On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Council approved a “slimmed down” southwest light rail (Green Line Extension) project, the cost of which is now just shy of what planners projected in 2009 the Uptown (3C) route would have cost. At the time, 3C was considered too expensive to pass federal cost-effectiveness tests, even though ridership on 3C was projected to be higher than the current route. I believe the process for this project (and probably lots of big transit projects) could have gone better. I think a few other people share this opinion.
While lamenting about this on twitter, I was called out: “What would you do better, smart guy?” (She was more polite).
That’s a hard question. But here are the seven things I came up with (at night, on twitter) to improve U.S. transit planning processes, and hopefully outcomes:
- Make decisions more incrementally: shorter lines mean less room for major errors.
- First upgrade existing lines (bus to BRT, BRT to LRT, etc) that are performing well, before building service on new corridors, or to new areas, or duplicating existing service.
- Make the modeling and forecasting process open-source, not a black box, so the public can do a better job critiquing and vetting the assumptions that went into project designs and analysis. This will create more spirited debate, but probably better projects in the end.
- Rethink transit built to serve (free) park and rides, and judging projects by how many parkers they can serve. Building transit to empty fields is not a long-term success strategy (at least not without some value capture mechanism).
- Make sure we’re using an accessibility metric to weigh projects, not just a ridership metric, and make sure service of transit-dependent populations is weighted more heavily.
- Make it easier for decision-makers to feel like they can scrap/change/reroute bad projects midway through while saving face, if new analysis is showing unforeseen problems, cost overruns, etc (I admit, I don’t have any ready ideas about how to do this).
- Change the current governance/funding structure for the Twin Cites, which requires spreading very limited transit dollars over huge areas, some of which won’t ever reasonably support transit (density-wise, or politically). Perhaps let more local districts tax themselves to provide transit service where it is needed most.
Not an even ten, but that is all I’ve got right now. I assume the invites to keynote the APTA and Rail-volution conferences will soon be hitting my inbox.
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