Comment of the Day: Where Could Trains Go That Buses Couldn’t?

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE COULD TRAINS GO THAT BUSES COULDN’T? Trains to Office Buildings“Light-rail transit the way METRO has built it is slow, and actually adds somewhat to congestion by taking up a vehicular lane and messing up traffic flows (i.e. no left turns).  . . . Frankly, buses accomplish the job just about as well, even if they aren’t glamorous to some people. DART built grade-separated rail out to the [Dallas] suburbs and to the airport. It does go faster, since it doesn’t contend with stoplights and traffic. It also doesn’t clog up arterial roads. It was a different approach, but I think that it was the correct one.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on Feds: Unused Richmond Light-Rail Funding Offer Now Expired, Getting Thrown Out]

18 Comment

  • It’s not exactly apples to apples comparison because that Houston and Dallas weren’t working with the same ball of clay. In Dallas’ case, they had far more abandoned rr corridors to work with. That made building a grade separated and more expansive rail much, much easier. However, they can’t get the same ridership #’s exactly because they built rail in old rr corridors where there wasn’t much population density.
    Houston, did not have much abandoned rr corridors and therefore built the train where there was population density (for Texas that is). This made building grade separated rail even more cost prohibitive and so we got at-grade rail. This made ridership per mile much greater but didn’t lend itself for large expansion / faster transit times.

  • I agree METROs system is extremely slow for a modern rail system. however there’s no since in comparing whose system is more effective, because Houstons always wins out we carry half the ridership on our rail while Dallas has 5 times more track miles than us. So regardless to speed our system is way more effective and efficiently. I do think that Houston should have stayed faithful to the bus and never brought expensive and time consuming light rail. we should have a BRT SYSTEM on the scale of NY subway system. and with al weve spent on 25 miles of rail over 10 years (well over 3 Billion) we could’ve had BRT along every major corridor out to the burbs. why do people not embrace brt more?

  • “Just about as well”
    buses suck. if the schedule says there will be buses every 30 minutes. a bus might be earlier than anticipated, a bus might be later. And I’m talking 15 minutes. So, if you miss the first bus because it was 15 minutes early (and you showed up 10 minutes early), you might potentially wait almost an hour for your bus. That’s on the outside as a worst case, but 15-30 minute wait will be normal.

  • Wrong, DART and Meto’s systems are very different and solve different problems. Dart stations are very spread out and serve regional mobility well. The high speed and grade separation helps commuters at large park and ride lots which is great. On the other hand mobility within neighborhoods is much better served by Metro. The ridership speaks for what works with Dart having extremely light ridership on a per mile of track basis.

    DART has about 105,000 weekday riders on a system with over 100 miles of track. Houston has about 22 miles of rail with around 60,000 weekday riders since the bus reimagining. If Houston does build the university line and connect to the uptown BRT then Houston’s combined rail and BRT ridership would blow past DART with less than half the mileage and investment.

    When you compare the two systems construction costs they are rather similar. Usually $150 million a mile with Dart getting cheaper per mile in the suburbs. Main difference is Houston builds in the middle of neighborhoods on city streets. DART builds along old railroad right of way and uses the extra money for grade separation. The trade off with railroad right of way is that there’s not much built next to it already. Finally Dallas metro is seeing good transit oriented development in Richardson and Irving but it has taken much too long.

  • I have to agree with this. The rail is just about the dumbest thing the city has done. So much money spent on a slow train that competes with traffic in a much more cumbersome way than a fleet of buses. What exactly does the rail do that a nice hybrid or electric bus cannot? Buses are so much more flexible than the rail, but maybe riding a bus is beneath the urbanists applauding such progress.

  • I agree that the METRO approach and the DART approach are completely different in regards to rail. METRO seems to have tried to work at increasing mobility in dense, more core neighborhoods, while DART worked on reducing freeway and commuter congestion by giving suburban commuters an alternative to driving. My comment was in regards to the Richmond rail line not being funded, and it is my opinion that we could accomplish mobility along the Richmond corridor just as well with buses that have frequent ( say every 10 minutes) headways. BRT would also be a good option, with less cost per mile. See Wilshire corridor, Los Angeles.
    How many people who ride the Red Line along Main Street would have been bus riders if that was the only transit option? Is there a high percentage of Red Line riders that gave up commuting by car in order to ride rail? In other words, has LRT in Houston taken cars off the road and reduced congestion?

  • Lets not forget the inflation of the rail numbers from the shortening of routes, requiring a transfer to the train to get downtown in many cases.

  • @shadyheightster YES DEFINATELY! as a person knowledgable on all things METRO, there was never any route that pushed upwards of 15,000 riders daily thru downtown, uptown, greenway or the tmc! however the redline pushes damn near 55K alone, and in the other post someone said from TMC to Downtown is a 45-50 min ride unless it’s raining, like trains don’t have timetable strict schedules, it takes 50 min from Fannin S to Northline trust me I’ve timed even during rush hour so where his timing is from is way off. but the issue is not that METRO did rail wrong due to efficiency its COSTS! $150 mil a mile! one mile of track could have lifted everyone in Houston out of poverty! the only reason I let them make it is because they put all 3 new rails in low income highly transit dependent neighborhoods, even at the high cost.

  • what’s funny is that one reason why Dallas got the system it wanted was because it got federal dollars that Houston turned down in the 80s and 90s. Federal taxpayers (i.e., all of us), including those of us here in Houston, paid for DART, as we also pay for many other transit systems around the country. What I find especially ironic is that the same issue is playing out again, this time not between Houston and Dallas but between the east and west side. Inner west and west Houston communities continue to fight against LRT. Guess where LRT investment goes instead? Yep, out on the east side, so thank you for the Green and Purple lines. You paid for it. Over here, we’ll continue to see our property values increase by at least double digits every half decade as more people use transit as well as walk, bike, and generally live healthier lives. Easy access to soccer and baseball games without the hassle of parking or driving is also pretty nice. Arguing for or against the value of a specific transit line doesn’t make sense in a “use it or lose it” funding environment, which is how transportation funding works. What’s even more ironic is that in most other cities, it’s the wealthy areas that push to get fixed guideway transit infrastructure first. Poorer areas then have to beg and plead to be connected later. But for some absurd reason, here it’s the wealthiest communities that see to it to screw themselves out of nicer fixed guideway investment and settle for less reliable bus service. Don’t get me wrong–the east and southeast side needs and deserves good transit. But I’d be willing to bet there are many transit agencies across the country that wish they had a wealthy elite as stupid as Houston’s.

  • “Buses are so much more flexible than the rail, but maybe riding a bus is beneath the urbanists applauding such progress.”

    Rail Naysayer, do you take the bus? If not, why not? I am sure you are not being hypocritical, but really, if you don’t use it, you don’t know.

  • “Light-rail transit the way METRO has built it is slow” — It is not intended to be a commuter rail system that brings people from the suburbs downtown, it’s a tram system that connects neighborhoods and city centers.
    “[it takes] up a vehicular lane” — The proposed Uptown line will leave the same number of lanes on Post Oak. The red line took out Main street, but there are plenty of parallel alternatives. The Purple line does a decent job of finding its own ROW for much of its course.
    “[it messes] up traffic flows (i.e. no left turns)” — You could argue that left turns themselves cause congestion and only ever allow right turns. See S. Shepherd street.
    “Frankly, buses accomplish the job just about as well” — Have you ever ridden the 82-Westheimer through Galleria during rush hour?

  • All the extensions have where you can turn left. Downtown was envisioned at first to have no lanes on the sides of the rail. You can do turning in the medical center. Many people move from in back of buses and buses slow down the regular automobile lanes. The rail from bus riders see it as faster from what I’ve witnessed and they really love it, and it has time exactness. Just as long as lights are in sync the traffic isn’t that much differently felt. I drive through the northline crostimbers intersection a lot. Our system fits this city and the best way for it is at grade until you start going higher speeds than on the streets when most likely it’s time for it to go to the airports.

  • METRO messed up and further congested Main Street with its ill-designed and laid out Main Street rail. The countless collisions / deaths , flooding (under Holcombe in the Medical Center renders the line inoperable. Plus the disruption to the surrounding areas while building the damn thing. METRO should have ELEVATED ALL of the lines ,so the cars won’t flood and the rails would be drier than at street level.But NO. The idiots who DON’T know better mucked it all up. And we taxpayers pay repeatedly for the lunacy t hat is METRO.

  • Lets be honest about ridership. Is ridership, such as it is measured (by vehicular boardings irrespective of trip origin/destination points), a valid proxy for efficacy? No. There is only one conceivable answer and it is no. I lose just a little bit more faith in humanity every time that I see this supposition trotted out.

  • At the risk of sounding like a horrible smart ass I propose this question. Does anyone take into account the number of people that ride Metro that could not afford a car in the first place? It’s affordable transportation and I believe it’s needed especially when your job doesn’t pay very much but I think there might be numbers out there that are way, way off regarding the number of cars removed from the road.

  • METRO is an extension of the City of Houston; the mayor directly appoints a majority of the board, and the remainder are split between the County and the suburban cities. By contrast, a majority of the DART board are appointed by suburban cities. Denver’s RTA goes one step further and has directly-appointed board members by District, independent of municipal boundaries.
    Houston’s LRT is exactly what you’d expect for a City system; it’s almost more of a development tool than it is about moving large numbers of people. Likewise, Dallas’s LRT is exactly what you’d expect for a suburban system; trains run at high speeds and serve large park and rides, and any opportunities for urban development are almost an afterthought.
    If you want to emulate DART, there’s two ways to do so. Option A is to convince the major suburbs – Katy, Sugar Land, Pearland, Pasadena – to join a reorganized METRO which gives majority control to the ‘burbs. Option B is to create an overlay agency which extends beyond METRO’s boundaries and is explicitly focused on commuter transportation. Seattle’s SoundTransit fulfills this role, with routes that extend across four County-based transit agencies.

  • Go to Chicago and you will see a rail system that is done right. Houston’s is horrible. Think commuters will take the rail to get to the Galleria? Ha. Not the people who live out in the suburbs. You want a decent rail system, then send it out to the suburbs…Katy, Kingwood, Cypress, SugarLand. What about the airport? That is the most convenient thing about Chicago is getting to the airport on the rail.

  • I would love to see METRO rail’s ridership without the Houston Rodeo numbers…..