Salon has a great article that discusses the debates in transit circles today, particularly perceived in-fighting between transit supporters. The article was spurred by the recent scuttling of a long-standing plan to build streetcars in Arlington, Virginia.
In this respect, the scuttling of the Arlington streetcars highlights the deepening rift in the American transit movement. Though nominally a disagreement about the purpose of transit infrastructure (moving people vs. spurring development) and the value of a streetcar that shares a lane with cars (is it better than a bus?), it’s more broadly a contest between pragmatists who laud transit investment despite flaws and idealists who hold out for something better.
I wrote just a few days ago about David Levinson's proposal for planning transit primarily for ridership, not development, and the role that transit value capture could play in funding real estate-oriented deviations from ridership-oriented routes. He suggested that real estate-oriented transit seldom delivered on its promises and we should focus on more efficient transit investments.
In the case of the Arlington Streetcar, they're not considering a route change. Rapid buses running along the same route may be that more efficient option. Eric Jaffe's latest piece on the Arlington Streetcar project suggests that the alternative bus-rapid-transit proposal was significantly cheaper with only slightly lower expected ridership. From a real estate development standpoint, economic analysis firms estimated that less development would occur along the route if BRT were built instead of rail. However, given the bus options lower cost, the BRT was projected to generate a better return on investment ($ corridor development / $ transit cost) than the streetcar.
In such cases where BRT gets you more real estate bang for your buck than a streetcar alternative, value capture mechanisms would collect nearly the same revenues while the transit capital costs that they could fund would be significantly lower. Levinson would be happy.
Ian Carlton is a transportation and land use expert specializing in transit-oriented development (TOD). He helps clients - including transit agencies, planning departments, and landowners - optimize real estate development around transit.
Special thanks to Burt Gregory at Mithun for permission to use the Portland Streetcar image above.