Business and government leaders need to stop trying to resurrect a proposed $1.6 billion regional rail system that will cost approximately $17.9 million to operate per year.
Each mile of track along the 17-mile rail system will cost taxpayers $94 million. The Federal Transit Administration and GoTriangle are betting on a too-costly rail system that will underserve its customer base and lose money from day one, while siphoning off public money that would be better used for other transportation options.
Adopting 19th century technology (trains) to meet the transportation needs of 21st century cities is not viable for the low-population-density Chapel Hill-Durham-Raleigh region. This choo-choo train has fallen off the tracks years ago – let it rust in peace.
Better and less costly regional transportation alternatives abound, including bus rapid transit, added capacity lanes, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, HOV networks, and telecommuting. The FTA and GoTriangle need to view mobility improvement from a holistic approach – examining the cost-effectiveness of all transportation and how each system interacts and affects the others.
Bus rapid transit (BRT) uses dedicated bus lanes that operate separate from all other traffic modes. This allows high reliability since only professional bus operators are allowed on the bus way and lowers construction costs since dedicated lanes can be utilized from existing roadways. Other elements that increase the reliability of BRT systems include the construction of bus turnouts, bus boarding islands and curb realignments. Many major cities utilize BRT systems such as Los Angles, Honolulu, Louisville, Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, Albany, Hartford, Charlotte, and Washington, D.C.
HOV lanes and networks are designed to promote vehicle sharing and use of public transport by creating areas of lower road use as an incentive. Vehicular sharing can reduce the number of individual commuter vehicles, reducing road congestion – especially during commuting times. HOV lanes may be either added capacity lanes – special lanes either built onto or converted from existing roadways. Buses, car pools, van pools and other high-occupancy vehicles can utilize HOV lanes for at lease a portion of the day.
An example of a HOV “thinking outside the box” system is a segment of Chicago's Outer Drive. This is a multi-lane reversible highway that provides for additional capacity. During the morning commute, the eight-lane roadway has six lanes available for commuters and during the evening rush hour, the six lanes “reverse” and handle commuter traffic returning home.
What about telecommuting? Why don't local government officials look toward ways to provide incentives to corporations to promote telecommuting? Telecommuting or working from home has many advantages for both our roadways and the employee. More employees telecommuting lower the number of vehicles on Durham roadways and helps reduce road congestion. The employee also benefits from no commuting time and lower stress levels while achieving a greater balance between work and family life. The company benefits since no commuting time means employees have increased time available to work and increased productivity because of fewer office interruptions.
How about some original discourse on other mobility options for pedestrians? Durham needs to invest more money into sidewalk construction and to connect those sidewalks that “go nowhere.” What about dedicated bike routes? We need more smart growth initiatives that cluster developments in concentrated pockets and provide residents with “walking mobility” options to grocery and retail establishments. This is the kind of innovative thinking that I find woefully lacking in our elected officials.
Finally, how about some additional investment into our existing TTA bus system? Replace the pitifully inadequate bus stop signs with actual pedestrian shelters and provide curb realignment so buses can pull out of the traffic lanes to load passengers. Restart stalled negotiations on a tri-city bus system that would benefit the entire region. Do a better job of marketing and promoting our local Durham TTA bus system as a viable commuting option for both the downtown and RTP commuter.
There are a myriad of transit and mobility options that could help alleviate our regional transit issues – they just don't have anything to do with rail.
Mike West lives in Durham.