Highways and Rapid Transit: Should They Go Together?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’ve got a something of a debate going on the subject of putting new transit routes alongside highways in American cities.

Last Friday, Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic
noted the opening of Portland’s Green Line with a post titled
"Portland’s New Rail Line Is Welcome News, but It’s Not Routed as It
Should Be." The line’s location on the highway right-of-way, argues
Freemark, will discourage transit-oriented development:

The highway makes an ideal right-of-way for the purpose of increasing
speeds and reducing interference with surrounding neighborhoods, but it
is the worst when it comes to spurring transit-oriented development.
TOD, after all, should be the primary land use goal of any new public
transportation investment, and Portland is likely to get very little of
it along the Green Line. That’s because the mere presence of I-205,
with its traffic, noise, and pollution, will make development adjacent
to it unappealing. Worse, because the transit corridor will be located
on one the side of the freeway, people will have to cross the very wide
road to get to the other side.

6a00d83454714d69e20120a56823e7970b_320wi.jpgTransit and freeways side by side in the upscale Charlottenberg neighborhood of Berlin.

But that’s not how Jarrett Walker over at Human Transit
sees it. Walker pulls out some pictures from a recent trip to Berlin to
make his point. There, he notes, thriving upscale neighborhoods like
Charlottenberg can be found on precisely this type of transit/freeway
corridor:

When a New World city builds a rail line alongside a freeway, or
even in its median, nobody expects the result to look like Berlin any
time soon.  But it’s not obvious that these can’t be dense
transit-oriented districts in their own style a few decades from now,
if that’s what local government wants.  Yes, it’s always better to have
the transit stop right inside the dense commercial core of a
neighborhood.  But if we make that an absolute requirement in our
thinking, we end up having to choose between either

  1. underground lines in places where we can’t afford undergrounding, or
  2. elevated lines in places where community impacts just won’t allow it or
  3. lines at grade on arterial streets, even if in exclusive lanes,
    that can’t deliver a reasonable travel time given the long regional
    trips the line is intended to serve. 

And
on most of the American rapid transit projects that I’ve been close to
over the last two decades, any of those outcomes would have killed the
project.

The Overhead Wire takes up the topic in a post called "When Road Engineers Do LRT":

I don’t disagree with folks like Jarrett

when they say that rapid transit has its best opportunities to run fast
in the freeway. But at the same time, there are similar opportunities
to leave the freeway ROW when it comes time to have a station and
connect the places that people ultimately want to go, and the parcels
that should be redeveloped into walkable districts.

I believe a
perfect example of this is the Denver Tech Center. When they designed
the T Rex project, why didn’t they go forward with the option that
would have allowed direct access to the center of the employment
district? I imagine it was perceived cost compared to running time. It
didn’t matter that its where people wanted to go, when the train was
moving it was running fast, so stopping on the other side of the
freeway was a better option for the ridership modelers and the
engineers designing the road.

And one more post on transit routing from the blog Say Yes to the Honolulu Rail System, which is written by a communications consultant to the City of Honolulu on their proposed rail line. He objects to a new proposal
that would not be fully elevated and — it seems to me on first
inspection — would run closer to some downtown destinations by
diverging from the freeway right-of-way. Anyone know more about the
relative merits of these proposals?

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

What Factors Are Causing Metro’s Declining Ridership? What Next?

|
In my circles, there has been a lot of discussion swirling around Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times article, Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California, by Laura Nelson and Dan Weikel. The Times’ authors cast a disparaging light on recent downturns in ridership: “Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail […]

What a Vermont Avenue BRT Line Could Look Like

|
At this month’s board meeting, Metro staff reported that they are hiring consultants to shepherd two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. Today, SBLA previews one of those: Vermont Avenue BRT. For the uninitiated, what is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit is high-quality bus service running in its own dedicated right-of-way. It comes in a lot of flavors, […]

Guest Opinion: The Future of Los Angeles is Bus Rapid Transit

|
Los Angeles is finally on its way toward realizing the dream of a regional rapid transit system. Five rail lines are simultaneously under construction, and there is renewed momentum to fund another round of transit expansion on the 2016 ballot. Move L.A. recently unveiled a Strawman Proposal for “Measure R2” to accelerate the completion of the remaining Measure […]