Who Deserves A Bailout? The MTA.

Especially with the gains in ridership they've been having in the last several years...

NYTimes - New York City Grew, but Traffic Didn’t

(c) NY Times

Apparently, in the last "boom" period that NYC's had, transit actually increased its ridership at greater rates than vehicle traffic. Which is pretty awesome; in Lower Manhattan, vehicle traffic actually decreased, as people abandoned taxis and cars for buses and the subway.

Of course, now that it's showing such rapid growth, now is when the MTA's under threat of having to reduce service drastically, if not given new life by the folks up in Albany (which they probably will be).

Who needs a better example of the communalistic relationship between quality of life and transit service than New York? Especially Manhattan; it's the place that everyone wants to live (making generalizations of course)! As crime went down, many more people wanted to ride the subway, as well as the implementation of the MetroCard, allowing for smoother transfers.

At the same time, it might be hard to find direct lessons to learn from NYC, as the average density is much higher than anywhere in the rest of the nation, and many people might not want their city to become the same. But this density and level of transit service will definitely give New York an edge in the looming world of Peak Oil.


Some of the Coolest Light Rail Stations...

I've been flipping through this book, looking especially at the rail architecture. And I just marveled at the tram stations for Hannover's light rail extension that they featured.


I mean, they're just amazing design. And I wish everyone had the opportunity to see them.


Random Thought on Density and Water Runoff

I just randomly had a thought a couple of days ago: couldn't, potentially, urbanization allow for a decrease in the amount of water wasted as runoff?

Yes, urban buildings, especially as built currently, greatly reduce the amount of water allowed to recharge into underground aquifers; this water instead ends up on rooftops to evaporate, or runs off pavement, directly into streams and watercourses, maybe even causing preventable erosion. Suburban environments, those that emphasize the automobile, with large streets, and parking lots everywhere, are very bad, too.

But what if all urban buildings, or even just a majority of them, were built with "green roofs"? This could enhance the position of the urban, denser environment in respect to the suburban, as all building roofs could potentially replace at least part of the water collection role that the ground those buildings cover played, whereas suburban "sprawl" seems doomed to waste water away. I cannot see any way for parking lots to be "greened up" like roofs can, as cars still need to drive across them; is there any way to do so?

Just a thought.


San Antonio: the Next Light Rail System in Texas?

Interesting op-ed on mySA, about the need for light rail in San Antone. Will they be next Texas city to realize the attractiveness of light rail?

That'd mean that the 3 largest cities in Texas would all have LRT lines; Dallas with the soon to be even more amazing DART system, Houston, with it's one line, and now San Antonio? There's no doubt that LRT can work in sprawling cities (San Antone is definitely one), since the first LRT systems of the light rail renaissance were in the very un-dense cities of Edmonton and Calgary, then add to the fact that LA and Dallas both have great and/or improving systems, then there's no way that this isn't possible in the Alamo City.

And think if the LRT system connected at least the Alamo, and maybe some of the other missions, with the eventual ASA Rail, and even Fiesta Texas? Talk about potential traffic! Besides, LRT's ability to allow for densification and the renewal of downtowns could ease some of the pressure on the Hill Country west of SA, that's being ravaged by overzealous development of ugly box houses.


How Will MetroRail's Viability Be Affected By ASA Rail?

I went looking around at information about the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District, and after finding this (PDF) presentation on their website, I started thinking about how the construction of a rail line between Georgetown and San Antonio, that connected with the MetroRail Red Line at McNeil, would affect usage of the CapMetro commuter rail line.

Due to the range, and having, at least initially, to run on a moderately-heavy traffic, single-track freight railroad, the ASA line would probably use the established method of separate engine and cars. Maybe something like the MPXpress and those Bombardier double-decker cars? A definite contrast to the Stadler DMUs used by CapMetro!

But how would the establishment of the ASA rail line affect usage of the Red Line? Any commuters from Leander and Cedar Park could now travel direct to San Antonio and San Marcos, etc, as well as Round Rock and Georgetown (though rail might not show a significant advantage over car travel in the Leander-Georgetown trip, due to a much longer distance via rail). This could increase the viability of the commuter rail on the northern end of the rail line, but also eliminate part of the need for the Red Line south of McNeil, maybe, as the ASA stop at downtown Austin would actually be closer to the core office area, not the convention center, like the Red Line.

But at the same time, if you look at the people that rail is sold at attracting, the "choice commuter", who doesn't oft like to transfer (and how hard would it be to transfer at McNeil?), then this might not be relevant at all, at least for Leander?Cedar Park-Austin travel. And I have no idea how many people actually commute from Northwest Austin to San Antonio...

But if ASA RAil removed the demand for the Red Line south of McNeil, could the A&NW right of way be used as planned in the 2000 light rail plan, at least in the best possible outcome?


What Now for Austin Rail?

Now that the Capital Metro Red Line is coming closer to completion and the initiation of operations, what is rail in Austin's future? I see several very distinct possibilities.

  • We do as Austin transit-man M1EK proposes, and get rid of the DMU commuter rail system while we can, and replace it with (maybe) a scaled down version of the 2000 light rail plan, which would've hit more densely populated areas.

  • Keep the commuter rail, and add a light rail/streetcar line which could possibly connect up to the Mueller redevelopment, down along San Jacinto, through Riverside, and all the way to Bergstrom, as recommended by Brewster McCracken and ROMA (here)

  • Do nothing, and keep the commuter rail and the requisite shuttle-buses.

I for one, think that either the first or second are the best options, and that the second and third are the most likely; following my logic, I'd say that the second option, if the line was truly light rail, in separate right-of-way, would be the best possible option. Just cross your fingers on this one Austin...


Something MUCH Easier Than LRT...

Why can't there be a national fund for pedestrian transit?

How hard is it to have sidewalks along all the major thoroughfares of a city. I mean, I go to school in Leander, a town of almost 35,000 now, and walking from the high school to the library, there's no sidewalks! What's up with that?

This is walking down the side of a 4 lane, with turn lanes road, with very steep embankments! Our world is not only car-centric, it's pedestrian-hostile, at least in the suburbs!

Installing sidewalks should not be anywhere near the expense of building a new LRT system from the ground up, shouldn't it? I'm not asking for a complete transit system, just a safer way to walk!


Thinking of a DART Trip

I've been thinking of the possibility of first-hand research for my extended essay project; visiting Dallas' DART Light Rail (THE rail success story of Texas) could give me some valuable insight into the effects of LRT on quality of life, especially now that the DART LRT system has been around more than a decade!

First-hand experience of the effects of TOD developments like the Mockingbird area, and the chance to talk face-to-face and observe people who use the train every day.

I also would try to squeeze in an interview with someone in the TOD-related areas of the DART project....


TOD vs."TAD"

Interesting article (here), again found on the Reconnecting America database; by PB Placemaking about Transit-oriented Development along light and heavy rail lines, and true TOD's contrast with what they call T.A.D., or Transit-adjecent Development.

The article makes several points about successful TOD development.

  • The TOD district has to be able to be successful without transit to be successful with transit access.

  • A transit agency is often not the most efficient or effective group to create TOD, instead local municipalities are, who have the necessary development and political clout

  • TODs are shaped by the transit mode, not just adjacent to it (they have buildings exits located towards transit stops, higher density of usage, limited parking, pedestrian-safe, etc...

  • The TOD's transit station must be connected to the developing community, not just near it.

  • Acknowledges (from several other sources) that transit affects development

It also depends, city-by-city, whether the TOD is forced, or planned for, by the supervising agency or it develops by market forces. Apparently several of the TOD projects surrounding DART stops in Dallas, were, unlike those in Portland or San Diego, not planned by DART, but instead put forth by developers. This is quite remarkable for a city that, like the rest of Texas, is known for a solid pro-auto design.

There are several other key points put forth by this report:

  • Planning for the possibility of TOD along transit lines while building the transit system much increases the effectiveness of the resultant TOD

  • TOD can enhance transit systems; it can add riders, increase property values, encourage federal funding, etc.

  • True TOD is illegal in the U.S.; zoning ordinances do not allow for the densities, mix of uses, or reduced parking requirements of true TOD

  • Market for TOD is real and increasing: locations next to LRT showed avg. land premiums of as great as 39% for residential and 52% for office


Neighborhood Dynamic and Rail Stations - Charlotte, NC

Just reading this presentation (PDF) from the CATS light rail system that I found on the Reconnecting America Database. It discusses their various types of light rail stations, and particular types of neighborhoods that each specifically is tailored to fit with. Each of them also has a description of how each has a specific effect on the mobility, it's role in creating a sense of place, and its ability to develop the surrounding land. Heck, it even gives a theoretical site plan of the station type!

It then goes through and applies these types to the potential CATS lines, as well as setting up a chart to outline a strategy to use each station type to develop the surrounding neighborhoods responsibly.

One of the more interesting parts of the presentation is how it takes into account the effect of transit stations, being the focal points they are, in determining the character of a neighborhood, and the varying degrees of effect that stations have in neighborhoods, depending on their ages and strength of character. This is a not often addressed part of transit planning and quality of life discussion.

Kudos to CATS!


SimCity Dreams

Don't you wish that sometimes you could be the SimCity-esque Mayor of a real city? One that had all the powers of those in the game, and had only three things to answer to: yourself, the public opinion, and money? No approval process for giant public works projects, no council to deal with, no having to schmooze with congresspeople to earmark funding? That way thing that needed to get done would? So that your city could be the next Curitaba?

And have a city, where, if you build public transportation, the best routes are picked by efficient computer algorithm, which has access to data that any statistician would salivate over; and the same routes are ridden by all types and incomes of people?

Just need to post this as a reality check; we'll never have a true SimCity in the United States, if nothing else, then because of our quintessential freedoms, but we can always aspire to a city that could be realized on the computer.

No Driving!

I had a thought today after going on an "instructed" drive today (I finally got my learner's permit). Being new at this and all, I was rightfully slightly stressed out...

If one had access to a nice light rail/urban rail transit system, especially one that meshed with a good inter-city rail system, you wouldn't have to undergo the daily stress that is driving a car, especially in cities.

Wouldn't relieving that stress increase your quality of life? Especially if you still had the option to drive?

And with the expensive gas prices nowadays, wouldn't it be better if we drove less (guaranteed to quickly decrease demand) instead of drilling more (who knows if this will really affect global prices at all, ever?), but then again, here we're going into serious matters of human psychology; it's always easier to demand that someone else change something far away than change something that would usually just inconvenience you.


In My Schedule

Hope to talk to Jeff Arndt, a researcher at the Texas Transportation Institute, on Monday, and seek his input into light rail and quality of life effects.

Also, I'll see if he knows of any updated info from DART...


Just got highlighted at M1EK's Bake Sale of Bile!

Thanks Mike!


Economic Impact of Light Rail - Dallas, Texas

Light rail, whenever mentioned as a potential transit scheme, is usually mentioned as a tool of economic revitalization and/or development; densification as well. Held up as one of the prime examples is Dallas' DART system, which has seen several Transit-oriented Development districts. The largest and most widely known of these is Mockingbird Station.

After contacting the American Public Transit Authority, I obtained several copies of various light rail studies, including one, The Initial Economic Impacts of the DART LRT System, which analyzes the economic impact of LRT, and is very helpful in identifying confounding factors in analysis of LRT system effects, including highways, decentralization, relocation costs, changing economic structure, and local public policies.

The study found, using property values data, that in 11 of the 15 areas surrounding DART LRT stations, property values increased between 1994 and 1998, and that the jump in total valuations around DART stations was 25% higher than in control neighborhoods in other parts of the DFW metroplex. Along with this, when looking at land values, average appreciation around DART station was twice non-DART neighborhoods.

Therefore, one can see, at least in one aspect of "quality of life", LRT has a quantitative positive impact on its surroundings.



During my investigation into light rail and quality of life effects, I've shuffled through many different sources. I've looked over several transit news magazines, contacted and conversed with people at transit authorities and transit institutes, as well as monitored blogs and chatted with bloggers.

Just trying to explain my supposed thoroughness.

I have lots of research papers at home, but what I need to do is analyze them, pour over them, and determine their relevancy and after that, use the to compile my "Quality of Life" matrices.

Quality of Life and Light Rail

Trying to find a relationship between "quality of life" and light rail transit development, one must first define the term "quality of life" in respect to transit. The Economist's Quality-of-life Index measures Health, Family Life, Community Life, Material Well-being, Political Stability, Climate, Job Security, Political Freedom, and Gender Equality, most of which are not aspects that one would expect to be affected by the advent of a light rail transit system.

Instead, for my uses, "quality of life" is more importantly determined by more definitively "transit-oriented" factors. Factors such as affected mobility, real estate values, change in transit times, and attracting development. These factors, given quantitative value, can be entered into a "quality of life" matrix, which, factoring in the relative values of each, could give one a "quality of life" score for several different light rail systems, along with comparative bus transit systems, and freeway-only systems.