Monday, September 21, 2009

Light Rail Essential To A Sustainable Long Island

Success Of Light Rail Amidst Phoenix Sprawl Quiets Critics
Advocates Hope To Spur Nassau County To Take A second Look

Maybe you can get there from here. Trouble is, you need a car to do it.

The automobile is choking us on Long Island, from the polluted air we breathe, to the major arteries -- and now, even back roads -- that are clogged with traffic, no matter the time of day.

Need to go shopping? Hop in the car. To the movies? Car. Mall? Car. School? Car. Anyplace further than the end of the block? Car. Car. Car.

So reliant have LIers become on their cars that they have, in effect, become appendages. We can't leave home without 'em!

What about the bus? Has anyone actually taken LI Bus lately? If so, you know how unreliable that is -- and you're still stuck in the same traffic with those *^%$#@! cars!

Walk? Bike? If you can, you should. Not always practical, though.

How about light rail?

Yes, light rail.

The clean, simple, and smart answer to getting around the sprawl of suburbia.

The notion of light rail on Long Island has been floated before, quite seriously, in fact. Of course, as with almost everything else worth doing in these parts, it gets shouted down by the naysayers and the NIMBYists, whose vision of suburbia is mired in the 1950s.

Light rail has been a successful mode of transport elsewhere in the U.S., enabling the heretofore auto-centric to leave the cars at home, easily, conveniently, and inexpensively getting from here to there.

Recently, The New York Times showcased a light rail network in Phoenix, Arizona. At first bemoaned by residents and lambasted by critics, the Phoenix light rail is now praised, almost universally, by the thousands of riders who can now enjoy an effortless ride from here to there, the businesses that have emerged and thrived along the line, and the environmentalists, who see a smaller carbon footprint.

Not the intrusion it was portended to be, but a boon to the local economy as well as a conduit for residents who could, if not abandon their cars entirely, at least relinquish their unfettered reliance for an hour, the evening, or an entire day.

Imagine hopping on a light rail car to visit friends, to get to business centers, or, dare we say, to venture to the Coliseum without having to navigate the Turnpike.

Some interesting light rail facts:

1. Light rail vehicles are less expensive in the long run, with useful lives of 40 to 60 years. Reconditioned LRVs from the 1950s are still running in San Francisco and Philadelphia. Where do you see a 40 year old bus in regular service?

2. Light rail vehicles have better acceleration than buses do, and can run a route much faster than buses. This means that you need fewer LRVs and fewer drivers to cover the same route.

3. Light rail vehicles can run in much narrower lanes than buses can, so they take up less space. This is especially important in crowded urban areas.

4. Light rail vehicles only use energy when they are accelerating. When they decelerate, the momentum is turned back into electric energy. When they’re at rest, their motors use no energy at all. Most buses use energy continually, whether they are accelerating, decelerating, or standing still.

5. Light rail vehicles give a smoother, bump-free ride far superior to the bouncing around bus passengers are subject to.

6. Operating expenses for light rail vehicles are significantly less than for buses, according to the Federal Transit Administration’s 2001 National Transit Database. Boston’s light rail line had costs of $1.25 per trip vs. $2.04 for buses. If you want the figures expressed as costs per passenger mile, Boston spent $0.51 for LRVs and $0.71 for buses.

7. In city after city (St. Louis, Denver, Phoenix, Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas ……) people prefer light rail to buses. Ridership on the entire transit system increases when even a single light rail line is opened.

8. Light rail stations often spur development around them that doesn’t happen around bus rapid transit stations.

For extensive information about and insights into the benefits of light rail, go to

There is no question that transportation is a major issue on Long Island, and that, as we are about to embark on the second decade of the 21st century, we need to consider alternatives to the automobile as modus transportus.

Light rail, having been moved to the back burner, should once again be brought to the fore, a part of any discussion to redevelop, revitalize, and re-energize America's oldest suburb.
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By the way, even Hanoi, Vietnam, has a light rail system. This while America's first suburb still tries to reinvent the wheel!

And assuming that wheel is reinvented in our lifetime, and its not square, what chance will it have (try snowball's chance in Hell) getting past Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, and the vast black hole of Blightsville we know as the Zoning Board of Appeals?


  1. Great idea!

    Which one of our local leaders, Tom (we only raised your taxes 0.5%) Suozzi, or Kate (I don't think the Lighthouse is a good idea) Murray has the "juice" to get this done?