Urban rail vote loses? Try, try again


Graphic: InsuranceJournal.com

Graphic: InsuranceJournal.com

Losing a rail transit ballot measure doesn’t have to mean the end of a community’s hopes and dreams for urban rail, according to a recent study by the Light Rail Now Project. What it takes, though, is the will to hang in there, respond to reasonable public concerns, tweak the rail plan as needed, and submit it for another vote.

This actually doesn’t happen often. In some cases, the urban rail possibility just evaporates because local decisionmakers and planners just throw in the cards and move on to other, less ambitious transit proposals.

However, the Light Rail Now study examined the six cases since 2000 where a rail transit vote initially failed, but the local transit agency or civic leadership kept their eyes on the prize, continued to recognize the benefits of rail transit, and resubmitted a proposal in a ballot measure that succeeded in getting voters’ endorsement. This has happened in Austin (Texas), Kansas City, Cincinnati, Tucson, Seattle, and St. Louis.

The time delay between the initially failed vote and the ultimately successful re-vote was a particular focus of the study. So, how much of a time gap was found between rejections and approvals?

Overall, the average delay in these six cases was 3.8 years. However, the delay seemed significantly shorter (1.5 years) in the two cities (St. Louis and Seattle) that already were operating some form of rail transit. In the other cities, where the attractiveness and benefits of rail transit were not generally experienced, there was a longer time average gap (5 years). Light Rail Now illustrates this with a graph:

Left bar: Average years of delay in cities already operating rail transit. Right bar: Average delay in cities with no current rail transit. Graph: Light Rail Now.

Left bar: Average years of delay in cities already operating rail transit. Right bar: Average delay in cities with no current rail transit. Graph: Light Rail Now.

Light Rail Now speculates that winning ultimate public support for rail transit may hinge on the determination of local leaders:

The process of re-submitting a rail transit measure to a vote may depend not so much on public attitudes but on the determination of sponsoring officials, their responsiveness to public input, and their willingness to re-craft specific project details to more closely conform to public needs and desires.

In other words, if you have local transit officials or civic leaders willing to hang in there and go the course, chances are you can ultimately succeed.

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