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The Inherent Shallowness of the Rail vs. Bus Debate

11:11 AM EDT on July 23, 2012

Is every argument for buses also an argument against rail?

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It seems that, according to the half-baked logic of "anti-planner" Randall O'Toole, the answer is "yes." The fervent rail opponent recently wrote that because Jarrett Walker at Human Transit penned an article arguing that race-based generalizations about bus travel are harmful, Walker must, ipso facto, share his disdain for rail. Not even close, says Walker:

This is called a "false dichotomy," identical in logic to George W. Bush's claim that "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists." (In a related move, he insists that you can't improve rail and buses at the same time, a claim directly disproven by the last decade in which LA Metro developed the Metro Rapid buses [and Orange and Silver Line busways] concurrent with rail extensions.)

In fact, I maintain and encourage a skeptical stance toward all technophilia -- that is, all emotional attachments to transit technologies that are unrelated to their utility as efficient and attractive means of public transport.

When self-identified bus-people attack rail, and self-identified rail people attack buses, they both sound like the lungs arguing with the heart. There's a larger purpose to transit, one that we achieve only by refusing to be drawn into technology wars, and demanding, instead, that everything work together.

The idea that a city as vast and dense as Los Angeles can do everything with buses, no matter how much it grows, is absurd. Drivers are expensive, so rail is a logical investment where high vehicle capacity (ratio of passengers to drivers) is required.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure expresses disappointment with the HSR station designs for Fresno and Bakersfield. The Greater Marin reports that Sacramento County might wreck its valiant smart growth efforts by welcoming a Walmart close to a new light rail service. And Streets.mn explains why it's time to stop spending billions based on dubious traffic projections.

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