A Proposal for a Suburban Monorail

Larry Bost, of Marietta, has been pushing an idea of late that may find some support among suburban commuters.

His proposal, which is surprisingly well researched, involves the construction of a monorail along the pre-existing interstate system surrounding Metro Atlanta.

In this map, green and blue lines represent inbound and outbound monorail lines, while yellow dots represent transfer stations.  Click to enlarge the map.
In this proposal, green and blue lines represent inbound and outbound monorail lines, while yellow dots represent transfer stations.
Click to enlarge the map.
Such a monorail, he says, would be a far more worthy investment than our continual expansion of highways surrounding Atlanta. He’s drawn up a plan that outlines 15 different stations for the proposed metro Atlanta monorail, with seven stations outside the Perimeter, seven along I-285, and only one station inside the Perimeter.

One key advantage of a monorail system in Atlanta is that it planners would simply build on top of the existing highway system along the center of expressways, eliminating the need for any additional land acquisition.

The costs, according to the Monorail Society, vary greatly depending on factors like the total length of the system, the number of stations, the speed of the train, and the topography of the land. Given that variability, a monorail system could cost anywhere between $10 million to $100 million per mile of track.

For comparison, the US Department of Transportation estimates that the construction of a new highway in urban areas can cost between $4.9 million to $19.5 million per lane mile, while simply adding a new lane to an existing highway can run anywhere between $2.4 million to $6.9 million per mile (twice that if adding a lane to each side).

But as both the Monorail Society and Bost emphasize, a monorail has the best chance of turning an actual profit once constructed.

Outside the United States, other countries have used monorails with incredible success. For the 1964 Olympics, Japan built a monorail for Tokyo, and the system has turned a profit every year since. China opened a 62-station, 34-mile long monorail in Chonggung in 2005 and will likely continue investing in the technology in the future. Even India has recently come on board with the idea, investing $2 billion in a 35-station, 36-mile long monorail system in Chennai.

Additionally, monorails are different than urban subway systems in that their target clientele consists of suburban commuters. In a city with notorious sprawl out to the suburbs and with suburban voters typically less willing to fund urban transit systems, Atlanta could be the perfect candidate for monorail construction in the United States.

As the legislature continues to toss around ideas about how to improve Georgia’s crumbling infrastructure, a suburban monorail is an idea at least worth considering as just one part of the solution to Georgia’s transportation woes.

73 comments

  1. zedsmith says:

    Can we just change MARTA’s name to “suburban monorail” or “liberty train” to make you people happy without mothballing the system Atlantans have been using for decades?

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Indeed a monorail is heavy rail, the same type transportation as MARTA rail. But hey, the name change worked well for Stewart Ave.

      The metro area would probably be better served by MARTA rail extensions OTP. Stations few and far between OTP would reduce travel time and roughly approximate this plan. And there’d be enormous savings in avoiding a duplicative monorail at $70M / mile ITP.

      A very general rule of thumb is that transit loses a quarter of its ridership with each transfer.
      Drive to say the I-85 / SR316 station – transfer – rail to Doraville – transfer – rail to Cumberland – transfer – rail to Marietta – transfer – bus to near employment = 33%. It’s not promising until travel time are completely horrendous.

      • ahblid says:

        Dave,

        A monorail is NOT heavy rail. A monorail is in the same class as automated people movers. Heavy rail is defined as subways and El’s.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          It isn’t exactly heavy rail, but a monorail (as are people movers) is in the same general public transit class as heavy rail; specialized vehicles operating on a fixed guideway that is in a dedicated exclusive ROW.

          • ahblid says:

            Dave,

            So then where do we class light rail? It uses specialized vehicles operating on a fixed guide-way that may or may not be dedicated; as in they can mix with traffic. Streetcars are similar and always operate in a shared ROW.

            And then there is BRT, yet another specialized vehicle operating in a dedicated exclusive ROW. Where do we put that?

            They all fall under public transit; each into their own special categories. And while some categories may share similar characteristics, they are all still distinct categories. We have:

            Bus, BRT, LRT, Heavy rail (subways & El’s), Commuter Rail, Automated People Movers, and Streetcars.

            • Dave Bearse says:

              I like the classifications of your last sentence, except that I’d class street cars as a subset of light rail, and people movers (and monorail) as heavy rail (though perhaps a more descriptive term would better serve general public understanding).

              For me at least, the distinctions in the combination of roles and technology doesn’t warrant separate classifications—monorail is generally just too much like heavy rail with respect to vehicles, stations, ROW, and expense etc for a separate classification.

  2. Max Power says:

    Marge vs the Monorail references in 3,2,1 oh heck.

    I hear those things are awfully loud. It glides as softly as a cloud

    But joking aside given the development along the top end and in Cobb this actually makes a lot of sense.

    • John Konop says:

      ……But joking aside given the development along the top end and in Cobb this actually makes a lot of sense…..

      I agree, I would need to see the math….we also must factor if done right it could increase capacity of movement of goods and people more effectively than an extra hwy lane. It would also increase economic growth on top of it paying for itself eventually…ie jobs, jobs…..

  3. bsjy says:

    Not sure about riding the monorail around the Perimeter, but a train track along the Interstates that connected with MARTA at its endpoints would be a big improvement for commuters. Drive your car to a train station close to your home, ride the rails to the MARTA nearest your office, ride a community bus to your office. That’s the best way to keep us Atlantans out of our cars.

    • TheEiger says:

      “Drive your car to a train station close to your home, ride the rails to the MARTA nearest your office, ride a community bus to your office. That’s the best way to keep us Atlantans out of our cars.”

      That sounds great and wonderful, but you aren’t going to convince too many people in the suburbs to take the public transit option if their commute times don’t come down.

      Just as an example. If I drive to my house to the North Springs Marta station then wait on a train and take it to underground Atlanta and then wait on a bus to take it to the Braves stadium it takes me over an hour from my front door to the stadium gate. Or I can drive my own car and be there usually with in 45 minutes. Often times, less. Why would I take public transportation if it increases my commute time?

      • John Konop says:

        I lived in Chicago and Dallas for years….also travel to NYC area a lot. I agree the commute time is key….but other factors are big, if it is about the same or little better, taking a train is way less stressful than driving in heavy traffic. Also you get work done via the commute….while returning emails, presentations…..not smart while driving. And finally, wear and tear on your car….Not saying everyone would weigh the above factors over your value system….but enough would to increase capacity of goods and people. Many were skeptical about it working Dallas/Ft Worth…similar spiraling communities like Atlanta metro…but it has been a success via usage…

        • TheEiger says:

          Lowering commute times are the only way you are going to convince large numbers of people to use mass transit. I’m not against mass transit. I’m just stating what is a reality. Most people do not want to take a car, train and bus to get to work if they don’t have to. There are to many ifs. What if my kid gets sick at school? It will take me an hour and a half to get to them. What if I have to work late at the office and the bus services is cut down to late hours and I have to wait 30 minutes for my bus? Or I could get in my car and drive my self to work and not have to worry about any of that. We can can talk about possibilities and what would might work and costs. Those are all important. But if we want to be able to sell this to people in OTP then commute times need to be the number one talking point and number one problem to solve. Until that occurs, people will continue to say no.

          • John Konop says:

            ……. to sell this to people in OTP then commute times need to be the number one talking point ……

            I agree this is the spin…..if it gets done…..it will shock you how many will take the train via less hassles…..

            ………What if my kid gets sick at school?……..

            What I saw was one parent was home…..if both worked one used car one used rail and if both comminuted they had strong family/community support ie relatives, neighbors….

            …….What if I have to work late at the office and the bus services is cut down to late hours and I have to wait 30 minutes for my bus? ……

            Valid point it must be will coordinated….non issue in Dallas/DFW, NYC and Chicago.

            • bgsmallz says:

              You can’t frame it as ‘lower your commute times’…no one is going to be able to solve the problem that it takes the hypothetical-Cobb commuter 45 minutes to get from a cul-de-sac to I-575 so why should you get out of your car to do the last 45 minutes on a train problem. That will be a ‘do you want to move’ issue…which is why we end up dead-ending on any transportation issue in this region.

              The real issue is alternatives for lower and better commutes for those entering the work force…moving to the area…Growth, if you will,…as we run out of land, will your commute be better or worse by creating areas of density in town centers..who knows…but it will be better for those moving here? Will having the types of communities and travel options that are considered better quality of life choices for the rising generations mean our kids will be able to work in Atlanta instead of having to go to Charlotte or Dallas or farther to find the emerging jobs?

              It’s not going to be a magic bullet to sell to suburbanites for ‘your’ commute. It’s about creating a region that can sustain and grow into the future. Frankly, it is whether Cobb and Gwinnett etc. want to be a part of that or whether they want to continue to watch the trend of increasing population, property values, and job movement back to the urban and semi-urban core.

      • Ed says:

        Because it is cheaper, you can actually do stuff while on a train, it is better for the environment…

        What I don’t think will work is further Balkanization of our public transportation systems and certainly not one that will add another step to commuters’ trips. Even if there’s something simple like not taking Breeze cards this will be DOA for commuters.

  4. bgsmallz says:

    The concept makes a lot of sense…a rail line across the top end is almost a necessity at this point and people are accessible to the interstates in the suburbs b/c…duh, that’s how they get to work.

    One quick thought on this…wouldn’t the ROW costs and construction costs be cheaper on ‘secondary highways’ rather than interstates? Think 141, US -23, US 29 or US 78 instead of I-85…or US-41 instead of 75 or US 278 instead of I-20. Keep costs down…create alternative traffic patterns (i.e. everyone isn’t driving to the interstate whether they are monorailing or driving), and you potentially create Walk-Up centers in and around the monorail stations where suburban ‘town’ centers can develop.

  5. TheEiger says:

    Commute times are not spin John……

    It’s quite simple. I can get to work in an hour or 45 minutes. Which do I choose? Come up with a plan that reduces commute times. That should be the number one priority.

    • John Konop says:

      It is spin, from an economic stand point the real issue is how do I increase the movement of people and goods. Basic 101 concept you learn in planning school, is you never fix transportation. It is actually the opposite, as transportation becomes more efficient, growth follows it….which drives increased economic activity. When increase happens you have to address growth with more infrastructure investment….it the cycle of an efficient economic plan….When you stop the cycle you end up having issues…..If you do not invest wisely you will decline…

      • TheEiger says:

        You would argue with a fence post.

        Where do I state anywhere in my comments that we shouldn’t “invest wisely” in transportation. You have to be able to sell the voters on on something. A decrease in commute times is that something. You can’t just say give the government more money and trust them to invest it wisely in transportation. We have seen the answer to that. It’s NO. Just ask everyone that was pushing TSPOLST were they went wrong. It was a failure to show the voters how it was going to help them. You can keep talking about planning school and what is taught there, but the voters don’t care. And you know it.

        You have to sell the voters on something. You can’t just say trust me. We need a monorail. We should post peak commute times by car along with peak commute times for a new monorail system. If monorail is faster then the job of funding it is that much more easier. If it’s not faster then a plan to make it faster needs to be put in place. More trains? More buses to the monorail? Shorter stops? Figure out these points before asking the voters for hundreds of millions of dollars. If you don’t. The answer will continue to be no.

        What else would you like to argue about?

        • John Konop says:

          I get it you are part of the political machine….spin first….I know it hard for you to focus on policy…capacity is way bigger issue than speed via economics….The amount of movement of goods and people…think about it….speed does not equate to capacity….

          • TheEiger says:

            Good luck selling your pie in the sky dream when it comes to transportation. I know you are unable to understand that to win elections and push forth sound policy you have to have something to sell to the people. And it has to be something they want. Good luck telling everyone that in 20 years a monorail will help them so give the government more money to pay for it. It won’t work and you know.

            And you seem to think because I’ve worked on political campaigns I have some type of agenda to spin everything. I live in the real world where to get things done you sell either a person with a positive agenda or a positive policy that works. Your “capacity is way bigger issue than speed via economics” won’t sell. It won’t.

            How will what you are saying help voters today? That is what you need to sell. If not we will continue to have the same problem. Which is nothing gets done. You know that I have posted many things on here about transportation. I’m all for real ideas to fix transportation. I like the idea of inland ports on rail lines to get more trucks off the road that come out of the port. I’ve been critical of the governor for taking down the 400 toll. I think that we should look at the gas tax and ask the question as to is that the best user few solution to fund transportation. I think it is. I think we need to have ideas to sell the people to build support to accomplish things. Whether you like it or not that’s how elections are won and policy is signed into law. Or you can continue to say everything that I say is spin and that I’m some type of evil person because I’ve worked on campaigns. Calling me part of the “political machine” is quite childish and gets you no where in the discussion. Last I check the only way that transportation is going to get funded and a comprehensive plan is going to get passed is if it gets through the political machine. You can help come up with an idea to sell or you can keep talking past people on a political blog like you have been doing for the past decade with not much to show for it.

            • John Konop says:

              ….You can help come up with an idea to sell or you can keep talking past people on a political blog like you have been doing for the past decade with not much to show for it…….

              I did not posting on comments on a blog made me a policy maker….call me stupid thought it was your job to deal with solutions….I get it, busy working on the next reelection campaign…Policy last BS first….next

              • TheEiger says:

                I’m trying to tell you the way to sell your solutions. But I’m evil because I’ve worked to actually get things done. Got it.

      • bsjy says:

        Basic 101 concept you learn in planning school, is you never fix transportation. It is actually the opposite, as transportation becomes more efficient, growth follows it….which drives increased economic activity.

        If you are suggesting that transportation drives growth, I am fairly sure that is not supported by the historical record. There are precious few roads of any kind (roads for trains or roads for wagons) that were built before the builder had evidence of a need for said road. The pattern is typically that through technological innovation and advancement, some enterprising soul proposes a better “road” than what is in current use. Boats were sailing across the East River for 100 years before Mr. Roebling Sr. proposed building a suspension bridge across it. The Interstate highway system followed existing traffic patterns in most cases. Airplane traffic patterns follow train/boat patterns of yesteryear, just with fewer intermediate stops. Even greenfield planned cities like Reston or Peachtree City are extensions/additions to existing centers of activity. Las Vegas is perhaps the exception that proves the rule.

        Planners of transportation systems would be well advised to learn about telecommunications technology for ideas on how to manage congestion. In the telecomm world, packetized transmission is replacing switch-based transmission because the routers are more adaptable than were the old switches. Networks of networks will always work better than one grand network because the problem is too large and too dynamic to be solved by one thinker.

        • John Konop says:

          HUH….We are talking about hwy….you really want to argue that I 75, 285, 575, 85… did not help grow areas? And it did not drive growth in metro Atlanta? Really? What do you think would of happened in Cherokee County without 575? Metro Atlanta without 285?…..You get the if we had not landed the airport deal over Birmingham they would of been metro Atlanta….and we would not be having this debate? We needed infrastructure to support the airport deal as we grew….

        • ahblid says:

          I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you. Transportation most certainly drives growth; both today and in the past.

          One of the most easy to see examples is the NY City Subway. Prior to the subway, the city largely existed south of 14th Street and along the Brooklyn & Queens waterfronts. Upper Manhattan was farmland until the subway was built. The same is true in Queens. The #7 linen for example was built through farmland along much of its route, as shown in the photo at the link below.

          http://forgotten-ny.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/queensblvd.viaduct.1917-614×310.jpg

          Today that same area looks like this:

          http://astoriahistory.smugmug.com/GAHS-Books/Then-and-Now/i-5PMfR7G/1/L/038-101-QueensBlvdFromPackard2000-L.jpg

          Most new light rail lines built within the last 10 years have seen growth along the lines; especially when the lines venture into more rural areas, but even in downtown areas.

    • Jon Richards says:

      Which is why we have the HOT lanes in Gwinnett (and soon to be in Cobb, Cherokee and Henry). As I pointed out, the purpose of the HOT lanes is to try to guarantee trip times to those able to use them. If you have a 95% chance of getting to work in, say, 45 minutes riding a bus vs. a 50% chance riding your car, that’s an incentive to use transit.

      And, being able to get from Doraville to Perimeter Center without having to ride into town and back out saves a lot of time as well. But you need some way (managed lanes, dedicated BRT lane, monorail or light rail) to make the trip faster than riding by car.

      • John Konop says:

        Very good point! Also “HOT LANES” are not the best tool to increase capacity of goods and people….Pushing people toward increasing the amount of people per transportation unit works best.

      • TheEiger says:

        The Gwinnett HOT lanes have not worked as advertised because they actually reduced capacity. The new lanes in Cobb and Cherokee will be adding new lanes and more capacity. That’s a better idea than taking away current capacity.

            • John Konop says:

              The problem is I am just a guy posting my opinion…..not paid like you to fix problems…Call me any name you like, had you listen to me on few issues we would of avoided a few train wrecks in the economy….I get it you are pro BS….could careless about derivatives being backed by tax payers, a real transportation plan over a good sound bite, blowing money on nation building in the middle east over fixing are own infrastructure…..You are a real expert on spinning BS…

              • TheEiger says:

                And we are off the tracks. Focus. This is a transportation post. I can see you still have your underwear in a wad from a post two weeks ago. I also like how you have agreed with me in the past on many things transportation related, but this one post gets you all worked up . Have a good day John……….

                • John Konop says:

                  I do actually think you a smart and have good comments when you are not defending the system…..With that said, the core issue of transportation is very misunderstood on a macro. I am only trying to educate people in my small way…The reason I keep harping on increasing capacity for goods and people over speed and or ever solving the problem is a key issue all should understand. If you did an excellent job fixing a transportation short term problem….than you will see growth increase via capacity increasing…This is all good on an economic level, but you realize you created the problem latter as growth surpasses your transportation fix…..rather ironic the better you do faster you need the next upgrade….similar issue in business via growth in business…I am not naïve that the above is not a good sound bite for an election….but at the end if you do not do it jobs will lag, and you can only spin so much…..That is my very simple point….

                  • TheEiger says:

                    No we are getting somewhere. This has nothing to do with the next election. This has everything to do with putting a solution forward that the voters will support. If that doesn’t happen then the funding solution for our ideas won’t happen. Again, look at TSPLOST. How did the 575-75 hot lanes come into being? It took a lot of work and one of the selling points was that the increased capacity (what you are wanting and talking about) would help with commute times for everyone (what I’m talking about.) This is what I’m talking about. The increased capacity of these lanes is what we need in the long term. (Your idea) To sell it and get the project moving along so that we can have increased capacity in the future it was pointed out the fact that their commute time would be helped by the addition of capacity. (My point) What it the only major transportation project occurring in metro-Atlanta right now? The 575-75 HOT lanes. Why, because it was sold as a solution for today and tomorrow.

                    Now, to the original topic. How is a monorail going to increase capacity in the future and give us something to sell today. If it doesn’t have both it will fail. If the monorail can get a person from Vinings to Dunwoody in half the time of taking 285 then we need to use that to sell the project. If it doesn’t we need to ask why and fix it before it goes to the public. Because they will say no.

                    This is my point. I understand you and others think politics is felled with evil dirty people. It is. There are a few folks that like ideas and selling those ideas to get things good done. We need to sell something positive and that works. For today and for tomorrow.

        • I was under the impression that more people are utilizing the HOT lanes than were using them when they were HOV (which makes sense who is carpooling to Gwinnett, I guess some people were but it’s probably rare that you’d both live close to someone way out there and work at the same place in downtown).

          Am I wrong? Buzz?

          • Jon Richards says:

            Chris, my understanding is that one of the reasons Gwinnett changed from 2 person HOV to 3 person HOT was that so many people were using the HOV lane that there was no advantage in using it — travel times were the same as in the regular lanes.

            I cannot, however, give you exact before and after numbers.

            • Will Durant says:

              Since the $80 million to convert the existing HOV lanes to HOT was federal money the increase to 3+ was blamed on the feds. Gov. Deal’s people tried to back this up to the original HOV requirements to address the original uproar but was declined.

              The HOV lanes were used with impunity regardless of passengers but faced the same issues as they do today sans barriers. In congested areas I would estimate at least half of the vehicles in lane were single passenger prior to the conversion. The lane moves slower than its congestion level would dictate due to the lack of a barrier. It is just that simple. It was before the conversion and is the same now regardless of dashed/solid lines and cameras.

        • Salmo says:

          Assuming all drivers are equal, sure. But that’s not the case. The value of getting to Atlanta faster is much higher for the engineer who has an important 9 AM meeting downtown than it is for the stay-at-home mom who is just taking the kids to Phipps for the day. In that scenario, the HOT lanes work great at determining the actual value of a quick commute.

          Now, that’s not an exact science as the Phipps shopper may be wealthy enough that she has enough money to spend $10 to save 20 minutes on her commute while a worker who incrementally needs the time worse can’t afford the cost, but at least it does a better job of allocating highway space than “you’re all going to sit in traffic”.

          We’d actually be much better from a highway use allocation standpoint if all of I-85 from Suwanee to Atlanta was tolled with variable congestion pricing, but it takes baby steps for something like that to happen.

          • gcp says:

            Purpose of public roadways is to move everyone as efficiently as possible; not to move a select few that want to pay extra to ride in their own lane.

            BTW I would argue the main reason for toll lanes is to justify the continued existence of SRTA.

            • Salmo says:

              So you’re saying the efficiency of moving people and goods around doesn’t include the importance of their goal in moving? A teenager out cruising aimlessly is just as valuable to society (from a transportation investment standpoint) as a CEO headed to a meeting intended to bring a Fortune 500 company to the area?

                • Salmo says:

                  I’m not sure I understand why that would be in the case of the I-85 HOT lanes. There is a cost waiver for traveling in a 3+ vehicle, so there is actually a carpooling incentive at work.

                  How do they encourage more single occupancy vehicles beyond what would be there without the tolls? In theory, if everyone bands together and agrees to carpool that reduces the volume of traffic and lowers commute times, but that’s a theory with a nearly unmeasurable benefit at the individual driver scale. So if I’m sitting there in 2009 making the choice whether or not to carpool down I-85, I know it isn’t going to make one bit of difference in my commute time because I’m only taking, at most, three cars off the road while the other tens of thousands are still out there. That’s no different than it is today.

                  • gcp says:

                    What % of vehicles in toll lane contain one or maybe two occupants? I suspect toll lanes contain a disproportionately high number of such vehicles. Just because some folks are willing to pay does not justify the rest of us giving those folks exclusive rights to a lane?

                    Want to move traffic in a more efficient manner? Eliminate the toll and restrict that lane to truly high occupant (above four person) vehicles. But then again such a move would eliminate the need for srta and actually encourage folks to travel in high occupancy vehicles.

        • Jon Richards says:

          How are you wasting a lane if you can price it such that it holds the maximum number of cars traffic can bear without slowing the speed limit below 50 MPH? If you decrease the number of cars (say by requiring 4 people per vehicle), then you are wasting a portion of that lane’s capacity.

          If you let more cars ride in the lane than optimal, then traffic slows down and becomes no faster than the regular lanes, thereby taking away the benefit of the HOT lane.

          • gcp says:

            ” If you decrease the number of cars (say by requiring 4 people per vehicle), then you are wasting a portion of that lane’s capacity.”

            Are we trying to move more people or are we trying to move more vehicles? I am more interested in moving people rather than moving individual cars.

          • Will Durant says:

            HOT lanes were a creation of the Bush/Cheney administration to make bus lanes palatable to most Republicans. The new lanes being constructed with dedicated entrances and exits along with barriers will not be free to HOV+3 vehicles. Tracking those vehicles that have registered as +3s but are using the lane with less occupants is virtually unenforceable anyway.

            The only way I85 without barriers can assure bus traffic to move at 50+ is to make it buses only so that the violators are easily identified and eradicated. This assures the bus drivers that they aren’t going to have cars darting in front of them from a lane traveling 5 MPH or less. This prevents the migration across all lanes from passenger vehicles entering and exiting the lanes and would help the flow of traffic in the regular lanes.

  6. gcp says:

    Use dedicated bus lanes on 75, 85, 400 using Cobb Transit, Gwinnett Transit, Marta to feed into a 285 monorail; much cheaper than monorail stations everywhere but cost would still be huge.

  7. atlurbanist says:

    The monorail successes cited here — Tokyo, Chongqing, Chennai — all have population densities that are higher than Atlanta’s by many degrees. These are in fact among the most population-dense places in the world.

    This fact conflicts with the idea that suburban Atlanta could stand a good chance at monorail success. For the density of most of metro Atlanta, bus transit is the most reasonable choice given the return on investment in that mode. Any kind of fixed-path system (like rail or BRT) is going to be tricky unless there’s a plan in place for increasing population density near stations.

    Metro Atlanta was able to work with MARTA rail for many years as a park-and-ride system. But after a while, population growth in a sprawling, low-density format reached a certain level that it became difficult to even drive to the rail stations — and job sprawl spread many offices around to places that had no transit. MARTA is, in fact, the only heavy rail system to lose riders in the US in the past few years, though the system’s plans for putting new developments in place of station parking lots holds promise for turning rail ridership numbers around.

    We’ve seen density rise in the suburban counties but not anywhere near a level that makes economic sense for rail, particularly when you consider that new park-and-ride stations in the burbs will put drivers headed to those stations in the same congested roads they’re already experiencing. There are wonderful things happening in the suburban areas, though, with walkable density getting built in places like Woodstock and with new cities looking to develop walkable town centers. After a while, a critical mass of these suburban nodes of population density could make extended rail transit a viable option.

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      BINGO. DING DING DING!

      Heck, go on youtube right now and type in ‘subway cramming’ and you’ll note the staff packing people into the railcars in places like Tokyo or Beijing. I don’t mean, ‘oh crap, I have to stand up.’ It’s more like, ‘I’m suffocating.’:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0A9-oUoMug

      That’s not a scene you see on MARTA:

      This monorail thing just seems to be for folks who have some sort of train-fetish. I mean, the ‘Monorail Society’? There’s a whole society? I smell wasted money.

  8. androidguybill says:

    This thing always breaks down into two camps.

    1. Suburban conservatives want more suburban highways because it:
    A) allows them to avoid downtown as much as possible
    B) redirects economic growth, population growth and the political clout that comes with both away from downtown to the suburbs
    C) avoids giving people who do not have cars easy access to where they live

    2. Urban liberals want more transit because it:
    A) helps low income workers (as well as the elderly and disabled) to go back and forth between downtown and the suburbs as they need/want
    B) draws more economic development and workers away from the suburbs and towards downtown

    Basically, neither group has the political clout or the economic clout to achieve their desires on their own. And neither group wants to see their tax dollars go towards A) projects that they will not use or B) the competition, which for ideological reasons is often less than friendly.

    Somehow, some leader or group has to resolve this decades-long impasse by getting each group to see the benefits of transcending their parochial interests and instead actually behave in a regional or statewide interest. Get the folks in Cobb, Cherokee and Gwinnett to acknowledge that they will benefit from more jobs and workers locating in Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton as a result of increased transit. Get the folks in Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton to acknowledge that more highways will also help the the suburban areas attract jobs and workers. Instead of a “how does this benefit me” approach, the case needs to be made that helping both the suburban and urban areas grow will help the metro area and the whole state. Folks who are opposed will basically be forced to admit their real gripe: the “I am not sending a penny of my tax dollars to that area until they start electing leaders that I approve of” thing. Once that is out in the open, then it can be appropriately, summarily ignored.

    The real issue isn’t about the type of highway project, because they are many. It isn’t about the type of transit project, because there are lots. It isn’t even about revenue, because this state has plenty. It is about one guy not being willing to contribute to the other guy’s success, and is truthfully hoping that the other guy fails so that in some way it will validate their own point of view. The best example of this: the same people who think that Cobb County paying hundreds of millions of dollars for a Braves stadium is a great idea believe that Atlanta doing the same for a Falcons stadium is a classic case of government corruption and vice versa. Each side predicts that the other is a boondoggle that will fail in every way except for lining some politician’s pocket. That’s the same reason why the transit debate never goes anywhere. As a matter of fact, the reason why there was unified support for SHEP is because the port is in Savannah and not metro Atlanta! Had the port been ITP, the suburbanites would have been dead set against it, especially considering that an Obama signature on the bill would have been necessary to make it happen. And had the port been in Cobb or Gwinnett, the ITP crowd would have been dead set against it, using its longtime advocacy by (Republican) Kingston as evidence of some nefarious plot. But since it was not located in metro Atlanta, no one had any problem with lots of taxpayer money going to a project that they will never personally benefit from in any direct tangible way.

    Now that he has secured re-election, I would hope that Governor Deal would be enough of a statesman to promote the idea that more highways and more transit is a win-win and Georgians should all work together and help each other succeed rather than each side watching and hoping for the other to fail. The T-SPLOST, flawed as it was, was his shot to do so and he whiffed. Maybe the transportation funding debate will give him another chance, but it looks like he would rather just have the legislature approve the funding and then kick the ball over to GDOT (which he can influence behind the scenes) to approve both transit and highway projects as a method of political cover. Cagle acknowledging that transit was part of the picture was a small step in the right direction, but at some point we need Deal and Cagle on one side and Reed and Abrams on the other advocating transit as the key for strong economic growth for BOTH the suburban and urban areas in order to get things moving.

  9. Progressive Dem says:

    “One key advantage of a monorail system in Atlanta is that it planners would simply build on top of the existing highway system along the center of expressways, eliminating the need for any additional land acquisition.”

    I guess there is no need for stations, parking lots or new bridges to span the interstates.

  10. gt7348b says:

    Ok – to inject a couple of practical realities into this discussion as some have tried:

    * There will need to be ROW no matter whether you use existing freeways or arterials because you need ROW for station entrances/exits, parking lots, bus loading areas etc. Additionally, many of Atlanta’s freeways are already in non-compliance with FHWA lane width requirements and therefore adding piers will reduce lane widths further requiring more ROW (for example, look at the left shoulders on I-85 north of I-285)
    * In the United States, there are three urban monorails – in Seattle, Vegas and Jacksonville. Vegas has been through bankruptcy and Jacksonville is free and subsidized by the local transit authority. To reasonably think a monorail will cover both operational and capital costs is just not realistic in the United States. Possibly operating costs if it was a driverless system
    * Who would operate the system? Atlanta’s planners and engineers have recognized the gap between Cumberland and Perimeter along the top end for years, but it is a political issue of who will operate not that the need and demand is not recognized. It was the genesis behind the Transit Planning Board (now the Regional Transit Committee of ARC) – recognizing that the problem is more political and operational would go a long way. I mean, GRTA could start bus service soon between the two areas, but they’ve decided to be a commuter peak hour only operation serving government workers. Since the governor controls GRTA’s board, one of the easiest ways to test demand is have GRTA operate the service for a few years.

    Ok – enough of my random rant.

    • ahblid says:

      Yes, there are 3 monorails in the US. And one of them, Seattle’s does make make an operating profit every year. Many years, it even manages to cover its capital costs.

      The problem with Las Vegas is two-fold. One, the taxi drivers prevented it from going to the airport which would have dramatically increased ridership. Two, instead of stopping in the front of all the casinos where people would actually see it, it stops in the back of all the casinos.

      Despite all of that, it too manages to cover its operating costs. The bankruptcy was caused by it failure to cover its capital costs.

      Only Jacksonville has failed to cover either operating or capital costs. And their biggest problem is that the line is simply too short and doesn’t really go to enough useful places. They also haven’t been charging fares for the last two years, which is why it’s not covering any costs. Fare collection was suspended pending the installation of a new fare collection system.

      • Will Durant says:

        The lack of ROW for even installing the supports for a single monorail is a valid point. I85’s HOT lanes, I285’s left lanes on the northern arc, and I20’s left lanes ITP are just a few of the places that come to mind where drivers contend with storm drains that almost touch the white lines.

        BRT may not be as sexy as a monorail but is much more practical.

        • ahblid says:

          BRT might be more practical due to lack of space on some highways and the presence of HOT or HOV lanes. But it most certainly isn’t more practical when it comes to costs.

          While buses often have lower start up costs than rail/monorail, buses generally cost more to operate. Throw in the fact that on average in the US bus riders cover only 27.9% of their operating costs via the fare box vs. the fact that in two cases monorail riders cover 100% of their operating costs and some capital costs, and the monorail is more practical from the point of view of the taxpayers.

            • ahblid says:

              BRT is still based upon a bus, which is why it is called Bus Rapid Transit. Because it still uses a bus to move people. The difference between true BRT and a bus is BRT has a dedicated lane or private ROW, off the bus payment of fares, and limited stops. We have many so-called BRT lines that don’t meet those standards.

              But BRT is still a bus, and bus riders still have one of the lowest fare box recovery rates. In fact, I was actually being generous by including all buses with my earlier percentage. BRT riders specifically only cover 17% of their operating costs via the fare box.

              • Will Durant says:

                You find nothing incongruous with your statement that “We have many so-called BRT lines that don’t meet those standards.” Then stating that “BRT riders specifically only cover 17% of their operating costs via the fare box.” There is no incentive to ride BRT if it doesn’t meet the standards of dedicated lane, platformed stations and stops only at stations just like trains. The only difference is the engine.

                Operating costs aside. How long before a monorail recovers the construction costs upward of $100 million per mile. And face it, we can’t add a lane to existing roadway less than the $10 million per mile stated in the article for the dreamed up low-end pricing of a monorail. Putting a monorail down the middle of any of our urban highways and the majority of the close-in suburban ones would still involve digging up the left-most lanes for the footings alone. To think that monorail can just be added without adding significant ROW is a pipe dream.

                • ahblid says:

                  Will,

                  No, there is nothing incongruous with that statement. Remember, regular buses have a better fare box recovery than does BRT. So it’s not like semi-BRT is pulling down true BRT. If anything, semi might actually be helping true BRT to look better. And even semi-BRT still tends to be faster than a regular bus, so the incentive to ride it is there.

                  Next, I already conceded the fact that adding a monorail ROW wouldn’t be easy in places.

                  As for capital costs; 1) again the Vegas & Seattle Monorails do cover at least some of their capital costs, even if they don’t cover everything. No BRT system covers any capital costs. Second, those costs for adding a lane to the highway are low. Seattle got written up several years back by Taxpayers for Common Sense because of its plan to add 1 lane in each direction to I-405 over a distance of 30 miles. The cost per mile at that time was estimated to be $366.6 Million per mile or $183.3M per lane mile. The best part of the write up was the fact that it was expected to have little to NO impact on congestion.

                  They’re still building it; so we don’t know the true cost yet; but they are about to go over-budget if they haven’t already.

                  California got written up in the same report for their plan to extend the 710 Freeway which was estimated to cost $311M per mile or $51.8M per lane mile. That was more per mile than the Los Angeles subway cost and even if the highway had run at maximum capacity 24/7 it still would have moved fewer people than the subway. And that cost was without a tunnel that many wanted or they would oppose the highway. It never got built.

                  And then there was the Inter County Connector (ICC) in MD which was estimated at $177M per mile or $44.25M per lane mile.

                  Finally there was of course the infamous Big Dig.

                  I grant that these are some of the more extreme sampling’s, but building highways and even adding lanes in urban areas is often more expensive than the numbers provided above; and sometimes far more expensive.

                  • benevolus says:

                    What would be the reason “it was expected to have little to NO impact on congestion.”? It seems self-evident that adding a lane would relieve some congestion, unless you build it in the wrong place.

                    I’m not advocating more lanes, just curious.

                    • ahblid says:

                      benevolus,

                      Actually there have been several studies that show increasing lane capacity initially only moves congestion to a point further down the highway. And after a few years, more people simply start driving because of the increased capacity and congestion returns.

                      So for a brief period of time, congestion is reduced. But it doesn’t last.

                      However, in the case with Seattle, I think that the real problem is simply the fact that the project is taking so long and the population in the area is exploding rapidly. That report from Taxpayers for Common Sense was released back in 2004 when the project was still in the development stage. To my knowledge, they’re still not finished with the expansion now 10 years later.

  11. ArtfulDodger says:

    Many good point have been brought up. Running rail in the road ROW has been ruled out because of things such GT72458b brought up. We need to get out of the “we don’t have enough density” mindset because the rail will drive density to the rail lines as it is already doing. The population is still growing and the metro area has reached the point where widening roads is no longer a solution due to a phenomenon called induced demand where the excess capacity draws traffic until the road is congested gain which happens in a fairly short period of time. Plans have already been created for where rail makes sense as well as BRT. The big issue is are we willing to pay the cost to create alternatives to driving to alleviate or at least help us avoid making congestion worse as our population grows. Moving people farther out is not a solution due to the cost of providing infrastructure to the exurbs. In fact it is cheaper to provide infrastructure in high density areas than suburbs and exurbs. The question here is do we want to have government provide infrastructure as cost effectively as it can or do we want to pay higher taxes for inefficient provision of infrastructure.

  12. blakeage80 says:

    Since I’m still officially in Christmas vacation mode, I have only this question: Does the Monorail Society have secret initiation rites?

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