Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fact or fiction: Light rail

Similar to Ottawa, Kansas City is having discussions about light-rail in the city, and the Kansas City Star recently printed an article exploring the common myths and realities related to installing a light-rail system in the city. Because it lends itself so well to our situation, I'll reprint some parts of the story, but be sure to check out the full site and read all they have to offer if you're interested in more information.

Issue: Light rail would take cars off the streets as some drivers become riders, thus reducing traffic congestion.
Fact or myth: Myth.
If there is one truism about traffic congestion, it is that it consistently grows throughout a metropolitan area. That is because populations and the number of vehicles and drivers keep growing.


Issue: Light rail would be dangerous for riders because it attracts criminals and would lead to a wave of crime.
Fact or myth: Big myth
... light rail opponents cited some fights and stabbings on the Portland, Ore., MAX system, including one story that quoted a police sergeant saying “the MAX has been a living nightmare for us.”

Yet those critics can’t name another city where crime has been a problem on light rail besides one section of Portland’s system.


Issue: Light rail, by taking some vehicles off the streets, would lower pollution and improve air quality.
Fact or myth: Fact, but barely.
Light rail runs on electricity, powered by overhead lines, so an American Public Transportation Association report called light rail “the most energy-efficient mode of public transportation.” The report found that once gasoline and electricity were converted to standard BTUs, light rail required less energy per passenger mile than automobiles.


Issue: Light rail would get you to your destination faster than a car.
Fact or myth: Largely a myth.
There could be times when light rail would be faster than a car. It would just depend on where you are going.


Issue: Light-rail projects tend to run over estimates.
Fact or myth: Fact
Light rail is like any major public infrastructure project — it is bound to run into complications that can drive up costs. A number of cities such as Dallas and Denver are dealing with large increases in project costs driven, in part, by the rising price of asphalt and steel.

--Kansas City Star

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