Commuter Rail - Garner to West Durham

Yep. Not sure why this is so difficult to understand, but maybe this isn’t about your needs today. Infrastructure is a long-term investment in the future, and few of the people who will benefit from it over time will be around when they just open. We pay for schools and ballfields that benefit generations of future kids, not ourselves. Taxpayers built RDU Airport in 1943 when flying was something only an elite few did; it opened with two flights a day, and probably the majority of passengers who’ve ever used it weren’t even born when it opened!

Transit can’t replace driving on Day One. To give a personal example: my dad moved to Raleigh in the 1970s as an assistant professor at NCSU. He ended up settling near South Hills in Cary, because Buck Jones was an easy driving route to campus (I-40 didn’t exist then). No, commuter rail will not improve his trip from his house to campus; he’s already optimized his life around driving down Buck Jones. But BRT+CRT would definitely influence the housing choices for a future assistant professor at NCSU. She might choose to live near the train station in downtown Garner, or in West Raleigh near the Jones Franklin BRT stop.

And the number of people who will be making travel decisions based on the future’s infrastructure, rather than today’s infrastructure, is huge! There are one million people living in Wake County today, and close to two million in 30 years. Most of those 1.89M people in 2050 will not be doing the exact same commute that made sense in 2020. Creating those new options now will allow some of the 2.8 billion trips they’ll make in 2050 to not be on the roads!

Over time, fixed route transit creates a marginal accessibility advantage for transit-oriented locations, and more things locate close to transit. In the Future Prof example, the availability of transit results in her demand to live near transit, and she creates more demand for more retail near her transit stop. You can see this in bigger decisions: in recent years, over 90% of new offices in metro DC have been built along Metro – locations that never would’ve been special had the system still been on the drawing boards. Or in recent years, the new museums in LA have been built along Metro rather than up in the hills.

Those are examples of how fixed-route transit creates a virtuous circle of accessibility, where adding things near transit makes the transit more useful, which increases transit use (as well as walking/biking) and draws more things. (In fact, most of the travel benefits aren’t the transit trips per se, but the walk/bike and even shorter/combined car trips that go to TOD areas!) That’s quite unlike cars, where adding things near roads creates more traffic: a vicious circle.

Something very similar to this particular project was proposed in the 1990s, and back then was supposed to open in 2008. Imagine how much more popular downtown would’ve been if that virtuous cycle had been at work for the past 14 years.