When Commuter Rail Has the Potential to Be Something More

American commuter rail lines tend not to draw many riders. That’s what happens when service is limited and the line is set up to shuttle suburban park-and-ride commuters to an urban center in the morning and back home in the evening.

Greater Cleveland RTA's Blue Line is the type of commuter rail that, with some planning, could evolve into ?, Photo: Wikipedia
Greater Cleveland RTA’s Blue Line could evolve into a more useful service than plain old commuter rail. Photo: Wikipedia

But there’s a lot of untapped potential in commuter rail lines. A new report from the Transportation Research Board examines how railways like Cleveland’s Blue Line, which extends to the suburb of Shaker Heights, can do a better job of connecting people to the places they need to go, writes Marc Lefkowitz at Green City Blue Lake:

Their analysis of the Blue Line shows that, for the most part, access is limited to those able to drive to it. Except for Shaker Square and downtown, the Blue Line is missing employment options.

“Employment opportunities are rare along this corridor between its terminus at Van Aken Center and Shaker Square, as is pedestrian- or transit-based access to cultural destinations, health care, and major retailers.”

Limited service outside of rush hour is a big drawback. As is the lack of development at station sites. The line is most valuable to one type of customer — a Shaker resident who works downtown.

“The relative lack of these opportunities within this Suburban Commuter Corridor is mitigated by the access to a higher diversity of opportunities available to corridor residents in the CBD. But, transit service is generally limited to commute hours, and the travel time between outlying stations and the CBD is high.”

The Blue Line is a type of “Emerging” corridor where auto-dominated travel patterns and low-density development prevail.

The report, which was sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, points to Minneapolis’s Corridors of Opportunity initiative as a model for involving many people with diverse interests in the effort to promote housing and development around rail stations, Lefkowitz says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure asks which country has the more market-oriented approach to transportation policy — China or the United States? And Market Urbanism critiques the shaky new defense of sprawl from Joel Kotkin.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

What If “Commuter Rail” Was for Everyone, Not Just 9-to-5 Commuters?

|
Rhode Island has been investing in commuter rail — long distance service connecting Providence to Boston and towns in between. But lackluster ridership at a new park-and-ride rail station at the end of the line (by a Walmart!) is sapping support for much more useful investments, reports Sandy Johnston at Itinerant Urbanist. Anti-rail critics are piling on. The libertarian Rhode Island Center […]
At Bourg-la-Reine, outside Paris, the rail station is surrounded by dense, mixed-use development and walkable streets. Image: Google Maps

What American Commuter Rail Can Learn From Paris, Part 2

|
In Europe it's common for regional rail systems to get ridership comparable to that of the subway in the central city. But in America, this is unheard of. One reason for the discrepancy is land use: American commuter rail stations are typically surrounded by parking, while in the Paris region you see a different pattern with ample development next to suburban train stations.
paris_regional_railcar

What American Commuter Rail Can Learn From Paris

|
In the U.S., regional rail is mostly good for one type of trip: the commute. But in Paris, regional rail is oriented toward all types of trips, and people ride throughout the day, not just at rush hour. One key to success is running frequent, predictable service all day long.

Commuter Rail and Inequality Within Transit Systems

|
In theory, transit is a big melting pot where people from all walks of life rub elbows. That may be close to the truth in some places, but in others the reality is often quite different. People riding city buses to work probably aren’t as affluent as the people riding the commuter rail line into downtown. Social […]