Why not rail?

Diana DeRubertis of Planetizen brings us this story on some of the triumphs and follies of light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT).  BRT is cheaper and easier to implement than light rail, but it lacks the “tech-sexiness” of light rail.  Also, many municipalities, whether implementing light rail or BRT, have a habit of putting in one or two lines instead of doing a comprehensive system.  Salt Lake is a perfect example, although TRAX is becoming much more comprehensive.  DeRubertis calls these minimal efforts “light rail lite,” and argues that experts in the field say that even BRT needs separated “quickways” to become as efficient as other systems throughout the world.  There is also the problem of dropping rail stops in unwalkable areas.  The vast majority of Salt Lake’s TRAX stations are in sprawling suburban areas, although many of those areas have developed TOD zones around the stations in an effort to make them more dense.  However, municipalities that are afraid of density, such as Sandy, UT, have fought exactly the type of development that makes TOD work.  It’s hard to convince suburban municipalities that they need to change their development pattern to take advantage of the tools of the 21st century.  BRT, because it can use existing infrastructure, costs less per vehicle, and can leave dedicated “quickways” to reach outlying areas, is generally better suited for sprawl or sprawl-conversion, but people have questions about it.  People often still see a bus, which they think of as noisy, dirty, and slow, whereas rail is fast, clean and tech-sexy.  The author cites the example of Toronto, which actually diverted funds from freeway projects to fund rail, and has had overwhelming success with it.  So even though BRT may be the easier route, it may be better for some municipalities to make the leap right to light rail.  Either way, transit systems need to be comprehensive.


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