We're leading an economic analysis of six of the busiest and most cost-effective light rail lines in America in order to give an authoritative answer to the question everyone wants to know:
How much does it cost and how do we pay for it?
6. Capital cost
Yonah Freemark, Metropolitan Planning Council and the Transport Politic blog
Zongzhi Li, Director of Transportation Engineering and Infrastructure Engineering and Management, Illinois Institute of Technology
Mark Walbrun, Vice President, Rail and Transit Practice Leader, Mott MacDonald Engineering
John Green, Senior Rail Project Manager, Mott MacDonald Engineering
Kenneth Dallmeyer, former senior transit planner, Chicago Transit Authority
Steve Schlickman, former Executive Director of UIC Urban Transportation Center and former Executive Director of Regional Transportation Authority
John Norquist, former President of Congress for the New Urbanism and former Mayor of Milwaukee
Randy Neufeld, Executive Director of SRAM Cycling Fund and former Executive Director of Active Transportation Alliance
Steven Granson, Transit Project Manager, HDR Engineering
Ryan Richter, Transportation Planner, HNTB Engineering and Transport Nexus blog
Ben Peterson, Google Maps
Alan O’Connell and Anthony Pelikan, CartoFront
Tristan Crockett, Software Engineer at ThinkCERCA and ChiHackNight
Charles Porter, Owner, Development Management Associates
1. Streetcar routes
Our streetcar routes are designed to be cost-effective. They have very high initial ridership, attract new riders to transit, spark transit-oriented development, reduce congestion, complement the L and Metra, and link major attractions together and to the Loop. They’re designed to enhance Chicago’s image as a great place to live, work, and visit, and to demonstrate to the voting public the benefits of investing to maintain and expand rapid transit.
2. Changes to bus network
Bus networks are always restructured around new rail lines. We need to propose changes to bus routes in order to accurately estimate streetcar ridership and the cost savings from bus service replaced.
3. Operating plans and cost
Detailed plans and operating cost estimates are being developed now. We’re designing street sections for all typical conditions and comparing to existing high-capacity tramways with similar conditions in order to accurately estimate operating speed.
Frequency: 3-5 min in peak hours, 10 min off-peak.
Stops: about twice as often as the L and half as often as the bus.
Cost: where ridership and speed are high enough, light rail costs less to operate than buses stuck in traffic.
4. Ridership estimate
We’re using the RTA’s regional STOPS model to estimate ridership and the reduction in vehicle miles traveled, following the methodology used to compete for federal funding.
Preliminary estimates based on bus service replaced indicate two or three times as many riders per mile as the average L line.
5. Traffic impact
We’re designing and analyzing a signal priority system that prevents the streetcars from getting stuck in traffic without exacerbating traffic on the surrounding street grid. We’re studying the impacts of new light rail lines and changes to bus routes and car traffic on congestion and travel time.
6. Capital cost
We’re estimating the capital cost of each route based on domestic and international precedent and local conditions.
The capital cost for building and equipping our proposed streetcar lines has been preliminarily estimated at $57 million per mile.
7. Value capture potential
The streetcar increases the value of nearby property due to (a) proximity to high-quality transit and (b) TOD upzoning for higher density and less parking.
This study will propose appropriate zoning for the streetcar corridors, and estimate the growth in property value in each corridor that would not occur but for the streetcar. It will demonstrate the potential for capturing some of that added value to provide a revenue stream for the debt service on the initial capital expenditure.
We hope to present the findings in an interactive website that allows visitors to understand and critically assess the assumptions in different scenarios. It may also allow visitors to test a variety of different scenarios by recalibrating factors such as the extent of the streetcar network, zoning regulations in the corridor, intensity of new development, and value capture mechanism.
8. Assessing cost-effectiveness
We will compare the cost-effectiveness of the proposed routes to other transit investments in the regional funding pipeline, and to others around the nation to estimate the likelihood of receiving federal funding.
We hope to produce accurate renderings of key places along the network to give people a realistic understanding of the changes we’re proposing.