Friday, June 19, 2009

On-street rail: a century-old non-problem

In reading the background papers for the LRT Technology Forum tomorrow morning, much ado is made about segregated corridors. That is to say, if you don't put rail in a tunnel or up in the air, you need to put up fences to keep pedestrians from crossing the line, or else chaos will result.

So it's interesting that I came upon a video of Vancouver Streetcar traffic in 1907, which clearly shows pedestrians, cyclists and horse-drawn carriages crossing the streetcar tracks with no difficulty or conflict. (Nor, I might add, signals to tell them when and where to cross)

If they put light rail along the Western Parkway (emphasis on "if"), would tracks with a train passing promptly every 30 or 60 seconds really be as dangerous to cross as, say, the four lanes of constant car and bus traffic already there?

Why don't we have fences along, say, Carling?

Yet another bias in our car-based culture. Cars and buses are safe because they're normal, trains are dangerous because we're not used to them.

- RG>


David McClelland said...

Part of this may come from the fact that in the case of many urban rail systems, the track itself is dangerous due to the electrified third rail. Additionally, the stopping distance for a train traveling 80 km/h is significantly longer than for a car moving at the same speed. People can safely cross streetcar tracks because streetcars are small, move slowly, and all the electricity is carried in overhead wires.

It is true that we live in a car culture, but there are good, solid reasons for fencing off light rail.

Lynn said...

Hey RealGrouchy, just wanted to let you know I've posted a bio of you over at the Blog Out Loud site:

Let me know if there are any errors, or anything you'd like added or removed.

RealGrouchy said...

@David: Good point, although we could very likely get overhead catenary as our power system, allowing us to plant grass in the boulevards where rail goes, as is done in many European cities.

@Lynn: Thanks for the kind words, although I think Larry O'Brien's head spins just fine in his own little world. He could probably use to tighten a few screws.

- RG>