The installation of a light rail transit system in Austin would be a step in the direction of progress for Austin’s traffic problem. Austin’s present traffic situation is atrocious. There seems to be no real plan on how it will be fixed and paid for. The Capital Metro buses are the only form of mass transit in Austin. The buses run for college students and go around campus and off campus. The buses that only travel on campus never have a very high ridership, where as the buses that go off campus always tend to be overfull.
This is where light rail comes in. Light rail is a term that come into being only in the last thirty or forty years. It refers to an electric railway system, constructed in the 1970 s or later, characterized by its ability to operate single or multiple car consists, trains. It travels along exclusive rights-of-way track at ground level, on aerial structures, in subways, or in streets. It can board and discharge passengers at station platforms or at street, track, or car-floor level. Light rail can also refer to an electric railway with a ‘light volume’ traffic capacity, as opposed to heavy rail.
Light rail may use shared or exclusive rights-of-way, high or low platform loading and multi-car trains or single cars. Also known as ‘streetcar,’ ‘trolley car’ or ‘tramway.” Opponents of Austin’s proposed light rail system usually say that a better solution to Austin’s traffic problem is to add more lanes to the highways and add more miles of road. They also say that the city needs to maintain the current streets better. Houston is a good example of what good roads can do to help traffic problems. Houston Metro, Houston’s transit agency, spent $700 million on 88 miles of carpool lanes in Houston. Carpool lanes, or high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, are lanes that are separated from the main highway by barriers and require that a vehicle be carrying at least two people to use them.
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The extra HOV lanes have reduced Houston’s overall traffic congestion by six percent. In Katy, southwest Houston, the HOV lanes have reduced congestion by 14 percent. Houston has done a good job with improving their highways, but there are some downsides. Even though the HOV lanes have helped to reduce traffic congestion in most places by up to six percent, they are now carrying more people than designed for. The lanes were designed to carry somewhere between 1400 and 1500 vehicles per hour, but are now seeing upwards of 2000 to 3000 vehicles per hour. This has caused Houston metro to put a fee on the lanes.
Any vehicle with two passengers must pay a fee, where as vehicles with three or more may ride for free. Last year Houston had an increase of 40 percent in the number of people who make daily trips on the highways. This increase of people can be perceived as a forewarning to the increase in the number of people that will use it this year. This combined with the problem of the overfull HOV lanes, and it is obvious that Houston will be back were they started only a decade ago. Also, if Austin did decided to chose more highway lanes and HOV lanes as a solution to the traffic problem, it could take up to twelve years before there would be any extra lanes. It can be argued that of the problems that come along with more highways may not happen.
One problem that is guaranteed to happen is more people are going to start driving. With this increased driving also comes more pollution. Houston may have the most impressive HOV lane system in America, but they are also fighting for the number two position as the most air polluted city in the country, with Los Angeles as number one. A study done by California has found that for every time a city doubles its road miles, it will see a 30 to 70 percent increase in drivers making daily trips on the highways within as little as five years. On a side note, Austin has more road miles per person than any other major Texas city. And we have been building more roads for years, and it really isn’t helping much.
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The use of light rail would guarantee the increase in air pollution would not happen. The light rail trains use overhanging power lines for the electricity to run, meaning they make no pollution. A single consist of three trains could carry 450 passengers, if each of these people took another rider with them in a car on the highway, that would mean 225 more cars on the highway. This shows just how many cars the system could take from the highways.
Remember this is an example using just one consist, the actual system will contain dozens of consists operating. Dallas has had great success with light rail mass transit systems. Currently 85 percent of the Dallas electorate is for the light rail system. The people of Dallas don’t question whether or not to build more light rail, but how fast can they build it. Dallas currently has 21 miles of light rail in place, with approximately 90 more miles planed for 2010. The Dallas light rail system currently serves about 41, 000 people per day, with expected ridership to increase to 53, 000 in 2003, 96, 000 by 2008, and 106, 000 riders per day by 2010.
Opponents of light rail often say the light rail lowers ridership on existing bus lines. In contrast, Dallas has seen higher ridership on it bus lines since the opening of its light rail system. Another argument is that we should just improve the bus lines currently in use to accommodate more people and to serve a larger area. The problem with increasing service area and the number of buses is that it still doesn’t really encourage people to ride the buses.
For one, buses are susceptible to the same traffic the riders would be if the took their own cars. People would rather be stuck in traffic in their own car as opposed to a bus. It costs more to operate a bus line than a rail line. It requires one driver for every bus, whereas a single rail operator can operate many cars.
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The problem of air pollution is again seen with buses. Buses, along with cars, emit many terrible pollutants in to the air, such as unburned hydrocarbons and nitrates. Where as light rail systems run on pollution free electricity. Light rail is the perfect mass transit system for Austin. It is cheaper per mile than building more roads, it is cleaner, and it can move more people. A single lane of light rail can move more people than a four-lane freeway.
Light rail is completely electrical so there is no air pollution. It costs approximately $50 to $100 million per mile to build freeways, where as it costs only $20 million per mile to build light rail. Light rail is everything a mass transit system should be. Jones, Casey. “Dallas Light Rail System Details & Map.” web “Light Rail for Austin.” web Kelly. “Does Central Texas need roads, rail or both? .” web Kelly.
“Light-rail plans can influence Austin’s future development.” web “What is Light Rail? .” web.