More on Houston, this time with more effort to uncover some of the
reasons. (And a refreshingly more honest description this time of *who*
keeps crashing into *whom*...)
Begin forwarded message:
> From: MagNews <clew@...>
> Date: March 8, 2004 12:00:37 PM EST
> To: UrbanMaglev@yahoogroups.com
> Subject: [UrbanMaglev] "Houston's crash course in light rail" USAToday
> 3/8 (Houston at-grade, LRT vs. ..)
> Reply-To: UrbanMaglev@yahoogroups.com
> Passengers wait in line to board a Houston Metro light rail train in
> downtown Houston. (photo: Michael Stravato, AP)
> ".. Among the hazards are the street-level crossings. The train tracks
> run even with the street, rather than being elevated or underground.
> Traffic lights control almost all of the 64 crossings. That poses a
> problem for motorists, especially when turning left ahead of a train.
> At least half of the drivers involved in crashes have been cited for
> illegal turns. "I'm not sure it's the drivers," says Morgan Lyons, a
> spokesman for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Most of the crashes in Dallas
> have come on a 3.1-mile stretch of the DART rail line where the
> crossings are all at street level, Lyons says. .."
> Houston's crash course in light rail
> By Debbie Howlett, USA TODAY - 3/7/2004 11:51 PM
> For a full year, Houston tried to prepare its drivers to share the
> streets with the city's new light-rail transit system.
> There were public service announcements, community forums and safety
> classes to educate drivers. The sleek trains were equipped with strobe
> lights, horns, bells and whistles to warn motorists.
> A test of the safety campaign didn't fare well. An average of five
> drivers on Houston's streets each day plowed into trains while the
> system was working out its kinks before the Jan. 1 opening. Worried
> transit officials immediately launched more television ads. One had
> Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert growling, "So, what part of safety do
> we not understand?"
> Nobody really knows the answer to that question. But since the
> MetroRail trains began running full time Jan. 1, there have been 15
> more collisions. No one has died in the accidents. Police blame
> motorists in all of them. "It's not a rail problem," says Ken
> Connaughton of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. "It's a driver
> 'No one walks here'
> The term "light rail" is generally used to describe passenger rail
> cars that are driven electrically and are not separated from other
> traffic for much of their route.
> Fifteen wrecks may not seem a lot in a city the size of Houston, whose
> 2 million residents make it the nation's fourth-largest city. But it's
> more than Dallas had initially with about 1.2 million residents, and
> almost equal to the 17 car-train wrecks that Dallas had all of last
> And it's more than any of the nation's other light-rail systems
> experienced during their first few months of operation. Nationwide,
> light-rail trains were involved in 815 accidents from 1997 through
> 2001, or about 13 a year for each system.
> So what's the matter with Houston?
> "No one walks here," says Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at
> Rice University in Houston who studies the city's transportation
> Almost everybody in Houston drives. The city has 3.9 million
> registered cars and one of the longest average commutes in America.
> "This is the most auto-dependent city in the nation," Klineberg says.
> Drivers aren't used to sharing their streets with 49-ton trains.
> Houston's experience points up the clash of America's car culture with
> the advent of light rail. Houston is the 19th city with a light-rail
> system. Minneapolis will open its 11.6-mile line this year. Thirty-six
> cities have systems under construction or on the drawing board.
> Transit ridership increased 22% nationwide the past six years,
> according to the American Public Transportation Association. Much of
> that increase is attributable to light rail. "We've seen phenomenal
> growth since the 1980s," says Greg Hull, the association's director of
> operations for safety and security.
> Like other cities, Houston sees light rail as a key to reining in
> Houston was barely a dot on the map until the oil boom in the early
> 1900s. It grew until the oil bust of the 1980s. In between, the search
> for affordable housing pushed the metro area 50 miles from the center,
> creating a metropolitan area as large geographically as the state of
> New Jersey. A car was a necessity.
> "This is a car city � it was built by, for and on behalf of the
> automobile," Klineberg says. "The 21st century is configured for a
> different reality."
> Transit, or more specifically light rail, is seen as a way to spur a
> reconfiguration of the city to create a densely populated urban core,
> where a car is an amenity, not a necessity.
> The 7.5-mile line in Houston runs along Main and Fannin streets. It
> connects downtown areas with Reliant Stadium.
> Difficult left turns
> MetroRail counted 558,000 riders in January, its first month. During
> the four-day Super Bowl weekend, rail riders outnumbered bus riders,
> even after the city shut down service during some nighttime hours
> because of safety concerns for crowds.
> Among the hazards are the street-level crossings. The train tracks run
> even with the street, rather than being elevated or underground.
> Traffic lights control almost all of the 64 crossings.
> That poses a problem for motorists, especially when turning left ahead
> of a train. At least half of the drivers involved in crashes have been
> cited for illegal turns.
> "I'm not sure it's the drivers," says Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for
> Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Most of the crashes in Dallas have come on
> a 3.1-mile stretch of the DART rail line where the crossings are all
> at street level, Lyons says.
> As light rail expands to other cities, especially those with less rail
> transit experience, the car culture of Houston offers a lesson.
> "There's a learning curve right now in Houston," Hull says. "Others
> will learn from Houston."
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