March 7, 2012

Annals of Transit – 8

An occasional update on items from the Transit City.




From Governing:

America is experiencing what U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls a “streetcar revival.” Streetcars, also called trolleys or trams, were a common sight in U.S. cities at the beginning of the 20th century. But by the 1960s, they had all but been forgotten, mostly replaced with buses. In 2001, Portland, Ore., revived them by opening a downtown line with brand-new cars. According to BEC transportation sales director Joel McNeil, some 40 cities in the U.S. and Canada are currently exploring or planning new systems. The American Public Transportation Association actually puts that number at more than 80.

Not all of those cities want new trams fresh off the assembly line. A small but growing number are using old-fashioned streetcars as part of their fleet. Retrofitting period streetcars may seem like a frivolous idea, especially with local government budgets so tight. But many city planners disagree.

Full article here.




So says Will Doig in Salon, who of course quotes Jarrett Walker: “If you decide that buses don’t merit investment, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to help people get where they’re going, and to expand their sense of freedom of movement, just because you don’t like the vehicle they’re riding…”


Making people like the bus when not liking the bus is practically an American pastime essentially means making the bus act and feel more like a train. Trains show up roughly when they’re supposed to. Buses take forever, then arrive two at a time. Trains boast better design, speed, shelters, schedules and easier-to-follow routes. When people say they don’t like the bus but they do like the train, what they really mean is they like those perks the train offers. But there’s no reason bus systems can’t simply incorporate most of them.

How to do that?  Doig explains in the article, and concludes:

The bus suffers from an image problem. But not long ago, so did bicycles. Now bikes are the cool kid’s transport, and all it took was a little investment and some reputation rehab.




NY Times columnist Bill Keller explores some transportation possibilities … and a personality:

Samuel I. Schwartz, a transportation engineer and New Yorker to his kishkes, has spent 40 years — half government, half private — trying to make sense of the M.T.A. (New York’s transit authority).   He can tell you how it rewards congestion, keeps subways and buses in a state of decrepitude, and breeds resentment….

Time and again Schwartz has labored over attempted reforms — remember “congestion pricing”? — only to see them shot down because they put all the pain on the outlying car-centric suburbs, or because they ran into an antitax mood, or because people suspected the money would be siphoned off for other purposes.

Over the years he has gradually constructed a plan that is a Brooklyn boy’s gift to his city. (Literally. No client paid for it.) It wipes clean the slate, replaces it with a system of tolls and fares designed as incentives to minimize congestion in the central business district, ease circulation around the region and revive public transit.

Column here. 

For full PowerPoint presentation, go here.


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  1. It’s interesting that the “Love the Bus” thread has been spurred by the unveiling of the sleek new London double-decker. However, the sad fact in North America is that most transit bus designs here are far behind even standard UK and European bus designs in terms of attractiveness and amenity. Efficient interior layouts, a high degree of transparency (glazing), attractive interiors and refined, smooth styling free of exposed fasteners all need to make it across the Atlantic in a serious way. You’d think this wouldn’t be too difficult when two of the major North American bus builders are owned by European parents but a low-bid environment and Buy America requirements seem to discourage customer-focused innovation this side of the pond.

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