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zman9810

Light Rail in NWA

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There will be a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 30, at the Fayetteville Public Library by University of Arkansas Community Design Center Director Stephen Luoni on the book, "Visioning Rail Transit in Northwest Arkansas: Lifestyles and Ecologies". This is the culmination of a three-year research project by the CDC and included many respected academics around the country. The study obviously advocates light rail for NWA and from what is known about it at this time gives some facts and figures in support of it.

As a leadup to the meeting I thought it would be interesting to have a discussion here on Urban Planet as to whether it is a feasible idea or something that will prove to be a financial boondoggle. While I like the idea of light rail and regularly use public transportation including light rail when in larger metros, I don't think light rail is feasible at this time or the near future in NWA. Because money for transportation development is very hard to come by it is important that what funds that are available aren't spent on projects that will not give the most benefit for the cost.

First thing to discuss is a definition of what light rail is. I don't know what the study defines it as but from what I have read it has these features.

1. It has it's own rightaway- it is not a street car or trolley sharing the city streets. It certainly doesn't share the same tracks as a freight line.

2. It is powered by overhead lines and be from 2 to several cars.

3. It is frequent - you can expect a train at your stop every 15 minutes or so. It is fast moving between these stops.

4. It is not expected to be self-sustaining financially and will require a subsidy from the government.

5. It can go underground for distances but is primarily above ground.

My concern about light rail in NWA is that the costs will far outweigh the benefits that it would give. NWA has developed in a surburban pattern and has shown few signs of moving away from that pattern. Sprawl is normal and local governments seem content to let that continue. Even in Fayetteville, which is by far the most progressive city in NWA, the features which the proponents of light rail say it would encourage are fought tooth and nail. Density is very often seen as an aspect of development that is reason for denial of a project permit. Just recently a project immediately next to the rail line in south Fayetteville was fought by the neighbors as too dense but finally approved and built. Another project blocks away wasn't so lucky and denied. Another being considered at this time is being fought for rezoning and the oppositon has the support of some city council members. It doesn't matter that most of the population lives within a mile of the present rail line- they will not want it or the future development that is promised in their backyards.

Another aspect of the light rail debate is the cost per passenger. While it sounds good to say it will move 40,000 passengers per hour at a cost of $35 million per mile that claim doesn't take into account that you have to have that many people using the service to make it cost efficent. If you look at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit sytem it averaged 65,800 per workday, 29,400 on Saturday and only 19,100 on Sunday in 2008. That was on 45 miles of track in some of the mostly heavily populated areas in the country with a extensive bus service feeding passengers to it. There is no way that NWA will provide those types of ridership numbers. The DART system was subsidized at $3.01 per passenger for the light rail portion of the system and $3.89 per passenger for the bus portion. The cost to subsidize passenger counts in NWA will be much higher because the ridership will be a fraction of the DART system.

I have other points to make but this seems like a good start for the discussion. I would love to see NWA become a place where light rail could thrive and the area transform into an urban metro that welcomed the type of developments that would support it- I just don't see it happening.

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I like the idea of light rail, but for a while I backed off because I didn't think we were ready for it. While I still have questions about that I admit listening to one of the guys who worked on the study talk about how he thought it could work has re perked my interest. One thing that was mentioned is that light rail will help increase density which of course will help bring a more urban aspect to NWA. I suppose one benefit is that even if we started working on it tomorrow it's not going to be open for a while. While I've heard talk of it possibly running on A&M tracks more track is going to have to be built in Benton County. I get the impression a different route will be taken as well. But anyway one hope is that we'll be looking at a different NWA by the time this is ready to go. Now if it were to be ready to open tomorrow, then I think it would be hard to argue we're ready for it. I'm curious to see more at the meeting at the library. I admit I'm having a hard time judging this. I may not be looking at this unbiased as I like because I do really like the idea. I certainly like the light rail idea better than a western beltway. But I guess my perspective follows one that looks at the situation by a Fayetteville perspective. As far as NWA goes I think Fayetteville seems to be willing to get behind the light rail idea. But I think some of the other NWA are rather skeptical or simply prefer a western beltway. Aside from Fayetteville I haven't heard any of the other NWA cities worry about sprawl. I'll have to discuss this more later when I have some more time. :)

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Up until this point, I've thought that a light rail idea in this area is absurd. I'm assuming the motive if for planning 30-50 years ahead for the future, and like Mith said to encourage density in the right spots. However, I think this area is hopeless when it comes to this kind of stuff, not only because of low-density, and a relatively meager population, but because of a general unwillingness to embrace urban lifestyles over suburban habits.

For a long time, businesses and development occurred along the 71 corridor here before I-540. From a satellite view, you can tell this also. It almost seems like we were meant to tear up 71B from Fayetteville to Bentonville and replace it with a public transportation system. However, that still wouldn't work.

If they still want to build one, make Walmart build it. Split the costs with them. It's time for them to accept some social responsibility.

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It is a good point about how many people will be willing to change their suburban lifestyle. There is certainly more of a suburban mindset to the metro. I do think this will change in time, but I can't predict how long it will take. I also keep wondering though what the future holds on our general way of life. I think just about everyone seems to agree we've passed the peak of oil production. While we will probably progress far enough at some point to give up our way of life that's dependent on petroleum for something else. But I don't think we'll ever find anything else that was as cheap as the 'good ole days' of oil. I can't help but think that eventually people are going to have to reconsider living way out in the suburbs or exurbs. Sorry to go off tangent here but I guess I'm just wondering when some of these changes will start occurring and when they will start impacting NWA. In a sense I guess we're in a tough spot to make a decision. Do we take a chance and plan out light rail now and risk that no one ends up using it. Or do we wait and take the risk that by the time we finally get around to doing something about it, it's too late. I've wavered a bit on this issue. Although I've always actually liked the idea, initially I was ready for it. But then after a while I began to wonder if this area is really ready for it. I worried that perhaps it was too soon and something to look into more at some future date. But now I'm starting to lean back the other direction. I've been impressed that there still seems to be a number of people still sticking to their guns and being supportive of it. That and also seeing people involved with the study who seem to think NWA is set up for it and will be ready when it is eventually built. But maybe more of what's changed for me is just thinking more of how it affects me rather than everybody else. Over time as I've lived in Fayetteville I guess I've become a bit more 'hippified' by some of my fellow Fayetteville citizens. But for me it also is a bit more than that. I had some health problems last year and it really affected how I looked at things. I don't just jump in the car anytime I want to do some sort of errand and such. For me I see the light rail option being something that I would utilize. I see myself more likely to use it than a western beltway. As NWA cities work more on their trail systems I see the possibility of taking a bicycle on the light rail and using it to help get around in the future. Although hopefully NWA will also get behind putting out a better public bus service as well to help people get around who use the light rail. Maybe it's just wishful thinking and such but I'm ready for light rail and I'm hoping that by the time it's built there will be enough of us to support it. :)

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I'm curious about this debate and conversation about light rail in northwest arkansas.. We have a 7.4 mile LRT starter line under construction in Norfolk, with an extension to virginia beach's CBD and resort area and an extension to the naval base undergoing a feasibility study. What is the population density of NWA?

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I'm curious about this debate and conversation about light rail in northwest arkansas.. We have a 7.4 mile LRT starter line under construction in Norfolk, with an extension to virginia beach's CBD and resort area and an extension to the naval base undergoing a feasibility study. What is the population density of NWA?

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There are thousands of vacant lots in platted subdivisions ready to be built on with the local governments' blessing so it looks like the suburban nature of the area will continue. Even as gas prices rise the increased fuel efficiency of future vehicles and the convenience of driving your own car will dampen hopes for any real future for mass transit in NWA. Until a metro wide bus system is viable the chances of funding from the federal government for light rail will be slight and the local and state governments certainly will not be able to afford it.

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You guys are going to have a very hard time getting funding for light rail because a successful system needs an established feeder bus system, so I think you should work on that first. Is there a transit authority in NWA? & Norfolk's population density is 4,362.6/sq mi and it was a bear for us to get funding.. So at 173/ sq. mile, it will really be difficult

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You guys are going to have a very hard time getting funding for light rail because a successful system needs an established feeder bus system, so I think you should work on that first. Is there a transit authority in NWA? & Norfolk's population density is 4,362.6/sq mi and it was a bear for us to get funding.. So at 173/ sq. mile, it will really be difficult

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It appears the UACDC is at the forefront of this while the NWARPC is really not even even touching the subject. Is that the case? If so, it speaks volumes about the legitimacy of the entire idea.

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I can't believe they are still talking about this down there. They are really wasting time and money that should be spent on improving the bus system down there. Every time I visit Fayetteville I rarely see a city bus. They are beating a dead cow with this one. What are the numbers for NWART? If I remember from a while back, someone said it was like 400,000? Springfield is most likely converting to a grid system with links to immediate suburbs. Our ridership is around 1.85 million, most cities don't start grid systems unless density is around 5,000/sq. mi. Springfield's is only 2,116/ sq. mi.

I would like to think this would work in NWA, but it just won't until density is at least 3,000/sq. mi. in the larger cities. Even with the great exchange rates between Fayetteville, Sprindale, Rogers, and Bentonville it will be very hard to convince a gov. agency that this will work.

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It appears the UACDC is at the forefront of this while the NWARPC is really not even even touching the subject. Is that the case? If so, it speaks volumes about the legitimacy of the entire idea.

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Does anyone know of a good map of the western beltway project?

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I received a copy of "NWA Rail- Visioning Rail Transit in Northwest Arkansas: Lifestyles and Ecologies" today and it is a spectacular book. It has stunning graphics and beautiful pictures and is very readable. It has computer-enhanced photos that help one see what the authors' vision of the future could be. It has a multitude of facts, figures and projections that are very impressive. No matter what your position on light rail is it makes for an enjoyable read and look through.

The book portrays such a rosy, almost utopian scenario that it would be easy to say light rail is the way to go. Unfortunately, reality isn't that way. It almost seems like the authors are talking about somewhere else and not NWA. There are numerous graphics of the urban developments that they see as happening with light rail without taking into account the what it would take to have them actually happen. Many of the buildings they portray are multistory ones that remind me of the Divinty project that was fought so hard. The density they show is fought constantly as not compatible. The developments they show in central Fayetteville would completely change the character of the area. It's like they think that if light rail is constructed that the public will change their whole mindset and accept a different type of city. It just isn't realistic.

One big discrepancy I saw was in the density figures for NWA. In a graphic they show NWA having a density of 1,569 people per sq. mile with a population of 350,000 on 110 sq. miles. The graphic also has a note showing a #6 MSA Growth Rate. The US Census Bureau site shows the Fayetteville--Springdale--Rogers, AR MSA having a density of 173.3 people per sq. mile with a population of 311,121 on land area of 1,795.71 sq. miles. I think the authors are using the area only within the city limits of Fayetteville, Springdale. Rogers, Bentonville and Lowell and excluding the rest of the MSA. This gives a much denser number although it excludes places like Bella Vista with it's spread out population and Centerton, Highfill, all the empty space out towards XNA and all the smaller communities that are part of NWA. Here's a link to where I got my figures.

US Census Bureau site

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I received a copy of "NWA Rail- Visioning Rail Transit in Northwest Arkansas: Lifestyles and Ecologies" today and it is a spectacular book. It has stunning graphics and beautiful pictures and is very readable. It has computer-enhanced photos that help one see what the authors' vision of the future could be. It has a multitude of facts, figures and projections that are very impressive. No matter what your position on light rail is it makes for an enjoyable read and look through.

The book portrays such a rosy, almost utopian scenario that it would be easy to say light rail is the way to go. Unfortunately, reality isn't that way. It almost seems like the authors are talking about somewhere else and not NWA. There are numerous graphics of the urban developments that they see as happening with light rail without taking into account the what it would take to have them actually happen. Many of the buildings they portray are multistory ones that remind me of the Divinty project that was fought so hard. The density they show is fought constantly as not compatible. The developments they show in central Fayetteville would completely change the character of the area. It's like they think that if light rail is constructed that the public will change their whole mindset and accept a different type of city. It just isn't realistic.

One big discrepancy I saw was in the density figures for NWA. In a graphic they show NWA having a density of 1,569 people per sq. mile with a population of 350,000 on 110 sq. miles. The graphic also has a note showing a #6 MSA Growth Rate. The US Census Bureau site shows the Fayetteville--Springdale--Rogers, AR MSA having a density of 173.3 people per sq. mile with a population of 311,121 on land area of 1,795.71 sq. miles. I think the authors are using the area only within the city limits of Fayetteville, Springdale. Rogers, Bentonville and Lowell and excluding the rest of the MSA. This gives a much denser number although it excludes places like Bella Vista with it's spread out population and Centerton, Highfill, all the empty space out towards XNA and all the smaller communities that are part of NWA. Here's a link to where I got my figures.

US Census Bureau site

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This topic caught my eye during my routine scan for spammers that hit UP and I thought I would say a few words. I will also add that one of the reasons I helped start UP years ago was to advocate for LRT. I've learned a lot since those days.

Light rail as it is implemented these days in the USA has a lot of problems. This would include the system just built in Charlotte and it will include the system that was approved and mentioned above in Virginia. The basic problem is that LRT is being built with good intentions but unfortunately these intentions are not based on what these systems are supposed to do.

The first and the biggest is that LRT is billed as an economic generator. It isn't. The common myth put forth is that once a line is built, then urban utopia will be created around it with fun happy hip people walking everywhere, riding the LRT and giving up the automobile. This is putting the cart before the horse. LRT does not cause development to happen. Economic need and municipal regulations do this. Transit agencies across the USA have been very happy to take credit for all the construction that has taken place along their transit plans when the real estate bubble was booming. Where are they now since this bubble has popped? If they can take credit for a building going up, then can they be blamed when the project is abandoned 1/2 built? I know, it does sound silly but there are government people at transit agencies getting paid to make these kinds of claims every day.

The second issue is that failing to understand the first problem, cities and counties fail to drive development onto the transit corridor. The only way for effective mass transit to work is to implement tough urban development regulations that are strong enough to go up against developers who will make the argument of property rights, socialism, this is America, etc etc. As long as a metro allows suburban development, then LRT will continue to flounder and consume great amounts of money. The most glaring example of this is Atlanta. This is a city that has a full fledged HRT, built to metro standards no less, yet in the 30 years of operation the two counties it serves has seen little growth.

The third problem is that transit agencies are never held to real measurable results. What you will get are meaningless ridership statistics. But never is any connection on what this really means for the community that paid for it. The question should be framed in terms of what are we getting for the 1/2 billion dollars we are getting ready to spend? What city goals does meet? Finally cities treat these things as some sort sort of bangle like a professional sports stadium. We have LRT, we must be world class.

The real reason for building LRT, as it is very expensive for the local community, is that it's only purpose should be to solve transit problems. It's the only issue that it can solve. Yet this is rarely given as a reason to build one except in broad general terms that have no bearing on the local situation. The only new city in the USA that has remotely gotten this right is Portland. They put in a rather draconian urban growth zone, and that, over the period of 30 years, has established a real need for LRT. The key is that for people to get out of their cars, it has to be very painful for them to drive. In most places this really isn't the case.

So to somehow make this topic relevant to NWA, the question on need should be framed in these terms. i.e. What are your transit problems and how can LRT be used to solve them.

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I received a copy of "NWA Rail- Visioning Rail Transit in Northwest Arkansas: Lifestyles and Ecologies" today and it is a spectacular book. It has stunning graphics and beautiful pictures and is very readable. It has computer-enhanced photos that help one see what the authors' vision of the future could be. It has a multitude of facts, figures and projections that are very impressive. No matter what your position on light rail is it makes for an enjoyable read and look through.

The book portrays such a rosy, almost utopian scenario that it would be easy to say light rail is the way to go. Unfortunately, reality isn't that way. It almost seems like the authors are talking about somewhere else and not NWA. There are numerous graphics of the urban developments that they see as happening with light rail without taking into account the what it would take to have them actually happen. Many of the buildings they portray are multistory ones that remind me of the Divinty project that was fought so hard. The density they show is fought constantly as not compatible. The developments they show in central Fayetteville would completely change the character of the area. It's like they think that if light rail is constructed that the public will change their whole mindset and accept a different type of city. It just isn't realistic.

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Where did you get your copy? I guess I keep wondering why this study seems to be slanted to light rail instead of being unbiased. I'm guessing the figures they use focuses on the areas where the light rail stations would be located.

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It appears the UACDC is at the forefront of this while the NWARPC is really not even even touching the subject. Is that the case? If so, it speaks volumes about the legitimacy of the entire idea.

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This topic caught my eye during my routine scan for spammers that hit UP and I thought I would say a few words. I will also add that one of the reasons I helped start UP years ago was to advocate for LRT. I've learned a lot since those days.

Light rail as it is implemented these days in the USA has a lot of problems. This would include the system just built in Charlotte and it will include the system that was approved and mentioned above in Virginia. The basic problem is that LRT is being built with good intentions but unfortunately these intentions are not based on what these systems are supposed to do.

The first and the biggest is that LRT is billed as an economic generator. It isn't. The common myth put forth is that once a line is built, then urban utopia will be created around it with fun happy hip people walking everywhere, riding the LRT and giving up the automobile. This is putting the cart before the horse. LRT does not cause development to happen. Economic need and municipal regulations do this. Transit agencies across the USA have been very happy to take credit for all the construction that has taken place along their transit plans when the real estate bubble was booming. Where are they now since this bubble has popped? If they can take credit for a building going up, then can they be blamed when the project is abandoned 1/2 built? I know, it does sound silly but there are government people at transit agencies getting paid to make these kinds of claims every day.

The second issue is that failing to understand the first problem, cities and counties fail to drive development onto the transit corridor. The only way for effective mass transit to work is to implement tough urban development regulations that are strong enough to go up against developers who will make the argument of property rights, socialism, this is America, etc etc. As long as a metro allows suburban development, then LRT will continue to flounder and consume great amounts of money. The most glaring example of this is Atlanta. This is a city that has a full fledged HRT, built to metro standards no less, yet in the 30 years of operation the two counties it serves has seen little growth.

The third problem is that transit agencies are never held to real measurable results. What you will get are meaningless ridership statistics. But never is any connection on what this really means for the community that paid for it. The question should be framed in terms of what are we getting for the 1/2 billion dollars we are getting ready to spend? What city goals does meet? Finally cities treat these things as some sort sort of bangle like a professional sports stadium. We have LRT, we must be world class.

The real reason for building LRT, as it is very expensive for the local community, is that it's only purpose should be to solve transit problems. It's the only issue that it can solve. Yet this is rarely given as a reason to build one except in broad general terms that have no bearing on the local situation. The only new city in the USA that has remotely gotten this right is Portland. They put in a rather draconian urban growth zone, and that, over the period of 30 years, has established a real need for LRT. The key is that for people to get out of their cars, it has to be very painful for them to drive. In most places this really isn't the case.

So to somehow make this topic relevant to NWA, the question on need should be framed in these terms. i.e. What are your transit problems and how can LRT be used to solve them.

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The first and the biggest is that LRT is billed as an economic generator. It isn't. The common myth put forth is that once a line is built, then urban utopia will be created around it with fun happy hip people walking everywhere, riding the LRT and giving up the automobile. This is putting the cart before the horse. LRT does not cause development to happen. Economic need and municipal regulations do this. Transit agencies across the USA have been very happy to take credit for all the construction that has taken place along their transit plans when the real estate bubble was booming. Where are they now since this bubble has popped? If they can take credit for a building going up, then can they be blamed when the project is abandoned 1/2 built? I know, it does sound silly but there are government people at transit agencies getting paid to make these kinds of claims every day.

The second issue is that failing to understand the first problem, cities and counties fail to drive development onto the transit corridor. The only way for effective mass transit to work is to implement tough urban development regulations that are strong enough to go up against developers who will make the argument of property rights, socialism, this is America, etc etc. As long as a metro allows suburban development, then LRT will continue to flounder and consume great amounts of money. The most glaring example of this is Atlanta. This is a city that has a full fledged HRT, built to metro standards no less, yet in the 30 years of operation the two counties it serves has seen little growth.

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It was suggested that the idea of light rail be looked at in terms of what are NWA's transit problems now and how could light rail solve them. The study in question is aimed at a future NWA where the population is 1,000,000 and there are 1,250,000 cars by 2050. The transit problems of today certainly don't call for a possible billion dollar investment in light rail and related improvements. Besides the normal rush hour and big event related traffic proplems NWA has few areas of real congestion. To long time residents the changes in traffic from the 200,000 population of 20 years ago to today seem like a big difference but compared to larger cities we have it good here.

The study projects a population of 1 million by 2050. The boom years of the past 15 years have been related mostly to the huge growth of Wal Mart as a corporation and the related influx of vendors selling to Wal Mart. While the company seems likely to continue to grow the addition of staff in this area doesn't seem likely to match that of past years and the same goes for the vendors. Unless there is another impetus for growth the study projections seem very unlikely to happen. Even if this area becomes a hub of Green companies it is unlikely that they will add to the population like the Wal Mart impact has.

The best way to solve the current transit problems in NWA are to follow through on the planned improvements to I540 along with the Bella Vista bypass and northern Springdale bypass. The local city street improvements need to met by the individual cities where the problems are. There is a segment of the population in NWA that is underserved and needs a mass transit sytem but that need would be best met by an affordable metro wide bus system. The expansion of the Ozark Regional Transit and Razorback Transit sytems would be the logical way to meet this need as they are already established. The costs of the highway improvements and bus system are much more likely to be in line with what funds will be available and will give a clearer value than all the unknowns of an investment in a light rail system that doesn't have a proven value.

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