Cars-and-Trains Urbanism

For all of the rhetoric about banning cars and the inherent conflict between public transportation and private automobiles, the dominant political view of urbanism in large chunks of the world is the cars-and-trains approach. Under this approach, cities build extensive infrastructure for cars, such as parking, wide arterials, and some motorways, as well as for trains, which are as a rule always rapid transit, never streetcars. In the midcentury developed world this was the unanimous view of urban development, and this remains the preference of mainline center-right parties like CDU, the French Republicans, and the British and Canadian Tories; various 1960s urbanist movements with roots in the New Left arose in specific opposition to much of that mentality, which is why those movements are usually NIMBY in general.

In the post-consensus environment of political conflict in most issues, in this case between auto- and transit-oriented urbanism, it’s tempting to go back to the midcentury elite consensus as a compromise, and call for making cities friendly to both transit users and drivers. This is attractive especially to people who hope to defuse culture war issues, either because they identify as political moderates or because they identify as socialists and have some nostalgia for the Old Left. However, this kind of urbanism does not really work. While a destination can sometimes be friendly to both drivers and transit users, the city overall cannot be; the majority of the points of interest in a successful transit city are hostile to cars and vice versa.

Moreover, this cars-and-transit failure is not just historical. It keeps going on today. Middle-income countries waste vast sums of money on building two separate transportation networks that do not work well together. The United States, too, has adopted this mentality in the cities that are building new light rail lines, resulting in large urban rail systems whose ridership is a rounding error since most of the city isn’t oriented around public transportation.

What is cars-and-trains urbanism?

Postwar West Germany built a number of subway networks in its large cities, such as Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dortmund, Essen, and Hanover. With the exception of Munich and Nuremberg, these are subway-surface systems, in which the trains are underground in city center but run in streetcar mode farther out. For the most part, these systems were built with the support of the driver lobby, which wanted the streetcars out of city center in order to be able to drive more easily, and once those systems opened, the cities dismantled the streetcars. Most of West Germany thus eliminated the streetcars that did not feed into the tunnels, just as the US eliminated nearly all of its streetcars except the ones that were part of a subway-surface system in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

In the United States, such development only happened in San Francisco, where Muni buried the main streetcar trunk in conjunction with the construction of BART along the same alignment on Market Street. More commonly, cars-and-trains urbanism led to the development of park-and-rides in the suburbs. An early example is the Green Line D branch in Boston, designed for suburban commuters rather than urban residents using the line for all purposes and not just work. Subsequently, light rail lines have been built with park-and-rides, as have full rapid transit systems in the suburb of Atlanta, Washington, and San Francisco. In the same period, American mainline rail networks evolved to be car-oriented, replacing city center stations with park-and-rides for commuter as well as intercity rail uses.

American cars-and-trains development was not without conflict. The auto lobby opposed trains, believing buses were cheaper; top civil servants in what is now the Federal Highway Administration advocated for bus lanes to create more capacity at the peak into city centers such as Washington’s. However, the trains that were built in this era followed the same mentality of creating more peak capacity in areas where widening roads was too expensive because of high city center land prices.

In the US as well as in Europe, and nowadays in developing countries, construction of rapid transit in the biggest cities and high-speed rail between them is paired with large highway systems for everything else. When the Tories won the 2010 election, they proclaimed the end of Labour’s so-called war on motorists, but maintained their support for Crossrail in London and High Speed 2 from London to the major provincial cities. And in Toronto, even Rob and Doug Ford, for all their anti-walkability demagogy, support subways, just not at-grade streetcars that would take lanes away from cars.

How does cars-and-trains transportation fail?

In the United States, public transportation is divided into three groups. There is transit-oriented urbanism, which covers about half to two thirds of New York, and very small segments of Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, and Philadelphia. There are people riding public transportation out of poverty. And there is cars-and-trains behavior, common in the outer parts and suburbs of cities with urban rail networks. In the major American metropolitan areas with urban rail other than New York, people who commute by public transport actually outearn people who drive alone, because so much transit ridership consists of rich suburban commuters. Because of the weight of those commuters and because American metro areas with public transportation are richer than the rest of the country, the national gap in income between drivers and transit commuters is small and shrinking. And yet, fuel consumption as a proportion of overall consumption is constant around 3.5% in the bottom nine deciles.

In other words: the United States has spent a lot of money on attracting the rich to public transportation, and has succeeded in the sense that transit commuters earn about the same as car commuters, but the rich still drive so much that they consume as much fuel as the poor relative to their total spending. This is not because rich people inherently like driving – rich Manhattanites don’t drive much. This is because the postwar American transportation network does not provide adequate public transportation for non-commute trips. Off-peak frequencies are low, and service to destinations outside city centers is weak.

In Germany, the politics of cars-and-trains infrastructure is still around. A few months ago, when some Berlin Greens proposed congestion pricing, CDU came out in opposition, saying that without park-and-rides, how can people be expected to use the U- and S-Bahn? Walking or biking to the station is apparently not possible in outer Berlin, per CDU.

How does cars-and-trains urbanism fail?

The problem with cars-and-trains urbanism is not just about lack of frequency. The off-peak frequency on some of the American light and heavy rail systems serving park-and-rides is not terrible for regional rail – trains come every 10 or 12 or 15 minutes. But the development repels non-commuter uses of the system. The stations are surrounded by parking rather than high-density office or residential development. People who already own cars will drive them wherever it’s convenient: they’ll shop by car since retail has no reason to cluster in the central business district, and they’ll probably drive to jobs that do not have such agglomeration benefits as to have to be in city center.

That is not just an American problem. Western Europe, too, has built extensive infrastructure to extend auto-oriented postwar suburbia into older city centers, including motorways and parking garages. If the streets are narrow, then the sidewalks may be extremely narrow, down to maybe a meter in Florence. This encourages anyone who can afford to do so to drive rather than walk.

If there is no transit-oriented core to the city, then the result is a standard auto-oriented city. Examples include Los Angeles and Dallas, both of which have large urban rail networks with approximately no ridership. In the three-way division of American transit ridership – New York (and to a small extent a handful of other city cores), suburban commuters, very poor people – Los Angeles’s transit ridership is mostly very poor, averaging half the income of solo drivers. Public transit construction in this case has been a complete waste without policies that create a transit city, which must include both liberalization (namely, zoning liberalization near stations) and coercion (such as higher car and fuel taxes and removal of parking).

If there is a transit-oriented core, then the result cleaves the metro area in two. To people who live in the transit zone, the auto-oriented parts are inaccessible, and vice versa. A few places at the boundary can be crosshatched, but the city itself cannot be entirely crosshatched – the sea of single-family houses in the suburbs is not accessible except by car, and transit-oriented cities have no room for the amount of parking or road capacity required for auto-centric density.

Does rapid transit mean cars-and-trains?

No. In opposition to the postwar elite consensus and the center-right’s support of cars-and-trains urbanism, the New Left tends to be hostile to rapid transit, on the theory that it’s only good for cars and that tramways with dedicated lanes are as good as subways. This theory is hogwash – enough cities built metros before mass motorization in order to avoid streetcar and horsecar traffic jams – but it’s attractive to people who associate subways with the failings of CDU and its equivalents in other countries.

Paris provides a positive example of rejecting cars-and-trains urbanism while building rapid transit. Postwar France was thoroughly cars-and-trains in its mentality, but 21st-century Paris is the opposite. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has narrowed roadways and removed freeways in order to make the city pedestrian-friendlier. Ile-de-France is expanding its tramway network, but it’s at the same time investing enormous amounts of money in expanding the Metro and RER. I do not think there is any city outside China with more underground route-km built than Paris in 2000-30 – Indian metros are mostly above-ground. In my under-construction database, which largely omits China and Russia due to difficulties of finding information in English, Grand Paris Express is 10% of the total route-length.

Postwar Japan is another example of rapid transit without cars-and-trains typology. Unlike present-day Paris, which is ideologically leftist and green, Japanese development has been in an ideological environment similar to the center-right elite consensus, called dirigism in France. Nonetheless, Tokyo’s motorway network is not large relative to the city’s population, and suburban development has been quite dense and rail-oriented. The private rail operators have preferred to build high-density housing at their suburban stations to encourage more ridership, rather than park-and-rides.

It’s one or the other

Drivers are most comfortable on high-speed arterial streets with generous shoulders and setbacks, with parking right next to their destinations. This encourages dispersal – just try building parking for all the jobs of Midtown Manhattan or Central Tokyo on-site. Pedestrians would need to walk long distances along noisy, polluted streets and cross them at inconvenient signal times or places or risk being run over. Public transit users fare little better, as they turn into pedestrians at their destination – and what’s more, public transportation requires destinations to cluster at a certain density to fill a train at a usable frequency.

This situation works in reverse in a transit city. On a robust public transportation network, the most desirable locations are in the very center of the city, or at key interchanges. Usually the density at those nodes grows so high that drivers have to contend with heavy traffic. Widening roads is not possible at reasonable cost in dense centers of economic production; the very reason for cars-and-trains urbanism as opposed to just 100% cars is that it was never economic to build 20-lane highways in city centers.

On the street, too, conflict is inevitable. A lane can be shared, which means dominated by cars so long as a car with one person inside it gets the same priority as a bus or tram with 40; or it can be dedicated to buses and trams, which means cars have less space. And then there are pedestrians, who need adequate sidewalks even in historic city centers where the street width from building to building is 10 meters rather than the more modern 30.

Defusing conflict is attractive, but this is not possible. A city cannot be friendly to drivers and to non-drivers at the same time. The urban designs for the two groups are too different, and for the most part what most appeals to one repels the other. Trying to build two redundant transportation networks may be attractive to people who just like the idea of visible development with its construction jobs, but both will end up underused and overly costly. Good transit has to convert drivers into non-drivers – sometimes-drivers are too expensive to serve, because the urbanism for them is too peaky and expensive.

As a corollary of this, political structures that have to give something to drivers too have to be eliminated if public transportation is to succeed. For example, infrastructure funding formulas that give set amounts of money to the two modes, like the 80% cars, 20% transit split of American federal funding, are bad and should ideally be reduced to 0 if the formula itself cannot be changed; the investment in highways is making public transportation less useful, both through direct competition and through incentives for auto-oriented development. The same is true of schemes that are really fronts for highway widening, like some bus rapid transit in the US and India. Good transit activists have to oppose these, even if it means less money in overall spending, even if it means less money in spending specific for some public transit programs. The cost of highways is just too high to try to maintain a culture truce.


  1. Eric

    “I do not think there is any city outside China with more underground route-km built than Paris in 2000-30 ”

    Not Moscow?

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t think it’s even close. I think the next few cities after Paris are Seoul, Delhi, Singapore, and Madrid, and only then Moscow?

      • Herbert

        Madrid was among the fastest growing subways in the world before the austerity crisis

      • Eric

        Moscow has built a lot recently, and has plans to build a lot more, and its system as a whole is overwhelmingly undergound. Though now that I look, its biggest single project (Line 14) is above ground and wouldn’t qualify.

        As for Madrid, the system is pretty much built out, almost everyone in the metro area has a metro stop nearby, so there is not much reason for major expansion in the future.

        • Herbert

          Madrid’s biggest fight in the next decade will be whether the current fascist city government can make their ideology driven pro car idiocy stick…

          • michaelrjames

            Haven’t they already been forced to backtrack on reversing the car-bans in Madrid?

          • Herbert

            Even if, they’ll try again. And the best that can be hoped for is a legislative period of nothing moving forward – If not stuff moving backwards…

        • Nilo Cobau

          Madrid if memory serves has the most subway length per resident on the planet. Tough to argue more construction is needed when stuff like line 12 was previously built. Madrid actually seems like a city where electrification of the surface transit by moving from bus to trolley bus and streetcar would be a more important priority.

          • Herbert

            Trolley buses combine the downsides of buses and trams with none of the upsides…

            Unfortunately if there’s one thing Madrid’s reigning fascists won’t do, it’s build light rail, because that’d threaten their motorcars…

          • Nilo

            They produce no pollution, and can move around vehicles, they infect combine almost all the upsides of both modes. Shocked to hear this opinion on this blog, Alon’s written some great stuff both on pure trolleybuses and in motion charging.

          • Herbert

            Their wires bond them to a fixed route, yet they don’t have the smoother ride of rail and often share a right of way with cars

          • RossB

            “Their wires bond them to a fixed route” — Yeah, but it is much cheaper to move wire than move rail. With modern trolley buses, they can simply run off wire if there is a temporary change (or even a small permanent one).

            “yet they don’t have the smoother ride of rail” — Fair enough (although most riders don’t care).

            “and often share a right of way with cars” — That is not mode dependent.

            The key is that trolley buses can be electrified at a price much cheaper than trams. The downside is that they don’t have the same capacity. In many cities, for many routes, that doesn’t matter (as the buses are nowhere near the point where capacity is the biggest weakness).

          • Herbert

            The smoothness of the ride even where it is ignored by the rider (really? Why do all high class bikes and cars have elaborate suspension?) has a direct impact on the life expectancy of the vehicle.

            And if you’re already spending the financial or political capital for its own right of way, putting on rails (which last longer than asphalt) is cheap.

        • yuuka

          Line 14 is an old freight railway, from the time of the Tsar, upgraded to commuter rail standards.

  2. Eric

    Is there somewhere a calculation of what density development is needed to achieve the ridership of a park-and-ride lot?

    • Herbert

      A surprisingly low one, because park and ride lots barely fill the trains departing in one hour…

    • Jonathan Salmans

      Herbert is right. To quantify things a little bit, a five story building can typically house the same number of residents as a surface lot on the same area.

      A typical surface parking lot has 150 parking spots per acre. Assuming a street pattern that allows residents to take an efficient path to the station (e.g. a grid), there is 0.25 square miles of land or 160 acres of land in a 0.5 mile walk-shed of a transit station. So single family housing with 1 acre lots has the potential to generate the same transit demand as a 1 acre park and ride if one household member used transit daily.

      Such as low density development would not be able to support frequent service though so mode share would be low. As density rises you would get higher frequency and therefore higher mode share.

      In the city where I am from (Pittsburgh), park and rides only account for 3% of bus system ridership, most riders walk to take the bus. The reason is that parking lots take up too much space to build enough to provide much ridership share.

      • Herbert

        Even absent park and ride lots there’ll be drivers who park close to the station and take the train if parking and or traffic discourage driving downtown

      • Edward

        Maybe you can help me with this, I’ve been searching for a few hours: Do you know what ridership is required for commuting one way from a train or bus stop with a peak frequency of 6 minutes? And I’m not sure but I think commuter fraction of populace is something like 2/3? And do you have a source? It sounds from this like it’s around 500 for a train, maybe less for a bus from lower infrastructure cost.

  3. Diego Beghin

    Middle-income countries waste vast sums of money on building two separate transportation networks that do not work well together.

    It’s really sad how Rio wasted billions burying and expanding (from 2 to 3 lanes) a downtown elevated highway, instead of tearing down the highway and using the money on expanding the stunted rapid transit network. The city survived a few years without that highway, it would survive all the better with a more complete rapid transit network. To the city’s credit they often take car lanes for BRT but it’s so overbuilt you could get higher capacity rail by spending almost the same budget.

    • Herbert

      Managua is building new highways on stills while barely even having bus lanes, let alone rail

      • adirondacker12800

        All of Nicaragua has 6 million people. Metro Managua has 1.4 million. There aren’t enough people for extensive rail service.

        • Yom Sen

          These numbers look very close to those of Switzerland (8m) and Metro Zürich (1.3m)…

        • Herbert

          Managua has more people than Hamburg or Munich or Nuremberg or Cologne. And Nicaragua as a whole barely has less than Switzerland…

          If you argue there ain’t enough people for railways, there sure as hell ain’t enough cars for highways on stilts

          • Eric

            Managua is much poorer than any of those places. So it would be defensible for them to build nothing (except maybe bus lanes). But it’s not defensible for them to build elevated highways when they could build elevated BRT for the same price.

          • Herbert

            Exactly. The highways on stilts pretty much obliterate any poverty or cost arguments. Money pretty obviously exists to build highways on stilts. Why is it not spent on public transit?

          • Diego Beghin

            Yes, Managua’s size and income level is perfect for BRT. But it’s a rare politician in Latin America who doesn’t pander to the driver lobby, even though most people don’t have cars.

          • Herbert

            Why in the continent of caudillos is there no anti car populism?

          • Diego Beghin

            Because carless people are carless out of poverty, not choice. There’s no vision that a carfree life could not be horrible.

          • Herbert

            But there’s a tradition in Latin America to run on the votes of the have-nots…

          • Herbert

            Then how is a transit friendly politician to get to power in LatAm?

          • Eric

            “There’s no vision that a carfree life could not be horrible.”

            That is making a lot of assumptions…

    • yuuka

      And then you have Taipei, dropping billions on pushing the mainline railway underground… only to then build an elevated expressway and service roads above.

      Part of it is grade separation, part of it is the need to provide a ROW for the THSR, although it makes one wonder why the expressway is needed…

      • Joe

        The Taiwanese government calls it a “complete” transportation network, ie they want to please drivers while promoting transit. And then they wonder why mass transit mode share won’t go up.

          • Koverp

            No it didn’t. Those are low-standard elevated roads / overpasses built in early history. Seoul build quite a few “freeway” around the city center afterwards.

  4. Patrick

    Separating transit-oriented city cores from the car-oriented exurban areas is reasonable, but there have to be sufficient interface facilities and alternatives to divert traffic away from the city beyond a certain point (instead of needing to provide transit door-to-door for super commutes).

    Circumfrential or bypass roads are very important… Paris, London, Madrid, Berlin, etc. all have them, other cities like New York do not. So you get a large volume of traffic traversing the urban core without any origins or destinations in the city itself (just passing through). If the only practical way to get from point A to point B (25+ mile detours don’t count) is to drive through the urban core, people will do it no matter how high the tolls or congestion charge is.

    Similarly, park and ride facilities are needed at those interface points so people can switch from their cars to transit. And the service has to be decent from those points. In many US cities, parking at these types of facilities is often very expensive or there is little to no capacity. The stations with cheap and open parking are often at the extremities of the system with very poor service, so there’s little incentive to not drive all the way into the city and either pay for parking there, or drive to someplace like Queens or Hudson County and fish for street parking.

    A world with zero cars or zero transit isn’t practical, so cities have to figure out ways to effectively manage the interface between them…

    • Diego Beghin

      People who use use park&ride should pay their way, otherwise that transit-adjacent land is better used for high-density development. Riders can get to the rail station with bus feeders. For the few people for which that isn’t practical, I’m fine with their choices being
      1) moving somewhere closer to transit
      2) paying for a non-subsidised P&R
      3) driving all the way to their destination

      Of course there should be city centre tolls to discourage 3. Anyway, no reason to spend public money on car subsidies when that could be better spent elsewhere.

      • Patrick

        What you’re describing is tantamount to the “ban cars” philosophy which is counterproductive. I am not saying the park and ride facilities should be free, but there should be an amenable balance between free and hundreds of dollars per month (in addition to what are, in some US cities, significantly expensive transit fares).

        People’s origins and destinations are largely set…you can coax new people towards transit-accessible commutes, but moving people closer to transit on any nontrivial scale is just never going to happen. Likewise, providing feeder bus services to every far-flung place is also highly impractical.

        Like I said above, there is no one size fits all and there needs to be some sort of interface between car- and transit-oriented areas. If you don’t have reasonable interface facilities at that border, people will drive further into the urban core–regardles of what the tolls are–or move out of the region, neither of which are desirable.

        • Herbert

          Transit oriented development is more desirable than car oriented development so even IF people move away, they’ll be replaced by far more people moving in…

        • Jonathan Salmans

          Parking spaces in garages cost about $20k to build, which translates to $150 per month if the developer is leasing the spaces at cost.

          Surface lots can’t provide enough spaces to justify high frequency. Being adjacent to a high frequency station also makes residential and retail high rises a more valuable land use than surface parking in proximity to the station.

          If parking in downtown is not subsidized (either directly or indirectly through mandatory parking minimums) then downtown parking in cities with good transit will cost substantially more than $150 per month. The reason is the opportunity cost for more productive land use.

          Parking should not be subsidized. If it is not, and the zoning codes permit plenty of multi-unit housing to be built near transit stations, then it will be far cheaper to access the CBD by owning a house in the walk-shed of a station and walking to access transit than to access the CBD by owning and using a car. And it will be cheaper to pay to park at the periphery and then take transit than to drive all the way downtown.

        • Diego Beghin

          but moving people closer to transit on any nontrivial scale is just never going to happen

          That’s actually what happened in cities which invested a lot in TOD like Vancouver. Transit mode share expanded by a lot thanks to the new rail lines and the liberal zoning around them. It wasn’t P&R.

          And no, making P&R users pay enough to cover costs is not banning cars, it’s literally just making them pay their way. Why should a transport mode so full of negative externalities be subsidised in yet another way?

          I guess in sprawly metros with negative population growth extensive TOD isn’t very realistic, and thus P&R lots might make sense. But in that case you shouldn’t invest in rail either, buses are a more adequate match for the low capacity of P&R.

          • Herbert

            And when in the history of ever has someone driven to a P&R lot to take a bus?

          • Michael

            There’s about a half dozen “freeway flyers” in Milwaukee, which are commuter buses from P&Rs into downtown. They have some ridership… About 25/passengers per hour, compared to 31/hour system wide. It’s a pure play bus system.

          • Herbert

            I don’t understand that. Those people are already in their cars… Why do they choose a bus riding on the same roads for the rest of their trip?

          • Alon Levy

            In New Jersey it’s not the same roads, because the Lincoln Tunnel has a dedicated bus lane in the morning. Then there’s the parking…

          • Reedman Bassoon

            Facebook headquarters (~10,000 people) in Menlo Park, California is at the west end of the Dumbarton Bridge (which crosses SF Bay, and is gridlocked during commute times). The housing to the west of HQ is very expensive, then there is water, and then the less expensive East Bay. There are empty Silicon Valley office buildings in Fremont, on the east end of the Dumbarton, with loads of unused parking. Facebook (and Genentech) have “taken over” some of these empty Fremont buildings so employees can park (for free. The bridge has a $6 toll for solo’s, $3 for carpools) and take a free shuttle bus the remaining 3 miles to the office across the bridge.

          • Michael

            Speed. Things run close to on schedule in MKE and there’s very limited non-highway traffic. So it’s relatively easy to drive and park (for free) at the P&R less than 5 minutes before the bus and then the bus drops off at the door step of most downtown jobs. Versus parking 15 minutes away in the $5/day cheap lots or $13/day lots.

          • adirondacker12800

            To beat the dead horse one more time, they take the bus because the train sucks. The train wouldn’t suck as much if ARC hadn’t been canceled. Shift half the bus riders from the PABT to trains they don’t have to spend ten billion dollars on expanding the PABT. They use some of the park-n-rides to get to Newark too. There are informal ones where it can be difficult to get on street parking at the zone boundary. They drive in from would be zone 3 if the bus went that far and park at the far end of zone 1.

          • Yom Sen

            There are P+R in Geneva near bus stops.
            The reason why people use them is the same than for P+R near tramway stops:
            No or very expensive parking available in city centre.
            Bus is faster than cars at rush hours as it is partly on dedicated lanes. Bus is actually faster than tramway on some routes.

          • Jonathan Salmans

            Here is a map of Pittsburgh’s park and rides, almost all of which are served by buses:


            Most fill up by 7 am so those with later commutes can’t use them. This is because parking is free, they should charge for parking. To Herbert’s question, the main reason is the cost of parking. About $20 a day in downtown Pittsburgh vs free at the park-n-rides.

            The East busway has limited parking, and it is faster than driving since buses have a dedicated right of way. I doubt this motivates many people but buses are also safer than cars, better for the environment, and it is less stressful to be driven than to drive in city traffic.

    • Mike Whelan

      I’m not sure what you mean when you say that New York doesn’t have bypass roads. If you are coming from the south and heading to New England, you can avoid the city entirely by taking the Tappan Zee. And even if you take the route over the GW Bridge, you spend barely any time in the city itself if you take the Henry Hudson to the Cross County and the Hutch.

      Of course, if you’re talking about getting to Long Island via car, then yes you do have to drive through the city. But that’s just geography.

  5. Herbert

    While cities the size of London or Paris may have built subways before motorcars, cities the size of Nuremberg did not. There were ideas for “below pavement trams” in both Munich ava Nuremberg in the twenties, but they only built subways in the sixties and seventies – at that time combined with plans to shut down the trams as was done in west Berlin and Hamburg…

    • Alon Levy

      Yep (and there was some planning work and a tiny bit of construction on the Munich U- and S-Bahn under the Nazis). That said, Hamburg and Berlin were never London- or Paris-size and they still built U-Bahns early. Boston, same thing – the Green Line was built because of massive streetcar congestion on the surface.

    • threestationsquare

      They were a bit bigger than Nürnberg at the time, but Liverpool, Glasgow, Budapest, and Boston all had subways by 1900. (Also such tiny cities as Kansas City, Sioux City and Louisville had elevated railways in their downtown areas in the 1890s.)

      • Herbert

        The line one of the Budapest subway is really an odd example… It has a ridiculously short distance between stations and it took decades for them to ever expand.

        Glasgow subway has staid limited to its single line since inauguration

        And if memory serves Liverpool is the only “subway” in the history of ever to have been completely shut down…

        • threestationsquare

          By electrifying the North Clyde Line tunnel in 1960 and the Argyle Line tunnel in 1979 and providing frequent local service through both, Glasgow effectively added two more subway lines in addition to the original 1896 loop.

          The Liverpool “subway” I referenced was the Mersey Railway, opened 1886 and still a core part of Liverpool’s transit network. The Liverpool Overhead Railway actually came later, 1893, and was shut down 1956.

          For the record the Rochester Subway was completely shut down in 1956 (having opened 1927). There were also tram subways that eventually shut down completely along with the rest of the local rail transit systems in Los Angeles (1925-1955) and Washington DC (1949-1962). If you count elevated lines there were also small systems (rapid transit, multi-stop elevated tram sections, or urban people-movers) completely shut down in Sioux City (1891-1899), Kansas City (1886-c. 1904), Louisville (1886-1907), Hoboken (1886-1949), Baltimore (1893-1950), Himeji (1966-1974), Komaki (1991-2006), Laon (1989-2016), Indianapolis (2003-2019), and probably others.

          • adirondacker12800

            For the record the Rochester Subway was completely shut down in 1956

            For lack of interest. Cars got cheap, there is no congestion and parking is free. Around the same time they are planning an expressway extravaganza for the projected population of 1980. Which never appeared.

          • threestationsquare

            They certainly got a fair amount of expressway extravaganza, including I-490/I-590 reusing much of the subway trench, and the ridiculous Inner Loop (now partly demolished itself).

          • adirondacker12800

            You project things out, in 1955, when the baby boom still hasn’t peaked and air conditioning is still expensive, it’s not that extravagant. Reliable birth control happened, collapsing the baby boom and cheap air conditioning made the Sunbelt habitable.

          • Herbert

            There are some that say the Pillenknick wasn’t because of birth control but because of potential parents either never having been born in the difficult years or having died in the war.

            If that’s the case, the declining birth rate should’ve been predictable…

  6. Michael

    I’d argue the most surprising trend in US urbanism is the proliferation of places that are actually fairly walkable but totally automobile-centric, through street design, infill development, and the strategic use of parking garages. Santa Barbara CA is probably the gold standard for this, but it’s happening across the country. Charleston SC, Madison WI, Richmond VA etc.

    I call it “Structured parking urbanism.” And it seems to offer a few advantages over the old cars-and-trains urban pattern. It’s mixed use. It’s fairly walkable. While the transit maybe abysmal, there’s enough “there” to support intercity buses & trains.

      • Michael

        Barring a catastrophic collapse to automobiling, probably never. Even if the automobile era ends, the development pattern is relatively well suited for so-called micromobility. I see it as basically a movement to transform neighborhoods in the model of university campuses. With the goal of a very walkable/bikeable core. An interface of parking garages. Surrounded by neighborhoods where most walk/bike to the core.

        At least in my no growth metro, the old development model of huge highway connected subdivisions is over. Some stuff is still getting built, but they are just filling in lots from pre-great recession projects. All the energy has moved to little clusters like this – that were left for dead – that are getting cleaned up with streetscaping, in-fill apartments & offices, discrete parking, etc.,-88.0077493,3a,75y,317.4h,88.21t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sT8IwwhURuqdJ7WQ-C5jBPA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  7. Herbert

    With a charitable count Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt have about one eighth the German population.

    How do we serve the other seven eighths by public transit?

    • michaelrjames

      France has promised a tramway for every municipality of greater than 250,000.

      • Yom Sen

        There are 9 municipalities (communes) over 250,000 in France. Only 1 of them has no tramway, Toulouse, which has a successful metro network.
        If you were thinking of urban areas (unités urbaines), few of them have neither tram or metro: Toulon, Douai-Lens, Béthune, Metz, so 4 out of 24

        • michaelrjames

          First, you are being very narrow in your definitions. I looked at Grenoble which is #20 at “city” of 155,000 but actually has an agglomeration population of 687,985. Then if I jump to Orléans at #35, with 114,644 but agglomeration of 433,337. The next one I looked up is Avignon, #43 at 90,000 but can’t find its agglomeration figure. So I reckon there are at least 40, possibly 50, with effective population of >250,000, and it is certainly these that the plan is intended to address.

          Second, I presume Germany has even more towns of this size.

          • Herbert

            Official municipal boundaries are problematic.

            But “metropolitan regions” are often even more problematic. The official “Metropolregion” around Berlin includes all of Brandenburg…

            And of course if your system only starts inside the municipal boundaries of one place, it’s a bit disingenuous to count inhabitants of neighboring places to justify its construction…

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert, you know that the explosive growth of urban areas in the past century, and especially post-war, has meant that official boundaries haven’t kept pace. I looked at some of the towns & cities on the list and immediately thought the figures didn’t jibe with my experience of some of those places … and sure enough, the old data is extremely misleading. Also, if one was planning on a tramway would one plan to serve as much of the real urban population or just inside arbitrary boundaries–especially as the funding is national?

          • Herbert

            As I said, municipal boundaries are problematic. But you can’t say Nuremberg subway “serves a metro area of several million” when it stays inside the urban boundaries of Nuremberg (500k) and Fürth (100k).

            I don’t know how difficult it is to have a tram line cross municipal boundaries in France; in Germany it is by no means impossible but it’s often easier to annex the suburb in question…

          • Alon Levy

            In Germany municipal boundaries are generally pretty meaningful. It’s not like France, which alone in Europe hasn’t done much municipal consolidation since the Revolution, and which has contiguous urban areas without space between them. France has, what, 30,000 communes? Italy has 6,000 on the same population, the Netherlands has 355 on one quarter the population, Germany has 12,000 on one quarter higher population. Only a handful of places have the same pattern of many suburban municipalities that for all intents and purposes are self-governing units of the same city, like Frankfurt or (with different history) the Ruhr.

          • Herbert

            Oh there’s some “why don’t the consolidate”.

            Nuremberg-Fürth-Stein. Berlin-Potsdam. Dresden-Radebeul…

          • Alon Levy

            Potsdam is tiny. It’s not like in the US or France, where you can have contiguous built-up areas in which the primary city is 20% of the population.

          • Herbert

            Potsdam is the largest city in Brandenburg. And the Potsdam tram should reach into Berlin by all rights and logic…

          • Yom Sen

            Yes, I was referring to the built-up areas (called unités urbaines by INSEE)

            The numbers you give are for metropolitan areas (called aires urbaines by INSEE) that include the rural part all around with at least 40% working in the city.

            Avignon is currently building a tramway line planned to open next month. Urban unit has 450k inhabitants but it’s very sprawling (density of only 334 hab/km2)

          • Yom Sen

            Communes in France have no authority on public transportation anymore. It’s now managed by “intercommunalités” which can have different different sizes and status but generally cover the whole urban areas.
            Due to the political difficulty of merging communes, the state has preferred to first encourage and then force the creation and consolidation of these “interco” to cover the functions where communes are too small to be really effective. They have now much more power than communes without people being always aware of this and without direct election of representatives.

          • michaelrjames

            Well, it is probably necessary to be effective.
            For Ile de France they created the Métropole du Grand Paris to administer the overarching issues that affect the 12.4m residents in the 123 communes. They are not directly elected (yet, but possibly in the future) but that doesn’t mean it is unaccountable. I imagine that all those other supra-commune bodies are similar.

            The Métropole is administered by a Metropolitan Council of 210 members, not directly elected, but chosen by the councils of the member Communes. Its responsibilities include urban planning, housing, and protection of the environment.

          • michaelrjames

            Seriously? Do you think it would be more effective if directly elected?

            Are you one of those who want to elect the dog-catcher and fire-chief, police-chief etc? About the only place where such direct democracy can be said to have worked is Switzerland and I wouldn’t hold it up as an example.
            As far as I am concerned, France is one of the best run countries in the world, especially compared to the Anglosphere and since the Merkel era I have my doubts about Germany …

            Democracy may be in trouble everywhere but direct democracy is clearly not the answer. If you give voters the veto right on budgets or taxes then you end up with California, paralysed with debt and dysfunction. No, one partial solution is John Keane’s monitory democracy of which I would say the Métropole du Grand Paris is a fair example.

          • Herbert

            Government needs to be accountable. If someone is building more highways than the people who live there want, they have to be able to throw them out.

            There’s no level of government in Germany that isn’t accountable to voters.

          • michaelrjames

            Are you really so stubborn? (your posts seem to have taken a distinctly trollish character recently!)

            On the board/council that runs Métropole du Grand Paris there are 210 representatives from the 123 communes that make up the area.

          • Herbert

            Whom are they accountable to?

            Why is this better than direct elections?

          • michaelrjames

            As with all your previous posts you have ignored what I have written.
            Those 210 are accountable to their respective commune councils or other constituencies (and presumably some from central government). Some are the same people, ie. elected to their local councils, while others may be nominees by those councils. The president is Valérie Pécresse who is elected deputy of Yvelines (one of the departments making up Ile de France; popn. 1.4m) also elected regional counselor of Île-de-France. (She’s a bit of a Rightard with a long pedigree in UMP government, but more recently–possibly because her ‘new’ job demands it–she has become less hyper-partisan and seems to have taken onboard better (“progressive”) urbanist principles including dropping her hard-core roads philosophy.)

            I feel it is you who needs to prove your belief that direct elections would lead to an improvement in management of such things. All the evidence I see points to the opposite.
            We have a surfeit of elections and ‘democracy’ in the developed world, and it has delivered Brexit and Trump. In Australia it has produced 7 PMs over 11 years; the just re-elected (by 2 seat margin) government ran on zero policies (they didn’t expect to get re-elected) and is floundering around trying to develop some, other than “austerity” and “balanced budgets”. Merkel is a lame duck with nothing left to give to either Germany or the EU (except more absurd austerity, balanced budgets, blah-blah).

            If you had a directly elected body determining the long-range future of the greater Paris region it would probably be paralysed by:
            -populist campaigning
            -hyper-localism (123 communes!)

          • Alon Levy

            The multiple mandates in France aren’t locally viewed as a good thing. Fact of the matter is, France has too many local governments, and instead of doing what every other European country has done in the last 2 generations and consolidating them, it’s going the American route of creating a new layer of governance without a lot of accountability.

            And hyperpartisanship is present in France in droves. Macron isn’t governing any differently from any PS moderate. The left hates him because he doesn’t bother affecting left-wing partisanship: no “government of the left” proclamations, no inviting communists to ministerial posts, openly saying labor market reforms are good, openly saying the EU is good, etc. From this position of hyperpartisanship, said left supported the Gilets Jaunes, because white supremacy is preferable to a liberal president.

            As far as hyperpartisanship goes, the cleave in Europe is roughly between the UK and Ireland and Mediterranean Europe (inc. France), and Northern Europe. There’s a large difference between the parties here, in the three multicultural consensus democracies, and in the Nordic countries. For example, the fuel tax rose by 30% in the Schröder years and has since not risen. This is supported by interest groups that care about and expect results, so the sort of overpromising and underdelivery that is rife in Greece and Italy and to a lesser extent in the UK and France doesn’t really exist. In the Nordics this combination of depolarization and large difference between the blocs is an artifact of strong unions and labor vs. bosses politics, in the consensus democracies it’s the tri- or quadripolar system with shifting coalitions, here it’s anti-populism as a reaction to the Nazis (notably, Austria lacks this anti-populism and has long had a big extreme right party).

            In France a compounding problem is that historically it’s always defined itself in opposition to Britain, not Germany, and even after two world wars, de Gaulle’s personal Anglophobia (he vetoed UK entry to the EC in the 1960s) meant France would keep defining itself in opposition to Britain. Compared with Britain, France is marvelously governed. Most of the worst social problems in France – low income mobility, more resources given to educating the rich than to the poor, high rents in the capital and low incomes elsewhere – are even worse in Britain. Even air pollution isn’t really better in Britain. Only police brutality is much worse in France, and it’s so racialized that white French people don’t really care. That most of these social problems aren’t nearly so bad in the Nordics, the German-speaking world, or the Low Countries doesn’t really concern France, because it compares itself with Britain and not Germany.

          • michaelrjames

            You know there is one thing you haven’t done that would ‘complete’ your education: live in the UK.
            I’m not sure you’ve lived in France (Paris & Cote d’Azur) long enough but possibly it would do what it did to me, and most people with open minds: turn you into an Anglophobe! I came to admire de Gaulle and realise that he was correct in most things! (Seriously.) With Brexshit I think you’ll find most of the EU27 have the same attitude today, and see what the general saw 6 decades ago. In fact, many Brits too: polls apparently show that, ‘all things being equal’, 50% of Brits would migrate somewhere else tomorrow–to Australia, NZ, Canada, US, Spain, France, even Germany.

            The multiple mandates in France aren’t locally viewed as a good thing.

            That is opinion. I am concerned with functionality. They appear to be able to get major projects done while much of the rest of the world, esp. Anglosphere, seem to have so much trouble. GPX is under construction, and it’s largely bipartisan; somehow these institutional arrangements facilitate it, which is not to say it is easy.
            Has consolidation worked for these other places? It is probably too complicated to come to solid conclusions but maybe retaining smaller, historic communes gives residents and voters more confidence in the people they elect, and local pride in their commune. As you said earlier, France has 37,000 communes which is more than all the rest of Europe combined! Maybe, instead of thinking this is a problem, maybe it’s a strength?
            Also, I suspect you continue to put too much weight in the great ability of French to complain … about everything; ask most expats living in France (maybe even your former self?) and the response is the cliche, that is true: they don’t know how good they’ve got it!

            And hyperpartisanship is present in France in droves. Macron isn’t governing any differently from any PS moderate.

            You seem to be claiming contradictory things here. Macron is doing what he said he would do and isn’t attempting to disguise it. Also on many issues, perhaps the most important ones, I am not convinced there is as much hyper-partisanship as you claim. Here, and the UK & USA, the hyperpartisan is in crazy territory and isn’t even related to political philosophy but purely a matter of toxic oppositionalism. Boris Jo is the perfect example–someone who doesn’t even believe in Brexit but he’ll destroy the country implementing it unless the courts and/or parliament stop him.

            In France a compounding problem is that historically it’s always defined itself in opposition to Britain, not Germany, and even after two world wars, de Gaulle’s personal Anglophobia (he vetoed UK entry to the EC in the 1960s) meant France would keep defining itself in opposition to Britain.

            But isn’t this correct? I mean we can all see some admirable things in Germany. It’s the UK that has toxic politics and the 60 years since de Gaulle has simply proven him right on most issues (on this topic). They and their system seem irredeemable. And I have come to loathe the copycat behaviour of Oz politicians and others re the Brits. Whatever worked in the past (building empire etc) its institutions are no longer fit for purpose.

            Even air pollution isn’t really better in Britain.

            I believe I have written that on your blog, in fact against some fake news about Paris being worse than London (which to be clear, London is worse). The centre of Oxford is worse! All somewhat strange … but true.

            Only police brutality is much worse in France, and it’s so racialized that white French people don’t really care.

            Today, I am not sure that remains true. Both points. Of course most people tend not to care if it doesn’t touch them but when I interrogate French here in Oz (ok a certain ascertainment bias) it is not the case. The Brits have built a huge surveillance state and highly developed the art of crowd control (kettling etc). And to be frank, with their wild binge drinking and thuggish behaviour, the Brits often deserve hard policing. Your period in Europe missed the Brit soccer-hooligan days when some European cities banned them. Though the worst violence in the UK is their class system. BoJo is the 20th old Etonian to become PM; did you see that other old Etonian, Rees-Mogg, arrogantly lounging on the parliamentary benches? It went viral because it really did say it all.

          • Herbert

            Austria has a fascist party because there was never even a honest attempt to remove the Austrian fascists.

            In the very first election in Austria, former Nazi party members were barred from voting. The predecessor of the FPÖ suddenly jumped to a lot of strength in the subsequent election…

          • Herbert

            Why elect the 123 bodies that don’t really matter then?

            Why not elect the new body that actually matters directly?

          • michaelrjames

            Why elect the 123 bodies that don’t really matter then?
            Why not elect the new body that actually matters directly?

            Like I said, maybe eventually they will. But the 123 communes have existed for ages and have long-established familiarity and validity in the voter’s eyes. Doubtless creating the new supra-regional body with entirely new electoral status would meet resistance by the current bunch of commune-level pollies and probably the current next-level (departmental) pollies etc. It has taken at least a decade to establish the new MGP body and plan.
            Also the new body MGP doesn’t concern itself with all the very local issues.

            In some senses I might agree that this has been created/imposed top-down. The formalisation of both GPX then MGP began under Sarkozy (though I’m sure it had been incubating for ages before then, and he was just being opportunistic in trying to claim it as his legacy) and Pécresse was a Sarkozette. And this was probably a mechanism to get all the diverse politicians and their constituents on-board. Now, if this was a plan to invade Iraq then ok it would be diabolical but it’s a coherent and bipartisan plan for transit and urban issues for Ile de France. Likely the best such plan for any very large developed-world city. It has more than enough democratic validity for me, and I’d bet, for a super-majority of Franciliennes.

            I’m not sure why you keep contesting this. You seem more concerned about the cosmetics of democratic process rather than effective representation or results.
            But ask yourself, again, whether you think it is effective, or GPX is likely to be reasonably enacted.

    • michaelrjames

      Herbert: I don’t know how difficult it is to have a tram line cross municipal boundaries in France; in Germany it is by no means impossible but it’s often easier to annex the suburb in question…

      My original post that you were responding to, was specifically about France and their plan for tramways in regional cities. If Germany or other places cannot overcome such inter-jurisdictional issues perhaps they could learn something?

      • Herbert

        They can and have overcome them. Only the easier way out is usually annexation…

        Look at Karlsruhe for an example without annexation…

        • michaelrjames

          Then what is your beef?
          Getting a bit trollish …

          On the original point, a tramway for such cities would definitely help reduce car dependence and use, car congestion, fuel usage etc and especially as they will almost always link to the SNCF station also promote intercity rail travel.

          • Herbert

            I’m pointing out that this can be a problem but not an insurmountable one…

    • Mike

      Look at places like Freiburg in the south west. About 230 000 population, excellent public transport even in the rural area around it. Small size, greater walkability plus great buses and trams equals no need for a car. And look up the Vauban green neighbourhood.

  8. Jonathan Salmans

    Alon, your blog posts (here and others) focus on moving people. I am curious what your thoughts are on how freight fits in.

    Should trucks be the primary method for making local deliveries, or do you think some rail based system should be used for that as well?

    For intercity shipments should freight rail displace most or all trucks, and should it run on the same or a separate parallel system to passenger rail?

    • Herbert

      For regional trains where speeds much above 160 km/h are overkill mixed operations won’t hurt capacity that much. But the high speed lines should be designed without freight as much as possible. Unless we find out a way to make high speed freight viable… Maybe a line from mango growing regions to mango consuming regions that gets those fruits there in a day or two?

      • adirondacker12800

        There aren’t enough mangos or other freight that is so time sensitive it needs overnight service.

          • adirondacker12800

            Because you can buy used planes cheap and airports already exist.

          • Herbert

            You can also buy used trains cheap and high speed rail lines in Europe already link plenty of places across pretty far distances…

          • Herbert

            There’s people who’re willing to pay the air freight premium for mangoes picked when ripe…

            I think the market for such fruit would expand of the ULD full of mangoes costs 90% less to get to the distribution center…

            There are mangoes from Israel in central European supermarkets. Turkey has HSR; the Balkan might conceivably get hsr with EU or Chinese funding… How to bridge the distance between Israel and Turkey? Well, stranger things have happened… Sadat went to Jerusalem to talk peace…

        • Sascha Claus

          There exist multiple companies/cooperations offering overnight parcel delivery throughout Germany, and certainly these exist in all other similarly sized European countries as well. Of course, you don’t need HSR to compete with this, just properly organized ordinary-speed rail.

          HSR freight, as alrady underway in Italy, would open a new market and poach from airfreight (just as passenger HSR did).

    • michaelrjames

      Should trucks be the primary method for making local deliveries, or do you think some rail based system should be used for that as well?

      The argument is totally redundant. A big case for building serious transit (and that doesn’t primarily mean buses though of coruse there is a role for them) is to make the existing roads serve those who really need to use them. The developed world doesn’t need to, and simply shouldn’t be building any new roads except the bare minimum to serve new housing etc. All highway doubling etc should stop as it is a wanton waste of money. Hong Kong is a city-state of almost 7 million which functions very well with one 50th the amount of roads of the US. OK, it is all city but it still demonstrates the principle is incontestable. Recently Orange County authorised a plan (bonds, sales taxes etc) to spend $50bn on roads which is seriously crazy, probably mostly on adding extra lanes (eg. $2bn on widening 16 miles of I-405 thru OC)!

      Paved road per capita:
      USA: 14.39km/1000 people
      Hong Kong: 0.277km/1000 people
      Singapore: 0.774km/1000 people
      Germany: 2.81km/1000 people

    • Sascha Claus

      Regional and intercity rail on legacy lines is unlikely to run more often than once or twice per hour, so dedicated freight will only be needed in or around cities with more frequent regional/suburban trains or on congested freight arteries (like Hamburg – Hanover).

      For the last mile, at first make freight trains competitive with lorries, by price (extremely high tolls) and/or by time. Then connect all these distribution centres in the outskirts to fast intercity freight, and then work on the last mile.

      If you start with the last mile, at least don’t try toylike stuff like delivering to shops by streetcar.

      • adirondacker12800

        Where are you going to put railroad tracks on every avenue in Manhattan? The freight line serving Manhattan was abandoned in 1980. The pretty park on some of it isn’t connected to the network anymore. Or a freight line to every big box store in suburbia?

      • Herbert

        Why is delivering to shops by light rail “toylike”?

        I think all the online commerce should force its customers to be the last mile… They can pick up their orders at delivery centers served by rail and urban rail and are informed via app that their purchase has arrived…

        • Andrew in Ezo

          As a matter of fact in Japan you can have your online purchase delivered to your local, within walking distance convenience store, and some railway stations in Tokyo have dedicated package lockers that can accommodate same.

        • Sascha Claus

          Delivering shops by tram/ light rail is toylike because it cannot work, because:
          • not all shops are on streets served by trams,
          • not all tramway tracks are suitable to unload cargo (think of green tracks with decorative shrubbery at the sides),
          • you have to finish all the unloading and loading (of waste, empty packaging or whatever) before the next tram comes, which would be less than ten minutes even on an infrequently used line. Then you have to get out of the way (Where? The nearest depot?) and return to serve the next shop. You could deliver a load per round that’d fit into a van.

          (Infrequently meaning the upper bound of headway that’s usually found on tramways.)

          But maybe there’s a working solution somewhere that made it past the great opening with all the media.

  9. Jonathan Salmans

    One difficulty about making transit planning decisions is that transit agencies typically do not have control over:
    1. land use decisions,
    2. street/road design and planning,
    3. taxes and fees applied to motor vehicles such as parking and registration fees and gasoline taxes.

    While I support upzoning, a cessation of construction on new regional freeways, and increased fees on car users, I don’t think it is politically realistic for there to be more than marginal changes in these areas in my city of Pittsburgh or most other American cities. In the absence of more enlightened policies policies in these areas, it often makes more sense to invest limited transit dollars in buses rather than rail.

    A good rail system is ideal, but I would rather have a good bus system and no rail system than a mediocre bus system and a mediocre rail system.

    The presence of a good bus system can also make it politically easier to upzone land and increase fees on cars because people would see that they have a viable alternative already.

    • Herbert

      What is “a good bus system”? like show me literally a single one.

      Trains get people out of cars. Buses serve the last mile at best and those with no alternative at worst.

      • Nilo

        Curitiba is the obvious answer. But even there the specific circumstances, a developing world city with a forward thinking mayor with larger amounts of power, but low levels of capital to build metro, leads to the conclusion that metro would have been built with more money.

        With that said there are college towns in the US with excellent bus systems. Ithaca, NY has more transit ridership per capita than NYC.

        • Herbert

          Curritiba is currently planning to build rail transit and its bus system is in crisis…

          • Nilo

            Yes it is building a metro, three decades after it build the bus system. The fact that maintenance issues and capital funding for buses have currently put the system into a state of crisis doesn’t mean the bus system wasn’t sound to build when it was built. You wouldn’t say the NYC Subway was a bad decision based on its issues now or in the 70s would you?

          • Herbert

            Buses have inherent disadvantages compared to rail. The crisis is linked to that more than penny pinching and a sloppy maintenance schedule as happened in New York City…

            For one, a bus has a much shorter service life than a train

          • michaelrjames

            As I understand it, Curitiba became a victim of its own success. Simply enough of the city residents became prosperous enough to no longer tolerate commuting by BRT thus ridership and income dropped. So yes the city wants to build Metro. As I have remarked on this blog many times, it turns out bus or BRT is not the least expensive form of public transit, like the politicians think, but often the most expensive because it can delay the need for proper transit (with full ROW) for many decades by which time the cost of building Metro has become extremely expensive. The problem, as I understand, with Curitiba’s BRT is that it doesn’t have ROW, at least not thru all the cross-streets; it possibly has prioritised traffic lights but that is not enough if you are going to replace it with light-rail.
            No one can blame Curitiba for this since it did close to the best it could at the time. Brisbane’s BRT has exclusive ROW (except at just a few points) and would be relatively easy to convert to light-rail and was apparently designed (maybe covertly by its engineer-designers) with that in mind. Of course it is a first-world city.

          • Herbert

            “BRT” in first world cities is stupid. Buses have low capital costs at first installment and high labor and replacement costs. With rail it’s the other way round.

            High income countries can get capital far cheaper than they can get labor

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert, 2019/09/21 – 07:15
            “BRT” in first world cities is stupid.

            Preaching to the converted. I even wrote a piece on how they should convert the BRT into a lightrail system (and complete it into a loop-it only needs a few km) and use the buses purely as feeders to it. But the politicians are apparently convinced the voters would hate being forced into a 2-seat ride! Instead they are spending $8bn (plus. ..) to build a cross-river tunnel to connect two parts of the suburban rail network (largely because the sole rail bridge has only two tracks). A fine example of Anglosphere advance transit planning …

          • Herbert

            The rail line connection Dresden Neustadt station and Dresden main station was reduced to a single track non electrified line by the Soviets (they took the extra tracks and catenary as reparations). It took a while of insanity operations before the east German government got around to fixing this mess…

          • Eric

            “Simply enough of the city residents became prosperous enough to no longer tolerate commuting by BRT ”

            “often the most expensive because it can delay the need for proper transit (with full ROW) for many decades by which time the cost of building Metro has become extremely expensive.”

            So you’re saying a city needs to build rail when it’s poor, not when it’s rich? That seems backwards. I would like some evidence that the increase in construction costs is worse to deal with than the poverty the region had at the beginning.

          • michaelrjames

            Eric wrote: So you’re saying a city needs to build rail when it’s poor, not when it’s rich?

            Nice job of selective quotation! You missed the bit where I agreed with Curitiba’s BRT plan all those decades ago, despite it hitting a wall, predictably. Likewise I agree with Herbert’s comment about BRT being inappropriate for first-world cities (like Brisbane). However, I would say Brisbane’s plan is worth thinking about for poorer cities, ie. building the BRT so it is compatible with later upgrading to lightrail with totally or mostly exclusive ROW. In cities like Curitiba or Bogota that are already very big, at the very least some planning should be done so future road building, underground utilities or other development cannot impede such future plans.

          • Tonami Playman

            It would be insightful to compare the results of the decisions of Medellin to go with Rail based metro in 1995 and Bogota to go BRT in 2000. Medellin was poorer than Bogota when they made that decision and still is today, yet they went with the more capital intensive option.

            While Medellin only has to increase train lengths and increase frequency to handle capacity issues. Bogota’s TransMillenio is driving deeper into public dissatisfaction surrounding overcrowding and buses breaking down.

            Indian cities had their moment flirting with BRT in the 2000s, but now all the major cities are on a metro building binge. Pakistan on the other hand is going BRT crazy right now with cities like Peshawar building a mostly elevated BRT that costs as much as a metro. Lahore already has a radial BRT, but is now building the second radial as a metro. Islamabad(a city that was designed around cars from scratch) built a circumferential BRT that nobody uses. It was modeled after the Istanbul Metrobus BRT, but the planners ignored the fact that Istanbul already had an extensive rail metro network and built the BRT to complement it serving a similar purpose to Parisian tramways.

            All these cities are fast developing and have a population of over 2million. It’s safe to suggest that any developing city with such a population should skip the illusion of cost savings with BRT and go with a full metro from the get go. Yet you have Dar es Salaam ( a city of 4million plus population) in Tanzania is picking BRT over metro on costs ground to gain public approval, when in fact the system will start running out of capacity pretty quickly.

            Their neighbor Nairobi is always looking for quick fixes and also jumping on the BRT bandwagon. These cities are already Large and still growing at a rapid pace. BRT is not going to cut it in terms of tackling traffic issues.

          • Herbert

            Addis Ababa famously went with Chinese supplied Light Rail. Unfortunately line one neither links the airport nor the intercity train station, making it rather uninteresting for tourists. I’ve heard/read some western pieces extolling its virtues tho…

          • michaelrjames

            Many of these developing-world infrastructure projects are advised by, and partly funded by, the World Bank and IMF etc. They are run by econocrats who know how to do maths on simple stuff on a spreadsheet but completely unable and untrained for any actual longer term thinking, or working knowledge of transport systems. (Though let’s not omit the first-world because this is pretty much how it operates in NYC-MTA, or even London.) In fact most BRT in developing countries, especially the likes of India and Pakistan will fail because it is impossible to either create the ROW on existing hyper-congested surface roads or then impose discipline on their use. The notional cost savings are totally bogus. Hence why my earlier post that buses end up being the most expensive option because they’ve wasted decades of time and money, and political capital, on a non-solution. Of course the econocrats who insisted on it, and made their funding grants conditional on it, have long moved on to some other position of influence.

          • Herbert

            All you need to know about the world bank is that they told Japan to reduce the speed of the Shinkansen as a precondition for their loan…

          • michaelrjames

            All you need to know about the world bank is that they told Japan to reduce the speed of the Shinkansen as a precondition for their loan…

            Turns out it was a bit more nuanced than that. I’ve cited this before:
            From page 24 of Shinkansen by Christopher P. Hood, 2006.

            Many compared the construction of the Tõkaidõ Shinkansen to the Great Wall of China and the Battleship Yamato as being a white elephant, and it was a considerable political risk to back the project (Hosokawa 1997:5; Kasai 2003:8, 14; Yamanouchi 2002:30). Sogõ [Sogõ Shinji; president of JNR] had always worked on this assumption and devised a plan to make it almost impossible for the government to withdraw its support, once given. Central to Sogõ’s strategy was the use of a loan from the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (‘World Bank’). This was apparently an idea put to him by future Prime Minister and then Minister of Finance, Satõ Eisaku, who had previously worked under Sogõ in the Railway Ministry. With the successful application for a $80 million loan (estimated to be no more than 15% of the cost of the line (Yamanouchi 2000:111)) in place, it ensured that the Japanese government had to remain committed to the project. At the same time Sogõ, who had deliberately kept estimated cost figures of the Tõkaidõ Shinkansen low for fear that if they were too high neither the Japanese government nor the World Bank would have supported the proposal, began to divert money from other JNR projects to the construction of the shinkansen. This was possible as once JNR’s total budget had been approved by the Diet, the JNR President had ‘discretionary authority’ over how to spend it (Kasai 2003:15).
            It was not only the costing figures that Sogõ kept down. Concerned that a proposal for a 250 km/h train, as was being designed, would be met with disbelief and distain, the maximum proposed speed for the shinkansen was kept to 200 km/h (Semmens 2000:7-8). Sogõ also managed to circumnavigate opponents within JNR who planned to use the Council of Railway construction, an advisory body to the Minister of Transport to determine the approval of newlines by ‘arguing successfully that the Tõkaidõ Shinkansen was not a new line but the expansion of the existing Tõkaidõ Line to quadruple-track’ (Kasai 2003:15, emphasis added).

          • Tonami Playman

            Addis Ababa is poster child of adopting an underbuilt system. They went with light rail instead of full metro for a fast growing city of 4.5 million. The system is plagued with severe overcrowding and bogies constantly failing due to not being designed for the high weight they carry regularly. The LRVs break down and sit idle for months as they wait for spare parts from China. This limits the available vehicles for a reliable frequency further exacerbating the overcrowding problem.

            Frequency is supposed 10 mins peak and 20mins off peak, but it’s not uncommon for riders to experience frequencies of 30mins. The LRVs are coupled pair of 27m long for a total train length of 54m. The platforms are 60m long. Each 30m long consist is rated for 286 passengers for a total of 572 per train. That’s 5,720pph at 10min intervals and 17,160pph at 2min intervals not even close to being adequate for a city of its size.

            Then there’s the issue of multiple level crossings and interlining. Only 5.5km of the total 31.6km line is grade separated. Both the North south Blue line and the East West Green line share tracks for 2.7km in the core.

            For comparison Medellin built a metro with platform lengths of 150m and the city is currently at 3.7million.

            The bad planning is highlighted in this quote below from a gulfnews article.

            Elias Kassa, a professor of railway science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said planners had [b]failed to integrate the new light rail with the pre-existing bus system[/b]. [/quote]

            And below another quote that highlights the fact that the planners who are part of the Elite don’t wish to use the system. They would drive everywhere while the poor people it was designed for would deal with all it’s flaws.

            The goal was to alleviate shortage of transport system, [b]mainly for people of lower income,[/b]” Kassa said. “If you think of that, I’d say it has obtained the goal, not fully, but to some extent.[/quote]

          • Herbert

            The alternative “full flesh subway of equal length” wasn’t really on the table, was it?

            Of course not having enough vehicles is… Uh… Unfortunate. And I think this should be addressed post haste

          • Alon Levy

            Isn’t the light rail system actually 100% grade-separated, making it a misnamed rapid transit system?

            But yes, the third world has severe problems with electronics, to the point that a concrete-before-electronics approach makes sense. So in Addis they can only run trains every 10 minutes, in Mumbai every 4 minutes, and in Shanghai every 3 minutes, and meanwhile the European megacities run trains every 1.5 minutes. (Interestingly, China still lags Russia on this despite being almost as rich and having a bigger technological industrial base.)

          • Herbert

            All the electronics in the world won’t fix cost cutting bean counting stupidity like the three minute long single track stretch between U2 Nuremberg stops airport and Ziegelstein, leading to ten minute headways…

            Maybe the money really wasn’t there in 1999 to build two tracks or a passing loop. But the money must’ve been available since…

          • adirondacker12800

            All you need to know about the world bank is that they told Japan to reduce the speed of the Shinkansen as a precondition for their loan…

            That was well over 50 years ago. The people who made those decisions are dead or retired.

          • michaelrjames

            That was well over 50 years ago. The people who made those decisions are dead or retired.

            … or they are writing books or working as consultants …
            I have the recent book, “Order without Design” by Alain Bertaud who spent most of his life with the World Bank advising on developing-world infrastructure and development projects. From the blurb:

            Bertaud explains that markets provide the indispensable mechanism for cities’ development. He cites the experience of cities without markets for land or labor in pre-reform China and Russia; this “urban planners’ dream” created inefficiencies and waste. Drawing on five decades of urban planning experience in forty cities around the world, Bertaud links cities’ productivity to the size of their labor markets;

            So, his approach appears to be purely Hayekian (and described as this in reviews; a big fan is Ed Glaeser). The thing is that many of the basic principles appear more or less innocuous or obvious, yet the conclusions are often toxic. Bertaud was French and a Parisian, so I was interested to read what he wrote about Paris, it being notoriously “planned” by Kings, Emperors and their henchmen like Haussmann, Belgrand et al, and right up to today’s grand urbanists running Grand Paris Express (GPX) and Métropole Grand Paris etc. It turns out, after a few thousand words on why all the imposed top-down planning should be a disaster he admits it isn’t, and that, in a act of handwaving, it works quite well! (I’m not at home or else I would burden you and Alon and Herbert with some citations from the book.)
            The paradox is that there are plenty of poor or misguided plans, but I have struggled to read much of the book as he draws a very long bow from tenuous, or perhaps glaringly obvious, first principles. There are good plans and bad plans, and my argument is that we today have plenty of evidence upon which to base our future plans. (It’s kinda what I was hoping from the book, only to be disappointed.) And I don’t think any of it leads one to believe that ‘unplanned’ leads to better outcomes. Including plenty of evidence that shows imposition of market fundamentalism has been more toxic than beneficial. Yet he treats the authoritarian (mostly Soviet) blunders as if only he or his fellow Hayekians have recognised this. And ignores the real-world improvements in millions of people’s living conditions by those now-reviled plans such as Khrushchevkas (in fact, displacing Stalinist failures), Hong Kong and Singapore’s public housing successes, and even the awful tenements of post-war Paris, London, Berlin, US etc. There is zero evidence that the free market was going to solve those problems just as we repeat the same errors today, ie. leaving it to the free market.

            He ignores the contrary evidence that a free market leads to well-functioning cities; I mean Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Jakarta, Lagos are a few examples of the misery inflicted on countless millions by giving the market dominance (by default).
            In fact at various points you would have had to have included Paris (London, NYC etc) in that list. He ignores (while actually describing the process!) that Haussmann rescued Paris from almost certain calamity and economic decline by imposing coherent plans for transport, water, sewers and building regulations, modern public parks etc. He also gets it wrong by ignoring the fact that the city of Paris provides this excellent (he agrees) urbanity to more people (in the given area) than anywhere else on the planet. I really think he should have taken lessons from his own chapter on Paris and applied it to the rest of his book. Instead he seems to have justified dismissing it as some sort of freakish aberration, though TBH I haven’t quite worked out his logic.

          • Alon Levy

            In Mumbai the inhuman levels of overcrowding are caused by severe restrictions on construction – the maximum floor area ratio (floor space index in Indian English, or FSI) was 1.33 throughout the city until last year. Euroblocks are built to FAR of about 3, and in Paris the maximum FAR is 3 in the suburbs and higher, maybe 4-5, intra muros.

          • michaelrjames

            As it happens I just finished the Mumbai chapter in Florian Urban’s book (Tower & Slab) where he discusses that. But of course corruption is pervasive and at the top of the list are property developers. Higher FSI are awarded in areas where they wish to build high-rise; and Urban explains that in India it is inverted in that the rich or upper-middle classes live exclusively in high-rise and the poor live in low-rise (4 to 6 floors) Chawls or their modern equivalent, or in single-level hovels. He describes the TDR (Transferable Development Rights) which are used to build the luxe high-rise by the developers buying/consolidating them for their projects, though really I couldn’t quite reconcile the results: his example is the twin 50 storey towers of The Imperial (with 9 levels of basement parking). It also demonstrates another mostly Indian peculiarity, luxe-apartments surrounded, cheek-by-jowl, by “severe austere six-storey concrete blocks to house the 2,500 families that used to live in self-built huts on the plot” (and who provided the labour force to build it all, and all the services that the rich occupants can afford*). The worst aspect of many of these low-rise dwellings is that they are “zero amenities”, ie. no running water and often no power!
            Meanwhile Mumbai has the world’s most expensive house (guestimated at US$1bn), the 27-storey Atilia with its three helipads, swimming pools, ice-rooms etc but with only 6 permanent occupants, the family of Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man. Eat your heart out, Donald Trump.

            Since we have been discussing it here, he describes the rather strange projects of the World Bank who have built 85,000 dwellings for the poorest since 1985, but they are one storey abodes that are an incredibly inefficient use of extremely valuable land (Mumbai being enclosed by water) and although they are better than the shanty slums the inhabitants came from, they don’t look much different.

            But the main issue in India is that the vast majority of people have zero assets and zero income beyond subsistence, with Mumbai being just a bit better. In these World Bank projects this has the unintended consequence that over time these very poor get displaced by wealthier people because these homes are the poor’s only asset and thus they often are forced into trading them or cashing them in, and going back to a slum.
            *The same thing happened in Brasilia if more spaced out: how huge armies of cheap labour were deployed in building the central part of Brasilia, the tower & slab capital of the world according to F. Urban. This workforce created their own “illegal” transient towns surrounding the site that inevitably became permanent and eventually many being granted legal status. Others were declared as squatters and subject to Campanha de Erradicacao de Invasives (CEI) which lives on in the name of one of the biggest satellite towns: Ceilandia (340,000 residents)!
            Far more people now live in these unplanned satellite towns than in Brasilia proper. Florian Urban tells the amusing story of Simone Beauvoir and J-P Sartre attending some official opening of Brasilia and finding it a dead zone, until taken to one of these satellites where there were jazz and samba clubs, bars etc!

          • michaelrjames

            Alon Levy, 2019/09/24 – 03:41
            In Mumbai the inhuman levels of overcrowding …

            I wouldn’t dispute that claim but point out that it is almost entirely because a lot (the poor) live in single-level hovels. As it happens the population of metro Mumbai is almost identical to greater Paris (both ≈12.4m; Greater Mumbai has >20m people) and this means Mumbai metro has a density of 21,000/km2 which is less than intramuros-Paris. So both you and I have lived like your average Mumbai resident! No, of course not. These two are not comparable because only 2.3m Parisians live in those densities and they live in 6-8 floor apartments.

          • adirondacker12800

            The internet is surprisingly light on his details. Was he still going through puberty when the World Bank made decisions about the plans the Japanese were making. Or even younger?

          • Eric

            Looks to me (from OpenStreetMap) that the large majority of Addis Ababa’s system has a separate ROW. Much of it is in the median of the roads, but those roads can only be crossed at overpasses. I only see a handful of grade crossings. So can’t they just fence off the tracks (to prevent pedestrian intrusions) making it fully grade separated, and lengthen the platforms and buy new longer trains, and they have a full metro? As for the interlining, they need to build more so that the branches become separate lines – but even with interlining, they should be able to get 4 minute headways on the branches.

            “They would drive everywhere while the poor people it was designed for would deal with all it’s flaws.”

            Incorrect, that quote is saying that poor people who didn’t have transit options will now have transit options. The poor people weren’t driving before the light rail, so the creation of a transit option does nothing to decrease traffic.

          • Herbert

            I think driving isn’t particularly desirable for anybody in Addis Ababa.

            And unlike the rulers of Managua, they didn’t think “subsidizing taxis” was the answer

          • Eric

            “this means Mumbai metro has a density of 21,000/km2 which is less than intramuros-Paris”

            Incorrect, Paris is 20,000/km2 which is a bit lower. Also, Mumbai has a much higher proportion of uninhabited land (industrial and natural areas) so the inhabited part of Mumbai is much denser than the inhabited part of Paris.

            And like Alon said, the problem in Mumbai is not the market, it’s the absence of market, which prevents most people (except the well-connected elite you mention) from building to height. Fix that, and Mumbai’s population would vastly increase (a good thing in human or economic terms, but quite the challenge for infrastructure planners…)

          • Yom Sen


            You’re reffering to the city of Paris (closer to 21,000/km2 actually). Michael wrote Paris “intra-muros” that should exclude the 2 woods of Boulogne and Vincennes which are “extra-muros” (outside the walls, the modern wall being the boulevard périphérique), 2,206,000 for 87km2, so around 25,000/km2
            To be fair, we should compare Paris not to the whole city of Mumbai but only South Mumbai: 3,145,000 people in 67.7km2 which gives a much higher density of 46,000/km2

          • Tonami Playman

            The grade crossing issue can be easily fixed. There are 3 crossings within a 5km stretch on the eastern branch and another 3 within a 7km stretch on the southern branch. Platforms can also be lengthened, but they also need to be raised as they are low platforms at the moment using low floor tram rolling stock. I don’t know how much those modifications would cost. The current 31.6km system was built for roughly $15 million/km. The speed will still be slow as the average interstation spacing is 750m.

            I hear rumors of plans to built a full metro separate, but adjacent to the existing light rail. Shanghai Metro is the current operator of the light rail, but they have their work cut out especially regarding fare evasion. It’s a Prove of payment system with tickets purchased from special designated ticket booths sometimes no where close to the station or the platforms. It’s estimated that 2/3rd of the riders are non paying.

          • Tonami Playman

            Micheal James said
            [QUOTE] Florian Urban tells the amusing story of Simone Beauvoir and J-P Sartre attending some official opening of Brasilia and finding it a dead zone, until taken to one of these satellites where there were jazz and samba clubs, bars etc! [/QUOTE]

            That describes Abuja in Nigeria today. Not surprising since Abuja was built on a similar premise as Brasilia. The recently completed airport rail link in the city is an even bigger mess. At least in Addis Ababa, people use the light rail carrying 200,000 riders daily. Abuja built a 51km of rail line connecting the airport and mostly empty terrain to the CBD for $850million. They currently run airport shuttles three times a day from the CBD station using EMUs pulled by a diesel locomotive because the line is not yet electrified. Despite the line having 10 stations, only 2 stations are currently being utilized (Abuja Station and Airport Station). They have reserved ROW to build a city wide rail network, but chose to build an airport connector first instead of serving the population.

            Another blunder in Addis Ababa is the location of the Mainline train station. it’s far outside the city in an undeveloped area roughly 11km from the city center as the crow flies. Meanwhile the airport is only 6km away. Phase 2 of their transit master plan should connect the train station, but locating so far away will ensure that it’s never fully utilized.

          • Herbert

            That’s fixable… Shut down the airport and build a new one forty miles out…

          • Eric

            “Platforms can also be lengthened, but they also need to be raised as they are low platforms at the moment using low floor tram rolling stock.”

            Is there a reason that low floor trams cannot work for metro trains? Surely you just connect a string of trams and you have a metro train?

            Is the issue just that low platforms encourage passengers to walk on the tracks and this creates a constant challenge to reliability?

          • Tonami Playman

            The only reason I can think of is flexibility in vendor choice as I don’t know of any heavy rail metro that uses floor heights as low as the 350mm currently used in Addis Ababa. Even Stadler FLIRTs only go as low as 570mm IIRC. Chaining more tram cars together does not have sufficient capacity. The track center spacing of the route is around 4.5m. so enough rough to accommodate wider 3m rolling stock instead of 2.65m. Also avoiding connecting trams together will create more room for passengers as you don’t have redundant driver cabs in between every coupling along the train length. So you have cabs only at the opposing ends.

          • Herbert

            At speeds much in excess of 70 km/h high floor is a smoother ride…

            Other than that, there’s no good reason to raise the platform height or replace catenary with third rail.

            And whichever the downsides of the light rail system that did get built… Looking at other countries in the region the alternative wouldn’t have been some utopia but zero build…

    • Mike Whelan

      I think you’re being too pessimistic on land use and street design. Minneapolis and the whole state of Oregon abolished single-family zoning this year. Parking minimum requirements have been abolished in Hartford and other cities are moving in that direction. New York is considering congestion pricing. We still have a very VERY long way to go but I actually think it is politically realistic to get these changes in American cities – it just requires local champions.

  10. Ben Ross

    I have a semi-contrarian take on park-and-ride. It’s essential for the transition to transit-oriented urbanism in US cities that have parking lots (or even above-ground garages) downtown. You need to replace the downtown parking lots with buildings. But many of the people who parked on the downtown lots live in transit-inaccessible places. (Especially because a city in this phase has at most a few rail lines.) So you need a place for them to park near transit when they can’t park downtown.

    Parking lots around suburban rail station fulfill this function. And urban development on them is not usually an alternative – it’s more profitable to build on a downtown parking lot than on a parking lot next to a suburban rail station.

    Once you’ve run out of above-ground parking downtown, then you have those parking lots near the suburban stations all cleared to build on. That’s the stage the Washington area reached 15 or 20 years ago. LA is somewhere near it now. But most US cities building transit post-1970 haven’t reached it yet.

      • Nilo

        Vancouver also never had highways built into the center. Both DC and LA have those right now, and had them when they started building rail systems. DC metro’s issues seem to stem from three issues it seems.
        1. Operational and maintenance incompetence on the trains
        2. Operational and maintenance incompetence on the buses
        3. Terrible land use outside the the immediate DC core and the Arlington County Orange Line. Arlington was pretty restrictive about what land it let be redeveloped, but places like Bethesda were even more so, and saw far less development due to that.

    • Ross Bleakney

      Park and Ride lots should be small. Those that are very popular should charge money, and fund better connecting bus service as well as cheap, satellite park and ride lots. The problem with many agencies (like those in Seattle, where I’m writing this) is that they fall in love with the park and ride system. They don’t want to charge money to park there (lest they upset existing users, and lose ridership) so they build them bigger. So instead of a cheap lot (that cost little when built) they spend a bundle building giant garages. Riders are worse off. They still have to drive to the big park and ride, which typically is close to a freeway. So now they deal with some congestion getting there, and lots of congestion while there (similar to airport parking). Riders end up walking further than they would if they simply walked to a nearby bus stop, let alone drove to a small “neighborhood” park and ride (by neighborhood I mean something a few blocks away). Of course it would be better if it was a true urban environment, or even a nice old suburban one, with a regular grid. But much of North America is stuck with the cul-de-sac development patterns, and the best we can hope for is decent connecting service that either requires a drive to a small park and ride lot, or a schlep for the bulk of transit users.

      • Ben Ross

        In the DC area, park-and-ride at Metro charges around $5 a day for parking. (Varies somewhat by location, to draw drivers to stations where parking doesn’t fill up.) Bus-served park-and-rides farther out, beyond the end of Metro are free.

  11. Adam

    What about bus lanes everywhere all the time?

    Virtually all of Los Angeles’ street arterials are coated in street curb parking lanes, on Sunset Blvd, for example, there’s about 680 street parking spaces (per direction) and the buses serving Sunset blvd transport 26,000 people a day. If politicians decided to prioritize the 26,000 bus riders over the 3000 people per day using the parking spaces, you could have a Bus Only Lane that could run much more frequent buses, frequency would increase ridership and decrease congestion and the existence of the lane would further decrease congestion in the auto lanes (in part by eliminating all the people disrupting traffic flow by hunting for a street curb parking space or entering traffic flow from a street curb parking space).

    Make the bus lanes permanent in all 24 hours, if that’s not tenable, invert the bus lane hours. Currently Los Angeles bus lanes are only active during two rush hour periods, 700-900 and 1500-1800, Why not make the bus lane active from 1500–>900 instead?

    Do bus lanes everywhere in all of los angeles and you incur a few million in paint costs, but potentially solve a lot of congestion problems while providing better transit for the users and enticing more users.

    Los Angeles recently had vastly superior bus service, because they were forced to provide a certain level-of-service under a consent decree as part of a court settlement. Once the consent decree expired, Los Angeles Metro’s non-rider leadership began enthusiastically and gleefully slashing service levels way below the level-of-service that had sustained high and growing ridership for two decades. Around the same time, new laws made it much easier to get a driver’s license, and thus reduced barriers to driving. The combination has led to a massive collapse in LA transit use far outpacing national trends, and that collapse has led to a negative feedback loop in which the non-rider metro leadership is even more gleefully slashing service levels in response to falling ridership, this time around, given the success of the last time, they’re slashing train level of service as well.

    Since the non rider metro leadership’s contractor buddies get 500 million per mile at grade light rail contracts, everyone that “matters” is thoroughly pleased with the current situation and hoping they can escalate on it.

      • rational plan

        It is, if every bus has a camera at the front recording who is blocking the bus lane. Get stung a couple of times with fines and you soon stay out of the bus lane. But oh no we can’t enforce any laws against drivers it’s unpopular, well in the US anyway.

        • Herbert

          Can’t run a populist campaign against 75% of the population, can you now?

          I wonder, does hyper local power harm or help cars? Because you can get hyper local pockets that are anti car and if you give them the teeth, they can make anti car legislation…

          • Alon Levy

            Generally hyperlocalism is bad for transit, because transit requires more integration between different governments. The sort of bullshit happening in Chicago right now, where the city won’t help equalize fares on the L and Metra because why should the city subsidize a county agency? constantly fucks up transit but isn’t really a big deal for highway networks.

          • Herbert

            Hyper centralist France Spain and England shut down all but a combined half dozen of their tramway networks.

            Hyper local Germany kept many of them alive…

          • Alon Levy

            Mostly as Stadtbahn networks – not as pure Strassenbahnen, except in the East.

            And England didn’t really have tramway networks, did it? Its urban rail was rapid transit from the start, both steam mainline railways and semi-separate railways like the Tube or that weird el in Liverpool.

    • Alon Levy

      Bus lanes are really useful and also not adequate to move LA from the “no transit” category even to the “bad transit” category of Chicago or Boston or San Francisco. Very roughly, the elasticity of bus ridership with respect to door-to-door travel time, with waiting and walking time weighted twice as much as in-vehicle time, is -0.8. So if bus lanes slash trip times by 20%, and let’s say that frequency boosts cut wait + walk time by the same amount, you’re only getting a 20% increase in ridership, as 0.8^(-0.8) = 1.195.

      • Herbert

        Well a ridership increase even if small can self multiply over time… Certainly it’s better than nothing and bus lanes are financially cheap…

      • df1982

        England had a huge number of tramway networks. Virtually every significant town had them. But they transitioned to buses early, starting in the 1930s. London was peculiar in that central London was banned from having tramways, so they ran in the suburbs and then stopped at the perimeter of the city centre, where people had to change to buses or the tube.

  12. anonymouse observer

    Nagoya and Seoul comes to my mind as only (somewhat-) working cars-and-trains urbanism where there is a decent network rail and transit in car-centric environment. Both cities have network of 5+ lane wide boulevard in central city and well-developed expressway network connecting major secondary centers as well as well-functioning subway/metro and regional rail system.

    What is your take on this?

    • Andrew in Ezo

      Good point and something I’d like to see discussed more. Too often Tokyo is held up as the sole example in Japan, when in fact it’s a singular example, and there are many other regional cities which may prove more relevant in comparative exercises- Osaka, the aforementioned Nagoya, and Fukuoka- this last one having a bus system (Nishitetsu Bus) which has the highest bus ridership in the nation.

  13. LeeEsq

    How do you get trains only urbanism implemented when the political constituency for it is extraordinary small in the United States at least? Most Americans live in very car dependent places and see the personal vehicle as their preferred way to get around. NIMBYs aren’t going to really allow the sort of TOD development that will allow trains only urbanism to thrive. Most of the transit activists are focussed on busses for a variety of reasons. It seems that trains only urbanism is the type of policy that needs to be imposed from above and despite what the citizenry wants rather than from below.

    • Alon Levy

      A couple points:

      1. In Canada they have zones of peds-and-trains urbanism, like the inner parts of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Those are popular. The main barrier to completing the Broadway subway to UBC isn’t West Side NIMBYs but construction costs.

      2. The majority of New York households do not own cars. Subway expansion is broadly popular, and there are few demands for park-and-rides. The barrier is again construction costs.

      3. Urban upzoning is popular if you ask elected representatives directly, e.g. through voting on the state legislative floor. The barrier is localism: if you ask a local notable, such as a district rep or a community board, about a specific project, the answer will be either no or yes with so many caveats and demands it might as well be no. The elected governments of Sweden, Japan, and France permit rapid housing construction, as do those of Canadian provinces. American governments with various forms of councilmanic privilege do not. In California what sank SB 50 was a committee chair who wasn’t even supposed to have authority over the bill – the bill had the votes on the floor, and CA YIMBY believes that it can win a referendum if it manages to gather enough signatures for one.

  14. Pingback: Outlying S-Bahn Tunnels | Pedestrian Observations
  15. Pingback: Berlin’s U-Bahn Expansion Plan | Pedestrian Observations

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