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Do light-rail systems help cut down on traffic? Perhaps not.

slashdot 1 March 2013 48

Thanks to the wonderful wonk blog:

new study in the Journal of Transport Geography suggests that four light-rail systems built around England during the 1990s and 2000s had virtually no effect on overall car traffic. Instead, the rail systems mainly seemed to attract riders who would otherwise have taken the bus.

Without shifting away from our bush capital moniker, light rail appears to be another green boondoggle.  The question that nobody is asking but should is, do we want to give up the current character of Canberra as the bush capital?


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Do light-rail systems help cut down on traffic? Perhaps not.
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Pandy 8:31 am 02 Mar 13

kakosi said :

Light rail was always supposed to be part of Canberra’s plan. It’s in Walter Burley Griffins proposal for Canberra. It just never got built.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

WBG proposed electric “street cars” in the days before the automobile. Street cars is another term for trams. Trams as we know it stop every 500m or so. Whereas light rail (so the light rail brigade would say) are based around limited stops.

WBG also proposed heavy rail to link parts of old Canberra and what is known as Tuggeranong today. Do you really propose that just because WBG suggested it in his original plans, we go ahead and build it now?

Angry_of_Devonport 8:11 am 02 Mar 13

So….. Has anybody thought of trolley buses?

Ryoma 7:45 am 02 Mar 13

I’m sure it’s possible to find dozens of articles either for or against light rail across the world.

As someone who lives along the corridor indicated, I am looking forward to light rail coming.
Presently in the morning, any time between about 7.50 and 8.30am, it can be difficult to actually get onto a bus, as they are often already full when leaving Gungahlin; and as a result, often drive straight past.

I do appreciate that this level of crowding is much better during other times of day, but the whole point of this is not to talk about how things are now. I can also appreciate that other parts of Canberra could also desperately do with better public transport. And I agree that possibly busways could be an option, however ACTION has a chronic shortage of drivers; which is not something likely to be easily fixed given Canberra’s cost of living and aging population.

But we need to start somewhere. And while it may indeed take many of the passengers off the buses, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gungahlin is the transport hub for many of the bus services from the surrounding suburbs, and this role will only grow over time. Having the ability to go from Jacka or Bonner into Gungahlin and then to catch a fast, clean light rail service into Civic is surely better than trying to get onto the existing buses.

As mentioned by #35 (gooterz), I believe that building light rail changes the psychology around the issue. Because it is fixed, people have more confidence that it is going to stay put, and not be run down or moved away entirely. This feeds through to housing and other land uses; much of the Flemington Road corridor is marked as being medium-to-high density on a Canberra scale (although this is still pretty low density in world terms, I’d like to see higher building heights allowed).

I think that the presence of light rail will help to boost the property values of both apartments and houses along the corridor, which in turn should help to boost patronage over time. If it does work out to be popular, then there will pressure to build other routes along other corridors; all of which will help to get some of the traffic off the roads.

I certainly do not suggest it will be a panacea all across Canberra, nor even necessarily the northern suburbs. I think we will still suffer increasing congestion going forward, because of the rampant stupidity in continuing to build low density suburbs on greenfields land miles from any existing services. But despite the fact that this construction should have taken place in various places in Canberra back in the 1970’s (not Gungahlin at that stage, obviously), I think that light rail should help to lessen the impact and scale of that traffic congestion in future years.

And for the doubters – I ask this; if light rail is not built from Gungahlin and other places, and people are not given a genuine choice, then what happens in 20 years’ time when it takes an hour and a half to drive from the Gungahlin region into Civic?

In terms of housing, I actually wish that the first line to be built was from the new Molonglo Valley suburbs into Civic. That would have allowed for an actual high density town centre to be built from day one, and without the need for everyone buying out there to have cars. But that was too hard for the ACT Government (sigh), and so yet again, people are locked into cars and path dependence.
The same goes for Jerra and even Googoong over the border in Queanbeyan.

milkman 7:25 am 02 Mar 13

In terms of comfort, I think buses are fine. We just need them to run when and where I need them.

OpenYourMind 12:53 am 02 Mar 13

arescarti42 said :

OpenYourMind said :

Once again, I don’t think people are really considering the paradigm shift that autonomous cars represent. Given the kind of time that light rail will take to be fully operational and subscribed, autonomous vehicles are likely to be causing a mass rethink on transport. If you think it’s all sci fi, you need to do more research, it’s much closer than you might imagine.

We’re still decades away from fully autonomous cars, and even once they become technically and then commercially viable, you’d still have to wait another decade or so for everyone to replace their old non-autonomous vehicles.

Whilst they’d prevent a lot of crashes, you’ve still got the issue of traffic congestion, oil consumption, noise and air pollution, and issues of access for people who can’t afford them.

As I said, they represent a paradigm shift in transport. Google is talking about a matter of years and IEEE (a respected engineering organisation) is predicting 75% of cars will be autonomous by 2040.

A fleet of autonomous cars have the scope to dramatically reduce traffic time by intelligently routing cars with a network view (human’s poor judgement is a main contributor to traffic jams), autonomous cars offer a possibility of changing the car ownership model. Even the shape and design of cars may change with perhaps a model that acts somewhere between bus and car.

As for using oil, they are much more likely to be electric. When running low on power, the autonomous car will happily take itself off to a recharge station.

Uptake will be faster than imagined because the next generation of kids live and breath technology and appear, in my view, to have less interest in cars and more in the gadgets and electronics cars offer. Certainly little Miss P Plater in my house would rather be a passenger and texting than be driving.

While it will be a while before we see autonomous cars, installation of a light rail system aint going to happen overnight. We’ll look pretty silly if we spend all that money and the transport game changes before our eyes.

gooterz 12:19 am 02 Mar 13

If light rail serves a suburb or district like Molonglo Valley with a half decent service then wont the residents opt for the cheaper public transport option.

The thing about rail is that the lines are fixed the government can’t suddenly change the route around one day like they can with bus routes.

Rail travel is far superiour to bus, the acceleration is much more constant and doesn’t suffer the hard turns of buses. More room and easier to load unload.
The biggest turn off for public transport for most people is the uncomfortable atmosphere of the bus.
At the moment the only intertown buses that doesn’t meander around a suburb is woden to civic the rest of the ‘intertown express’ are slow and useless as ‘express’ buses.

Jerra (the geographic location in canberra not the NSW suburb) is going to be the next indrustry/commerce district in canberra. Why not build rail (proper rail not a tram that sticks to streets) at the same time as the *First* development goes in. Have limited parking and have the developer pay a fraction of the cost for the rail station.

Next extend the rail into the main city centres in both directions, Woden/ Tuggeranong/Civic/Airport this encourages people to ride to their local centre or drive then train the rest of the way. Or live in civic/Tuggeranong/Woden in one of the apartments. With the longer distances between roads and crossing for this empty part of canberra the rail could easily be elevated over main roads etc.

Thus instead of getting people in canberra that drive cars and have done so all their life, Canberra attracts a sydney sort of person that is used to living in high density apartments and using Public transport.

Plus it also provides a place where commerce can fly people to Canberra airport and rail them to a place of business for the day avoiding the need for taxi’s
Then the canberra rail could switch over to highspeed rail connecting sydney-canberra-melbourne at the airport.

It seems awefully stupid to fill in canberra with ultra high density shoe boxes without putting in a rail system. Above ground rail is 10x cheaper than building a Canberra subway, in 50 years time.

Prospector 10:57 pm 01 Mar 13

International experience shows that light rail is far more effective than buses in attracting car owners to convert to public transport.

In reality, good public transport systems are a combination of light rail, integrated with feeder buses and well placed park n ride facilities.

Restricting the provision of car parking spaces in congested centres and pricing them realistically is also essential.

arescarti42 10:05 pm 01 Mar 13

OpenYourMind said :

Once again, I don’t think people are really considering the paradigm shift that autonomous cars represent. Given the kind of time that light rail will take to be fully operational and subscribed, autonomous vehicles are likely to be causing a mass rethink on transport. If you think it’s all sci fi, you need to do more research, it’s much closer than you might imagine.

We’re still decades away from fully autonomous cars, and even once they become technically and then commercially viable, you’d still have to wait another decade or so for everyone to replace their old non-autonomous vehicles.

Whilst they’d prevent a lot of crashes, you’ve still got the issue of traffic congestion, oil consumption, noise and air pollution, and issues of access for people who can’t afford them.

MrPC 9:59 pm 01 Mar 13

Light Rail is not what we need. Unless a hypothetical at-grade light rail/tram route gets total signal priority all the way from end to end, which it never will (the SCATS traffic light control system isn’t that easy to configure when it comes to total signal priority for light rail), you’ll find the trams stopping for traffic lights will make the trip even slower than driving. Certainly slower than buses.

Run it elevated or in a cutting. That means fairly major engineering works. That means it’s not technically going to be light rail. The big plus of having it grade separated means you can fence off the tracks and make it driverless. Automating the trains means substantially lower ongoing costs, and it will free up hundreds of bus drivers on the intertown routes to instead run local feeders into the rail stops at the major centres and the various main road intersections. It also allows for bus stops to be immediately above or below the platforms, minimising walking distance at interchange points en route.

My example would be on a hypothetical route from Gunghalin to Civic (or Gunghalin to Southside via Civic), with a train stop at Northbourne/Antill/Mouat near Dickson. Instead of the buses from Kaleen, Giralang and North Lyneham to the west, and Watson etc to the East, each turning onto Northbourne and going into the city, you run the buses East-West across town. That means people can more easily get to the local shops at Dickson, while letting those going into Civic take the Elevated or Sunken Automated Train. The bus stops would be in the median strip, where the intersection would be widened slightly (You can widen it substantially if there are too many buses arriving simultaneously). The bus would pull over inbetween the Northbourne carriageways, just above or below the train station. There’d be two entrances to the station, as the buses would run in two directions and you’d need an entrance for each bus stop/direction. You’d get out of the bus, walk up or down a ramp, and be at the train platform. It also means it’d be just as easy to get from Lyneham or Hackett to Gunghalin by bus/train as it would be to get into Civic. Just now the former is near impossible.

It’d work if the rail line was elevated or sunken, but it’d never work if it was at-grade, as the bus stops would block the tracks.

The same would then apply to buses from Lyneham, O’Connor and Turner, and Ainslie & Hackett (and possibly Dickson Shops), at Macarthur Ave.

No bus from the inner north should then head into Civic.

kakosi 8:49 pm 01 Mar 13

Light rail was always supposed to be part of Canberra’s plan. It’s in Walter Burley Griffins proposal for Canberra. It just never got built.

OpenYourMind 7:50 pm 01 Mar 13

Once again, I don’t think people are really considering the paradigm shift that autonomous cars represent. Given the kind of time that light rail will take to be fully operational and subscribed, autonomous vehicles are likely to be causing a mass rethink on transport. If you think it’s all sci fi, you need to do more research, it’s much closer than you might imagine.

Primal 7:37 pm 01 Mar 13

Is it just me, or are the two paragraphs in the original post almost entirely unrelated?

screaming banshee 7:35 pm 01 Mar 13

This could be a 2 or 3 parter but let’s chip away at it.

Will the trains be stopping every 500 metres or so like the buses do?

drfelonious 6:56 pm 01 Mar 13

Jivrashia said :

Rollersk8r said :

If you won’t currently catch a bus why would you suddenly start catching a train?

Why?

Easy – because catching a train is faster than driving while the bus is up to 3 or 4 times slower than driving. If train costs are roughly equivalent to the bus, you get the savings compared to driving as well.

I don’t understand why these points are so hard to understand!!

I have been a happy train commuter in several cities, but avoid buses like the plague because buses inevitably go at glacial speed while trains are faster than driving in peak hour.

Some ACTION routes seem to me almost to have been deliberately designed to take the longest possible route between A and B.

Diggety 5:04 pm 01 Mar 13

IrishPete said :

nsn said :

TheAxeMan said :

I never take a bus – hate them
But I would take a train or rail

“I like choo-choo trains.”
Can’t argue with that logic.

Buses – dirty, crampled, uncomfortable, lurch around, unreliable (because of traffic), inefficient design (usually everyone gets on through one door). Cheap.
Trains – clean, quiet, smooth, spacious, comfortable, pretty reliable, quick to enter and exit so less delay at stops. Expensive.

You get what you pay for.

IP

Now do Light-Rail

steveu 4:34 pm 01 Mar 13

I don’t think we will ever see light rail in Canberra in my lifetime, despite what promises have been made, the economics will not permit it. Instead we will spend millions on studies to prove something’s we already know.

I wish we had a light rail system, I really do. But I just dont see it ever happening.

Better off spending the money on more bus services, with Eco-friendly buses and a compromise plan of park and ride in some form.

I would be keen to see the co2 emissions and fuel usage of buses versus cars. Surely with the micro detail we have on passenger numbers with people getting on and off,we could start seeing some analysis from action?

Rollersk8r 4:09 pm 01 Mar 13

enrique said :

nsn said :

Say, about every 15 minutes? Between a major town centre and a CBD? Like the 200 Red Rapid bus from Gungahlin to Civic?

Your arguments are not arguments for light rail. They are arguments for public transport.

You have a fair point. Here’s a few ideas to counter that…

Unless you’ve got separated bus lanes all the way along the entire route, buses can still get caught in traffic jams. A prioritised/separated/right-of-way light rail wouldn’t have that issue.

You can also scale up quite well using light rail… just add more carriages (this argument only holds assuming the relative cost of a new carriage is less than that of an additional bus)

Pollution is lower with light rail (assuming the electricity is sourced from renewables). Given the current ACT targets for renewable energy then I think we’re well on the way to achieving that one.

Light rail is easier for people with wheelchairs, prams, luggage, small shopping carts (i.e. the little pull-behind numbers), etc… simply roll-on and roll-off using at-level platforms. Once on board, roll into the numerous spaces designed for that purpose (i.e. the newer Melbourne trams).

I still say the time efficiency of the train is negligible over such a short distance. Seriously – how fast does the train go? It still has to follow the road for the most part, stop at the lights, pick up and drop off.

IrishPete 3:34 pm 01 Mar 13

nsn said :

TheAxeMan said :

I never take a bus – hate them
But I would take a train or rail

“I like choo-choo trains.”
Can’t argue with that logic.

Buses – dirty, crampled, uncomfortable, lurch around, unreliable (because of traffic), inefficient design (usually everyone gets on through one door). Cheap.
Trains – clean, quiet, smooth, spacious, comfortable, pretty reliable, quick to enter and exit so less delay at stops. Expensive.

You get what you pay for.

IP

enrique 3:30 pm 01 Mar 13

nsn said :

Say, about every 15 minutes? Between a major town centre and a CBD? Like the 200 Red Rapid bus from Gungahlin to Civic?

Your arguments are not arguments for light rail. They are arguments for public transport.

You have a fair point. Here’s a few ideas to counter that…

Unless you’ve got separated bus lanes all the way along the entire route, buses can still get caught in traffic jams. A prioritised/separated/right-of-way light rail wouldn’t have that issue.

You can also scale up quite well using light rail… just add more carriages (this argument only holds assuming the relative cost of a new carriage is less than that of an additional bus)

Pollution is lower with light rail (assuming the electricity is sourced from renewables). Given the current ACT targets for renewable energy then I think we’re well on the way to achieving that one.

Light rail is easier for people with wheelchairs, prams, luggage, small shopping carts (i.e. the little pull-behind numbers), etc… simply roll-on and roll-off using at-level platforms. Once on board, roll into the numerous spaces designed for that purpose (i.e. the newer Melbourne trams).

TheAxeMan 3:11 pm 01 Mar 13

nsn said :

TheAxeMan said :

I never take a bus – hate them
But I would take a train or rail

“I like choo-choo trains.”
Can’t argue with that logic.

Didn’t ask you to argue with my preference

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