Responses to Arguments Against Rail

 A photo of the 4.5 S-Line rail ROW already owned by the city in the Northside


RESPONSE: The real issue is not population density, but travel density. Any corridor with heavy auto density is a candidate for rail. The corridor chosen must be the one that has the largest number trips. That is why the selected “Blue Line” paralleling I-95 was selected by Metro Jacksonville as a likely first choice. Nowhere else in the region can you line up a large number of trip generators in a straight line within walking distance of the route. This includes the Airport, River City Marketplace, Jax Zoo, Gateway Mall, Shands Hospital, Downtown/Baptist Medical/FCCJ (via the skyway), San Marco Square, Avenues Mall, and Avenues Walk.

The old issue of population density was (and still is) applicable to a lot of the subway (heavy rail) lines in the largest cities, where there is no parking around the station. There had to be enough people living or working within 1/4 to 1/2 mile of the stations (close enough to walk) to make the line work. However, commuter rail is a form of rail transit that relies on suburban commuters (from areas as far South as Orange Park or St. Johns County) who would be willing to park and ride, if given the choice over driving down Blanding or I-95 during rush hour.

Many of the successful new rail systems around the country are in urban sprawl, automobile oriented, sun belt cities, such as Dallas, San Diego, and Charlotte. These cities all have much lower densities than the older Northern cities. Others, such as Austin, Nashville, and Albuquerque are turning to rail.

How does Jacksonville's population density compare to other cities that have already incorporated rail into their mass transit plans?

Las Vegas 4,597.1 persons/square mile (BRT/monorail system)
San Diego 3,418.7 persons/square mile
Dallas 2,946.4 persons/square mile
Austin 2,835.1 persons/square mile
Minneapolis 2,671.2 persons/square mile
Albuquerque 2,671.1 persons/square mile
Orlando 2,554 persons/square mile
Jacksonville 2,149.2 persons/square mile
Pittsburgh 2,056.7 persons/square mile (already has a subway system)
Atlanta 1,783.3 persons/square mile (heavy rail system, since the 1970’s)
Charlotte 1,745 persons/square mile (currently constructing a light rail system)
Nashville 1,740.9 persons/square mile

For full list: ________________________________________ Austin’s Capitol Metro urban commuter rail system is estimated to cost $2.8 million/mile to construct. MYTH: "LET'S FACE IT. WE'RE NOT GONNA GET PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR CARS." RESPONSE: We are not fighting against cars when we fight for public transit. We are seeking to give people options which might allow them the freedom to choose high-quality transit if they so desire. Currently most people with cars have no other real options, and buses alone have always been seen as an extremely unattractive option to commuters who have a choice. A large portion of the car trips made on Jacksonville’s major corridors are made by people driving to work, parking their cars all day, then driving home again at night. If there were high-quality transit options besides an increasingly congested and stressful commute, there is a great chance a good number of Jaksonvillians would freely choose to take transit. And if that choice allowed their family to get by with only one car instead of two, they could save thousands of dollars per year (tax free!) in excess auto expenses while still benefiting from the remaining car for errands and other trips not served by transit lines. Cars do benefit people, and we do not advocate abandoning our road system. But adding high-quality transit options can make our lives a lot easier, our bank accounts a lot fatter, and our communities a lot more livable. ________________________________________ MYTH: "WE SHOULD JUST SPEND MORE MONEY ON BUSES. THEY'RE CHEAPER, AREN'T THEY?" RESPONSE: This is the major reason for considering commuter rail. Currently the future of Jacksonville’s mass transit system is JTA’s 29 mile bus rapid transit system, which was estimated (back in 2004) to cost $611 million and take over 20 years to build. Furthermore, at completion, the system will not stretch north of Gateway Mall, south of Baymeadows, east of Regency and west of Wilson. The fastest growing areas of the region today are North Jacksonville, the Southside, Clay and St. Johns County. Traffic is bad now, but its nothing compared to what it will be 20 years from now with little and insufficient access to quality mass transit. By comparison, depending on trackage deals with freight rail companies, commuter rail costs range, on average, from as little as $2 million per mile to as high as $10 million per mile. JTA’s two year old estimates for BRT is over $21 million per mile. Considering our rails already exist and can provide great access to several local traffic generators, the argument of investing upwards of $700 million for inner city BRT over a system combining BRT and commuter rail makes little sense. While at times we’ve pointed out the weaknesses of JTA’s bus rapid transit plan, lets not walk away from this study focused only on a Bus vs. Rail argument. Both will be needed, along with pedestrian friendly land planning, infill development and reasonable road improvements to create an integrated, efficient, and functional transportation system. WHO’S RIDING METRO TRANSIT?  Midtown Miami is another example of urban redevelopment planned along rail lines. This project is being developed on a former FEC railyard site and will be connected to downtown/commuter rail by a planned streetcar system.. • Most transit users own at least one car and about one third have higher than regional median household incomes (approximately $55,000). Train riders tend to be more affluent than bus riders. Thirty-eight percent of train customers have annual household incomes in excess of $70,000, compared with 22 percent of bus riders. • According to the survey, the availability of transit service is influencing people to leave their cars at home. More than half of train riders (59 percent) and 40 percent of bus riders would have driven by themselves if transit were not available. • While many survey numbers are consistent between bus and train riders, there are some distinctions between the two modes. For example, the motivation to ride differs between bus and train riders. Train riders most often cite not having to pay for parking (37 percent) as their main reason for riding, while nearly a third of bus riders use transit because they do not own a car. THE CONCLUSION: A RATIONAL LOOK AT TRANSIT  San Diego Sprinter’s modern commuter rail train The information below is a part of a report on mass transit options, by Glenn Pascall, senior fellow for transportation at the Cascadia Project of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA. The points mentioned below also apply in the effort to seriously take a look at integrating JTA’s planned BRT system with regional commuter rail. • Construction Costs: Rail (excluding commuter rail) costs are typically considered to be huge, but they must be compared to the alternative cost of new highways and other modes of transit, especially to serve peak commute hours. In Jacksonville’s case, our proposed bus rapid transit system is expected to cost more than twice as much as typical commuter rail systems do. Rail projects in the U.S. and Canada are no more prone to cost overruns than other transit systems. They get more expensive per mile when they go underground, and they are cheaper when existing right-of-way is available. • Operating costs: Rail transit has the advantage of linking multiple cars with a single operator, which reduces labor costs. Critics charge that the level of operating subsidies does not square with this assumption. What's crucial is the average ridership in rail cars. Overall, costs per passenger mile are similar for auto, bus and rail. Each mode is heavily subsidized, in more obvious ways for transit (taxes) than for cars (personal and social costs). • Impact of rail on total transit use: Opponents say rail systems degrade bus service, which leads to a decline in total transit use. But experience in most cities suggests that light rail attracts commuters who won't use buses. Part of the reason is that most bus routes have no dedicated right-of-way so buses get stuck in traffic. Ultimately, many experts believe bus-rail conflicts are less important than trying to maximize transit benefits by utilizing the strengths of each mode; for example, rail's high capacity and guaranteed speed, and the route flexibility of buses. • Rail's impact on poor people: In Los Angeles, a conflict between the cost of suburban rail service and inner-city bus service led to a suit by the NAACP that resulted in a court order putting more buses back on the street. Rail foes rightly point to this example. Yet, it's also true that an extensive rail system can expand opportunities for inner-city residents by helping them reach jobs throughout the metro area more smoothly and with fewer transfers than can often be done by bus. • Speed, safety and reliability: Transit doesn't have to go faster than cars to attract riders, but the time difference must be modest or transit won't be competitive. More important than speed are on-schedule departures, on-time arrivals and frequency of service. Combined with safety in transit stations and on transit vehicles, reliability provides what people need before they will leave their private vehicles for public transit. • Measures of market share: America's increasingly complex trip patterns cannot be covered by rail. Where rail shines is in serving major centers of jobs, shopping and entertainment. Opponents note that rail's share of total trips in a metro area will always be low. But rail's share of trips along major corridors to downtown can be much higher, and dense downtown conditions make rail a competitive investment. • Energy use and air quality: There is wide variation in estimating pollution per passenger-mile by car, bus and rail. The crucial factor is the average number of people on transit vehicles. Rail transit advocates argue that the issue is more basic. Since high-capacity transit supports high density, it creates "transit leverage" — the ability to reduce miles traveled per day by the average resident. This lowers fuel use and air pollution. • Transit-oriented development. Rail can support wise land use — if land-use policy supports rail. Foes charge rail cannot recreate the 19th-century city, but rail advocates don't seem to have this as their goal. They aim for rail-oriented development around stations, to add a lifestyle option even in cities that remain largely auto-dependent. In conclusion, many regions face big decisions on investments in transportation. The arguments in the rail debate reveal many complexities and tradeoffs. Yet, as rival claims are traded by advocates, the debate often fails to fully present the issues and charges are made without back-up data or analysis. We need to raise the bar on the quality of information in this crucial arena. It's time to reframe the questions. Done right, rail makes sense. It's time to get off dead center and move on to the specifics. There are plenty of knowledgeable people out there who can help. As we make our transit choices, let's seek them out and tap into their experience. Full Article