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Light rail not good for Wichita

A recent letter in the Wichita Eagle by Alden Wilner of Bel Aire worries that “flat, dusty and hot” parking lots in the neighborhood of the Intrust Bank Arena (formerly known as the downtown Wichita arena) in downtown Wichita will hamper downtown revitalization.

I don’t know if this claim is true or not, but I do know that the solution Wilner proposes — “an area wide light-rail system” — would be an absolute disaster for Wichita. These systems are costly to build and operate, suffer from low ridership almost everywhere they are built, and have many other problems.

In a recent article, Randal O’Toole presented the costs of light rail versus highways:

The average mile of light-rail line costs two to five times as much as an urban freeway lane-mile. Yet in 2007 the average light-rail line carried less than one-seventh as many people as the average freeway lane-mile in cities with light rail.

Do the math: Light rail costs 14 to 35 times as much to move people as highways.

The Government Accountability Office found that bus-rapid transit—frequent buses with limited stops—provided faster, better service at 2 percent of the capital cost and lower operating costs than light rail.

Light rail is the mantra of those who hate cars. They must love waste and failure in its place. Portland is an example of an area that’s built a lot of light rail in recent years. O’Toole points out that in 1980 — before the light rail building boom — 9.8 percent of the region’s commuters took transit to work. Now that number, despite the light rail building boom, has declined to 7.6 percent.

Another article by O’Toole (Light Rail Doesn’t Work) tells of the huge costs, inconvenience, congestion, misallocation of economic development, and increased energy consumption and greenhouse gas output that light rail projects produce.

O’Toole is the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future. As Wichita prepares to undertake large-scale planning for the revitalization of downtown, I would urge our leaders to read this book.

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11 Comments

  1. Benjamin August 11, 2009

    The “Banker’s” Arena is dead before it even opens. No was my vote and I want all the pennies I gave for extra sales tax.

  2. Mike Shaw August 11, 2009

    I remember “The Simpsons” episode where the town of Springfield was flim-flammed into buying a monorail…

  3. Mr. Dollarhyde August 11, 2009

    It takes 15 minutes to drive from one side of Wichita to the other. Is Wichita even large enough to be considered a city? Maybe it’s just a large town.

    There’s no need for a rail system. The Wichita government must have a real hard time cooking up schemes to waste money.

  4. Pat August 11, 2009

    @ Mr. D – As far as I know, no one with the city is even suggesting a light rail service.

  5. Benjamin August 12, 2009

    How about we have washed up bands there and charge $100 dollars a ticket, 6 dollars for a beer and wait 2 hours to get out? O wait!… We allready have and had that. Mr. Dollarhyde…. it is just an oversized town. One of it’s main employers ( aircraft ) is going defuncted. So my fellow Wichitans…. are you ready to see what happens when the unemployment checks run out? Maybe the arena can house the unemployed people who lost their homes kinda like the Superdome after Katrina. We all know how SMOOTHLY that went.

  6. Benjamin August 12, 2009

    By the way… to all people that are unemployed or have family and friends who are and are struggling to get by…. the city is spending $850,000 to make “high-tech” signs that point to the arena and also hired a consulting comapany ” not even from Kansas” to design and say where to put them. When will people in this oversized cowtown ever get mad about anything?

  7. Mr. Dollarhyde August 12, 2009

    @Pat,

    Considering Wichita’s history of wasteful spending, light rail is something that needs to be kept off the table. It’s not even a notion worth entertaining.

  8. Benjamin August 13, 2009

    How about they just get rickshaws. Can hire a “consultant” for $100,000 on how to build them, where to place them and routes to take. Charge each person 5 bucks to ride it and then pay the poor sap driving it $2.15 an hour because he might make a couple dollars in tips.

  9. Pat August 13, 2009

    LOL. I like the rickshaw idea. Would help as an obsiety prevention measure.

    @ Mr. D – I couldn’t agree more.

  10. Benjamin August 21, 2009

    It would just be some green card or illegal immigrant driving the damn thing.

  11. RD August 29, 2009

    The OP is incorrect. Light rail is not an end, but a stepping stone to commuter rail, full-fledged trains with a dozen cars and diesel locomotives, stopping at every P&R and major destination in town, on the way downtown. Buses are stuck on the roads, they are slaves to traffic. There is nowhere for them to grow. Even with dedicated lanes between stops, it would take a subway system of bus stops to avoid traffic.

    Those who contend light rail is a waste are short-sighted. With the economy drawing more people to Wichita, the choise is to move toward commuter rail, or face commute times on the road DOUBLE what they are now in 5 years and TRIPLE in 10 years. Do the math.

    The OP has chosen to commit hours everyday in their car. I choose the opposite.

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