U.S. Cities Get Creative to Reinvent Mass Transit

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Congressman James Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was slated to speak at the launch of Environmental Defense Fund’s new report Reinventing Transit — but he got stuck in traffic.

The irony was not lost on one commenter in the StarTribune.com blog who noted, “You couldn’t ask for a better footnote to the report.”

Oberstar’s absence was a clear illustration of how traffic congestion is sapping time and productivity across the country.

Cars stuck in traffic don’t just waste time, they also waste fuel. This has consequences for the environment in terms of health and global warming. In fact, about a quarter of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and trucks. 

The good news is that communities around the country are developing a new generation of more efficient, more affordable travel options that give people the opportunity to leave their cars at home, thereby reducing both traffic congestion and global warming pollution.

Using modern approaches with new technology and infrastructure, transit can be tailored to its surroundings.

Even in suburbs like Virginia’s Prince William County, and California’s San Joaquin valley, services such as flex-bus routes and van pools can serve more dispersed communities.

For our report, EDF picked examples that we thought captured the breadth and variety of modern transit in America — a snapshot of communities designing successful, creative solutions to match their needs.

These examples demonstrate the faster, more reliable transit service possible today, as well as the emerging industries they support in manufacturing, construction and operations. The Portland streetcar, launched in 2001, led to streetcar manufacturing right in the area. It created new jobs directly and indirectly:

The Portland streetcar has helped stimulate $3.5 billion in new development in downtown Portland and revitalized old neighborhoods that were in decline.

Within a three block distance from the streetcar, real estate investment has surged, with density increasing over 40% in just a few years. The subsequent development surrounding the streetcar represents over 5 million square feet of new construction including 10,000 housing units.

These systems are also increasingly popular, showing large ridership increases in recent years. The Portland streetcar has grown to 13,000 riders per weekday. With other mass transit in the city, the car miles driven per capita is down 6 percent since 1990.

Eugene, Ore.’s new EmX Bus line, a Bus Rapid Transit system with hybrid buses and dedicated lanes, has already surpassed its 2020 ridership projections after two years of operation.

Watch our report video showing how people across the country are getting on board these innovative transit systems, and read more case studies at the web site. In addition to the report, EDF has created a new Reinventing Transit blog to continue the discussion and add new projects as time goes on.

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(Originally published at Sustainablog)