I have a brother who lives in the San Jose area, and he is always shocked when he comes up to Portlandia at how congested our traffic is. But we've had light rail for long enough to maximize the congestion creating effects of rail, plus we have commuter rail, trams, streetcar, and, no doubt soon, gondolas.
"As the Antiplanner has described elsewhere, in 1984, Santa Clara County voters agreed to increase sales taxes to build new highways. The result was a genuine reduction in traffic congestion over the following decade despite a booming economy. But, after VTA was designated the region’s congestion management agency, it decided to use all of that money to build light-rail lines instead of roads. Not surprisingly, congestion increased again.
In a posting on a Silicon Valley transit user’s Yahoo group, one transit advocate who took a superficial look at VTA’s proposed tax measure wrote that most of the money was going for a mode of travel “that dominates our culture but is unable to keep up with demand.” What a warped view! Ignore the fact that highways can’t keep up with demand because VTA stole all the highway money; the writer is essentially saying it is better to spend transportation dollars on modes that people don’t use rather than on modes that people do use. “Clearly more biking, walking, and transit is needed,” he says. But in the real world, the money should be spent where it will do the most good, not where it will enrich rail transit contractors.
In contrast, a group called the BayRail Alliance, which has a history of being skeptical of the BART to San Jose project, is urging voters to reject VTA’s latest tax increase not because too much money would be spent on highways but because “VTA has failed to keep its promises” that it made for past ballot measures. Instead of expanding service with the money voters approved, “transit service declined 13% and ridership decide 23%.'"
The people did the right thing increasing taxes to build needed roads. Then they did the wrong thing by designating the VTA as both the transit operator and “congestion management agency" for the region. The VTA, always hungry for money used the road construction money for transit, and congestion increased. VTA also managed to stick the nearly impossible Triple Lindy of cutting money to roadways, increasing money to transit, and reducing transit service 13%, and ridership 23%.
Transit agency perfect!
TriMet, the transit agency here in Portlandia, has been perfecting this Triple Lindy maneuver since putting in light rail back in the mid 1980s. Transit ridership here fell from about 10% of commuters in the metro area to about 7.5%, after dropping many billions of dollars on light rail, streetcar, tram, commuter rail, and cannibalizing the formerly high quality bus service. We are left with a mediocre transit service which costs dear, but delivers less each year. Oh, and congestion, so much congestion that both Maddogsbrer from the San Jose area, and the other from central California agree Portlandia is much worse then the Bay area's traffic.
Here in Portlandia, as in San Jose, and the Bay Area, rail does not reduce congestion, it does not carry any significant number of people, and it costs so much that it highly limits the amount of road construction and improvement which are possible. In essence, it forces road congestion because it consumes the money necessary to reduce it. While the transit planners crow that congestion will cause more people to ride transit, the opposite happens. People are less inclined to use transit as transit times to destination increase.
The only real benefit has been an increase in bicycle commuting/ridership. But this benefit has been reduced, and likely eliminated by the congestion created increase in bicycle/car and bicycle/transit accidents. The rails used by rail transit cause a huge number of single bike crashes each year. The vehicles themselves cause a few more.
If you want more congestion in your community rail is the answer.