November 4, 2002

Ineffective Light Rail

Category: Transit

San Francisco: Light Rail is a very useful form of urban transport, provided it meets one simple criteria: It must be an improvement on other forms of transit, including busses. In San Francisco, there are several light rail lines which run quite effectively through a central tunnel under the city. However, some of them, upon emerging from the tunnel, become about as effective as tricycles for the average commuter. The N-Judah, for example works quite well as long as it's underground, but when it reaches the end of the Buena Vista tunnel, it is so burdened by stop signs and an overabundance of disembarking stops, that it becomes no more useful than a slow moving local bus. The J-Church is even worse, and experiments have shown it to be slower than walking at certain points in the Noe Valley area.

This defeats the whole point of building a rail system, which is supposed to be fast, and ideally run in an exclusive right-of-way. So what can I propose as a solution? Well, it's simple: Get rid of ALL the stop signs along the route of the train. The only possible exception to this would be stop signs that coincide with a disembarkment stop. As for those, there should be way fewer. As it now stands, the trains stop every 2 blocks. This is fine for a local bus, but absurd for a rail system. It should stop every 4 or 5 at the most. The time saved would more than make up for having to walk an extra block or two to catch the train. Finally, traffic lights should be triggered by the approaching train to automatically turn green.

As for the cost of the upgrade: well, certainly less than the multi-million dollar cost of buying new train cars, which is the only thing Muni seems to be able to think of. Quick lesson - new cars that don't run any faster is no improvement.

[photo swiped from an incredibly thorough synopsis of the N-Judah at NYC]

Posted by Nick at November 4, 2002 4:52 PM