Infrastructure Urbanism

Making Corridor Planning a Multi-Modal Process

» When cities, states, and even regions consider how to improve transportation connections, they should be forced to evaluate a whole range of modes.

If, as I have suggested over the past few days, states are to take an increasingly important role in the transportation funding process, they must similarly become more implicated in the planning program for all modes, not just highways, typically their reserved domain. Though there are some exceptions, like New Jersey and Connecticut, most states currently assign decision-making about public transit to separate local or regional authorities, which receive direct funding from the federal government.

This separation of powers produces a system that perpetuates spending on individual modes rather than the mobility network as a whole; it’s a compromise between automobile and transit interests that frequently results in waste and overspending on certain corridors and underinvestment in others. With intercity rail regaining prominence and states acting in the primary role, though, it is time for the middle level of the American federal system to take a greater interest in ensuring that the right modes are selected and funded for each corridor — at the municipal, metropolitan, state, and regional scales.

The current system — in which state departments of transportation advocate highway capacity expansion while local transit interests push bus and rail improvements — is extremely problematic, because its most common result is an all-in-one approach in which all modes get funded on major corridors, even when expansion of only one mode may be necessary.

The clearest example of how this works is in new urban freeway projects. In Denver’s T-Rex program, the highway department improved service on Interstate 25 and 225 by both adding two to four lanes to the existing highway and implementing light rail service. Why were both necessary? “We weren’t going to spend over a billion dollars on this project without involving more highway capacity. It couldn’t be a predominantly transit project,” said about the project Bill Jones, then the Federal Highway Administration’s Colorado Division administrator. “This was the turning point when we realized together that the transit part of the project couldn’t be built without the highway part.”

It was a political solution, not a technical one. Much as, for instance, Los Angeles built the Green Line light rail corridor as part of the construction of the Century Freeway. Or, as the new Columbia River Crossing between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington will incorporate both several more automobile lanes than the existing bridge and a light rail extension.

But states should be forced to be more clear about their goals for investment in each corridor, and they should be more willing to pick non-automobile options when they’re choosing to invest in capacity enhancements to existing roads. As Peter Rogoff, head of the Federal Transit Administation, said at an American Public Transportation Association conference Monday in Vancouver, “We’re all trying to accomplish the same goals here. We’re all trying to achieve the same efficient, decongested transportation network.” In other words, there are a whole variety of modes that can be implemented to serve similar purposes.

This applies at a number of different scales. State-owned urban roadways — more common in some states, such as my own North Carolina, than others — should be approached from a multi-modal perspective. If they’re too much traffic, the solution cannot always be an increase in the width of roads, especially in sensitive inner-city areas. It would be helpful if DOTs could take a predefined amount of money and then allocate it to the appropriate project. If roads expansion serves that purpose, then so be it; on the other hand, if better bus service presents itself as a more acceptable option, than state DOTs should be able to allocate those capital funds to local transit agencies to institute improved operations over a long time period. Yet no stable system currently exists to promote such transfers of money.

Similarly, on intercity corridors, it would be helpful if states could actually compare the costs of highway expansion with that of instituting convenient, frequent intercity rail — rare throughout most of the country. There are a number of corridors where the share of traffic that could be diverted to transit from automobiles is significantly high as to warrant a de-emphasis from road construction. Unfortunately, such a reallocation would be very difficult to promote in most cases because there is rarely cooperation between state highways and rail departments, and each usually sees itself as serving its own compartmentalized market, when in fact they’re competing for users.

This would, of course, require significant changes in the way state DOTs work. For one, they’re too often constrained by their own workforces, which are heavily slanted towards highway engineers. This means that these agencies typically act as if road investments are the only “realistic” way to go about solving transportation dilemmas, even though their peer transit agencies would suggest just the opposite. States must make an effort to encourage consideration of a variety of transportation modes when evaluating each project.

But the bigger problem still is that the majority of projects undertaken by state DOTs — new interchanges, repaving, etc — are relatively small, making investments in other options impossible to consider. These small projects add up into a major program of roads repair and expansion that could be replaced by more sustainable options if there were political will to do so. Thus states must promote master planning for each corridor, considering travel needs across a variety of modes. By developing concrete ideas about how both inner-city and intercity corridors should look in twenty or fifty years, states can be better prepared to implement the best solution for each place.

Image above: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, from Flickr user Little Miss Cupcake Paris

Commuter Rail Triangle NC Urbanism

How Viable is Commuter Rail for North Carolina’s Triangle?

» North Carolina Railroad studies new commuter rail system in the state’s center, but its ridership estimates may be unrealistic considering the region’s demographics.

The fastest-growing tech hubs in the United States are unified in their sprawling nature and provide definitive proof for at least one uncomfortable truth: the country’s smartest inhabitants aren’t necessarily rushing off to urban hubs. Despite the recent increase of wealthy, young, white inhabitants in many central cities — a reverse “white flight” — the overall trend suggests that the fastest-growing high-education metropolitan areas continue to be places with low overall density.

According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, of the country’s 100 largest regions, 28 feature both high growth rates and high levels of educational achievement (what it categorizes as “Next Frontier” and “New Heartland”). Of those 28 regions, only two had higher transit use than the average of the 100 largest metros nationwide and only four had fewer people per capita who drive alone to work. Meanwhile, according to the “Sprawl Index,” calculated by Smart Growth America, only a third of those 28 regions were less sprawling than the average, based on street connectivity, centeredness, mixed-uses, and density.

(These data are sortable in a table at the conclusion of this article.)

In other words, while central cities like New York and San Francisco may be coming back with an influx of new inhabitants, that growth has been overshadowed by increases in sprawling areas.

Chief among them is North Carolina’s Triangle, presided over by the state capital in Raleigh, surrounded by the smaller cities of Durham, Cary, and Chapel Hill. With a population of 1.8 million, the region is the third most sprawling of all American regions says Smart Growth America, with the lowest levels of land use mixity in the country. According to the Brookings data, which refers specifically to the (arguably more sprawling) Raleigh-Cary section of the region, eighty percent of its workers drive to work alone, with only one percent using transit. It has increased in population by 35.4% since 2000.

Now the North Carolina Railroad, a state-controlled organization that owns the state’s primary rail line, has released a study in which it estimates ridership along a potential commuter rail line that could stretch from Durham to Raleigh, via the suburban jobs-heavy Research Triangle Park, and then onwards in both directions as far as Goldsboro to the southeast and Greensboro to the west. Trains would run in each direction every forty minutes, though only during rush hours. The document, a follow-up to a capacity study completed in 2008 for the same corridor, projects as many as 4,600 daily riders if the system were activated today. By 2022, it suggests a daily ridership of more than 11,000 — enough to make it the country’s 13th-heaviest used commuter rail line, quite an achievement for the nation’s 29th-largest metropolitan area.

The N.C. Railroad suggests that a 50-mile starter line between West Durham and Clayton, via downtown Raleigh, would attract the majority of riders.

Both Raleigh and Durham are considering the implementation of their own electric light rail systems that would eventually connect. Raleigh’s line could extend from Cary to northeast Raleigh, via downtown and North Carolina State University; Durham’s would link east Durham with the University of North Carolina, via downtown and Duke University. Those light rail investments, which would in some places follow the same corridor as the commuter line, lack a funding source at the moment, though the region’s counties are considering bringing a 1/2-cent sales tax to vote in November 2011.

But this proposed commuter rail line would be far cheaper to implement, costing only about $250 million to build, as compared to the more than one billion dollars that would be necessary for the light rail links.

The Triangle is not a metropolitan region in the traditional sense, with a heavily populated and jobs-rich core. Rather, it’s a highly diffuse, polycentric place, with several jobs cores and no large neighborhoods made up primarily of apartment housing — in other words, it doesn’t have many areas ready-made for transit. The map below shows how jobs are spread out across the region in relation to the proposed commuter rail corridor.

The question is how or even if fixed-guideway transit can be made to work in a place like this. Efficient public transportation is almost always highly dependent on heavily concentrated neighborhoods to which people can walk from stations. Though there are plenty examples of commuter lines with park and rides on one end, almost all rail line users from Boston to Portland have a work destination within walking distance of a station. Can a region like the Triangle adapt to an improved transit system? Does its existing commuting patterns make the use of anything other than the private vehicle possible?

What seems clear is that the N.C. Railroad’s estimates of 11,000 daily riders by 2022 is unrealistic. With just four stations between downtown Raleigh and downtown Durham, the line would feature a very small total area within walkable distance of stations, reducing the potential rider base. Moreover, neither downtown is particularly large and the Raleigh station wouldn’t be directly adjacent to the jobs center. To make matters more difficult, the primary residence of most of the workers in each downtown is that respective city, not the other one. And neither south Durham nor North Raleigh, both areas of huge housing growth in recent years, would get stations.

It’s worth considering how the proposed system compares to similar routes around the country. Austin’s new 32-mile Red Line commuter line, which offers just nine round-trips a day, all at rush hour, has been attracting around 1,000 daily users since it opened. Salt Lake City’s FrontRunner North, which shuttles commuters 44 miles into downtown from Ogden, is now carrying 5,000 people a day, with all-day two-way service. Could the Triangle, with more spread-out employment than those two regions, get more riders?

Even if the answer is no, the goal of commuter railroad operations between Raleigh and Durham — something equivalent to more frequent Amtrak — isn’t an inherently bad idea. Any track improvements would aid in the movement of all intercity trains using the corridor. At a far lower cost than light rail, commuter rail would offer mobility between the region’s big cities, opening up the possibility of getting between the downtowns far more easily than is possible today.

In addition, investing in commuter rail along the Raleigh-Durham corridor would open up the possibility of investing in light rail elsewhere. Durham Mayor Bill Bell has noted his fear that more frequent intercity trains would doom any hope of light rail between these two cities, but perhaps that’s a good thing — this route isn’t necessarily ideal for urban rail. It passes through the sprawling Research Triangle Park, whose suburban office park layout makes it hopeless for fixed guideway transit. Meanwhile, the densest non-downtown areas of both Durham and Raleigh aren’t on the line, meaning that ridership would be inherently limited compared to other potential corridors.

Instead of spending big bucks on electric rail on this corridor, both Durham and Raleigh could concentrate on serving their own, potentially more rider-heavy lines. Most people who work in downtown Raleigh will continue to live in or near Raleigh — and the same can be said for Durham. The transit system should be designed to reflect that fact.

Commute Sheds for Downtown Raleigh and Durham
Sprawl, Commuting Habits, and Growth in the Nation’s Big, Growing, and Educated Metros
MetroSprawl Score% Drove Alone% TransitChange in Pop Since 2000
National Average10074.07.09.2
Colorado Springs124.477.21.614.4
Des Moines80.51.615.1
Kansas City91.682.21.58.6
Salt Lake City110.975.33.314.7

“Sprawl Index” data from Smart Growth America; lower number indicates more sprawl. Data on commuting habits and growth from the Brookings Institution. Images above: (1) Potential Central North Carolina commuter rail, from North Carolina Railroad; (2) Employment density and home locations of workers in North Carolina’s Triangle, from Census data

Houston Light Rail Social Justice Urbanism

Rallying Against Rail in Southeast Houston

» Residents fear light rail would cause accidents, gentrification, and displacement. Can any transportation project be so influential?

Like many sunbelt cities, Houston is rushing to build a transit system that can provide an alternative to the congestion caused by a population that has exploded by more than a million people over the past forty years. Now with about 2.3 million inhabitants, the city has developed a five-line light rail plan that would extend rapid transit across the densest areas of the metropolis. Though fiscal difficulties may result in a delay in the construction of two of the planned corridors, most of the project is expected to advance as planned, with new lines opening beginning in 2012.

Houston’s first modern rail operation — along Main Street from downtown to the stadium complex — opened in 2004 and has been a roaring success, attracting more riders than initially foreseen.

Yet any plan as ambitious as this will encounter controversy, so the news that some residents along the proposed Southeast Corridor are protesting the project isn’t particularly surprising. But are the concerns expressed by community members affected by the line’s construction worth considering? Can city officials make the planning process more democratic with the aim of ensuring a sense of local incorporation, even while advancing a program whose aims are more about long-term, citywide goals?

The six-mile Southeast line will extend the light rail system from downtown to Palm Center, along Scott Street, Wheeler Street, and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, reaching the University of Houston, MacGregor Park, and an area of the city whose population is predominantly poor and black. Eleven stations will stop in zones that have low to moderate residential densities and relatively little retail. A rail corridor could project a new vitality into the area — or it might have little influence on the community’s look.

Not yet sure of the eventual outcome, however, some residents have been vocal in expressing their concerns that the new light rail line — which will operate primary in the median of relatively wide streets — will put in danger the neighborhood’s existing conditions by endangering pedestrians and transforming the low-rise community into a medium or high-rise one.

The specter of out-of-control light rail trains mowing down seniors and children is, frankly, an absurd one: trains don’t travel any faster than do cars, and unlike automobiles, trains stay in their travel lanes. Yet people from Houston to Los Angeles to the Washington suburbs are convinced that the sheer unfamiliarity of the trains will make them a danger. Meanwhile, the average fifty Houston pedestrians who die every year after being run over by drivers doesn’t seem to elicit much soul-searching; no one is talking about shutting down the major arterials of Southeast Houston to cars.

But the worry about neighborhood change is a legitimate one: one of the very explicit goals of the new light rail system is to increase density along affected corridors and to encourage a change in the landscape of Southeast Houston, much of which today is hardly different than your average sprawling suburban neighborhood. And indeed, the fear that improved transit can produce negative mutations is shared between communities both rich, often convinced that criminals will ride trains into wealthy neighborhoods, and poor, anxious that rail will bring in developers who will search to kick the impoverished out of their homes.

Transit isn’t as powerful as either its proponents or opponents would suggest: it won’t instantly result in a radically morphed neighborhood, for the better or worse. The by-products often attributed to new rail systems are usually the consequence of a series of decisions and investments, not just those related to transportation. In other words, it’s not really the light rail trains themselves residents of Southeast Houston should be afraid of, but rather the way in which that light rail system is used to shape the growth of an area. The inhabitants of the neighborhood certainly won’t suffer from better transit access!

Municipal governments have a powerful say in arbitrating the use of improved public transportation to spur development. If local authorities choose to concentrate growth in specific parcels near stations, they can provide incentives to build bigger there, or ban new housing or commercial outlets from areas outside of those zones. On the other hand, some governments do very little, choosing not to up-zone land around stations and allowing low-density sprawl to remain the name of the game.

For the sake of increasing ridership and the development of walkable urbanism, there are clear advantages in promoting the former: higher-density neighborhoods at transit stops.

But residents of affected neighborhoods don’t necessarily want to see that kind of environment: many people live in Southeast Houston because of how it looks, not because they’re looking to see it evolve into a district of four-or-five story structures. That kind of neighborhood change is exactly what the people who are protesting are trying to prevent.

The City of Houston, like any place developing improved transit, has a responsibility to encourage expanded democratic involvement in determining how the neighborhood can or should transform. Houston has set up a community office near the terminus of the proposed line at Palm Center, a former shopping strip, and this is a good first step. But the city should be engaging in an open dialogue with willing community members about which parcels to improve and which to keep as they are. The transit line is only the first stage in what must be a permanent back-and-forth about how to make the neighborhood a better place.

Encouraging this kind of civic discussion will reduce uninformed criticism of light rail as well as ensure that new housing and commercial developments along the line are scaled appropriately in an attempt to meet local desires. There is no perfect way to go about doing this, but making an effort could certainly expand popular support for the project and potentially even improve it.

Image above: Rendering of Houston’s Southeast Light Rail Corridor along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, from Metro

High-Speed Rail Urbanism

The Sprawling Effects of High-Speed Rail

» Faster travel times result in larger commute markets. Whether that means more suburban sprawl, however, is a decision left to municipal planners.

We’re told that French and Spanish villages, once too far from major cities to have any national consequence in an information age, have seen their fates reverse thanks to high-speed rail systems that have put them far closer than ever before to the centers of politics and finance. The result, apparently, has been a re-population of formerly dying towns with long-distance commuters working in the big city but interested in living at the rural edge.

For American urban planners, this prospect puts a blot on the otherwise shiny reputation of fast train service, which many see as a key to encouraging the growth of downtowns and promoting a new era of urban living. But if high-speed rail also allows people easier commutes across ever-increasing distances, couldn’t it encourage sprawl? And if it does so, is it worth constructing?

Jason Kambitsis reviewed the issue this week on Wired, suggesting that U.S. land use patterns would likely mean the construction of huge, sprawling subdivisions in places like California’s Central Valley, which would suddenly be within striking distance of downtown Los Angeles thanks to a proposed high-speed rail system. Though stations themselves are planned to be in central cities, people might drive from elsewhere nearby to get onto the train.

For the most part, though, fears of rapid population shifts to the exurbs as a result of the construction of a high-speed line seem unnecessary. In France and Spain, despite seeing redevelopment around some stations, there has been no clear correlation between growth and fast trains. The French region that has benefited most from TGV service — arguably Nord-Pas de Calais, in the north of the country — has also had some of the country’s slowest growth rates (mostly because of the continued effects of deindustrialization).

In places like Avignon (pictured above), where high-speed stations have been constructed outside of city centers, some suburban growth has followed, but this is more likely a result of the preexisting economic dynamism of the area than the damaging effects of train service.

The concerns over a migration into the countryside thus seem exaggerated. There are clear reasons for this: Even if tickets on fast trains can be offered relatively cheaply, they will still be far more expensive than the average cost of commuting by car or public transportation within a metropolitan area. Even if cheaper housing can be found thanks to a long-distance commute, transportation costs on high-speed rail will be so high as to make the service unaffordable for most users. These are very clear economic reasons, then, why few people will choose to ride the fast train to and from work every day — and that will limit the demand for increasing sprawl creation.

Nonetheless, some increased development far from traditional center cities does seem likely. The few people who will be able to afford paying daily round-trip tickets may see the benefit of living far into the suburbs, but the European example people like to cite in stoking fears of sprawl is not particularly relevant to the United States. Wealthy people in France and Spain may choose a home that takes advantage of romantic village life and then travel quickly by train into business centers in Paris or Madrid, but Americans have no similar choice, since the village is basically a non-existent entity in most of the U.S. and the only real alternative to urban life is the low-density cul-de-sac, found almost everywhere.

In fact, people who can afford so many train tickets have no real incentive to choose the same old suburban sprawl far away when they can get it close to their work as well. There just doesn’t seem much of a market for such commutes.

Some suburban areas, however, do seem likely to be built up thanks to the increased growth of medium-sized cities which are suddenly connected to major metros thanks to the rail system. The cities of Fresno and Bakersfield, for instance, are likely to see increased development interest because they’re both set to receive stations on the proposed California line. If their downtowns grow up around stations, their suburbs may see further habitation by residents who work downtown, but not significantly of people who plan to take the high-speed trains somewhere else. The train may encourage urban growth in today’s forgotten areas, but it won’t do so by developing a whole new class of long-distance commuters.

In the Wired article, Kambitsis argues that this type of sprawl could be prevented through the creation of transit-oriented development zones in the affected cities, encouraging people to live in denser areas near station sites. And he argues that improved regional transportation choices could play an essential role in promoting the use of transit by even the people commuting long distances.

Indeed, there should be some effort by cities with stations to leverage the benefits of station construction to spur smart growth, rather than more monotonous landscapes of single-family homes. Engaging in an effort to orient new businesses and housing in the most efficient way possible has to be an essential element of any new high-speed system’s construction, and it is something Vision California has attempted to undertake at the statewide level. Yet fast trains will not be the primary cause of sprawl in any place: most people living in each metropolitan area will continue to work in that metropolitan area, so high-speed rail is not so much the culprit as a mechanism to evaluate whether existing growth paradigms are sustainable.

It remains to be seen whether cities like Bakersfield or Fresno will find themselves compelled to fight for a better, different type of urban form, or whether they’ll simply pass back into their old assumptions about how housing should be constructed. Perhaps the construction of new stations in their respective center cities will prove to be a watershed event in their thinking about how to plan for growth.

Image above: Avignon TGV Station, by Flickr user jean-louis zimmermann (cc)

Light Rail Seattle Urbanism

In Seattle, as in Most Cities, Transit Works Best When It’s Not Highway-Bound

» Sound Transit advances plans for East Link light rail; Bellevue council member leads push for I-405 alignment.

In few places in the country is the choice between a quality transit alignment and a miserable one as stark as in Bellevue, Washington, through which light rail trains from Seattle will run by 2020.

The Puget Sound’s Central Link light rail line opened last year between downtown Seattle and SeaTac Airport. It forms the spine of what will be a much larger system that eventually extends south, north, east, and potentially west. The East Link, a 14-mile line across Lake Washington from downtown Seattle, though downtown Bellevue and to Overlake, would open by 2020 according to current Sound Transit plans and serve more than 45,000 daily passengers at a cost of a bit less than $3 billion. It’s a huge project.

But getting the specifics right about the corridor will make a big difference in whether light rail is well used in the eastern suburbs. Its exact route will be decided this year now that Sound Transit has conducted extensive studies on the effectiveness of alternative alignments.

As the region’s second largest business district and a huge opportunity for increased development, downtown Bellevue must be adequately served by light rail — or it will face increasing traffic congestion and encourage commercial space sprawl due to a lack of interest in upped density downtown. Last year, the City of Bellevue made clear its preference for a tunnel routing through the center city, but the $500 million added cost of that alignment forced Sound Transit to recommend a surface corridor, even while encouraging Bellevue to find its own funds for an underground link. But city councilors have expressed strong resistance to the idea of running trains in the street.

Now Bellevue council member Kevin Wallace is pushing forward his “Vision Line” proposal that would run light rail trains along I-405, several blocks from the center of downtown. The councilman’s project appears to be gaining support among Bellevue politicians, who are afraid of angering locals fearful of street-running rail and who are worried about raising the necessary taxes to pay for a tunnel. Picking this alignment, however, would significantly decrease the number of riding passengers and dilute the positive effects of installing light rail in the first place.

Sound Transit has a responsibility to ensure that the project is built right. Good transit, in virtually any city and in any situation, doesn’t have stations along highway rights-of-way.

Mr. Wallace’s “Vision” is an effort to ensure that light rail never reaches the heart of downtown, pure and simple. Compared to the other routes being considered, it would have significantly lowered effects on the commutes of people into and out of Bellevue. Compared to the proposed tunnel and surface lines, which would attract roughly 8,000 daily trips for the downtown segment alone, the Vision proposal would get only 6,000. There’s a good explanation for why that’s true; while the lines stopping at the existing transit center in the center of downtown would be in easy walking distance of 93 developable acres, the vision line would only reach 64. In terms of jobs and employment, the difference is even more stark: 18,000 jobs versus 6,400; 25,100 housing units versus 6,800.

If anything, the ridership estimates of the Vision line seem too high, or those of the alternative alignments too low.

Indeed, by placing a light rail line directly adjacent to a freeway, not only is the station itself not directly in downtown, but fully one half of potential ridership in the walking radius is simply cutoff by the highway to the east. That’s especially true in this situation, because the next stop planned for the line, at Overlake Hospital, would be far easier to get to for virtually all of the riders east of the highway. So the Vision line’s downtown station would only serve people on the west side, a huge missing market for such a big investment as a light rail station.

In other words, though there’s only a 1,500-foot distance between the proposed stations, the difference in access will be tremendous.

Mr. Wallace claims that his preference is for the tunnel, but that he is unwilling to use Bellevue money for the $300 million added cost of that project — he thinks Sound Transit should pay. Seattle, after all, didn’t have to pay directly for the tunnel to the University of Washington currently under construction.

The fallacy in that argument is that funding for light rail expansion is distributed by sales tax revenue, per affected area. So Seattle, in a way, did choose to pay for that tunnel; it could have saved money for something else had it opted for a surface alignment (though in the case of the University Link, only a tunnel alignment was possible). Mr. Wallace’s “savings” also ignore the enormous development potential — and added tax base — made possible by the construction of a station in the heart of downtown, since light rail’s capacity will increase the ability of downtown to handle added business and residents. This is something you’d expect the councilman to understand, since he’s a real estate developer himself.

There are other, less obvious reasons why a light rail station adjacent to the freeway would be so problematic. Such stops are frequently isolated, promote a feeling of insecurity, and difficult to get to, because they’re high up on an elevated viaduct adjacent to a roaring roadway. Anyone who’s willing to put transit riders in such an environment during their daily commutes is ignoring the humanity of those passengers and giving an undue preference to drivers, who apparently have the full right to downtown streets.

And that’s striking at the heart of the issue: the councilman is willing to continue the dominance of automobiles on the downtown’s roadways, despite explosive growth and the construction of high-rise residences and commercial buildings. This is an environment in which walking should be promoted. A surface light rail route would do that well, since it would make getting to stations easy, all while operating in roadways wide enough to allow trains to run in the center of the roadway along with cars on both sides. All at a cheap cost.

Yet Bellevue is afraid of the effects on traffic and on the general downtown environment. Those fears are overstated and closed to the possibility of using light rail as a catalyst to reshape the streetscape.

There are plenty of examples around the world where light rail has been implemented while improving the built environment of urban zones. Paris’ Tramway Line 3 operates in a grass-covered right-of-way along a completely renovated set of boulevards that are a pleasure to walk or bike on. In Nantes, the tram’s construction allowed for a complete rethink of the city’s downtown streets, with the results being a fantastic environment in which to stroll and shop. Each of these French transit lines carry more than 100,000 daily passengers.

If Bellevue wants to save money by not building a tunneled link, it could learn from those French examples. They have created great urban environments that this Washington city could well emulate. A highway alignment for light rail will do nothing of the sort.

Mr. Wallace’s argument, which is premised on the idea that a tunneled route is too expensive and that a street-running route is too dangerous, ignores the billions spent on roads and the danger of automobiles. Meanwhile, it ignores the potential advantages to the pedestrian environment made possible with street-running rail. It is a heavily biased perspective and one that should not influence Sound Transit decision-making.

Image above: Proposed Downtown Bellevue Vision Line Station Map, from Vision Line Report