Kaid Benfield Archive


Giving new meaning to “green” transit

Kaid Benfield

Posted April 13, 2009 at 1:56PM

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One of the slides I've prepared for an upcoming presentation to the North Carolina chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects juxtaposes these two images to show how a trolley or light rail line might be made greener, literally:

  Muni line, San Francisco (by: Streetsblog)  design for the Atlanta Beltline (by: Atlanta Beltline) 

On the left are trolley tracks in San Francisco; on the right is a design for the proposed Atlanta Beltline project.

In the US, we tend to think of public transportation as inherently green, which of course it is compared to our addiction to driving.  It becomes even more so when old diesel buses are replaced with models running on natural gas, or even on the cleaner diesel engines of current technology.

But in Europe they are way ahead of us.  Check out these light rail lines in Strasbourg (left) and The Hague (right):

  light rail in Strasbourg (by: Ioan Barbulescu, creative commons license)  The Hague (by: rogiro, creative commons license) 

A couple of years ago, the British urban design magazine Monocle published an article (expensive subscription required!) highlighting 25 design examples of what, in their opinion, makes a city great.  I wasn't quite willing to shell out the $100 or so apparently required to access the article, but it was the subject of a story in the now-defunct International Herald Tribune.  Here's part of what the article had to say:

"It's not necessarily the billion-euro development, star-architect-designed gallery or shiny new ferris wheel that makes locals feel good about their town. Monocle believes that the measure of a city is more about everyday wonders - pavements, well-designed schools, punctual transport - rather than one-off, grand projects. Here's our list of the top 25 urban elements that make the city . . .

"There's something quite magical about watching trams in Barcelona, Strasbourg or Frankfurt glide silently along beds of grass as they do their city circuit. Where possible, this attractive combination of efficient public transport and inspired landscaping should be standard as part of the urban fabric . . ."

I wasn't able to track down the full text (all the old links to it are broken, no surprise), but here's part of it, and here is a bare-bones list of the 25 examples.

Some more images, from (I think) St. Etienne, left, and (definitely) Bilbao, right:

  giving new meaning to green (by: inhabitat.com)  Bilbao (by: Esti Alvarez, creative commons license)    

Green rail beds don't just soften the sometimes-harsh edges of the urban fabric; they also absorb stormwater and reduce the heat island effect that can come with asphalt and concrete (green roofs do the same).  Here are images from near Paris (left) and in Lyon (right):  

  outside Paris (by: Fanch, creative commons license)  Lyon (by: Tom Page, creative commons license)

I think this would be perfect for the new Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland, especially since there will be an adjacent bike/recreational trail in the corridor.  C'mon, planners, what do you think?