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Old 06-09-2016, 04:49 PM
 
429 posts, read 318,402 times
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This article in the Seattle Transit Blog makes the case: Seattle is the Tortoise, Portland the Hare

"We are choosing to do the hardest possible thing, to build new, grade separated, truly high capacity transit. We’re doing so in a wealthy region, through and under valuable land, while appeasing every environmental regulation, mitigating every property owner’s complaint, showering goodies at cities along the way, and securing the majority support of a very engaged citizenry.

The legacy systems of New York and Chicago, etc, built hard things the easy way, with often callous disregard for human life and the environment. Today our peer cities are building easy things the hard way, creating inferior products while encumbered in the same process mess. We are choosing to build hard things the hard way. That is by definition torturous, but it’s also the only way to get real value out of what we’re paying for."

It is true that Seattle is getting much higher ridership per station - they just opened two new subway stations earlier this year and ridership jumped up by 25K.

What do you think? Is Seattle's metro-style system superior to other new systems relying on old railroad right of way and primarily going along highways even within the city?
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Old 06-09-2016, 07:22 PM
 
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Certainly compared to Yerkes in Chicago, who bribed aldermen to build L tracks over city streets and put stations on minor streets to save on real estate. Or Boston where stations were placed so far below street level it was inconvenient to use. Seattle learned the lessons.
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Old 06-10-2016, 08:43 AM
 
Location: Seattle, WA
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Seattle's light rail system is certainly the highest quality around. While Portland and Denver have more expansive rail coverage, it's all at-grade which makes their trains simply glorified buses (the whole point of light rail is to have it grade-separated; once you have it traveling along the street like Denver you've defeated the main purpose of having rail). Seattle's light rail will also have stations within the region's most populated and walkable neighborhoods, whereas Denver's trains hug the side of their freeways thereby drastically reducing ridership and also not promoting walkability.

Within 30 years, Seattle will have one of the most expensive, pedestrian-friendly, and best quality metro systems in the country.
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Old 06-10-2016, 11:34 AM
 
Location: Vineland, NJ
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I'm very impressed with Seattle's improvements in mass transit. It's one of the very few cities in the US that is actually expanding its subway system.
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Old 06-10-2016, 04:25 PM
 
Location: Seattle
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Well I can be the skunk at the garden party, I suppose.

The light rail ridership bump described in the OP was due to the fact that one of the newly opened stations was at the University of Washington, which has 45,000 students and something like 15,000 employees counting the massive medical center. (It's one of Seattle's biggest employers.) Even so, the system is achieving ridership projections only because the original projections - which were used to convince the voters and bond underwriters - were reduced significantly along the line.

The light rail station opening coincided with re-routing and service reductions on a number of bus routes, including express routes, which previously handled the traffic. Because of the light rail system's very linear route design, which ignores many higher-density residential areas, many commuters to the UW are going to have to do mode-switch transfers, which in many cases will actually add to their commute times.

Meanwhile, several areas of the metro region, including the huge (Amazon-centered) employment zone of South Lake Union, have no access to the light rail system, which was designed before Amazon was a factor in the region. Another corporate headquarters, Expedia, is moving from Bellevue to a site on the Seattle waterfront miles from the nearest proposed light rail station (which is proposed to be built sometime around 2030.)

To me, the Seattle light rail experience is a case study for a solution looking for a problem. King County Metro (the unified transit system for Seattle and most of its suburbs) has a vast fleet of hybrid buses and all-electric trolly buses (cheap hydroelectricity hereabouts) that have infinitely more route flexibility and scalability as the light rail.

The light rail routes were determined 20 years ago, but the city and region have changed hugely in the meantime. As with any fixed rail system, once you've dug the tunnels or bought the ROW or laid the tracks, that's that. Amazon moves into SLU? Darn.

The light rail advocates talk about capacity at maximum train size and minimum headway, but the reality is that the system design will force the vast majority of passengers to use secondary transit modes to get to the trains, thereby extending door-to-door times to the point where they're comparable - or longer - than bus routes. Seattle is still largely a mid-density urban area, which is not well suited to transit solutions that work in higher density situations; here the fabled "last mile" is a very big deal, because our "last miles" are often up and down steep hills. In the rain.

And then there's the cost. The unimaginable capital cost - in absolute terms, per passenger, per seat revenue mile... you name it. By its own admission, the transit agency (buried deep in source documents, nowhere to be found easily by citizens) shows a per-passenger subsidy requirement (in best-case conditions) nearly twice the cost of that for bus riders - forever. What other transit solutions could have been implemented with that (taxpayer) money, or even half, or a quarter - of it?

The current plan - which will depend on yet another humongous funding request going to the voters this fall - is to have the system built out around 2030. Given the authority's poor schedule adherence in the past, I'd imagine 2040 is a more realistic time frame. Does anybody really think Amazon will still be around in 25 years? But the bonds for that phase will be outstanding until at least 2060, maybe 2070.

Meanwhile, with a few months' lead time, we could have a big fleet of nonpolluting buses, running in dedicated busways or BRT lanes, using roads that have already been paid for. You could scale service up or down depending on economic or social/residential/commercial conditions, change routes very easily, and coordinate feeders, Ubers, whatever - to reduce the "last mile" problem.

How is it that we're installing 19th or 20th century solutions in the middle of the 21st century, when the whole world is moving to on-demand transit solutions, automatic cars, etc.?

I went to planning school and taught planning in the UK (which is not exempt from such boondoggles, viz. Edinburgh's tram line) and still visit with pals in the planning biz in the UK. Three of them visited me last summer (they all work for rail-based transit agencies in England and Scotland) and all three laughed at Seattle's system, which they called "vanity rail," - apparently a "term of art" in the field.

I prefer the immortal words of Deep Throat ("All the President's Men.") Follow the money. Follow it to the engineers, the transit bureaucrats, investment bankers and contractors. Light rail is great for business. Well, some businesses.
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Old 06-10-2016, 04:36 PM
 
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Most light rail is vanity rail, designed to spurn TOD and attract suburbanites with serious rail bias.
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Old 06-11-2016, 07:05 AM
mm4
 
5,711 posts, read 3,144,017 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edward234 View Post
What do you think? Is Seattle's metro-style system superior to other new systems relying on old railroad right of way and primarily going along highways even within the city?
A lot of those highways were built along corridors that were first validated by the old railroad right-of-way adjacent to them. And those same highways still often represent the corridors of highest concentration of activity.
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Old 06-11-2016, 09:16 PM
 
9,400 posts, read 9,563,269 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gladhands View Post
Most light rail is vanity rail, designed to spurn TOD and attract suburbanites with serious rail bias.
Light rail can have capacity beyond what is needed in most of these cities. The Green Line in Boston carries about 10k/mile, and much more than that on the B line.
Light rail is used because if an at grade crossing is needed for any reason it is legal, unlike with heavy rail.
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Old 06-12-2016, 04:42 AM
 
Location: Coos Bay, Oregon
7,142 posts, read 8,894,162 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GatsbyGatz View Post
Seattle's light rail system is certainly the highest quality around. While Portland and Denver have more expansive rail coverage, it's all at-grade which makes their trains simply glorified buses (the whole point of light rail is to have it grade-separated; once you have it traveling along the street like Denver you've defeated the main purpose of having rail). Seattle's light rail will also have stations within the region's most populated and walkable neighborhoods, whereas Denver's trains hug the side of their freeways thereby drastically reducing ridership and also not promoting walkability.
Actually that is just wrong. The whole point of light rail is at-grade. Thats the definition of light rail. The point of heavy rail is grade-separation. Actually back in the 1970s Denver's rail system plans were for an entirely grade-separated people mover system. Which was quickly realized to be not feasible, and replaced with plans for a light rail system.

That said I do think that light rail is not really working that well in Denver. I think they will eventually have to upgrade their light rail lines to commuter rail service (like the new lines they are building now), with a subway in the Downtown Area. The Denver light rail just can’t handle the demand. But an entirely grade-separated system in Denver will never happen ever. They are already broke trying to build what they have.

Quote:
light rail n.
A rail transportation system involving trolleys, streetcars, or other, usually electrified methods of conveyance, whose rails are primarily on surface streets that are shared with other forms of transportation.
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/light+rail
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Old 06-13-2016, 08:01 AM
 
Location: East of Seattle since 1992, originally from SF Bay Area
29,866 posts, read 54,582,197 times
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Only time will tell whether the Seattle-area system is best or even decent. So far, it's far too limited to judge. The greatest need is across lake Washington, followed by north to Everett and south to Tacoma. For the eastide commutes the bus trips are slow, with most being overcrowded. With completion just to Bellevue projected for 2023, it won't do me any good since I'll be retired, but for those still working it will require driving to the stations. There will probably not be enough parking for the riders, with many coming from areas beyond the end of the light rail line.
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