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Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar

Here are Some Facts About Portland Oregon          

“It must always be remembered how cost-effectiveness works in the public sector: the cost IS the benefit.” - author unknown

But that is comparing a rail line full of transit vehicles to a freeway full of cars.

Lets look at apples to apples: A track of transit vehicles vs a freeway lane of transit vehicles:

That is one bus every 20 seconds - a fraction of one lane of a freeway carries the same number of people as the claimed light rail maximum, leaving the freeway lane open for traffic most of the time. There probably is room for 1400 cars per hour plus the buses.

Now lets assume that you can run one bus every 4 seconds:

The reality is that light rail does not even come close to one lane of a freeway - it is actually less than 1/5 of one lane of freeway when comparing "apples to apples".

Lets look at the rough costs for the project described in the article (using what little costs they have released):

Once again, light rail costs too much, does too little.

A recent " Guest Opinion" in the Portland Tribune contained the following claim:

Light rail can carry 9,000 passengers an hour in each direction with a train every two minutes. This is the equivalent of a 10-lane freeway.  (http://www.portlandtribune.com/opinion/story.php?story_id=117459280986255400)  Local Copy

Also light rail DOES NOT CARRY freight, which accounts for much of a roads usage.

* Bus capacity of 51 from Table 3.2 of Trimet's FY 2007 TIP at http://trimet.org/pdfs/tip/tip.pdf  Local copy

Here is a comment on that article by Randal O'Toole posted on his blog, the The Antiplanner:

The numbers in the Tribune article are wrong. Running a train every two minutes would require installation of expensive signaling equipment — I know of no light-rail system that has such equipment — and probably would not be possible in downtown streets in any case.

A ten-lane freeway can move 10,000 vehicles per hour in each direction. Since the article writer generously assumes full light-rail trains, we can assume full autos with at least 4 people per car. That’s 40,000 people in each direction, or more than four times as many as ride the light rail.

Then there is the question of whether cities like Portland could ever find 9,000 people who would want to ride light rail in any given hour. And even if they could, would the trains be empty the rest of the day? (Remember, the average light-rail train in Portland has only about 50 people, not the 300 assumed in the example.)

False Claim: Light Rail Carries As Many People as a Ten Lane Freeway

9000 people/hr / 51 people per BUS* = 176.5 buses per hour

176.5 buses/hr / 60 min/hr = 2.94 buses per min

15 x 51 x 60 = 45,900 people/hr.

Cost of rail pair: up to $2 billion

Cost of 5 lane pairs or freeway: about $4 billion with ramps (50-50 between bridge and ramps)

Cost of one lane pair: 1/5 of $4 billion = $800 million

Cost of 1/5 of one lane: 1/5 of $800 million = $160 mil - the approx cost of the road space taken up by the bus

The freeway is 1/12 the cost of rail for the same number of people.  (160 Million / 2 Billion = 1/12.5 )