Urban Fold

Comparing Boondoggles: Light Rail Line in Detroit, Streetcar in Washington D.C.

Jim Epstein suggests that Detroit's new light rail line is America's largest boondoggle; Matthew Yglesias argues that that ignominy belongs to Washington D.C.'s planned streetcar.

Jim Epstein begins his article arguing against Detroit's forthcoming M-1 light rail line by faulting a romantic notion of urban settings: "downtown’s allure is an ongoing distraction from what’s actually important for the health of cities. It explains in part the twisted logic behind one of the most confounding urban development projects of our time, a $137 million 3.3-mile light rail line that breaks ground in Detroit next week."

Epstein's question: "How else could sane people think a bankrupt city should build a wildly expensive rail line on a partially deserted avenue in a neighborhood awash in cheap parking?"

More specifically: "How will the light rail line serve the 26 percent of Detroit households that don’t own cars and depend on the city’s dreadful bus service? Detroit has a 139-square mile footprint, but the light rail line will serve only those travelers who happen to be going from one spot to another along one three-mile stretch on Woodward."

Matthew Yglesias references the "many good points" of Epstein's article, but begs to differ on the ignominious title of biggest boondoggle: "The current fad for streetcar construction is actually bequeathing quite a large number of terrible projects to the country. And the very worst of these — like Washington, DC's maybe-opening-soon streetcar line — aren't just expensive, they actually make mass transit worse."

"The original sin of every bad streetcar program," according to Yglesias: "it doesn't have a dedicated lane." The article provides more evidence to back up the argument that streetcar projects like Washington D.C.'s work against the goals of transit. 

Full Story: Is Detroit's New Light Rail Line America's Greatest Boondoggle?

Comments

Build Your Own Paper Block City

Urban Fold is an all-inclusive kit that allows anyone to build the city of their dreams with a few simple folds.
$24.95
building block set

NEW! Build the world you want to see

Irresistible block set for adults when placed on a coffee table or desk, and great fun for kids.
$25
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $16.95 a month

Wear your city with style!

100% silk scarves feature detailed city maps. Choose from five cities with red or blue trim.
$55.00