Stop Spacing

Streetcars vs Light Rail … Is There a Difference?

UPDATE February 2016:  While this post’s deep dive is valid enough, I would no longer agree with my past self that exclusivity of right of way is secondary in defining the difference between streetcars and light rail.  I no longer agree with this post’s claim that exclusive right of way is more important for longer transit trips than for short ones.  It is always a crucial driver of reliability, and its absence continues to be the defining features of what most Americans call “streetcars” as opposed to light rail.

DSCN0337 Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic proposes a curious definition of the difference between streetcars (trams) and light rail:

The dividing line between what Americans reference as a streetcar and what they call light rail is not nearly as defined as one might assume considering the frequent use of the two terminologies in opposition. According to popular understanding, streetcars share their rights-of-way with automobiles and light rail has its own, reserved right-of-way.

But the truth is that the two modes use very similar vehicles and their corridors frequently fall somewhere between the respective stereotypes of each technology. Even the prototypical U.S. light rail project — the Portland MAX — includes significant track segments downtown in which its corridor is hardly separated from that of the automobiles nearby. And that city’s similarly  pioneering streetcar includes several segments completely separated from the street.

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Leadership from Columbus: A Great Transit Advocacy Website

As someone who designs transit networks for a living, it’s often lonely trying to promote good network design.  When changing services to create a better network, everyone who is negatively impacted complains at once, while those who would benefit (including people who care about the efficiency and usability of their city as a whole) tend not to tune in.  So the political process of getting change approved is often unpleasant to say the least.

I-71NExpressRoutes_GoogleMap-large It would help if every city had advocates promoting basic principles of efficient network design.  For a good example of what this might look like, have a look at the Columbus Bus Rapid Transit Plan.  This appears to be the work of a local advocate who signs comments as “John,” but like Shakespeare he seems to have completely submerged his identity under his work.  I can’t find out anything else about him, nor does he have an obvious place to get feedback. Continue Reading →

Slippery Word Watch: Express

A good post at Greater Greater Washington on Washington DC priority bus corridors reminds me of an old question about the word express:

Metro is working hard to develop “priority bus corridors,” with express buses that run more often, more quickly, and more reliably than existing service

What does express mean in that sentence?  It’s not clear, but it seems to be the everyday meaning: “fast, with a dash of coolness, compared to local-stop service.”

Like a lot of transit planners, I use the word express in a more precise sense, as one of three kinds of stopping pattern that seem to encompass most successful transit services:

Stopping patterns

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