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An Argument for Light Rail Over Bus Rapid Transit

Opponents of the ST3 transit funding measure in Seattle have argued that bus rapid transit is a cheaper alternative to light rail. A local write counter argues that point by making the economic case for light rail.
October 16, 2016, 9am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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"A common criticism of the upcoming ST3 ballot measure is that light rail is too expensive and we’d be better off with bus rapid transit (BRT)," according to an article by Anton Babadjanov. In response to the argument for a less robust build-out of public transit infrastructure, Babadjanov examines the economics behind a range of proposed alternatives  for addressing the congested state of roads around the region.

First, Babadjanov debunks the idea that wider highways would solve the Seattle region's traffic woes, based on concepts of induced demand and the massive size of the freeways that would be necessary to reach same level of lane-miles per capita as a city like Kansas City.

On the issue of buses, Babadjanov argues that for a bus to be an acceptable alternative to driving it needs to offer an alternative to traffic. Because long stretches of high-occupancy vehicle lanes are politically untenable, only new right-of-way remains as a path around congestion. But here's the rub: new right-of-way is actually the expensive part of constructing new light rail, and 80 percent of the cost for light rail in the ST3 proposal would go to right-of-way, according to Babadjanov.

So the argument goes: while Sound Transit is busy planning and building new right-of-way, it might as well make the most efficient use of it, with light rail instead of bus rapid transit.

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Published on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 in The Urbanist
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