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Page added on February 28, 2009

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High Speed, High Cost, High Income Rail

…Long ago, I was a rare critic of DC’s Metro subway plans, not because I was against mass transit, but because it was a highly inefficient way of spending mass transit funds compared to light rail or exclusive bus lanes. At the time we could have had ten times as many miles of light rail for the same price of the subway system.


The other day I was struck by Metro bragging about its record ridership during the Obama inauguration. I was one of the few people in town who noticed that Metro had finally achieved what it had, at the beginning, promised the federal government would be normal. We needed a first black president to get that many riders. Further, Metro doesn’t even have the capacity to handle that many people on a regular basis.


Other problems I correctly projected included the fact that Metro wouldn’t really compete with the automobile but with its own bus lines, that it was more of a land development than a transit scheme, and that auto traffic would increase as the subway encouraged new buildings but that a majority of the new users of these buildings would still come by car.


I mention these examples because they illustrate the sort of complexity that transit planning involves, a complexity that rarely gets any attention in the media or by politicians. There’s nothing like something as streamlined as a bullet to make everyone put away doubts, analysis and comparisons and just sit back and say, “Wow.”


The problem became permanently embedded in my mind after I asked a transportation engineer to identify the best form of mass transit. His immediate answer: “Stop people from moving around so much.” So simple, yet so wise and so alien to almost every discussion of the topic you will hear.


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