Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Light Rail Benefits Economy and Environment—Why Oppose It?

Business

By Rob Perks

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

I recently returned from a transportation conference in Raleigh, North Carolina on the economic benefits of building a light rail system to connect the Triangle region (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill). The event—dubbed the "Transit Makes $ense" summit—was organized by the area's leading "good growth" advocacy group WakeUP Wake County.

The event featured more than 250 attendees, ranging from corporate executives and civic leaders to elected officials and planning experts. There was lots of press coverage leading up to the event and this great article that followed: Road Worrier: New urban workers want rail transit.

But in the wake of WakeUP's summit, the critics of the proposed light rail network connecting communities in the Triangle have started to have their say. Outside "experts" brought in by local transit opponents contend that while the roads are congested, Raleigh is just not crowded enough to warrant train travel.

Even more ridiculous, the local newspaper opined that the trend toward denser development and more compact communities means there may be less need to enhance the transportation system with rail or roads.

Let's untangle those two points, shall we? First, when it comes to population density the numbers don't lie. Raleigh is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas not just in North Carolina but in the nation. Add the other sides of the Triangle—Chapel Hill and Durham—and it's easy to see why such a populated region suffers from heavy traffic.

Already, the voters of Durham and Orange (where Chapel Hill is) have passed ballot measures to raise taxes a modest amount to pay for expanding bus service and building a regional light rail system. But a couple of conservative Wake County commissioners are blocking a similar ballot measure from going up for a vote. (Why? Because they're afraid voters will pass it, of course!) Until or unless Raleigh gets on board, the light rail system can't happen because Wake County is the missing piece of the puzzle.

As for denser development somehow negating the need for transit, you really can't have one without the other. The point of walkable communities is to enable people to get around without having to drive everywhere. A light rail system would allow people living in such communities to be conveniently connected by rail, thereby lessening their reliance on roads to travel around the region. Moreover, light rail actually spurs that type of development. Folks in Raleigh need to look no further than Charlotte, where the light rail system that opened in 2007 has sparked a building boom of mixed-use development and $1.6 billion in economic impact all along the line.

What the naysayers in Raleigh need to realize is that public transportation is popular. Indeed, more Americans are getting on board with public transportation as the cost to own and operate a vehicle rises and American consumers look for ways to save money. Many also see a range of other benefits, from reducing congestion to improving quality of life. In fact, a new America THINKS survey from infrastructure firm HNTB Corporation found that:

  • three in four (76 percent) Americans are open to taking public transportation instead of driving (an increase from 69 percent in 2010, when HNTB last asked that question.)
  • nearly half (48 percent) say they would require an area to have good public transportation before they would consider moving there
  • more than 2 in 5 (46 percent) say a different area having a good public transportation system would make them more likely to move there

As Raleigh copes with growth, civic leaders and elected officials need to think hard about where they want their city to go and how they're going to get there. For instance, they could aspire to be like Philadelphia, with its robust transit system, where between 2005 and 2010 highway travel fell by 9.3 percent while regional rail ridership increased by more than 15 percent.

Or they could follow the path of Atlanta, the poster child of poor transportation planning—highlighted recently by the major league baseball franchise's decision to relocate its stadium far outside the center city. Talk about a monument to failed urban planning. To wit: "The Braves' new stadium...will be an inaccessible suburban theme park surrounded not by vibrant signs of city life but by sprawl—subdivisons, strip malls and SUV-choked interstates and access routes."

Having traveled quite frequently to Raleigh, it's quite clear to me that there's more than enough sprawl in the region. It's time to make the vision of transit for the Triangle a reality. An editorial today in the Raleigh News & Observer sums up the reason to get rail rolling in the region:

"What’s needed is leadership with foresight, not hindsight...To argue against much more investment in transit is to demonstrate a reluctance to have faith in the future by investing in it."

All aboard!

This piece originally appeared on NRDC Switchboard.

Visit EcoWatch’s TRANSPORTATION page for more related news on this topic.

  

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

These seven cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired the author's family. LightFieldStudios / Getty Images

By Zahida Sherman

Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.

Read More Show Less
Hand sanitizer is offered to students during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded its list of potentially toxic hand sanitizers to avoid because they could be contaminated with methanol.

Read More Show Less
Over the next couple of weeks, crews will fully remove the 125-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall dam, allowing the Middle Fork Nooksack to run free for the first time in 60 years. Ctyonahl / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Tara Lohan

The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.

Read More Show Less
A man observes a flooded stretch of Dock Street in Annapolis, Maryland on Jan. 25, 2010. Matt Rath / Chesapeake Bay Program

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Tuesday that a trend of increased coastal flooding will continue to worsen as the climate crisis escalates.

Read More Show Less
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jessica Fanzo and Dr. Rebecca McLaren

By Katie Howell

A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.

Read More Show Less
White's seahorse, also called the Sydney seahorse, is native to the Pacific waters off Australia's east coast. Sylke Rohrlach / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Manuela Callari

It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a "Build Back Better" Clean Energy event on July 14, 2020 at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Joe Biden / Facebook

Presidential hopeful Joe Biden announced a $2 trillion plan Tuesday to boost American investment in clean energy and infrastructure.

Read More Show Less