The Green Line Gets Car Free

Recently I was hanging out downtown and heard an interesting story over beer. It happens to be that the Green Line has achieved, for some, the ultimate. There are people living in Clackamas that have gone car free by choice! Truly amazing, America is slowly evolving past addiction. It is slow going, but it is starting to grow. Watching this ground swell of change is amazing.

To note, this could have happened with the bus lines, but it was however much less likely. Light rail enables and encourages people to drop their cars and focus on livability in ways that buses cannot and will never achieve. Buses are important, but they are not agents of change.


  1. “Light rail enables and encourages people to drop their cars and focus on livability in ways that buses cannot and will never achieve. Buses are important, but they are not agents of change.”
    Why? How do you know that?


    1. In addition to the above comments a simple search of light rail vs. bus will bring you plenty of information about how the evidence swings in favor of light rail and other modes similar to it vs. buses to encourage sustainable growth over time. Some prime examples:

      In Seattle they commonly “envy” Portland because of the advantages the city now has by having 4 light rail lines. Seattle is paying the price by being late to the game and having higher costs to deal with.

      Here’s one on why Portland has continuously chosen light rail to extend the backbone of the system:

      Click to access TAUT-Oct09-LRTvBus.pdf

      As areas are more sprawly and fight to battle this problem and make transit more accessible, numbers like this appear too:
      “METRO’s operating cost for light rail is $0.60 per passenger mile for light rail, and $0.70 per passenger mile for bus. In addition, operating expenses for buses are $4.60 per unlinked passenger trip, compared to only $1.40 per passenger trip for light rail.”

      That’s for Texas btw. Which of course, it is unfortunate that they run so many buses that don’t really get filled up. It’s a major conflict/problem in many cases.

      Point being, more people will use and ride light rail, will build, expand, and live by light rail than will live by a bus route. That’s been proven time and time again. In addition over time bus routes are inordinately expensive, easily even at capacity exceeding the cost of a similarly heavily used light rail or streetcar route.

      That’s how I know and why I say this.


  2. “Light rail enables and encourages people to drop their cars and focus on livability in ways that buses cannot and will never achieve. Buses are important, but they are not agents of change.”

    Why? How do you know that? What’s your evidence?

    Without reasoning, it seems like generic bus bias.


    1. Bus bias is a fact of life and it comes into play. Even in Europe where there are plenty of really nice bus services, when given the choice, people overwhelmingly choose to take a rail vehicle from point A to point B instead of a bus if given a choice. In the United States it is also an overwhelming majority that choose to take transit only if they can ride a streetcar, light rail, or passenger rail.

      In many places the only thing that can even attain the level of ridership and patronage needed to sustain a city is rail transit. Case in point, Chicago, New York City, London, and other cities. Without the rail, they almost entirely shut down. If you need evidence of that, look at the last transit strike in New York City. It didn’t just cost the city millions, but it cost the entire United States billions of dollars in literal value.

      The same thing in almost every major city in the world: Moscow, Tokyo, London, Paris and the list goes on.

      … I’ll continue after the next comment.


  3. All of that is entirely true. Rail is awesome, and is the only present technology which enables high-capacity transit systems, and costs less per passenger when there’s a ridership base to support it, and so on and so forth. (Although extensive rail transit does not appear to be a requisite for a world city– San Francisco, for example, runs quite a bit more bus service than rail service.) I also think that there’s some confusion of service quality with technology here– for example, high-quality BRT in Cleveland has been shown to drive some development. A local bus and a light rail are different services, beyond their technological differences. I will even generally acknowledge that I, personally, will generally choose to take a train over a bus if both are available– although I think this is also a function of service quality again, as I’d ride an express bus over a streetcar for a long trip. (I’ve also been known to choose cheaper bus service over faster rail service on occasion.) But none of that is the point.

    The point is that you’re talking about people going car-free by choice, and I think that that’s a different animal than generic transit ridership. First, in all but dense central cities (ie not Clackamas), where owning a car is more inconvenience than benefit, it seems to me that going car-free by choice is an ideological decision, and that the people who do so are pretty committed environmentalists. They would seem to be candidates for transit use regardless of the mode, for ideological reasons. Now, of course, ideology is often tempered by practicality, and a new transit service may well open up possibilities that were formerly closed to somebody, allowing them to ditch the car that they never wanted in the first place– but that’s not a function of said transit service rolling on rails.

    Second, in both my personal experience and that of nearly every car-free blog I’ve read (basically, outside of places like New York or San Francisco, which have extensive all-day frequent transit), the ability to go car-free is more contingent on gaining a bicycle than a new transit service. Transit may well become a more frequent part of car-free folks’ lives, but cycling is a near-universal. And, it goes without saying, a bicycle cares not whether there is rail transit nearby. (Indeed, my bicycle happily rides along on both trains and buses.)

    So I will concede that trains are all that you say they are– indeed, I myself am rather jealous of Portland’s impressive rail system– but how do you know that it is rail, specifically, that is enabling car-freedom in Clackamas?


    1. San Francisco, would falter heavily in ridership and functionality without the MUNI light rail and BART. BART alone runs over 350k passengers a day, MUNI light rail carries more than a bus line could handle on the K, T, and N carry passengers at a much lower cost than the comparative bus service that almost carries as many such as the 14 route. In addition the service level and quality is vastly superior. The only catch is the higher capital cost.

      San Francisco has greatly improved ridership, in large part because of bringing these light rail/streetcars into (back into) service.

      Yes, BRT is nice. However it has proven over time to cost more at the slight advantage of lower capital cost startup. But seriously, over time it costs more and carries less, and isn’t much more attractive to build around or near than regular bus service. The key of course is to get a ROW that can be built against that wont’ flip flop and move around like bus service might. BRT of course provides this, but the real catalyst creator is something substantial, like rail.

      The Pearl District in the Portland wouldn’t have been built around regular bus service, nor around BRT, and arguable it would have been built anyway. But one cannot argue that the light rail did have a signfiicant value add to the area far and beyond what otherwise would have been. The same goes for Seattle’s South Lake Union area. The businesses have even paid to extend and increase service frequency during a time of cuts. This won’t happen, and didn’t happen, to the bus lines that serve the area.

      Simply, rail brings the people, buses don’t.

      If cities, especially in the United States, want to bring people back to transit, to better and healthier lifestyles with closer knit communities. Rail is a key to that in a vastly larger way than bus service.


      1. But that still doesn’t get to the point of whether people who are car-free by choice, as a small, committed, ideologically-motivated segment of the population, are enabled by rail and not by bus transit.

  4. People go car free for a number of reasons. One of those might be environmental, but that is only one of the reasons. I did not go car-free myself because of those reasons, I did so because I can live a better, healthier, more efficient and productive life without a car.

    However, light rail does show high correlation to people being encouraged to take that final step and go car-free. Vastly more correlation than bus service.

    In another sense, there are many other factors why people go car-free, especially in Portland. A bigger reason than transit availability is bike friendliness. The vast majority of car-free or car-light users in the city are also heavy cyclists. I rely almost entirely on cycling vs. transit usage. Even more on just walking.

    However if Portland didn’t have light rail, it would be highly unlikely that I’d live here, that it would attain and retain the high standard of living it has or be as well respected of a city.

    —just sayin.


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