In Charlotte, a Busy Highway May be No Place for Rapid Transit

» A recommendation from the Urban Land Institute suggests pulling a proposed rail line out of a highway and onto a neighborhood street.

Take one trip on the Dan Ryan branch of Chicago’s Red Line and you’ll be convinced of the perils of locating transit stations in the medians of fast-moving expressways. Getting to stops is hard enough: It usually requires crossing first a huge intersection featuring cars hopping on and off the freeway; then, on too small of a sidewalk you’re required to bridge over several lanes of rushing traffic below. Once you’re finally on the platform, though, the situation may be worse: Cars are whizzing by at high speeds — producing tremendous noise and emitting nauseating pollutants — on both sides of the track. It’s certainly not a welcoming experience.

Fundamentally, standing there at a station waiting for a train makes you feel like you are a second-class citizen — at least in comparison to those speeding past in their private vehicles. And any pedestrian-oriented development generation transit investments sometimes attract is quickly turned away by these highway-adjacent locations, as illustrated by the prominent siting of a gas dispensary nearest to the station in the photograph above. Thus for cities hoping to attract increasing patronage and denser land uses, repeating station design examples such as those found in some parts of the Windy City should be a no-go.

From this perspective, the recommendations provided by the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Daniel Rose Center this week to the City of Charlotte were enlightening. Selected by the national organization for special study this year, Charlotte’s civic community was offered a number of suggestions for the renovation and widening of Independence Boulevard, which stretches southeast from the city’s downtown. Rather than extend a light rail line or a busway down the road’s median, as current local transit plans promote, the study group argued that an investment in streetcar lines paralleling the route on two much smaller streets would be more effective in encouraging transit-oriented development and refurbishing the city’s southeast side — its least affluent. The streetcar routes would extend into downtown and use the 1.5-mile starter corridor on Trade Street that received funding from the federal government and which is expected to open in 2015.

Public transportation offerings on the highway would be reserved for long-distance service in the form of express buses, not the sort of inner-city mobility provided by light rail or bus rapid transit.

The transit line that would, and could still, run down Independence Boulevard — the 13.5-mile Silver Line — has been identified as a bus rapid transit corridor, though community residents have argued that they deserve light rail service similar to that currently provided on the Blue Line, which opened in 2007. Decisions on mode have been delayed repeatedly because of a lack of funding for the project and a focus on extending that rail line to the northeast, though even that project is being cut short thanks to budget shortfalls.

The basic assertions of the ULI group are sound from the viewpoint of urban design. By building new streetcar lines north of the freeway on Central Avenue (already being planned by the city, albeit without funding) and south of the freeway on Monroe Road, the fixed transit service would reach into the core of the neighborhoods they are meant to serve, rather than their peripheries, as would be the case if the bus or rail were concentrated on Independence Boulevard. This would, in turn, encourage automobile-oriented uses to stay in their place — near the highway — and encourage pedestrian uses on the much smaller roads where the trains would run. If the highway is a permanent feature on the cityscape, it is not necessarily one that should be attracting walkers, the primary users of any transit system.

As journalist Mary Newsom has written, Independence Boulevard’s urban form does not jive with the smart growth principles that are implicit in the theory behind the construction of new transit lines. When it was built, she writes, the highway “Celebrated auto-oriented suburbia, the “progressive” thinking of its time. Today, as cities spend millions to retrofit auto-only areas for transit and pedestrians, Independence survives as a fading tribute to a theory of city building that didn’t work. It’s lined with deteriorating strip development, its traffic still a reviled snarl.” This is no place around which to articulate a new vision for the metropolis.

Stations along the Blue Line light rail corridor, which is located in a railroad right-of-way running directly through several of the city’s denser neighborhoods south of downtown, have been surrounded with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new residential and commercial construction since the rail line opened. The Silver Line, running in the middle of the freeway, would not repeat that story — but more civilized and appropriately placed streetcar routes could.

It would be inappropriate to discuss this issue without noting that an added advantage of the streetcar investment is that it would be less expensive than a full-scale bus rapid transit line in the center of the freeway (which, in turn, would be cheaper than a light rail line down the highway). The relatively inexpensive nature of the streetcar, though, is also its downfall: This transportation mode rarely includes dedicated lanes and thus vehicles crawl down the street. Streetcars are not rapid transit.

Yet this may be a compromise worth accepting in Charlotte. Is a fast bus rapid transit line acceptable if it forces its passengers to adapt to dehumanizing conditions? Or is a slow streetcar that can be designed in harmony with a pedestrian streetfront a better deal for the city’s future?

Image above: Chicago Red Line 63rd Street Station, from Flickr user Zol87 (cc)

89 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Here in Portland, the MAX light rail runs adjacent to I-84 east of downtown, and in the median of I-205, extending north until it turns back east to get to the airport. The highway stations do not seem terribly welcoming, and they do not seem to spur as much transit-oriented development or redevelopment as stations in more attractive and pedestrian-friendly urban or suburban areas.

    Of course, the east side MAX is very successful; I have read that it functions as an extra highway lane in either direction, but its effect on the series of time-worn east side neighborhoods it connects seems very spotty. Then again, it must be very difficult to secure light-rail right-of-way in established, fairly dense areas, so the Tri-Met planners may have chosen the best feasible route alternatives.

  • Brett

    The RTD stations in Denver are fairly welcoming, the highway noise doesn’t seem to bother me there. Maybe because the stations are on the side of the freeway instead of the median. This also hasn’t stopped extensive TOD from occurring around these freeway based lines either.

    • The margin cuts the general area for TOD in half, but if attention is made to ensure that the access on that side is not obstructed by traffic, it obviously is more promising than a median station. Of course, it helps if there is room for bidirectional service on a single side, since otherwise the access across the highway problem is still there for one direction of any round trip.

      Highway medians seem poor choices in general for a dedicated transport corridor for local transport service, but are more promising for longer distance service, especially if effective connections with local transport crossing the highway can be made ~ whether a closed platform transfer station or leaving the median to serve a station that is located where it can be a TOD anchor.

  • Mason Hicks

    The issue of locating transit in the center of a freeway appears often, with the same result. In Atlanta, the most underutilized station in the MARTA system is Buckhead Station. It is, as you may have guessed, it is the only MARTA station located in the median of a freeway. It even has the benefit of being located at the crossing of Peachtree Road, but Peachtree is it’s only access. The noise of the freeway is partially masked by massive concrete side-walls, but they are there only because the station was planned along-side the planning of the highway itself. Still, the station serves it’s neighborhood very poorly, and many of the locals drive out five miles (thru a toll gate…) to park at the next station out, simply because it is easier to get to…
    In Charlotte, I believe that having a streetcar line follow Monroe Road, as proposed by the ULI is a complete no-brainer. I have been concerned about Charlotte’s Southeast Corridor plans for quite some time. It is very interesting and perhaps refreshing to find such focused and pertinent local insight coming from outside the local sphere of influence and expertise.
    Additionally, I have also often wondered why I have never heard discussion of possibly using the roughly parallel CSX line as a route for commuter rail to and from Union and Anson Counties… Perhaps I’ve been away from Charlotte too long, and I have missed such discussions. Of course I, like most who read your blog want very much to maximize the transit potential of all of our rail corridors. Such a line would link from the Trade Street Multi-modal Station on the near west side, to connections with the Blue Line North, the Central Avenue Streetcar, the Silver Line BRT(or LRT), and it could have two connections with the possible Monroe Road Streetcar as presented here by the ULI, including one connection at the MacAlpine Creek Greenway. It would then extend outside of the I-485 perimeter to the the townships of Matthews, Stallings, and Mint Hill; to the city of Monroe; and perhaps even out to Marshville and Wadesboro in Anson County. This route would quickly become the economic engine for the entire southeastern sector. Of course, I would make similar cases for lines going out in all other directions, as well. Charlotte is very well served by unexploited existing rail right-of-way.
    Also Yonah, I am very happy to see you link Mary Newsome’s column from “the Charlotte Observer”. I have been following her writing for years, both with the Observer, and her own blog, “the Naked City”, and she has always been a terrific advocate for sensible urbanism and transportation development. The follow-up reader comments to her columns, mostly by anti-rail (people) are often full of rabid diatribes,and are bitterly disappointing. She is really quite a trooper…

  • Canaan

    Another example is the difference between land-use planning in Northern Va. between Arlington and Fairfax counties in the WMATA Orange Line. In Fairfax the Orange line runs in the median of I-66 while it runs underground in Arlington and the difference is stark in the role that choosing the metro to run local has had on the development of Arlington, being able to add thousands of residents without adding to vehicular congestion on the roads. Fairfax is starting to get behind the thinking but is stuck with a steep learning curve because of the effort to simply get to the station because of the location (and parking lots).

    • AlanF

      There has been TOD development around the Vienna, VA station at the end of the WMATA Orange line. East Falls Church, despite being in the middle of I-66, is a good candidate for more residential development because it is the middle of a mostly residential area.

      It will be interesting to see what will happen around the WMATA Silver Line stations after they open. Other than section through the to be densely developed Tysons Corner and the station at Dulles Airport, the Silver Line will run in the median of the very wide Dulles Access road and Dulles Greenway.

      But, I think it matters what is located on either side of the highway when a metro or light rail line is run down the medium of a highway. If there are local roads on either side of the highway lined with endless strip malls and gas stations, TOD is going to have a tough time getting started.

      In the case of the WMATA Silver Line, there are already median density residential areas and office complexes on either side of the stations to be built in Reston and Herndon, including the downtown Reston area, which will be in walking distances of the stations. But the 2 west of Dulles Airport in the Ashburn area are more going to be almost entirely park and ride commuter weekday stations. The WMATA Silver line is going to be an interesting hybrid, even more so than the rest of the WMATA metro system, of a weekday commuter, metro transit, and airport access rail system.

  • Steven

    I would normally agree that a Monroe streetcar is better than LRT in a *future* Independence expressway. The only problem is that Independence isn’t currently an expressway– it’s a boulevard!

    Only one very short stretch of Independence near uptown is grade-separated; the rest is a 6-lane arterial with a wide median, surrounded by long stretches of old big-boxes ripe for redevelopment. Charlotte absolutely does not need to turn Independence in to a freeway at all; it could instead infuse the existing boulevard with LRT, transforming it in to something more akin to the existing Blue Line corridor.

    Independence LRT would have it’s own travel lane, and would be faster and may be significantly longer than the Monroe corridor. Yes, LRT passengers on Independence would have to cross three lanes of road at-grade, but they already do that on the Blue Line, and (in May) in Norfolk on the Tide. With a road diet and pedestrian improvements, an LRT boulevard would be radically different than a freeway-choked CTA Red Line, or a streetcar on Monroe.

    In short, Monroe streetcar is better than Independence Expressway LRT… but let’s not accept the inevitability of an Independence Expressway, when we can have an Independence Transit Boulevard.

    • Thanks, that’s a good point: I should have noted that only part of the corridor is entirely grade separated. The State of North Carolina plans to transform the whole road into an expressway, but we can imagine doing something different.

      • Andrew Mayer

        When I read this article, I thought Independence Blvd was already a Freeway! I’m surprised any city is constructing a new freeway within their Inner Loop. Hehe.
        Honestly, if Independence Blvd was going to become a transit Blvd, with LRT, the city would have to make major focus on building TOD along the Blvd. Otherwise, it’s just going to be more parking lots along the road.
        And if Independence Blvd becomes a transitway and TOD is popping up along the corridor, the road should be remade into a “multiway”, or an arterial with thru lanes and the LRT, and local frontage roads with parking and large sideways.
        But the streetcar ideas may work just as well.
        It’s just that there’s a lot more room for TOD along Independence Blvd than Central Ave or Monroe Ave.

      • Nathanael

        Good grief, there’s a state planning to build a new expressway?

        This country has built all the expressways it needs.

        • Bob

          Charlotte is a strange town — they are still in the process of finishing their first interstate beltway. Its absence has been one of the reasons that Charlotte’s downtown is healthier than most others in the South.

          • Charlotte has several freeways slicing through its downtown. It would probably be doing a lot better if it had a Beltway but nothing Interstate-grade penetrating deep into the urban area.

  • Jake

    If I remember correctly, Chicago is extending the Red Line, are they not? If so, are they putting it in the freeway again?

  • Beta Magellan

    It’s also worth noting that, as far as I can tell, very few people actually walk to the CTA’s Red Line stations in the Dan Ryan—most people take the bus and transfer, which is fairly convenient given since Chicago’s south side is covered by a pretty comprehensive and frequent network. based on that aerial, I’d be surprised if Charlotte had anything like that or would be able to support an extensive, frequent feeder network for a median-running line.

    There’s a good chance the CSX alignment isn’t being chosen because the railroad’s squeamish about having trains running next to it. UP (being UP) objects to having the CTA Red Line extension in its right-of-way, and I’ve read that our early-nineties vintage Orange Line—which also runs along railway ROW—would be impossible to be build with today’s FRA standards on separation of rapid transit and heavy rail. Independence Boulevard + road diet seems best to me, not that it really matters.

    I actually find highway median stations exhilirating—but I’ve also considered working in Antarctica, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about such things.

    • Andrew Mayer

      Highway medians would work much better for Heavy Rail – Commuter and Intercity Rail. Nothing quite like blasting past the congestion at 45-60 mph in a train!

    • Nathanael

      “I’ve read that our early-nineties vintage Orange Line—which also runs along railway ROW—would be impossible to be build with today’s FRA standards on separation of rapid transit and heavy rail.”

      If this is the case, the FRA needs to die. This is absurd. The Orange Line is fully grade separated over the freight railway. The freight railway, on the other hand, crosses lots of roads at grade and runs right next to buildings.

      If there really is any such FRA rule, it is simply a piece of bullshit designed to prevent the construction of passenger rail, and that is fact. I hope you are wrong and there is no such bullshit FRA rule, but given the bullshit from the FRA in the past, it would not entirely surprise me.

      • Beta Magellan

        I was wrong about it being an FRA rule—it’s not, but something the railways are demanding. They now want 50′ between them and any non-FRA compliant rapid transit, which includes things like pillars. And it’s worth remembering that in some places the Orange Line actually shares an embankment with freight.

        I think this might also be one of the reasons why Denver}s East Corridor’s going to use FRA-compliant equipment, despite having its own tracks—the railroad wouldn’t let them share their right of way if they didn’t.

        • Peter

          There’s a discussion on http://www.cahsrblog.com about how the FRA may be considering a rule that would require a 100 foot separation between the freight tracks and the HSR tracks in the Central Valley.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It’s a blurb from CARRD – Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design. Fairly frequently they announce an earth shattering revelation. And it’s then it turns out to be not so earth shattering. My highly subjective opinion is that they are very very good at spreading FUD, fear uncertainty and doubt.

            • Peter

              I completely agree that CARRD is a skilled FUD-slinging organization (like the fact that they STILL have a counter up on their website on how long it’s been that the Incompatible Offices issue has been going on, despite the fact that that issue is now moot).

              However, that blurb was quoting van Ark, and so far CARRD hasn’t gone so far as to put words into other people’s mouths, even if they will stretch the truth on some issues.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Since it’s nearly impossible to find things on the CARRD site I didn’t spend much time looking for the quote there. Google news wasn’t much help either.
                100 feet would be insane. Freight merrily rolls along right next to all sorts of things right now. In other words we have almost 200 years of experience in what does and doesn’t happen when trains have accidents, no one else is proposing 100 feet or 30 meters or however many rods. It’s FUD or incompetence on someone’s part.

              • Peter

                Or it could be a bargaining position that the freight railroads (as in UP) are taking, not an FRA proposal. In that case it would have been intentional FUD or an accidental misattribution to van Ark.

              • Adirondacker12800

                It would be a really stupid bargaining position. Once they convince the regulators that they need, oh lets say 35 feet, the regulators can come back and have a nice long chat about the thousands of miles of track that don’t have 35 feet between the trains and whatever. And propose a nice long term – 5 years or so – plan for the railroads to buy out all the property along their ROW that has less than 35 feet of clearance…..

              • Peter

                I just watched the video, and van Ark just stated that they are planning on the 100 feet between freight and HSR tracks for safety reasons. He did not state that it was an FRA requirement. He did mention the concerns of the freight operators.

              • Andrew

                If 100 ft is required to go between HSR and freight rails for “safety’s sake”, then by that logic the rails should be ripped out of Jack London Square over in Oakland.
                Seriously. I know NIMBYs have done some credit for cities and states by preventing monstrous freeways and buildings being erected in historic parts of town, but they’re getting out of hand. Like an HOA.
                (There’s a big difference between preventing rusted cars from piling up on lawns and stopping people from installing solar panels on their roof.)

              • Nathanael

                We already know that UP has been taking the insane “100 feet or a concrete wall” bargaining position. And I agree, Adirondacker, it’s massively self-destructive and invites an FRA rule which would bankrupt them.

                The surprise would be if any railroad less insane than UP proposed such a thing. CSX was crazy enough to demand to be 50 feet away from 110mph tracks, if I remember correctly.

                But BNSF and NS and CN and CP have not publicly requested more than 25 feet, to my knowledge. 25 feet is actually reasonable if the purpose is to leave room for track workers to walk beside the freight tracks without being at risk from the passenger trains.

        • Nathanael

          “I think this might also be one of the reasons why Denver}s East Corridor’s going to use FRA-compliant equipment, despite having its own tracks—the railroad wouldn’t let them share their right of way if they didn’t.”

          You may be right about that. I believe East Corridor has to terminate in Denver Union Station and they want to be able to share tracks with FRA-compliant equipment there, as well. Some of the other planned commuter routes have to cross freight spurs at grade, and one is actually supposed to share track with freight, so I suppose they decided to go with it.

  • DBX

    The southside Red Line is propped up by the huge array of bus routes connecting to 95th street at the end of the line, and also by the very busy Chinatown and 35th street stops, one hitting a busy neighborhood, the other the White Sox stadium, police headquarters and the Illinois Institute of Technology campus. But still, a lot of people at IIT and I suspect also the cop shop continue to use the Green Line station on the IIT campus despite its lower service frequency; it’s just much more pleasant to use.

    There are ways of doing the freeway median less offensively than the Dan Ryan. The Orange line in northern Virginia has walls on either side of the stations at Dunn Loring, East Falls Church and West Falls Church and large berms on the Vienna station, shielding passengers from the traffic noise and in the case of the walled stations shielding them from the winter wind too. I-66 is also far less wide than the Ryan, carrying less traffic and with blacktop inside the Beltway producing less noise as well. Unfortunately it still suffers from bypassing the most built up neighborhoods along the route.

  • Gratener

    Comparing the development resulting from the Blue Line to potential development that may result from a streetcar line being implemented is absurd. The Blue Line runs entirely within its own ROW (except Charlotte Trolley) and has priority at all intersections (all are gated).

    On the other hand, a streetcar is simply a bus on rails, offering little advantage over ordinary buses.

    • On the other hand, a streetcar is simply a bus on rails, offering little advantage over ordinary buses.” … except, of course, of the fact that it is on rails, providing better ride, more energy efficiency and, since the rails are a much better ground than rubber tires on asphalt, simpler electrification.

      • Adirondacker12800

        and long term, cheaper. Buses start to fall apart at ten years, usually ready to be replaced at 12 and held together with prayers if they make it to 15. 40 year old streetcars are common.

        • Henry

          “40 year old streetcars are common.”

          Outside of heritage streetcar lines, is that actually a good thing?

          • It’s fine. 40-year-old trains aren’t the greatest, but they perform about as well as 15-year-old buses, or better because they don’t spew pollution.

            • Adirondacker12800

              I rode the PCC cars in Newark. They were a little worn but much better than a 10 year old bus. Rail vehicles don’t take the beating buses do. The track is much smoother than roadway and there’s no internal combustion engine rattling the thing to pieces…

              • I’ll defer to your judgment on this – I was thinking more about the state of the R32s and R40s.

              • Adirondacker12800

                …ya shoulda seen the state of the R9s when they went out of service. Hurtling along Central Park West in the dead of summmer with all the windows open was a special treat. I’m surprised more New Yorkers aren’t deaf.

              • You should ride the non-air-conditioned trains in Paris (i.e. almost all of them). They keep the windows open in summer just the same, but because the RER has longer stop spacing, it goes faster and requires you to cover your ears.

          • Max Wyss

            If they are well maintained… not such a big deal.

            Zürich just recently phased out their last “Mirage” trains from the late 60s/early 70s, and most of them will have an additional 10 to 15 year life in Vinits in the Ukraine. And when the Tram 2000 will be retired, they also will be 50 years old.

            OK, for light rail vehicles, low floor and air condition are requested nowadays, but that’s mainly a passenger comfort issue.

            • Peter

              Hell, Berlin was running S-Bahn trains originally built in the 1920s and ’30s all the way through 2003.

              You want howling EMUs, those are what you’re looking for.

              They were fun to ride, too, you could open the doors between stations with very little effort.

              Interior with wooden seats, which they had until they were decommissioned.

              • Nathanael

                Oooh. Pretty.

                I’ve had a lot of people comment to me how much they preferred the designs of old vehicles (trains, buses, cars), and upon probing more carefully, I’ve realized that they usually mean simply the *wooden interiors*.

                I wonder how much wooden interiors cost these days. I know they’re both rather expensive and rather expensive to maintain, but I wonder if there’s some way to make them affordable, because they’re *popular*.

                Some people prefer padded seating to wooden, but everyone seems to like the *look* and *feel* of wooden paneling. I wonder if it can be made affordable, perhaps with fake grain on a thin particleboard veneer…

      • Buckeyeman

        Well, can’t a rail transit line be considered just that and use any kind of roadway median or other private right of way? Back in the old days of streetcars there were many lines which used various types of private right of way, including their own bridges, tunnels, etc. yet the were called either streetcars or trolleys and light rail standards as we now know them didn’t exist then. It’s always been my firm belief that had more streetcar lines and systems been at least partially undergrounded, that would’ve made them, if not unassailable, at least less assailable. So just because you want a rail line to be a streetcar line doesn’t mean that it has to be in 100 per cent mixed traffic by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever.

  • Henry

    Out of curiousity, why do these projects have to be built in the median? I assume it’s much cheaper to lay rails on the innermost lanes of the roadway than to clear trees and debris to lay a brand new trackbed.
    Building it in preexisting road lanes (and separating them, of course) would also turn a 6 lane arterial into a 4 lane road, which would probably be easier to cross.
    So why don’t they?

    • For the same reason they’re also turning the boulevard into a controlled-access freeway. They’re not designing transportation policy for transit use; they’re building infrastructure to hog federal funds.

      • Andrew

        If they’re trying to hog federal funds, how can their representatives call themselves “fiscally conservative”? (If they do)

    • Ocean Railroader

      A lot of the old four lane highways in the Richmond City limits have a case where they are four lanes wide with off street parking but have a 20 foot wide grassy strip going down the centers of them with power poles running down them middle of them. The grass strips are seprated from the four lane wide road by curbs and gutters. And if you where to go back in time ot the 1930′s and 1920′s when these roads where built the four lane wide roads would have double track streetcar lines running down the centers of them with no traffic in their ways.

  • Roland S

    Don’t confuse bad planning with poor design. Highway median stations definitely have the potential for supporting dense development, but only if they are designed properly. By this I mean: shielding them from the noise/exhaust of traffic, and dealing with the station access in a pleasant and commodious manner.

    Each and every one of the examples mentioned, in the post or its comments, falls victim to a design mistake.

    • Roland S

      The Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line has poor shelter on the platform for riders, and the overpasses that provide access to surrounding neighborhoods do have uncomfortably narrow sidewalks and too-high speed limits for arterial traffic. The highway itself is also uncommonly wide. The new 35th St station (at US Cellular Field) tries to solve this with wider sidewalks and a large protective canopy over the sidewalks.

      The Orange Line in Virginia reserves all the land within walking distance of the platform for park-n-ride lots, garages, and bus turnarounds. Even if developers wanted to build TOD, they can’t get near the stations. However, they did make a good move in building dedicated pedestrian overpasses instead of relying on adjacent roadway overpasses.

      Buckhead Station is the best of the lot, since it has attracted developers to build on platforms over the highway. The station exits onto a dense streetscape. Th highway itself is pretty narrow. However, it sounds like it needs a secondary entrance and better signage. I’ve also heard, anecdotally, that Atlantans still have a status complex around their cars, and look down on riding transit, so that might play a factor.

      • Why does the Dan Ryan branch get more riders than the South Side portion of the Green Line? Does it just serve a more central area, offsetting the problems of its highway median design?

        • This is a good question. There are a few explanations that strike out at me:

          - The Red Line uses the downtown tunnel, versus the Green Line’s use of the Loop. This makes the Red Line faster, and perhaps more importantly, gives it direct access to what is effectively an extension of downtown north of the river. This area is a major destination and direct service makes it more functional.

          - The Green Line doesn’t go nearly as far south as the Red Line — only to 63rd Street, compared to 95th for the Red Line.

          - Though just a few blocks east of the Red Line, the Green Line runs directly through the area of Chicago that has perhaps been the most decimated from neglect and disinvestment over the last few decades.

          • I’m willing to believe #2-3, thanks. But #1 is wrong – initially, the Red and Green Line’s southern branches were the opposite of what they are today, and they were switched only after the Dan Ryan line became the busier of the two, to match the ridership patterns to the north better.

        • Nathanael

          Two more reasons:
          - Longer stop spacing means the Red Line runs faster than the Green Line.
          - Through-running with the North Side Main Line means it runs more frequently, and later at night.
          - The Green Line was actually closed for two years, and lost lots of riders to the Red Line at the time — to the extent habit matters.
          - The Red Line competes with little except the Rock Island Line on the west, and that’s not that frequent and has few stops and when it does they’re quite far away; the Green Line competes with the Metra Electric Line and the express buses on Lake Shore Drive as well as the Red Line. The communities east of the Dan Ryan are the most decimated. It would be interesting to get a “from east”/”from west” analysis for the Red Line and Green Line stations; I suspect most Red Line ridership is from the west side of the Dan Ryan.

          I think the fact that the Red Line runs much further south is most significant, however. 95th alone has a huge proportion of the Red Line South ridership.

          • FG

            What is now the Red Line stole most of the riders from what is now the Green Line pretty much upon opening. The Loop and State Street tunnel are all of a block apart when it’s on Wabash. I think the Green Line is now comparable to the Red speedwise – there is a huge stretch with no stations to the north. I think neighborhoods are a bit factor in it’s ridership, both ends of the south branch have low population densities and many people who are employed may not work downtown or take the bus to save the surcharge for the el (and the newer middle class residents mostly drive – driving is easy on the South Side). South of the Skyway, the neighborhoods EAST of the Dan Ryan become quite nice and have lots of downtown professionals (Chatham, et al).

            The green line does NOT compete with Metra or LSD buses – it’s too far away from them to really compete effectively in addition to totally different demographics (dirt poor, mainly vs middle/upper middle)- despite the cost being less on Metra (with a ten-ride ticket). In fact, north of 47th Street there are no connections for express buses and only one isolated Metra stop (27th Street, which formerly served Michael Reese and now is mainly used by somewhat rowdy and unruly HS pupils.

            • Nathanael

              “What is now the Red Line stole most of the riders from what is now the Green Line pretty much upon opening.”

              At THAT time, however, the Green Line was slower.

              The deletion of the Dorchester branch of the Green Line pretty much cut out the U of Chicago area service from it, as a side note.

              • FG

                The leg from Cottage to Stony (later cut back to Dorchester) never really got any riders from the campus (which was almost all north of 59th St until recently), it was (and still is) more convenient to take a bus or metra downtown. Only time I ever rode the green line as a kid in the area was during the blizzard of ’79 when buses and the IC didn’t run.

      • I like the observation about the Buckhead station in Atlanta. Finding ways to extend the urban streetscape and make the station entrance more pedestrian-friendly is a good idea. Wider bridges sound good to me. It’s possible to go beyond simply making wider sidewalks and go to a “land bridge” stage. Something over a hundred feet wide with park space on top would be a nice option. While this is probably expensive, I do see that there’s a SPUI just north of the Buckhead station which would be on roughly the same scale I’m thinking of.

        With normal bridges, it’s also possible to use retaining walls placed close to the highway to shorten the bridge span and reduce pedestrian exposure to the highway environment. This is being planned in Minneapolis along the Central Corridor, where one stop will be along a short stretch of sunken highway corridor next to the University of Minnesota.

        If you really wanted to go all-out, I’d like to see someone build a modern Ponte Vecchio at a rail station, with businesses lining the bridge. Of course, since the bridge would be going over a highway rather than a river, it’d probably need to be enclosed to prevent retail workers from being exposed to harmful levels of pollutants, but it would be interesting.

        • Max Wyss

          That would actually lead to covering up the highway, something which is happening in various places in European cities, where they “put a lid” over inner city highways.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Like the Big Dig? Very expensive…..

          • Andrew

            Not a Big Dig. That’s tunneling a highway. He’s referring to “cut and cover”, where a normal trenched freeway is covered over with overpass style slabs and a ventilation system is installed.
            One example close to me is the proposal to cover SH-114 near Dallas Texas in order to encourage infill TOD development at the old Cowboy’s stadium along the Orange Line.

            • Adirondacker12800

              You can’t just slap concrete slabs on top of the retaining walls. The Big Dig was mostly cut and cover, High tech bleeding edge technology but they dug holes, built what they had to build and then buried it.

              • Public infrastructure costs more in the US than in Europe.

              • Andrew Mayer

                I didn’t mean literal concrete slabs. If I’m correct, the “cover” in cut and cover goes anywhere from something similar to a concrete floor in a building all the way up to a serious tunnel. The cut and cover job over on the Wood Rodgers Freeway in Dallas Texas, for instance, is more like the former method, but I’m not exactly sure.

            • Max Wyss

              Actually, I was not thinking of cut and cover (which implies new build), but build higher noise barriers and put a cover on top of them… essentially create an artificial tunnel.

              Such sections can be rather short, and if they are less than something around 300 meters, they won’t need any ventilation, and can do it with limited equipment normally required for a tunnel.

              There are actually two projects in Zürich, which can be taken as reference. One project is relly peripheral, and not touching inhabited areas. This project is 580 m long and budgeted for CHF 110 Million (approximately USD 120 Million).

              The other project is much more substantial, and is in the middle of inhabited areas. It is 1.1 km long, and involves rearranging of local roads. A description (in German language) is here (official website of the City of Zürich): http://www.stadt-zuerich.ch/ted/de/index/taz/bauen/einhausung_schwamendingen.html). The price tag is set to CHF 300 millions (about USD 320 millions), but as said, it is a substantial project.

              In both places, the highway is used by about 100000 vehicles per day. Also, both projects must be executed with minimal disruption of the highway traffic.

              • FG

                There are a couple of places where this has been done in the US – there are some in Chicago, NYC and Boston among others. It’s a good idea, expressway median stations are generally unpleasant.

        • Deacon

          Your Ponte Vecchio idea has been done in Portland

          http://chatterbox.typepad.com/portlandarchitecture/2009/11/learning-from-columbus-friedmans-case-for-capping-i405.html

          Its a great Idea, looks good and the USA has plenty of places where such a design would work.

          The capping of Woodall Rodgers here in Dallas is over a part of the short freeway that was already well below the level of the City. It entailed reinforcing the North and South Walls and also the Center to carry the loads of the park thats to span that section of the freeway. The positives of the new lid far outweigh the inconveniences caused to traffic due to construction down there. Its still busy as hell.
          Once complete Uptown (the densest part of Dallas and the Downtown area will have a “gateway” connection which should do wonders for development. Again there are plenty of places where this can be done. In Seattle for instance there is a similar type of setup over I-5.

          The Big Dig cost an Insane amount of money the end result though was a positive one. Using the Big Dig as an example of how not to go about it, I think there is potential for Downtowns to be restored in similar fashion.

  • Rick

    Too bad that there’s no money for any of this.

    Just a few hurdles to get over such as finding any money to actually operate the lines. CATS is already on record saying they don’t have any money to operate the starter line – if they ever even get that built. The 2015 date mentioned here is already a year later than the original date. The current blame for that delay is on the Feds for delivery of the grant funds to start building it.

    Then there’s the little problem of the $500m total cost for the originally planned streetcar line, of which the Central Ave portion mentioned here is only a part. Politically, the City will be hard pressed to build the Central Ave portion before going the other direction out to the West Side.

    Add in other funding hurdles such as the new Republican state legislature – the first in over 100 years – as well as that pesky thing called the inter-local agreement that would need to be changed to spend and/or raise any new money for the Monroe section, and these plans appear to be a bit “optimistic” when it comes to raising any local funds outside the City’s own budget. I’d imagine the police and fire department folks who’ve just been told they can’t be supported in the future at their current levels would have a bit of an issue if the City funneled more money towards these projects.

    Maybe Mary Newsom the “journalist” can write about the solutions to these minor issues in her next opinion piece in the editorial section of the Observer.

  • laldm

    The beautiful thing about having the Red Line in the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway is those (not too infrequent) days when you ride past 14 lanes of stopped traffic in a train going 40 mph.

    I wouldn’t say the Dan Ryan Branch of the Red Line is a failure at all. For 1960s rapid transit design, it is actually quite good. After all, it carries 100,000 riders per weekday, not a small number. Also, as previously stated, the Dan Ryan stations are served by a vast network of heavily-utilized buses that run every 10 to 15 minutes, and they let riders off right in front of the stations, so generally you don’t have the make the walk described. The south side of Chicago is not really that dense by big-city standards and it very spread out, so this pattern really kind of works.

    That said, it is doubtful that the same design would be used today, and the proposed southern extension of the Red Line has stations sited directly in the neighborhood it runs through, which will provide better opportunities for TOD.

  • Bob Davis

    Here in my area (near Pasadena CA) we have the Metro Gold Line, with three stations in the I-210 median. Riding the train around 4 PM is a fun experience for a rail enthusiast–as the light rail cars outrun even cars and buses in the HOV lane. Where the freeway can really get congested is just to the east of the current terminal, where it narrows from 5 lanes to 4. But help is on the way, with an extension to Azusa (about ten miles) due to start construction this year. Best of all, the new stations will be away from the freeway. Actually the road noise at the terminal platform doesn’t bother me that much, but I’ve worked in power plants and locomotive shops, and for fun I go to rock music performances and help rebuild old streetcars.

  • Deacon

    Highway median stations, although not the preferred solution could be so designed as to be elevated over the highway.

    Think http://flic.kr/p/6Lf5ym (granted this is a truck stop with an over head restaurant but could easily be a train station or even http://www.flickr.com/photos/infinitewhite/4840294185/.

    The solution is not ideal. In both photo examples the access is key. The stations could be fed with buses expanding their reach even further. Both can generate TOD on either side of the highway given the dual access. Noise barriers come in a great variety and could even be made decorative to be pleasing to the eye.

    Again not Ideal but not entirely bad either.

  • Tom Marney

    Late as usual…

    Independence Blvd is one of the strangest roads in the US. For most of its length, it’s simply a suburban arterial that’s impossible to turn left onto or off of because the busway is in the way, which makes it a not-very-good location for anything, whether business or residential. To me, it seems that the simplest thing to do with it would be to squeeze in a couple of stations in the median where reasonably frequent bus routes cross it, ideally with bypasses so express buses wouldn’t have to stop. That and put in more crossings so it wouldn’t be so disruptive to the area.

  • 23skidoo

    There are a few freeway-median stops in Calgary (University to Crowfoot is in the median of Crowchild Trail). They seem to be well-utilized, but that could be due to the bus connections, and the pathway system of the university connecting directly to University station.
    Using those stations isn’t too unpleasant either, but that could be because the freeway isn’t very wide or fast (3 lanes per direction, and 80km/h or 50 MPH).

    • Andrew

      Like the case with the CTA’s Red Line, feeder bus services give the stations in the median an edge. From what I’ve heard, feeder services aren’t that effective in encouraging TOD. Yet TOD doesn’t like to pop up next to freeways either.

  • Andrew

    I think that the negative effects of building rail in or around freeways can be minimized by planning proper pedestrian connections to nearby buildings. For example, in Pickering (a suburb east of Toronto), an enclosed footbridge is planned between a commuter rail station on the south side of Highway 401 and a shopping mall on the north side. This provides an alternative to walking along a narrow sidewalk on a nearby road bridge, crossing several on and off ramps to the highway. Something similar is proposed in Ottawa across Highway 417 to connect the main train station and a busway station (to be converted to LRT) to a baseball stadium and hotel.

    • Nathanael

      Well, yes, that does work. It adds $$$ to the cost — bridges are ALWAYS expensive, especially nowadays since they need elevators — so it’s usually worth considering whether there are other nearby alignments which would be just as good but cheaper.

  • Matt

    This reminds me for the plan for the University’s West Bank station in Minneapolis for the Central Corridor. It will be in a sunken grade between two bridges.

    My idea is that they should provide “air rights” for development over the corridor, facing these two streets. This would connect the pedestrian realms on both ends of these bridges (Cedar Avenue and 19th Avenue).

    Thoughts?

  • FG

    Since we’re talking about the Red Line, I might draw attention to the proposal to…..gasp….bury the north branch in tunnel, which was cheaper than a full rebuild of the four track main line viaduct (it would be a two track tunnel).

    • Nathanael

      That section of the CTA Red/Purple line absolutely needs four tracks. Is it actually cheaper to build a tunnel *and* rehab the viaduct for two tracks? I doubt it.

      Admittedly only one of the two routes would need stations, since two of the tracks are express tracks. Perhaps putting the express tracks in a tunnel *would* be cheaper as it’s a straight-through bore from Howard to at least Sheridan and massively simplifies the station design problem on the surface.

      • FG

        The justification was that there would be no need for express service since local service would be quicker than express is today (it DOES run pretty slow in some places when it should be speeding along). As I understand the plan, is two/three track tunnel only.

  • Charles

    I travel to Charlotte and I have driven uptown since the opening of the Blue Line. I do not have the numbers in front of me but I am curious about costs. Specifically, what is the estimated costs of completing the Silver Line (as BRT) and completing the Central Ave streetcar versus completing the Central Ave streetcar, building the Monroe streetcar and dropping the Silver Line. Considering how suspect, financially, completing the original 2030 plan is, I imagine that will be the driving force in considering the ULI’s recommendations.

  • Charles

    Correction to above – I haven’t driven uptown since the opening of the Blue Line.

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