Category Archives: light rail

Light Rail Doesn’t Work Here

From North Carolina to California our highways are over capacity and grid-locked.  How did this happen?  The short answer is that, historically, our city councils and town boards have ignored long term road and infrastructure planning while rabidly approving sprawling development. Roads to these communities quickly become parking lots for thousands of frustrated commuters.

I live along one of those overburdened roadways and we are all screaming for relief!  In response, our development-friendly city council realized that they must at least make a token effort to address the associated traffic problems. Their first step is to propose “the plan” for a fix, a light rail system.

Step two is soliciting public comments on their we-know-best proposed transit plan.  It always amazes me how many intelligent experts are part of our community offering innovative, visionary advice—engineers, scientists, statisticians, health care professionals, urban planners, economists, scholars, and most importantly people who care.  But anyone who has participated in these public forums realizes that even the best suggestions are  ignored.

Predictably, our City Council voted to adopt their original doesn’t-help-anything plan to build a 17-mile light rail system, the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Plan (DOLRT), despite overwhelming logical objections.

So, what’s wrong with this plan?

  • There will be over 40 at-grade crossings creating traffic backups, accidents, and air pollution
  • It doesn’t go to popular destinations like: Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Research Triangle Park (main employment center) and Chatham Park (new population center).
  • Route selection and station locations were dictated by politics.
  • Many of the proposed train stations are linked to more development in a transit corridor that reached over capacity for it’s roads, schools and infrastructure years ago.
  • DOLRT only serves a small corner of our area.  Most of our residents won’t benefit, yet they will be paying the cost.
  • Our neighbor, Wake County, listened to professional planners opting against light rail and went with other solutions like less costly Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will serve more people with flexibility and funding for future population shifts
  • As projected ridership numbers affirm, it won’t make a significant difference in getting cars off the road and may add to the congestion with commuters driving to train stations
  • The 2012 allocated sales tax funds were for mass transit and not exclusively tied to light rail.
  • Presently, the ever-rising estimated cost is over 2.4 billion dollars to build and 29 million annually to maintain with loan payments extending beyond 2050.
  • Sources of funding are questionable relying on cash strapped federal, state, and local government sources—MORE TAXES!
  • It will consume our whole transportation budget taking money away from existing and future transportation options like bus service, bicycle paths and greenways that would get more cars off the road.
  • The first passenger won’t ride until 2028. Until then, we’ll be funding a bad plan and it may be obsolete by 2028 because of shifting population density and ever-changing technology.
  • More, more, more….

Of all these problems I am most bothered by the cost and the dated train model.  We desperately need solutions to our traffic problems, but we should be moving forward instead of back to railroad tracks and tethered electric trains.  A lot of alternative, innovative solutions that will better relieve our traffic mess without bankrupting our transportation budget are available NOW like: BRT buses, a network of protected bike lanes, driverless cars and trucks, and drones capable of transport.light rail and flying pod cartoon

If we make wise transportation choices now, we’ll be able to afford all the latest and greatest transportation technology that will eventually make gridlock just a memory.  My preference would be to fly with the Jetsons as opposed to riding with Fred and Barney.

Light Rail has to fit!

Staying with my daughter in Santa Monica (SM), California–walk out the door three blocks, hop on the train and get off at the iconic Santa Monica pier and on to the beach.  That’s the way light rail should work, getting people out of their cars and taking them to the places they want to be.  I really looked forward to this ride since I have been opposed to the proposed Durham-Orange light rail (D-O LRT) from Durham to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Confused?  How can I be for a train in Santa Monica and opposed to my home town train?  The simple answer is that one fits and benefits the community and the other is a politically influenced plan that doesn’t fit in a sprawled community.  The cost to build the SM light rail is about the same as the proposed D-O LRT but that’s where the similarities end.

The Santa Monica Metro Expo Line was designed as an integrated system of buses, protected bike lanes, and walkways to bring riders to the train while the D-O LRT model just focuses on locating tracks wherever the least resistance allows.  Santa Monica has built well marked, protected bike lanes for an easier and safer bike commute to the rail stations so you can pedal right up to the train, walk your bike aboard and off to your chosen destination.  For those choosing not to walk or bike, an efficient system of buses can get you to any of the SM train terminals.  The $1.75 one-way cost (discounted for seniors and students) can buy you a ride to the beach or shopping and business districts in Santa Monica or Los Angeles.  My grandkids can even take the train to school.  Quoting a passenger on the Santa Monica Metro, “I love this train. It actually goes somewhere”.  If you hop on the proposed D-O LRT you will be able to travel 17 miles from Duke Hospital in Durham to UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill stopping at 17 mostly who needs to go here? stations.  The whole D-O LRT plan seems to be more of an excuse for squeezing in more development in existing, over-congested areas than a logical solution to traffic problems using all transportation options.

Santa Monica is an urban area 5 times denser in population than the Durham/Chapel Hill area so many more can leave their cars parked and walk to any of the Metro stations. Any mode of mass transit has to be convenient and easy to use to get Americans out of their cars. The D-O LRT plan with limited station parking and stations located in sparsely populated areas fails on both the convenience and ease of use tests so most potential riders will probably just stay in their cars.  On the positive side, those hearty Carolina commuters within walking distance of a rail station who withstand the uncomfortable, sweat-soaked odyssey in the sunny, hot, humid Carolina summers will probably be rewarded with their choice of seats.
D-O LRT cartoon

I am proud to be the owner of a Santa Monica Metro tap card that I can use to ride trains to the beach or shopping and a supporter of any practical mass transit plan that provides solutions to our overly congested roads and transportation needs.  Good transportation solutions should be customized to meet the unique needs of the community, without political interference, and all options should be considered.

Planning, building, and maintaining any kind of mass transit is expensive tap cardwith payback being measured in use rather than dollars so it’s important that a community takes the time to get it right.  Congratulations to Santa Monica and provisional congratulations to the officials planning the D-O LRT IF they revise their plan and get it right so I can get out of my car and take a fast train in Santa Monica or a fast bus in Durham to “somewhere”.

You can get more info:

Santa Monica Expo 

North Carolina D-O LRT