Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact: Does light rail reduce congestion?

The statement

"Light rail does not reduce congestion."

No Tax For Tracks, in a website post at RailTaxFacts.com

The ruling

Critics of the Greenlight Pinellas mass transit initiative are attacking the plan at full speed by questioning the effectiveness of the proposal's light rail line.

We wondered if the idea of reduced congestion was a dependable guidepost, or if we're all being taken for a ride.

Light rail is generally considered to be a rail line that either shares space with roads or is a separate, above-ground commuter line, as opposed to a subway or elevated train. Greenlight Pinellas plans a 24-mile light rail route from St. Petersburg to Clearwater projected to cost $2 billion over a decade. With 16 stations to provide a 57-minute total trip time, it's slated to be operational within 10 years and serve as an anchor for future transit additions. Greenlight also has plans for bus rapid transit and expanded service.

One of the group's supporting links goes to a post from the Atlantic suggesting light rail's effects on congestion are debatable. The other piece of evidence is an April 2014 analysis by David McKalip, a St. Petersburg neurosurgeon and No Tax For Tracks supporter, concluding light rail actually increases congestion.

McKalip writes about how, despite extensive rail investment in Portland, Ore., the city saw more people in cars and higher traffic volumes in the subsequent years. He also cites another Atlantic post discussing a study of four British cities that showed light rail didn't get people out of their cars, but did take them off buses.

"I have yet to find any science ever that says congestion goes down," McKalip told PolitiFact Florida. "Experts say, 'Do not make that assertion.' "

McKalip followed up his post with another saying car travel times in the Tampa Bay area are routinely faster than in cities with rail and there is no concrete evidence of a relationship between congestion reduction and light rail.

Many transit experts don't agree with that conclusion.

Todd Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Canada, said, "Traffic congestion and economic impacts vary considerably depending on specific circumstances and how the impacts are measured."

He said that a transit system with sufficient demand and adequate supporting policies can indeed reduce congestion. He cited several studies that showed congestion increased at a higher rate in areas without light rail.

One showed that in Denver, there was a 31 percent increase in vehicle traffic in light rail corridors, as opposed to 41 percent elsewhere. Another said Baltimore's congestion increase dropped from 2.8 percent to 1.5 percent annually after building light rail. One Los Angeles study said people who lived within a half-mile of one light rail line in the city traveled an average of 10 to 12 miles less by car per day. Another said that Utah's TRAX system dropped the estimated number of vehicles on the studied corridor from 44,000 to 22,300 per day.

The PSTA told PolitiFact Florida that reducing future congestion is the guideline Greenlight Pinellas is addressing.

On balance, we rate the statement Half True.

Joshua Gillin, Times staff writer

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

PolitiFact: Does light rail reduce congestion? 07/18/14 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2014 7:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Deputies find 24 dogs, 2 birds, 2 cats, 1 child in Hernando home

    Public Safety

    SPRING HILL —A woman was arrested Monday on charges of animal cruelty after deputies said they found injured animals at her Spring Hill home.

  2. New Graham-Cassidy health care plan stumbles under opposition from governors

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — The suddenly resurgent Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act was dealt a blow on Tuesday when a bipartisan group of governors came out against a proposal gaining steam in the Senate.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined by, from left, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks to reporters as he pushes a last-ditch effort to uproot former President Barack Obama's health care law, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. To win, 50 of the 52 GOP senators must back it -- a margin they failed to reach when the chamber rejected the effort in July. [/J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press]
  3. Joe Maddon on being back at Trop, Cash, a new stadium

    Blogs

    More to come later, but a couple of quick early highlights from former Rays manager Joe Maddon's return to the Trop with the Cubs:

    Joe Maddon, right, speaks with Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey before Tuesday's game at Tropicana Field.
  4. Former Lightning forward Brian Boyle diagnosed with cancer, expects to keep playing

    Lightning Strikes

    New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle has been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone-marrow cancer that the team's doctor said can largely be treated with medication.

    Brian Boyle has been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone-marrow cancer that the team's doctor says can be treated with medication, the Devils announced Tuesday. [AP photo]
  5. Editorial: Genshaft right to oust USF St. Petersburg leader

    Editorials

    In times of crisis, leaders cannot abandon ship and be unclear about their whereabouts. That is essentially what the leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg did with Hurricane Irma headed this way. Sophia Wisniewska's actions fell short of what should be expected from an experienced administrator …

    Sophia Wisniewska’s actions fell short of what should be expected from an experienced administrator responsible for the safety of her students and the security of her campus, and the move by USF president Judy Genshaft, above, to fire her was appropriate.