Not choosing transit could be missed opportunity

For the majority of Americans, land-based transportation options are limited to the automobile. My first reaction is what if everyone who traveled used the car to do so? My sense is that before too long demand for something other than the motor vehicle to satisfy personal mobility needs would, at the very least be strong and, at most, overwhelming.

So, check this out: a comment to The Fresno Bee article: “Contractors asked to qualify for next California high-speed rail bids.”

Glenn Thompson writes: “Why hasn’t this Utopian Fantasy [presumably, California’s high-speed rail plan] been killed yet? 320px-FLV_California_train[1]After a recent trip to LA and wasting time in bumper to bumper traffic…it dawned on me, this Boondoggle [presumably, California’s high-speed rail plan] would have not taken one single vehicle out of LA’s traffic congestion! How about California fixing their traffic problems within large metropolitan areas instead of focusing wasting taxpayer’s money on some Utopian plan that would do little to address the real issue at such a high cost?”

So, I wonder what Thompson would propose.

If it’s eliminating the gridlock Thompson wants here’s my one-word response: “transit.”

But that’s just the half of it. In fact, there is more, way more.

Besides the potential to provide congestion relief, transit can:

  1. Cut emissions
  2. Stimulate local economic activity
  3. Encourage station-area development activity

That said, choosing a transit type isn’t always easy.

So, which transit type; that’s the question?

Here’s a list of the more common ones:

  • Bus/Bus Rapid Transit
  • Streetcar or Tram or Trolley
  • Light Rail Transit and Subway
  • Commuter or Intercity Rail
  • Personal Rapid Transit
  • Group Rapid Transit

It should be noted, all have been successfully implemented and all have their strong and weak points. (Due to space considerations and so as to not be too long-winded, I will limit Air Quality Matters blogpost discussion to bus and bus rapid transit and light rail transit).

In “In transit – Part 1: Keeping trains on time and riders in line is key,” I cited Thom Patterson who in “Commuters give up the ‘ball and chain’,” wrote: “Places like Salt Lake City and Phoenix, which fostered rail transit during the past decade, are now seeing community benefits like lower traffic congestion and increased economic activity.”

But here’s what’s interesting.

Biodiesel-powered bus
Biodiesel-powered bus

District of Columbia-based McClatchy News Washington Bureau correspondent Curtis Tate in: “As cities improve rapid transit, buses get a new look,” wrote: “Voters have approved more than 70 percent of the bond measures for rail transit in the past decade. But while rail projects have sparked tens of billions of dollars in economic development, [author, real estate developer, urban planning scholar Chris] Leinberger said he had yet to see bus rapid transit deliver benefits on the same scale.”

When it comes to procurement cost buses may look attractive. But, Tate cautioned: “Despite the cost advantages that bus supporters claim, high-end systems can be expensive to build and operate, and many Americans still view bus service as inferior.”

In Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, the LYNX light rail line has prompted construction growth along the corridor.

“The Lynx line opened in 2007,” Charlotte Observer correspondent Greg Lacour in “Light rail brings apartment boom to South End” wrote. “Charlotte transit planners had predicted up to $1.46 billion in economic impact along the line, which runs 10 miles along South Boulevard from uptown to Interstate 485.”

The figure was surpassed: corridor development overall is actually more like $1.6 billion, according to Lacour.

What about emissions mitigation?

When it comes to emissions-reduction, the proof is in the pudding.

In “eMission control – Focus: Metro travel ways,” I cited Angie Schmitt of

320px-Salt_Lake_City_panorama[1]I wrote: “Angie Schmitt at in her July 5, 2013 essay: ‘Salt Lake City: How a Remote Red-State City Became a Transit Leader’ writes: ‘It’s number one in the nation in per-capita transit spending. The only city in the country building light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars and commuter rail at the same time. And that city – Salt Lake City – is a town of just over 180,000 in a remote setting in a red state.”

In that same article, Schmitt emphasized: “The region even exceeded federal air quality standards,” but she also added: “(Although stricter standards have since knocked the area back out of attainment, leaders like [Envision Utah president and chief executive officer Robert] Grow say it will soon meet them.)”

Transit can be a very effective tool in the tool box to reduce emissions … and relieve congestion, stimulate local economic activity and encourage station-area development activity too.

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– Alan Kandel