Yesterday the Passenger Rail Task Force (PRTF) presented their recommendation for planning light rail lines through downtown Raleigh. The group has been pouring through the details about not only servicing downtown points of interest with the rail lines, but also how such lines will impact traffic. The PRTF concluded that Plan D6A is the plan that makes most economic, transportation, environmental, and logistical sense.
Plan D6A takes the line coming from North Raleigh off of the rail corridors and onto downtown Raleigh city streets just north of Logan’s. The line then travels down Salisbury Street by the legislature to the Capitol where it turns and (after making two turns at intersections) basically finds its way up Morgan street to Charlie Goodnights where it joins the existing rail corridor to head west. The East/Northbound line takes a slightly different approach. It enters downtown on Morgan Street, turns left onto Wilmington Street in front of the Capitol, and heads north to Logan’s where it joins into the existing rail corridor.
There are several reasons the group selected Plan D6A. By exiting the rail line at Charlie Goodnights, the system is able to avoid expensive maneuvers to negotiate the “wye” near the existing Amtrak station. While downtown, the plan makes use of light rail’s biggest strength, its ability to become a cable car on a city street. (Evidently the plan now calls for light rail trains that can negotiate sharp turns in downtown intersections. My understanding was that they favored a vehicle that could only negotiate sweeping turns).
Setting aside the fact that all of the considered plans are estimated to cost anywhere from 1.4 to 1.6 BILLION dollars and do not serve RDU or the RBC Center, we can still make a better plan than any of those examined by the task force.
The gogoraleigh Plan
If we are going to spend $1.5B on a transit entity, it needs to serve the existing needs of real people. It should not serve only as a Park & Ride service for downtown’s state government workers, it must also be the backbone for future private developments while including some of today’s most popular destinations and residential centers.
All published plans have been built upon four primary faulty pillars. In order to get the best plan, each of these pillars needs to be reconstructed or the system will have severe flaws.
North Raleigh residents are willing to ride a train to work in RTP via downtown Raleigh. North Raleigh residents who work in RTP only want to go downtown for entertainment purposes. True, the system needs to be a link for downtown workers in North Raleigh, but any efforts to bend plans to attract RTP workers are in vain.
We need one multimodal transit center located in the Warehouse District. We already have an excellent bus hub in Moore Square Station. Why not just include it into a rail plan, and use the Union Station concept to connect only rail modes (light rail, existing Amtrak, high-speed rail)?
We should only use existing rail corridors. We happen to have good rail corridors for servicing west and north downtown areas with minimal impact on neighborhoods, which is a blessing. However the areas served are predominantly white and any plan to spend $1.5B that completely excludes poor and black population centers is going to be met with extreme resistance (and rightfully so).
We can throw light rail onto any ol’ downtown street and expect the current level of safety. While the beauty of light rail is its flexibility, one must remember that vehicular traffic, cars and light rail trains, on downtown streets must yield to all pedestrians. Cars must yield to light rail cars. While the mixing of these modes is possible, they present a much more dangerous situation than we currently have on our streets. To add to that matter, the permanent overhead power cable lines are ugly. Do we really want three sides of the Capitol to be lined with power lined streets?
We need a plan that sensibly interfaces our most popular existing destinations, allows for dense future growth, serves all classes of citizens, provides room for future expansion, contains costs, provides the safest possible solution.
Any RTP worker living in North Raleigh that wants to ride transit to work will not be fazed by an additional modal change that potentially adds 10 minutes to their commute. Therefore, there is no reason that the North and West lines need to be contiguous. It makes more sense to bring the West line into downtown along Hargett Street where it can stop at Union Station. From there it can proceed directly down Hargett Street to Moore Square Station. For now the line would terminate there, but it can certainly be extended eastward to ultimately include St. Augustine’s College and Wake Medical Center.
The North line would proceed down the rail corridor from Logan’s to Union Station, but would continue south to service the Raleigh Convention Center/Amphitheater and performing arts complex. This line could be extended to Garner to complete the Wake County Transit corridor Long Term plan.
This plan creates the possibility for an interesting Union Station development, much like the one envisioned by Rutgers graduate student Jonathan Hawkins. Union Station can be a signature project for downtown Raleigh, and Plan D6A makes such a project more difficult as it would not fully integrate the rail lines in the station’s structure.
The reasons this is not a better plan than D6A:
It forces riders traveling between North and West Raleigh to change trains.
It does not serve state government properties and Oakwood as closely as D6A
The reasons this is a better plan than any existing one are:
The trains only cross 8 busy city streets and do not have to turn tight corners in downtown traffic. Plan D6A crosses 34 busy downtown streets (in its segments between Charlie Goodnights and Peace College), and makes 4 turns. This will have an extremely detrimental impact on downtown vehicular traffic.
It serves East Raleigh
It connects the rail system gracefully with the existing bus hub.
It connects to Amtrak one block closer than Plan D6A
It serves the Convention Center, amphitheater, and Progress Energy Center, some of downtown Raleigh’s biggest destinations for tourists and suburban citizens.
It is extensible. Eventually system could be stretched into East and South Raleigh easily, offering more flexibility for planning new facilities such as an arena, stadium, or expanded performing arts complex.
It is (presumably) less expensive
The debate over downtown routing is an extremely important one. However those supporting transit need to actually start with a bigger plan. No one would never buy bricks unless they understood the concept of a completed house. Likewise, we need to demonstrate a larger plan and show that the current $1.5B plan is actually a piece to a bigger puzzle, rather than presenting it as the be-all/end-all solution. People see a $1.5B plan that doesn’t serve Memorial Auditorium, the Convention Center, the RBC Center, and RDU and they immediately never see themselves using it.
I’ve demonstrated how the two planned lines as well as two North Raleigh arcs, can show how popular existing destinations can be served well and be a viable alternative for car use for much of Raleigh.
If the right long term plan for Raleigh is high-density passenger transit, then let’s get started with an inclusive system that serves people’s needs quickly, efficiently, beautifully, and safely.