Research Roundup: Benefits Of California HSR, The ARC Effect, BRT Studies & Evaluating Rail Criticism

The Institute Of Transportation Studies’ Center For Urban Infrastructure at UC Irvine released its Thinking Ahead: High-Speed Rail In Southern California (31p. PDF) report last week. It attempts to quantify some of the regional economic and other benefits likely to come about once California’s high-speed rail system is in place.

For example, during its construction phase (2012-2020), the California High-Speed Rail project will contribute a regional income benefit of $701 million to Southern California workers who would have otherwise been unemployed. Together with design/engineering work for Phase II of the system, it will provide the equivalent of over 57,000 full-time, one-year jobs (or multi-year employment for approximately 15,200 workers). Construction of the Anaheim Regional Intermodal Transportation Center (ARTIC) will create an additional 3,500 to 5,000 jobs in Orange County based upon estimated project costs of $179 million.

The report goes on to say that by 2035, high-speed rail will attract over 127,000 permanent jobs to Southern California that would not have otherwise been created, thanks to the region’s increased livability and enhanced transportation network. It also claims that the emission of nearly half a billion pounds (220,000 metric tons) of CO2 would be prevented annually by 2035, based on the number of intraregional auto trips diverted to high-speed rail.

We wanted to take a closer look at The ARC Effect: How Better Transit Boosts Home Values & Local Economies (12p. PDF), put out by the Regional Plan Association.

ARC – “Access To The Region’s Core,” a new commuter rail tunnel to Midtown Manhattan – could add a cumulative $18 billion to home values within two miles of NJ TRANSIT and Metro-North Port Jervis and Pascack Valley train stations. The Report outlines several other benefits, including an overall increase in the region’s economy, new jobs on both sides of the Hudson River, higher personal incomes, higher commercial property values, and reductions in driving and air pollution. Home values could go up by an average of $19,000 and up to $29,000 within one-half mile of the stations.

The Mineta Transportation Institute has published From Buses To BRT: Case Studies Of Incremental BRT Projects In North America (110p. PDF).

This study examines five approaches to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems as implemented by public transit agencies in California, Oregon, and Ontario. The resulting lines and network of lines vary widely, ranging from small changes in a local bus route, to a completely new line in a new mode.

On one end of the spectrum, the San José area has frequent arterial bus services with traffic signal priority. On the other end, the report describes the case of a transit-only, grade-separated busway in Los Angeles County with full-featured stations and special buses that look like no others in the agency. The authors also describe three variations more in the middle of the range of BRT possibility.

The case studies as a group show that BRT, as applied in North America, is a discretionary combination of elements that can be assembled in many different combinations over time. Transit agencies have wide latitude to determine which combination of elements best serves their needs, given their specific circumstances. Every element incrementally adds to the quality or attractiveness of the service.

Finally, we wanted to dig deeper into the Victoria Transport Policy Institute‘s recently published guide to Evaluating Rail Transit Criticism (74p. PDF).

It examines how to evaluate whether building or expanding rail transit systems is wasteful. The report states that high quality rail transit is more than just a type of vehicle; it is an integrated system that includes relatively fast and frequent transit service on major corridors with comfortable and attractive vehicles and stations, transit-oriented development around station areas with good walking and cycling access, efficient bus feeder service, and various support policies such as integrated fares and efficient parking management.

This combination of features tends to attract a large portion of discretionary passengers (people who would otherwise drive, also called choice riders). As a result, people who live or work in areas with high quality rail transit tend to own fewer cars, drive less and rely more on alternative modes than in automobile-dependent areas. If implemented in appropriate situations with supportive policies, rail transit can provide significant benefits to users and society.

However, there has been considerable debate over the merits of rail transit. Critics argue that rail transit is outdated, ineffective at solving transportation problems, and wasteful, but their analysis is based on various omissions, errors and misrepresentations. Many current demographic and economic trends are increasing demand for alternative modes and increasing the benefits tosociety from traffic reductions.