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Europe's real streetcar lesson: Context matters

In the ongoing debate about where and when to build streetcars, the topic of whether they should run in mixed-traffic or dedicated lanes is a major point of contention. But outside the ivory tower of the blogosphere, it's not an ideological question so much as a contextual one.

Like many cities, Portland builds both. Photo by BeyondDC.

Virtually all transit advocates agree that both rail and buses run better when you give them a dedicated right of way. But since real life isn't SimCity, cities only dedicate space to transit where the geographic and political context allows.

For most cities, that means dedicated transitways sometimes, and mixed-traffic others.

But Stephen Smith, who blogs at Next City and Market Urbanism, has made it a point to categorically attack mixed-traffic streetcars:

Smith admits that Europe does build mixed-traffic streetcars, but argues theirs usually have fewer and shorter mixed-traffic segments.

While the lines Malouff mentioned do at times travel in lanes with cars, these segments are, with one exception, very short.
That's true. It's because European cities are starting from a stronger transit context than most US cities. Many of them still run their original mixed-traffic trolley networks, so they don't need to build those now. Meanwhile, with such convenient transit networks already in place, taking lanes from cars is more politically palatable.

Yet still, Stephen admits that European cities use mixed-traffic when the context is appropriate.

Of course that's what they do. That's what US cities do too. That's what everyone does.

That's why DC's east-west streetcar runs in mixed-traffic on H Street but will have a dedicated transitway downtown, why Arlington's streetcar runs in mixed-traffic on Columbia Pike but in a transitway in Potomac Yard, and why Seattle's South Lake Union streetcar runs in mixed-traffic on Westlake Avenue but in a transitway on Valley Street.

Context is why Tacoma and Houston have transitway streetcars, while Tucson and Atlanta will have the exact same vehicle models running in mixed-traffic. It's why Salt Lake City's "light rail" sometimes runs in the street, while its "streetcar" runs in an old freight corridor. And it's why Portland runs a mixed-traffic streetcar line and a dedicated-lane light rail one on perpendicular streets through the same intersection.

And it's why half the cities in Europe run a combination of mixed and dedicated trams.

That isn't an argument for or against mixed-traffic streetcars, nor for or against BRT, nor for or against anything. It's an admission that everyone builds the best thing they can based on the circumstances of where they are, who they are, and what they're trying to accomplish.

It's an admission that context matters, and we all make decisions based on real world constraints and opportunities rather than black and white dogma.

Don't use hypothetical perfects to ruin real life goods

Smith is right that every streetcar line in America that's planned to run in mixed-traffic would be better if it had a transitway. Every one. In the places where dedicated lanes aren't proposed, it's totally appropriate to ask why not, and advocate for their inclusion. Transit advocates should absolutely be doing that.

But if we don't get everything we want, we need not take our ball and go home. There are plenty of benefits to streetcars besides where they run, plenty of room for meaningful transit improvements even without a lane.

Sometimes there's a good reason for running in mixed-traffic. Probably not as often as it actually happens, but sometimes. For example on Columbia Pike, where Arlington is prohibited from taking lanes.

Even if the only reason is political, as it seems to be in Cincinnati, some places face such a monumental uphill battle to get anything transit-related done, even a single mixed-traffic streetcar can raise regional transit ridership by almost 10%. That's a huge victory in a place where holding out for something perfect would likely kill the project completely.

What transit advocates shouldn't be doing is falsely claiming that nobody except misguided Americans builds streetcars. It's not true and it's not helpful. Broad brush attacks lead others to pen bogus anti-rail screeds with misleading information.

So by all means, let's do more to fight for transitways. But in our attempts to do so, let's not tear down the places that for whatever reason are merely capable of making good investments instead of perfect ones.

For the record, the same argument is true for BRT. Sometimes it's the right answer, even though BRT creep, where costly transit features are stripped away to save money, is often a problem.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Dedicated lanes for any mode are better. But I think the question Smith is getting at is that, in the absence of dedicated lanes, are the marginal gains of streetcars over buses such as to justify the capital expense of their construction? Especially when that construction precludes dedicating the lanes at a later time? (See: H Street.)

by LowHeadways on Jan 29, 2014 11:52 am • linkreport

There's a difference in the context being that old streets are simply too narrow to accommodate dedicated lanes, and the context of out-dated highway department policy barring any discussion of dedicated lanes in the first place.

by nbluth on Jan 29, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

Yet still, Stephen admits that European cities use mixed-traffic when the context is appropriate.

Of course that's what they do. That's what US cities do too. That's what everyone does.

If the US were building mixed-traffic streetcars on narrow, two-lane streets where the only other option was complete pedestrianization, that'd be one thing. But they're not.

Is a 6-lane H Street an appropriate context for a mixed-traffic streetcar? (When pressed, Tommy Wells told me on Twitter that he regrets that there aren't dedicated lanes.) How about the numerous 4-lane one-way streets (some, as you can see, with extremely wide sidewalks) in Cincinnati that are getting a mixed-traffic streetcar? Appropriate context?

What would not be an appropriate context for a mixed-traffic streetcar in your opinion?

by Stephen Smith on Jan 29, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

Oh back to Portland, Oregon idolizing again eh?

It's ok Washington DC, everybody in the world does it.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 29, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

Well said Dan. I also like to think that a well designed streetcar network would reduce the number of people driving and so reduce the traffic problems many fear will occur in a mixed traffic setting.

As a compliment to this article consider how the size of the chosen streetcar (both the width and length)can significantly increase the number of people the streetcar system is able to carry. The picture in your article shows Portland using two very different streetcars in their system. The District and Arlington have similar choices to make as well.

by Where is my streetcar? on Jan 29, 2014 12:02 pm • linkreport

@Where is my streetcar? - I also like to think that a well designed streetcar network would reduce the number of people driving and so reduce the traffic problems many fear will occur in a mixed traffic setting.

I think induced demand would cause problems to your theory.

by 7r3y3r on Jan 29, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

Whether a streetcar serves a real transportation function is a genuine issue. But length of route, and whether it crosses a natural (river) or man-made (expressway) barrier to walking are important too. Portland's streetcar, running in mixed traffic, is much more useful than Newark's Broad Street Station light rail which has its own right of way but is short and serves areas with limited all-day demand.

by Ben Ross on Jan 29, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

Another great pragmatic post. Thanks Dan.

by Thayer-D on Jan 29, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

As lowheadways asks, the quesetion that limits where to build mixed traffic streetcars is the incremental benefits over bus service. The most widely claimed benefits for rail per se (even in mixed traffic) are A. Higher capacity due to vehicle size B. Higher ridership due to rail mode preference and C. Real estate development impacts

Ergo, the corridors where mixed traffic streetcars make sense are those that are maxing out in terms of bus capacity, where there is evidence of a strong rail preference, and where there is land suitable for densification and where that is a policy goal. That will certainly not be all corridors by any means.

I think it clearly applies to Columbia Pike - where buses are getting close to capacity, and where adding one more TOD corridor is a County goal, and where there are numerous parcels that can be redeveloped.

I am less sure about H Street, as I am less familiar with the bus capacity issues there. Though there (unlike PikeRail) the line will connect to a dedicated ROW line on K Street.

I am not sure what the obstacles were to creating a dedicated ROW on H Street.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

Dan, the reason we, even as transit loving urbanists, shouldn't support all streetcars everywhere in whatever "context" is that streetcars are expensive and, at least theoretically, soak up a ton of the transit capital budget that could go to e.g. more buses to reduce headways, signal priority to make routes more consistent, improved stops and off-board ticketing. I'm not saying we should build BRT instead of rail--I know your arguments on that point. But I am saying that if a streetcar is going to be uselessly slow because it is stuck in traffic, we would be better off investing that significant capital in spot improvements that will make transit better instead of just trendier.

by Dan on Jan 29, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

Well there's the capacity issue. Even articulated buses get only up to crush loads of say 120. Streetcars can do over 200 for the same number of drivers so it is relatively more efficient in terms of personnel costs (which are NOT insignificant). For anyone that thinks 200 is more than needed remember that metro trains can fill up to about 1000 people at rush hour, so 200 isnt overly generous if there is enough development on the corridor which we are already seeing. Because of the way people cluster travel around the 9-5 or whatever schedule peak capacity is really important and most people who ride those buses can tell you it can get mighty packed. And it's not like buses are cheap, a regular one is going to run you like $400k and more for the articulated so your price per capacity isn't all that different than streetcars.

Secondly a lot of people for whatever reason will choose to never take a bus, and I don't think anyone here is unaware of that. I suspect many of those people might take a streetcar.

I totally agree they should be dedicated lanes the whole way, but not having that doesn't negate the other issues.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

AWITC, you beat me too it and worded it better. As usual.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

At least for this first round I kind of view these intitial streetcars as a loss leader. Put in the ok streetcar now to build the support for an expanded/more efficient network later.

For whatever reason, people won't believe transit works well in their city until its present in their city. And a streetcar, even in mixed traffic, seems to do the job of that. If you can get them on the streetcar then you can get others on the bus as well and that's better overall for the city.

So in the US the context is more political than technical. That's unfortunate but it doesn't make it any less important.

by drumz on Jan 29, 2014 12:29 pm • linkreport

Also I can confirm that X2 buses frequently run quite full when I take them. There is a lot of demand on that corridor because you have lower income riders and have a bus preference and because there is no convenient Metro access in the direction of downtown closer than union station. It's not a standalone system. This is an extension of existing bus and rail options in the city. I do hope eventually they will plan to run the Georgetown & H St NE lines as one of course which would be even more useful.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

So what's the point of building streetcars in mixed traffic, when we already have buses?

Sounds like your only argument here is capacity issues (and happens to be DDOT's key argument for building this expensive system). Well the X2 elongated buses hold 94 compared to 157 on the streetcar.

I've taken the X2 too and it's not always full, but when the buses are full when they run more than 15 mins apart. Problem is that X2s don't always come on schedule and sometimes don't come at all.

by Burd on Jan 29, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

I just have to point out: the Potomac Yard transitway was built by and is in the city of Alexandria, not Arlington county. Also, the streetcar is not currently planned to run there, although Arlington's Crystal City street car isn't planned to open until 2019, anyway. I don't know all the behind-the-scenes politics, but it almost seems the two jurisdictions don't get along.

by Rich 'n Alexandria on Jan 29, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport


the Crystal City - Potomac Yard transitway will be in both Arlington and Alexandria - it will run from the CC metro station to the Braddock Rd metro station, IIUC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

For what DC is spending on the H Street line we should be getting state-of-the-art perfect everything with gold plating. Instead we're getting an out-dated dysfunctional system that's incredibly ugly on Benning Road.

When you're doing a pilot project you need to do it right.

Meantime those of us on 14th and 16th Sts NW still can't get on a bus in rush.

Poor prioritizing.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 29, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

Bus capacity is a matter of both the bus load factor, and the bus frequency. On Columbia Pike, with envisioned transit growth. both are problems. That is too say that the number of buses will be as much as the street can accommodate (given mixed traffic) and so load factors cannotn be addressed by increasing bus frequency.

Again, I am not sure if thats the case on H Street. But on H Street the additional rationale is to connect to the dedicated section on K Street.

As for development on H Street, I am aware it has been underway for several years. Whether that is before the street car is discussed, I am not sure, as I have seen folks claiming the streetcar has been under discussion for a long time and that its delay is a sign of city incompetence. However that is not the end of the discussion, as the pace of development matters. IIUC some would be developers there have specifically cited the street car as a reason to redevelop, but of course that is not proof of what would have happened had the street car not been there.

IMO we simply do not yet have enough data on the development impact of mixed traffic streetcars - its extent, and the driving factors that make it more likely in one place than another.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

Rich I'd less get along and more don't coordinate. Alexandria's main priority at this point is getting the Potomac Yards metro station done as well which is a big ticket item.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

@ Tom Coumaris

Right, and it's not only poor prioritizing, it's lack of foresight b/c they're tens of millions over budget, and DDOT still can't tell us how much this will cost to operate and maintain. One thing's for sure, it will be just as expensive as every other antiquated streetcar in the world...probably much more expensive since it's DC Gov't we're dealing with here.

by Burd on Jan 29, 2014 1:13 pm • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris: Yeah, that's a good point. There's no sense in bothering with a pilot project unless it expands transit simultaneously in all parts of the city.

Also it needs gold plating.

by Gray on Jan 29, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

Outside of federal grant money, is there any reason to build streetcars?

by charlie on Jan 29, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

The success of streetcars is symmetrically related to how aggressively the District tickets and tows cars from the tracks. If the city does this well initially, it send a strong message to drivers who double-park.

Regarding traffic, Philadelphia has street cars that run east and west in west and southwest areas of the city. They run with traffic on relatively busy commercial and residential streets. It's not perfect due to the aforementioned problems with double-parking but it works.

by Randall M. on Jan 29, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

The X2 alone carried 12000 people a day circa 2010, I'm sure it's more now. If you assume it's an even split that's 500 people an hour. Of course it doesn't run 24/7 and it probably peaks around 8 am and 5pm so perhaps you need capacity to move at least 1000 an hour at the peak of the peak in the right direction. That's like 15 regular buses, 10 articulated or 5-6 streetcars per hour to avoid sardine situations. Based on my experience buses end up bunching or filling up randomly when they run that often so It would be better to have streetcars that came at a relatively predicatable schedule every 10 minutes and tended not to fill up. I'm assuming X2 is a flatter demand over time than some more commuter routes so maintaining higher more comfortable capacity throughout the day would make sense. And that's not counting the expected capacity increases from more people using transit due to growth/mode switching.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport


"Whether that is before the street car is discussed, I am not sure"

Well then let me educate you: the main catalyst for change on the corridor started in 1989 with the delivery of John A. Wilson plaza. Then in early 1990s, Lincoln Mews, H Street Connection shopping center, etc.

Back then, there was NO serious discussion of any streetcar, and definitely not building a line on H St.

by Burd on Jan 29, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

burd the shopping center is low density, autocentric development that IIUC is going to be redeveloped in coming years. The question is not when did any investment take place, but when did H street get on track to higher densities.


Thanks for info on bus frequency. Note, thats BEFORE the increase in density that will come based on projects in the pipeline now. and thats absent a dedicated ROW on K street, that would be sure to increase transit usage (whether rail or bus is chosen).

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2014 1:34 pm • linkreport

Money and political will are not perfectly fungible. It's not as if all of the efforts put toward the H Street streetcar could have simply been repurposed toward dedicated bus lanes on 14th & 16th Streets with greater success. IMO, the resistance to those projects renders them infeasible in the near-to-medium term. The H Street (and Anacostia) streetcars are far from ideal demonstration projects, even accepting drumz's point about them as loss leaders (and I do accept that point). But they were judges to be feasible enough and likely-to-succeed enough that it should pave the way, or at least reduce resistance, to the next round of transit projects and tradeoffs.

And yes, ultimate conversion to dedicated lane would be one of those potential future projects.

by Dizzy on Jan 29, 2014 1:35 pm • linkreport

The other major psychological issue at play: people, and particularly Americans, tend to think of trains and rail as being something that is supposed to be in a dedicated ROW. Buses do not enjoy the same predisposition. This alone makes it much easier to dedicate lanes to rail, whether initially or later on, than for bus.

by Dizzy on Jan 29, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

Streetcars have been under serious discussion for at least 10 years. H St. has changed a lot in the past 10 years.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

jarret walker A. Compares to trolleybuses. When is the last new trolley bus line that was built? B. Downplays development impact - the only item he mentions that is related to it, is permanance, which he downplays by noting that street cars have in some instances been removed. First of all, its not clear to me that the development impact is only from permanence - I think there are aesthetic preferences for rail over bus that impact locational decisions of people who won't ride transit, and that impact development. I also think that while rail can be removed, its clearly less economical to do so, for the same reason that it is costly to do in the first place - high sunk capital costs.

While Walker is generally insightful and his analysis of rail vs bus is not bad (at least he gets the key role of capacity) IMO he leans just a bit on the side of bus.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2014 1:40 pm • linkreport

What would not be an appropriate context for a mixed-traffic streetcar in your opinion?

That's a very good question.

I don't think Columbia Pike is a good context for a mixed-traffic streetcar because even though bus capacity along that route is close to maxed out a streetcar wouldn't improve mobility along that route because traffic wouldn't be reduced enough increase headways over buses.

by Fitz on Jan 29, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

I feel like Walker is slyly saying that the differentiation is unimportant because it is largely cultural but culture matters too. I think they why is less important than the botom line which is that many many people who won't take a bus will take rail for whatever reasons they may have. Personally I find the bus bias silly but I can tell you until I was in college and my friend took me on one, I had never taken a transit bus and never really considered it an option whereas I think more people grew up with the experience of taking a train at some point.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport


For me, not taking the bus is a result of having tried to, and waited 15-20 minutes just to board something on 14th or 16th St. Now I take a much more circuitous route via Metro - U Street to Mt. Vernon Square to Pentagon to Rosslyn. Believe it or not, it's faster and cheaper (the former because heavy rail...runs in a grade-separated lane by virtue of being underground).

by LowHeadways on Jan 29, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity

Not relevant what type of developments these were. My only point was that these were the initial catalysts for change. Prior to these developments, few were willing to open businesses on the corridor.

by Burd on Jan 29, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

I think some of the comments are better than the original piece.

e.g. from AWITC -- Ergo, the corridors where mixed traffic streetcars make sense are those that are maxing out in terms of bus capacity, where there is evidence of a strong rail preference, and where there is land suitable for densification and where that is a policy goal. That will certainly not be all corridors by any means.

supra-succinct. I wish I could say it as well.

2. drumz' point that given the re-entry of streetcars and the current state of the infrastructure, it's not possible usually to integrate them in the perfect way is absolutely right. Dan calls this "context."

3. Tom Coumaris' counter-point is also really important, that support would have been easier to get if streetcars were deployed in the areas of greatest need (although more people ride buses on H St. lines than on 14th St. lines).

4. However, wrt Burd's points, I disagree. I joke that my involvement in this stuff is tied to my trying to figure out why $100+ million was spent realizing the H St. Urban Renewal Plan (including the projects he mentions) and why did H Street still suck?

5. Plus I hate that many people including "where is my streetcar" don't differentiate between light rail and streetcar. Although the vehicles may not differ, although they do in Dan M.'s awesome photo leading the piece, the nature of the respective services do differ quite considerably. LR = longer haul, more distance between stations (except in the core), bigger vehicles usually, more passengers, faster speeds. Streetcar = usually intra-district service (not so much as proposed in ArCo) and much slower than lLF.

It's true that projects underway now were mostly in process before the streetcar was confirmed for H St. But there is no question that other projects are accelerated or that the velocity of development will increase.... and there is in fact equal if not greater potential between 15th St. and Minnesota Ave. if planning works right and H St. builds out, successfully.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 2:34 pm • linkreport

Transit funds are certainly fungible enough so that additional buses can be added on 14th and 16th whether we get dedicated lanes or not. It's not a speed problem it's a capacity problem and it's been going on for decades.

Buses may not be the hip new thing but those of us around here would be thrilled to have enough of them. If DC can't afford a few new buses we have no business blowing zazillons on something to make us look hip.

Spread the word- transit that works is hip.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 29, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

There is a lot of focus on European and west coast streetcar systems. Hiroshima Japan has an extensive and well used mixed-use trolley system. I lived there for almost a year and rode the Hiroden (as it's called) all the time to work. There are more examples out there to be analyzed! :)

by Genshiroku on Jan 29, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

one of the "capacity" issues for bus service on 16th St. is the capacity of bus garages. The bus garage serving this street has limited capacity for articulated buses, which is an easier way to add capacity. Of course, upper NW politicians and neighbors are happy to close bus garages for redevelopment, but not to provide for accessible convenient bus garages (e.g., residents, supported by CM Bowser, fought off a proposal to build a bus garage at Walter Reed).

I don't think I've ever seen an articulated bus on 14th St. DK why that is. WRT bus capacity on 14th St., from Columbia Heights, or maybe from Spring St. to its destination in the core is the part of the route with the most demand. The segment from Spring St. to Kennedy St./Colorado or to Takoma Metro (depending on the bus) doesn't seem to have nearly as much ridership, although it can be plenty. It's tricky to add capacity to just that segment of the route, although it's been being done somewhat.

Too bad the street can't be reconfigured with a turntable (roundhouse type set up) or a set up with no parking from the corner of Park Road to up to about the entrance to DC/USA so that buses could do a 180 degree turn.

2. Oh, I forgot to opine about H Street, 6 lanes, and lack of dedicated "lane-age."

It's all about parking. As long as there was no desire to remove parking, dedicated transitways won't be provided. And this piece would be more authoritative if that point were made. (And if Stephen S. would acknowledge this too, more generally.)

It's one of the reasons why I am more willing to support public parking "garages" etc. in activity centers, in part to support those people who are going to drive, and rather than them circling the streets, provide parking to get them off the streets fast, but also because that allows us to use scarce street right of way for more important things, like dedicated transitways.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

The post ignores the use of "curb side" which I think is a big deal.

Running in the right lane, as done in Portland, is a terrible idea.

-Right turn issues
-Parking issues (people pulling in and out)
-Loading issues
-Bike problems

Running on the left is always much better, which is what is done on H street.

@BTA, capacity? Capacity has nothing to do with streetcar vs bus.

Yes, a 90 foot streetcar can hold more people than a 40 foot bus.

But a 90 foot bus can hold more people than a 40 foot streetcar.

Dont confuse implementation with the technology.

by JJJJ on Jan 29, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

oops, in my first comment, ILF is supposed to be LR (light rail). Although maybe "where is my streetcar" is from Europe, where they call both types of services "trams".

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport


I'm willing to answer any questions involving the Portland Streetcar and development scene as I was somewhat involved in the adjacent development and lived there for two years. Rather than what appears to be misinformation in the comments and shots in the dark. I am interested in the worldwide distribution of finite wealth and what creates poverty and what creates innovation[the only thing that increases wealth].

My rudimentary conclusion; Streetcars contribute to urbanity, urbanity contributes to societal separation, which contributes to economic disenfranchisement, which leads to less innovation, which is the cause of less global wealth.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 29, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

I've seen very few 90 foot buses in my life, and I doubt we would want them running in mixed traffic if we did have them. Sounds like a beast to drive.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 3:09 pm • linkreport

JJJJ -- 90 foot buses aren't legal for street running in the US. 60 feet, which is the length of the articulated bus, is the maximum.

someone also mentioned crush loads of 120 on the 60 foot articulated bus. That's not usually what the industry says happens in the US (maybe in NYC though), as people tend to not be willing to withstand such passenger density. (They do in South America which is why BRT "is so great" in the eyes of proponents like WRI. They can also run those 90 foot buses, at least in Brazil and I think in Bogota.)

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 3:10 pm • linkreport

bill -- cf. _Economy of Cities_, _Cities and the Wealth of Nations_, urban economics, and _Reclaiming our Cities and Towns_ (among others) in particular the discussion on the process of "exchange". Generally, urbanity, clustering, urbanness, density is associated with innovation and wealth creation not stagnation.

2. I can't claim to have been involved in the streetcar's creation in Portland, but I think I am pretty aware of how the process worked, from tours, talks with people like Rick Gustafson, a lot of reading of plans, etc. and I guess if you're gonna make those kinds of claims, it'd be better for you to identify yourself rather than be anonymous.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 3:14 pm • linkreport

Also to that extent most streetcars are easily modular while buses as a rule almost always aren't.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 3:15 pm • linkreport

right, streetcars or light rail or "trams" can run in multi-car configurations legally for in-street (mixed traffic) running while buses can't be longer than 60 feet (FTA rules, other DOT rules, not sure).

I talked about this years ago with a VP from the company that sells Van Hool buses in the US and he said that Disney runs the longer buses on their campuses, which is legal because they don't go off campus. It's been many years since I've been to a Disney property, so I don't know.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman

"... and why did H Street still suck?"

Of course that's irrelevant. Although H St. sucked in your opinion, those developments were a huge improvement to the corridor and were catalysts for add'l development.

The streetcar is not responsible for the renaissance on H St.

by Burd on Jan 29, 2014 4:01 pm • linkreport

The street car is clearly not responsbile for the construction of a shopping center, and a govt office building, on blocks that had lain dormant since the riots.

You seem to imply that once that had occured, the shift to the post 2006 level of development was inevitable. if I read Mr Layman correctly, he beleives it was not inevitable. Ergo, its quite possible that H street now is much more developed than it would have been without the street car proposal, and that the projects now in pipeline are due to the streetcar.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 29, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

You're making it sound like development is all in the past. H St is not done developing and I don't think it will be for quite a while once streetcar has started to run.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

never said the streetcar was responsible for H st.'s improvement. FWIW, I define "sucked" as not economically successful.

And I have argued quite a bit, for many years, that the H St. Urban Renewal Plan and the various projects of it, including those done by the H Street CDC (successfully, and they tended to be more effective, based on realized projects, than any of the other cdcs in the city) that in fact these projects did not contribute to H Street's improvement in any significant way, other than kind of warehousing space for when the neighborhood was ready to improve, based on other factors which impacted the desirability and perception of the neighborhood.

Again, other than serving as placeholders, the office buildings and H St. Connection and Autozone haven't been catalysts at all, if catalyst is defined as spurring additional development, within say 10 to 20 years of their delivery, and/or additional development by non-government actors. (My joke about the office buildings is that they spurred the success of one hot dog vendor. There were two originally, but not enough business to support both).

e.g., the NoMA infill subway station had far more impact on "H St." than did the two office buildings, because it changed the economic calculus and willingness of people with choices to live north of H St.

and earlier


but there are many other such pieces in my ouevre.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

FWIW, I lived across the street when the office buildings opened, and 1/2 block off the H St. corridor for about 18 years. E.g. I shopped at Mega Foods. Counted murders. Got mugged. etc.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 4:18 pm • linkreport

wrt AWITC's interpretation of my stuff, I'd say yes, that if a different form of revitalization had been practiced by the HSCDC and the Urban Renewal Plan, that embraced small buildings and historic preservation and yes, people with economic choices, perhaps things would have turned out differently even at the behest of the CDC. But they made the counter choice, and so have been supplanted, and can't take much credit for the success that has transpired more recently and for whom various actors take credit for, undeservedly so.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerIntheCity

"he street car is clearly not responsbile for the construction of a shopping center, and a govt office building..."

Neither is it responsible for much of the existing businesses, etc.

Both you and Richard are clueless about all the planning that took place prior prior to 2006 by the Revival: H Street NE Strategic Development Plan and the "DC Main Streets" program which launched with a focus on H Street. Not to mention the required rezoning approvals by the Council, the planning by the "Great Streets Initiative," H St. Comm. Development Corp, etc.

by Burd on Jan 29, 2014 5:29 pm • linkreport

@BTA :

Switzerland runs those buses in their streets in mixed traffic. Im pretty sure Switzerland has higher standards / regulations on anything and everything, so if its ok there....

@Richard Layman:

What a ridiculous excuse. It cant be done because some arbitrary number in a random book says so?

Please. The number can be changed. The number HAS been changed. LA runs 65 foot buses because they asked to.

You know why streetcars can be longer? Their rules are on a different book.

Fun fact: You dont need a drivers license to operate a trolley-bus in regular mixed traffic because that vehicle is in a different rule book (the train one) and thus is not considered a motor-vehicle...and you need a license to operate a motor vehicle but not other things. Subnote: Agencies have their own hiring standards.

And if you leave the city youll see a whole bunch of these which are 80 feet long.

As for the Disney thing, yes, they run these bad boys. Essentially, a bus. You can make buses go as long as you want.

by JJJJ on Jan 29, 2014 5:38 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman

Yes Mr. Layman I am aware that my views are extreme. The implication wasn't that urbanity is evil. My implication was that it is constructed/maintained on the backs of the world's poor. It is a playground for the rich and the want to be rich, nothing more. Although it is very enjoyable for the residents, I once lived in such a place. Innovation comes from research labs in Los Alamos, NM; companies laboratories residing in the Research Triangle Park, a very suburban place near Durham, NC., but not urbanity. Furthermore, I'd wager to maximize innovation, you would probably have a population density closer to a suburban setting, not a Brooklyn type density.

When you have government interference manipulating the bottom line, you have economic stagnation. While I am aware that innovation is merely built on previous generations innovation, the idea that placing folks adjacent to one another creates new innovation is preposterous. I'd say that's when groupthink starts to take hold. Ms. Jacobs had an agenda just like most of the 20th century pro urbanists, her's was also concern for the poor, but she refused to view her ideas from a capitalist viewpoint. The unintended consequence of her ideas was the obsession of creating a 'urban' environ rather than a financial viable environ lead to Manhattan having some of the MOST EXPENSIVE housing on Earth. Furthermore as the cachet of livable spaces has spread from Pacific Northwest, you see cities the world over trying to emulate Portland OR, Vancouver BC, and others, with money no object of course. And we have seen a flood of books praising urbanity like it's the great savior(Glaeser, Triumph of the City) and it's just tiresome and manipulative.

Funny thing is, I believe in systems like CapitolBikeShare because they actually *could* make economic sense. But let's hold the praise of the streetcar shall we.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 29, 2014 6:11 pm • linkreport

Burd -- fyi, I participated in all of those planning iterations (SNAP, Main Street, BP, "Revival" (in fact I ran into Steve Shukraft, one of the project leaders of that process at a conference in SLC this past May and we talked a bit about the whole process, the Streetscape process where I was key in terms of one element, and involved in the separate planning process for the streetcars), was a founding board member for H St. Main Street, co-wrote a bunch of successful fundraising proposals for the org./H St., wrote a proposal and managed a preservation study for the neighborhood in 2001-2002. Without me + Kevin O'Conner and Dru Tallant the Merchants Assn. would not have been able to produce a successful application for the Main Street program.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 9:37 pm • linkreport

JJJJ -- while I agree with you, given the trucking industry's relatively successful effort to get approval for longer semi-truck + trailer + trailer combinations that are longer than 60 feet, I don't think any transit agency or APTA has initiated the process to get longer buses approved. That's an area of practice (motor vehicle carrier safety adminstration, etc.) that I have zero experience with.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 9:39 pm • linkreport

_Economy of Cities_ and _Cities and the Wealth of Nations_ are capitalism pure and simple. _Reclaiming our cities and towns_, albeit about transportation, has a better discussion of the role of exchange in cities than _Triumph of the City_ (by Ed Glaeser). But clearly, it's not worth discussing urban economics here, agglomeration economies, cluster benefits, etc.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 9:46 pm • linkreport

oh, I forgot I was on the ANC6C Planning and Zoning Committee from 2003-2005, participated in the neighborhood zoning overlay approval process, the Cluster 23 Ec. Revit. Study, got PPS retained in the design of the "starburst intersection" and did other stuff too, I'm sure. I have a reasonably good handle on all the planning that went on in that neighborhood from 1999 to the present, and I studied most of the news coverage from 1974 to 1999 in the Washington Post, read the Urban Renewal Plan, and other documents.

+ testified on these matters before DC City Council and other DC government agencies.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 9:49 pm • linkreport

The other thing about JJ is that she wasn't ahead of her time in terms of understanding the concept of postindustrialization, the creation of a network of global cities, NYC's place within that network, and the impact especially on pricing and valuation of property, and what Brynolfsson (sp.) calls the network effect and increasing returns from scale.

by Richard Layman on Jan 29, 2014 9:55 pm • linkreport

JJJJ- The streetcar is running in the right traffic lane on H Street, not the left. And it's amazing they think parked cars will fit next to the train- absolutely impossible since not everyone will park right against the curb.

On Benning Road it's running in the left lane and because of that there's scores of new telephone poles in the middle of Benning holding the wires. (The lamp poles are holding the wires on H as we were promised). Really incredibly ugly on Benning. .

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 29, 2014 10:07 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman, as I mentioned, LA got approval for 65 (and 45 not artic).

@Tom Coumaris , I thought it was on the left with center platforms?

by JJJJ on Jan 29, 2014 10:11 pm • linkreport

I understand the reasoning for non dedicated lanes on H Street but why not on Benning Rd as it has plenty of room ?

Another thing I hate and don't understand is why have streetcar lines run on separate streets and then making it worst why have stations on different blocks of those separate streets.

by kk on Jan 29, 2014 10:51 pm • linkreport

JJJJ- No I go out that way a couple times a week and on H the streetcar is in the right lane, right under the streetlights that hold the wires.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 29, 2014 11:12 pm • linkreport

And it's incredible that those few metered parking spots on H are that important to prevent a dedicated lane. Surely the streetcar will bring many more people than those few spots could.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 29, 2014 11:16 pm • linkreport

There is a fanatical "but we need more space for caaaaars" lobby. This is the only reason there are streetcars running in mixed traffic on *six-lane roads*, where there is plenty of room for a dedicated streetcar lane.

Stephen Smith is right. Context matters, and in the context of practically every American city, if you're bothering to build a streetcar, you should have dedicated lanes almost all the time.

by Nathanael on Jan 30, 2014 12:10 am • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris my mistake, that sucks.

by JJJJ on Jan 30, 2014 12:34 am • linkreport

JJJJ- I don't see why a dedicated streetcar lane couldn't also allow cars making right turns.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 30, 2014 1:37 am • linkreport

Something else I forgot... because of the development that was occuring around the NoMA Metro after it opened, the Uline (I led the campaign to get the building added to DC's historic landmarks in 2003), etc., I led the process by which ANC6C passed a resolution calling on the Office of Planning to create a small area plan for NoMA. Which they subsequently did.

Participating in all those planning iterations, plus Brookland's SAP in 2007 and the Comp. Plan process in 2005-2006 gave me insights into the various gaps in DC's planning processes, which I write about today and which fuels the approach I take when I write plans in other places (I joke those documents are a form of "gap analysis of DC).

Had I been a bit more experienced, maybe the gaps in parks, public space, and social infrastructure elements in the H St., NoMA, and Brookland plans wouldn't be so pronounced.

By contrast, MoCo or ArCo's "sector plans" are more detailed and comprehensive, whereas I call DC's small area plans more "build out opportunity analysis and management plans."

Hence, I feel qualified by both experience and knowledge to comment authoritatively on H Street area development and how DC does planning more generally.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 6:13 am • linkreport

JJJJ -- not trying to pick a bone, but 65 feet is only 5 feet longer than the articulated buses in DC, whereas the "bi-articulated" buses that they use in high capacity BRT systems in South America are 90+ feet long.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 6:18 am • linkreport

p.s. Burd, the launch of Main Street was far more focused on the likely success of the 14th and U program, which broke up within two years, and the already existing Barracks Row program.

Judges on the panel didn't think H St. had a fully compelling argument given our then current conditions and the opposition of the H St. CDC, except for our strong application, video, and presentation. (Oh, and I laid out the strategy for our process of finishing the application, getting community support, and the presentation.)

We turned in the application a few minutes late because of problems at Kinkos and Shaw, which lost out (they were picked #6, out of the initial 5 slots) protested.

Shaw, picked with 6 other programs the next year, under the leadership in part of director Alex Padro, is quite successful now (as is H St.). Barracks Row is more top down, and most of the other programs have ceased (as did the Brookland Main St. program where I was interim program manager in 2007). But that's a whole other discussion (again, which I have written about quite voluminously).

Even so, I argue Joe Englert was probably more important to H Street's revitalization than the Main Street program. OTOH, the H St. Festival is a remarkable achievement and one which I had absolutely nothing to do with.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 6:26 am • linkreport

about bus capacity, street capacity, and logistics (e.g., turnaround capacity), the Current yesterday had a story that some people in Chevy Chase support a proposal to make the bus turnaround on the west side of Connecticut Ave. a garden center.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 6:32 am • linkreport

I've always thought it hilarious when people are all like "overhead wires? fugly." and don't even seem to notice the eight lanes of cars which aren't really all that attractive.

by Mike on Jan 30, 2014 7:29 am • linkreport

I have examined the French tram building boom in some detail

1,500 km of new tram lines in almost every French town of 100,000 and larger as part of their Grenelle Climate Strategy (and it is working, the French are beating the German renewables (Energiewende) in carbon reductions).

When the French build mixed traffic trams (fairly rare) they often roughen the surface for competing cars. Cobblestones or rough concrete. San Francisco also does this near the piers.

Cars can share lanes with trams, but they are discouraged from doing so by having to ride over a rough surface.

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Jan 30, 2014 8:51 am • linkreport

You are not going to see really long 90-foot buses in the USA. You can only run those buses in dedicated ROW; you currently only see them in BRT systems because they can't really navigate city streets. The artics here in DC already struggle to navigate some turns. And nobody in the USA should build one of those "gold-standard" BRT systems, because you can carry the same/more people for a lower cost (and with lower space requirements) here using light rail. String two or three LRVs together and you have the same capacity as one of those huge buses. And the individual vehicles are smaller and easier to maintain.

How is an 80-foot long tractor trailer a comparable example? Those don't run on city streets either - they run on highways from distribution center to distribution center where they are split. And some states still ban them for safety reasons.

by MLD on Jan 30, 2014 8:53 am • linkreport

In the ongoing debate about where and when to build streetcars, the topic of whether they should run in mixed-traffic or dedicated lanes is a major point of contention.

When the early profitable privately run streetcars were around in the early 20th century, outside of the downtown core they would frequently run right through the woods on a freshly created right of way, much like an interstate railroad track route would. Still the speed of the streetcars would rarely exceed 30mph, even on the straightaways. The mixed traffic option, of course, is cheaper because governments already own the streets. My point is unless the speed could be increased on these machines, which still average ~25mph, there is really no hope of them being useful.

There have been many real world experiments with the Portland streetcar, pitting walking versus streetcar on a time basis, walking usually wins, anecdotally, I'd say I could beat the streetcar by walking the majority of the time. But now that the Portland Streetcar is FARED[the majority of the route was FREE for the first 11 years] I'd be even less inclined to take the streetcar. The H street streetcar is of course DUPLICATING the Portland streetcar[it's even having the DC streetcars manufactured by a OREGON GOVERNMENT FUNDED manufacturing company]. The Portland streetcar for the most part runs in one way streets in the right lane, with a parking lane closest to the curb and curb stick outs that hold the stations[like H Street]. There are also sections of the Portland streetcar that ride the median with center of the road stations, which the DC streetcar has mimicked on Benning Rd. I know "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" but cmon, need Washington DC make the same financial land use mistakes that small scrappy Portland has made?

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 30, 2014 9:06 am • linkreport

You are not going to see really long 90-foot buses in the USA.

No reason LA couldn't use them on their Orange Line BRT.

But the real point of JJJJ's comment is that the reflexive 'we can't do that' is nothing but an example of our extreme 'not invented here' syndrome.

I recall asking one of the streetcar consultants at a public meeting why we couldn't work towards dedicated space for these streetcars in order to speed them up, improve the reliability of the service, etc. Why not put the streetcars in dedicated lanes? Why not make that the standard?

The consultant's answer (paraphrasing here); "well, then it wouldn't be a streetcar." That's the party line for why we can't dedicate space on our streets to surface transit.


by Alex B. on Jan 30, 2014 9:10 am • linkreport

Yeah do the swiss run 90' buses in mixed traffic? I'm incredulous. I spent all my time in Zurich on trams though so I'm afraid I don't know. Regular buses have a hard enough time negotiating city streets sometimes.

by BTA on Jan 30, 2014 9:43 am • linkreport

The problem is, in Europe there is no separate definition between LRT and a streetcar as they are considered one and the same and referred to as a tram, with local names used in each country.

Now the European tram operated in mixed traffic mostly in city centres and on a dedicated R-O-W (rserved rights-of-ways)outside of city centres. The reason for tams to operate on street is very simple, customers want this because the tram is on the pavement and ready to use, with no need to descend into a subway or climb to an ell. Complete grade separation for a tramway is only warranted if ridership demands (today, in excess of 20,000 pphpd) more and longer trains, or when there is an obstacle such as a river.

In North America, there is a trend to morph LRT (simple tram in Europe) into a very expensive mini-metro, mostly for the financial benefit of consultants and Engineers.

In Europe, it is not the vehicle that defines transit mode, rather it is the quality of R-o-W it operates on and the quality of R-o-W used best suits the customer demands of that portion of route.

In Karlsruhe Germany, the main tram line on Kaiserstrasse is now being place in a very expensive subway, because of the massive success of its regional tramtrain operation (trams or streetcars that can operate on mainline railways)the tram line was seeing 40 second peak hour headways with coupled sets of trams, giving peak hour capacities of over 35,000 pphpd!

So to restate, a streetcar is a North American term for a tram that operates on-street in mixed traffic.

by Zweisystem on Jan 30, 2014 10:51 am • linkreport

@ Richard Layman

Let me get this straight, first you credit the H St. renaissance to the streetcar, and now you're taking all the credit?

H St. Main St did not precede the inital development of Wilson Plaza, Lincoln Mews, H St COnnection, etc. nor the mayor/OP's planning, etc. Again, these were the initial catalysts for change, long before you popped on the scene.

by Burd on Jan 30, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

I never ever said the streetcar was responsible for H St.'s improvement, I disagreed with that characterization. Read my comments. However, I have written elsewhere that the streetcar will add significant velocity to the development picture on H St.

And I don't take credit for all that happened. I just made the point that I was integrally involved. I was merely disabusing you of the notion that I didn't know what happened before 2006. As I pointed out, I lived in that area from 1987 to 2005, and I was involved, heavily, for a number years.

You stated stuff about H St. Main St., how the DC Main Streets program came about. Again, I was involved at the beginning and emended the errors. Etc.

Obviously, we disagree about the value of all those projects done by the HSCDC "before I came in and saved the day." I think that they were failures because they didn't function as catalysts, more like placeholders for better development down the road, once conditions changed and the role of the cdc as a "necessary" augur was supplanted.

Had they been catalysts, other projects would have developed before 2005. And I can't think of any. E.g., the Clark project was because of the Revival Plan. So, kind of, was the Abdo project, which wasn't anticipated by the plan. The Rappaport project, the redevelopment of "Wilson Plaza," again. Station Place. The housing across from Station Place. Burnham Place. The Broadway then AvalonBay project at 4th and I NE. Etc.

I don't see how any of the HSCDC projects catalyzed any of these projects whatsoever.

I say that they had little effect, and I argue also about the intention, whether or not they were well intentioned, judging by the still poorly functioning micro-economy there after all of those projects were completed, which was mostly by the mid-1990s. You, like Oramenta Newsome, disagree.

The velocity of revitalization didn't really start happening until around 2004-2005, despite all those projects, especially the office buildings (one was hated by many because it housed a heroin addiction program, which helped to generate problems).

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

I will take credit for one element of the H Streetcar Line, the use of girder track.

I suggested this to John Deatrick when he was head engineer of DCDoT. He has invited me to be a house guest and tour the Cincinnati Streetcar that he is supervising.

We also walked the Anacostia end and looked at alternative routings. That was give and take and it is hard to say what impact I had.

Now I am advising Alan Howze on the Columbia Pike Streetcar (and the massive over service of ART). I would REALLY like to see 2.65 meter wide cars there, and not the Portland Iron Works cars.

by Alan Drake (AlanfromBigEasy) on Jan 30, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman

"And I don't take credit for all that happened. I just made the point that I was integrally involved."

Yet you spent several paragraphs talking up your involvement. But again, the corridor was up-and-coming long before you popped on the scene.

"I don't see how any of the HSCDC projects catalyzed any of these projects whatsoever."

Not arguing on the physical traits of each of those developments, just the basic facts that they got rid of blight, brought new residents, retail, and jobs to the once bleak corridor. Other business and residential developments sprung up in subsequent years. You weren't on the scene back then, so I don't expect you to know.

by Burd on Jan 30, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

I spent several paragraphs... to answer your statement that I was clueless about what happened on H St. before 2006. I wasn't. So how long before 1987 were you there? And it doesn't even matter.

Those projects didn't contribute much to the corridor, again, other than being placeholders. Maybe that's worth more than I give it credit for. I don't think so. Bill Barrow was never really happy with my interpretation of their work, even though from a nuanced standpoint I appreciated the difficult job they had attempted. They just chose the wrong method. (Plus if the city hadn't leased the office buildings they would have been screwed, because no other tenants would have materialized, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, just that it's confirmation that the construction effort didn't right the broken micro-economy of the H St. submarket.)

But had the lots stayed empty, it might have been ok, the other development would have still happened, just better. More importantly, had they done better projects, the corridor probably would have improved much earlier, in response to their activities, not much later and not in response to their activities as it actually transpired.

cf. your arguments about those projects are comparable to other arguments I've heard about Reeves Center. I've had tons of arguments with people like Marshall Brown, Anwar Saleem, etc., about the value of the Reeves Center.

Again, none of the development that has happened in the area around that building was triggered by Reeves--it happened 20+ years after the building was built, and most of the properties around Reeves (like by the way, the projects on H St. NE) remained decrepit, un-rented, vacant, extremely marginal use, etc. until just a few years ago.

When I would point this out, Marshall would say something like, "well, you don't know how bad it was, that block was an open air drug market, ... and the Reeves building cleaned that up." (paraphrase)

If the building had been successful, it would have "catalyzed" (your word), additional development in a much shorter time frame.

So it too is arguable whether Reeves Center truly was positive. Given that it's on schedule to be replaced within about 30 years of its construction, I'd argue it too is a placeholder that didn't help near what people believe.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 6:01 pm • linkreport

... John Deatrick, wow, that's a name I haven't heard for awhile. I didn't know he ended up in Cincinnati. That's great.

FWIW, speaking of unsung heroes, I accord much of the credit for streetcars to Joe Fengler, because without him, they wouldn't have installed rails in the street simultaneously with the streetscape reconstruction project, and had that not been done, none of the other H St. stuff related to the streetcar would have happened.

by Richard Layman on Jan 30, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport

@MLD Length has very little to do with ability to navigate turns. Thats why you can have 10 car subway trains, and they do tight curves just fine. You just need to add more articulation points. You could have a 10,000 foot bus do the same turn a 60 foot bus can do, just place a joint every x feet.

The 80 foot tractor trailer example is important because theres this magic hard limit on 60 feet....except when theres not. 60 wasnt picked because hundreds of studies showed it was the safest and best limit. It was picked from a hat. You want a real length limit? You look at block length. LA got to go above the limit. Fed ex got to go above the limit. If DC wanted to, they could as well.

@BTA, yes the swiss run 90 foot buses in mixed traffic. Heres a pic in Zurich:

I saw them downtown Geneva in streets that were much narrower.

If you were in Zurich and missed those buses, you surely saw the bus-trains, where one bus carried a trailer right? People keep pretending buses cant do this because in the US they dont.

Theres very little difference between a bus and a train.

Noise, vibration, pollution? No, thats the engine. You can have electric buses (like SF), and diesel streetcars (like NJ).

The only difference is track. Smoother ride, but inability to move around a problem.

by JJJJ on Jan 30, 2014 11:04 pm • linkreport

JJJJ overlooks a number of ways that buses are quite inferior ro urban rail.

Buses lat 12 years, urban rail cars 30+ years.

Rubber on concrete or asphalt has 5 times the energy consumption of steel rolling on steel.

Road damage is the 4th power of the axle weight. BRT tears up roads quickly (see Orange Line in LA), Steel track damage is the 2nd power of the weight, and the upper limit is MUCH higher.

For these reasons, and more, buses cost more to operate per pax-mile.

Rail attracts 35% to 42% more riders than buses do, all other factors being equal.

Urban rail creates TOD on a wide scale, no clear example exists of bus created TOD in North America, or the developed world even,

One of three French towns atht installed rubber tired trams is tearing them out in 2017 and replacing them with steel of steel, Rubber tire trams are no even considered for new tram lines in France.

And more. Buses are the transit haters friends,

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Jan 31, 2014 12:17 am • linkreport

Buses last 12 years because of federal depreciation rules. Not because thats their natural life. IE: Look at buses in some countries rolling around after 50 years. Side note: Microbuses do have very sort lives.

You can reduce asphalt damage by adding more tires.

While rubber-tired-trams may not be popular, they are very common in metro lines. See: Paris, Montreal, and Mexico City.

Of course there are example of bus TOD. In the US, Pittsburg BRT. In the world, Curitiba is the classic example - high rises line every single BRT route.

Look at Boston for what may be the biggest example yet. They built the Silver Line BRT to the water front and the area has exploded. After being home to parking lots for 50 years, a dozen buildings have popped up in the last decade since the line opened.

Streetcars are also transit hates friends. Slow as a bus, more expensive than a bus, and less reliable than a bus.

Streetcars are fine in short segments (like the Camden section of the NJ River Line). An entire system of them in shared traffic is not fine.

by JJJJ on Jan 31, 2014 1:10 am • linkreport

@ Richard Layman

Again, I don't care about your opinions about the physical traits of the developments I mentioned, what someone said, etc. The facts are simply that they got rid of blight, brought new residents, new retail, and new jobs (all prior to your involvement and the planning of the streetcar line). Whether or not you think those are significant contributions to H St is completely irrelevant.

by Burd on Jan 31, 2014 4:53 pm • linkreport

@Burd&JJJJ&AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) &Richard Layman

As usual the comments outshine the article. My point is this, plainly, community based transportation doesn't work, ever. If an individual is given enough of an income he/she will ALWAYS trend away from crowd based public transportation, ALWAYS. Be it Seoul, Paris, NYC, Manila, they just flat don't work, financially, culturally, and emotionally. The modern streetcar is the WORST offender of the new urbanist movement, and will be one of the most expensive to remove when the yearning for them evaporates in ~30-50 years. The only possible transportation sharing types that have a future is capitalbikeshare systems, car2go's etc.....why? Because folks on the up and up will support them to the end. And let's face it the only people that shape society, funnel finite wealth, dictate rules, and community values are those of a higher income.

by Bill the Wanderer on Feb 3, 2014 8:24 am • linkreport

People who commute on transit from Fairfax County have higher incomes than those who auto commute. Same with Loudoun, PWC, Montgomery. This shows that people with higher incomes always gravitate away from transit.

Oh wait...

Community-based transportation doesn't work, ever? No big city in the world would be able to function without public transportation. New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Paris, London? They would not be the world cities that they are without public transit.

by MLD on Feb 3, 2014 9:10 am • linkreport


I agree with this No big city in the world would be able to function without public transportation. MLD, but if you'll notice in Manhattan, anybody within a moderate disposable income takes either black towncars, taxis, and now the citibike(which is taking riders away from the NY Subway). Point is given a choice, humans will always take solo transit. Urban agglomerations are subsidized by the rest of the world, without their support New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Paris, London would not be able to support anyone.

by Bill the Wanderer on Feb 3, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport

55% of people in Manhattan who make $75,000 or more commute on transit.

Would love to see some data that says that "anyone within a moderate disposable income" doesn't use transit.

Citibike registers 40-50,000 rides per day; that's less than 1% of subway daily ridership.

Urban agglomerations are subsidized by the rest of the world, without their support New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Paris, London would not be able to support anyone.

Totally disagree with this, these cities are the economic engines that create markets for everything else in their countries. Unless you have some information that indicates otherwise?

by MLD on Feb 3, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

I profoundly disagree, based on personal experience.

I have seen New Orleans' only BILLIONaire on a streetcar twice (he took it to work every day, I just happened to be on the streetcar with him twice). I have seen upscale couples in evening gowns and tuxedos taking the St. Charles streetcar.

One Shell Square, our tallest building (50 stories, one guess who the major tenant is) is TOD. Located between the tracks of the St. Charles Streetcar. The "morning" entrance is easy to access, the afternoon entrance has marble steps that make excellent benches while waiting. It is usually difficult to get a seat on the streetcar after 5 PM after it passes the One Shell stop.

American Suburbia is founded on social isolation. My brothers know their neighbors more by the cars they drive than their names. For those that seek social isolation (unhealthy IMHO), then they will avoid public transit.

But seeking social isolation is a trend that is thankfully ending.

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Feb 3, 2014 9:43 am • linkreport

PS: The St. Charles Streetcar operates in mixed traffic from Lee Circle to Canal Street, through the heart of the Central Business District (the American Quarter).

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Feb 3, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

, but if you'll notice in Manhattan, anybody within a moderate disposable income takes either black towncars, taxis, and now the citibike(which is taking riders away from the NY Subway). Point is given a choice, humans will always take solo transit.

What? No.

You're going to have to show your work on this one.

And the reason this statement is false is fairly easy to figure out - the subway is going to be a much faster trip than your black car most of the time.

Furthermore, I don't see how conflating citibike with a black car is valid statement. Talk about your apples and oranges.

Urban agglomerations are subsidized by the rest of the world, without their support New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Paris, London would not be able to support anyone.

You're using the wrong words here. If you wanted to say that urban agglomerations are interdependent on their hinterlands, then that's fine. But those cities provide the markets for the rest of the world to sell their goods. The rest of the world has nobody to sell to without the cities.

That's not a subsidy, that's interdependence.

by Alex B. on Feb 3, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport

Paris is going to double their Metro by 2030 (almost all in subway). +208 km (basically = to WMATA today plus Silver Line Phase I).

I have read, in French, many of the studies and justifications.

The projections are 2 million more daily riders, 1.5 million being former bus riders and a half million car drivers. (the money saved on reduced bus service is a major economic justification for building the Metro, Time saved in commuting is another justification, oil saved and reduced carbon are another).

One longstanding social complaint in Paris is that Metro is for the well-to-do.

That seems to contradict your position.

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Feb 3, 2014 9:54 am • linkreport

On the value of cities, I will note that Pres. Jefferson and his Sec. of State Madison authorized James Monroe (later President) to pay up to $10 million for New Orleans.

Napoleon counter offered with $15 million for the entire Louisiana Purchase, which was accepted.

So this sets the value of the "hinterlands" at half the value of one major city.

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Feb 3, 2014 10:11 am • linkreport

@MLD & Alex B.
This paper is answering a different question, nevertheless, here is a quote that gleamed out at me (heavy on analytical statistics, I wish I had more time to review his findings).
The core result from this calibration is that given reasonable parameter estimates, people
earning $10 an hour would be expected to take public transportation and people earning
$20 an hour would be expected to drive. But given the fact that public transportation is
almost twice as slow as driving, we should still expect the poorer people who take public
transportation to live closer to the city center.

Why Do The Poor Live In Cities? The Role of Public Transportation

these cities are the economic engines that create markets for everything else in their countries
NYC has long relinquished the role as the dominant gate-holder to the United States for trade and immigration purposes. What's left is a system built upon exploitation of market inefficiencies thanks to the generous financial gifts of flyover country. I don't really know how one could call that an "economic driver".

@AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake)
One Shell Square, our tallest building (50 stories, one guess who the major tenant is) is TOD.
Right. *eye roll* I'm sure the developers didn't give more than two seconds of thought to the fact that their skyscraper was being built next to an antiquated streetcar line. Tell me, has anything been done with the Plaza Tower, or is it still a vacant monolith, scarring the New Orleans skyline long before Katrina even hit?
American Suburbia is founded on social isolation.
Partial credit, but the Deep South is profoundly different than the Mid Atlantic, and our suburbs are/were designed differently.
For those that seek social isolation (unhealthy IMHO)
It is unhealthy, but staring at folks in the Metro doesn't make one any more social.
But seeking social isolation is a trend that is thankfully ending.
Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, etc....apparently the trend is exactly opposite of what you think, humans have never been more socially further apart(just contemplate the exchange we are having right now!).
The St. Charles Streetcar operates in mixed traffic from Lee Circle to Canal Street, through the heart of the Central Business District (the American Quarter).
Yes but a vast portion of St. Charles ave. is a grassy median, which the streetcar runs down.

@Alex B.
Furthermore, I don't see how conflating citibike with a black car is valid statement.
They are both forms of on demand solo transit, the future of shared transit systems.
But those cities provide the markets for the rest of the world to sell their goods.
I'm afraid I don't understand your point, not everybody in flyover country is a farmer. I'd wager that flyover country has considerably higher percentages of folks living in a self sufficient capacity.

On the value of cities, I will note that Pres. Jefferson and his Sec. of State Madison authorized James Monroe (later President) to pay up to $10 million for New Orleans.
I don't think it's relevant to quote founding fathers of 200 years back, as we are discussing logistical innovations, more efficient land use policies , and a vastly different economic landscape.

by Bill the Wanderer on Feb 4, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport


Your citation is based on this:

But given the fact that public transportation is
almost twice as slow as driving,

Which simply isn't true in many cases. Therefore it is not a given, and therefore the logic of some sort of universal truth you're pushing falls apart.

by Alex B. on Feb 4, 2014 10:11 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted at the author's request.]

by Bill the Wanderer on Feb 4, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

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