Your Views: Lighten the load with light rail at Mark Center


To the editor:
The proposed Metro and Dash bus system for the Mark Center may be seen as a low level of commitment on the part of public officials to relieve traffic congestion, and certainly does not guarantee a reliable level of permanence.
At best the citys proposal is merely a Band-Aid approach to what is a major oversight on the part of policymakers at the federal, state and local levels. If we are indeed stuck with the Mark Center, then we need a robust transit solution that will handle the anticipated crowds as well as please the community. Therefore, area planners should look at the long-term benefits of light rail to meet the needs of this facility.
Passengers of a dedicated light rail service would certainly regard it as a superior transit mode to the proposed bus service. Its permanence alone can cause a reduction in automobile usage and sprawl. Knowledgeable real estate professionals have a tendency to perceive light rail as significantly more desirable than buses when commercial development is planned. 
If introduced with a positive urban design approach, light rail can be accompanied with an active greening of the city, tree-lined corridors and grass beds. For city centers and sub-centers (such as the Mark Center), light rail systems integrate harmoniously with the surroundings. Low levels of noise pollution and zero emission modes such as light rail enhance the environment in a way not possible with an internal combustion bus, regardless of the fuel type. 
The bus system proposed for the Mark Center is merely a stopgap measure. Without any form of light rail to share the load, the results over time will be a consistently low level of patronage and constant gridlock on I-395. Even when buses operate over sections of dedicated road, public response has been somewhat muted, apparently because a bus in a city center, guided or otherwise, does not capture the public imagination in the same way as light rail. 

There are many examples of new and successful light rail systems actually bolstering the patronage of buses, especially when they feed into a frequent tram route. A good example is the New Jersey Transits light rail operation, which has seen patronage increase on its Bergen County lines to 40,000 riders daily with a projection to 120,000 by 2020.  Its too bad the local political leadership cant see beyond a few extra buses to make the Mark Center work for both commuters and area residences.