Here’s an interesting argument, regarding transit service in Vancouver, BC:
The planned SkyTrain subway spur along Broadway and out to the University of British Columbia campus will cost taxpayers 15 times what it would take to build a tram line along the same route.
In fact, for the $2.8 billion cost of the single 12 kilometre SkyTrain tube from Commercial Drive to UBC, Vancouver could build 175 km of tram lines crisscrossing the city and beyond.
That doesn’t make the subway sound very good. But I’m sure the subway proponents have solid arguments in their favor as well.
For whatever reason, I’m always fascinated by comparisons of different transit modes—bus vs. train vs. streetcar vs. you name it. There are such diverging views on costs, on benefits to neighborhoods, on greenhouse gas impacts, on energy independence, and so forth. The issues are truly crucial—and given the mammoth cost of transportation investments, as well as their permanence, it’s vitally important to get them right.
But at the same time, I also find arguments over transit modes strangely dispiriting. They always seem to split apart natural allies. And they can get so personal and vituperative, with advocates of different modes not just arguing passionately about their beliefs, but sometimes even accusing others of arguing in bad faith.
That’s not at all what’s happening in this article—which is defintely worth a read. Still, I hope that the fight over subway vs. tram doesn’t degenerate into a shouting match among transit advocates that diverts attention from the real threats to their common goals—such as a massive proposed expansion in Greater Vancouver’s highway system.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user kootenayvolcano under a Creative Commons license. [It’s a SkyTrain station, by the way.]
I couldn’t agree with you more. I used to live in Seattle, and am now in California, where progressives (in both LA and SF Bay) have taken sides in a bus vs. trains battle that I find counterproductive. I can’t help but think that the poor and transit dependent populations that groups like the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles claim to represent wouldn’t be better served by advocacy at the regional, state and federal levels for diversion of highway funding to public transit so that we can expand rail AND bus service where they are needed most. How about a civil rights case against the USDOT for their discriminatory policy of providing 80% matching funds for highway projects vs. only 20% to 40% for transit?
The main problem I see is that the provincial government is always meddling in transportation planning, insisting on ramming through expensive megaprojects (where more cost-effective alternatives exist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_Line#Controversies) or grandiose schemes (http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/Transit_Plan/index.html) to score brownie points. This comes at the expense of providing POTS to areas that are poorly served.The expense of the aforementioned, in addition to the provincial government’s insistence on proceeding with their highway expansion plans (actively being opposed by http://www.stopgateway.ca/) that don’t take peak oil and global warming into consideration, means the communities south and east of Vancouver will not have convenient mobility options to cars in decades. How will B.C. achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets when 40% of emissions in the Lower Mainland come from transportation?The debate over modes can degenerate to a point where the big picture is lost. This is what Condon laments:”The conversation spawned by our report… has beeninteresting to me, and new ideas generated. I have found itparticularly difficult to explain how important I think this issue isbecause it is multifaceted. The Tram is not explainable in terms ofits transportation function alone – and this is the problem.Discussion quickly moves to how good a system it is or isn’t vs othersystems. This separates a transportation question from the fabric ofthe larger question, which is how do we make sustainabile cities. Ifear that the complexity of the question makes it difficult to hold inmind when thinking about one or another element of the sustainablecity question, be it affordable housing, greenhouse gas,transportation, or social equity.”$200/barrel oil may save us from this folly.
Seattle should take a lesson from the controversy. Surely, the subway’s most enthusiastic advocates are University of British Columbia interests. So too, Seattle is planning a subway to serve University of Washington interests at great expense and despite evidence that light rail expansion would be more productive in other areas. Seattle’s initial line to Seatac is woefully inadequate. An extension south to Burien or Federal Way, and a spur to Southcenter (even to Renton) would generate more ridership on the south segment of Link LRT than the subway extension to UW. Also, the proposed light rail line east on I-90 through Bellevue to Redmond will surely help alleviate traffic congestion when Seattle reconstructs the SR520 Floating Bridge. Vancouver has an admirable trolleybus route to UBC, long stretches along almost country-like settings. There’s a turnaround at the campus with (I think) three trolleybus queue’s. Also, standard bus lines reach this turnaround. There’s little doubt about the high demand for travel to UBC. It’s possible that a surface streetcar could have the capacity, if not subway speed, to serve that demand. Rearranging trolleybus service into a trunkline would probably suffice at minimal cost. But the truth is probably that UBC interests are controlling public debate, just as UW interests are controlling public debate in Seattle. Do Seattlers know that Sound Transit intends to permanently close the Convention Place Station Portal and stop running buses in the DSTT forever? Am I kidding you? Are UW interests only interested in Link light rail as their own semi-private means to get to Seatac Airport? Look, I’m an ardent supporter of light rail, but Seattle planning is the absolute worst, and someone must shout a warning that Seattle is rife with corruption.