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Light Rail Now! NewsLog

Produced by the Light Rail Now! Publication Team

This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.

29 September 2007

Rail Runner Express attracting ridership, expanding toward Santa Fe

CORRECTION: Our original news item stated in error that a contract for the Rail Runner Express extension to Santa Fe had been awarded by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Of course, it was the New Mexico Department of Transportation that awarded the contract.

Expansion to Santa Fe is under way for Albuquerque's Rail Runner Express regional passenger rail (RPR, or "commuter rail").

According to a story on KOB-TV (8 August 2007), the New Mexico Department of Transportation awarded a $115 million contract to build new tracks for the Santa Fe extension to a joint venture of Twin Mountain Construction II Company of Albuquerque and the Herzog Companies.

A special segment of 18 miles of new track will be constructed from near La Bajada to the southern edge of Santa Fe. Rail Runner Express will use tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad from Albuquerque to La Bajada and then into Waldo Canyon.

The new track will include a route in the median of I-25 "just north of the Santa Fe rest stop along the highway" according to the TV report. Construction of the extension is estimated to be finished in November 2008.

As of this past April, the service has been averaging about 2,000 rider-trips per day, according to a story in the Albuquerque Tribune (12 April 2007).

Two new stations were opened in April in downtown Bernalillo, and in the South Valley at Rio Bravo Boulevard, where new connecting bus services are being provided by ABQ Ride, including a link to Albuquerque international Sunport.

In August, Rail Runner Express celebrated its first half-millionth passenger, Los Lunas commuter Shawna Anderson. The 33-year-old New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority program specialist told the Valencia County News-Bulletin (1 August 2007) that says she rides the train into downtown Albuquerque and then walks the remaining few blocks to her job each day.

"Riding the Rail Runner takes the stress out of my life" Anderson told the paper. "There's no more rush-hour road rage, and I also enjoy the fact that I get some exercise by walking from the station to the office – it's a great way to start and end my day!"

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/09/29

More on Albuquerque Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Development...

More on Ridership issues...

10 September 2007

Light rail ridership, now at 61,000 a day, continues to set new records

Less than a year after the opening of its Southeast light rail transit (LRT) line, Denver's entire LRT system carries an average of nearly 61,000 rider-trips around the metro area each weekday, according to data from Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD), reported in the Denver Post of 6 July. That's 7,000 more rider-trips than RTD expected.

All told, nearly 3 million passengers have ridden the Southeast line since it opened in November 2006, and ridership on that line has already surpassed expectations, according RTD spokesman Scott Reed. "We are already at our projected ridership for the end of the first year of operation" said Reed.

These and other ongoing successes – including a massive boom in transit-oriented development (TOD) around existing and planned LRT stations – refute the relentless efforts of critics to portray Denver's rail program as a failure.

A May 12th diatribe by anti-transit ideologue John Andrews, for example, published in the Denver Post, ranted about "Metro Denver's ill-fated love affair with the Regional Transportation District" (in other words, attacking all of Denver's urban public transport) and portrayed the transit system as a "dysfunctional" service that "has flopped as public policy".

In reality, the LRT system has been growing so fast that RTD has been struggling to keep up with demand. According to the July 6th Post article, RTD has purchased an additional 34 LRT cars to augment the 83 already being operated. RTD spokeswoman Daria Serna said that the new cars, capable of multiple-unit operation with those already in service, should be running by mid-2009.

RTD officials are optimistic that Denver travelers are becoming more "transit-savvy". To illustrate this, the Post article recounts the example of LRT passenger Jonathan Howard, described as "part of the evolution", and one of the riders who are making more than 32,000 trips over RTD's Southeast LRT line on an average weekday.

"Now that he takes the southeast line to work, the 51-year-old financial analyst has thought about selling his car" reports the article.

"I prefer taking the train now" Howard told the Post reporter while waiting for his train at Yale Station.

Ironically, one of the most serious passenger complaints is a lack of parking at some park & ride facilities, says the article, which notes that "Nine Mile, Orchard, Belleview and Yale park-n-Rides were 96 percent to 99 percent full in May, the latest month for which figures were available, according to RTD." (Underestimating park & ride demand seems to be a chronic and widespread problem with the planning of new LRT lines across the country in recent years – possibly reflecting a tendency of federally mandated forecasting models to underpredict demand.)

Transit-oriented development (TOD) may be starting to contribute to some of the increase in LRT ridership, since TOD has been driving development along several LRT corridors over the last several years. In an article last year (17 October 2006), the Denver Post hailed the region's "maturing mass-transit system and the mixed-use developments that are springing up around new transit stops." A map, itemizing some of the largest developments under way, underscored the flurry of intense TOD development occurring at no fewer than 9 major stations on the LRT system.

TOD was also the focus earlier this year of a new study from RTD, Transit-Oriented Development Status Report 2006 (February 2007), available at the following URL:

According to this report,

Some 3,704 residential units, 460,000 square feet of retail, and 300,000 square feet of office space have either been built or are currently under construction...An additional 3,713 residential units, 600 hotel rooms, 440,000 square feet of retail, 860,000 square feet of office space have been proposed. When added to projects at the I-25/Broadway transfer station, these 15 proposed projects have been an estimated value of approximately $1.7 billion.

Speaking at an Urban Land institute in Denver last fall (as reported in the 17 October 2006 Denver Post), Chicago developer Jay Case, reportedly working on two of the TODs in Denver, summed up the potential of such integrated rail transit and land development, noting that, at such rail stations, "Denver has this opportunity to create a series of linear cities where development is dense. Combine the fact that you create this transportation system with the fact that people are liking this urban lifestyle, and it's a pretty powerful force. It becomes a lifestyle choice."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/09/10

More on Denver Public Transport Developments

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

10 September 2007

Big problems for "Phileas FROG" guided "BRT"

One of the variants of the "Bus Rapid Transit" ("BRT") ploy by the highway and motor vehicle industry to promote a rubber-tired, petroleum-fueled, bus-based alternative to electric rail transit, including light rail transit (LRT), is the "guided busway" ... and lately, this type of bus "Gadgetbahn" has been running into a heap of technical problems – including derailments, accidents, and various startup problems.

One of the more exotic new guided "BRT" systems is the "Phileas" system serving the small city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Using a guidance technology called "FROG", the Phileas technology is described by its promoters (an outfit called Frog/2GetThere) as "far more affordable, both in terms of capital and operational costs, and more flexible (as it can deviate from its lane)" than LRT. "It provides the same transit quality as light rail and has a (more) innovative image", they claim.

The FROG (Free-Ranging On Grid) guidance technology (said to be developed by Advanced Public Transportation Systems – APTS), "consists of a combination of autonomous vehicles and a supervisory central system" according to an article in Wikipedia. Proprietary vehicles – buses, in the case of the Phileas "BRT" – are guided via a matrix of magnets embedded in the paveway (busway or bus lane), integrated with other systems including odometry readings and a global positioning system (GPS).

The Phileas FROG-guided "BRT" system was selected by the Samenwerkingsverband Regio Eindhoven (SRE), a consortium of 21 cities in the Netherlands province of Brabant, in an experiment to try out a "BRT" alternative to LRT for the West corridor, selected by the Eindhoven council, running northwest from Eindhoven's city center, as a zone for new activities. This corridor is an urban development zone located between Eindhoven Central Station and Eindhoven Airport.

The Phileas FROG "BRT" consists of two routes, running (route 401) and (route 402). :

· Line 401 – from the central station to the airport, 9 kilometers (5.6 mi), 30 stations
· Line 402 – to the suburb of Veldhoven, 6 kilometers (3.7 mi), 13 stations

Rolling stock is reported to consist of 11 single-articulated Phileas buses (capacity 30 seated, 91 standing) and one double-articulated Phileas bus (capacity 38 seated, 121 standing). However, according to Eurpean transit advocate Eduard de Jong,

...after more than 3 years of testing of the Phileas system (including GPS guidance) in daily practice only 4 (at most) Phileas buses are now ready for service. The other ones are not available due to maintenance, testing, malfunctioning etc.

De Jong points out that for regular daily service on the two routes, a total of 8 buses are needed. Therefore it is necessary for Hermes, the operator, to operate the service with ordinary articulated buses as well.

According to de Jong, SRE is now negotiating with APTS to replace the LPG engines on the Phileas buses with diesel engines (similar to the évéole buses deployed in the French town of Douai) and to undertake some other "adjustments" to lower the percentage of bus unavailability. Furthermore,

The guidance system will not be applied at all: the Phileas bus is operated by the driver as a usual unguided bus.

De Jong also reports that

Public transport officials in the Netherlands qualify the Phileas system as a "fiasco", at the same level as the Bombardier-built guided buses (alias tram-on-tyres) in Nancy and Caen.

Furthermore, he notes, the company Frog/2GetThere "went into bankruptcy a few months ago." Meanwhile, "the company is considering/trying to do a restart at a moderate size to prevent the valuable(!) knowledge and the experience with guided systems being lost."

Certainly, advocates of public transport welcome efforts to advance all aspects of transit technology, including significant improvements in bus equipment and operations. However, does the unrelenting effort to refashion buses into guided "rail" vehicles – and to supplant well-proven, mature, and highly reliable LRT technology – actually achieve any major breakthroughs for anybody (except perhaps enterprising marketers of proprietary "Gadgetbahn" variations)? This question, which keeps arising as each new variation of guided-bus "Gadgetbahn" emerges, is once again posed by Eindhoven's apparent Phileas-FROG "fiasco".

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/09/10

More on Public Transport in the Netherlands

More on "Bus Rapid Transit" issues

10 September 2007

Determining urban all-purpose automobile Average Vehicle Occupancy

What's the average vehicle occupancy (AVO) of an automobile in the average US urban area? Determining an appropriate automobile AVO for urban travel is germane for a number of important research purposes, including various comparisons with local public transit.

However, finding any kind of reputable studies providing reliable figures of average urban automobile occupancy – particularly for the larger urban areas operating rail transit systems, and particularly for all types of trip purposes – is quite difficult. Since we're seeking data with respect to automobiles and other personal vehicles in strictly urban travel, determining a single acceptable figure is challenging because of all the variables and the problem of distinguishing general urban from intercity trips, especially on urban freeways (preferred both for intercity and regional commute travel).

Long-distance, intercity trips tend to exhibit higher AVOs, probably because people like company on longer trips and it's cheaper to spread the travel cost over more travelers.

However, most AVO figures given in various studies and references tend to amalgamate local and intercity travel; on the other hand, many studies providing AVO data on urban travel tend to focus only on peak work trips (an AVO of 1.1 is most frequently cited for work trips). Because of this, AVO figures supposedly for general, all-day, all-purpose urban automobile trips tend to span a fairly wide range, and some figures seem implausibly low. For example:

· An AVO figure of 1.328 for 1990 was provided by the San Francisco-Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission – see:

· An AVO figure of 1.1 for Ohio urban areas in 1990 provided by Ohio DOT (this figure seems particularly low as it would apply to all trips) – see:

The average of the two figures cited above would yield an AVO of about 1.2. However, Light Rail Now Project researchers conclude that an urban AVO value higher than this would represent a more conservative and acceptable assumption.

The following US Department of Transportation study provides an AVO figure applicable to general urban travel in US cities that is worth consideration:

Battelle: Final Report on improved Vehicle Occupancy Data Collection Methods, Work Order Number BAT-94-011, Contract DTFH61-93-C-00055, April 1997

For general, multi-purpose, all-day urban travel of "light vehicles" on urban freeways, this study provides an average AVO figure of 1.49. it should be noted, however, that this AVO applies to a variety of "light vehicles", including minivans and other SUVs, which may tend to have higher AVOs. Furthermore, although the study examines urban freeway travel, this observed AVO could be skewed upward somewhat by a higher proportion of intercity trips than would be found in strictly urban travel on the general roadway system.

Nevertheless, this AVO figure of 1.49 for general urban multi-purpose, all-day travel is probably sufficiently plausible for assumption in competent research.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/09/10

More on Travel/Transport Characteristics and Data issues...

17 August 2007

St. Louis:
MetroLink light rail ridership reaches all-time high

St. Louis's MetroLink light rail transit (LRT) system is really on a roll. According to a new Media Release from Metro, the transit agency, "July 2007 was the highest ridership month ever for MetroLink." indeed, "For the first time in history, boardings topped 2.3 million in a single month", says the agency. (Metro News Release, 14 August 2007)

This marks the fourth consecutive month that ridership has exceeded 2 million riders. There were 600,000 more boardings this July than in July 2006.

"The new extension is certainly the reason why ridership is rising to these levels" said Todd Plesko, Metro's Director of Planning and System Development. "While we knew ridership would increase because of the additional eight miles and nine new stations that now offer more choices, no one really expected it to climb this high this fast."

Metro notes that early ridership forecasts for the Cross County MetroLink Extension had predicted an average of 18,900 additional daily rider-trips by the year 2025. "However last month, after only eleven months of operation, MetroLink ridership totaled more than 88,000 boardings per average weekday, an increase of more than 27,000 additional daily riders – much higher than predicted" reports the agency.

Moreover, the ridership growth stimulated by MetroLink's high-quality service and its expansion have had a "ripple effect" – helping to boost ridership over the entire multi-modal transit system.

Metro also reports that in Fiscal Year 2007 ridership exceeded 54.6 million boardings on its entire system (including its 46-mile MetroLink light rail system; a 394-bus fleet operating on 79 routes; and a paratransit fleet of 124 vans). While MetroBus ridership has remained steady with approximately 105,000 average weekday boardings, that – and the annual ridership level – represent a huge leap forward over the situation with the bus-only system prior to the installation of MetroLink, where ridership was plummeting in free-fall from year to year.

Moreover, new plans for extended service areas could mean increased ridership for MetroBus in the coming year, says Metro. "This enhanced service includes new routes to the Pacific, Missouri area that will serve two new free Park-Ride lots on the edge of St. Louis County."

Metro reports it's also expanding bus service in West St. Louis County, "creating better connectivity with downtown via interstate 44 and between MetroLink and office complexes." Also, "To better connect commuters to businesses just outside of downtown, Metro will also add additional high-frequency express shuttle routes."

According to Metro's News Release,

System-wide, Metro's two main modes of transportation carried more than 5 million riders – 16.5% more than in July 2006, marking the second time this year that total system ridership for one month has surpassed 5 million boardings. That trend is likely to continue.

"The future is hard to predict " said Plesko, "but it seems certain that with the coming I-64 shutdown, even more people will be coming aboard MetroBus and MetroLink."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/08/17

More on Public Transport in St. Louis

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

15 August 2007

New York Times article prompts criticism with attack on mass transit funding

Exploiting the recent terrible tragedy of the Minneapolis I-35W freeway bridge collapse, America's Road Warriors and assorted shock troopers and idelogues in the anti-transit jihad have renewed a ferocious, deceptive campaign to terminate, or at least constrain, public mass transit funding, especially at the federal level – with the objective of re-allocating transit money into expanded highway funding. As Bert Melcher, Executive Director of the Denver-based Colorado Mobility Coalition recently noted,

The Randall O'Toole anti-transit libertarians have started a campaign to use the Minnesota bridge collapse as an argument for less funding for transit and more for highways.

But would you expect the nominally pro-transit New York Times to buy into this anti-transit campaign – and provide a platform as a "newspaper of record"?

In a 7 August 2007 article titled "Bridge Collapse Revives issue of Road Spending", Times reporters Susan Saulny and Jennifer Steinhauer at first seem to corroborate many of the main criticisms that advocates of a more progressive national transportation policy have been making with respect to the federally funded highway program – namely, that maintenance and general upkeep of the existing roadway system have been neglected while vast sums have been funnelled into expanding capacity and building new roads. For example, the Times article points out,

Despite historic highs in transportation spending, the political muscle of lawmakers, rather than dire need, has typically driven where much of the money goes. That has often meant construction of new, politically popular roads and transit projects rather than the mundane work of maintaining the worn-out ones.

However, the reporters quickly jump into the anti-transit assault column, giving mileage to the claim that transportation money has supposedly been wasted on "expensive" rail transit projects:

Further, transportation and engineering experts said, lawmakers have financed a boom in rail construction that, while politically popular, has resulted in expensive transit systems that are unused by the majority of commuters.

Curiously, after making this claim, the Times reporters fail to cite a single actual engineer as their source. Instead, the sole critic they focus on is Randal O'Toole, described merely as "a senior fellow with the Cato institute".

But in fact, O'Toole, a notorious national political activist opposing public transportation and "Smart Growth" planning (in favor of private motor vehicle transport and so-called "American Dream" policies promoting urban sprawl), is said to hold degrees remote from the fields of transportation and planning. According to the Reason Public Policy institute, O'Toole "received a B.S. In Forest Management and a B.S. In Geology from Oregon State University in 1974 and pursued graduate work in economics at the University of Oregon from 1977 to 1980." (See:

Moreover, as our article Randal O'Toole's "Thoreau institute": Oil, Asphalt, and Pipeline Money Feed an Extremist Attack on Urban Planning and Public Transit documents, O'Toole's Thoreau institute gets much of its funding from powerful, extremely wealthy interest groups profiting from industries such as oil, asphalt, and pipelines.

One of O'Toole's most well-worn canards is officiously presented by the Times reporters without comment or response: "Too many American cities are spending far too much money on expensive rail transit projects, which are used for only 1 to 2 percent of local travel, and far too little on highway projects which are used for 95 to 99 percent of local travel." Such criticism is presented as a kind of ultimate, authoritative verdict on the issue of mass transit and rail transit, and the Times reporters fail to balance the article with the viewpoint of any rail transit proponent.

NOTE: O'Toole's "costs too much, does too little" criticism is refuted in a number of rebuttals, including the following:

Debunking the "Costs Too Much, Does Too Little" Myth

Houston: Debunking an Attack on the Metro Solutions Plan

Boston: "Big Dig" highway project a "waste" with less than 2% of urban trips?

What the Critics Are Saying

In addition to their claim that (unspecified) "engineering experts" categorically denounce the efficacy of rail transit (with a further insinuation that this represents some kind of consensus among "experts"), the implication made by the Times reporters that the overwhelming bulk of federal transportation money goes to transit (while depriving essential needs such as bridge maintenance) is a gross distortion of reality and certainly not consistent with the Times's reputation for accuracy as a "newspaper of record". As evidence for their claim that US transportation spending has been channelled into "expensive transit systems that are unused by the majority of commuters", the reporters offer the following as an example:

Representative James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota and the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and infrastructure, sent out a news release last month boasting about Minnesota's share of a recent transportation and housing appropriations bill. Of the $12 million secured for the state, $10 million is slated for a new 40-mile commuter rail line to Minneapolis, called the Northstar. The remaining $2 million is divided among a new bike and walking path and a few other projects, including highway work and interchange reconstruction.

The implication that over 80% ($10 million out of $12 million in the single case cited) of Minnesota's federal transportation appropriations goes to rail transit (and that this is representative of the nation) is an egregious misrepresentation. Minnesota's current federal highway and transit allotments can be found in Webpage documents of the Minnesota Department of Transportation: "SAFETEA-LU – Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, Minnesota SAFETEA-LU information". These Webpages are:

According to this apportionment schedule, Minnesota's most recent and imminent federal highway and transit allocations are as follows (we've rounded values to a single decimal point):

Highways $511.7 million
Transit $69.5 million
Rail (fixed guideway) $7.4 million

Highways $564.4 million
Transit $72.6 million
Rail (fixed guideway) $7.9 million

Highways $608.6 million
Transit $79.1 million
Rail (fixed guideway) $9.0 million

Highways $615.2 million
Transit $84.4 million
Rail (fixed guideway) $9.9 million

For the upcoming Fiscal Year 2008, the apportionment works out to 88.5% for highways, 11.5% for all transit, including 1.3% for rail transit. This hardly suggests that rail transit development is absorbing the bulk of available transportation funds, and thus thwarting adequate preventive maintenance of bridges and other critical highway infrastructure.

In addition to promulgating their distortion with respect to national transportation spending priorities, the Times reporters, as noted above, apparently didn't bother to provide a contrary opinion to the controversial claims of Randal O'Toole, which were presented simply as unchallengeable, professional opinion. This failure clearly seem to be a violation of responsible journalism.

Proponents of highway transportation and the motor vehicle industry are continuing to try to manipulate public fears over the Minneapolis bridge collapse to attack and undermine America's mass transportation funding programs at all levels. Especially in this context, it is troubling to see the New York Times lending its pages to the furtherance of such an unsavory and irresponsible campaign.

Concern about the Times article has also been expressed by Bill Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, in a letter published in the Times on 15 April:

There are significant deficiencies in the infrastructure of all America's transportation modes — highways, rail and air. Pitting one mode of travel against another is not the solution.

In order for our citizens to travel safely, we need to invest in the maintenance of our transportation infrastructure as well as invest in additional future transportation needs for a growing population.

It is wrong to make this a highway versus transit issue when the real issue is underinvestment in all transportation modes. Instead, as a nation, we should be fully investing in preserving and expanding our transportation system. Americans deserve no less, and our future prosperity depends upon it.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/08/15

More on Cost, Budget, & Financial issues...

More on Responding to Transit Critics...

13 August 2007

Housing values found to be higher near most Metro Rail stations

According to a News Release (dated 7 June) from the New York University at Buffalo (UB), a recent study by one of the university's top urban planning researchers "has found that houses located within a half-mile radius of Buffalo's light rail stations are assessed at $1,300 to $3,000 more than similar properties that are not within walking distance of the stations."

The study, titled "impact of Proximity to Light Rail Rapid Transit on Station-area Property Values in Buffalo, New York", and published in the May 2007 issue of the international journal Urban Studies, appears to refute one of the familiar canards of rail transit critics – that rail transit, particularly light rail, supposedly lowers adjacent property values.

Buffalo's light rail transit (LRT) system is a single LRT route running for about 6.4 miles (10.3 km) from the University of Buffalo south campus into the CBD. From its southern terminus, through outlying central-city areas, to the edge of the downtown, about 5.2 miles, it runs in a subway tunnel, then continues on the surface in the Main St. Mall for 1.2 mile through downtown. Known locally as Metro Rail, the LRT line has 14 stations (6 surface and 8 subway). As of the first quarter of 2007, it was carrying about 21,200 weekday rider-trips – about 23% of the transit agency's total ridership (APTA Transit Ridership Report, First Quarter 2007).

The research study – conducted by Daniel Hess, Ph.D., assistant professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, and his former student Tangerine Almeida, now of LSC Transportation Consultants, Inc., in Colorado Springs, Colorado – reports that, while the premium on homes close to Buffalo's 14 rail stations may appear modest compared to many faster growing cities with rail systems (such as Atlanta, Dallas, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco), it is significant given the short length of Buffalo's light rail route (6.4 miles) and the fact that it does not significantly serve Buffalo's major suburbs.

"The gain in property value around rail stations" says Professor Hess, "suggests that lower property values in the City of Buffalo compared to its suburbs and other U.S. metropolitan areas offer a distinct advantage for economic development."

Hess's study emphasizes that an expanded rail system could offer a "greater opportunity for access and a one-seat transit ride to regional destinations" that "could result in even higher property values near stations."

Using city assessment data, the study team examined values for residential parcels within a half-mile radius of the Buffalo LRT's 14 transit stations. City assessment data was utilized because it is based on appraisals of homes at 100 percent of the market value, allowing the study team to use a larger number of homes in the study. Had the research team used sales-price data only, they could have considered only houses recently sold.

According to Prof. Hess, the housing premium varied greatly from station to station with respect to neighborhood. "Low-income neighborhoods, where residents are likely to have fewer cars than higher income neighborhoods and so use the Metro Rail more frequently, experienced lower price premiums, and in some cases price penalties due to their proximity to a station" he adds in the News Release.

The study did find some exceptions. For example, proximity to the LRT line appeared to be associated with decreased property values near the Utica, Summer-Best, Theater, and Lafayette Square stations. However, Prof. Hess interprets this to happen because some stations, like the one at Utica and Main Streets, are surrounded by auto-oriented enterprises such as car washes, auto parts stores, and restaurants with drive-through windows. When these uses are added to other surrounding "negative" land uses like check-cashing enterprises, liquor stores, and empty storefronts, there is a net reduction in the neighborhood's residential appeal, according to Hess's analysis.

There was insufficient data for analysis at the Humboldt-Hospital, Church Street, Seneca Street, and Erie Canal Harbor stations, Prof. Hess said.

Increased property values were recorded in most neighborhoods adjacent to Metro Rail stations, including stations at the UB South (Main) Campus, LaSalle Street, Amherst Street, Humboldt Avenue-Sisters Hospital, Delavan Avenue-Canisius, Allen Street-Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus, and Fountain Plaza.

"We found property value assessed at a premium in neighborhoods close to these stations, even when we controlled for house size, size of parcel, number of bathrooms, number of bedrooms, number of fireplaces, etc. and neighborhood features such as nearby parks, average neighborhood income and area crime rate" Prof. Hess emphasizes.

However, he notes, the study did find several property characteristics exhibiting greater influence than proximity to Metro Rail stations. These were: the number of bathrooms, size of the land parcel, and location on the east side or west side of Main Street.

Like Buffalo's Metro Rail, a number of LRT (and rail rapid transit) systems were built in the 1970s and 1980s in various cities across the USA with the hope that they would help stimulate economic revitalization. According to the News Release,

Urban planners generally agree that light-rail can increase land value, although the degree of price premium varies from place to place. Understanding the relationship between proximity to transit and land values, they note, can help municipalities better manage the areas surrounding transit stations and better plan for multi-modal access.

Prof. Hess's previous achievements in public transport research have received significant recognition. According to the News Release,

Past research by Hess on transit pass programs was awarded the 2004 Chester Rapkin Award by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. His recent research on the costs and benefits of bus rapid transit systems received the top research award from the Region 2 University Transportation Research Center in New York City, and in 2005 he was named a UB Exceptional Scholar.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/08/13

More on Public Transport in Buffalo

More on Rail Transit Urban Development issues...

6 August 2007

San Diego Trolley weekday ridership up 5.1% over previous year

The San Diego Trolley – launched in 1981 as the USA's first all-new light rail transit system of the modern era – continues to demonstrate that high-quality rail transit can attract increasing numbers of riders, even in a sprawling, heavily automobile-oriented American city.

According to data just released by the San Diego Association of Governments, average weekday boardings in June reached 108,873 – a 5.1% increase from the same period in 2006. Total ridership, including weekend ridership, was up 3.7% over June 2006.

For the Trolley's three individual lines, average weekday ridership breaks out as follows:

· Blue Line – 59,397
· Orange Line – 25,427
· Green Line – 24,049

Of particular interest is Padres game ridership, which averaged 9,611 – a 17.5% increase over the previous year. In total, Trolley ridership to the games (12 in June, at Petco Park) represented nearly 28% of total attendance at these special events – demonstrating that high-quality, high-capacity rail transit plays a multi-faceted role in providing essential general mobility, and not just during peak weekday periods. By attracting motorists onto its bright red trains, the Trolley took roughly 3,600 private motor vehicles out of game-day traffic congestion, and out of the competition for scarce parking spaces.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/08/06

More on Public Transport in San Diego

More on Rail Transit Ridership...

18 July 2007

"Transit City" light rail development on a fast track?

A new report from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), "Transit City Light Rail Plan – implementation Work Plan Update", dated 11 July 2007, appears to propose a speedup of implementation of the "Transit City" light rail transit (LRT) plan (see Toronto: Huge light rail expansion planned as heart of "Transit City" vision), with a goal of commencing construction before 2010.

Recommendations of the report include:

· Establishing a Transit City Project Team within the TTC
· Performing engineering design before class Environmental Assessment (EA) is completed (and using the same consultant for the design and the EA process)
· Considering undertaking these tasks as design-build
· Starting a process to purchase land for a new maintenance/storage yard in 2008
· Accelerating new streetcar puchases starting in 2011 to allow for operation of some new Transit City lines in 2011 and 2012

"So, if all goes smoothly, we are looking at construction starting potentially during the 2009 construction season, with the first new line going into service in 2011" enthuses a contributor to the Transit Toronto online internet discussion list. "We might be in the interesting position of having the LRT running to Steeles West and Finch West stations before the subway gets there, given the TTC website is giving a 2013/2014 date for that being completed."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/07/18

More on Public Transport in Toronto

More on Rail Transit Development...

10 July 2007

Metrorail achieves more ridership records

Washington, DC's famed Metrorail rapid transit system has scored more ridership records, according to a 6 July article in the Washington Post. For fiscal 2007, which ended 30 June, the rail system attracted nearly 208 million rider-trips – a 1.1 percent increase, or 2 million more rider-trips than in fiscal 2006. Citing officials of Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA, the transit agency), the Post reported that this record ridership marks the second time in the system's 31-year history that more than 200 million passengers went through the fare gates.

"It was the 11th consecutive year that ridership on the rail system increased" reported the Post. "Also, more people rode the subway during June than during any other month in Metro's history."

In addition to the annual record, noted the Post, average weekday ridership on Metrorail for fiscal 2007 hit 702,171, the first time the system's average weekday ridership exceeded 700,000. "We are glad to see more and more people choosing Metro" Metro's General Manager, John B. Catoe Jr., said in a statement.

Edson L. Tennyson, a senior technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, points out that Metrorail's record 208 million rail passenger-trips in FY2007 is actually lower than the ridership tally required by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which totals 265 million.

"The number WMATA prefers is the fare gate count plus the bus farebox count, but FTA requires boardings, which are not counted at rail-to-rail transfer stations like Metro Center and Gallery Place" notes Ed. "WMATA surveys and estimates them to get to FTA's enlarged count."

In addition, he explains, "There is a third count based on all rail-only passengers, plus all bus-only passengers, plus those who pay on rail and transfer to bus. It is the smallest count."

"It may seem confusing but there are logical reasons for each differing count" observes Ed. However, "Passenger-miles are not subject to this problem. They total 1,425,000,000 for rail in FY2007, plus 450,000,000 on bus."

Using these passenger-mile data plus WMATA's cost data, Ed calculates that Metrorail's economic performance was significantly superior to that of Metro's bus operation, – operating subsidy "was eight (8) cents per passenger-mile and bus was 60 cents. Bus is typical for the industry. Rail is far better (lower) than most others."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/07/10

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6 July 2007

Denver launches massive FasTracks construction program with West corridor light rail project

Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD) officially kicked off its huge FasTracks regional public transit construction on program with a mid-May ceremony in Lakewood, Colorado, heralding the removal of old trolley tracks along the West Corridor, the first line planned under the 12-year program.

"Scheduled to take four months, the track removal will make way for utility relocation, which needs to be complete before general construction can begin" reports Progressive Railroading (18 May). "When it opens in 2013, the 12.1-mile West Corridor light-rail line will run between the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver and the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden, Colo." adds the article.

Under the FasTracks program, six new regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") and light rail transit lines will be constructed, "extending three existing corridors, adding 18 miles of bus rapid transit and redeveloping Denver Union Station" according to Progressive Railroading.

Despite this huge step forward for RTD's FasTracks rail transit expansion program, the agency still faces a formidable challenge in the form of a $670 million deficit in its program budget, recently increased by $1.5 billion to a total of $6.2 billion. According to RTD, higher-than-expected inflation in construction costs over the past two years and various add-ons and upgrades to the numerous projects within the FasTracks program are major factors in the budget increase. Seeking public-private partnerships (PPPs) and forgoing electrification of some lines are a couple of the options being pondered by the transit agency as it sifts around for solutions to the budget shortfall.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/07/06

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6 July 2007

US households with "good transit access" spend half as much income on transportation, says study

American households located near "good transit access" spend just 9% of their household income on transportation, compared with 19% for the average household, according to a study by the Center for Transit Oriented Development (CTOD, a project of Reconnecting America).

Reported in the brochure TOD 101: Why Transit-Oriented Development and Why Now? (2007), the study found that, while the average American household spends 19% of its income on transportation, households with good access to transit spend just 9% – i.e., less than half the proportion. Furthermore, according to the study, households in "auto dependent exurbs" spend 25% of their income on transportation – i.e., proportionately, nearly three times as much as the households with "good transit access". The proportion spent on housing was found to be the same (32%) for all three groups.

What this means is that households with "good transit access" have a whopping 59% of their income available as disposable income. In contrast, households in "auto dependent exurbs" have just 43% available as disposable income.

Moreover, says the CTOD study, access to transit can have an even greater economic payoff for lower-income families. The savings in transportation costs "can be critical for low-income households", says the report. "While the average household spends 19% on transportation, very low income households spend 55% or more."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2007/07/06

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