Ma, No Hands! Automated Bus Steers Itself

It’s Safe?

While advocates continue to focus on the word ‘Light’, we really should focus on the word ‘RAIL‘. Yes, Light RAIL Transit is not a freight train (with infrequent daily crossings). However, the 100-ton Light RAIL Transit will snake thru communities on steel wheels and steel tracks, unable to swerve or stop quickly like other vehicles on the road – while crossing each and every crossing gate ~150 times on a typical work day !!!!

SOURCE: Dissected: How’re Ya Dying? Charting transportation mayhem in its many gory varieties.

These Light RAIL Trains ride on steel wheels on steel rails. Even if the brakes are the best and can stop the wheel completely (without derailing), the physics of steel sliding on steel do not change the physics of a 100 ton train’s momentum. Light RAIL Trains traveling at 35 MPH with full brake will travel ~ 428 feet in less than 10 seconds. More than the length of a football field.

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SOURCE: Safety Criteria for Light Rail Pedestrian Crossings by DON IRWIN, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon

“All of these accidents point out the key flaw in rail transit: It is simply not safe to put vehicles weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds in the same streets as pedestrians that weigh 100 to 200 pounds and vehicles that typically weigh a few thousand pounds. Heavy rail (subways and elevated) avoid this flaw by being completely separated from autos and pedestrians, but are still vulnerable to suicides. Light rail, which often operates in the same streets as autos, and commuter trains, which often cross streets, simply are not safe.

Aside from being lighter than railcars (and thus less likely to do harm when they hit you), buses have the advantage that they can stop quicker. Rubber on pavement has more friction than steel wheel on steel rail, and the typical bus has many more square inches of wheel on pavement than a railcar. No matter how good the brakes on the railcar, it is physically impossible for it to stop as fast as a bus, for if the brakes are too good the wheels will just slide.

This is why light rail kills, on average, about three times as many people for every billion passenger miles it carries as buses” — Accidents Point Up Dangers of Rail Transit

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Consider, that According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at U.S. DOT: Three out of four crashes occur within 25 miles of a motorist’s home. Fifty percent of all crashes occur within five miles of home.

A calculation of NHTSA statistics on the rate of deaths per collision in vehicle/vehicle crashes versus the FRA statistics of deaths per collision in vehicle/train crashes reveals: A motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a collision involving another motor vehicle. source: Operation Lifesaver, Crossing Collisions & Casualties by Year

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Or one can merely view recent incidents and fatalities in other Light RAIL Transit projects across the nation. Light RAIL Transit with at-grade crossings are NOT SAFE. Just GOOGLE “Light Rail Accident” or review this list or this list.

 

Reports

Below are additional reports and analysis on Light Rail projects in the United States

Sustainable Growth?

“Charlotte … perform(s) particularly bad. These systems do not have enough riders to produce the economies of scale that make transit provision by rail significantly less expensive than bus.” — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

While public transit is required to help accommodate the area’s population growth, the central question is what technology do we require to solve what problem? And when do you use one versus the other? So where rail transit might be economically sound by re-purposing along existing rail corridors surrounded by high-density populations, does it make sense to use rail transit all of the time? Is rail the only tool in the transit kit?

What really matters to transit-oriented development [TOD] outcomes?  According to the report, the #1 predictor is strong government support for redevelopment, while the #2 predictor is real estate market conditions.  The #3 predictor is the usefulness of the transit services — frequency, speed, and reliability as ensured by an exclusive right of way. Using rail vs bus technologies does not appear to matter much at all. — yes, great bus service can stimulate development!

There seems to be a continued LRT bias where advocates claim that LRT is the only way to support population growth using TOD (Transit Orient Developments) and that TOD has an inherent affinity for LRT over BRT. However, studies from the US GAO (BUS RAPID TRANSIT, Projects Improve Transit Service and Can Contribute to Economic Development) and a recent study of 21 North American transit corridors across 13 cities by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy suggests otherwise. The study concluded that strong government support for redevelopment and real estate market conditions were the primary drivers that drove successful TOD. The use of transit technologies (rail vs bus) did not matter at all.

Outside of the US, in cities like Curitiba, Brazil, and Guangzhou, China, there is copious evidence that BRT systems have successfully stimulated development. Curitiba’s early silver-standard BRT corridors, completed in the 1970s, were developed together with a master plan that concentrated development along them. The population growth along the corridor rate was 98% between 1980 and 1985, compared to an average citywide population growth rate of only 9.5%.

Many cities, therefore, consider investing in mass transit to stimulate the hoped-for development. Indeed, a good mass transit investment can be such a catalyst. Yet city planners and politicians, who do not always work closely with transportation professionals, commonly begin to view mass transit in and of itself as a silver-bullet solution for stimulating development. — ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar

The DOLRT study area projects 32% population growth. It is the lowest projection of the counties and regions in the study, suggesting that there are other population areas that are growing substantially FASTER than the DOLRT corridor.

Based on the Alternative Analysis, the corridor study area is projected by 2035 to have a population density of 4052 ppsm or people per square mile (231K / 57). Using 1/2 mile walk-up radius around each of the 17 proposed stations, approximately 68,000 people will be within walking distance of a station. The national average for public transportation utilization is 5% (Durham 3%). This suggests walk access will be approximately 6800 daily boardings (68K * 5% * 2) rather than the projected 12,180 by GoTriangle in 2040.

dolrt_population_study

“It is broadly accepted that fairly dense urban development is an essential feature for a successful public transit system. Our analysis suggests that light-rail systems need around 30 people per gross acre … (for) cost-effective investments in the US … urban densities are the most critical factor in determining whether investments in guideway transit systems are cost effective” — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

So how much population density do we need to make light rail cost-effective?

dolrt_population_density

Let’s do the math, there are 640 acres in one square mile. So that means we would require a density of 19,200 people per square mile. So with our current 3071 ppsm (175K / 57) along the DOLRT study corridor, that is 16% of the recommended population density. Or stated differently, we would have to reach a population of over 1 million people by 2040 (or today’s entire Wake county population) just within the 57 square mile study corridor.

More Efficient?

Advocates portray the No Build option as perpetuating unsustainable urban sprawl, and that the only option is to build a light rail system. Let’s look at this a little closer.

The latest revised DOLRT  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). Running 150 train trips per day 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.

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.

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

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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

The mean travel time to work according to the 2014 US Census is 21.5 minutes (Durham County) and 22.0 minutes (Chapel Hill), yet 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?