In Reno, news has been out for a while now about a plan to convert the soon to be implemented Virginia Street BRT (or bus rapid transit for you non wonks) service to streetcar, and eventually a light rail system. This blog has remained silent on the subject thus far because the whole effort is part great idea, part hastily conceived notion. The project’s costs would come in the form of a property tax increase, which doesn’t feel too promising to pass at the ballot box, which it would be required to do.
I am personally very interested in the idea of establishing rail transit in the Reno area, and I pay property taxes in Reno. I would vote to raise my own taxes to pay for transit related improvements. However, one of the things about this current proposal that is worrisome is that it is so ill defined, it could end up a flash in the pan and any future effort would be tainted by it.
So it is with that background that I have been looking at this thing, and when I look at things, I tend to try to find areas where they can be improved. Here’s what the Reno plan is missing.
One thing that is missing is a long-range plan. RTC needs to produce maps and conceptual renderings of not just what the vehicles or station facilities would look like but rather what areas are being served over the long term. The plan to lay track and run streetcars and eventually, if voters will approve it, light rail, is shortsighted thinking.
Washoe RTC’s Proposed Primary Transit Network [Source]
Any plan put before voters needs to show how that plan has positive long-term implications for the regional transit network. The different types of transit vehicles and their infrastructure have different uses in the regional and local contexts.
For example, a city-level streetcar network should be conceived as joining close-in neighborhoods to downtowns and other regional centers. A regional light rail system connects farther flung destinations along greater distances. In this model, proposed light rail would have a focus on connecting the far south end of the corridor, at Mt Rose Highway, with the north end of the corridor, in Stead. (Instead of what? You ask. Hooray for you! You’re still reading.)
A light rail corridor
It might be said about this light rail corridor, in the planning meetings where nearby citizens show up and say what they think, that it should be largely grade-separated, and that trains should come no less frequently than every 15 minutes.
Streetcars, on the other hand, would be used to knit together the urban fabric.
A streetcar network
Such a streetcar network could serve as the impetus for streetscape redesign projects, and naturally would feed into the idea of making the city more connected to downtown and making parts of the city feel more connected to one another. The residents might say that they want streetcars to run at no greater than 20 minute intervals most of the day, on most days.
Politically, a transit plan composed of such elements would benefit more than 144,000 residents in 4 area ZIP codes. That is over half the residents of Reno. A plan that shows them where their money is being spent and how it benefits them will have a much better chance at the ballot box.