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Re: Fwd: [UrbanMaglev] "A Streetcar Named Disaster" HoustonReview 2/4 (at-grade LRT vs. ..)

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  • 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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 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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