One of the common questions we get from commenters is “why are you so sure that rail is the right solution?” and “why are you so enamored with rail?” Both these questions are often followed with “buses are cheaper”. I want to explain the main reasons why high capacity rail transit gets so many more riders, is so much more effective at moving people and why it is in the long run cheaper than bus transit. I want to focus on the argument between “bus rapid transit” (BRT) and light rail transit (LRT), so I’m going to ignore the elephant in the room: most bus rapid transit does not run in its own right of way, thus adding the largest knock against bus transit: buses get stuck in traffic.

Rail transit is more permanent than bus transit. As famous conservative rail transit supporter Paul Weyrich points out, one of the main arguments for buses is their “flexibility”. But this flexibility is the source of one of the largest draw-backs of bus transit: inconsistency. That a bus is “flexible” means that the routes are also flexible, and riders aren’t sure that a bus line will remain in place into the future. If someone is making a decision about where to live for the foreseeable future, say they’re buying a house, they won’t make that choice based on a bus line that may not be there in the future.

I’ve forwarded this argument before, and people have said “when was the last time a bus route was removed in Seattle?” When I was in high school I took the 43 to my running start classes at Seattle Central Community College. We moved from Capitol Hill to Wallingford, and I could take the 43 straight from Wallingford to Broadway. Then, in the middle of the year, Metro split the line: the 43 no longer went from Downtown through Capitol Hill to Ballard: most runs ended in the U District, where the 44 route to Ballard began. I can think of a couple other routes that did this same thing, the old 7 has been split into the 7 and the 49, the old 65 now stops in the U-District. So it happens; service can stop or shift dramatically. That makes people far less inclined to change their life around the bus.

The permanence of rails also leads to more development than buses. For the same reason as above, new development near rail transit tends to be higher density than development near bus transit: if you are building a large project, part of your plan has to be transportation. That’s the reason Microsoft settled next to SR 520, one of the reasons downtown Bellevue is so much more developed than, say, downtown Everett, and one of the reasons South Lake Union is currently attracting so much development (this is the streetcar and I-5). Imagine if I-405 weren’t permanent; would Bellevue be experiencing so much growth?

Rail is much more attractive to the non-dependent rider, and thus get more riders. As Carless in Seattle has pointed out:

[A]mong bus-based [High Capacity Transit] users, more than 60% of US bus riders do not own a car. But of rail-based HCT, nearly 60% of subway, streetcar and light rail users DO own a car. (Those numbers include Manhattan, where less than 20% of people own a car, vastly depressing the number of rail users in the rest of the US who could own a car but choose mass transit).

Seattle’s highest ridership bus routes go through the most transit dependent areas. Even with those routes, ridership is no where near the ridership of a rail line. Each Link station will get as many riders as most bus routes, and some will have far more boardings than even those routes with the most riders – and these estimates do not take into account development spurred by the system. University of Washington station, for example, is supposed to get some 27,000 daily riders in 2020. Recent light rail construction in the US has almost universally has almost universally exceeded pre-construction estimates, with only one exception (VTA, in the South Bay).

Stepping on a train is enough to see why the difference exists. Trains have a smoother ride, more comfortable seats, and more space. Boarding is also far simpler – instead of a dozen people fumbling with fares, there are several doors, and payment is done on the platform where it doesn’t affect operation. Anyone who’s ever been on a standing-room-only bus can attest to the discomfort. A forty-five minute 545 ride standing up in Friday evening traffic is enough to convince people to drive to work. Here’s photographic evidence of the difference.

The most expensive part of building high-capacity, reliable transit is the right of way – with very similar cost between BRT and LRT. Even Ted Van Dyk, the most adamant BRT supporter and light rail opponent, admits that BRT costs at most 30% less than LRT to build. For University Link, for example, 95% of the costs are for tunneling and stations. A BRT system that would serve the same corridor would need also to build its own right-of-way, and would cost just as much as light rail. And since BRT ridership projections tend to be more than 30% less than LRT in the same corridors, even if the Ted Van Dyks of the world were right, LRT would still be cheaper per passenger to build than comparable BRT.

Rail is cheaper to operate per passenger than buses are. Labor is over 50% of King County Metro’s costs. Each bus needs an operator, but an articulated bus only carries 80 at maximum, compared to 800 for a Link LRT train. And with diesel already over $5 a gallon, the gap in operations expenses will continue to grow. Even in bus systems with little to no right-of-way costs, total costs for BRT are higher per passenger mile than LRT. Metro takes a .9% sales tax share now, and moves about 365,000 people per day. A fully built out LRT package from Prop. 1 would have moved that many people by 2030, admittedly a long time, but would have cost just .15% to operate. The capital costs for rail are temporary expenses – Metro will keep spending .9% to move that many people for the next hundred years, but Sound Transit would build three Prop. 1 packages with the same money in that time. Considering about two-thirds of the Sound Transit district is King County, Metro would have to move 1,400,000 million people per day, nearly the entire population of King County right now, to be as cost effective in the long run.

Absolutely rail is expensive and takes longer to build than most bus service. But the investment pays off over time in lower maintenance, higher ridership, and more dense development around stations – which can allow for less density pressures away from rail lines. High-quality transit service ultimately makes a region more affordable, more sustainable, and in some ways more fun. That’s why we at this blog prefer rail over buses.

50 Replies to “Rail, Not Buses”

  1. Rail is a good thing … when done right. Not all rail routes are brilliant routes. And the downtown to seatac route is not a good route. It’s mostly a political route and regional showpiece. It’s nothing more than local bus route on rails.

  2. Yep, rail lines never go away or get changed!

    /glances at empty waterfront streetcar line

  3. Doh! Great point, [joy]. And great foresight, Seattle (sarcasm). You can also point to all of the other passenger rail we’ve ever had in Seattle up until the SLUT and Monorail.

    I’d approach the rail v. rubber in from a different direction. Break it down first into the important bits: traffic-seperated or in-traffic. This seems like an easy enough decision to make – it’s worth the money to have a reliable and fast transportation system.

    Once you’ve committed to traffic-seperated, it’s just a simple cost equation. Busses are a little bit cheaper to start with, but become very expensive on the labor/maintainance side. Plus all of the other wonderful benefits mentioned.

    If you cheap out and want an in-traffic system, then rail will be marginally better than rubber and we need to resort to the weak never-gets-changed argument (ouch), the difficult to prove development argument, and the hard to define *people ride it more because it looks/feels nicer* argument.

  4. “up until the SLUT and Monorail” and Sounder! I forgot about Sounder.

  5. We’ll see pretty shortly whether the Sound Move route was a good choice or not. While it may not be a “brilliant” route, I notice a few transit systems are interested in building to the airport now (DC’s Metro and Dallas transit). I think there’s some foresight in making the route terminate at such an obvious locale that everyone in the region is familiar with. This eliminates the question “where does the line go?!”

    Investing in South Seattle is relatively cheap and allows Seattle to add density and money to a largely run-down part of the city. While rail shouldn’t always be used to create social equality, Sound Move had to be a north-south line (because of the three counties involved) so the choice here was to run next to a highway or through the city. Running through the city, obviously, will introduce more ridership.

    In terms of connecting the U District to Capitol Hill to Downtown to the International District, I think the route is going to be a great North-South spine for intracity transit. These very dense areas of Seattle are poised to use mass transit immediately.

    Does the line solve all of the largest regional transportation problems? No, but it’s a good balance of regional and local transit.

    It is a showpiece in that more will have to be done to create a great rail network, but I don’t think you’ll find any city with great mass transit that has only a single line.

    As for it being a local bus route on rails, well I strongly disagree. There are difference in operating cost, speed, capacity, and development patterns. The biggest difference, of course, is right of way. Link cannot be stuck in traffic while buses do and will certainly in the future be limited by traffic patterns.

    From the moment it opens, Link has the capacity for 800-person trains every six minutes. That isn’t possible for a bus route.

  6. No matter the length of your post, it is futile to try to defend a “rail, not buses” argument. It is not (and should not be considered to be) an either-or choice. They both are good for different things. Below/above-grade rail are great for traveling between city centers and neighborhoods. [Electric] buses are superior for shorter distance and frequent-trip travel.

    Street cars are stupid all-around due to their inferiority to electric buses.

  7. Chris,
    My argument was LRT vs BRT. Light rail is better than BRT is. Local buses are different than LRT, and are a completely necessary part of the transportation ecosystem.

  8. Chris, to follow up on daimajin’s post, most great mass transit systems use rail as you describe and use buses to cover “the last mile” of travel — or that final area between the mass transit stop and your workplace/home. These local buses shouldn’t be replaced with subways, of course. However, regional and inter-neighborhood connections are a great use of high-capacity transit.

    The benefit of having a stop closer to your work or home, of course, is that you don’t have to rely on a feeder bus for a transfer. Density usually builds up around these routes so folks can avoid feeder buses, but for those who don’t want to or cannot afford to live in density, then feeder buses will cast a wide net.

  9. sam@1,

    “the downtown to seatac route is not a good route”???

    I would disagree with that. It seems to me that connecting downtown Seattle (the highest job density in the state), the RV (the second highest transit ridership in the state), and Seatac Airport (the largest airport between BC, SF, and the Twin Cities) makes for a pretty darn good route.

    But if that is your idea of a bad route, then lets build more bad routes! (Actually, construction on the University route starts this year….is that bad too?)

  10. (psst… dozens of people were injured – only the driver died)

    Are you saying busses are immune to accidents? I’m quite sure busses kill more people per month than that (and cars many many more). Accidents certainly happen, but I don’t see anything about rail that makes it worse (traffic-seperated makes it much safer).

  11. Hey and lets not forget all of the people killed in SOV’s every year.

    I’m quite sure that just the stats for major arterials and highways in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties during peak travel periods per year far exceed the total deaths in the US for all forms of mass transit.

  12. Each transit medium has a role to fill so it’s hard to say that rail is better than the bus in all ways. However, I agree with Matt about BRT and LRT. The differences are night and day and BRT is a gimmick that was created because governments didn’t want to invest in a real rail line. Even the cities in Brazil where BRT became famous is switching to rail because it’s not a long term sustainable solution.

    I personally think that every large city (metro area of 1mil or more) should observe the all-four (five) policy of public transit. First, a city needs a heavy rail line that serves to connect the major neighborhoods of the city. Lately, American cities have substituted Light Rail for this and as cities are forced to increase density they will regret not have the increase capacity of heavy rail.

    Followed by Heavy Rail, a city needs a decent network of light rail. They can either be grade separated or run in the streets. Streetcars and Light Rail are great for connecting business areas with nearby neighborhoods with the main transit corridors.

    The next step in the all-four transit planning is trolleybus. While I’m not sure you should it should be restricted to specifically trolleybuses, but basically the concept should be express routes that just aren’t busy enough for a streetcar.

    The fourth guideline to all-four transit planning is the bus. The bus should be used for uncommon routes, neighborhood circulars and simply for when there just isn’t enough demand for fixed guide way.

    The final guideline that I have that isn’t normally mentioned is commuter rail. A lot of cities in Europe have commuter rail simply because the wealthier families have a weekend house outside the city. Most metro areas in Europe are a lot smaller than the typical American metro area. I think the quickest way we can improve our transportation networks is to implement commuter rail in every city over 1 million people in metro size. This will fix the some of the issues of the high cost of gas as our cities are being redeveloped for TOD. The commuter lines can continue to be operational as the city grows and suburbs redevelop with TOD in mind.

  13. If you do research into BRT, you will find that it has its place. There should not be a BRT vs LRT argument. LRT is a great solution in high ridership / high density corridors. BRT is a great solution in medium ridership / medium density corridors – it has the ability to use roads where density (and thus congestion) is lower, but run in dedicated right-of-way where traffic is too heavy. This can reduce the investment necessary.

    LRT is a great solution for Seattle and needs to be expanded to Northgate and across Lake Washington. It also needs to run from West Seattle, through Queen Anne and Fremont into Ballard. However, KC Metro’s Rapid Ride service pairs nicely with LRT, especially in the corridors they chose. The glaring need is to invest in critical time saving elements of BRT like off-bus fare collection and transit signal priority. Some of this is still being considered and we should all work to make sure they invest enough money to make the service all it can be.

  14. Bgtothen has posted over at Orphan Road daily ridership stats for Seattle bus lines.

    If we accept 9000 riders/day as a rough cutoff point for the minimum ridership that will justify a streetcar route, there are four runs that should be streetcars already, and the comments indicate that several other routes pass the cutoff point, because these routes are simply divided at the midpoint into two different route numbers.

    In order to make this comment in any way relevant to the post, I will simply ask, How many daily riders do you need to make LRT a worthwhile choice?

  15. I kinda liked Sam’s comment: “It’s mostly a political route [i.e., will make the most voters happy] and a regional showpiece.”

    Apparently he thinks these are bad things.

  16. Incidentally, what’s the knock on the Waterfront Streetcar? It came into existence as a moving museum, became the only transit route in the city to actually make money, and was only forced out of existence when it was clubbed over the head like a baby seal by the city’s so-called arts community. Bad things happen.

    Now, I will admit that Boston is actually spending huge amounts of money to replace an existing rail line with BRT (so much for the ‘cheaper’ argument). So I guess that it is possible to see rail lines removed in the modern era.

    But I don’t see it as a trend.

  17. Rail to the airport is most definitely an excellent route. People will actually take the route to the airport because:

    there will actually be room for them (mmmm, I sure love standing in a crowded bus with my luggage)

    separated ROW will mean it won’t be late ever (as opposed to the bus, which is always late)

    cheaper per passenger costs means they are able to (and will be) running the route more often 20 hours a day

    I can’t see any room in there for where rail to the airport is bad. Because the time is similar to the current 194 time (if it isn’t late and/or stuck in traffic)?

    dozens of people die.

    Really?

  18. SCO,
    The silver line had never been a rail line, at least not in a very long time.

    A really long line like the 48 would be extremely expensive to turn into a streetcar. That route is about 25 miles long. That would cost some $500mn to $1.25 billion to build and take several years to build. At that cost building a couple subway stations is a better value.

    A shorter route the 2 makes more sense, but I wonder if the a streetcar can climb Queen Anne. I doubt it. For the 7, that route is being shadowed by Link, so we don’t really need to worry.

    I think the next common-sense lines to Northgate, Ballard and to West Seattle from downtown qualify for sure. Others? I don’t know how to make that call. I think Ben can help.

  19. “I wonder if the a streetcar can climb Queen Anne”

    Boy can it! Bringing back the counterbalance would be an instant tourist success (à la San Francisco’s cable cars).

  20. Oh, and the 2 and 13 follow mostly the same route (at least the crowded part of the route). Either one often fills to capacity at rush hour (skipping stops, and taking >5 min/stop to cram people in), so adding capacity will definately add riders.

  21. I’ve always wondered what ran on the abandoned rail tracks I see all over the place — Terry Ave in SLU, a whole bunch around Freemont/Ballard, some by Redmond Town Center.

    I wonder if they could extend the downtown transit tunnel northward towards Queen Anne.

    I rode the monorail for the first time recently. It’s cool how fast you can travel when you can zip right past all of the traffic lights. Why didn’t we extend that line again? :) Metro should buy it so our passes would work on it. It seems like it’s intended mostly for tourists now, which is a bit of a waste.

  22. Serial Catowner: when considering streetcar viability, it is not the number of riders on the route as much as it is the number of riders per revenue mile. This latter measure reflects density of ridership. The 48 is a very long route while the 2 is shorter and carries only some of the ridership in the corridor. So if you look at ridership by revenue mile of service, you start seeing a more accurate picture of demand. This can better inform where rail should be placed over bus, coming from the standpoint of high capacity.

    I still don’t understand why this is always a either or question. We will always have buses and we have made long term rail investments. We’re stuck with both. The question should be how we match the right modal technology and service design to serve the most number of people, while supporting and facilitating good urban growth.

  23. [mark] The reason most of the older neighborhoods in Seattle are reasonably dense is because they were streetcar suburbs – developers built streetcar lines along with their suburbs so that people could live a little way from the city yet still get to work easily.

    Here‘s a great article about it. I love the part where Seattle voters rejected a 1937 vote to switch from streetcars to buses, but a new mayor borrowed money to buy buses and replace the streetcar system anyway.

  24. Mark — a lot of those are also abandoned freight lines (and actually, most of the Ballard ones aren’t actually abandoned — they’re just not used often or at speed).

    When they started building the SLUT, I was curious why they didn’t use the existing tracks on Terry. But then I took a closer look at the tracks and realized they’re in terrible shape — I think it might have cost more to retrofit them, pull out the branches, etc. than to just put in the new ones.

    Matt the engineer — What would it take to restore the counterbalance for pulling otherwise electric streetcars? As I understand it, the tunnels are still there. Is it just a matter of hooking up some cables and weights? Would the streetcars need a hook & brake system a la the SF cable cars, or did the counterbalance have a built in braking system?

  25. Mark,
    Definitely agreed on some sort of partnership between Metro and the monorail. They wouldn’t have to buy it entirely, just work out some deal where Metro riders could use transfers or passes to ride the monorail.

    The monorail is way faster than the bus service around there, plus it runs every 10 minutes until 11 PM, which is nice and late in the evening. It would also be a cheap alternative to the proposed streetcar extension up 1st Ave to Seattle Center.

  26. First of all, you wouldn’t be able to have an electric streetcar hook up to a cable like the SF cable cars, as its a pretty complicated system. But I wouldn’t have any problem with having the whole line be cable car…

    Also, I completely agree that they should integrate the monorail into Metro, although it isn’t a replacement for the proposed 1st ave. streetcar, as it only goes from westlake to seattle center, not serving the rest of downtown or any of belltown.

  27. Isn’t there even an elevator from the Westlake station platform all the way up to the monorail platform? (At least that’s what the signs seem to imply.) Talk about convenient.

    Another thought–if the monorail were a more serious part of our transportation infrastructure, more people might see the benefits of building higher-capacity mass transit and dedicated right-of-way. (I personally thought it was silly until I used it.)

  28. Lets hack this one up, because there are all sorts of poorly thought through assertions. I know the SLUT isn’t a “train” per say but its close, and definitely one of the favorite transportation projects of STB. The SLUT is a poor comparison because it is so new, but we’ll use it anyways along with NYC’s Subway system and KC’s Metro.

    “Trains have a smoother ride, more comfortable seats, and more space.”

    I was riding Metro’s 71 home today and it was a smooth ride more or less until I got downtown, then we got on heavily used downtown streets and it got to be bumpy. The seats? They’re pretty good, they’ve got good padding and I’ve got a good two inches between my knee and the back of the seat in front of me. Yeah, the 71 is usually run on one of the new hybrid buses, but with the exception of the old articulated trollies, Metro branded Metro buses deliver a pretty standard product by seat and leg room, and there are hand holds everywhere. Suspension wise I think they’re about the same too.

    The SLUT? Sure it is smooth as glass, I was amazed how smooth it was when I rode it. But, it is not even a half year old yet, lets check in on it in three years and see if it is still smooth as it is now, age and weather will take its toll. The seats? I’m sorry to say this but the seats suck. The first time I rode it I sat on the single rider side (I was a single rider!) and my knees were wedged uncomfortably into the back of the seat in front of me. I’m kinda curious what the SLUT looks like at crush loads, since I don’t see that many well placed handholds. Sure in the middle there are bunches of handholds, but it doesn’t seem like they’re placed so anyone in a crush load can get grab one. The trains are more or less identical so the product is the same.

    So my final example is NYC’s Subway. Given the history of the subway the product is all over the place, from trains that give you all sorts of information and are clean, to ones that you’re lucky if you can hear the conductor, and there is grafiti through the train. The ride? Hmm, its rail so it should be smooth right? Um, nope, nice and bumpy much of the time. The seats as I recall are plastic and they do the job with descent pitch so my knees are happy, but my rear really could use more padding.

    My point here? You can make really comfortable buses, and really uncomfortable rail. It is a matter of the interior design by the operating agency. Airlines have different seats, so an A320/A319 seat is different on a JetBlue Airways plane, from a Spirit Airlines plane, from a United Airlines plane, from a Frontier Airlines plane, from a Skybus Airlines plane, despite the fact that they’re all French planes manufactured by the same manufacturer. (Forgive the poor reference for Seattle, but Airbus operators are a bit more differentiated seatwise than Boeing operators.)

    “Boarding is also far simpler – instead of a dozen people fumbling with fares, there are several doors, and payment is done on the platform where it doesn’t affect operation.”

    Again, this is a transit agency decision. Trains can utilize onboard fare collection (witness Metro-North in NYC, and LIRR.) and buses could utilize offboard fare collection. Seattle itself has made up a nice hybrid with the pay as you exit fare collection. I routinely get on buses in Seattle without paying before I get on. Seattle could choose to put fare collection at the tunnel entrances.

    “Anyone who’s ever been on a standing-room-only bus can attest to the discomfort.”

    Yup, I ride the sardine can, better known as Metro Route 36, all the time, so I know exactly what you’re talking about, unlike the 545 we’ve got standing loads with really nice grade hills. But a standing-room-only train can be uncomfortable as well.

    Daimajin, you’re confusing vehicle design and fare collection methodology with mode. If you pull this stuff out you’ve perhaps got a more defensable argument as a whole, but given your biases on what I know first hand, I’m less inclined to take your other assertions at face value.

  29. kari,

    I think what is trying to be said about comparing BRT and LRT is that for too long BRT has been pushed as an alternative to LRT. When what you said it’s not really an alternative. In fact, I’d go as far to say that BRT is a short term solution. BRT should only be implemented when a corridor is lightly traveled and no future foreseeable increase in traffic. BRT may have lower capital costs to build but the operating costs are pretty staggering in comparison to LRT. We shouldn’t just do BRT cause it’s cheaper, it just doesn’t make sense when over a 30 year span, LRT will in most cases be cheaper.

  30. Nickb, what you’re doing in turn is adding goodies to the bus menu without figuring the cost- kind of like sending the fry cook at Macdonalds to Alaska to get you some king crab.

    Sure, new buses can be as comfortable- maybe even more comfortable- than a chosen LRT example. But buses aren’t as durable as rail vehicles, partly because they have to be built lighter. This is one reason it’s so hard to add extra doors to the buses- normally the sides of the bus also act as a truss and when you pierce the sides to add doors you need to add strength somewhere else.

    Yes, a bus on a brand new road can have a nice ride- so, please, figure in the cost of the new road. Don’t forget that every pound you add for comfort in the bus increases the hammering effect on the road. (Buses and trucks use tires inflated to twice the psi of a passenger car.)

    The same thing happens with boarding areas- you can make it just as efficient (well, almost- some restrictions may apply) to board buses as rail vehicles, if you spend as much money.

    As for comparing the NYC subway to a bus- aw, c’mon, the NYC subway moves about four times the entire population of Puget Sound every day.

    The fact is, Daimajin was really only describing the visible tip of the iceberg. For example, rail systems are engineered to gradients and curvatures that are usually much less than roads, and rail vehicles are stronger (i.e., stiffer) and longer than buses. Combined with the differences in the suspension systems, power systems, and welded rails, this usually produces a rail ride with significantly less pitch, yaw, and roll.

    Or, we could do the short form- watch what happens when Houston and Denver put their next 100 miles of LRT in service. If it’s a big failure and they end up tearing it out, our choice of buses will have been vindicated.

  31. [steve] Yes, there was a recent article about the new little park telling us that the tunnel is still down there. It shouldn’t be too hard to bring it back to working condition, though replacing it completely wouldn’t cost much either. It’s just a shallow tunnel with rails and a concrete-filled car.

    It’s not a cable-car system, and it was designed for electric trolleys. It’s only an extra boost to get up the hill and to slow you down on the way back. The concrete car has a cable that goes to a pulley at the top. The car hooks on at the bottom, and unhooks at the top. Then hooks on at the top and unhooks at the bottom. The concrete car moves the opposite direction as the trolley. This could literally be as simple as a hook and a cable (the cable runs underground), though I’m sure we can come up with something automated if we wanted.

  32. nickb…

    Your main argument seems to be “A 100 year old rail system is poorly maintained, therefore rail is not better than buses”.

    It’s cheaper to maintain rails than roads. NYC’s maintenance, as with most of the US, is a political problem, not a mode problem.

  33. If you want to see the streetcar at (not quite) crush load look at the linked photo of its opening day. There’s at least 60 people pictured (the amount of seats an artic has) plus an additional 50-60 people behind the camera (he was standing in the center of the train). Two or more buses would have to be used to carry that amount of people and the ride would be less comfortable. We may see these loads again when big events are hosted at Lake Union Park not unlike Tacoma Link.

  34. A 1933 Seattle streetcar map shown in this article shows three lines, two on the south face and one on the SW face of Queen Anne. Unfortunately, enlarging the map doesn’t tell a whole lot more.

    On the east side of Queen Anne you have the Westlake and Dexter N streetcar lines. To the west is another line- not the counterbalance- which is really hard to find where it climbs the hill but is totally evident on top of the hill, where it is a wide boulevard, largely level, winding around to the cemetery. Incidentally, some of Seattle’s most beautiful homes and some stunning views can be seen here.

    Maybe somebody else here knows where the line shown, west of Dexter and east of the counterbalance, climbed Queen Anne.

  35. The one that turns at Boston is Taylor Ave N. It’s a reasonable grade for a streetcar, but isn’t as exciting as the Counterbalance.

    Here‘s my guess on the QA lines.

  36. At the end of the Taylor route it could easily turn right and go down 3rd. 3rd should be a light enough grade for streetcars to handle.

  37. Matt the engineer’s first comment regarding the discussion of the superiority of rail on heavily used routes is very good and should moot the dozens of comments here about whether or not rail is more comfortable, permanent, or aesthetically pleasing.

    The real argument
    Rail:
    -cheaper to maintain
    -longer lifespan
    -less station standing time (hands down: more doors = faster boarding)
    -less operation costs per passenger

    All the remaining good arguments you hear about rail stem from separation from traffic and station design:
    -speed
    -reliability
    -prepaid fare (can’t have this without a station area)
    All of which can be implemented using bus (a la BRT). Though, at that point, the cost of the system approaches rail. So, why not build rail and pay less in maintenance and operation? This last point is probably why people just assume rail has the benefits of traffic-separation while buses do not.

    All of this does not mean that all bus routes should be removed and all buses set aflame (I think someone has posted that here before =D). To replace all current transportation networks with a singular mode would simply be repeating our nation’s errors once again.

  38. I’d say your guess is pretty good, Matt, except I would be very much surprised if the Taylor route didn’t go to the cemetery, or even a little beyond. That road now has come suspiciously broad curves on it. Great place for summertime bike riding.

  39. Wesley:

    I just want to point out that political reality plays a big part here. If you’re building buses, politicos assume that you’re not grade separating, and balk at giving you money to do so. If you’re building rail, the same people assume you’re going to grade separate and understand that it costs more.

    None of this is a matter of “can” or “can’t”. It’s a matter of the mindset of the people pitching the idea to the public, and that creates a hurdle people simply refuse to accept and plan for.

  40. Catowner and Ben, you completely missed my arguments.

    I completely and purposefully sidestepped all of the capita and operating costs. I addressed only two pieces of daimajin’s argument.

    Catowner gets down to the argument that should be made: “For example, rail systems are engineered to gradients and curvatures that are usually much less than roads, and rail vehicles are stronger (i.e., stiffer) and longer than buses. Combined with the differences in the suspension systems, power systems, and welded rails, this usually produces a rail ride with significantly less pitch, yaw, and roll.”

    This is the key for rail being better. Just saying it is more comfortable is well more or less equivalent to vaporware. (Yes, we all know Vista finally was delivered, but with half of the promised features.)

    In theory we’re all friendly to transit here because, well we’re here. So if I can hack a pro-rail comfort argument without even trying that hard your argument needs to be worked on.

    Re: Boarding. We could do exactly what the SLUT does with fares on buses without modifying any bus stop. Stick a ticket machine in the bus and remove the driver from any involvement in fare collection. Maybe we’d drop some ticket machines off at high use stops.

    Believe it or not I’m a big supporter of rail where appropriate. As Ben said later it usually is grade separated, and I support putting transit on a separate right of way where practical.

    Re: Your main argument seems to be “A 100 year old rail system is poorly maintained, therefore rail is not better than buses”. Umm.. My argument was clearly articulated “You can make really comfortable buses, and really uncomfortable rail. It is a matter of the interior design by the operating agency.”

    Ben, If you’re not willing to engage in fully in spirited debate an analysis and want to dismiss my arguments with “A 100 year old rail system is poorly maintained, therefore rail is not better than buses” what are you doing here? Giving yourself a platform for your own gratification?

    You’ve been called on the Straw man argument here before, why continue to perpetuate this logical fallacy? You did not address my argument. Plain and simple.

  41. this chain lacks discussion of two key factors in the choice between LRT and BRT: budget and available rights-of-way. Metro will attempt to implemnt BRT similar to the 98B and 99B lines in Vancouver. It does not have the ROW or budget for LRT. Denver has both budget and ROW; many of its LRT lines are on old freight rail lines. In East King County, ST2 has the choice between one LRT line or several BRT lines with less reliability. They could also provide transit service on the Eastside rail line. Should they choose LRT, as submitted to the voter in 2007; or, should they put together a different plan?

  42. Well, the simple fact is, if you don’t have a dedicated ROW, you don’t have BRT. If you tell a BRT-supporter that the so-called BRT you see is just a bus in traffic, they will tell you “Oh, that’s not real BRT!”

    Should transit agencies put in buses instead of rail? If they have to, they should- but they shouldn’t be enthusiastic about it.

    The transit agency is the lead agency with the resources for planning and advocacy for transit. They shouldn’t be marginalizing rail advocates by making claims that buses will work just as well.

    Recently Bgtothen has been putting up some ridership figures at Orphan Road that strongly suggest several routes in the region should already be streetcar-LRT. What appears to have happened here is that the transit agency has forgotten that their mission is transit, and they have become involved in saving regional governance money, so the money can be spent on other things. That’s a job for auditors and elected representatives, not the transit agency.

    In a sense, Denver is a good example. Instead of claiming their mobility problems could be fixed with tweaks and gadgets, they developed a regional concensus that they had a big-time problem that needed a big-time fix. They even named the effort to fix the problem ‘T-Rex’, with a not-too-subtle suggestion that eggs would be broken in making the omelette.

    KC-Metro doesn’t need to develop a regional concensus, but they should be better advocates for putting rail where ridership warrants, and they shouldn’t puff BRT where what they mean is ‘bus’.

  43. nick, I don’t know what you’re getting annoyed with me about. Can you clarify? I haven’t read this entire thread…

  44. nick, let me try to understand this. You’re saying that if rail had off-board payment and nice seats, it would work as well as rail?

    If that’s the case, I absolutely disagree.

    Once you spend enough money to make the bus service comparable to the rail service, the issue becomes the apparent reliability – which is higher for a rail route than a bus route. History aside, it’s harder to get rid of rails than it is to get hard of buses. This is true. It makes an impact, and a big one. Developers can tell whether they’re going to be able to trust the existence of a rail line for ten or twenty years. They can’t tell if a bus will be.

    If you don’t think this makes an impact, I don’t know what to tell you but to point out what first world countries actually do. There are probably five rail lines for every “bus rapid transit” line.

  45. Nickb,
    I think you’re argument doesn’t hold much water. fare collection is just a single part of the boarding discrepancy. You can’t make a bus that has a platform level to where the rider boards, so disabled people need kneeling buses. Streetcars and LRT? they roll directly onto the coaches.

    Buses take longer to board, pure and simple. In order from possible to impossible. Off-board fair purchase removes one time killer but that’s it. Making the aisle wider another, and adding more, wider doors yet another. Getting rid of the stairs would remove another but that’s it.

    A single rider in the ride-free zone, in the tunnel, takes longer to board than a single rider on a link car. twenty riders take a huge amount less, and 200 riders there’s no comparison, you can’t do it on a bus.

    And I think you’re own argument about comfortability leads to an obvious fallacy of your own: while the NYC subway could make it’s rails nicer there’s nothing any agency in this region or any other could do to make the roads nicer. Interior design? Whose interior design is third avenue? How about the huge potholes on Roosevelt, or any other street in Seattle?

    It’s difficult to argue when you make apples to oranges comparisons like metro route 36 to the NYC subway. The Lexingon line/IRT carry more than two million people a day. The 36 gets about a one thousandth of that. It’s obvious the priorities are different when you have to worry about moving a million people compared to a thousand.

    An IRT train packed a rush hour is uncomfortable compared to a seattle city bus, but one is carrying close to 4,000 people (think the 36 is crowded?) and the other at absolute most 80. And Japanese trains have pushers shoving people on, the express trains running on the line I used to live had these. So what? Buses couldn’t even be used for these routes, comparing them is pointless.

    I’ve been standing on a 545 that was going 50 or so, had a car merge in front, slammed on it’s breaks and got into an accident. I was thrown so far forward than backwards that my laptop broke. It was an IBM, it was in a protective case in a hard bag. That’s uncomfortable, and my worst train experience on the ultra crowded (five hundred thousand riders each, per line) Keiyo Inokashira line or the Tokyo Toyoko line can’t compare to that.

  46. Wow, we can’t keep a discussion on the same topic for the life of us.

    I only addressed Daimajin’s comfort and boarding arguments. How well it well it works and how many people it can fit was implicitly excluded from my comment.

    “You’re saying that if rail had off-board payment and nice seats, it would work as well as rail?”

    No, I’m saying that if buses had off-board payment and nice seats, boarding times would be reduced and comfort levels would be more comparable comparable. (Catowner did a wonderful job of fleshing out why rail is more comfortable irregardless of internal vehicle design in the second to last paragraph of the comment on May 30, 2008 at 8:23 AM.)

    “It’s difficult to argue when you make apples to oranges comparisons like metro route 36 to the NYC subway.”

    My initial comment was a comparison argument using a bus line (71), and two rail lines (SLUT and NYC). Comparison arguments by definition are not going to compare strict apples and apples. But I compared two rail lines to each other and to one bus line. Perhaps I should’ve picked an additional bus line, but I was attempting to keep the comment a bit more compact. I chose the NYC subway system because it is a large rail system that I have ridden many times; It is a great counterargument to the categorical smoothness of rail, and the seats tend to be less comfortable as a result of design decisions to hold upto the ridership volume that the system gets.

    “A single rider in the ride-free zone, in the tunnel, takes longer to board than a single rider on a link car.”

    You’re arguing completely on a hypothetical. Link cars aren’t yet in passenger service. Your apple doesn’t even fully exist.

    Claims such as stating that “Trains have a smoother ride, more comfortable seats, and more space.” are subjective and easy to argue. If we are to make that argument to the greater public it’ll take Eyman and his bunch all of a minute to start hacking away at it. If you want to make a case for rail to the wider public it damn well better hold up in an arena of pro-transit blog readers.

  47. Nickb,
    I get what you’re driving at. You’re right, Link isn’t up-and-running, and I do love comparing my green-not-ripe-enough-to-eat-apple with an apple that is old and moldy (the 71).

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