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  • Christopher Miller
    An interesting article about problems met with Houston s try at introducing light rail while keeping automobile traffic in the same right of way. I wonder if
    Message 1 of 11 , Mar 8, 2004
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      An interesting article about problems met with Houston's try at
      introducing light rail while keeping automobile traffic in the same
      right of way. I wonder if there have been any difficulties like this
      elsewhere? This seems to be a good argument for grade separation, and
      it will become especially important to take this into account when the
      time eventually comes (I assume) that more public transportation starts
      to be phased in while many people are still driving around.

      One plausible answer, assuming that many cities will choose at-level
      streetcars rather than go to the extra expense of elevated or
      underground metro lines, would be to ban automobile traffic entirely
      from streets with streetcar lines as they are phased in. Perhaps by
      that time, the energy crisis will have started to change people's
      belief in private cars in cities?

      Chris Miller

      Begin forwarded message:

      > From: MagNews <clew@...>
      > Date: March 8, 2004 12:00:23 PM EST
      > To: UrbanMaglev@yahoogroups.com
      > Subject: [UrbanMaglev] "A Streetcar Named Disaster" HoustonReview 2/4
      > (at-grade LRT vs. ..)
      > Reply-To: UrbanMaglev@yahoogroups.com
      >
      > ".. Affectionately dubbed the �Wham-Bam-Tram� by local conservative
      > activists, light rail has lived up to its nickname. .. While transit
      > backers dismiss light rail�s shortcomings as temporary adaptation
      > problems for commuters, the issue is substantially more fundamental.
      > MetroRail�s tribulations derive almost entirely from an inherent yet
      > neglected system design flaw: the operation of trains in mixed traffic.
      > .."
      >
      > http://www.houstonreview.com/0204/disaster.htm
      >
      > A Streetcar Named Disaster
      >
      > By Phil Magness
      >
      > After witnessing a weekend of self-congratulatory festivities marking
      > the January 1st debut of Houston�s MetroRail transit system, the
      > hometown newspaper�s editorial board could hardly contain its
      > exuberance. �Viewed from any angle,� opined the Houston Chronicle, the
      > kickoff celebrations were a sure �sign of good things to come.� To the
      > board, itself a merciless campaigner for rail, the roughly 15,000
      > people in attendance suggested that a �large helping of crow� was in
      > order for transit critics. Reports from Houston spread quickly causing
      > the Arizona Republic�s editorial page to gloat �critics rail at light
      > rail to no avail.� After all, what worked for Houston would surely also
      > work for Phoenix. An Austin-based advocacy group went even further,
      > hailing their favored transit mode�s �enthusiastic acceptance by the
      > public� though also neglecting the role free tickets played in
      > attracting inaugural weekend riders.
      >
      > Declarations of this sort typified proponent reactions to the
      > controversial �light rail� commuter train � a system that recently
      > consumed $340 million of Houston�s congestion relief funds. Despite the
      > laudatory responses, an ever-growing volume of evidence plays testament
      > to a certainty for Houston: MetroRail may quickly become an anchor
      > around the neck of the city�s transportation system rather than the
      > traffic relief measure of its original intent.
      >
      > The problems to date are widespread and growing. Before it even opened
      > MetroRail already boasted the dubious record of five automobile-train
      > collisions in barely a month of test runs, thus relegating transit
      > police to blocking duty along the tracks for opening weekend lest
      > another accident replace rail itself as the top evening news story.
      > Constant technical glitches and another ten automobile-train collisions
      > since service began have placed MetroRail on target for becoming the
      > most accident-prone transit system in the nation.
      >
      > Far from attaining public acceptance, the flow of passengers at the
      > rail stations came to a crashing halt on Monday morning after the
      > festivities. The first paying train departed with only a crew of
      > reporters, did not gain any passengers until the third station, and
      > remained sparsely ridden for the entire day. Aside from a brief
      > Super-Bowl induced rider surge in early February, not much has changed
      > since day one of paid services. Transit officials recently reported
      > that the main parking lot serving their system has averaged only
      > one-fifth capacity on workdays � a figure that is similarly reflected
      > in dismal ridership totals for its first month of operation.
      >
      > According to official reports from MetroRail, a total of 558,257
      > passengers road on the train during the month of January. Though rail
      > proponents claimed the figures were proof of �success,� a closer
      > examination reveals that those claims are premature. The figures for
      > January include over 15,000 boardings during the inaugural weekend when
      > free tickets provided an incentive for curious passengers. They also
      > include inflated numbers from pre-Super Bowl festivities on January
      > 29th through 31st when light rail carried about 120,000 passengers for
      > game related events. Accounting for those two extraneous events that
      > induced non-routine ridership surges and the actual monthly boarding
      > figure would be something closer to 425,000 total or about 14,000 round
      > trips (and thus only 7,000 passengers) a day. Either way, MetroRail�s
      > current ridership figures, if sustained, put it on pace to carry
      > somewhere between 5.1 and 6.7 million passengers for 2004 � only half
      > of the 10 to 13 million originally estimated by some rail proponents.
      > Even worse, MetroRail�s $23.5 million annual operating costs indicate
      > that even with the overly optimistic 13 million passenger figure the
      > system will still be $10 million in the hole at the current $1 fare.
      > Barring a quick turnaround from the current pace, that figure may to
      > fall over $18 million short from simply recovering its annual operating
      > costs at the fare box, all to be taken from public monies.
      >
      > As if its financial boondoggle status were not bad enough, light rail�s
      > disastrous safety record has become something of a legend in Houston.
      > Affectionately dubbed the �Wham-Bam-Tram� by local conservative
      > activists, light rail has lived up to its nickname. A summary of the
      > collisions and glitches to date reveals the extent of this growing
      > problem:
      >
      > CRASH 1: November 19, 2003 � Light rail is involved in its first
      > accident, hitting the fender of an SUV as it turned across the tracks.
      >
      > CRASH 2: December 16, 2003 � Train hits the bumper of a car as it pulls
      > out of a driveway on Fannin at Southmore.
      >
      > CRASH 3: December 19, 2003 � MetroRail collides with a pickup truck
      > turning left from Main at Alabama. A light rail crash safety drill was
      > occurring a few blocks away at the time of the accident.
      >
      > CRASH 4: December 20, 2003 � Light rail crashes into a Ford Explorer
      > making a left turn from Fannin at John Freeman in the Medical Center.
      >
      > CRASH 5: December 30, 2003 � MetroRail collides with a passenger car
      > exiting a private driveway along the tracks on Fannin.
      >
      > CRASH 6: January 9, 2004 � Light rail collides with a passenger car
      > turning left at Fannin and Binz. The driver was apparently confused
      > over the difficult to read lighted no-turn signs along the route.
      >
      > CRASH 7: January 19, 2004 � A light rail train collides with a suburban
      > attempting to make a left turn off of Fannin at Dryden. The
      > intersection contains notoriously confusing turning lane signs switch
      > to no-turn signs when a train is present.
      >
      > CRASH 8: January 23, 2004 � A light rail train obliterates a Union
      > Pacific maintenance truck and severely injures its driver on a test
      > track that runs parallel to the UP track. The train involved in the
      > collision was also traveling at approximately 60 mph on a �test� run �
      > a speed not even remotely approached during the stop-and-go operations
      > of street use that average just over 12 mph.
      >
      > CRASH 9: January 26, 2004 � MetroRail collides with a passenger car
      > attempting to make a left turn off of Fannin at Southmore in the Museum
      > District
      >
      > CRASH 10: January 27, 2004 � Light rail hits a Toyota minivan
      > attempting to turn left on McGowen from Main.
      >
      > CRASH 11: February 5, 2004 � A train collides with an automobile
      > turning left off of Fannin at Dryden in the Medical Center. This
      > intersection is the sight of an earlier accident where confusing
      > lighted no-turn signs may have contributed to the crash.
      >
      > CRASH 12: February 15, 2004 � MetroRail hits a flatbed truck alleged to
      > have run a light while crossing Pierce near downtown.
      >
      > CRASH 13: February 19, 2004 � Light rail involved in an accident with
      > an armored car pulling out of a bank parking lot near Fannin and
      > Southmore
      >
      > CRASH 14: February 21, 2004 � Train collides with a van turning left at
      > Fannin and Montrose.
      >
      > CRASH 15: February 24, 2004 � Train crashes into a car turning left at
      > Fannin and Dryden � the third collision to date near this intersection.
      >
      > Electricity Failure 1: January 4, 2004 � A power failure near Reliant
      > Park shuts down the light rail system in its vicinity forcing riders to
      > leave the stalled trains through emergency exits after 18 minutes
      > without air conditioning. The power failure exposed another design flaw
      > in the system by shutting down crossing gates along roadways for the
      > duration of the outage. The result: when MetroRail ceases to move so
      > does everyone else in a car nearby. A frustrated driver and a Metro bus
      > reportedly broke through two of the gates during the outage.
      >
      > Electricity Failure 2: January 17, 2004 � A small fire at a power
      > station shuts down a lengthy segment of the light rail system for over
      > an hour and a half. Stranded passengers had to be carried by bus to
      > their destinations
      >
      > Electricity Failure 3: February 6, 2004 � A delivery truck reportedly
      > clipped one of the relatively low-hanging high voltage trolley cables
      > between the Wheeler and Rice stations. Light rail obtains its power
      > from a modern day version of a �troller� � a device invented in the
      > 1880�s that makes electrical contact with open wires suspended
      > overhead. The accident happened at about 9:30 AM and took until 1:30 PM
      > to be repaired. Reports from the scene indicate that it may have taken
      > up to half an hour for repair crews to respond to the downed wire.
      >
      > Super Bowl Shutdown: January 29-February 1, 2004 � Light rail was
      > originally sold to Houstonians under the claim that it would help carry
      > passengers with ease at major sporting events such as the Super Bowl,
      > yet during the event�s festivities many streets proved too crowded to
      > safely operate the trains. As a result transit officials shut down
      > large segments of the light rail line into downtown, leaving thousands
      > without an easy access to transportation. Persons trying to enter and
      > exit downtown had to wait up to two hours despite the trip�s length of
      > only a few miles.
      >
      > While transit backers dismiss light rail�s shortcomings as temporary
      > adaptation problems for commuters, the issue is substantially more
      > fundamental. MetroRail�s tribulations derive almost entirely from an
      > inherent yet neglected system design flaw: the operation of trains in
      > mixed traffic. Whereas popular transit systems such as the Washington
      > D.C. METRO use grade-separated tracks that do not intersect vehicular
      > lanes, MetroRail runs in the middle of a major thoroughfare along side
      > and in between automobiles. This design is something akin to placing
      > 21st century bullet trains on 19th century trolley tracks and
      > attempting to operate them in a pattern that requires stopping every
      > six blocks.
      >
      > As with streetcars, MetroRail�s constant stopping prevents trains from
      > completing a journey in a reasonably efficient time. The current 7.5
      > mile journey takes 35 minutes at an average of 12.8 mph, or roughly the
      > top speed of a Segway Scooter. Three Chronicle reporters recently
      > experienced this flaw the hard way by timing the train against busses
      > and automobiles. MetroRail runs 50% slower than both alternatives and
      > also costs more when parking and fares are considered � all facts that
      > leave little room for wonder about the system�s dismal ridership.
      >
      > The fifteen accidents to date stem in large part from automobile driver
      > error yet one cannot help but question that their frequency, and thus
      > some culpability, results from a common sense failure in rail design.
      > This circumstance may be demonstrated through a simple comparison. Few
      > will deny that a cliff-side highway with no guardrails poses a danger
      > in its own right to drivers who steer off the road and into the ocean
      > below. Though the error in steering is itself a fault of the driver,
      > the absence of a cliff-side guardrail provides a substantial
      > contributing factor to the accident. The proximate cause for each
      > accident is a negligent design that makes that particular stretch of
      > road accident-prone and an abnormally high frequency of accidents would
      > provide more than ample testament to that design flaw.
      >
      > Houston�s at-grade light rail exhibits its own abnormally high accident
      > rate and that alone, even with driver error, is cause to seriously
      > reexamine the system�s design. Though light rail supporters, such as
      > the militant smart growthers at Austin�s �Light Rail Now!,� tend to
      > dismiss their favored transit system�s inherent hazard to traffic as
      > the product of Houston having the �nation�s worst drivers� (after all,
      > no wrong could ever be committed by a transit system in their minds),
      > the real issue at hand is once again the fundamentally bad idea behind
      > light rail itself: at-grade mixed traffic operations. Putting a full
      > sized passenger train in the middle of vehicular traffic makes about as
      > much sense as installing a lane of vehicular traffic down the toy aisle
      > at Wal-Mart. It has about as much logic to it as trying to land
      > passenger jetliners on an interstate or conducting navy war exercises
      > at a popular snorkeling spot. All of these situations create inherently
      > dangerous conditions for users who are patently ill-suited for
      > simultaneous interactions. Since the problem stems from design, simply
      > writing tickets every time somebody gets hurt and simply sticking an
      > oversized deer-whistle-for-humans on the front of a train will never
      > lessen accident frequency.
      >
      > Similar problems will continue to impede the success of MetroRail so
      > long as transit advocates refuse to reevaluate their system�s design.
      > At the unfortunate insistence of these same persons and their corporate
      > cronies who profit from transit construction contracts, Houston voters
      > narrowly approved a substantial light rail expansion before having an
      > opportunity to see phase one in action. An opportunity, though small,
      > presently exists to achieve this end: separate the grade for any and
      > all expansions of MetroRail and take passenger trains off the streets.
      > Instead of bestowing unearned and premature declarations of success on
      > the new system, officials must come to grip with the fact that
      > fundamental flaws exist and correct for them before a 7.5 mile
      > boondoggle in downtown becomes a 60 mile folly for the entire Houston
      > region.
      >
      > The Houston Review - A conservative student monthly serving the Houston
      > area.
      >
      > � Copyright The Texas Review Society
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > Yahoo! Groups Links
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Peter Cook
      ... That is a rather odd question - of course the answer is yes.. Why do Americans always think that their attempt at something is the first time it has ever
      Message 2 of 11 , Mar 8, 2004
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        At 02:26 PM 9/03/2004, Chris Miller wrote:
        >An interesting article about problems met with Houston's try at
        >introducing light rail while keeping automobile traffic in the same
        >right of way. I wonder if there have been any difficulties like this
        >elsewhere?

        That is a rather odd question - of course the answer is yes.. Why do
        Americans always think that their attempt at something is the first time it
        has ever been tried in the world?

        Here in Melbourne, there are an average of three crashes a day between
        Trams (Streetcars) and Motorists getting in their way. Our network
        involves about 200km (125mi) of electrified on street running, of which
        about 800 yards (Bourke Street Mall) is isolated from motor traffic, the
        rest of the on street running is mixed with traffic or is in painted median
        fairways. There are about 500 trams in the fleet.

        >This seems to be a good argument for grade separation, and
        >it will become especially important to take this into account when the
        >time eventually comes (I assume) that more public transportation starts
        >to be phased in while many people are still driving around.

        Nope.. It's a good argument for slapping some perspective into
        people.. Tram drivers are professionals, trams always have right of way
        over motorists, and motorists need to learn to appreciate that either
        through education or through experience when they have to collect their
        cars from crash repair shops after a few days without it.

        Also, if all those people on the Trams had been driving or on a bus instead
        and the trams were not there, how many additional car-car or car-bus
        crashes would have happened?


        PC
        Melbourne, Australia
      • Christopher Miller
        Hi, ... Actually, I m Canadian and just happen to be living in Washington DC now. I was rather stung by your reaction to my post. I took the trouble to
        Message 3 of 11 , Mar 8, 2004
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          Hi,

          On 8-Mar-04, at 11:05 PM, Peter Cook wrote:

          > At 02:26 PM 9/03/2004, Chris Miller wrote:
          >> An interesting article about problems met with Houston's try at
          >> introducing light rail while keeping automobile traffic in the same
          >> right of way. I wonder if there have been any difficulties like this
          >> elsewhere?
          >
          > That is a rather odd question - of course the answer is yes.. Why do
          > Americans always think that their attempt at something is the first
          > time it
          > has ever been tried in the world?

          Actually, I'm Canadian and just happen to be living in Washington DC
          now. I was rather stung by your reaction to my post. I took the trouble
          to cross-post it to the Carfree Cities list because it is of obvious
          interest; getting this kind of a reaction (in this case the unmerited
          and inaccurate stereotyping of Americans) can be enough to discourage a
          person from participating any further in a discussion group like this.

          I posed the question out of curiosity, not knowing how much of a
          problem auto-tramway collisions are elsewhere. When I was in Prague,
          for example, it seemed to me that this was no problem. Nor, as far as I
          know, in Amsterdam. My impressions are certainly superficial given my
          very short stays in either place, and I was wondering how well at-grade
          trams coexist with other street traffic (whether pedestrian,
          human-powered, or automobile) in various places around the world. The
          problem will always come up as long as there is coexistence between
          public transit and some sort of individual locomotion on the same right
          of way. It doesn't matter whether the individual locomotion is by foot,
          bike, rollerblade, wheelchair or automobile; you still have to worry
          about the problem of collisions. (It's worth remembering that Antoni
          Gaudi, the famous Catalan architect, died when he was hit by a
          Barcelona streetcar while leaving the worksite of the Sagrada Familia.)

          > Here in Melbourne, there are an average of three crashes a day between
          > Trams (Streetcars) and Motorists getting in their way. Our network
          > involves about 200km (125mi) of electrified on street running, of which
          > about 800 yards (Bourke Street Mall) is isolated from motor traffic,
          > the
          > rest of the on street running is mixed with traffic or is in painted
          > median
          > fairways. There are about 500 trams in the fleet.
          >
          >> This seems to be a good argument for grade separation, and
          >> it will become especially important to take this into account when the
          >> time eventually comes (I assume) that more public transportation
          >> starts
          >> to be phased in while many people are still driving around.
          >
          > Nope.. It's a good argument for slapping some perspective into
          > people.. Tram drivers are professionals, trams always have right of
          > way
          > over motorists, and motorists need to learn to appreciate that either
          > through education or through experience when they have to collect their
          > cars from crash repair shops after a few days without it.

          Much as I would agree with your point of view about peoples'
          perspective, this kind of gives up on the imperative to design the
          transit system in a way that minimises problems like this. When you
          design something, you always have to take into account the fact that
          many people are going to act irrationally: pointing out that they are
          irrational after the fact isn't going to make your problems go away.
          (Think of subway suicides, which regularly hold up the Montreal Metro:
          why not do like Paris does in newer stations, i.e. install glass walls
          with automated sliding doors on the edge of the platform?) What you
          need to do is to anticipate difficulties, on the basis of other
          people's experience (Houston in this case) and try and design a better
          alternative that avoids interruptions because of occasional irrational
          behaviour (due to absent-mindedness, tiredness, mental distress,
          whatever) by some people.

          > Also, if all those people on the Trams had been driving or on a bus
          > instead
          > and the trams were not there, how many additional car-car or car-bus
          > crashes would have happened?

          Interesting question: I *suspect* that there might be fewer simply
          based on my experience as an urban cyclist. It is astounding how many
          drivers seem not to twig on to the fact that something that is not a
          gas-powered vehicle is also part of traffic and needs to be taken into
          account. My *feeling* is that some drivers would likely identify buses,
          unlike trams and such, as "real" street traffic to be taken into
          account. Perhaps part of the problem with the Houston Metrorail is that
          it is on a marked-off corridor distinct from the street. Since drivers
          are basically worried about the street, i.e. the paved areas where they
          can navigate, perhaps there is something about the design of the
          Houston system that somehow encourages drivers to ignore it as a
          transportation corridor, since they don't perceive it as part of the
          street as such. As I have already said, this is a major issue to take
          into account when cities inevitably start phasing in more and more (non
          petrochemical based) public transit lines in the coming decades.

          Chris Miller
          A Canadian in Washington DC, USA
        • J.H. Crawford
          Hi All, Regarding the Houston issue, notice that nearly all the crashes involve cars turning left. The only way to tackle this problem is to forbid all left
          Message 4 of 11 , Mar 9, 2004
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            Hi All,

            Regarding the Houston issue, notice that nearly all the
            crashes involve cars turning left. The only way to tackle
            this problem is to forbid all left turns across the
            tracks, which, I believe, run in a center reservation.
            Drivers are literally getting blind-sided, and the
            signalling is always a bit confusing in the case of
            left-turn-on-arrow-only. Colorblind drivers may be
            seeing a red arrow and thinking it's green. (I know
            there aren't supposed to BE colorblind drivers, but
            I'll bet there are plenty in America, where it's drive
            or die.)

            Drivers would get used to the idea that you can NEVER
            turn left across the tram tracks. Instead, they will
            have to go around the block and approach straight on,
            when they will be able to cope with the standard traffic
            signal, which should see them safely across the tracsk.
            Their sight lines are good and mirrors aren't needed.

            If this doesn't work, then they will have to physically
            block all crossing traffic and provide some over- or
            underpasses to get cars across the tracks.

            Remember that in Zurich, the decision was made to get
            cars off the streets where they were interfering with
            the trams. Gotta get your priorities straight. This is
            going to be difficult in Houston.

            Regards,



            -- ### --

            J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
            mailbox@... http://www.carfree.com
          • Karen Sandness
            A couple of points worth noting: 1. A conservative student monthly serving the Houston area mocking public transportation? I knew that this was an article
            Message 5 of 11 , Mar 9, 2004
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              A couple of points worth noting:

              1. A "conservative student monthly serving the Houston area" mocking
              public transportation? I knew that this was an article written by some
              rightwing outfit before I got to the bottom of the article, because I
              already recognize the snide, triumphant tone. If it's like comparable
              articles written by anti-transit types in Portland and Minneapolis, I
              would be cautious about accepting its claims at face value. The
              anti-transit crowd in both cities routinely lies, exaggerates, and
              leaves out inconvenient facts.

              For example, a local "taxpayers'" group commented on the Twin Cities
              transit strike and claimed that since the traffic was no more jammed
              than usual, transit was an unnecessary drain on the "taxpayers'"
              pockets. This claim appeared on the front page of the Minneapolis
              Star-Tribune on Sunday. Fortunately, the following day, the paper
              carried a story about non-drivers who were being forced to spend $10 a
              day on taxis or walk several miles or beg rides or simply stay home and
              miss out on jobs, medical appointments, and other necessities of life.
              The article concluded that the non-drivers could cope for a few days,
              but that an extended strike would cause real pain.

              2. This is reminiscent of the Portland anti-transit crowd crowing about
              "killer trolleys" after five pedestrians were killed on the westside
              MAX line shortly after it opened. The problem was not that the MAX was
              especially lethal to pedestrians but that people couldn't get it
              through their heads that one has to look both ways before crossing a
              train track. In one case, a drunk had passed out on the tracks. There
              were always fender benders between the MAX and cars, and I witnessed
              some of them. In every case that I saw, they were the fault of the
              motorist.

              3. The claim that light rail reduces traffic congestion has come back
              to bite transit advocates. It clearly doesn't do that, as a visit to
              Tokyo will prove. What it does do is allow people to *opt out* of
              congestion. Publicity for light rail lines should stress this notion.

              4. Is ridership really that low? Why has light rail been so successful
              in Dallas? Are the Houston lines in the wrong places, is the system
              poorly managed, has any PR been done? Is this a case of
              passive-aggressively mismanaging something to prove that "it doesn't
              work"?

              Just some things to think about.

              In transit,
              Karen Sand ness
            • Greg Steele
              Thank you Karen for pointing out that the author of the story was A conservative student monthly serving the Houston area. I think that may have something
              Message 6 of 11 , Mar 9, 2004
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                Thank you Karen for pointing out that the author of the story was "A
                conservative student monthly serving the Houston area." I think that
                may have something to do with Peter's reaction. I have to admit
                after reading the article I had to get up and take a short walk to
                cool off. The tone of the article has a "see, told ya it wouldn't
                work" feeling to it that reflects poorly on both Texans and Americans
                (from the US – sorry I know Canada, Mexico and the rest of two
                continents have the right to be called Americans, but that is another
                issue). It is the article not you as the poster is pushing some
                buttons.

                One thing with the article that really burned me up was the whining
                about $340 million. That is NOT a lot of money for a transportation
                improvement project, but when you use a figure like, without putting
                it in perspective it seems like a lot. I did a quick query of
                Pennsylvania's department of transportation's constructions projects
                database (I have access to this at work). Most projects for standard
                road repair are about between $10 and $20 million that is just for
                fixing pot-wholes, resurfacing, etc. And there are three projects
                this year over $340 million.

                I am sure there was a design option to put the light-rail on its own
                right-of-way, but that option would have been much more expensive and
                people like the one who wrote this article would have been the ones
                to shoot it down.

                As to a discussion of safety and light-rail sharing right-of-ways,
                Philadelphia has continuously operated trolleys on the street for
                about a hundred years now. A collision is a very usual event I can
                only recall one, about four years ago. Another good example is the
                streetcar in New Orleans. In parts in operates in the same right-of-
                way as cars (including going around Lee Circle) and then operates on
                the median of a high traffic roads where car traffic makes left turn
                across the rail (often without the aid of a signal). While living
                there for three years I cannot remember any collisions. In
                conclusion, I do think that it is something people need to learn how
                to co-exist with, not as both article seem to be saying - a design
                fault of the system. Neither the New Orleans or Philadelphia systems
                have good signage (some cases none) at crossing. You just grow up
                knowing that the streetcar can't stop quickly and regardless if you
                hit it or it hits you it is your fault.
              • Peter Cook
                ... My apologies. I probably got out of bed on the wrong side yesterday. ... Sounds like a bit of a cultural issue - people in European cities are more urban
                Message 7 of 11 , Mar 9, 2004
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                  At 04:14 PM 9/03/2004, Chris Miller wrote:
                  > >> An interesting article about problems met with Houston's try at
                  > >> introducing light rail while keeping automobile traffic in the same
                  > >> right of way. I wonder if there have been any difficulties like this
                  > >> elsewhere?
                  > >
                  > > That is a rather odd question - of course the answer is yes.. Why do
                  > > Americans always think that their attempt at something is the first
                  > > time it has ever been tried in the world?
                  >
                  >Actually, I'm Canadian and just happen to be living in Washington DC
                  >now. I was rather stung by your reaction to my post. I took the trouble
                  >to cross-post it to the Carfree Cities list because it is of obvious
                  >interest; getting this kind of a reaction (in this case the unmerited
                  >and inaccurate stereotyping of Americans) can be enough to discourage a
                  >person from participating any further in a discussion group like this.

                  My apologies. I probably got out of bed on the wrong side yesterday.

                  >I posed the question out of curiosity, not knowing how much of a
                  >problem auto-tramway collisions are elsewhere. When I was in Prague,
                  >for example, it seemed to me that this was no problem. Nor, as far as I
                  >know, in Amsterdam. My impressions are certainly superficial given my
                  >very short stays in either place, and I was wondering how well at-grade
                  >trams coexist with other street traffic (whether pedestrian,
                  >human-powered, or automobile) in various places around the world.

                  Sounds like a bit of a cultural issue - people in European cities are more
                  urban focused than in North America or Australia. However, saying that,
                  I'm sure there is a problem, just one that isn't given much publicity.

                  >The problem will always come up as long as there is coexistence
                  >between public transit and some sort of individual locomotion on the
                  >same right of way.

                  And there always will be coexistence of RoW in a city's transportation
                  system. Cars share with cars, cars share with pedestrians, with cyclists,
                  cyclists share with pedestrians, cars cycles and pedestrians share with
                  trams and trains. Why foist Transit with massive capital costs when cars
                  are getting a free ride and are still knocking down pedestrians and cyclists?

                  >Much as I would agree with your point of view about peoples'
                  >perspective, this kind of gives up on the imperative to design the
                  >transit system in a way that minimises problems like this. When you
                  >design something, you always have to take into account the fact that
                  >many people are going to act irrationally: pointing out that they are
                  >irrational after the fact isn't going to make your problems go away.
                  >(Think of subway suicides, which regularly hold up the Montreal Metro:
                  >why not do like Paris does in newer stations, i.e. install glass walls
                  >with automated sliding doors on the edge of the platform?)

                  Another option is to give a more convenient method of suicide.

                  Again in Melbourne, we don't really have that much of a problem when it
                  comes to train suicides. The fact that our trains and trams are fitted
                  with wheel guards, which are basically a cast iron block that go in front
                  of the front wheels, tends to sweep suiciders aside and leave them with a
                  headache and an embarrassing story for the hospital staff.

                  We do however have this little wonder called the West Gate Freeway, which
                  culminates in an approach to the downtown area over a shipping channel (The
                  West Gate Bridge). It opened in 1978, carries 150,000 vehicles a day, and
                  has 4 lanes plus a breakdown lane in each direction. It's basically a
                  bridge of death. On October 15 1970, 35 construction workers died when
                  part of the structure collapsed. The fact that it's 53 metres above the
                  river below and is not far from the bay means that crosswinds are often
                  intense, and cars can be dragged across several lanes by the wind, though
                  not always with fatal results. They drop the variable speed limit from
                  80km/h (50mph) to 60 (37) or 40 (25) when the wind gets intense, but it
                  doesn't always help. Oh, and to top it all off, an average of one person a
                  week abandons a car, pushbike or motorbike on the bridge, or walks up, and
                  commits suicide by jumping off the side. And of course, the installation
                  of fencing on a bridge with high wind would add too much stress to the
                  structure.

                  Perhaps Futurama style Suicide Booths might be a less disruptive option
                  still. Even if only 50% of those who'd otherwise suicide off a bridge or
                  under a train decided to go in a purpose designed environment, there'd be
                  less need to send police wandering through West Gate Park every week
                  fishing out missing body parts here, and fewer subway disruptions in cities
                  like Montreal.

                  >Interesting question: I *suspect* that there might be fewer simply
                  >based on my experience as an urban cyclist. It is astounding how many
                  >drivers seem not to twig on to the fact that something that is not a
                  >gas-powered vehicle is also part of traffic and needs to be taken into
                  >account. My *feeling* is that some drivers would likely identify buses

                  Here in oz, bus drivers are allowed to force their way out of bus stops and
                  into traffic - not that cars give way like the signs on the back of the bus
                  and the question in their drivers license exam says they must do. There
                  are occasionally crashes, but not always with the bus. Someone could
                  swerve out of the way of the bus and into the side of another car for example.

                  >unlike trams and such, as "real" street traffic to be taken into
                  >account. Perhaps part of the problem with the Houston Metrorail is that
                  >it is on a marked-off corridor distinct from the street.

                  Isn't the LA Blue Line the same? Not to mention plenty of other Streetcar
                  and Light Rail systems across North America. Things will settle down in
                  Houston eventually..

                  Also, keep in mind that those who do get injured or killed are only self
                  destructing, as their biology tells them to do, lest they reproduce and
                  pass on the moron gene. In the past, people like this would have been
                  wiped out at an earlier age and humanity was able to evolve as a
                  result. Now they are being protected and humanity is going backwards.

                  (Yes, I'm a fan of www.darwinawards.com )

                  >As I have already said, this is a major issue to take
                  >into account when cities inevitably start phasing in more and more (non
                  >petrochemical based) public transit lines in the coming decades.

                  We may have to agree to disagree there..


                  PC
                  Melbourne, Australia
                • mauk_mcamuk
                  ... back ... to ... notion. ... This is an amazingly good point. Light rail provides a second, complimentary pathway. After enough time has passed, maybe we
                  Message 8 of 11 , Mar 9, 2004
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                    > 3. The claim that light rail reduces traffic congestion has come
                    back
                    > to bite transit advocates. It clearly doesn't do that, as a visit
                    to
                    > Tokyo will prove. What it does do is allow people to *opt out* of
                    > congestion. Publicity for light rail lines should stress this
                    notion.
                    >


                    This is an amazingly good point. Light rail provides a second,
                    complimentary pathway. After enough time has passed, maybe we can
                    start retiring the cars from city centers, thus creating carfree
                    zones.
                  • Matt Hohmeister
                    This reminds me of New Orleans, where the streetcars of an era past not only cross streets, but travel in the same lanes as vehicles. In the Garden District, I
                    Message 9 of 11 , Mar 9, 2004
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                      This reminds me of New Orleans, where the streetcars of an era past not only cross
                      streets, but travel in the same lanes as vehicles. In the Garden District, I have seen people
                      riding bicycles and jogging on the streetcar tracks--knowing, of course, to get out of the
                      way if they see a streetcar coming. Does anyone have New Orleans accident figures?

                      Oh--I looked at the list of Houston tram accidents, and saw no pedestrain or cyclist
                      accidents. Could this be because a pedestrian or cyclist is not belted into a seat and can
                      more effectively look both ways before crossing the tracks? Just a thought.

                      --- In carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com, "J.H. Crawford" <mailbox@c...> wrote:
                      >
                      > Hi All,
                      >
                      > Regarding the Houston issue, notice that nearly all the
                      > crashes involve cars turning left. The only way to tackle
                      > this problem is to forbid all left turns across the
                      > tracks, which, I believe, run in a center reservation.
                      > Drivers are literally getting blind-sided, and the
                      > signalling is always a bit confusing in the case of
                      > left-turn-on-arrow-only. Colorblind drivers may be
                      > seeing a red arrow and thinking it's green. (I know
                      > there aren't supposed to BE colorblind drivers, but
                      > I'll bet there are plenty in America, where it's drive
                      > or die.)
                      >
                      > Drivers would get used to the idea that you can NEVER
                      > turn left across the tram tracks. Instead, they will
                      > have to go around the block and approach straight on,
                      > when they will be able to cope with the standard traffic
                      > signal, which should see them safely across the tracsk.
                      > Their sight lines are good and mirrors aren't needed.
                      >
                      > If this doesn't work, then they will have to physically
                      > block all crossing traffic and provide some over- or
                      > underpasses to get cars across the tracks.
                      >
                      > Remember that in Zurich, the decision was made to get
                      > cars off the streets where they were interfering with
                      > the trams. Gotta get your priorities straight. This is
                      > going to be difficult in Houston.
                      >
                      > Regards,
                      >
                      >
                      >
                      > -- ### --
                      >
                      > J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
                      > mailbox@c... http://www.carfree.com
                    • Mike Harrington
                      There are three kinds of accidents on Houston Metro s new light rail line. Turning left where left turns are illegal, turning left from a center lane instead
                      Message 10 of 11 , Mar 10, 2004
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                        There are three kinds of accidents on Houston Metro's new light rail
                        line. Turning left where left turns are illegal, turning left from a
                        center lane instead of using left turn lanes which share the way with
                        the light rail tracks for 50 meters at certain intersections in the
                        Texas Medical Center, and motorists running red lights. The injuries
                        have so far been minor to the drivers who are invariably ticketed for
                        moving violations, since the rail cars are moving at 20 to 35 miles
                        per hour, city streetcar speeds. There has been one serious injury
                        so far and one which Metro has not prosecuted, a Union Pacific
                        Railroad employee who raised the railroad crossing arms on light
                        rail's high speed test track, drove his UPRR truck through the Kirby
                        Street crossing and promptly had his truck totaled by a fifty ton
                        light rail car moving at sixty miles per hour.

                        Twenty-five collisions with motorcars since light rail opened on
                        January 1 may seem like a lot to someone that lives in comparatively
                        small towns like Phoenix or Denver, but Houston has 900
                        road "accidents" in a month: fender benders, pedestrian and cyclists
                        crushed and horrid multi-vehicle accidents that close down freeways
                        and major roads. To find a city with worse drivers, you'd have to go
                        to Saudi Arabia or Mexico; roads are dangerous in Houston. It is
                        usually only the ones resulting in deaths that get reported, but all
                        light rail accidents do, since light rail is Houston's new toy, a
                        popular one for transit riders.

                        For 1½ miles on the southern end of the light rail line, the LR
                        cars
                        run along their own private right of way alongside Fannin Street,
                        where their speed is a higher, 40 miles per hour. Crossing arms are
                        installed at the intersecting streets, and there so far have been no
                        motor vehicle collisions along that stretch. But there have been
                        motorist fatalities in Dallas and on the Long Beach Line in LA where
                        maniacal motorists have driven around the railway crossing arms and
                        been killed for their efforts. Dallas runs their light rail system
                        on mostly grade-separated abandoned railroad right of ways, with a
                        lot of light rail overpasses and a subway. Since the Dallas light
                        rail vehicles are going sixty-five miles per hour in some places, it
                        can be expected that, although motorist encounters with light rail
                        will be less frequent in Dallas than in Houston, there is a greater
                        probability of fatalities in Dallas.

                        Houston light rail will be running throughout the city, the result of
                        the November 4, 2003 bond election when voters approved a MetroRail
                        expansion. I attended a public meeting on February 28 for the first
                        new line, the northward extension to Northline Mall, 5½ miles from
                        downtown. The community meeting was held at Jeff Davis High School
                        on Quitman St., in an entirely Hispanic neighborhood which the new
                        line will serve. It will be like the existing light rail line,
                        almost entirely reserved lanes for light rail in city streets. Metro
                        have not yet published their maps or aerial photographs shown at the
                        high school, nor did they have any handouts I could scan, but I've
                        drawn a somewhat crude map to help give those who are interested in
                        transit development an idea of what the line will be like. The near
                        northside of downtown Houston is mostly buildings from the 1910's or
                        1920's, a lower income neighborhood with heavy bus ridership. On the
                        following map, the green portions of the line are the street railway,
                        tramline parts. The light rail tracks will leave the street on
                        elevated bridges to avoid the Union Pacific Railroad in the south and
                        the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad in the north, and those
                        viaducts are represented by the blue portions of the line. The brown
                        portion in the south is the existing line in downtown Houston:

                        http://www.pccmph.com/images/northline.gif

                        A community meeting on another new line, the southeast route, through
                        an Afro-American neighborhood, will be held on March 30. There are
                        quite a few new lines, almost all of them streetcar alignments. The
                        following is not Metro's complete rail solutions plan, which extends
                        very far into the future, but it is their intended timetable over the
                        next twenty years:

                        North: UH Downtown to Northline Mal 2008
                        Southeast: Dowling to Griggs/610 2009
                        Downtown: Connector Bagby to Dowling 2010
                        Harrisburg: Dowling to Magnolia Transit Ctr 2010
                        Westpark: Wheeler Station to Hillcroft TC 2012
                        Uptown: Westpark to Northwest TC (via Galleria) 2014
                        US 90A commuter rail Fannin South to Harris County line 2017
                        Harrisburg: Magnolia TC to Gulfgate Center 2017
                        Sunnyside Branch: Southeast TC to Bellfort 2018
                        Katy Corridor: Bagby to Northwest TC 2019
                        Sunnyside Branch: Bellfort to Airport Blvd. 2021
                        Harrisburg: Gulfgate Ctr to Telephone Rd. 2021
                        Southeast: SE TC to Hinman Park & Ride Hobby Airport 2022
                        North: Northline to Greenspoint 2023
                        North: Greenspoint to Intercontinental Airport 2024



                        --- In carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com, "J.H. Crawford" <mailbox@c...>
                        wrote:
                        >
                        > Hi All,
                        >
                        > Regarding the Houston issue, notice that nearly all the
                        > crashes involve cars turning left.
                      • Mike Harrington
                        There is an important difference between New Orleans and Houston. In New Orleans, the car stops are two blocks apart, whereas in Houston they come to about a
                        Message 11 of 11 , Mar 10, 2004
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                          There is an important difference between New Orleans and Houston. In
                          New Orleans, the car stops are two blocks apart, whereas in Houston
                          they come to about a kilometer apart. So Houston's express
                          streetcars are moving faster than the New Orleans cars since they
                          don't stop at most intersections. The faster speed and limited stops
                          of Houston's light rail with more connecting shuttle bus lines is
                          appropriate to a city of its size.

                          Most of that connecting bus system has been put on hold until the
                          completion of the study we've just read. I think the expanded bus
                          connections with the wholesale rerouting of bus lines into Wheeler,
                          Downtown Transit Center, and Tx. Medical Center stations, will happen
                          either this month or April. Houston Metro has a total fleet of 1200
                          buses. When the rerouting occurs the trams will go from every 12 to
                          every 6 minutes during the day, the same as New Orleans. I think
                          they will remain every 12 minutes at night, however. The line runs
                          out of downtown from 4:42 AM to 12:42 AM Monday through Saturday, and
                          5:42 to 12:42 on Sundays.

                          There's another important difference. The Houston car stops are also
                          unlike New Orleans in that they are raised platforms affording more
                          protection for waiting passengers from dangerous drivers, the same as
                          we're seeing on the northside line opening for service in Portland
                          this May.

                          Driving, jogging or cycling on Houston streetcar tracks stands a good
                          chance of getting you a ticket from Metro police. Houston's not as
                          laid back as New Orleans, which doesn't have Houston's traffic
                          problems.

                          --- In carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com, "Matt Hohmeister"
                          <mdh6214@g...> wrote:
                          > This reminds me of New Orleans, where the streetcars of an era past
                          not only cross
                          > streets, but travel in the same lanes as vehicles. In the Garden
                          District, I have seen people
                          > riding bicycles and jogging on the streetcar tracks--knowing, of
                          course, to get out of the
                          > way if they see a streetcar coming. Does anyone have New Orleans
                          accident figures?
                          >
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