The value of fast transit

» We have failed to come to terms with the fact that the transit we’re building is too slow.

Residents of the Twin Cities greeted the opening of the new Green Line light rail link last month with joy and excitement, finally able to take advantage of a train connection between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 11-mile rail line runs through a relatively densely populated area, serves two business districts, and travels through the heart of a university.

It’s also alarmingly slow. Green Line trains are taking up to an hour to complete their journeys, and even optimistic schedules released by the local transit agency put running times at 48 minutes, or less than 14 mph on average.

Of course, the Twin Cities are hardly alone in their predicament. Recent transit lines elsewhere in the country feature similarly leisurely travel times. The new Houston North Line, for example, is averaging 17 mph. Los Angeles’ Expo Line is slightly quicker at 18 mph. Bus rapid transit and streetcar projects popping up virtually everywhere are often significantly slower. Only the Washington, D.C. Metro Silver Line, which will extend that region’s subway deep into the Virginia suburbs, will speed commuters along at an average of 32 mph. It will do so while only stopping at 5 stations, all of which will be located in the middle of expressways.

With speeds like those light rail lines or services like the Silver Line, it’s little wonder that it’s so difficult to convince people to get out of their cars in so many places. The fact of the matter is that services like this often do not provide much mobility improvement over the bus services they replace. That’s particularly true for large regions where too many destinations are simply too far away to be accessible by transit that averages such slow speeds.

With its Grand Paris Express program announced in 2009, the Paris region is proposing an alternative. With 127 miles of metro lines and 72 new stations planned, the program will completely alter the landscape of this large metropolitan area, offering new circumferential connections around the city center, making it possible to travel between suburbs without having to pass through the city center. The project entered the construction phase this summer and will eventually serve two million daily riders by the time it is completed in 2030 at a cost of more than $35 billion; it is the second-largest single transportation project in the western world, after the California high-speed rail project.

And it will provide trains running at what are, for transit systems, wildly fast speeds — particularly considering that the system’s stations are planned to be located reasonably close to one another and in the heart of existing developed areas. Current projections suggest that the average speeds of the project’s three new lines (15, 16, and 17) will be between 34 and 40 mph. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to blast open access to the region as a whole.

Consider these isochrone maps produced by Paris regional planning agency APUR:

_
Parts of the region accessible by transit in 45 minutes or less from Bry Villiers Champigny (left) or Pont de Sèvres (right) stations. For context, the maps are roughly 35 miles across.

Today
In 2030, with Grand Paris Express and other funded transit projects

The Grand Paris project, in association with several other suburban transit investments, will massively expand the ability of people to get around the region by public transportation. It doesn’t take any specific knowledge of the Paris area to understand the size difference between the yellow areas indicated on the maps above (where you can currently get in 45 minutes by transit from two specific points) and the pink areas (where you will be able to go, in addition, thanks to the new transit investments).

As shown in the following chart, the project will double or, in some cases, quadruple, the area of land accessible in 45 minutes from stations along one of the project’s components, Line 15 (a map of whose alignment is shown at the top of this article). Places in the region that today may be simply too far to get to in a reasonable amount of time by transit and are therefore either required to be accessed by car or avoided all together will suddenly be made accessible.

_
Parts of the region accessible by transit in 45 minutes or less from stations along the future Line 15 (stations are positioned around the chart, such as Noisy-Champs, etc.).

Today
In 2030, with Grand Paris Express and other funded transit projects

The replacement of bus services with light rail lines, the typical American approach to improving transit, would not provide nearly as significant a benefit for the inhabitants of this region in terms of their ability to access the opportunities available along the public transportation network. Slower transit effectively makes it impossible for regions to operate as a unified economic or even social entity; indeed, it is not uncommon to hear people from one side of a large city talk about the fact that they “might as well” live in another region to people who live on the other side of the city. Riverdale in the Bronx, for example, is all but unreachable for people 20 miles away in Jamaica, Queens who rely on transit and the slow, almost two-hour trip option it provides. Both places are in New York City, but the transit offered is too slow to make the two areas feel like they are in the same city.

Faster transit services begin to address this problem, but the lack of fast transit able to span entire metropolitan areas in short periods of time does not necessarily result in lower transit ridership. Indeed, it is usually the largest metropolitan areas that feature the most extensive use of public transportation systems. That’s primarily a consequence of poor access by automobiles, which are stuck in traffic and sometimes as slow or slower than even a pokey transit service, and of the diversity of uses present in the neighborhoods of large, dense cities. For people who live in Manhattan or central Paris, the relatively slow speed of the Subway (average speed is about 17 mph) or the Métro (average speed is about 15 mph) doesn’t matter so much because there’s so many things to see or do within a short distance.

But a failure to provide faster transit options is reducing the quality of life of residents in large metropolitan areas. Commuting times are longer, particularly for transit users, because most people do not work in the neighborhoods where they live and jobs may be anywhere in the region. Trips to local amenities such as museums, theaters, or large parks require more time. Solving these problems requires investments in faster transit options or abandoning the conceit that large regions can be understood as a single entity.

Of course, building fast transit — which typically requires burying trains underground or elevating them in the air — is quite expensive. Thanks to a significant increase in national government contributions to transport infrastructure, the Paris region has been able to advance its fast transit plans; with the U.S. Congress hostile to even keeping the gas tax indexed to inflation, we’re unlikely to see anything similar occur on this side of the pond anytime soon.

Image at top from Société du Grand Paris; isochrone chart and maps from APUR.

42 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Maryland’s two light rail projects address this problem. The Baltimore Red Line will be underground through downtown, avoiding the mistake made when the city’s existing light rail line was put in city streets. The Purple Line will have no vehicular crossings on its busiest section, connecting 2 suburban downtowns more than 3 miles apart in 8.5 minutes while making 3 stops along the way.

    The Los Angeles downtown connector addresses this issue by running in subway. I believe the Somerville Green Line extension should also have good running times.

    For cities with American density patterns, light rail lines like the Baltimore Red Line that run in subway through downtown will often be a good compromise and a big improvement on lines that now run in streets downtown.

    • After the multi-decade screw up building an “intended I-70 Freeway” extension into downtown, that became a freeway to no where, the Baltimore Red Line will only fulfill a promise made 45 years ago to West Baltimore residents.

    • Dave S

      @Ben – you’re just proving Yonah’s point with your “boasting” of the Purple Line. Connecting two points 3 miles apart in 8.5 minutes implies the Purple Line will be operating at a speed of about 21 mph… nothing compared to the 34+ mph needed to really expand where people can go, as demonstrated by Yonah’s Paris example.

      The Purple Line is good, don’t get me wrong… it’s marginally quicker than the existing bus options in that corridor. But America really needs to think bigger (faster) if we want our metropolitan areas to not have hour-plus commutes for all people who are doing society a benefit by taking transit instead of driving.

  • Christof Spieler

    I would suspect that most U.S. transit lines could operate more quickly if (1) maintenance were better (2) engineers were less conservative (3) speed was prioritized more in detailed design decisions (4) existing lines were upgraded for speed. riding in Cleveland, for example, I witnessed trains in completely grade separated right of way slowing down dramatically (I’m guessing 10 mph) at points between stations — that’s probably maintenance. All over the country, light rail trains are limited to roadway speed limits when cars with many fewer safety features are going 5mph or 10 mph faster – that’s conservative. In Houston, there are some very tight curves on the North Line that slow trains — the priority was minimizing property impacts, not allowing speed. In San Francisco, I’ve been on light rail trains stopping at 4-way stops — that would be pretty cheap to fix with a traffic signal. We don’t need full grade separation to increase speed.

    • I agree that poor maintenance and subsequent conservatism are a major cause for slow transit. In Chicago, deferred maintenance has left most of the L lines running much slower than they ought to be capable of (though routing decisions made a century ago to minimize costs have an impact too). The recent Dan Ryan Line rehab saved trains ten minutes each way–not an insignificant amount.

      A related phenomenon is station crowding. Too often, political pressure to keep legacy stations open has meant that systems don’t function as efficiently as they might. CTA pruned a number of stations from the North Side Main Line in the ’70s, but there are still too many in stretches. This, of course, is a known problem for local bus operations, but it’s an under-appreciated issue for rapid transit as well.

  • Tom West

    Transit can be only competitive with the car if the speed is greater than cars… but that requires transferring roadspace and priority to transit. That doesn’t happen, because too few people transit.
    It’s a viscious cycle…

  • 17mph sounds awesome compared to my usual light rail trip of 8mph in Boston.

    I think you need to consider that average speed depends a lot on station spacing. The wide spacing needed to achieve 30+mph is more suited to commuter rail, not urban rapid transit. There is a place for both.

    Also I think you should consider access time, not just vehicle speed. A faster underground system can lose its advantage if it takes a long time to go down and up stairs, compared to a bus/tram in a dedicated lane using proof of payment.

  • Michael

    Great post, and I am glad someone is finally mentioning travel times.

    The slow travel times are a probably a significant reason many of the new LRT and BRT projects are carrying such low ridership numbers.

    Transit has got to compete, and some cities have made it compete well. But the last 15 years has been about building transit on the cheap, and well the results speak for themselves. Slow transit, and low ridership.

  • The purpose of the Green Line was not to speed up transit between downtowns (although it did do that compared to the limited bus that was previously there), but to encourage development. Even in its first month, the line is getting 30,000 boardings, which is the same amount that the Blue Line got after 5 years.

    Maybe in the future the two downtowns will be big enough to have a commuter railroad or heavy rail providing faster links, but as it is there is already an express bus linking the two downtowns via highway with a trip time of 30 minutes.

    • Beta Magellan

      And the Blue Line runs more quickly, right (though I recall it being speed-limited for “safety”—i. e. skittish—reasons)? It’s a matter of appropriateness per corridor—the Houston Metro has the third-highest boardings per mile of American light light rail systems, putting it more in the class of MuniMetro than other recent American light rail investments. That’s because, as it stands now, the Houston line is appropriate was designed in a way that’s appropriate to its corridor. This number will probably go down if/when Houston extends the system further, but that’s more a matter of transit being expanded into less-dense, more-auto oriented areas than anything else.

    • Nathanael

      Regarding Minneapolis-St. Paul, the really slow segments are in downtown Minneapolis (where it stops nearly every block and doesn’t have signal priority) and to a lesser extent in downtown St. Paul (where it takes a somewhat screwy route around the Capitol Building).

      The main hunk of tracks along University Avenue is pretty good; it’s faster than driving down University Avenue in traffic, which I’ve done.

      So the speed numbers on the Green Line in MSP are a bit misleading. There are still separate plans on the table to have an express rail service between downtowns without stopping.

      The segment in Minneapolis should be sped up though.

      • Nathanael

        Also, the touted 48 minute trips are apparently being achieved now. There were parts of the signalling system which weren’t up and running the first week. The trains were being delayed by opening-day crowds as well.

  • Beta Magellan

    It’s worth remembering that speed comes at a cost. I get the impression that there’s a fair amount of buyer’s remorse in the Minneapolis transit advocacy world over light rail because of speed issues, but I’m frankly not convinced that a subway between Minneapolis and St. Paul would generate enough extra ridership to justify the extra expense. I’d look at signaling practices and speed limits first (both big issues when it comes to light rail).

    • Buckeyeman

      The Overbrook line in Pittsburgh has an inexplicable 30 mph speed limit through an area which has few grade crossings.

  • tacony

    We built fast express trains back when we didn’t care what people thought because we knew what they needed. Imagine today if we proposed things that were done 100 years ago. We wouldn’t have the loud, rumbling elevated lines in Chicago or Philly or Queens. We wouldn’t have express trains that run through huge neighborhoods without stopping in them. A train that runs nonstop from 59th Street to 125th Street, 24 hours a day, without stopping anywhere between there? Skipping the entire Upper West Side?! Today we call that the D train, but we could never build something like that again. The process to do so requires consulting the 500,000 people who live and work there who would surely clamor for stops they could use. They would march in the streets in protest.

    We used to call it “rapid transit.” It was fast; it was loud; it was efficient. It got you where you needed to go.

    Now we push “light rail.” It’s slow. It’s quiet. It’s inoffensive. It’s as if we want to convince people that it’s BARELY a train at all. “It’s practically like walking, guys!” But people aren’t walking– the number of people walking to work is actually STILL declining between each decennial census. They’re driving. Transit is now a niche experiment or a last resort. We now prioritize access to transit over usefulness of transit. Because transit is for old ladies or when your car is in the shop. Driving is real transportation.

    • Nathanael

      Actually, we built the express tracks after the local tracks with stops every couple of blocks already existed. Never forget that. You can’t get express routes built without building local routes first; it has something to do with getting the votes of the people along the way, I think.

      • david vartanoff

        Absolutely untrue! The IND Central Park West trunk line was built as both local and express tracks all at once. Note also the rider convenience of stacking the routes, down 2 flights AM to work, up only 1 flight home. (also done on a short stretch of the IRT in Brooklyn) A survey of various local/express track schemes in commuter/transit systems shows express tracks planned from the get go in many cases(although in the Philly Broad Street case the express tunnels were not tracked immediately) Providing the option of a quicker ride for residents of more distant neighborhoods is a good design.
        As to Tacony’s post, no, actually we have gone the other way–BART and WMATA are essentially express only systems with widely spaced stations.

        • The IND’s Manhattan lines was built as a direct replacement for the old Ninth and Sixth Av Els, so it had a direct precursor.

          Express lines in New York save a small amount of time, and only really made sense when the preferred method was wall-to-wall cut-and-cover and the densest part of the city was a narrow island. These days, it makes more sense to build two separate two-track lines to different places rather than one four-track line where no trains previously existed.

        • Nathanael

          David, look back further in your history, because you’re 100% wrong and I’m 100% right.

          The IRT lines were replacing elevated lines — lines which, when first built, only had local tracks. The els nearly all started out with local service only. Some had been expanded to local-and-express by the time the subways were built to replace them.

          A lot of people forget about the Manhattan elevateds. The subways in Manhattan were almost entirely a program of replacement of elevated lines. The “replace els by subways” policy was caused by an earthquake, I believe.

          Given that the local-only els were full to bursting at the time, it made sense to replace them with local+express subways as long as they were being replaced. But you could never have convinced anyone to build them that way if they weren’t replacing the els.

          • david vartanoff

            Some corrections are in order. You wrote “You can’t get express routes built without building local routes first;…” If you count the horsecars as the locals, I might agree. As to the replacement of els w/subways in Manhattan, do you count both the IRT and IND as replacing the Ninth Ave El? The IRT (first NY Subway) was built long before the Els were torn down and it had express tracks from the get go.
            Conversely, the SAS is being built as an inadequate quasi-express only line mimicking WMATA and BART.

            As to the earthquake you mention, I have never heard that one before. It had always been my understanding that New York City decided that subways made for nicer neighborhoods. There is another aspect to this history which blurs the issues. Mayor Mike Hylan was reputed to have a grudge against the “traction interests” (meaning the subway/elevated/streetcar operators) and he was the sparkplug for the IND Subway project. Indeed he wanted, it is said, to [puty the privates out of business by building nnewer better engineered lines near the existing els AND subways. The Depression killed the privates and crippled the IND Second System which would have given us a real Second Avenue Subway and trunk routes to parts of the outer boros that are still unserved by rail. In terms of replacement, the Queens Boulevard Line replaced a surface streetcar in undeveloped acreage–there are pictures from the construction period showing wide swaths of empty land. That line too was built as a local and express 4 track trunk–and achieves the ridership it was designed for.

            • Prior to the IND, the Ninth Av El ran down Ninth Avenue before splitting around the ’50s into the Ninth and Sixth Ave Els. This is more or less what the CPW Line on the IND does today at 53rd St, and the Ninth and Sixth Av Els were only torn down after the IND’s completion, so yes, they were direct successors to the Ninth and Sixth Av Els.

              The Els were all replaced for a variety of reasons, but the IND Second System was so many different types of crazy, particularly the plans involving the Bushwick Trunk Line. The main disaster that screwed over the Els in the end was the blizzard of 1888, which was the impetus for Boston and New York’s subway construction.

            • Nathanael

              Well, the Queens Boulevard Line is an interesting example, due to the relatively undeveloped nature of the streetcar route… though there was also the #7 by that point.

              The IND is pretty wacky, since it was due to Mayor Hylan’s hostility to the existing lines and he was trying to redundantly duplicate them.

              But make no mistake, the original IRT was part of a very early program of El replacement; it’s not a part of the history that most people talk about. The els started in earnest in 1871 (as steam), largely electrified by 1903. The 1909 subway was a direct replacement for some of the els (also intended to be faster, of course).

              It remains true that it’s absurdly hard to get anyone to agree to build a four-track line if there isn’t already a two-track line along roughly the same route.

        • Nathanael

          As for Philadelphia, the lines there were built to replace very busy streetcar lines…

          It’s like that whereever you have successful express services built before 1950; there were always intensive local services first.

      • Anandakos

        David Vartanaff is exactly correct. All of the subway lines with express tracks have had them from opening day. How do you think that they got there, Yonah?

        Subway != El.

        • Nathanael

          When a two-track el is replaced with a four-track subway directly underneath the same street, I think it is best described as a addition of express tracks to the local tracks.

          Incidentally, London literally had express tracks built next to the existing local tracks on one of its Underground lines. In several separate areas, actually (the Picadilly-District shared section, and the District/London Tilbury and Southend section, and all the four-track sections on the Metropolitan Line).

  • AlexB

    It’s the routing of the new lines and their connections to other existing lines, not just the speed, that’s primarily responsible for opening up so much of the city. Much of Paris outside the core relies on the very fast RER lines to get into the city center, and those would remain faster than the Grand Paris metros. The pink areas of the map are opened up because the Grand Paris projects go perpendicular to the RER lines, not because they go faster (although speed certainly helps). For example, at the map for Pont de Sevres (west of city center), the Grand Paris projects do almost nothing to increase access to the opposite east side of the city which is already best served by the RER, but make getting to the north and south much quicker. Most of the benefits accrue to the neighboring outlying areas between which there is currently no direct route.

    On a side note, it’s interesting Yonah would mention Riverdale and Jamaica. Without building any new Metros, the MTA could implement a RER type system and run regional trans along the west side of Manhattan, through Penn Station, and on to Jamaica, for an approximately 40 minute train ride, instead of an hour and a half on the subway. It’s more of a political problem than a financial, steel and concrete problem.

    • Good points all around. Certainly the fact that the RER already exists means that when you add another link in the network, you can take even greater advantage of the fast RER. However, if you look closely at the Pont de Sèvres map, you’ll notice that the east side improvements in pink are thanks to the Grand Paris Express, not the RER. The RER-related improvements are primarily on the southeast side of the region.

      RER-style use of the existing commuter rail lines would indeed improve service quite significantly. That’s fast transit, exactly, and it doesn’t always require new trackage, as you point out.

  • Michael

    Light rail does not have to mean “slow”. LRT as originally planned was supposed to use old railway corridors, and at grade alignments.
    If you look at Edmonton and Calgary, this is how LRT is utilized there. In those two cities, LRT reaches fast speeds (except for Calgary in the downtown area). These two systems utilize full priority, including crossing arms at non grade separated intersections, and barriers to stop people from getting onto the tracks. Coupled with subway style station spacing, and the trains are basically an aboveground subway. Just what LRT was planned to be like.

  • I’m flabbergasted.
    How can 14 mph compete with the freedom and sex appeal of the car going 45 to 55 mph?
    This is not even a fair fight.
    Somebody with authority stop this recurring failure and waste of tax dollars.
    Instead, let’s go back to the proverbial drawing board and figure out a new strategy for transportation.
    Let’s level the playing field between road and rails.

    While many of the comments might try to explain away this speed ratio of 3 to 1, we should remember that APTA gave its best Authority award to the Twin Cities only a few years ago.
    If 14mph is the best we can get from one of the best agencies, we need to rethink how to move transit forward.
    I’m sorry that Comment sections are not suitable… so I’ll stop for now.

    Yonah–
    Great piece and I like the Paris comparison as it shows what great things can happen when an agency has real authority… instead of the voluntary plan that Chicagoland labors under and seems to have buried.
    As another example of how real authority produces results, London’s Thameslink is one of the great success stories in using commuter trains to regenerate centers… downtown and regional. But more on that later!

    • When Light Rail is built in dedicated ROW with few road crossings and stations .75 to 1 mile apart, it does average ~30 mph. For example, Los Angeles’ new Expo Line runs 30 mph from Culver City to USC/Exposition Park (16 minutes) — faster than driving I-10 to 110 Freeway between those destinations and without parking hassles and cost. That is why Santa Monica and West LA enthusiastically welcome Culver City-Santa Monica Expo Line extension opening late 2015.

      The Expo Line only encounters a significant slow down crossing 11 surface streets from USC to Staples Center/LA LIVE (11 minutes for ~ 2 miles). Expo Line shares 6 surface crossings that slow down the Blue Line. Even with the CBD slowdown, by late 2015 commuters will ride from downtown Santa Monica to downtown LA in 46 minutes — matching or beating commute hour speed by car, without the frequent freeway slowdowns below 15 mph.

      Recognizing the shortsightedness of surface crossings from USC/Exposition Park to Staples Center/LA LIVE and too many surface crossings along Washington Blvd for the 18 mph (avg) Blue Line, the MTA is extending both the Expo and Blue Lines underground through its CBD to connect with the Gold Line using dedicated ROW into LA Union Station. A year after the underground CBD Light Rail connector opens, no one will care that it cost 2-3 times the surface Light Rail connector option. But all will appreciate fast speeds between Santa Monica, West LA, Culver City, Crenshaw, LA LIVE, Financial District and LA Union Station.

    • BruceMcF

      “I’m flabbergasted.
      How can 14 mph compete with the freedom and sex appeal of the car going 45 to 55 mph?”

      May a well ask how can 20mph cars compete with the freedom and sex appeal of the car going 45 to 55mph … and yet, people do not abandon driving on those crowded roads, so one way or another, they seem to be doing it.

  • david vartanoff

    some further thoughts on “rapid transit”. When I leved in Chicago (partial summers as a kid 63-65 as an adult)the L was much faster than today. Althoughthe cars were only capable of 45 mph they had good acceleration and from dawn through evening rush, the main route (north end of today’s Red Line and south Green lines) ran a skip stop service as there were no express tracks south of the Loop. They were between 5-10 minutes faster than current service even though some stations of that era have been eliminated. The Purple Line (so called express) is way slower than in the past. All of this is a product of years of deferred/breakdown maintenance and stricter speed control. When I am there these days, Red Line trains are random, delayed for unexplained reasons, and slow. All of this discourages ridership.

    • Buckeyeman

      Well, haven’t certain line rebuildings helped the situation? I was on the Lake Street line back in 1991 on a very slow trip but since then there has been a closure and rebuilding of it which has to have helped to have speed the trip up and I know a couple of lines have gotten it as well.

  • Barry Gore

    The first set of plans for the Central Corridor in the Twin Cities, developed in the 1980-90s had the alignment down the middle of I-94. It would have been much faster than the alignment down University Avenue, but the trade off is one of speed down an expressway with difficult pedestrian access and little to no TOD (see the Blue Line down the Eisenhower expressway in Chicago) vs. running it down a key urban corridor with major destinations, businesses in storefront shops, and easy access to residential neighborhoods. But the point that Yonah is making is still very important. Without the politic guts to build real grade-separated transit, BRTs or pseudo BRT systems are popular, promising much, still costing a lot, and deliver little in terms of travel time savings.

    Right now I am making a daily commute on the Red Line in DC out to Montgomery County. Very heavy ridership on an aging system. One of the key problems with the technology is the amount of JERK. It seems to be very difficult to bring the train to a complete stop without a final jam on the brakes which creates a real snap on passenger bodies. So, while it would be great to go faster, or rather have a faster average speed, the problem is all of the stops (11 stops on my half hour trip). It hardly makes sense to talk about skip stop or express trains for a surface running LRT, but if we ever want to go faster with our heavy rail systems express trains should be planned in from the beginning, with the necessary side tracks. I believe Chicago got around to building the downtown super station for an express to O’Hare, but apparently can’t figure out how to plan or construct the necessary track work.

  • Lewellan

    Subways/elevateds achieve time savings and cohesiveness between high density neighborhoods. However, typical suburban sprawl districts (could) develop active commercial centers Station area for the cohesive feel. The closer stations are likely patronized first and mainly, thus little time savings nor need for speed.

    I hope that statement wasn’t incohesive. My concern is rail-to-bus connections, an obvious shortcoming as transfers, bus-to-bus too aren’t working. Short line Circulator routes to affect rail station transfers under 10 minutes to nearby attractions, amenities, services, housing, commercial venues, and otherwise walkable. Development follows Circulator corridor. Calculation: Speed between stations adequate at 20mph.

  • Wanderer

    There are some situations where full grade separation–subway or elevated–is useful and justified by ridership. But in the United States, which has always been more anti-government than France, not that many grade separated lines are likely to get built. Much (not all) of the heavy rail that’s getting built is connectors, not new main lines.

    I’m not convinced that all the speed has been wrung out of existing systems. I realize took a ride on LA’s Orange Line, in mid-afternoon. I started how many times it got a green light at a signal, the answer was around 40%. If you eliminate the pedestrian only signals, where the bus always got a green light, the answer is more like 1/3. So that BRT hasn’t hit the limit of its technology, just the limit of the city’s willingness (at least thus far) to prioritize the line over motorists.

    • Anandakos

      This is the universal achilles heel of BRT. People understand that LRT trains can’t stop on a dime, so they want those gates for public safety.

      But they object when it’s “only a bus I’m waiting for!”

  • neb

    Just seeing this now, but wanted to make the point that the Green Line travel time is not uncontrollable. Signal phases can be adjusted to easily move it faster, just need to convince St. Paul to do this. The other point is that the travel time is not all that different from the New York and Paris times provided, and this is a fairly urban corridor that doesn’t even enter a suburb, traveling from downtown to downtown and through the university and capitol complexes, not to mention the midway and the cities’ busiest intersection at Snelling and University.

  • If you want to feel better about your travel times, just come ride Boston’s MBTA for a short while. The majority of my transit trips between Cambridge and Boston are a touch slower than walking to my destination.

    The MBTA’s debts have really crippled the region’s transportation infrastructure.

  • MitchellMalloy

    The Silver Line will indeed be quick compared to other transit lines. But the Metro system in the Rosslyn tunnel was already at capacity BEFORE the Silver Line was added. The Blue Line caught the high-headway virus when Metro had to make room for the Silver Line in the Rosslyn tunnel by reducing Blue Line headways to one train every 12 minutes during peak hours. That’s the same as 5 trains per hour. A big loss for Blue Line riders. But Metro is doing it’s best to reduce the impact by implementing more 8-car trains on the Blue Line during peak hours (8-car trains are the longest possible trains in the system due to platform length.) But this is just a temporary fix. In order to reduce crowding and increase capacity long-term, we need a separated Blue Line through DC. It would start by terminating the Blue Line at Rosslyn. The Silver Line could serve as the only line running to Largo until the entire Blue Line separation is built with a connection at a future transfer station at Oklahoma Ave. The Blue Line would then continue to Largo. Separating all 3 lines that currently go through Rosslyn will make an incredible 78 trains per hour crossing the Potomac River. Combined with a separated Yellow Line and a new line connecting the Pentagon, Union Station (DC) and Bethesda (a major community in suburban Montgomery County), the total trains crossing the Potomac will be a heart-stopping 130 trains per hour. That’s about one train crossing the Potomac every 30 seconds!

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