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Wheelist_ca

I can't help wonder if you're presenting an argument in a debate that doesn't exist. When people say they prefer rail to buses, aren't they in fact expressing an opinion in favour of exclusive rights-of-way for transit rather than feeding it into mixed traffic?
In fact, I wonder what is the possible benefit of busses over LR vehicles once a municipality has gone to the trouble of building a right-of-way? I presume the general public shares my confusion on this subject.

Will

Well, ride comfort - smoother acceleration profile, less noise, fewer sharp turns and curves are other reasons for preferring rail over bus not to mention CO-2 emissions.

Bruce Nourish

"I can't help wonder if you're presenting an argument in a debate that doesn't exist."

I agree that many laypeople are thinking "subway or other grade-separated rail" when they say "train", but this isn't universal. The City of Seattle and Sound Transit are building an entirely mixed-traffic streetcar line, and studying several potential extensions that could well end up being mixed-traffic, and plenty of our local transit "advocates" are lining up to cheer mindlessly for rail, because trains are magic.

As for emissions, Seattle has an extensive trolleybus network with zero tailpipe emissions, just like our local light rail and streetcars. Don't conflate "train" with "electric".

Will

Sure if you have electric, low floor trolleybuses, high quality drivers, off board fare payment systems, it would be basically similar to streetcars running in mixed traffic. But then aren't you committing the fallacy of comparing the best kind of bus service to the worst kind of rail service? How much of actually existing bus service meets those criteria?

Kevin McClain

How is any bus service running in mixed traffic the best kind of bus service? Isn't that exactly what BRT is about, providing bus service that is not in mixed traffic? Just because the Seattle trolleybuses currently run in mixed traffic doesn't mean they must always do so.

Bruce Nourish

Seattle will begin taking delivery of low-floor trolleybuses next year, as the current ones reach their end of life; we'll be all low-floor by 2015 or 2016. Our trolleybus drivers come from King County Metro, who also provide drivers for our light rail and streetcars. And while there's no date for going cashless in downtown Seattle, Metro and SDOT are actively studying how to implement a cashless downtown, just as London and Syndey have already done.

So what I'm comparing is the streetcar that SDOT wants to build with the bus service that we're likely to have in a few years anyway, assuming Metro stays in decent financial shape.

Transit Riding Transit Planner

Wheelist_ca: You might be new here. Yes, there is has been a long, ongoing debate on bus vs. rail, even taking into account exclusive rights of way. See, for starters:

http://www.humantransit.org/2011/02/sorting-out-rail-bus-differences.html

http://www.humantransit.org/2011/02/sorting-out-rail-bus-differences-endnotes.html

To give my own very quick response to your question, "What is the possible benefit of busses over LR vehicles once a municipality has gone to the trouble of building a right-of-way?"

- Ride quality
- Lower operating costs
- Higher capacity

Bruce Nourish

"Lower operating costs"

Operating costs are lower if, and only if, you have enough ridership to fill up the trains. Then rail is fabulously cost effective, and its ability to scale up by adding vehicles without adding more drivers is unmatched. If not, the cost per boarding is likely to be higher than an equivalent bus route, with vastly higher capital costs.

Anyway, this is degenerating into the usual nuance-free bus vs. rail trolling, so peace out.

keith

It should generally be a big red flag that you're about to read some anti-rail drivel when the primary example given of successful implementation of BRT is Cleveland's Healthline. The ITDP study is no exception, it's fairly blatant anti-rail trolling.

The line itself is successful, but the GCRTA has gone out of their way to oversell BRT by claiming all the development remotely near the line is related to the Healthline (even projects that were in planning before the Healthline) while only quoting the $50 million price of the BRT itself and ignoring the $200 million in road and sidewalk rebuilding and landscaping that took place simultaneously.

Not to mention for BRT proponents, if you're going to use the Healthline as an example, at least notice that it's significantly slower than planned as giving priority at lights didn't work and the busses tend to bunch up because unlike LRT additional cars cannot be added during peak hours. Additionally, the line has been in operation for only 5 years, but the busses are already starting to wear out, while the Red Line which runs parallel is using 30 year old cars and just now needing to renovate them.

Will

@BruceNourish

I brought up drivers because driving buses to give a comfortable ride requires a much higher level of skill than driving a LRV/streetcar to give the same ride quality. I realize that in principle, perhaps if you have a guided busway, there should be little or no difference in ride quality.

I haven't yet used a bus service that offers as comfortable a ride as rail. If one exists, let me know!

I agree with you on operating costs.

Max Wyss

@Will

Actually, I have encountered light rail with much worse riding quality than a comparable bus. Düsseldorf has some interurban lines, where maximum speed can easily reach 80 km/h. Düsseldorf also has a series of Siemens Combino vehicles which have a leading short wheelbase truck under the cab segment.

Now combine short wheelbase and relativly high speed, and without proper dampers, you will get a hell of a ride. And that's what happens. The one affected worse is the one who can not escape: the driver. That one time I happened to ride these vehicles, the front of the vehicle was shaking with about 10 cm amplitude and maybe 2 Hz. I asked the driver whether that's normal, and he said, yes.

In general, rubber tyre equipped vehicles have a rougher ride quality, because of a rougher surface they are running on, and a (normally) overall harder suspension. You will also see a difference between rubber-tyred subway cars and steel-wheeled ones. A direct comparison would be possible in Paris.

I agree, however, that the skill (and motivation) of the bus driver has a great effect on the riding quality.

Kantor57


Can good transit stimulate development? That's a clear rhetorical question to which the answer is: of course yes!

But then we have to find an agreement on what "good" means, relative to transit. Jarrett Walker has his answer to that question, that does not coincide with mine. He thinks that "frequency is freedom" irregardless of the mean, but I beg to differ. And then we're back to the usual argument "rail vs. bus" that has been discussed at length here and elsewhere...

Jarrett

Kantor57. The fuller explanation of my view about what "good" transit means is here, and of course it takes the form of a question for each community to answer for itself. http://www.humantransit.org/2013/03/abundant-access-a-map-of-the-key-transit-choices.html

Terry Lee-Williams

I would say that both are good depending on the circumstances. I have been integral to building to BRT's and am now working on implementation of a light rail in the City of Sydney, where I am the Transport exec.

BRT is brilliant where you start with dispersed origins and bring to a common destination, accumulating volume as you go. Where you have a large single origin, or a pair of great destinations at either end, light rail is superior because it carries more people on less vehicles, freeing substantial road space, taking pressure of intersections and enabling a quieter, better quality terminus precinct or where running through high-end real-estate (as we are doing right in the centre of Sydney).

As to capital costs, the State transport agency estimates that for the same degree of separation and same volume (we use a metric that once you hit 6500 people per hour in a single direction light rail is justified), the capital cost of BRT is 90 per cent of light rail. However, the operating costs, due to less drivers and lower maintenance, makes light rail in high capacity operations the favourite.

And with willingness to invest, the property owners on our main street were unwilling to invest with the 360 buses per hour on the main street, but are willing to invest with 60 light rail units, 43m in length, per hour. In the multiple tens of millions per site to get the advantage. Because of our topograhpy and geography, govt excise on fuels, expensive electricity and maximum axle weights, economically we are tied to Euro 5 and 6 diesel buses mostly, with some older gas buses in the mix. They are noisy, slow and emit high levels of local emissions when moving off.

If we had diesel-electric hybrids, trolley or other tech we probably would have got away with buses on exclusive carriageway for a couple more years, but then volumes would still have dictated the move to light rail.

All of these debates are context specific, require significant study and evidence to justify and are very important civic decisions. We have a US colleague who is amazed at the depth and quality of the analysis required to get approvals in Sydney, but that comes at the cost of speed of implementation...

Kantor57


@Jarrett

I do appreciate your position; you believe that a professional in your field should present the advantages of a good transit grid, without emphasizing the mean of transportation. I respect that and I believe that it should be the standard, in an ideal world.

Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world; we live in world riddled with preconceptions, personal and/or political interests and general stupidity. And we cannot escape from that reality.

Pete B

Regarding bus ride quality. It is hard to 'sell' BRT to a sceptical public and local politicians even when significant amounts of the proposed system are on separate right of way (busway guided or non-guided), as their only reference point is conventional bus service on public roads. I don't know about US street surface quality, but here in the UK road surfaces are generally abysmal, being pock-marked with poor quality patching by numerous privatised utilities. Personally, I think that if a BRT or Quality Bus corridor is proposed the local authority should include a full resurface of the route and a minimum 5 year moratorium on utility excavations (emergencies excepted).

Another facet of bus v rail is the overall ambiance of the vehicle. In the UK buses tend to have smaller, but turbo-charged diesel engines running at much higher revs than in the past where low revving large engines were preferred. The following video is of a journey in a typical British lightweight bus, but with a twist as it is actually being operated by BC Transit in Canada. Note the harsh engine sound and the rattle of the body work, you wouldn't want to be on this vehicle for long. The bus is a Dennis Dart SLF, with a Cummins engine with Allison transmission - a standard UK spec. The interior seems to be standard First Group spec:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQoSlAP1Y4E

The by now Alexander-Dennis Dart evolved into a nicer sounding bus with the advent of Euro 5 engines and eventually was replaced with the Enviro 200 which sounds the same. More pleasant to travel in then the earlier Darts but is it comparable with US transit buses or LRT in general?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ck2hZ_sbVU

Final clip is of Brisbane's South East Busway. Once on the busway proper the ride quality is good (presumably utility companies don't have their equipment buried underneath). The bus is a heavyweight Volvo B7 so the sound levels are better muffled than on the lighter weight models in the previous clips. Jarrett's postings on Brisbane and this clip illustrate the high standard of this system:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9LAboxAILY

Will

I agree that the choice of mode depends on patronage and affordability. Bus may be a good choice if you are likely to have low patronage or if rail is unaffordable. But all else being equal, rail is indisputably an upgrade over bus.

For example, personally, I think Brisbane's busway programme that Jarett so enthusiastically promotes is totally absurd. Brisbane already had a fairly comprehensive rail network on which frequencies could have been increased to create a metro like service. The busways run parallel to rail lines - effectively money has been thrown down the drain building new infrastructure instead of working on better coordination.

Modest expansion of the rail network (perhaps one new line), higher frequencies and better coordination with the local bus network could have achieved much more perhaps at lower cost.

I am puzzled about BRT being sold (by many including Jarett) on the basis that buses can branch off from the trunk line to serve other destinations. How does that fit in with the "Connections vs Complexity" issue? Why is it better to introduce greater complexity and reduce frequencies on the entirety of the trunk line than make passengers transfer to and from feeder services?

Simon V

Good point, Will, about the issue of connections and complexity with BRT. BRTs do offer a lot of flexibility for the transit operator, but for users, this flexibility often comes out as complexity, even if it reduces transfers. For example, BRT in Curitiba and Bogota have a lot of express buses with limited stops along the trunk. The system is thus very complicated for users, you have to be careful what bus you take.

The capacity of the trunk is also not as high as people say it is. 40 000 people may pass through a station, but if only 1 bus out of 4 at peak time actually stops, the actual capacity of the trunk at this stop is only 10 000 people per hour, the rest are just in transit, like on a bus-only highway. But you can't ask all buses to stop at every station, they would interfere with each other and create congestion at stations, thus slowing down service and reducing capacity. Average speed is also pulled up by these express buses, the buses serving the actual trunk go much slower.

That's not mentioning the issue of operating costs. Ottawa is replacing its BRT in its downtown area by an underground light rail line because studies revealed that it could save up to 100 millions a year by shifting from a "trunk and branches" system to a "trunk and feeders" system. The calculations may be different for developing countries however.

Frank

In Seattle, WA, virtually ALL the "TOD" has been built on bus routes. Not BRT, but just regular bus routes. This includes large amounts of new TOD in Ballard, W. Seattle, Queen Anne, etc., where there is no rail whatsoever. Almost all of downtown Seattle was built on bus routes long before the lone light rail line ever opened.

Meanwhile, there has been almost no new TOD built along Central Link light rail between downtown Seattle and SeaTac airport.

In the Seattle area, the only thing necessary for new TOD is zoning for that type of development. Someone will build "TOD" anywhere, if it is zoned for that.

Simon V

Actually, Frank, most of Seattle's downtown was built when public transit was on streetcars. These got removed only in 1941, until then Seattle had a well-developed and well-linked streetcar network (and despite voters rejecting the plan, the removal of streetcars was a condition of federal aid to the struggling municipal streetcar company).

See this page for images of what the streetcar network looked like back then:
http://www.seattlepi.com/local/transportation/article/Seattle-Streetcar-Timeline-1258480.php

There were also TOD amongst the LRT stations, just one case is described here:
http://www.psrc.org/growth/hip/case-studies/seattle-tod/

But no, you can't build TOD anywhere. You're abusing the term a bit, to have transit-oriented development, you need transit. I think you're using the term for dense mixed used developments, but the two terms aren't equivalent. It's true that if you get zoning out of the way, developments tend to be dense. That's a way to maximize the profitability of the land. Better make two town houses at 300 000$ each than one single-family house at 500 000$ (assuming that the construction cost is the same). Also, old cities used to be what could be called WOD, walking oriented development, which is very, very dense and extremely mixed.

Adriana

The anchor for successful bus-based development in a BRT system is when the savings that might otherwise go into steels is transfered to substantial and consistent *fixed* infrastructure for passenger comfort.

The development industry wants certainty of service, and they'll only feel that way if they see a government commitment to transit translate to visible, permanent, fixed infrastructure.

EN57

@Terry,

Light rail can also be bad depending on the circumstances. In high capacity situations, metros and heavy rail are potentially superior to light rail. In big cities like Sydney, the development potential around mass transit metro and heavy rail stations would be higher than could be achieved around dinky light rail/tram stops.

Future development densities and travel demand to the south and east of the Sydney CBD will easily outstrip the capacity of the light rail lines now being planned. The folly of light rail on major demand corridors in inner-Sydney is evident when you consider that Green Square (heavy rail) Station will hardly be able to accommodate the demand to be generated by the new high density centre now beginning to be built there.

It's clear that the numbers of buses in the Sydney CBD need to be reduced, but why is light rail the only option? You must be kidding when you talk about depth and quality of analysis in Sydney. It's not very smart to be building light rail where you actually need metro, or building metro where you need commuter heavy rail. The thinking around the Sydney's North-West rail link seems to be similarly messed up.

In Sydney's case, the functionality of the regional transit network is much more crucial than embracing trams for their potential to trigger a few boutique developments or high-class retail tenants along one street in the Sydney local government area.

Frank

"Actually, Frank, most of Seattle's downtown was built when public transit was on streetcars. These got removed only in 1941"

Almost all the tall towers in downtown Seattle -- the entire Seattle "skyline" -- were built well after the streetcars were all removed by 1941.

Of the 24 towers in downtown Seattle over 400 feet tall, only the Smith Tower was built while there were still streetcar lines. 23 of the 24 400-foot-plus towers in Seattle were built on bus routes, not rail lines.

All of the dense development in Bell Town, for example, was built well after streetcars were all replaced with bus routes.

Sure, there are some buildings in Seattle which were built before 1941, but everything built after 1941, which is virtually all of the tall buildings, were built on bus routes.

Frank

I think Seattle is an interesting case, and I wonder if Jarrett Walker has written about this, because the Seattle "downtown transit tunnel" was originally a "bus tunnel" with only buses using it. Including the "SODO bus lanes" and bus-only lanes connecting the south end of the downtown bus tunnel to the west end of the I-90 floating bridge, the downtown bus tunnel could actually be considered a good example of "true BRT" in Seattle, which began operating around 1996.

The bus tunnel itself, which is right under downtown Seattle, is only a little over one mile long, but the SODO bus lanes are over a mile long, and the bus-only lanes from the tunnel to I-90 are close to a mile long. So, you had about 2 miles of bus-only lanes under downtown Seattle and extending about a mile south and a mile east of downtown.

So, this was exclusive bus lanes, much of which was grade-separated, with headways under one minute in the tunnel, and no payment at all in the tunnel (which is just as good as off-board payment), because buses were free to board in downtown Seattle until about a year ago.

I would argue that Seattle had "true BRT" for over 10 years under downtown. And there is a tremendous amount of development which took place along that BRT corridor, which also had buses running on surface streets.

I would be curious to know if Walker agrees that the downtown bus tunnel in Seattle could be considered BRT, before light rail began sharing the tunnel with buses.

Simon V

Frank, beware the mad obsession of heights. Height alone does not a TOD make. There are skyscrapers in automobile-dominated cities like Detroit and Dallas. There are skyscrapers in the utterly car-oriented Empire State Plaza in Albany. Skyscrapers mean nothing, in fact they often represent "bad" density, tall towers too far apart from one another, leaving a wasteland for pedestrians on the ground.

What marks TOD is strong urban fabric. You can have TOD neighborhoods where no building is higher than 3 floor high. See for instance the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood in Montréal, which was built along a streetcar line on the avenue Mont-Royal. There is a population density of 52 000 people per square mile in some areas (31 000 overall), and not one tall tower to be seen anywhere.

What is interesting in urbanism is the survival of urban fabric. Streetcars were the main form of transit when the dense urban fabric of downtown Seattle formed, when they were removed, the fabric remained, but stopped spreading, as COD (car-oriented development) became prevalent. Would buses have created this fabric on their own? We don't know. Buses' prevalence in transit came with COD and they were generally afterthoughts in term of urban planning. Curitiba has an example of a city built around BRT lines, but it also had a very strong TOD master plan that it rigorously has applied for decades.

Nathanael

I get motion sick on buses but not on trains.

This is actually very common, affecting something like 20-25% of the population.

Don't pretend modes are equal when they aren't.

Nathanael

Just to be clear: this comparison applies to fairly nice buses on quite nice roads, and trains with damaged suspensions on bumpy tracks. There is something about the *quality* of the motion on trains which doesn't trigger my motion sickness, whereas the motion on buses always triggers it.

I think it's something to do with predictability. There are studies showing that motion sickness is related to the *predictability* of the motion. The motion on trains tends to be very *regular* even on bad track: sinusoidal motions. The motion on buses just isn't regular, even on good roads.

EN57

Most cities can't afford rail just for the sake of ride quality alone. Even New York City, Tokyo, Paris and Zurich run buses. A 'rail-or-nothing' attitude doesn't serve the transit cause - but suits the auto industry just fine!

Simon V

EN57, ride quality may not be enough to justify rail of course, but rail has more than just ride quality has an advantage.

Much has been made of the cheaper capital costs of buses, but little is ever said about their significantly higher per-passenger operating costs. Comparisons in the US reveal on average about 30% less operating costs to move the same number of people on LRT vs buses. If that is 10 million dollars a year, over 30 years this accumulates to a significant sum. Ottawa is shifting its current BRT to an underground LRT in its downtown area to save 100 millions a year in operating costs. The project will cost 3 billions, but over 30 years, it will pay for itself, or at least it does if you don't use an actualization rate that minimizes long-term savings for short term costs, which penalizes long-term planning.

The reason is simple: buses require more drivers to offer the same quantitative level of service, and buses require more maintenance. Additionally, buses tend to last 8 to 12 years, rail vehicles have a much longer life expectancy, it isn't rare for LRT or subway wagons to be replaced only once every 30 to 40 years.

Rail also has higher capacity than buses. The only way BRTs can approach rail levels of capacity is to use express buses and passing lanes in their corridors. These express buses make the system needlessly complex for users (take the wrong bus and you end up somewhere else; even if buses stop every 2 minutes, the express bus you want only comes by every 10 minutes), and if 15 000 people travel per hour on a line, but only 5 000 actually are on buses that stop at most stations, then the real capacity of the line is 5 000 locally in most places. Rail offers better capacity, and development follows transport axes, so rail allows for denser developments along the axis because the capacity at most stations is much higher than equivalent BRTs.

So even if you wish to ignore the issue of ride quality, passenger comfort and preference, rail isn't equivalent to buses. The devil is in the details, the type of service rail offers is different from buses, even BRTs.

Will

Two points:

Firstly, I don't see why TOD should be an aim it itself. Surely, the objective is to have well functioning transit.

Secondly, (to EN57) I don't think anyone is saying "rail or nothing" and supporting rail does not mean opposition to bus. I think it is the anti-rail types, including the soft anti-rail types who might deny being anti-rail, are the ones who frequently set up this strawman argument. On the contrary, I think a good rail system needs feeder bus services, bus lines perpendicular to rail lines and bus lines that fill in the gaps in rail provision.

The point is that if it is possible to fund and if sufficient ridership either exists or is thought to exist, rail is preferable to bus. Of course, I would oppose absurd programs like the Brisbane busway because it wasted huge amounts of money creating new bus infrastructure while neglecting existing rail infrastructure - a blatant example of anti-rail bias.

Simon V

Will, I agree that the "rail or nothing" is a pure strawman argument. I don't know a single pro-rail advocate who wants to ban buses or denies that buses have a role to play in a transit system. The only time pro-rail advocates will try to block a BRT project is when they think a corridor would be better off with LRT or a subway and are afraid that if a BRT is adopted instead, the capacity will not be sufficient for the corridor and it will delay by decades the creation of a higher capacity LRT or subway line. In other words, when they're afraid the BRT project is there only to derail rail projects.

As to TOD, I think you're selling it short. TOD is vital for good transit. The farther people are from a rapid, interconnected transit system, the less likely they will use transit. Likewise, the farther away points of interests are from a well-connected rapid transit system, the less useful the transit system is. Development always follows transport lines. In cities based on COD (car oriented development) it is inevitable that many places will be out of reach of quality transit lines, many will be served only by infrequent and slow lines, if at all, because there is no way to do any different because of cost issues.

Will

I don't disagree with what you say on TOD. It is true that denser development tends to increase the advantages of transit over cars.

My point is that the effectiveness of a transit system cannot be judged by the "TOD" it supposedly stimulates. It should be judged by the effectiveness of the transit service itself (obviously including ridership).

There are several examples of effective transit in less dense areas and poor transit in dense areas though all other things being equal, higher density should give transit an advantage over cars.


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