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.
July 29, 2014, 10am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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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. 

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Published on Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Reason
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