Southwest LRT: Four Paragraphs Worth Pondering

The following item is an excerpt from an article by Jeremy Mendelson that was posted in its entirety on Park Watch earlier.  As more information about SWLRT becomes available, this excerpt is worth reviewing.

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch


Now is a perfect time to step back and ask ourselves why we’re building light rail in the first place. I love trains more than most people (call me a railfan if you like), but it seems to me that we got caught up in the idea of building a rail network for the sake of building a rail network.

Instead, we can make it easier to get around by thinking critically and following these basic steps:
1. Review the current system to ensure it is running as smoothly as possible.
2. Identify deficiencies in the transit network (general and specific routes/locations).
3. Develop short- and long-term plans to address these deficiencies (improve service).

A good plan strikes a balance between large expensive projects and much smaller improvements spread over a large area. Los Angeles Metro: is using a hybrid strategy of building new rapid transit lines at the same time as it makes incremental improvements to speed up its high-frequency Metro Rapid bus routes:

When you undertake a comprehensive service analysis you can understand the trade-offs involved in various potential projects. The opportunity cost of building Southwest Light Rail is whatever other improvements could have been made but cannot happen if all the money is spent on one megaproject. For example, the $1.5 billion dollar SW LRT budget could buy us 3,000 hybrid buses (more than we can dream of), 25,000 heated shelters (enough for three per stop), free fares for 2 years (!!), or 15 million hours of service (about 6.5 times what Metro Transit currently operates). Right now the entire annual budget for all Metro Transit service is only $310 million:

To be fair, this is not an honest question in our current situation because funding decisions are not made this way and non-rail options were never part of the studies. But if you were in charge, which plan would you choose?

Good long-range transit planning is about identifying significant mobility problems and setting priorities for improvements, so that when money becomes available you are ready to move forward.  The current plan for Southwest Light Rail does not even attempt to solve any actual mobility challenges and therefore is a solution in search of a problem.

Note: The original article was published at