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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Thursday, February 19, 2004

It's The Rush Hour, Stupid!

Home of More Transit Links Than You can Possibly Check(tm), Unless you have no life other than websurfing

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity: and I'm not so sure about the universe. Einstein

From the Cabalmaster:

Just when we thought it was safe to turn the computers back on . . . we did yet another search on yet another unrelated topic, and up popped yet another example of asininity from Wendell Cox's online "Urban Transport Fact Book."

This particular "Wendellpage" is titled Comparing Roads to Rail, was written by Jack Mallinckrodt and is dated November 19, 1999 (

Mallinckrodt, a retired radio science engineer (and candidate SAPTM laureate) is webmaster for a pro-road, anti-transit website titled "ARISTOTLE on Urban Transportation Issues" (; "About WEBMASTER" page is here

Mallinckrodt's opening salvo (. . . he has extensive experience in military operations research . . . get it ? . . . get it ?? You HAVE a sense of humour, do you not?!) reads as follows:

"Light rail advocates often compare a freeway to a rail track, claiming that a rail track can carry more traffic at less cost in less space than a freeway. This is wrong in general, and true only if one compares the most heavily patronized heavy rail system (New York City) with a least utilized freeway."

Doesn't he wish.

To paraphrase a slogan from a political campaign of the early 1990s:


Comparing 24/7 freeway traffic to transit traffic is like comparing 24/7 business at an all-night donut shop with that at a tres grande luxe restaurant open only for dinner. Yes, both serve food, but the comparison ends there.

If urban travel were distributed evenly around the clock, most cities would probably not need rail transit. But it isn't, so they do.

In terms of people per hour--which is how rush hour traffic is measured--MOST U.S. rail lines outperform freeway lanes.

At "Level of Service D",--the highway engineer's description of traffic flow conditions just before "stop and go" sets in, the maximum vehicle flow recorded in U.S. cities ranges from 1,800 to 2,200 per hour. This works out to a maximum of about 2,500 people per hour per lane, given typical motor vehicle occupancies of 1.1 to 1.2 during peak hours. Many U.S. and Canadian rail systems, far away from New York City, carry 2,500 people per hour or more during the rush hour.

In Portland, light rail trains move half as many people during the morning peak as the parallel I-84 freeway. In other words, the Banfield corridor carries 50 percent more rush-hour traffic than it could without the light rail line.

Outside of New York, the heavyweight champ among U.S. rail systems is San Francisco's BART, which carries as many people as an eight-lane freeway during rush hours.

In Portland, it would have cost more than twice as much to expand the freeway as it did to build the rail line. In San Francisco, the cost of providing the highway capacity necessary without BART would be unthinkable.

And so, the next time you hear Wendell or one of his minions arguing that freeways carry more people than rail transit, you might want to ask the following:


(Yeah, we admit, the "stupid" was a bit crass, but that?s why you like our blog, isn't it? C'mon, admit it . . .)

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