Wednesday, November 22, 2006
[More on transportation during this busy travel week ...]
The nation continues to spend billions of dollars on urban rail systems, which are touted as green solutions to congestion, pollution, and unease over gasoline supplies. But for the most part, the social benefits (broadly defined) of such systems fail to cover their enormous costs, according to a study by Winston Clifford (Brookings Institution) and Vikram Maheshri (U.C.-Berkeley), neither of whom should be accused of a pro-auto bias. Only the San Francisco Bay area's BART provides a net social benefit, they conclude.
The biggest problem with rail is that it simply does not serve conveniently a huge number of Americans who live and work across the hundreds of square miles of a typical modern metro area. Although lauded by politicians and environmentalists for their speed, cleanliness, and hi-tech feel, rail lines are simply inconvenient for most commuters. Take a look at the Los Angeles rail system map (top left) and imagine how far most of these lines are from millions of southern Californians.
A potential solution? Read here the recent opinion of Los Angeles's Michael Woo and Christian Peralta, who argue for an expansion of a dedicated bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard. Although not as "hip" as trains, a modern bus system (see the L.A. bus map at bottom left) can get far more people around at much less cost.