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Neil Pierce's LRT vs BRT Honolulu


This is Neil's personal reply to my letter that follows:

"The more one looks into the rail vs. busway issue, the more complex it becomes! But your points are certainly important ones... I'll make note for my future coverage. Thanks - N.P"

Neil Pierce,

I advocated light rail for Honolulu. Where cost-saving benefits of busways aren't sufficient to tip the cost/benefit ratio, I offer arguments in favor of LRT. Consider the following paragraphs from my essay, "New Urbanism's Regional Challenge". The aspects of development are more important than the mode of transportation. "Regionalism" is the evolving urban planning science, taking the Smart Growth principles to the next level, with a dynamism I am sure will make regionalism predominant in the planning fields for the next 50 years.

Here follows the essay paragraphs:

Light rail is fundamentally a "non-commute" system, its greatest advantage. If LRT operated only during rush hours, it would qualify as a commute system. Since LRT operates around the clock at frequent intervals, it must encourage development at all stations, especially at outer ends of line.

Downtowns cannot be the sole beneficiaries of booming development. Their economies are diversifying and that's good. But, it is only 1/2 of the solution. Diversification of suburban economies is equally necessary. Suburban communities are even more economically backward, resulting in greater long-distance travel to fill most human needs, many of them met in the urban experience. Thus, the development of "Regional Centers" is necessary to structure a regional economy, particularly relating to the transportation element, but also New Urbanism benefits of creating better places.

Bus systems do not have the potential to restructure suburban economies in the development of Regional Centers. They always increase road capacity & this impacts New Urbanism emphasis on alternate modes of travel: walking, bicycling & non-road mass transit, fundamentals of Regional Center planning.

Most transportation systems, (widened highways, van & car-pooling, HOV lanes, Express buses, commuter-rail), are commute systems, (or inherently increase the commute system capacity). *Commute systems create more demand for commuting than they can accommodate.* FATAL FLAW

Some make the claim, "Bus systems could be improved to act in the same manner as regional light rail". The drawbacks to this approach are too many. Busways generally mean widened highways & increased commute system capacity. Buses compete with auto traffic and vulnerable to traffic congestion, rarely achieve rail speeds, do not offer air/noise pollution reductions & are not comfortable enough for long-distance travel.

Thus, LRT is the perfect choice to influence regional development. Busways only offer the entire benefits of light rail if they are designed as "trunklines", with potential to evolve into light rail along the same route. However, this stipulation raises the cost of busways, making the switch from BRT to LRT less cost effective than LRT to begin with.

Neil, I hope you can see what this means. The emerging science of Regionalism adds tremendous weight in favor of light rail.

Art.Lewellan Portland


I would agree with what you are saying. Also unlike hov lanes and bus lanes, they can not be easily converted into car lanes when ploiticians change. Rail is regarded as permanant, while bus lanes can easily be chabged. As such businesses will be less likely to invest their money along bus stations as rail nodes. People also have a preference for riding rail.Light rail has a greater capacity and speed over busways.
Another aspect that I think is important is that a system be not just for commuting. Factors such as, the service hours, the frequency of service, and cost of service are important in this. Another factor is whether the service goes from where the people are, to where they are going. While many people will drive far distances to access a freeway, people don't drive to a park and ride lot to take a bus or train to go to the grocery store. As such, it is important not to locate light rail lines stations in the center of freeways, or along low density rail lines. While you might save on initial construction costs,you will pay in ridership and operating costs in the long run. New york's subways weren't built on the cheap, neither are todays highways and bridges. We should not automatically look only at the cheapest and easiest path for light rail.