Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mass Transit News From Bizarro Anti-Albuquerque World

Seattle's decades long in the making light rail system opens on Saturday. Two important numbers:
  • The single line will, by this December, be 16 miles long
  • Construction Cost: $2.3 billion dollars
And when you spend $2.3 billion you need "security with lights, cameras, officers" to protect the investment.

The area has had a Rail Runner-like commuter rail for some time, but these light-rail trains will be running much more frequently (every 7.5 minutes during the Emerald City's very long rush hour).

Overall, the transportation agency known as "Sound Transit" has an operating budget of almost one billion dollars in 2009, with forecasts of spending around $1.3 billion annually from here through 2014 (warning: link is to extremely hairy, wonk-laden .pdf).

As an Burquean interested in transportation issues, seeing the numbers Sound Transit throws around must be like the experience Mayan villagers in remote areas of Guatemala have when they see "MTV Cribs". A world like this really exists? With billions thrown around for mass transit like having 30,000 sq. ft. bedrooms is normal?

Truly a Bizarro World. And I have to admit a world 20 years ago I would have embraced much more heartily than I do now.

Shit...that's a lot of money for light rail.

I love 'em! And I love the idea of local/regional transportation planning that truly plans instead of just handing the growth reins over to a bunch of real estate developers.

But shit, that's a lot of money for light rail, etc.

Maybe it's my age, or maybe it's my 15 years living in ABQ (a city whose motto should be "We don't deserve nice things"), but those bizarro dollar figures are freaking me out.

My Burque-forged cheapskate self is thinking: Hey, we could simply pay citizens to ride their bicycle everywhere $10,000 annually. We get five percent of our population to do that (about the percentage of commuters a wildly successful light rail system would draw), say 15,000 taxpaying folks, and it costs 10k times 15,000 = $150 million per year.

Yeah, the duct tape solutions to mass transit problems grow on ya, if you live here long enough. And let's face it, Rail Runner is an example of a duct tape solution. Funny thing is, when you start talking figures like $2.3 billion dollars, duct tape solutions like paying bike commuters starts to look pretty attractive, even in places not as cheapskate as Albuquerque.

P.S.: On the other hand, this new Bogota mass transit system looks VERY interesting and it was supposedly three years from conception to opening. Buses...whodathunkit...


Anonymous said...

There's an email list (not very active) that could use someone like you. Info here:, click Get Involved. I'm always trying to get transit planning to be for some purpose other than transit - like congestion relief or saving lives, but the planning normally doesn't work that way.

Anonymous said...

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