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Eight Reasons Everyone Should Support Light Rail

Light rail isn't just good for riders; society as a whole benefits from fast, clean, convenient transit.

By Ryan McGreal

Everyone should support light rail, even people who don't necessarily plan to use it. Light rail is a true public good, a civic infrastructure that helps everyone, not just its direct beneficiaries.

Here are eight reasons everyone in the city should choose light rail over glorified buses.

8. Cheaper to Operate

Light rail costs about half as much to operate as buses - and that's at current fuel prices, which are expected to quadruple over the next decade and a half, according to the city's Peak Oil report.

Since the provincial government has offered to cover most of the capital cost, it makes sense to pick a system that's easier on the local property tax base.

7. More Capacity

In addition to a lower operating cost, light rail carries many more people than buses. This maximizes the benefit of the original investment and has better long-term potential to scale up as ridership continues to grow.

6. Less Traffic

Even with dedicated lanes, light rail reduces overall traffic because it carries people a lot more efficiently than an equivalent car lane. That means you benefit from light rail even if you still choose to drive.

5. More New Riders

It's good that light rail can carry more people than buses, because it's a lot better at attracting new riders out of their cars. Light rail is the best at generating a net increase in ridership (and a matching net decrease in driving).

If we're going to spend the money, we should make sure we get the most 'bang for our buck'.

4. Cleaner Air

Light rail is quiet and produces no emissions at the tailpipe, and can be powered using renewable energy sources (wind, solar, hydro). Even using non-renewable energy, electric rail is several times more efficient than internal combustion at moving people around.

Light rail also takes more cars off the road than buses, which further reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas production.

3. Compatible Land Use

Light rail can go anywhere: on the road, on the sidewalk, across a plaza, in the air, underground, up the escarpment, and so on. Light rail fits well in an urban environment and easily shares space with other uses.

Light Rail is compatible with cars and pedestrians
Light Rail is compatible with cars and pedestrians

2. More Investment

Developers absolutely love light rail. It tells them the city has a long-term commitment to servicing a community.

They are also aware that light rail attracts many more voluntary riders than buses and that proximity to a light rail station is a major incentive to home buyers.

That's why light rail lines regularly generate billions of dollars in new private investment around the lines. As the transportation director for Kinosha, Wis., put it, "Developers don't write cheques for buses."

1. More Intensification

Because light rail attracts so much investment, it leads directly to intensification around the line, a natural fit with the city's long-term growth strategy.

Main Street could enjoy a dense, mixed-use streetwall of four- to six-storey buildings with retail and offices below and apartments and condos above.

If the city is smart and recognizes that light rail means less driving, it can even eliminate parking requirements for new buildings adjacent to the line.

That will further reduce the barrier to new investment and allow more intensive uses on a smaller footprint.

(This article was originally published on Raise the Hammer.)