The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Saturday, August 24, 2002


From the Cabalmaster:

In this episode, we summarize (and critique) two articles:

"Monorail Development and Application in Japan," bu Shinya Kikuchi and Akira Onaka. Journal of Advanced Transportation, Vol. 22, No. 1, spring 1988, and:

"Development of Advanced Technology Transit Modes in Japan," by Shinya Kikuchi and Katsutoshi Ohta. Journal of Advanced Transportation, Vol. 23, No. 2&3, fall/winter 1989.

The fact that monorail as a mode has inherent disadvantages may come as news to some. (See: See also: See also: See also:

As outlined by Kikuchi and Ohta, the major disadvantage of monorail compared to light rail (LRT) is its inability to operate in a network. "Thus, system expansion and future integration with other monorail lines to form a network with vehicles traveling from one line to another cannot be expected."

Another disadvantage: If a monorail is built underground or in a tunnel, the required vertical clearance is at least 18.4 feet, compared to 10.5 feet for LRT (Kikuchi and Onaka).

Kikuchi and Ohta cite several "constraints unique to Japan" which tend to favor new modes over conventional rail: limited availability and high price of urban land, the funding mechanism for construction of transit systems, political considerations and a tendency to seek novelty in transit technology, and the (previous) administration of transport planning [prior to consolidation of the Construction and Transport ministries].

---The high price of urban land in Japan and its extreme scarcity, according to Kikuchi and Ohta, make it "almost prohibitive" to build a new rail line at at ground level.

[We are advised that Japanese law makes no provision for eminent domain or "condemnation." In addition, it is very difficult to convert agricultural land for residential use. A few "new-town" developments in the largest metropolitan areas have land reserved for future rail lines, but this is not the typical practice elsewhere.]

---Road construction funds have been available since 1972 for transit guideway construction, provided that the guideway is constructed above the road. Kikuchi and Ohta write, "This is based on the concept that the transit system is part of the road and helps allieviate the traffic congestion on the roadway, and thus, encourages the utilization of transit to complement the people carrying capacity of the corridor." This has encouraged construction of monorail and AGT lines along roadways, particularly when these roads are widened and improved. However, no large-scale funding for surface bus and streetcar systems existed at the central government level. This tended to encourage introduction of new technology rather than upgrading of existing systems.

-- Regarding political considerations, Kikuchi and Ohta write, "Novelty and symbolism play an important part of the decision process. This tendency is particularly manifested in Japan."

[However, Kikuchi and Ohta provide no examples. It is one thing to claim, for example, that "novelty and symbolism" influenced the choice for monorail in Kitakyushu, Chiba and Naha. It is quite another thing to describe what could have, or should have, been built instead of monorail. Kikuchi and Ohta do not do this.]

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