Why there is antagonism towards at-grade Light Rail/Tramways & streetcars (North America + Canada)

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The following was sent to Zwei by a very concerned urban transportation advocate.

All the SkyTrain lobby has is fear to debate light rail and spread fear they do. All technical debates between LRT and SkyTrain/light-metro have been won or lost decades ago and SkyTrain has been relegated to the history books. Like uber Regulus fanatics, the SkyTrain Lobby and its ilk, well entrenched in TransLink, desperately try to keep building with the aging SkyTrain system with any argument they can muster.

Zweisystem predicted over a decade ago, if TransLink persisted in building with SkyTrain/light metro, it would bankrupt itself and that prediction has come true, with TransLink, balancing on the knifes edge of financial peril. It can not fund the $1.4 billion SkyTrain Evergreen Line, it can’t fund the proposed $2 billion plus Surrey/Langley extension and TransLink certainly can’t fund the proposed $4 billion UBC/Broadway subway; yet TransLink still wastes the taxpayers money, playing the same games planning for light-metro that no one can afford.

Like a slow motion train wreck, TransLink skirts with financial oblivion, ignoring all danger signals, until it finally crashes into a brick financial wall.

In the end, as noted American transit expert, Gerald Fox: “But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.”

Why there is antagonism towards at-grade Light Rail/Tramways & streetcars (North America + Canada)

The title could be for a doctorate or thesis on public attitudes & political psychology, towards public transport.

The anathema is not always or usual directed towards cost of a project. Over the last ten years or so of Light Rail advocacy, I has noted a number of key arguments which I have listed below.

  • The road lobby fear at-grade Light Rail/Street Tramways, because of the reduction in road width/road capacity for cars.
  • The road lobby and dedicated motorists don’t like  Light Rail/Street Tramways, because it means that junction/intersection signals will be prioritized for Light Rail
  • Buses & BRT are tolerated because it is known that these modes will not offer modal shift comparable to Light Rail/Street Tramways
  • Downtown & suburban/out of town retailers fear Light Rail/Street Tramways will give shoppers a reliable transport service into the city centre to shop & by so reducing their trade.
  • Politicians & business leaders in suburban townships & rural areas, fear Light Rail/Street Tramways will turn their communities into dormitories as residents find that a commute to  the big city is feasible.
  • Politicians, civic leaders & established residents fear Light Rail/Street Tramways, will bring developers & an influx of newbie’s into their communities.
  • Big city politicians & civic leaders fear Light Rail/Street Tramways will mean citizens moving out further into the suburbs to live, work & shop.
  • Planners & politicians fear Light Rail/Street Tramways will bring urban sprawl.
  • Contrary to many expressed views, major private bus operators are remarkably tolerant of Light Rail/Street Tramways, in Europe many of them operate the Light Rail/Street Tramway systems. With public bus operators, competition with Light Rail/Street Tramways cannot be an issue. There may be a number of small existing public transport operators such as cab firms that fear a loss of trade, but often they readily adapt to the changing patterns.

 To put this into a Fraser Valley/Vancouver/BC context.

  1. TransLink fears Light Rail/Street Tramways, because its likely popularity with the general public will undermine their business model for SkyTrain & their credibility.
  2. Likewise the TransLink apparatchiks on Skyscraper, for whom urban transport is ART running through densely populated cities on elevated segregated tracks surrounded by ….. wait for it……Skyscrapers….of course! What they would actually like to see is a Dan Dare year 3000 scenario with thousands of PRT pods flying around.
  3. Gordon Campbell fears Light Rail/Street Tramways, because it will destroy his credibility and his power base.
  4. Civic politicians  fear Light Rail/Street Tramways will turn their communities into dormitories as residents find that a commute to  the big city is feasible and will bring developers & an influx of newbie’s into their communities.
  5. Civic politicians would support buses or BRT, cos they know that mode will not offer a comparable modal shift.
  6. Langleyapparatchiks  fear Light Rail/Street Tramways, cos it wasn’t their idea and they didn’t think of it first.
  7. Mike Archer & others of his ilk fear Light Rail/Street Tramways, because he’s a journalist & it’s his job & nature to write negative articles about what he doesn’t really understand.
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One Response to “Why there is antagonism towards at-grade Light Rail/Tramways & streetcars (North America + Canada)”

  1. David Says:

    Planners in this region seem to want skyscraper nodes surrounded by lower density auto-dependent development. Light metro requires it and so that’s what gets approved. Ultimately I think large developers are behind all infrastructure planning in BC.

    I agree that the road lobby is deathly afraid of a successful street railway because that would set the stage for lane reductions all over the region. The same thing applies to all the NIMBYs. They fear the hundreds of km of rail that should be possible with current funding sources. Only a very small number of neighbourhoods need fear SkyTrain being built.

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