Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Triangle rapid transit plan on life support

Stephen Karlson and Craig Newmark take note of the most recent developments in the rapid transit plan proposed to link Raleigh and Durham, which has been placed on deathwatch after the regional transit authority has decided to stop seeking federal funding for the project.

I can’t say I’m particularly surprised, for a few reasons. First, not only does the region largely lack the sort of dense developments necessary to support transit, it also lacks the need for those dense developments. My suspicion, from looking around at the “transit-oriented development” going on here in St. Louis, is that most of these developments would end up attracting well-to-do people who like the cachet of saying they live on a transit line (and the amenities of new construction, with the pricetag to match) but end up using their car for everything anyway; while it may make for nice visuals outside the stations, the aesthetics probably don’t translate as well into ridership as one might hope.

Moreover, while a Raleigh-Durham link makes some logical sense to outsiders, it really doesn’t reflect commuting patterns in the region; people who work in Durham either live there or in Chapel Hill, and those who live in Cary work in Raleigh (or in Cary). There’s a giant state park in the middle where nobody can live. The only major magnet for commuters from both directions is Research Triangle Park, which is not the sort of employment center that attracts transit riders—most of the workers at RTP are “choice” commuters, who aren’t going to walk more than a block or two from a station or transfer to a bus to get to their place of employment. The bottom line is that this route wouldn’t serve many more people than the bus service already in place.