Reason Foundation: roads are a better investment to reduce congestion
The Highwayman columnist at the Houston Chronicle alerts us in "Study finds roads, not transit, help reduce congestion," to a new study by the Reason Foundation (a libertarian group) that concludes:
in 74 metro areas in the U.S., examined over 26 years, transit had has no statistical bearing on reducing vehicle congestion.The problem with studies like this is that they aren't nuanced.
That describes most every place in the US. So the conclusions of the Reason Foundation are hardly surprising.
-- Transit Utilization and Traffic Congestion: Is There a Connection?
Basically it gets to the point that Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces makes:
If you design a place for streets and cars and traffic that's what you get..
OTOH, try driving everywhere in places that are dense and the ability to drive is pretty fettered, and the cost of parking is high. So in cities like Washington DC and New York City, especially Manhattan and certain parts of Queens and Brooklyn especially, but also San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston, plus Montreal and Toronto in Canada, transit is totally awesome, and combined with biking, walking, and car share, enables not only congestion reduction, but the ability to live quite comfortably without necessarily owning a car.
But most places in the US lack, any more, the conditions that support transit. Hence the conclusions of entities like the Reason Foundation, which aren't looking to educate us on better mobility and land use planning practices and decision making and policy, but are more focused on promoting their agenda, which favors automobility ("individual choice") over mass transit ("collectivism").
Read the book Green Metropolis for a great discussion about these issues and how NYC is in fact the greenest place in the US in terms of resource use.
S-Line Streetcar at the Fairmount Stop, Sugar House District, Salt Lake City. Flickr photo by Paul Kimo McGregor.
Tram Wars. NotionsCapital calls our attention to a Salon piece, "Tram wars! Why streetcars are back — whether you like it or no: Across the country, battles are raging over this retro form of transportation," which discusses the rabid opposition to streetcar expansion across the nation.
I don't think the article is particularly scintillating, but it does call attention to the irrational opposition to streetcar system creation and expansion in many places across the city. It mentions that Salt Lake City's streetcar line just opened ("Public likes first taste of Sugar House Streetcar," "New streetcar hailed for delivering development," "New streetcar offers different transit experience," and "New streetcar attracts a fraction of expected ridership," Salt Lake Tribune) and that Cincinnati's streetcar just fought off another attempt to kill the program ("A Tale of Two Streetcars," Cincinnati Enquirer).
It mostly comes down to people favoring personally owned automobiles (or at least with BRT vs. streetcars, roads) and not wanting alternatives to get any play at all. Riding streetcars in places like Portland or San Francisco, I don't see how rational objective people can seriously argue against them.
DC's streetcar will begin operations this spring and Atlanta's program is under construction ("Tim Borchers: The streetcar director," Creative Loafing). Seattle's streetcar expansion program is underway also. Portland has been expanding its system also, and even adding an aerial "tramway" to the system to connect "Downtown" to the OHSU campus.
Note that the Europeans use the word "tram" to refer to either streetcar or light rail. The Salon article doesn't differentiate, but there is a difference. In the US streetcars are set up to run more like buses, while light rail systems have bigger vehicles, usually running longer distances, at faster speeds. Some streetcar systems run "heritage" vehicles like in San Francisco, Little Rock, and Memphis, and of course, New Orleans. Most of the others and the ones under new construction run or will run new vehicles.
Also see the Human Transit piece, "streetcars vs light rail ... is there a difference?" where he makes the distinction between the types more in terms of stop spacing rather than in terms of vehicle size and speed.
The Salon article states that the jury is out about the link between transit infrastructure and economic development, that few studies have been done that show the link.
Like with the Reason Foundation report, it's hard to answer this question definitively, because the time frame on which development takes to happen is so long (for example, I wrote about a building that "delivered" in June 2013 on H Street was the culmination of a process that started before 2000).
In the DC area, it took 25 years to begin to see in substantive terms the economic impact of the Metrorail in DC outside of the Downtown and in Arlington County's Wilson Boulevard (the system's first leg opened in 1976).
And yes, you can't attribute all of the success in Portland's Pearl District to the streetcar, just like it's not reasonable to attribute much of the development in Cleveland's University District to BRT. The link is definite with subway systems though, provided that the right pre-conditions are in place or that those "conditions" are deliberately created in order to facilitate land use intensification in association with transit creation and expansion.
But Salt Lake City, looking to create a transit master plan ("Salt Lake City wants a transit system that works for everyone," Salt Lake Tribune) is at least one place moving in the right direction.