see the water crisis, or the city's many non-functioning traffic lights) it certainly seems odd to be spending tens of millions of dollars on a short new streetcar line. But while Jim Epstein's Reason article asking "Is Detroit's New Light Rail Line America's Greatest Boondoggle?" raises many good points about the project, the sad reality is that it's not even close to being the most egregious boondoggle going. The current fad for streetcar construction is actually bequeathing quite a large number of terrible projects to the country. And the very worst of these — like Washington, DC's maybe-opening-soon streetcar line — aren't just expensive, they actually make mass transit worse. And bad transit helps trap poor people in poverty.
The original sin of every bad streetcar program is this: it doesn't have a dedicated lane.
Without a dedicated lane, a streetcar can't really run much faster
than a bus under ideal conditions. And since unlike a bus, a streetcar
can't shift out of its lane to avoid an obstacle, in real-world
circumstances it's likely to move slower than a bus. There are some
objectives related to real estate development and tourism that this kind of project can serve, but they're nearly useless in terms of transportation.
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