Light Rail and CO2

The other day, I posted an update to my light rail bet saying that not only was light rail incredibly expensive for the amount of transportation it provides, it is not even clear that it provides any "green" benefits  (with "green" today meaning only the potential to reduce CO2, since the global warming hysteria has sucked all of the oxygen out of other environmental goals).

The Antiplanner has more information, this time from the transportation planners in Denver.  Normally, transportation planners grossly exaggerate the benefits of their proposed systems, so it is interesting that even they so no net CO2 savings from their proposed rail lines:

The Antiplanner's review
of rail transit and greenhouse gases found that Denver's light-rail
lines produce more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than a typical
SUV. The Gold Line DEIS agrees, admitting that the rail alternative
will result in a regional CO2 increase of 0.034% (see page 3.7-10).

By the way, the Denver system does not do so great on the financial part either:

Now, RTD says the line will cost more than $600 million, which is a
lot for a mere 11 route miles. Moreover, RTD has changed the proposed
technology to something it calls "electric multiple-unit commuter
rail," which sounds something like the Chicago Electroliners or some of
the Philadelphia commuter trains.

For this high price, the DEIS reports incredibly trivial benefits.
The proposed rail line is projected to take 0.0085 percent of cars off
the road. Of course, that's for the region as a whole, but in the
corridor it will take a whopping 0.227 percent of cars off the road. A
handful of buses could do as well.

While that might seem terrible, it actually outdistances our guys here in Phoenix, who are projecting that the next 3.2 mile line here will cost $306 million.  While the Denver line is projected to cost $10,300 per foot, the Phoenix line will cost at least $18,000 per foot.


  1. Flash Gordon:

    All this was carefully explained to voters in Denver by opposition groups several years ago before the initial authorization was overwhelming approved in an election. Voters, it seems, either don't believe the reality of light rail or don't care. They will approve anything, no matter the cost, apparently because they ignorantly believe it will reduce the number of cars on the road. The great majority of people who vote for this stuff have no intention of ever using it themselves. They vote for it in the false hope that others will.

  2. tribal Elder:

    Onion, July 3-9 issue, p. 9

    Article headlined "Report: 98 Percent of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others"

  3. Allen:

    I wouldn't completely blame the voters. One of the issues Denver has had as it's quickly grown is that they haven't been adding more freeway capacity where it's needed. I'm originally from Minneapolis where they have a lot more freeways. I94, US62, 694, 494, I35E, I35W, US52, I394, US169, US212, MN100, MN610, MN36 are all freeways or at least have long stretches that are. Denver just hasn't been adding them to keep up with the growth. The SE Corridor, aka the Tech Center, has a 1/3 of the office space in the metro area. Yet it's only served by I25 and at it's very southern end, e470/c470. That's it. I suspect back in 2004 the voters were desperate to do something, anything, about traffic. And they were in the middle of seeing first hand a very well run T-Rex project to expand capacity on I25 in the SE corridor. Nevermind that more money was spent on the LRT portion of that project despite it serving less than 10% of the riders along that corridor (much less when you factor in all the east-west traffic on Bellevue, Orchird, Arapahoe, Dry Creek and others for all the people who live east or west of the Tech Center going to / from work).

    I think the light rail folks have taken decades to paint LRT as a solution. They've done a good job of making sure people don't realize that for a 1/3 of the cost, the same transit system could be built using BRT. More so it seems the state highway departments have done a poor job of pointing out just how many people use the roads. I constantly see press releases about "higher than projected ridership" or "record light rail numbers" regurgitated in the local media. I haven't seen CDOT or MNDOT or others getting coverage for the record number of riders on I25 or 494. I haven't seen then say "if you think $900 million for 38,000 riders was a great, we're serving 450,000 riders with less than that" type of releases. How can we expect people to vote differently when they're not getting the whole story?

  4. rodar:

    Thanks, I'll just dash off and get my copy from the newsstand ;-)

  5. Kyle Bennett:

    with "green" today meaning only the potential to reduce CO2, since the global warming hysteria has sucked all of the oxygen out of other environmental goals)

    --Rim Shot-- Seems the environmentalists don't take care of their own "ecosystem" very well.

  6. Brandon:

    The effects of lightrail isn't just about getting commuters off the street, although I think over time that will change, as an interconnected system is built up. People won't use transit unless it will get them where they are going efficiently, and it has been shown time and again that choice riders in the US don't take buses, BRT or otherwise, but they will take trains. Maybe that will change in time, I don't know.

    The other goal of light rail is to create walkable communities around the stations, and then interconnect them. By creating more dense (but good density) communities where people can walk to many of their shopping and activity choices, and then take the train for longer trips, we can affect the environment a lot more than just what RTD's numbers show. Building more roads is not the answer, the only thing that does is encourage sprawl and the need to build even more roads.