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Having recently been abroad, what struck me the most was not how much transit infrastructure exists in that particular city, but how much car infrastructure does not. And I feel like high ridership levels can be attributed to that. Even as people are able to afford cars, and get them as an aspirational sort of thing, they will sooner or later weigh the pros and cons of cars versus transit. In the US, where cars are such an ingrained default (thanks to massive infrastructure), that's not something people even think about most of the time.

Adam Parast

On the big windows. Why don't transit agencies the US have vehicles (rail and bus) with large windows. The only vehicles I can think of that have large windows are the Skoda streetcars. Are there safety reasons or is it just a money issue?


Adam, american windows have gotten much larger. Look at the tiny windows on PCCs and buses from the 50s, and they even have bars to make them smaller.

The common american bus now appears to be the low/high floor mix (why can't we have all low floor buses like europe?) and so the windows are exceptionally large.

One interesting point about that: When the buses were introduced in Boston 5 or so years ago, I remember reading an article where someone riding in a poorer area was concerned that the large windows meant she was less safe from shootings. Scary. The good news is that those fears never materialized, I can't remember ever reading about a bus in Boston being shot up.


Good points and agree that the model doesn't fit everywhere, but I don't see the problem here: "average customer travel speeds are relatively low because the fastest segments are at outer ends where the fewest people are riding." Well yes, but speeds required are IMO proportional to length of the ride. And the key reason why policymakers are shopping light rail systems like this is costs.


Nice article, I'm just disapointed that you totally forget to speak about what I think is really the most important feature about Strasbourg's tram: it's not the aesthetics but the way the network is configurated and the way it's going to evolve.


J: There is at least one agency in America, AC Transit, that does have European all-low-floor buses, and while I agree with you they're quite nice, the more vocal segment of the ridership seems to disagree and there were a lot of bitter complaints, especially from senior citizens and the like about the climbing involved to get into the seats (and the relative scarcity thereof). I suspect European buses work best with european ridership: short trips with lots of people getting on and off at each stop, which is not necessarily the case with AC Transit or most other bus agencies in the US.


The "futuristic" design is nice in its way, but it actually seems a bit out of place to me in a historical city - not that historical city cores should be preserved as museums or anything, but a super-futuristic look to the trams that is *unnecessary*, since this isn't a 300kph intercity train somewhere, seems to clash somewhat.

Does it really have to be 50s-spaceship-silver?

Also, metros - admittedly, i've never lived in a city with one, but for commutes that consist of short trips in a small city, there seems to be a considerable investment of time getting up and down from the stations, while with surface transport you're immediately there. (The worst offender I know of is actually Tel Aviv central bus station, where local busses arive on the seventh floor and it can take a good ten minutes to arrive at an exit to the street.)


I think all this talk about phallic trains is nonsense. Does anybody actually look at a tram and think about penises? Seriously?


As Freud himself once observed, "sometimes a cigar is a cigar"...


Silly me, all this time, I've been thinking those pointy fronts were cow-catchers...


Tamara said "The "futuristic" design is nice in its way, but it actually seems a bit out of place to me in a historical city - not that historical city cores should be preserved as museums or anything, but a super-futuristic look to the trams that is *unnecessary*, since this isn't a 300kph intercity train somewhere, seems to clash somewhat."

I disagree.
An historic looking tram would be more out of place than these cars.
Strasbourg tram also serve many areas where there are hardy any ancient (build before the WW2) buidlings.

Almost all trams in France have a very modern look.
Honestly comparated at many other tram system in France, Strasbourg tram does not look more futurist.
It is quite average.







Interesting post, but I have to disagree in some ways with some of your conclusions. Yes, there are certainly challenges to getting this style of transit system built in a city of that size, but can you imagine trying to build a metro in a north american city of that size? The cost wouldn't make sense. Frankly, there are challenges with anything that will deter people from using cars and instead get them on buses. That whole idea is politically difficult in many parts of the world, but that is the idea, isn't it? I would love to see fewer lanes of car traffic in many parts of my hometown, for not just transit but bikes and pedestrians, too. Any successful transportation battle that achieves those goals will be a bit messy.

Point is, I don't see how this end goal is more politically difficult or even more difficult in terms of space than the rapid bus in its own lanes end goal. Sure, it will likely cost more, but on large capacity runs that might be needed, and in the end I think we ought to be reclaiming urban space from the personal automobile regardless of what transit technology we use.


Thank you, Jarrett!

I'm nearly as tired of hearing planners and pundits say, "Let's adapt Strasbourg's model -- except that we'll do away with all the elements that make it work!" as I am of hearing them say "Let's adapt Curitiba's model -- except that we'll do away with all the elements that make it work!"


Your statement that "there seems to be a considerable investment of time getting up and down from [metro] stations, while with surface transport you're immediately there," reflects a recent trend in overbuilding/making civic showpieces out of subway stations, rather than a drawback inherent in subterranean rapid transit.

A well-designed system should never add enough surface-to-platform distance to negate the time savings of grade separation, to cause riders to miss their trains, or to let the above thought even enter your mind.

This remains the subway ideal:

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Metro )

And while that may be infeasible today, we need not have swung so far to the other extreme. This is unnecessary, expensive, and counterproductive:

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downtown_Seattle_Transit_Tunnel )

Carter R

Dear Jarret,

As a transit policy enthusiast, 3-month resident in Strasbourg, and someone who once vowed to write about Strasbourg's tram system, I really glad you stepped up to the plate where I flaked.

You did a fantastic job.

The one more thing I would add though, to the discussion of the Strasbourg Model's applicability to other cities is the following.

-Strasbourg is really really compact for a city with about 300,000 people. The central downtown area (which is filled with 4-6 story mixed-use buildings), is only 2km across.

-I lived very comfortably with only my two feet and the tram to get around, and my sense of mobility freedom (ability to get to the places I wanted to go, do what I wanted to do) is about what it is right now in LA with a car.

-Some of this is repeating what you already wrote, but indeed the huge glass windows and light construction really do make the tram feel more like a part of the sidewalk, than a domineering piece of infrastructure (especially from the inside too).

Pete (UK)

Bombardier actually inherited the Eurotram model when they took over Adtranz who built the Strasbourg cars at their plant in Derby, England. The later Alstom Citadis cars were a special variant designed to look like the Eurotrams.



on futuristic looking trams - I don't think some twee fake-19th-century look would be any good either, i'm just not a fan of the deliberately futuristic stuff - all silver and aerodynamics and deadly serious. Its not the starship Enterprise, y'all. I wish someone would come up with something that just looks *contemporary* and not 'futuristic'. Maybe some color?

d.p. - Thanks for the illustration, I take your point.


i was abroad in strasbourg for my spring semester and it was absolutely amazing. the trams were easy to navigate, always clean and everybody used them. their look was sleek and i loved that they were mostly windows so you could enjoy the beautiful scenery strasbourg has to offer

Lauri Kangas

"Other French cities of Strasbourg's size have built small underground metros, but Strasbourg has chosen to develop its trams as its top-level urban transit service."

This is maybe a little misleading considering how few French cities have built VAL metros (3 I think) and how many have adopted the Strasbourg model of trams (at least a dozen). These cities have also adopted the full package including complete segregation and extensive traffic light priority. This is also what French consultants will sell you. They will also include renovating the full width of the streets and public places along the route as an essential part of the package.

This is not an easy package to implement, but you can't claim flat out that it is impossible for anyone else. Urban density is of course a limiting factor, but many cities have a large enough dense area to be served by such a system. It may not provide the full mobility package for all areas, but it doesn't actually provide everything for Strasbourg either. Buses connect with a large number of stops providing both feeder services and orbital connections. TER trains provide services from surrounding communities linking with the tram at at least two stations and a tram-train link is under construction to provide some direct rural connections.

As a further example Lyon a combination of several tram lines, priotized trolleybus routes and a metro to provide the trunk network of a larger city than Strasbourg. Again the tram lines have full priority and provide much more than just circulator services.


American cities west of *Boston* have *insanely* wide streets by European, Australian, or even Canadian standards. Street width is not an issue except for our American "We MUST have 10 lanes of car traffic" attitude.

Tight, dense inner cities? We've got 'em, though obviously not everywhere. Geographically constrained Seattle and San Francisco are good examples.


Summary: It's very, very nice, but don't try it at home.

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