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Revisiting ‘The Amazing Race:’ LRT versus car

Courtesy of Metro Transit/Drew Kerr
LRT travel allows for time-saving multi-tasking that is simply not available when I’m driving my car.

I’m not an unquestioning LRT lackey.  Some questions about LRT strike me as very fair.

For instance, could we have a better overall transit system if we invested the same amount of public money – billions of dollars — in buses, vans, taxis and bus rapid transit instead of trains? Given how sprawled our metro area has become, would an expanded web of bus routes be a better way to serve the region’s far flung citizens than a few mega-expensive fixed rail transit lines?

Those are fair questions that I think the ardent trainophiles are too quick to dismiss.  And just because I ask them doesn’t make me a shallow-thinking Joe Soucheray parrot.

But other questions about LRT strike me as completely unfair. For instance, some are now asserting that LRT is clearly inferior to cars on the grounds that LRT travel wastes more time. The Star Tribune fueled some of these claims when it conducted an interesting “Amazing Race” feature that tested the amount of time it took various modes to travel the length of the Green Line route. The Star Tribune’s Amazing Race feature found that:

  • A car took 26 minutes
  • A bike took 31 minutes
  • The LRT took 42 minutes
  • The bus took 59 minutes

Interesting, but is a car ride really saving more time than train ride?

A car may get me from downtown-to-downtown faster than the train. But on days when I have reading, talking and writing that need to be done as soon as possible, which is pretty much every work day, I can’t safely accomplish those things while driving a car.  But I can accomplish those things while riding the train. Therefore, LRT travel allows for time-saving multi-tasking that is simply not available when I’m driving my car.

Of course, time saving is just one factor travelers and leaders have to weigh. The LRT has  advantages associated with the environment, encouraging development density, and reducing parking costs. Cars have enormous advantages in terms of route flexibility, which is a very big deal to people with unpredictable work and professional lives, and those who live far from our two LRT lines.

But when it comes to saving time, the LRT is the real winner of the Amazing Race, at least for those who live close to the two LRT lines.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Adam Moore on 06/19/2014 - 09:48 am.

    Does the time comparisons include time spent parking the car and then walking to the destination from the parking space? The real advantage of bikes, buses, and trains is that you don’t have to spend time or money to park them. The City of Chicago often holds such a race between bikes and cars (with police stationed along the route to insure fairness at intersections) and always found that car got close the destination first, however, the cyclist was always in the building first due to parking .

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/19/2014 - 10:51 am.

      The whole comparison is bogus

      because it assumes your destination is on or very near the train line. What if it isn’t? How about if we race to Williamson on the U’s campus? Or to Midway stadium? Bikes, cars and even a re-routed bus could enter that race. LRT? Not so much.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/19/2014 - 11:10 am.

      The race

      Supposedly the race ended when the racers touched the handle on the front door. However the biker protested that the car driver never touched the handle so maybe your parking question deserves some investigation. I’ll tell ya one thing, parking downtowns cost more than a months worth of transit on a bus, train, or bike. The car is clearly the most expensive route.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 06/19/2014 - 02:00 pm.

    door to door

    The race that matters is door to door, from starting to finishing location. Even then, such a race merely informs the individual about a generic scenario. For the author, above, the ability to do work on the train makes it more appealing. For me, the trains don’t go where I go, so they’re not very useful. But if I ride my bike I get exercise while commuting to work instead of getting irritated with traffic. That’s easy math so I bike more than I drive.

  3. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 06/19/2014 - 02:16 pm.

    Try again in winter!

    If you missed it: A former driver of Mpls-St. Paul route buses had a small letter in the Strib this morning in which he pointed out that the paper’s “race” was in summer weather. In winter — with snow and darkness — I-94 between the downtowns can take 60 to 75 minutes during its busy periods, he said.

    Judging by what I’ve experienced when leaving St. Paul for Minneapolis around 4 p.m. even in daylight on dry pavement, I think his estimate for winter may be too optimistic.

  4. Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 06/19/2014 - 02:34 pm.

    Health Benefits

    Wonder if anyone’s done a study on the health benefits of not having to fight rush hour morning traffic. I can’t be the only one whose blood pressure seems a few points higher from having to fight the daily deluge of dumb drivers.

    I myself, am of course a perfect and courteous driver at all times.

    But seriously, I show up to work in a much worse mood after dealing with traffic for half an hour. This comment section is a great example of why we need multi-modal transit and transparent subsidies/funding mechanisms for each. Then everyone can make decisions based on their own preferences, destinations, finances, and road rage problems.

  5. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 06/19/2014 - 08:23 pm.

    Really the time aspect is probably the least important…

    ….its about choice, we should be able to choose our transit options. (This is America, what are we if we don’t have the freedom to choose?) Its about convenience, yes Dennis convenience. Trains are easy, you get on, your ride and you get off. No worries about getting on the wrong bus or not making a connection, trains run a fixed route and so are very easy to figure out. Environmentally its a great choice and on a snow day they will not doubt be the fastest option. Let’s have the Strib do their amazing race in a blizzard. The biker may get there the same day. The car? At least double time, more likely triple and don’t get me started on the stress of driving downtown in a blizzard. The bus will show up at some point, but don’t count on it being the one you were expecting and triple that time as well. The Train? The only thing that’ll slow it down will be the fools in their cars stuck on the track.

    Finally, stadium proponents are always talking about world class cities having big sport venues, so list a few world class cities that don’t have rail transit sports fans.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/20/2014 - 08:40 am.

    Henk is right

    I’m not sure how the “speed” of transit got to be such a priority all of the sudden over safety, cost, and different comfort priorities? I mean obviously you don’t want transit to be god awful slow, but this business of measuring the speed from one end of a line to the other is kind of odd since very few people take such a ride on any given line.

    I was surprised to see how well the bicycle did in this race however, I would have guessed it would have come in third behind the car and the train, especially on that route. But the main thing is the train was faster than the bus it’s largely replacing showing us that just re-jiggering bus routes won’t get us to where we need to be with our transit system.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/23/2014 - 10:33 am.

    An earlier “great race”

    KSTP–that broadcast hater of all things Minneapolis–did a comparison a couple of years ago, to see if it was faster to drive to downtown Minneapolis, or to take the train there. The times for a trip to Hennepin County Government Center were about equal, but the train passenger was at his destination while the driver still had to park and walk there. Whoever was anchoring that night’s broadcast noted (a bit ruefully, it seemed) that they tried the same experiment on a rush-hour commute out of the city and the train won by a handy margin.

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