Friday, March 30, 2012

Subway, Light Rail or TM for La Septima?

Old Tranvia rails on Seventh Ave. by Jimenez Ave. Will a new train run along this avenue?

It's the endless debate: Subway, Light Rail or more TransMilenio, particularly along Seventh Ave.

Seventh Ave. is chaotic, polluted and congested. It functions poorly and is an embarrasment for Bogotá - After all, this is the city's most emblematic and historical avenue, passing by Plaza Bolivar, the presidential palace, various parks, museums and the bullfighting plaza.

Mayoral administrations have cycled thru plans for a subway, a full TransMilenio line, Samuel Moreno's idea for a 'TransMilenio Light' because of the avenue's narrowness and now light rail.
One of Bogotá's old streetcars, in the Gaitan museum
in Teusaquillo. The system was destroyed
during the riots which followed Gaitan's assassination.  

Petro's light rail line would extend from the 20 de Julio neighborhood in the south up to near 200th St. in north Bogotá.

In terms of simple economics and rapidity of construction, some sort of TransMilenio line - with all its problems - is probably the best solution. A TransMilenio line can carry about as many passengers as light rail, is faster to build and has the added benefit of merging into the existing TransMilenio network, eliminating the need for transferring between modes.

Seventh Ave.'s future? Light rail in Hong Kong.
(Photo from Trek Earth)
A light rail line costs somewhat more than TransMilenio to build, but would have lower maintenance costs. Light rail also doesn't pollute the air. Light rail would also have the advantages of adding a panache and a sophistication to central Bogotá, which would give a boost to the city's image.

Any sort of rail also has the important advantage of attracting many more of the high-income riders who feel that getting on a bus is beneath them. This is particularly important for Seventh Ave. with its wealthy neighborhoods and expensive hotels nearby.

Light rail also has the advantage of being lots faster to build than a subway - a key factor for Petro, who believes that he could get the line done during his mayorship. (And then maybe run for president on the accomplishment.)

Dead end? Work on the Museo Nacional TM station
on Ave. Septima. Will riders continue
north on TM, subway or light rail? 
But Bogotá has done no studies for light rail, meaning that it would have to start at square one. And, a light rail line would require passengers to get off and wait and then transfer to a subway or a bus.

Finally, a subway line could carry many more passengers than the alternatives, but would take far longer to build - most likely decades - cost lots more and mean lots more urban trauma during construction. Also, an underground subway would do little to improve the chaos and traffic jams on Seventh Ave.

Finally, concentrating on a subway would guarantee Bogotá another decade or so without major transit improvements, since that's how long subways typically take to build.

Of course, the transit modes aren't mutually exclusive: many cities have interconnecting subways, light rail and bus systems.

Any change on Seventh Ave. would be an improvement. As a desperate-sounding community leader in the Usaquen neighborhood told El Tiempo: 'We've been waiting for years for a solution, and have seen all kinds of alternatives. We're willing to pay - just as long as they actually finally build something!'

 Comparing the space required by people in private cars and a light rail car (or a bus). More private cars will strangle Bogotá!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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