Core vs. Edge Debates in Public Transit

In just about every North American regional transit debate I’ve ever been involved in, someone has said:  “Why is all this money being spent on transit downtown!  Downtown already has lots of transit, while out here in ___, we have nothing!”

If this is a debate within a city — often between city councilors who represent districts — then they’ll say this about downtown, and sometimes about dense inner neighborhoods around it.  But exactly the same debate happens at another scale: among municipal governments in a huge urban region; in that case, they’ll complain about the entire dense, old, transit-oriented city at the region’s center.   In either case, I’ll use the term core to mean the older, denser, inner area in this debate, and edge to refer to the newer, less dense, more car-dependent area.

Either way, the debate sounds like this:

Edge:  “The core area has so much transit, and we have little or nothing, but we pay taxes too, so why does so much of the money go to the core?  Also, we’re trying to build denser development in more transit-oriented ways, to start moving beyond car-dependence, but how can we do that without good transit?  We’re desperate out here!

Core:  “It’s great that you want to be denser, but we’re already very dense.  That means a much bigger share of our residents need or want transit, and our ability to grow and thrive depends on it.  Car-dependence just isn’t an option at our density, so if transit doesn’t work, our city doesn’t work.   We’re desperate in here!

I sympathize with all sides, and do my best to warn all sides away from this kind of parochial polarization.  Nothing is sadder than coming into a city or region with inadequate transit, and finding that the locals are more interested in blaming and resenting each other than in working on a problem they all share.

Once more with feeling: Transit is a network, which means that its parts are interdependent.  You cannot think about it the way you think about libraries or fire stations, where putting one in a certain place mainly benefits the people there, because the whole network affects everyone’s ability to get everywhere.  So when folks argue that the another part of the network should be weaker so that theirs can be stronger, they’re actually undermining their own transit service.

In North America, the edge tends to have the votes to win edge-core debates, so it’s not surprising that many North American transit networks are weak at the core.   When you look at North American rapid transit systems, you often notice pieces missing in the middle.  Metro Vancouver is one of the most dramatic cases.  Look at what happens at the west end of the yellow line:

vancouver skytrain with gap

It never ever makes sense for a major rapid transit line to end just short of where it would connect with another major line, as the yellow line does here.  This gap creates all kinds of overloading problems, as three suburban branches from the east all feed into a single line into downtown (the northward peninsula).  It obstructs many cross-regional trips, most obviously from the eastern suburbs to the airport (on the island in the lower left).   Finally, the bus line that crosses this gap is one of the busiest in North America, the best signal of all that you need a rail line.  Yet if you listened to the regional transit debate, you’d think that plugging this gap in the whole region’s network is a project “for Vancouver” just because the gap itself happens to be in Vancouver.

Once you learn to recognize it, you’ll see this theme in city after city.  Missing links like Vancouver’s are an extreme example.  More common is a persistent disinvestment in the core parts of a network even though people from the whole region rely on those parts.  Many big city transit networks end up massively overcrowded and failing at the center even as the political pressure is all about extending further toward the edge.

Fortunately, a few North American regions are showing real leadership and progress on this:

  • Toronto is under political pressure to extend its subway lines further into the suburbs, adding even more riders, even as the inner segments of the network are severely overloaded.  Where would all those passengers fit?  The only solution is another subway through downtown, but as soon as you mention downtown, a majority of the City Council has had trouble seeing why they should care.  Major progress has been made on advancing this crucial “core-strengthening” project in the last year.
  • Los Angeles Metro is building its Regional Connector project, a new subway under downtown whose purpose is to hook together rail lines that now terminate on opposite sides of downtown, never touching each other.  For long trips across the region — from Pasadena to South LA, say, or from Santa Monica to East LA, the connector replaces two-transfer trips with zero-transfer trips (which means it also replaces three-transfer trips with one-transfer trips), so it dramatically increases the ease with which you can get across the larger city.  LA Metro produced a very smart map with wide two-way arrows showing these improved regional flows. The agency did a great job of helping people see that while the project is in downtown, it’s for the whole city and region
  • Last month, there was major breakthrough in the Seattle area.  The Sound Transit 3 regional rapid transit proposal, which will go to the voters in the fall, requires a new subway tunnel under downtown, parallel to the existing one two blocks away.  Until last month, the entire cost of this tunnel was considered a Seattle expenditure, so it completed for funds with other city projects.  But of course, Seattle doesn’t need another subway tunnel two blocks from the existing one.  It’s the whole region that needs it, to fit all of the region’s rail lines through Seattle.  So the final plan, correctly, treats this is a cost to be shared across the region.

Finally, why have I said “North American” throughout this post?  Because most other wealthy countries I’ve worked in or studied don’t have this issue to the same degree.  Mostly this is because those countries have located regional transit planning at a level of government that has the power to see and act on a citywide vision, and account for all of its consequences.  Typically, this power is integrated with the other great powers that act on that scale, such as land use planning, infrastructure, and so on, so that the implications of each action can be accounted for.

Good planning can still happen in a more fragmented political context, though, so long as someone has the power and skill to make the argument for a complete network vision.  Fortunately, this is happening more and more.

45 Responses to Core vs. Edge Debates in Public Transit

  1. Alon Levy June 7, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    In New York, East Side Access was and still is seen as a suburban project, even though (nearly) all construction is in Manhattan and Long Island City. It was funded as a pet project of George Pataki, as a sop for his suburban constituents; it was paired with Second Avenue Subway phase 1, the pet project of then-unindicted Sheldon Silver, whose district would be served by phase 4.

    On the other side of Manhattan, ARC was always a New Jersey project, without much support from New York. After it collapsed, planning for Gateway remained a predominantly New Jersey-side project. Amtrak made up a reason why it had national significance, and eventually Cuomo committed small amounts of political capital to it, but the main backing as I recall was from New Jersey politicians, especially Frank Lautenberg.

  2. ckrueger99 June 7, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    It’s 30 years now, but Rizzo’s Center City Connection in Philadelphia allowed 2 terminal stations to join to become part of a through running network. Was it luck or farsightedness on his part?

    • Wanderer June 7, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

      It wasn’t really Rizzo’s project, it was a project that the planners brought to Rizzo and that he allowed to go forward. It didn’t seem like Rizzo cared much at the time. It may have interested him and his supporters for construction jobs and contracts. But it was very farsighted, it would have cost infinitely more later, and it created a true regional rail network.

      • Rob June 8, 2016 at 9:11 am #

        And yet Philly hasn’t really made good use of it. And sprawl around the highways continues unabated. Why?

        • Eric June 9, 2016 at 1:21 am #

          It’s hard to make good use of it. The branches only serve the north and west suburbs, so most of them form giant U shapes and it will never be time-competitive to travel all the way around the U.

          Equally important, there has not been political willpower to run high-frequency service on the system. This is due both to low funding levels, and the commuter rail workers’ union which insists on major overstaffing and makes providing service much more expensive than it should be.

          • kclo3 June 9, 2016 at 9:50 am #

            Limiting the scope to the inner zones, the situation becomes much more amenable to frequent through-service. The tunnel remains the only transit route directly serving the major employment corridor from University City to Market East, and the L-shaped routes it makes is just as effective or better than a local transit trip with one transfer. Even as frequency approaches 3-4 TPH on the central trunk, usage is hindered primarily by the artificially high fare premium compared to local transit. Lower that first (a decision entirely at the hands of SEPTA bookkeepers) and you’ll see the political constituency fighting for frequent service start to materialize.

  3. Luke C June 7, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    Auckland still suffered this debate for our City Rail Link project. While the key benefits were to the outer suburbs (especially western) because it was seen as “just a CBD rail loop” this made it harder for the council to push it through, and easier for detractors to gain support. While construction started last week, their is still many misconceptions that this is just a CBD project that will do nothing suffering outer suburban commuters.

  4. EHS June 7, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

    One caveat about the Seattle situation. While the first draft considered it a regional asset, the second draft decided to fund it proportional to ridership in the new tunnel.

    In other words, the second tunnel is needed because demand from the northern, southern, and eastern suburbs, as well as from Seattle itself, is too great to squeeze into the one existing tunnel. However, because lines to the northern and eastern suburbs were chosen to go through the existing tunnel, the cost will be borne primarily by Seattle and its southern suburbs.

    Sadly, I think this goes into the “problem” column. It’s just that rather fitting into Jarrett’s paradigm, in which a regional resource is mistakenly considered a core resource, because of where it happens to be, Seattle has a regional resource mistakenly considered resource of a particular part of the region, because of which line happens to run through it.

    The lines to the eastern and northern suburbs could just have easily been assigned to the new tunnel, but they happen to not be. The tunnel is planned to give them frequency and reliability just as much as to give it to the southern suburbs, but by chance, they won’t be chipping much in.

    • Mike Lindblom June 8, 2016 at 8:23 am #

      EHS, the situation in Seattle has been changing fast. As of June 2 the second downtown tunnel capital cost ($1.7b in 2014 dollars) is assigned 52 percent to Seattle, 13 percent to Snohomish and South King, 14 percent to Eastside and 8 percent to Pierce County — the theoretical ridership using BOTH downtown tunnels.

      As you note, the tunnels will form a helix shape and squeeze the East trains into the old tunnel. The old tunnel already points north, via Capitol Hill, so that’s really your only option. And the East trains begin in 2023, so putting the into the existing tunnel also makes sense.

      Watch the Seattle Times later this week for more explanation about this arrangement, including a brief quote from Jarrett.

  5. Paul June 7, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    When discussing the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, Australia, I find myself constantly having to correct people’s misconception that this is a project for the inner city, when it is really designed to unlock existing capacity on all of the regional rail lines that are currently constrained by inner city capacity.

    Fortunately, as Jarrett observed, we have the benefit that rail transport, at least, is managed by state government agencies and so the very local parochialism is not quite the same issue.

    • Steve June 9, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      Do you think if the Cross River project gets built it would be cause to upgrade the South East Busway to rail? I don’t know much of the transit history of Brisbane, I just moved here, but that line seems like it has sufficient ridership.

      • Paul June 9, 2016 at 10:34 pm #

        The South East Busway is not compatible with the Queensland heavy rail network, but it is designed to be upgraded to light rail or light metro. I doubt that this will ever be done as it would cause huge disruption and it would likely not actually increase capacity. The busway really has been a success in my opinion, in some ways a victim of its success as its usage has far exceeded expectations.

  6. Benjamin Smith June 7, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

    Toronto is moving forward, but there is still a lot of hard feelings from former mayor Rob Ford, who thrived in the “core vs edge” debate and poisoned rational discussion about transit expansion and infrastructure. The other day the following editorial was published, which drives the core side of the argument against edge transit expansion.

    Yes, he certainly has a point that the extension will not have the highest ridership. But it should be noted that it will bring the eastern end of the subway to a planned urban growth centre, better connecting the city and region by rapid transit and eliminating a frustrating transfer required to continue a short distance in the same general direction.

    Does this mean the extension should go ahead? Perhaps… perhaps not. But for the longest time, it has seemed as if the “core” side of the debate has focused almost exclusively on ridership, and has ignored any regional connectivity and benefits such extensions could bring.

    • Shaun June 30, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Unfortunately, the residual effects of that poison are not quite out of the system. Yes, it is true that the One-Stop Extension will save today’s downtown-bound riders a transfer, but is that worth $3+ billion? Especially when we are looking at a huge budget gap going into next year.

      I’m fine with the rational discussion that says “with $3B we could do A, or we could do B,” but the One-Stop Extension has become such a valuable political football that rational discussion remains impossible. Many other areas of our civic discussion have evolved, with almost everyone (but the mayor) even agreeing that we need money to pay for things. Yet the discourse on the extension includes deliberate misconceptions and intimidation:

      Supporting the urban growth centre would be a reasonable goal, except that the growth area is huge and that one station will not serve it. Moreover, pro-Extension politicians are confused as to whether it’s “one of the fastest growing city centres in Canada,” or in need of ‘renewal and revival.’

      (And yes, that one link presents those opposing perspectives side-by-side, without questioning or problematizing the contradictory narratives. Even in the post-Ford era, that’s how we roll in Toronto)

  7. David June 7, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    Well said. This article should be on the front page of every Vancouver paper, instead of the constant “us vs them” nonsense.

  8. R. W. Rynerson June 7, 2016 at 8:20 pm #

    Berlin has experienced some of this problem. During the division of the city, the well-funded West U-Bahn was expanded on a network basis. In the East, the existing U and S-Bahn lines were tacked onto by extensions into the greenfield housing projects, with tram lines doing the crosstown work. When the Wall came down, the sentimental pressure was for getting broken lines reconnected, including low ridership suburban end-segments, rather than rebuilding central lines and transfer points, let alone building new lines to link old ones.

    Eventually the deferred maintenance and connectivity issues were tackled, but there is still more to do.

  9. Rolly I. June 8, 2016 at 7:38 am #

    We need transportation system that serves the need of the diverse population. As a transportation service operator, the need for adequate transportation systems and infrastructure cannot be overemphasized. Political correctness and meddling often stand on the way of rational and unbiased decisions. I believe that cost effectiveness could be a factor for making such huge infrastructural investment. However we should be mindful of the consequences of inadequate transportation infrastructure which could lead to myriad of social problems mostly in the urban areas

  10. Jason B June 8, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    For those not familiar with Vancouver’s transit history, it may help explain a tiny bit of “why the gap” when you understand that the yellow “Millennium” line was completed in 2002, while the pale blue “Canada” line was completed in readiness for the Olympics in 2009.

    There has long been a number of people who said the Millennium line should run much farther west – up to UBC, which is on the westernmost point on the map, but sadly it stops in eastern Vancouver. Punching through the properties west of it’s terminus is likely to be ridiculously expensive, but I don’t know all the details of why they stopped short the way they did.

    If the two lines had been build in a reverse order, the gap would be absolute madness; as it is, it’s more an all too common lack of foresight.

    • David June 8, 2016 at 7:51 pm #

      Millennium line originally ended at commercial in 2002. Vancouver city hall said they we rezone and encourage office high rises at Clark & great northern way, so the skytrain was extended 1stop west in 2006. It would have been still under construction when the Canada line from the airport was in a design phase.

      1) they should have continued the extension as part of the Canada line bidding process

      2) city of Vancouver took a decade to get its act together, and that last stop has been very under used for far too long. I would understand if there were bitter feelings between the city and TransLink

    • Ron June 9, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

      The Millennium Line was built by the NDP provincial government to serve primarily NDP Northeast Sector political ridings. It had 2 phases. Phase 1 was the yellow line shown above. Phase 2 comprised 2 parts – the Port Moody-Coquitlam Line (now being built as the Evergreen Line) and the Vancouver West Line (to Arbutus – the current missing gap). The NDP lost the next election.

      The incoming Liberal provincial government cancelled both elements of Phase 2 because of costs.

      Later, when it came to re-evaluating rapid transit lines, the Liberals had political ridings in Richmond to the south, and was also promoting the Olympics. Priority shifted from the Millennium Phase 2 lines to the new Canada Line to the Airport and to Richmond (site of the Olympic skating oval). The Canada Line, though not an official Olympic project, also secured Federal funding.

      Note that a line to Richmond was on the planning books since proposed by the then Social Credit provincial government in the early 1990s and planned for in regional planning documents.

      The city versus suburb aspect applies as to which part of Millennium Phase 2 would be built first (after the Canada Line). The Northeast Sector had been promised rapid transit since the original part of the Millennium Line was built (starting in the mid 1990s) and Coquitlam had densified with residential towers in reliance on that basis – so that part was built first.

      The second part of Phase 2 (the Vancouver West Line to Arbutus) would be built next, but is now competing with proposed LRT lines in suburban Surrey, as Surrey’s population is the fastest growing in the region and should surpass Vancouver in population.

      • David June 9, 2016 at 9:29 pm #

        I think you are glossing over some of the politics. The NDP phase 2 had no date. It was just going to be done some time in the future, so the Liberals never canceled anything.

        I think you are also overstating the politics of Richmond for Liberal voters. The federal government wanted to push a rapid transit line to the airport for the Olympics. The priority from Coquitlam to Richmond was driven by the federal government money.

        The socreds had planned the Canada Line even earlier, since the late 1980s, and by the early 90s election they were getting ready to go for bids for construction. The NDP stopped that. Lucky the ground work had been done and proper right of ways were secured around 1991 (I can’t remember when exactly).

        One interesting historical footnote is that the Socreds were planning on building the Coquitlam line after the Richmond line, but their plan was quite different. Instead of branching at Columbia station, the socreds were planning on branching at Edmonds, and going straight to Lougheed Mall. Then continue on to Coquitlam centre. It doesn’t appear they ever thought far enough ahead as to which route to take from Lougheed mall to Coquitlam Centre, but the Edmonds to Lougheed route is quite different than what was built later by the NDP.

        I didn’t agree with most things the Socreds did, but they did build stuff. Whether it was a hwy or skytrain, they would build it. I am glad that got voted into the void, but that did put a damper on skytrain expansion for a decade, and even now we still aren’t building at the Socred ambition. The Socreds also viewed mass transit as a way of saving money by not building more highways. So capital costs would be sunk costs like a highway construction, and transit revenue was a method of reducing operation costs. Unlike so many views today where transit revenue is supposed to pay for the operating cost and capital cost.

        My view now is that we are double the population since the Socred days, so we should be spending more than double the amount per year inflation adjusted, and I’m not even sure our annual spending is at the level it was in the 1980s. In 8 years we only built the evergreen line, with nothing planned afterward, while the Socreds built the entire Expo line in the same time span, with a lot more plans to continue building.

        On a personal note I can’t wait for the Evergreen line to be complete, but it would be a lot more useful if the millennium line went to Cambie street, so I could take transit to the airport in a reasonable amount of time. Something I do a lot more than I want to.

        • MB June 17, 2016 at 11:36 am #

          Excellent points, David.

          Just a note to say that the Millennium Line was very heavily criticized for low ridership after it opened. Now, in less than 12 years, the SkyTrain-driven planned development of the Brentwood and Lougheed town centres is phenomenal. Lougheed will achieve densities not found elsewhere outside of downtown. One can argue about urban design, architecture and the unsightly guideways, but the long them economic stimulation powers of this rapid transit system cannot be denied.

          • MB June 17, 2016 at 11:37 am #

            “… long-term economic stimulation …”

      • MB June 17, 2016 at 11:30 am #

        Good comments, Ron.

        I would quibble on your take about prioritizing of new rapid transit investments. Surrey may well exceed Vancouver in population one day, but it has generations of evolution to accomplish before it equates to the major employment density of Broadway, which is second only to downtown. Moreover, the population density is still pretty sparse in Surrey compared to Central Broadway; density (persons per km2) drives transit ridership more than overall population.

        Broadway-UBC remains the most viable unmet demand for rapid transit service in Western Canada. To place Surrey before Broadway because that’s where undefined future growth will go only ignores the growth that has already occurred in the Broadway corridor fro many decades. That is backwards.

        As it turns out, an agreement was finally made between the federal government, the province and the Metro on transit funding. The feds are picking up 50% of the cost and only yesterday the overall funding formula was announced and fully committed. The Broadway subway and Surrey light rail are now going to be designed and built concurrently. That is very good news in Greater Vancouver which has the fourth highest per capita transit boardings in North America after NYC, Toronto and Montreal.


    • Ian Graham June 16, 2016 at 9:23 pm #

      Adding some perspective and history to the Vancouver situation, and the comments from Jason B, David and Ron:

      1) Provincial governments in British Columbia have bounced between “left” and “right” over the past 40+ years of serious transit development, so there are lots of opinions, interpretations, and conspiracy theories on what has driven the network so far. However, the conceptual network from 1980 (and before) had all of the major corridors in mind. The tussle has been largely about priority of sequencing. Yes, there has been (will always be) some “politics” (ridings held by the governing party tend to get higher priority, although it isn’t always the case). Some decisions were influenced by construction opportunities (some corridors easier and cheaper to build than others). There was also a good deal of wrangling at the local level (the mayors were pushing for the Coquitlam extension, but the high ridership results on the provincially-favoured Canada Line showed that it was a valuable and long over-due “core” line). There have also been differing planning philosophies – whether the priority should be to build first to the greatest existing development (not necessarily the largest in the longer term), or to help re-shape lower density areas (lower initial ridership, but potentially larger long term effect on development and transit useage; I’m sure Jarrett has some postings about the pros, cons and trade-offs; essentially part of the “long view” in Human Transit). In fact, they ALL needed to be built, and protracted debates about sequencing essentially delayed development of the whole network. All three of the major Vancouver rail corridors (Expo, Millennium, Canada) have reached or exceeded the ridership targets that were set in the final project justification stages, and I believe that the 11km “Evergreen” extension (expected to open either late 2016 or early 2017) will attract good ridership from the beginning. It is essentially a suburban extension (i.e., “edge”), but will provide some very useful intra-regional (non-CBD) connections as well as further feed the “core”.

      2) As in many cities, big events tend to drive many rail projects (the Expo Line was spurred by the 1986 World’s Fair; the Canada Line for the 2010 Winter Olympics). Both of these lines were delivered in time, and were major contributors to the success of both events. However, they were fundamentally needed for the region’s long term mobility, so I have never considered it fair to have them derided as a political football in the debate over the costs or viability of mega-events.

      3) The current Millennium Line terminus at “VCC-Clark” station was never seen as an ideal permanent terminus. As noted in the comment by David, the City of Vancouver pushed for an extension beyond the original Commercial Drive terminus, to help spur development in adjacent reclaimed rail yards. It also helped to anchor the retention and expansion of Vancouver Community College. And it also pointed the tracks in the direction of a desired extension. The redevelopment has taken longer than originally expected (although some projects are now moving ahead), and stalemates over funding have delayed the extension; so the VCC-Clark terminus does remain an underused anomaly, at least for now. There are still conflicting opinions on how/where to extend, which I won’t describe here. If the extension does finally move ahead (either the whole distance to the University of British Columbia – quite a stretch; or about half the distance to Arbutus Street, which would serve the Broadway mid-town corridor, but introduce a bus transfer for several thousand UBC students) then it will fill in a major existing gap in the network, and provide a useful connection with the Canada Line.

      4) The federal, provincial and local governments today (June 16th) hammered out a provisional deal to move forward on planning for both the Broadway SkyTrain extension, and an LRT network in Surrey. It will take a few years to materialize, but there is some renewed hope on a rational build-out of the rail network.

  11. Mike June 8, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

    I am sorry if this comment comes across smug, and I do not mean for it to. However, Jarrett, your whole planning philosophy with the ridership verses coverage debate is often about pitting outer areas against the inner core of a region. By telling outer areas they cannot or do not deserve a quality transit service.

    Does telling whole areas of a region they do not deserve good transit not further lead to the divisions you talk about above?

    We saw this in Edmonton, where you told Edmonton Council they should cut a semi-attractive level of service in outer Edmonton to a bare minimum service to support more service in the inner core (instead of just calling for increased funding, which is what is really required). The result was that outer suburban areas were very upset, and some even showed how buses you wanted to cut were standing room only

    So it seems that this debate is not just about big projects, but also the basics, such as bus service.
    We should be striving to offer quality transit to everyone in a urban region. Doing so, will not only bring the best outcomes, but also the most support for transit across across a region.

    • Eric June 9, 2016 at 1:36 am #

      It’s not about what an area “deserves”, it’s about what an area is willing to pay and what they will get. You seem to be asking for Edmonton to commit 100% of funding to “coverage” and 0% to “ridership”, to use Jarrett’s terms. He’s not criticizing that decision. He’s just informing you of the facts – that as a result, you’ll have a lot fewer people using transit overall.

    • Mike P. June 9, 2016 at 7:23 am #

      “So when folks argue that the another part of the network should be weaker so that theirs can be stronger, they’re actually undermining their own transit service.”

      @Mike & @Eric: I see both points that Mike & Eric are making. But, I agree with Mike’s point in that sometimes it is “us or them.” Unless more money is going to be added to the pot.

    • MB June 17, 2016 at 11:46 am #

      Mike, it is essential to marry land use with transit for many reasons. Increasing transit service to areas with low density subdivisions rife with single use zoning is a plain unsustainable way to manage public funding. Frequent Transit Networks require a certain density to sustain them. A few packed buses in the burbs that are infrequent is not a sign that the system is underfunded.

      The transit-land use connection holds when you look at energy, emissions, public health, municipal budgets and a number of other things.

  12. MaxUtil June 10, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    The recent plans in Los Angeles to fix some major interconnection problems are a very welcome development. But not unusually, some of the funding and justification for this was “bought” by paying off less dense, peripheral areas with light rail that operates like commuter rail, feeding widely spaced stations in suburban areas with large parking structures. The investment into those areas precluded some more critical system expansion in denser, close in areas. But generally I think it is perceived that this was a needed and on balance worthwhile way to get stakeholders in the broader region on board with making the large investment area wide. We’re not getting the ideal system, but slowly but surely it is being set up in ways that will really work well for the city and region.

  13. Henry June 11, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    In New York, it’s interesting at how this plays out at local levels. At the City level, most transportation investment happens in Manhattan; some of it is necessary core expansion (SAS, Fulton Center) and some of it is really not (7 Line Extension). On the other hand, there are huge unmet capacity issues in the outer boroughs, particularly in regards to Bronx-Manhattan and Queens-Manhattan traffic and overloaded feeder buses, yet the amount of investment has been significantly smaller even though many of these corridors would get a rail line in other cities.

    Then you have the situation at the metro-area, which plays out more similarly to the edge vs core. This debate is particularly toxic when discussing Long Island, which is simultaneously getting the most investment in the form of East Side Access and not investing enough (no track capacity to fully utilize ESA once it opens). The worst part about this is that here they accuse the City of sucking up their tax dollars when their project is the most expensive in the Western world per-km, yet they refuse to do anything to actually weaken the grip of the City on their economic life (like, say, a fixed link across the Long Island Sound).

    Then at the state level, you have upstaters who believe that the City is strangling them with regulation and stealing their water. This is true to a degree (in regards to regulation), but it leads to silly things like demanding that they get just as much capital money as the MTA. However, because the NY metro area is more than half of both GDP and population, that just leads to a lot of overbuilt infrastructure in a place that is failing to keep maintaining current infrastructure as it is.

  14. David June 13, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    So I just travelled to Uppsala, Sweden landing at Arlanda airport at just after 9pm, and I went straight to the train after landing.

    The train is deep underground, on a very long platform. Easily 150m, could have been longer. At that time of night I was the only person standing on the platform. After waiting a few minutes a couple of people showed up, and eventually maybe a dozen by the time the train arrived. I waited 22 min for the train. The train was also very long, and very empty.

    It is a little nerve racking, and I’m worried that someone might turn off the lights. I was literally the only there on this huge platform.

    I think this is an example of building too much for the edge of the city. Why did they build a huge underground platform? Why are they running trains so long? If the train 1/10 as long, and came half as often it would be a huge improvement. Also would have saved a lot of money in building that station.

    • Mike Robinson June 15, 2016 at 2:49 am #

      It is a while since I’ve been in Sweden so I stand to be corrected but I seem to remember that Arlanda airport is just a stop on the service between central Stockholm and Uppsala.

      Seeing it at 9pm therefore won’t be typical. During morning and afternoon peaks it is considerably busier with business travellers between Stockholm and Uppsala as well as people going to the airport.

      I believe it is simply more operationally efficient to run a single type of train set than juggle with multiple train sets of different lengths depending on the time of day. If you are building a platform, it might as well fit the trains being used. The alternative with shorter platforms is the doors on only some cars open, and that means directing passengers to particular cars and increased dwell times as passengers queue up to get on or off the cars with access to the platform.

    • ararar June 16, 2016 at 11:25 am #

      Having trains of different lengths costs more and is useless since the number of trains you need to buy is dictated by peak traffic, and you obviously want the long trains during that time.
      Why buy smaller trains when you can just take one of the peak trains that is sitting around doing nothing all night?

      Also looking at where Arlanda is, you were not looking at a metropolitan rail service, but an actual regional train line.
      Long platforms is normal for train stations because they have to fit infrequent but long trains (cheaper per passenger than many small trains run more often, plus frequency is not needed for intercity travel as those trips are planned due to trip length, unlike intracity trips).

  15. Arthur June 15, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    Connectivity is good. So there is justification in connecting BART to the San Jose Diridon station. But duplicating the connection by extending BART to Santa Clara is unnecessary and wasteful. Better to improve Caltrain service through grade separations and more frequent service (especially midday and evening) than having both BART and Caltrain run between Santa Clara and San Jose Diridon station.

  16. speedearning June 30, 2016 at 3:32 am #

    On the other side of Manhattan, ARC was always a New Jersey project, without much support from New York. After it collapsed, planning for Gateway remained a predominantly New Jersey-side project. Amtrak made up a reason why it had national significance, and eventually Cuomo committed small amounts of political capital to it, but the main backing as I recall was from New Jersey politicians, especially Frank Lautenberg.

  17. Alice Ngigi June 30, 2016 at 11:00 pm #


  18. Alice Ngigi June 30, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

    Important details.

  19. Alice Ngigi June 30, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

    Thanks for posting.

  20. Alice Ngigi June 30, 2016 at 11:09 pm #


  21. Ted K. July 16, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

    Here’s another one for the missing link list – Boston. The current competition is between filling the gap between their commuter and long-distance rail termini (North and South Stations) or doing a major expansion of just the South Stn.

    Background info page :

    NB – is a transit blog with North American and some European coverage.

  22. Tom West July 9, 2019 at 11:57 am #

    One the biggest problem’s with Toronto’s Downtown Relief Line is that the name conmpletely misses the point: it’s primary beneficiaries are people in the eastern suburbs wanting to travel to downtown. The name “Eastern Relief Line” would have highlighted the purpose much better. (Or at least, until it got extended west…)