Summing up my views on transitI've caught a little flak recently for a string of posts that were a tad hard on transit. Sorry if I offended some of my readers. Sometimes my posts are less thoughtful and balanced than I'd like them to be - just depends on my mood and time crunch when I'm posting.
To clarify, I'm a supporter of transit done in a thoughtful and cost-effective way (rather than a blind "We have to be like New York!" model), which, for the most part, Metro seems to do - especially when compared to a lot of other transit agencies in this country, which can be managed very badly indeed.
I've always supported the Main St. line. I think the core LRT network is pretty good too - esp. the Universities line. I'm not sure the projected ridership on the other lines justifies LRT over BRT, but I'll give Metro the benefit of the doubt since they're far more familiar with what the Feds will and won't pay for.
As most of my readers know, my biggest objection is favoring a downtown-centric commuter rail network over an express lane bus network that can serve all of our polycentric job centers at higher speed with no transfers and shorter trip times while getting people closer to their final destination buildings. Senior Metro people have told me that the costs of building commuter rail require concentrating as much ridership as possible, which means killing "competing" express bus services even if they are more direct and faster. That would be a huge mistake for this city.
As far as road vs. rail comparative costs, the Katy Freeway is very expensive, but when you amortize out that cost over the massive numbers of people it will move over its lifetime, it's not that bad on a per-passenger-mile served basis. The HOT lanes will always offer the option of a fast trip (including for transit) - no matter how much congestion re-builds after it's complete.
As far a other world-class mega-cities: NYC, London, Paris, etc. are all artifacts of their history - huge, dense concentrations of people and jobs packed in a core during the walking age, and rail was the first technology that let people move out of the tenements and into the burbs, while keeping the jobs concentrated in the core. In cities built in the car age (think of the U.S. Sunbelt), the jobs disperse instead of concentrating in a single downtown, making commuter rail inappropriate.
In the bigger picture, I think the vast majority of America will not give up the comfort, speed, and convenience of personal vehicles to go back to transit. The vehicles themselves certainly may change - smaller, more fuel efficient, or even using alternative and cleaner fuels - but the personal vehicle is a core part of our lives that will not be going away no matter what gas prices do or carbon limits get enacted. Even the nature of our economy is shifting against transit, as far fewer people work 9 to 5 in one office with lunch at their desk. People have unpredictable schedules, telecommute more, and spend more time going to and from meetings with others not inside their building - not to mention chaining together all sorts of errand trips. Our core LRT network will make that somewhat feasible for some people who use commuter transit, but it still won't fit with the majority of peoples' lives.
I won't argue that transit isn't part of the solution - it absolutely is - but I do object to people who believe we can just lay down a lot of rail, build a few transit-oriented developments, stop expanding road capacity, and still be a healthy growing city. That's just not realistic - as LA, Atlanta, and even to some extent Dallas are discovering the hard way.