Broadway merchants want light rail not SkyTrain down business corridor

June 23, 2010 by
Last night’s adventure!
Broadway merchants want light rail not SkyTrain down business corridor
By Tamara Baluja, The Province June 22, 2010

A coalition of merchants and residents opposed to the building of a SkyTrain line along Vancouver’s Broadway corridor rolled ahead with a meeting Tuesday to discuss alternatives.

About 120 people packed the meeting held by the Business and Residents Association for Sustainable Transportation Alternatives (BARSTA) at the St. James Community Square in Kitsilano.

Donna Dobo, a business owner who attended, is concerned that she will be “squeezed out of business” during construction.

Dobo has been operating a costume store called Just Imagine at the Broadway Avenue location for 22 years. “Business is good, but I don’t know if I could survive three to four years of construction with no foot traffic,” Dobo said. “A tunnel construction with huge craters would completely destroy us.”

Broadway merchants, such as Dobo, are concerned that SkyTrain construction like the Canada Line on Cambie Street would be detrimental to business. She, along with a contingent of like-minded merchants, would rather opt for a street-level electric system with stops to encourage passengers to use Broadway’s shops.

Several Cambie Street owners are involved in a class-action lawsuit for damages, claiming the decision to use a cut-and-cover construction method instead of a bored tunnel resulted in problems that hurt businesses. Mel Lehan, a Kitsilano resident and co-founder of BARSTA, said he remains very concerned that a “transit system will be imposed” upon them without consultation. “I think [TransLink has] already decided to build a SkyTrain,” Lehan said.

But TransLink’s Ken Hardie dismissed the notion. “I honestly don’t know where they got that idea that a SkyTrain is the front-runner,” Hardie said. “We are looking at a variety of options.”

Hardie said a complete list of options for the 12-kilometre extension between Commercial Drive and the University of B.C. will be given to city council within the next two weeks. “We’ve been doing consultations with the community in a very robust manner,” Hardie said.

Although a cost analysis will not be completed until the proposals are submitted to city council, Hardie said he hopes that the UBC and Surrey lines will be extended within the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, Jerry Dobrovolny, assistant city engineer of transportation, confirmed that council passed a motion in 2008 stating a preference for the bored-tunnel approach under Broadway or 10th avenues.

Despite the rising concern over the future of the Broadway corridor being raised, transportation economist and regional planner Stephen Rees assured the meeting’s attendees that worrying is all for naught. “TransLink can’t afford to build anything right now . . . They can’t even afford to run more lines on the already overcrowded ­Canada Line,” said Rees, a former planner with the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority.

Citing the non-existent Evergreen Line and other proposed projects, Rees advocated TransLink look at creating a regional transportation system that includes outlying, rapidly growing cities like Surrey and Langley. “It’s very scientific. It’s very interesting but it’s not real,” he said of TransLink’s proposals. “They can’t afford to build anything here any time soon.”


An Interesting Post From Net Density – American Changes to Transit funding

June 22, 2010 by

I wish we could apply the same criteria to our ‘rail‘ transit planning.

  • Economic development
  • Mobility improvements
  • Environmental benefits
  • Operating efficiencies
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Land use

What, no mention of increasing population density? I wonder why?


Could new FTA “livability” funding rules change Southwest LRT route?

Posted by Brendon on January 30, 2010

The big news this week is that the planned Central Corridor LRT line will get three new stations between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and the reason seems to be the new FTA rules which relax the sole focus on cost-effectiveness from travel time savings to include broader goals of “livability“.  With the three new stations, the project would not have met a “medium” rating for cost-effectiveness, and therefore would not likely not have been funded by the FTA under the old rules.

What implication might this have for the planned Southwest LRT line and its contested route?  It’s hard to say, but it certainly seems like the alternative routes should be re-assessed under the new formula before telling the feds that 3A is the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA).  More below the break.

Project planners say that ridership and travel time savings on 3A and 3C are very similar, and that the difference between the two is cost (capital, not operating cost).  This seems to be exactly the type of situation that the Obama administration and the FTA had in mind with this rule change:  projects for which a potentially less-desirable route or design was chosen, simply to meet CEI requirements.  Decision-makers for Southwest LRT are on the record as saying they were constrained by the CEI, and one would hope they would be happy to be able to re-evaluate the route choices using a broader measure of benefits.

According to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation’s blog, Fast Lane, the new criteria that projects will be evaluated by include:

  • Economic development
  • Mobility improvements
  • Environmental benefits
  • Operating efficiencies
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Land use

(I would suggest that federal rule-makers consider accessibility improvements rather than just mobility, but perhaps this can be reflected in “land use”.)

The traditional cost-effectiveness for travel time measure remains in the mix, but is no longer the be-all, end-all.  Again, what these changes will actually mean is still to be determined as part of a rule-making process, but if they can have such a big impact on Central Corridor, a project that is now in the engineering phase, it certainly seems like Southwest project planners should be taking a careful look at which route will score best under the new rules.  Under at least one of the criteria, economic development, the 3A route is not looking nearly as promising lately, while the Uptown area remains a destination for business development, even during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The LPA is not officially chosen until May of 2010, when the Met Council will amend its Transportation Policy Plan to include it.  Before that happens, two public meetings will be held and a comment period will be opened to receive public comments on the LPA.  According to the SW LRT website, the first meeting during which the comment period will be opened is February 24th.  Now is the time to make sure that planners are thinking about the new funding guidelines.

LRT will motivate us to ditch cars, From the Hamilton Spectator

June 21, 2010 by

What I find interesting about this news item, is the statement, “…….a consultants’ report into the economics of LRT in Hamilton projected the system would need about 34,000 riders a weekday (8.9 million a year) to break even on its operational costs.“; which should put a stop to the SkyTrain’s lobby claims that light rail is expensive to operate! But, those advocating for LRT already knew that.

It would seem that the same figures would hold true for a Broadway LRT, which with the much higher ridership numbers, would not just pay its operating costs, but most or if not, all of its capital costs! Of course this is what the man from ABB told ‘Zwei’ almost fifteen years ago; “A BCIT to UBC and Stanley Park LRT route, would double present bus ridership on those routes in about two to three years, thus attracting enough ridership to not only pay for operating costs, but also to pay for its capital costs as well“!

LRT, built at no cost to the taxpayer!


LRT will motivate us to ditch cars: HSR chief

February 02, 2010

Meredith Macleod
The Hamilton Spectator

Does Hamilton have the ridership to justify light rail transit?

There are plenty of people in this city who think the answer is no.

In letters to this paper, blog posts and opinion surveys, they say not enough people want or need to go downtown and that Hamiltonians are too attached to their cars.

Critics point out that most cities with successful light rail have much larger populations than Hamilton.

Even Don Hull, director of the Hamilton Street Railway, says based on sheer numbers alone, Hamilton probably doesn’t cut it.

But he says that’s only part of the equation.

Present-day transit ridership doesn’t account for changes coming down the road that will push people out of their cars: increasing congestion, growing concern about pollution and climate change, and the inevitability of soaring gas prices.

Light rail transit will transform the city’s transit network, attract new riders and be the critical component that gets people out of their cars, Hull says.

And it brings investment and tax dollars to struggling neighbourhoods, he adds.

“More than population or density or ridership, the key to whether LRT is successful and viable is the support of all three levels of government.”

The B-Line from Eastgate Square to McMaster University — the city’s proposed corridor for a light rail line — affects four of the HSR’s major routes, Hull says.

Collectively, they account for about 50 per cent of the system’s riders.

That adds up to 25,000 to 30,000 trips a day, half or more in peak periods.

Hull says that’s not far off the usage that would be hoped for on an LRT line. In fact, a consultants’ report into the economics of LRT in Hamilton projected the system would need about 34,000 riders a weekday (8.9 million a year) to break even on its operational costs.

Hull says many cities, including Portland, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Denver, quickly exceeded ridership forecasts.

Hamilton is unique in that the ridership is already there, it just has to be shifted from bus to rail. Most North American systems, he says, run on an entirely new line and have to build from nothing.

That’s a big advantage, says Antonio Paez, an associate geography and earth sciences professor at McMaster, who specializes in transportation.

“There is only the potential to gain. It’s a relatively low-risk transition in that corridor.”

The objective is to make transit the most attractive option for getting around, says Paez. Choosing to run rail lines along the busiest routes in the city — King and Main — and cut into, or eliminate, car lanes will achieve just that.

“The goal is to make traffic less problematic for those who choose transit but not necessarily better for those who don’t choose it.”

Once B-Line buses are replaced by light rail, Hull hopes capacity can be boosted in other areas of the city.

In day peak periods, HSR is having trouble meeting demand on many routes, he says.

Another important element is the city’s official plan, which aims to see 100 transit trips per year per capita by 2030. That number now sits at 48 and the target simply can’t be reached without LRT, says Hull.

The beauty of choosing the B-Line for the first leg of an overhaul of the city’s transit system is that about 80 per cent of routes already intersect with the corridor.

“Everything off the Mountain as well as the North End and Bayfront routes meet up with King. It would be virtually an entirely intersecting system.

“That’s very desirable.”

Metrolinx has identified two rapid transit corridors in Hamilton to be developed in the first 15 years — the east-west line that’s on the table, and north-south on James Street from the airport to the waterfront.

Three other routes — Eastgate to the Ancaster business park, the Centre Mall to the Meadowlands and downtown Hamilton to Waterdown — are part of a 25-year vision.

Metrolinx has made no commitment to whether Hamilton will receive light rail or bus rapid transit.

A recommendation on the B-Line corridor is expected Feb. 19.

If Cambie Street grows as hoped, City of Vancouver will lose big bucks – From The Vancouver Sun

June 19, 2010 by

As stated before many times, rapid transit development in Vancouver, especially the Millennium and RAV/Canada Lines, has been about development and not moving people. The hype and hoopla of TransLink and the mainstream media that the Canada Line is carrying 94,000 riders a day ignores the fact that all except about 10% of the Canada Line customers are former bus riders that have been cascaded onto the metro. 10% new ridership on a new transit system is about on par with other new transit systems being opened, thus making the Canada Line just average. There has been no discernible modal shift from car to transit, despite the claims of some media types, as most of the new ridership is made up with $1 a day students with U-Passes; elderly gamblers going to the River rock Casino; and former taxi users going to YVR.

As predicted, the raison de être for the Canada Line was property development, for it is very easy to scream ‘densification’ and ‘rezoning’, when a very expensive metro is built and local government is desperate to find more  riders, so the the transit agency can ‘cook the books’, so to speak with high ridership figures. But, densification may backfire big time on Vancouver, with a vast loss of revenue, where taxes from businesses will decline and will not be made up from increased residential property taxes, which means an increase in property taxes for all in the city. In fact, Vancouver property owners will get a double whammy of higher property taxes and higher TransLink taxes to fund the hugely expensive metro system. Vancouver City and provincial politicians have brought this upon themselves by demanding gold-plated metro and subway lines on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them instead of planning for affordable light rail. The big question now is, will the same people who blundered along, forcing the construction of the Canada Line metro, will do the same with the Broadway subway scam?

Will a Broadway SkyTrain subway be the final straw that breaks ‘Translink’s (read taxpayer’s) back?

From the Vancouver Sun.

If Cambie Street grows as hoped, City of Vancouver will lose big bucks

Canada Line corridor merchants can expect to get clobbered, again

By Don Cayo, Vancouver Sun June 18, 2010

The proposed rezoning of Cambie Street properties served by the new Canada Line may cause economic hardship that erodes or outweighs any potential benefits.

Because two likely results will be to undermine City Hall’s finances while once again clobbering the merchants who took such a hit while their street was torn up for construction.

The story is complicated, especially because allowing greater density in areas served by better transit will create an initial surge in revenue for the city.

But this will come at the expense of existing businesses in existing premises along the Cambie corridor. And when new developments inevitably start to rise in response to proposed rezoning, City Hall’s windfall will quickly turn into a loss.

To understand why, consider how differently business and residential properties affect the city’s financial health.

About 92 per cent of assessed properties in Vancouver are residential, leaving just eight per cent commercial — a number that is steadily declining as the city increasingly becomes a place to live but not to work.

This relative handful of business properties pays half of the city’s total property taxes. Yet the cost of services they use — streets, police, fire protection and such — adds up to only a quarter of City Hall spending.

Thus for every $2 businesses pay in property tax, the city spends just $1 in return, leaving a 50-per-cent “profit” the city can use to subsidize homeowners. And subsidize they do, spending about $1.50 on residential services for every $1 in residential property tax.

So what does this mean for Cambie Street redevelopment?

Peter Forward, an associate with the property tax consulting firm of Burgess Cawley and Sullivan, walked me through a detailed look at a representative sample — a cluster of seven buildings, mostly one-storey community retail blocks, just north of the Canada Line’s King Edward station.

The city’s annual “profit” from these buildings — the amount of money it can expect to have left over after all property taxes are collected and all services provided — will be:

– As things stand: $87,385

– With rezoning: $148,315

– With redevelopment: $41,974, or less than half as much as now.

Multiply these figures by the number of properties that will be similarly affected up and down the Cambie corridor, and the impact on civic finances is huge. Not to mention the impact on the tax bills of tenants in the Cambie buildings.

Here’s how Forward arrived at his numbers (I’ve rounded them for ease of reading).

As things stand

The land on which the seven buildings sit is assessed at $15 million and the structures are pegged at $4 million, for a total of $19 million.

The business tax rate — which in Vancouver is five times higher than the residential rate — will generate tax bills totalling about $175,000.

Based on city-wide averages, the cost of services for these businesses is $87,500. This will leave an additional $87,500 to be spent on other things.

With rezoning

The maximum allowable height of buildings on each lot will rise to at least six stories. This means the maximum square footage of new buildings will be twice what’s allowed now. Since assessments are based on “highest and best use” (what could be on each lot, rather than what’s actually there), the assessed value of the land will double to $30 million. Even if the old buildings are treated as teardowns and assessed at nearly no value, the total of $30-plus million will be more than 50 per cent higher than the assessed value today.

The new assessments mean businesses in these same old buildings will see their tax bills soar, as will city revenue. The new total will be $296,000, up from $175,000.

Even though there’s no logical reason for the cost of serving the same businesses in the same buildings to rise, Forward generously assumes the city will spend more to keep them happy. So he designates $148,000 of the new tax total as consumption cost. This leaves a surplus of $148,000, up from $87,000 now, that the city can spend on other things.

With redevelopment

If new buildings on each lot housed one floor of commercial tenants and five floors of residences, the total value of land and buildings would soar to $140 million — more than nine times what it is today.

But with only the commercial occupants paying the business rate, and with the residents paying just a fifth of that, the total tax revenue would rise to only about $550,000 — just over six times more than today. Of this, $317,000 would be paid by the ground-floor businesses and $233,000 by residents.

With businesses paying twice as much in tax as they consume in services, their portion of the tax bill would generate surplus revenue of $158,000 — a nice increase for the city. But with residents’ tax bills adding up to only two-thirds of the cost of services they consume, they’d create a “loss” of $116,000.

This would leave a net surplus of $42,000 for the seven properties, or less than half of what’s left over today.

In other words, a snazzy redevelopment project for this little bit of Cambie — just what the city is aiming for with its Canada Line-related plans — will cost the city tens of thousands a year in forgone revenue.

And as other parts of the street are similarly redeveloped, the annual losses will soar to hundreds of thousands, and then millions.

Not to mention the plight of those poor Cambie merchants — the very ones who went through hell and back during the Canada Line construction. They can look forward to sharply higher tax bills in the short-term, and the longer-term prospect that their premises will fall to the wrecker’s ball.

Read more:

Questions: What density is needed for ‘Rail’ Transit? Does Anyone Really Know?

June 17, 2010 by

Simple questions today folks. Over the past few weeks the ugly question of density has been rearing its ugly head in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley concerning transit. Vancouver council is considering major density increases for Cambie Street because it has the Canada line mini-metro and the same treatment is expected for Broadway if ‘rail‘ transit is built. So here we go; if the powers that be say “we don’t have the density for rapid transit“, then what density is needed to sustain it? One just can’t say “we don’t have enough density, when one doesn’t know what density is needed.”

Also, if modern LRT/streetcar can be built for up to one half to one tenth the cost of a metro, then is the density needed to sustain LRT/streetcar one half to one tenth of that needed for a SkyTrain subway?

Could it be that no one knows the answer and the question of density is an urban myth, used both by bureaucrats and politicians to stop any chance of building with LRT/streetcar and an excuse to up-zone residential properties, giving windfall profits to a selected few, mainly wealthy friends of the government?

If we do not know what density is needed to sustain a transit mode, how then can anyone say we don’t have the density for that particular mode?

Would a simple LRT/streetcar line on Broadway, forgo the need for massive densification needed to sustain a metro? Are property deals already being made on Broadway on the basis of a SkyTrain subway?

Light Rail on Broadway – The SkyTrain Lobby Ramps Up The Costs – BARSTA Fights Back

June 16, 2010 by

On June 22nd, at St. James Community Square 3214 West 10th Avenue at Trutch, a public meeting will take place concerning the building of ‘rail‘ transit on or under Broadway. What is of no great surprise, Translink has vastly ‘ramped’ up the cost for building modern light rail, with needless over-design. This is the tired old trick that plays so well in the Vancouver region, gold-plate a light rail project with so much needless engineering, that the costs of construction near that of its much more expensive cousin, light-metro (RAV & SkyTrain).

Elevating LRT greatly increases construction costs, taking away a major advantage of LRT over light-metro!

From a 2009 BARSTA (Business and Residents for Sustainable Transit Alternatives) document …….

……. which shows the cost of a VCC/Commercial Drive to UBC, streetcar costing $370.7 million yet LRT built on the same route would cost almost three times as much as $998.7 million or almost $1 billion!


The difference between LRT and a streetcar is the concept of the reserved rights-of-ways (RRoW) and priority signaling at intersections; then why an almost three-fold cost of construction for LRT?

Simple RRoW in Europe, denoted by colour and small curb.

The answer is simple; gross over-engineering by planners and engineers to artificially increase the cost of LRT to make it as expensive or more expensive than elevated SkyTrain or subway transit options! In other parts of the world, this is known a professional misconduct, but in Vancouver it is business as usual!

Vancouver already had a demonstration LRT line – it was of course, the temporary Olympic Line, which operated on a full RRoW, using two Bombardier Flexity tram cars, borrowed from a delivery to the Brussels tram system. It is the RRoW, which can be as simple as a high occupancy lane (HOV) with rails or as elaborate as the Arbutus Corridor, which allows modern light rail unfettered operation, with operational parameters on par with light-metro!

Lawned RRoW and modest LRT/tram station in Europe.

By using the concept of the RRoW, station/tram-stops every 500m to 600m, with priority signaling at intersections and using the current power-poles and span wires now used by the trolleybuses, we could keep the cost of of a VCC/Commercial Drive LRT under $450 million or just slightly more than a basic streetcar line! Or better yet, a UBC/BCIT/Stanley Park LRT, costing under $1 billion, which would offer even more convenient destinations for the transit customer and would offer a real alternative to the car!

The powers that be, just do not want modern LRT operating in Vancouver and continue to over-engineer and gold-plate light rail/streetcar projects to make them unaffordable and unattractive to politicians, taxpayers and residents.

Classic lawned RRoW!

The following is a quick primer for those advocating for modern light rail on Broadway.

  1. Capacity of modern LRT and streetcar/tram can exceed 20,000 persons per hour per direction.
  2. The capacity of a modern modular tram/LRT car now exceeds 350 persons.
  3. Modern LRT is 100% accessible for the mobility impaired without the need of expensive stations, elevators and escalators.
  4. Speed of a transit system is not the prime factor in attracting ridership, rather the overall ambiance, accessibility and ease of use are more important than speed. In fact it the the combination of many factors that attracts ridership to a public transit system.
  5. Priority signaling does not cause traffic gridlock at intersections. In fact, the light sequence for a tram/auto intersection  at an intersection is much less than an auto/auto light controlled intersection.
  6. Modern LRT/streetcar/tram is one of the safest public transit mode in the world.
  7. Transportation capacity on Broadway will be increased by about 18,000 pphpd, by using a LRT/tram in one traffic lane per direction.
  8. Businesses along a streetcar/LRT route see about a 10% increase in business.
  9. There will be substantial operating costs savings by using LRT/streetcar instead of buses. One modern tram (1 driver) is as efficient as 6 to 8 buses (6 to 8 drivers).
  10. Modern LRT is very flexible in operation and could carry freight, as in Dresden, operate vintage trams and streetcars, or be used by specialty operators like a dinner tram.
  11. There is no truth that by building LRT will take away curb parking for local merchants, this is a decision by Vancouver’s Engineering Department to scare away support for LRT.
  12. Tram stops would be between 500m to 600m apart as studies have shown that the greatest amount of ridership for a LRT system comes within 300m radius of a tram line.
  13. Signaling on a Broadway will be ‘line-of-sight’ with local signals for intersections/crosswalks; switches; and areas of limited visibility/ Line-of-sight greatly reduces the cost of installation.
  14. LRT/streetcar can maintain minimum headways (time between trains) of 30 seconds.
  15. A ‘peak-hour’ 3 minute LRT/tram service (20 trips per hour), with cars having a capacity of 250 persons, would offer an hourly capacity of 5,000 pphpd. Operating 2-cars in multiple units (no added driver) effectively doubles the capacity to 10,000 pphpd. A 2 minute headway (30 trips per hour), using 2 car sets would offer an hourly capacity of 15,000!

UBC Broadway Transit Community Meeting

“No Cambie Fiasco for Broadway and West 10th”

A meeting for residents & local business representatives from across our city:

  • Learn about sustainable alternatives for Broadway
  • Review current TransLink and City positions and policies
  • Make your voice heard about Broadway transit and the communities along it

7:00PM – 9:00 PM – Tuesday, June 22, 2010
St. James Community Square 3214 West 10th Avenue at Trutch

E-mail :

Contacts :
Mel Lehan, Director, West Kitsilano Residents Association :
Donna Dobo, Director, West Broadway Business Association :

A 54m Budapest 'Caterpillar' with a capacity of 350 persons

Take the Tram – From the Long Island New York

June 15, 2010 by

Take the Tram

By Michael Miller
Friday, 11 June 2010

Why in 2010 does it often take twice as long to get from the North Shore to the Five Towns than it does to get from Mineola to White Plains? Cars are choking our roads, gas prices are threatening our economic viability. We need alternative ways to move around this county. It’s time for the trolleys to return.

Modern, supercool versions of streetcars, trolleys and trams are making a welcome comeback in American communities, some of which look very much like Long Island. One major turning point was the opening of the excellent Portland (Oregon) streetcar system in 2001. Then, last year, five communities (Dallas, Detroit, New Orleans, Portland and Tucson) got a total of $178 million in competitive federal stimulus grants to begin building or expanding street lines.

Twenty-two communities in the United States, some as suburban as you can get, are drawing up blueprints for streetcars or are putting rails on the ground. Here’s the list: Arlington (Virginia); Atlanta; Baltimore; Boise; Charlotte; Cincinnati; Columbus (Ohio); Dallas; Fort Lauderdale; Fort Worth; Grand Rapids; Kenosha (Wisconsin); Lake Oswego (Oregon); Little Rock; Los Angeles; New Orleans; Providence; Sacramento; Salt Lake City; San Antonio; Tucson; Washington, D.C.

Arlington and Fairfax counties in Northern Virginia, two of America’s best-known suburbs, plan to split the costs of building a 4.7-mile streetcar line, running every six minutes during rush hour. Lake Oswego, outside of Portland, is one of America’s most affluent suburbs, with a high median household income. If they can visualize something better for residents than crawling along the turnpike smacking their hand against the steering wheel and sighing, then so can Long Islanders.

At least 14 more communities are seriously planning to make plans.

Look at video and photos of Portland, Oregon’s trolleys. There’s video all over the web. The Portland streetcars are beautiful. They’re sleek, modern and colorful. They’re even designed to be easily accessible to people with strollers and wheelchairs. Some Long Island governments want to spend federal stimulus money on road projects and parking garages. Portland wants to spend the money on extending the trolleys another 3.3 miles. Dozens of American municipalities are thinking of replicating what’s been happening in Portland. Zero municipalities are thinking of replicating Long Island’s transportation model. The future is speaking.

The rap against financially-workable public transportation in the suburbs has usually been the low population density. Portland’s population density is 4,288 people per square mile, which is less than that of Nassau County (4,652), less than half that of the Village of Mineola, less than a third that of the Village of Hempstead and only slightly higher than that even of the Village of Garden City. This isn’t your grandfather’s Nassau County.

But just so you don’t think this is all about playing with trains or feeling good about ourselves for being really green, you should know this about Portland. Since the streetcars came, 53 percent of downtown development occurred along the streetcar line. Private investors, knowing a winner when they see it, have put $3.5 billion into the line. Surveys estimate that about 30 percent more people ride in the streetcars than would have ridden buses if that was the only option.

Trams can move people between malls and industrial areas to local downtowns. If done well, they can become a local economic engine that helps maintain this as an area to which people want to move, work and raise families.

In the past, many Long Islanders considered the existence of any kind of public transportation to be a threat to the affluence and autonomy represented by a single-family house in the suburbs. Most Long Islanders and potential Long Islanders my age and younger do not share these fears. There were trolleys on our main roads throughout the first quarter of the last century, when the Long Island suburban dream was born.

There can still be a suburban dream here, but it can’t be the dream of 1960. Not anymore. We need a better, more adaptable dream that will sustain a high quality of living. Trolleys can be part of what comes next.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government.

Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit Project, California, USA

June 14, 2010 by

The following article could be of interest for those promoting the “Return of the Interurban“.

From Railway

Key Data:

Name – Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Project
Location – North Bay corridor, California
Route – Cloverdale in Sonoma county to Larkspur in Marin county
Length – 70 miles
Estimated Investment – $590m
Operator – North Coat Railroad Authority
Construction Begins – 2011
Scheduled Completion – 2014
Speed – 50mph (80 kph)
Rolling Stock – 14 DMUs new stock

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District (SMART) is constructing a 70-mile passenger rail road along the existing Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) right-of-way (ROW) in the North Bay corridor of California. The NWP is owned by the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA).

The project also includes the construction of a bicycle / pedestrian path parallel to the railway line. The rail line and bicycle / pedestrian path will pass through two counties in North Bay, California – Cloverdale in the north of Sonoma County, and Larkspur in Marin County.The Sonoma-Marin rail transit project aims to provide multi-modal and fuel efficient alternatives to reduce traffic congestion on Highway 101, the only north-south transportation facility in North Bay.

Around 80% of the commercial, educational and residential facilities in North Bay are located on this corridor.

The project is expected to reduce car trips on the highway by 1.3 million and offset greenhouse gases by 124,000lb a day.

“The project is expected to reduce car trips on the highway by 1.3 million.”

The project’s feasibility studies and environmental impact certification were completed in 2006 with the assistance of Louis T. Klauder and Associates Engineering Services (LTK).

The supplemental environmental impact report (EIR) was certified in 2008. The contracts for the design and engineering of the 14 train stations valued at $11.3m were approved in December 2009. The main contractor is Winzler & Kelly.

The SMART project is estimated to cost $590m, which includes $499m for the rail line and $91m for the bicycle / pedestrian path. The annual operating cost will be $19m. The project will be financed through local sales tax revenues, regional bridge toll funding, and state and federal funds.

Sales Tax Measure Q, which is a 0.25% increase in sales tax, will fund 60% of the project. Measure Q was approved by 69.6% of the voters in Marin and Sonoma counties during the elections on 4 November 2008.

The construction of the project is expected to commence in 2011 with train service scheduled to begin in 2014.

Sonoma-Marin rail transit project details

The project is expected to provide a seamless transportation network of buses, ferries, bike paths and side-walks connected to a centralised rail line.

“The project aims to provide multi-modal and fuel efficient alternatives to reduce traffic congestion on Highway 101.”

The project includes the re-laying of the tracks, the construction of a maintenance facility on either of the two stops (Cloverdale or Windsor), the reconstruction of two tunnels, 59 bridges and the operation of 14 stations – nine in Sonoma County and five in Marin County.

Stations in Sonoma County are Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Windsor, Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Railroad Square, Corona Road (Petaluma) and Downtown Petaluma. Marin County stations include Novato North, Novato South, Marin Civic Center, Downtown San Rafael and Larkspur.

Two rounds of public workshops were conducted in February and April 2010 to take public opinion on the design and amenities required at the stations. The aim was to cater to all the needs of different communities living along the corridor.

The commuter service trains will operate at a 30-minute interval in the peak hours (morning and evening) during week days, making 14 round trips and a 30-second wait at each station.

According to environmental studies on the SMART project, around 5,300 passengers per day will utilise the commuter service, while the bicycle / pedestrian service will attract another 7,000 to 10,000 people per day. There will be a provision for boarding bicycles on the train.

Rail transit infrastructure

Stations along the corridor will be designed to accommodate existing feeder buses and shuttle services, along with park and ride facilities in a few selected suburban stations. In order to further reduce congestions in Santa Rosa, Pataluma and San Rafael cities in the downtown areas of the North Bay, stations at these places are being designed with no park and ride facilities.

The bicycle-pedestrian pathway will have 54 miles of Class I pathway and 17 miles of Class II pathway improvements. The Class I pathway is a separate and exclusive path for bicycles and pedestrians with minimised cross flow. Class II is a small lane for one-way travel.

“Around 5,300 passengers per day will utilise the commuter service.”

There are two existing tunnels in the project corridor – Puerto Suello Hill Tunnel at San Rafael and Cal Park Hill Tunnel between San Rafael and Larkspur. These tunnels will be rebuilt to a 1,000ft length with adequate lighting, ventilation and water lines for fire protection.

Most of the 59 bridges are timber open deck or timber ballast decks. These will be replaced with concrete decks.

Sonoma-Marin area rail transit rolling stock

The Sonoma-Marin area rail transit will use heavy diesel multiple unit (DMU) vehicles in this route. DMUs have engines installed under the passenger compartment, which eliminates the need for large locomotives.

SMART is planned to operate with a fleet of 14 DMUs and serve six trains in this corridor.

Proposals were invited in April 2010 for the manufacture of the train. The contracts are expected to be awarded by the end of 2010, with fleet delivery scheduled in 2014.

SMART will be operating one, two or three car-set DMUs. With a proposed speed of 79mph, they are expected to maintain an average speed of 46mph. These sets will have a dual cab facility that will allow the trains to run in reverse direction as well as avoid the need for turnarounds.

Heavy DMUs measure 85ft long, 10ft wide and 15ft high, and have a seating capacity for 150 passengers.

Sonoma-Marin rail transit signalling and communications

Signalling is based on the automatic block signalling concept that allows the train to operate at a speed of 80mph. A block signal has a combination of track switches that are interconnected to avoid conflicting train movements. The automatic signals ensure the safe movement of trains travelling in the same direction.

Ottawa LRT funding approved – Urban Transit News From The Light Rail Transit Association

June 12, 2010 by

Ottawa LRT funding approved

The Canadian Federal Transport Minister John Baird has announced CAD600 million in funding for the City of Ottawa’s Light Rail Transit plan. The money would go toward the CAD2.1 billion first phase of the project, which includes 12.5 kilometres of light rail from the Tunney’s Pasture transit station in the west to the Blair station in the east. A 3.2-kilometre tunnel will run between LeBreton Flats and the University of Ottawa, with four underground stations.

It is expected that the plan in cooperation with a redesigned bus system will yield up to CAD100 million in annual operating cost savings, beginning in 2019 and the removal of more than half the buses from the central area causing a reduction of the city’s fuel consumption by 10 million litres annually, and, a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 38,000 tonnes per year.

Details can be found at

Deficit hawkism = gloomy outlook for public transit

June 11, 2010 by

An interesting item from the Light Rail Transit Association blog. The same seems to be true for Vancouver, but only with a twist. All levels of government seem to want to only fund (and partially at that) the most expensive forms of rail transit; subways and elevated metros instead of much cheaper at-grade/on-street light rail. The result: financial fiasco.

Deficit hawkism = gloomy outlook for public transit

For some time, I’ve been posting articles on the economic “stimulus vs. deficit” battle raging across the globe, and particularly in Washington. Now, unfortunately, it appears that the “deficit hawks” have basically won (see articles below).

So, why should public transport industry professionals and advocates care? This has some very bad implications for public transportation funding, the transit budget crisis, public transit services and ridership, and development of crucial improvements such as new rail starts.

With the 2008 Obama-Biden victory, I naively thought that, while this certainly wouldn’t mean the advent the revolutionary public transport Promised Land that I would like to see, it at least held out the possibility of something like a “New Deal 2” program pumping some real money for improvements into the public transport system while modestly (and temporarily) stimulating the U.S. economy.

That, basically, was not to be. Yes, there was a dribble of funds for public transport from a relatively puny (under-$800 billion) “stimulus” program, but most of the major capital funding was channelled into highway programs and other uses.

Then, I thought, there almost surely would be a “second wave” of more stimulus funding, and maybe public transportation would get more of that – and also, maybe crucial legislative-regulatory changes would be made to “level the playing field” between public transport and highway funding (and the funding of other modes).

Nope – that was not to be, either. Instead, in the face of the most profound economic crisis and downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, U.S. policy (and global policy, for that matter) has turned much more toward Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, et al. and away from John Maynard Keynes, Paul Krugman, et al. – in other words, Herbert Hoover-style “Hooverville” policies have finally triumphed over FDR’s New Deal.

And, in federal transport policy, Wendell Cox and Randal O’Toole are continuing to trounce Reconnnecting America and the Congress for the New Urbanism (occasional anomalous exceptions notwithstanding).

The consequences for the public transport industry are almost surely dire. I qualify “dire” here because, at least in the USA, there’s an outside chance that Congress may manage to push forward an omnibus transportation bill with some modest dollops for public transit – but the chances are nevertheless slim. This would still make the outlook … not sanguine, but “lousy” instead of “dire”. And it would still be dire for quite a few transit agencies not lined up for the best table-droppings.

The implications for public transit agencies are almost certainly … gloomy. More belt-tightening, more scrambling to try to find scraps of revenue somewhere. (I’ll try to post more on this subsequently…)

Meanwhile, pro-motor vehicle transit adversaries can be counted on to escalate their campaign of agency-bashing, transit-bashing, and their favorite – rail-bashing.

My inclination is to say “hunker down” … but I’m a strong believer that “the best defense is a good offense” – only, I’m not clear on what a “good offense” would be in this case. If I figure that one out, I’ll let y’all know.