More Evidence: Rail Transit Encourages Pedestrian Traffic
Two years ago, the city of Jerusalem opened its first light rail line. Just over eight miles long, the line now carries a healthy 130,000 passengers a day.
An Israeli publication, Globes: Israel’s Business Arena, reported on October 31 that, as we have repeatedly seen in this country, the advent of light rail has substantially increased pedestrian traffic in the area the line serves. Globes stated that
Two years after the light rail line began operating, preliminary figures indicate a sharp increase in the number of pedestrians in the Jerusalem city center, which can mostly be attributed to the light rail. The number of pedestrians in the city center’s Nahalat Shiva areas rose 87% from July 2011, when the light rail line began operating, to August 2012. The overall number of pedestrians in the city center rose 41% over the same period.
Pedestrian traffic is the lifeblood of nay city. So it stands to reason merchants should be strong proponents of building light rail and streetcar lines in the streets that serve their shops.
Regrettably, that is often not the case. My former home town, Alexandria, Virginia, offers a sad example of how merchants often work against their own best interests. Alexandria needs a streetcar line down King Street, connecting the Metro station with Old Town. King Street once had such a line; the rails exist even to this day, buried under inches of asphalt (The line had a healthy ridership within the confines of the city as well as providing a busy commuter connection between downtown Alexandria with downtown Washington. Alas, the line fell victim to the loss of its terminal in Washington to the Federal Triangle project and highway interests who wanted the trolley off the highway bridge over the Potomac). With one-way streets on either side of King Street, automobile traffic would suffer little inconvenience; even if King Street were converted to a pedestrian mall (streetcars and pedestrians co-exist nicely, unlike automobiles and pedestrians). Pedestrian traffic would increase substantially, bringing King Street’s business more customers.
But the merchants are strongly opposed to streetcars on King Street. Why? Most probably do not know how rail transit increases pedestrian traffic. All they can think of is customers arriving by car, even though there is little parking on King Street.
Some may also fear prolonged interruption to access to their businesses, due to streetcar construction. This has happened in some places. But Portland, Oregon has pioneered an approach to building streetcar lines where access to a given block is only interrupted for two weeks. In view of the large increases to pedestrian traffic streetcars bring, two weeks of inconvenience is a small price to pay.
Rail transit has increased pedestrian traffic almost everywhere it has been built, in the area it serves. Why are people in places not now served by rail transit seemingly unable to learn from the experience of cities that have it? I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know it is one of the more important questions facing the rail transit industry.
William S. Lind serves as Director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, Washington, DC