Bryan Mistele, the CEO of traffic tracker Inrix, argues in the Seattle Times that proposed new light-rail lines will be “obsolete before they are built.” Specifically, he says, automated, connected, electric, and shared vehicles–which he abbreviates as ACES–are already changing how people travel, and those changes are accelerating.
Sound Transit, Seattle’s regional rail transit agency, wants voters to approve a $54 billion ballot measure this November for more light rail. This, Mistele points out, is more than twice the cost of the Panama Canal expansion, yet isn’t likely to produce any significant benefits.
A rail advocate named Joe responds in the Seattle Weekly by calling self-driving cars “snake oil” similar to predictions in the 1950s that supposedly said everyone would be flying around in helicopters. Joe betrays ignorance about traffic, suggesting that a freeway that is congested with stop-and-go traffic could not possibly support any more cars even if they were self-driving. In fact, a road with stop-and-go traffic can move only half as many cars per hour as one with free-flowing traffic, and free-flowing traffic spaces cars six or seven car-lengths apart. Self-driving cars could easily beat that.
More important, Joe seems to think that light rail can move a lot of people. In fact, its capacity is far lower than busways or subways and not much more than a single freeway lane. In fact, only one light-rail line in the country carries as many people as half a freeway lane.
In the other Washington, the Post asks, “Is the Silver Line to Blame for All of Metro’s Woes?” The DC region was certainly foolish to build the Silver Line, which drew resources away from maintaining the rest of the system, reduced the capacity of the at-capacity Blue Line, and will add to the system’s maintenance woes in the future.
The article accurately points out that the funds for the Silver Line came from different sources than are available for maintenance and that the push for the Silver Line came from Virginia politicians, not Metro. But this merely illustrates what’s wrong with our transportation funding process. As the article quotes the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Tom Rubin, “We can get money to expand, but we can’t get money to maintain.” Just because regions can get that money doesn’t mean they should take it, and they especially shouldn’t take it if they can’t maintain what they already have.