Friday, July 10, 2009

Kinda Late Posted News

Getting Sleeeeepy...

Jarrett continues with the streetcar mobility argument alone. Starting to look like a manifesto on why cheap buses are better than "expensive" streetcars. Sorry, I just don't see it in that kind of a vacuum. After riding the 51 last week, I wish there was a streetcar on Broadway. Sure would keep me from having to hold on for dear life when the driver smashes the gas pedal or hits a bump in the road.

I love how engineers and others always try to be quantitative instead of qualitative. It's like everything has to be put into number format or measurable box. That's what got us our fun cost-effectiveness measure at the FTA. It's almost like Lord of the Rings. One number to rule them all!!!! Except when people know that number was created using BS four step transportation models that don't catch land use and externalities. But hey we've been doing it since forever so why stop now. - end late night rant.
"I can eat breakfast now"
No zoning huh? We should start calling Houston's regs car zoning instead of land use zoning.
More BRT boosterism about third world transit systems coming to your first world country. Does anyone really think Transmilenio is as smooth as the subway? Give me a break guys. And why are no subway systems applying for carbon credits?
In recognition of this feat, TransMilenio last year became the only large transportation project approved by the United Nations to generate and sell carbon credits.
And more BS from Walter Hook. Three times as much to maintain? Where did that number come from? Is that with Columbian Bus wages?
Subways cost more than 30 times as much per mile to build than a B.R.T. system, and three times as much to maintain.
And not quite transit, but transportation and land use law. Apparently if you buy parcels and land airplanes on them without a permit, people don't like that. Go figure.


Matt Fisher said...

Why is TransMilenio being considered the "benchmark" for what transit, in the BRT boosters' minds, should be like? And who is this Walter Hook person affiliated with? Why do they continue to get away with their claim that cheap diesel buses are better for the environment than electrically powered trains and are overall superior? This is towards their silly claim that BRT is "better rapid transit".

I don't see how they consider cheaper to be better. It's like saying we should all go to Wal-Mart over Target (a different company, Zellers, in Canada) 'cuz Wal-Mart's cheaper. :)

Matt Fisher said...

Here is something else you didn't mention that I didn't mention just over 30 minutes ago: Why are no light rail (or streetcar or tram) systems applying for carbon credits?

thetransportpolitic said...

It's thirty times more expensive to build a subway in New York than BRT in Columbia. How surprising. Let's try building the equivalent of Transmilenio in New York and see how much that costs.

I also don't know why these articles never mention the unfortunate fact that Transmilenio operates in the middle of highways, meaning that TOD is basically impossible around stations, and that the general user experience sucks.

AJ said...

One thing none of the flexibility boosters acknowledge is the sheer number of accidents buses get into. According to King County Metro, there were 43 accidents, 10 of them preventable, per million service miles in 2007.

Explains why I've been on several buses that have scraped or bumped cars or been bumped or scraped by cars (and in one instance, another bus). Less visible route, greater ability to maneuver, more accidents. Seems reasonable to me.

njh said...

Why are buses cheaper than trams? The obvious main one is greater volume of production (and less variation). Electric motors and controls are surely simpler than diesel engines. There is no steering or suspension in a tram (well, hardly any). We're allowed to discount right of way cost, you can lay rails for a similar cost to roads, overhead wires are cheap and easy to string.

So what technical reason is there for buses to strongly dominate streetcars in price?

Peter said...

the UN/kyoto carbon credit program can only give money and certification and credits to 'developing nations'...that means, nations which have generally not shelled out for real transit. that's part of why the entire nyt article is a fraud -- the most important parts of the story weren't printed.

to qualify for the carbon credits, a transportation has to meet several requirements, one of which is to draw people away from private transportation. i'm not sure how this was achieved with transmilenio, except that maybe they consider the once-private buses that used to operate are now still private, but publicly-controlled to a certain extent? as far as i know, there are more people in their cars in Bogota every day. the only thing that happened with the introduction of Transmilenio was existing bus riders just switched from the old, smaller, private buses, to the new, bigger semi-private buses -- so, no _new_ riders that i know of.

like the last line of the article says -- a kid talking about the big red buses of Transmilenio:

"It's O.K., but I prefer the car."

you and everyone else in Bogota who can afford to drive, brother.

i couldn't find the exact text again -- here's a press release about transmilenio and the un:

Robert said...

Regarding the Houston Chronicle article on the new land use guidelines restricting traffic-inducing density, the rare sage comment from a website commenter:

"It's chicken and egg. You need population density to make transit viable. Why spend 3,000,000,000 dollars if only 30,000 people can use it. They need to rerun the light rail down Kirby and Westheimer where those high rises are going. Rail isn't going anywhere near Ashby High rise. Those people won't be walking to Westpark to catch a train in this heat. BTW, NY, Boston and Chicago are much smaller than Houston and have higher population densites. All have commuter rail, but they also have more people that are used to it. Boston has T Lines practically in peoples backyards. That will never happen in Houston. We couldn't even get the rail down Richmond in front of houses."

This is really the key point. As excited as folks are about the 5 new light rail lines being built in Houston, they should really be considered cop-outs, most especially the University line. Who in the world is going to walk from Uptown to Westpark (across the southwest freeway, of course) in the blazing Houston heat?

Frankly, the MetroRail system (outside of the main street line) is something that I project will be lived down rather than something to be admired.

Incompetant Metro management was so eager to just get something, anything done in Houston before they move onto the next stage of the good-ole-boy job network that they allowed Culberson and a smaller cabal of Richmond homeowners to wreck the only thing that will actually do something to save Houston from the crush of oil demand.

Steve said...

If you reread the article again, you'll find the reason TransMillenio is successful is because:

"Bogotá removed one-third of its street parking to make room for TransMilenio and imposed alternate-day driving restrictions determined by license plate numbers, forcing car owners onto the system."

I'd love to see the reaction to THAT if it was tried in any American city.

arcady said...

Regarding the debate at Human Transit, I think it's not just qualitative vs. quantitative. Among other things, rider preference for rail over bus has been quantified, if somewhat crudely. I think it's partly a matter of how you define the problem: Jarrett's point is that for a fairly narrow definition of the problem, streetcars provide no benefit over buses if you run them in similar conditions. I think a big part of the "debate" is really people talking past each other, with streetcar people talking about the benefits of streetcars in terms of urban environment etc, and Jarrett saying it's irrelevant to his point. But I think there's something more interesting besides that, and that's whether "mobility" is really the best metric, in terms of "expected area you can travel to in a given time". I think it's a good first order approximation, at least when you correct for density somehow (5 miles in Silicon Valley is very different from 5 miles in Providence). For one thing, people prefer service that is reliable, and it doesn't matter if you have a fast bus that runs 5 times an hour if you have to wait an hour for 5 of them to come at once. So, in addition to frequency, reliability matters. To some extent trip quality also matters: compare driving half an hour on empty country roads to driving half an hour in stop and go traffic on the freeway. Similar considerations apply to other modes too, and the thing to do about that is attempt to quantify them and take them into account in future planning. The thing NOT to do is, as one commenter did, attempt to blame people for not conforming to the model.

Anyhow, I think Jarrett is not quite right about there not being mobility benefits to the streetcar. In high ridership scenarios, streetcars perform better, and exclusive lanes/ROWs are much easier to make self-enforcing with streetcars, plus there are some places streetcars can go where buses can't (notably pedestrian spaces, of which there are a couple in Portland). And generally, it's much easier to build a poorly designed bus facility compared to streetcar. There's also some possibility that total lifetime costs are cheaper for streetcars, although I just don't have the data handy on that. But at the same time, I don't really think most of these considerations apply in Portland, and in particular, their model of streetcar vehicle is very poorly suited to a citywide network, and they need to think hard before investing lots of money in building infrastructure for what may turn out to be an inferior solution.

Alon Levy said...

AJ, in the US, planes, trains, and buses all have approximately the same number of accident deaths per passenger-km, which is 20-40 times less than for cars.

Matt Fisher said...


You have a point there. The current streetcars in Portland are acceptable in the form of a circulator, as it currently is, but for longer distances in the function of a line haul service (like the one already planned to Lake Oswego), it would be better to use streetcars at a length of 30 metres (100 feet) or more.

To demonstrate, new trams in France and elsewhere in Europe typically are at the above mentioned minimum length, but can range as high as 45 metres (150 feet). Those are, however, just estimates. And these may not all be uniform in practice.

Oh, and this obviously excludes the Combino Supra "caterpillars" in Budapest. Their length can almost reach that of a two car LRV.

arcady said...

It's not even the length that matters, it's the speed. The Portland streetcars are happiest running at 20-25 mph, and have a top speed of around 30. Even a plain old PCC would do better on the run to Lake Oswego just because of the higher top speed. In fact, I think PCCs might actually have better performance than the Portland streetcars, or at least very similar. For a streetcar, ideally you want something as powerful as an LRV but with lower gearing to trade off top speed for acceleration. Plus you can simplify the suspension somewhat, especially with articulated vehicles that tend to become unstable only at higher speeds.

Jarrett at said...

A late-breaking response, but in response to the original post I should clarify that I am not an engineer. I have a literature degree but I've been a consulting transit planner for almost 20 years.

To follow this conversation, just look at the category "Streetcars (Trams) at

Cheers, Jarrett

Matt Fisher said...


Okay, you're right. Speed is what matters here. It would appear to be the most. You have a valid point here. However, I would still say that my points about length (and capacity) are relevant to the debate. It wouldn't be acceptable for something of 20 metres (66 ft.), which the Portland Streetcar uses, to be acceptable for use outside of circulators. Still, thank you for responding. :)

So disappointing that America, until recently, stopped making streetcars after making the PCC. This was when some of the earliest of a mountain of subsidies to the automobile was given.

And TransMilenio looks so much like a "highway within a highway".