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That car perfectly illustrates the primary problem with streetcar, anywhere: Disrtuption of the transit network by traffic and parked cars. Better to have an elevated system that runs in a totally separate grade. (Other problems include the expense of construction, disruption of local neighborhoods during construction, steel-on-steel noise, deaths in motor vehicle collisions, bicycle wheels catching in the tracks, etc). The benefit to passengers of a fixed guideway system is investment in routes by the transit agency. MARTA changed many of the routes around a few years back, totally changing the map. Some users are still confused by the new routes. Monorail is the cheapest and fastest to build grade-separated transit and Atlanta would do very well to have monorail running where the current bus routes exist. (My favorite varieties of monorail are the fully automated and suspended H-Bahn (SIPEM) (at Dusseldorf Airport and Dortmund University) or a similarly automated SAFEGE system like the Chiba and Shonan monorails in Japan.)
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Steve Munro's last post makes and excellent point. In Atlanta, MARTA runs a rail line under downtown Decatur. Even after the rail line was built, the City of Decatur continued to flounder until they got smart about ordinances and city planning and made a concerted effort to revitalize the city. Elsewhere on the same line, the proximity of any sort of development gets worse as the line moves east. The next station, Avondale, is seeing some of the city revitalization benefits of Decatur but the station itself was the old end of the line. The station is very close to low density industrial land, including the rail yard (which had to go somewhere). Moving east, again, Kensington Station (built for the Olympic Games) is near both apartment and suburban living but the station itself is surrounded by a massive parking lot. Had the Kensington Station parking lot instead been the Kensington Station dense urban development, the area could easily have been a destination within the metro area. Finally, the Indian Creek Station, the current end of the line (and also built for the Olympic Games), was designed as a commuter station with a massive parking lot, no proximate development, and large swaths of land between the station and the nearby suburban developments. The empty land around the Indian Creek station is so vast that roughly 90% entire dense downtown area around Decatur Station could have been developed around the Indian Creek Station. (And, built properly, the development could have housed, in parking decks, just as many cars as the current parking lot does). It takes both quality transportation AND smart dense development investment to develop the sort of mobility and access that Jarrett is talking about. ---- Changing subjects, slightly, I'd like to throw a thought into the ring about why developers and passengers may see tracked modes (streetcar lines, heavy rail, monorail) as being superior to non-tracked routes: Just as it takes investment from numerous interested parties (government, citizens groups, developers, etc) to build new highways, new malls, new subdivisions, new parks, etc, I believe it also takes investment from the local transit agency to make a line succeed. The very flexibility of bus lines to reroute around obstructions may just be a major reason that people don't like bus lines: buses never stop at the same distance from the curb or along the curb, buses don't line up neatly with the curb or platform (meaning that passengers often have to take wide or high steps to get onto the vehicle), bus stops are often only a signpost (and that often planted in bare dirt or with no sidewalks to provide access), and bus routes can be changed on a whim (as MARTA in Atlanta is doing with approximately half of the bus routes in the next month). The very inflexibility of tracked modes may be seen, subconsciously, as a positive by the passengers. I can trust that the transit agency will think very long and very hard about dis-investing in my route if they have spent the time and money to develop infrastructure more extensive than signposts to support my route. By being able to trust that the local tracked route will keep running, I know that I, too, can invest in the economic development of the area around the route by buying property along the route and near stations. On the other hand, as a passenger, I don't really care how the transit agency gets the job done as long as I don't have to spend considerable amounts of time waiting for transfers, waiting for the initial vehicle to arrive, or waiting to clock in once the transit system has dropped me off at work. I happen to have opinions about which modes are the most time-efficient but my opinion doesn't jive with either the bus or streetcar side of the argument (which both tend to share the right-of-way and mix with motor vehicle and human-powered transportation), so I'll leave that argument for another post, another day.
Toggle Commented Jul 30, 2010 on on streetcars: mobility vs. access at Human Transit
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Segways are pretty fun once you've learned to ride them ... for a while. After a while, the novelty wears off. Also, for every niche market that Segways are marketed to tackle (commuting, warehouse runners, Police/Security/EMS foot response, tourism), there are better products. Having performed foot patrol on a Segway and on foot, the speed and endurance boosts of the Segway are nice. But when the Segway dies out in the field, you're suddenly stuck pushing a 100-120 lb vehicle back to the precinct or lifting it into and out of a vehicle. With a kick scooter + electric assist, you could conceivably kick-scoot the same weight back to the precinct with a little sweat. With an electric-assist patrol bicycle, the options become obvious. (I'll still use my department's Segways until they wear out or get replaced because they make 12-hour foot patrol in Georgia heat so much less physically taxing.) Having been on foot tours with a group of people of diverse athleticism, I can see why Segways appeal to tour operators... Except that the weight limit means that the least athletic people often can't use the Segways. As a direct replacement, electric kick-scooters of various power levels would seem to be the best option. For military robotics... c'mon, a platform that has to BALANCE itself? What if it runs low on juice? Segways can't climb curbs or rubble, either, so I'd find them useless outside of a robotics laboratory. The other major flaw of the Segway as a vehicle is that you cannot field-swap the battery meaning a several-hour charge time if you run low on juice (this is a flaw in the iPod/iPhone design, as well). Again, other options (with field-swappable batteries) are superior to the Segway. So, I would revise the photo caption to, "Friends don't let friends or employers BUY Segways. (But they can go look as dorky on Segway tours as they wish)."
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2010 on Don’t Let this Happen to You at BikeHacks
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Jul 28, 2010