Why Trains and Trolleys Are A Horrible Idea

“There is an old saw that 40 years of transportation research at Harvard can be summarised by four words: bus good, train bad,”as Ed Glaeser, the recent author of Triumph of the City, summed the issue up. Athens urbanophiles should take note.

The proposed three-laning of Prince Ave brought out several concerned citizens who wanted to have a trolley up and down Prince Ave.

The rails that run down East Campus Rd. are supposed to be a commuter route into the MMC, bringing commuters and football fans from outlying suburbs.

And of course, the Brain Train keeps having supporters adamantly push for funding.

Flagpole writers keep pushing this vision as a urbanophile vision. Some maddeningly obvious solution to transportation woes if only our short-sighted leadership could wrap their heads around it.

If Athenians love our city, love to get around efficiently, and want tax dollars spent properly with more money directed towards social programs rather than multi-billion dollar corporations (Siemens and GE make the trains), then they (we) will oppose trains in favor of transportation solutions that actually work for our city – buses, bikes, and feet, instead of lobbying with novelty and nostalgia.

First, test before you invest. Before sinking thousands into studies and hundreds of thousands into permanent equipment (a train can’t be scaled up or down like buses), Athens should run test routes.

The Brain Train? Groome Transportation runs 14 trips for $15. Are those vans packed? Lobby GRTA to send a bus out our way to drive the Brain Train route. See who actually rides it. Cost would be about the same as another economic study. The novelty of a train may be nice, but novelty does not pay the bills.

Prince Ave Trolley? Increase frequency on #5 and #7. Restripe the road for Bus Rapid Transit (think better than trolley, just without the nostalgia). Paint is a lot cheaper than rails.

East Campus Express? Again, an express bus can be used to test. Not fast enough? It’s not the far (3 miles from Milledge/Loop to the MMC), but much more convenient. Again, test before investing.

Second, get a little more perspective. A single heavy-rail train holds 1600 people. That’s a LOT of people traveling at the exact same time. In fact, that would be 1% of Athens’ entire population on a single train on East Campus Road. Ok, so light rail would carry a lot less per train, but would have a lot of slack capacity. The point is that, for given capital spending ($34 million per mile for light rail and $13 million for Bus Rapid Transit, according to the GAO) buses are must easier and cheaper to scale up or down than Light Rail. We’re a city of 110,000 people. A lot, but not that much.

As Ed Glaeser stated that in all but the most extreme densities (think 5th Avenue in New York), buses make more sense than trains.

This point is not an attack on a more walkable, better city. Rather, it’s trying to save the goal of transportation alternatives in *Athens, GA* by killing off the potentially most wasteful option – trains.

Trains and trolleys may make sense in New York or Atlanta, but not Athens, and not right now. Focus and fund on what Athens can improve – sidewalks, the Greenway, bike lanes, bus frequency, etc rather than fighting for expensive nostalgic novelties. Trains may be great overall, but not for Athens, GA.

The Mayor and Commission should not waste time or money exploring it until our current modes are exhausted.

Gallery | This entry was posted in 2011 Issues, Activism, Current Issues, Infrastructure. Bookmark the permalink.

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