On the road in search of people movers

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On the road in search of people movers

Post by Hanna » Sat Feb 24, 2007 9:11 pm

On the road in search of people movers

Council members go off in different directions to study mass transit.

City Council members recently traveled to San Diego, Las Vegas and Portland looking for Great inspiration.

Christina Shea and Larry Agran went to San Diego to study the light-rail trolley system; Beth Krom and Steven Choi traveled to Portland to take a look at that light-rail trolley line, and Sukhee Kang traveled to Las Vegas to see an Automated People Mover, monorail and bus system. On each visit the council members were accompanied by city staff members.

The trips were designed to give the city leaders and staff a first-hand look at mass transportation systems. That information, city officials said, will help in choosing what kind of will be proposed to link the Great Park, Irvine Spectrum Center and Irvine train station. The city is looking at monorail, buses, streetcars and Personal Rapid Transit (small, driverless cars carrying two to four passengers).

After the visits, each council member wrote a short reaction to what he or she saw and experienced.


Riding San Diego’s electric trolley through the heart of downtown, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for trolley passengers 100 years ago.
Los Angeles became famous for the “Red Car” trolleys which carried passengers throughout Los Angeles and to Orange and Riverside counties as early as 1914.

Southern California’s love affair with automobiles pushed the trolley aside, and the Red Car system ceased operating in 1961.

Twenty years later, increasing traffic congestion throughout San Diego caused that city to rediscover the electric trolley. A whole new generation of passengers has discovered that trolleys are clean, quiet, inexpensive and fun to ride.

Non-polluting forms of transportation such as the electric trolley are important to the development of the Orange County Great Park.

Our guiding principle in planning the Great Park is sustainability. We want to give visitors non-polluting alternatives to the automobile when they travel to the Great Park or through the park. People should have the opportunity to arrive at the park on public transportation or park their
cars once when they arrive and spend the day.


This was my first trip to Portland and I did not have any pre-conception on what to expect on its transit system. The light-rail train (Airport MAX) of the Tri-Met Transit System was waiting for me and our staff right at the Portland airport to take us to the TriMet office, not far from downtown.

The ride was smooth and much quieter than I expected. Although it had to make several stops before our destination, the train accelerated relatively quickly. The train was not crowded. The light rail train runs on a double track and a single power line overhead.

We were briefed by the staff of the TriMet and the Portland Streetcar Inc., the operator of the city street cars. We rode a street car to downtown and walked around the Portland State University area where the street car goes, a perfect fit to the students.

Sharing the street with other vehicles, the street car was slow in moving around.

But, I keep asking myself if it will work in Irvine in areas like the Great Park, the Spectrum and IBC. Will Irvinites tolerate and accept the power lines hanging over our streets? Will Irvine turn into a metropolitan downtown-like city with enough riders every 15 minutes, which is an ideal interval for a transit system?


As Southern Californians are accustomed to using personal vehicles for transportation, the development of the Orange County Great Park presents a valuable opportunity to address shared, public transit.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, I observed existing models of transportation, including the Automated People Mover (APM), monorail, and rapid transit. While studying these systems, my main concern was passenger comfort and to ensure that patrons of the Great Park will remember a great ride.

The monorail is a concept that many people are familiar with. The Las Vegas monorail, in operation since 2004, is four miles long and offers predictable and convenient travel time. Boarding, seating and standing room are similar to the APM at McCarran Airport, but so is the ride quality. I imagine that frequent rocking and bumps in the track will divert attention from the wonderful sights at the Great Park.

I was impressed with the rapid transit concept and the practicality of installing this system in the Great Park. I believe this system will offer a comfortable ride. It will have a dedicated lane for transport without interruption, and is simpler to implement on an open canvas where we will see the Great Park develop.


The Portland transit system is designed to encourage ridership, and by all appearances the people of Portland appreciate having alternative transit resources.

Portland is going through a revitalization of the downtown area. They have created a streetcar system that has a short, fixed route through the city¹s mixed use “Pearl District.” There is a “no fare” zone meaning it is free to ride within the active business and mixed-use district.

The cars for both the streetcar and light rail are comfortable and clean, and are operated by a “cantenary” or overhead wire system that powers the electric cars. The aesthetics of such a system can be a challenge, but Portland’s architecture and tree cover camouflaged the wires quite a bit.

The light rail is a street level system that runs on both streets and dedicated travel ways. The transit stops are served by a GPS notification system that allows people to know exactly how long they will wait for the next car.

While it cost me over $30 to take a taxi from the airport to my hotel, it cost only $2 to return on the light rail.


A light rail (trolley system) An existing, proven and reliable technology Quiet when riding and exterior noise levels are fairly low Timely arrivals and departures A simple ticketing process Reasonable fares No electrified rail at grade Integrates well with transitoriented housing

Negatives or disadvantages:
Costly to build and maintain and is subsidized (standard in the industry for most rail systems)
Shaky at high speeds
Troublesome to upgrade (integrate new and old systems) The fixed guideway makes route changes difficult Security costs (cameras and police)

Additionally, when comparing the various transportation systems, we should be mindful of:
Operation, maintenance and construction costs Flexibility to add and change routes Integration with other existing and future systems Whether the system satisfies the community’s needs and expectations The upgradeability of the system Construction time and disruption Is the system a proprietary system, or can rolling stock be acquired from more than one vendor? Cost per passenger mile versus potential revenue Impact on bus systems in the area What population the system is designed to serve Potential passenger levels Will subsidies be required, and if so, who will pay them? What is the proper criteria to measure success of the project?

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