Is Light Rail in Fremont a Possiblity?

There has been a lot of discussion recently on the Tri-City Beat about bringing light rail to Fremont.  This is a topic about which I’ve thought a lot.  My passion for promoting high quality public transportation is what led me to study city planning and transportation engineering at U.C. Berkeley.  While I remain a strong advocate for transit, I learned a number of things that tempered my idealism about light rail.

One of the most famous articles on light rail usage is called “A Desire Named Streetcar” written by Don Pickrell in 1992.  Pickrell studied a number of light rail systems that had been built in the 70’s and 80’s and determined that light rail consistently had fewer riders and cost more than originally predicted.  Other studies validated Pickrell’s results.

The lesson to be learned here is that major transit investments should be done only with careful consideration.  Is Fremont ready for an investment in light rail right now?  No.  High cost, fixed rail transit systems should only be considered in areas where the expected ridership would make it worth the investment.  Unfortunately, Fremont is not such an area — auto-oriented development has made Fremont a place where transit ridership is low and the car is king.  On the other hand, should we have a long-term vision of developing our city in a manner that could lead to light rail becoming a viable possibility?  Absolutely.

What would this vision contain?  Before even thinking about light rail, we would need to redevelop some of Fremont’s major corridors into more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use districts.   The City has been talking about doing exactly this for decades.  So far, they have nothing more than reports from consultants to show for all of their years of efforts.

Many cities have re-worked one or more of their major streets from auto-centered arterials to pedestrian-friendly streets with attractive landscaping, lighting, and wide sidewalks.  Why has Fremont been unable to do this?

With unpredictable gas prices, global warming, and pollution on the rise, we should be developing in a manner to increase people’s transportation options and reduce dependence on cars.  If we continue down the same path that Council has taken so far, this won’t happen.

In official documents, the City has expressed support for transit-friendly development.  In the 2030 General Plan, they mention “higher intensity development near transit” as something that’s “new”.  The need for this type of development was well-known when I studied City Planning 18 years ago!  Our city’s leadership has basically ignored these principles for the last two decades and has continued to approve auto-oriented development that is diametrically opposed to what is needed to reduce dependency on cars and create walkable, attractive neighborhoods.  We need action, not lip service, to bring Fremont into the modern era of urban design and transportation planning.

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3 comments on “Is Light Rail in Fremont a Possiblity?”

  1. Andrew Cavette Reply

    One thing to add to Doug’s well reasoned Fremont Blvd suggestion: The Park.

    If the line (in some future plan) also made a quick side trip along Stevenson Blvd. with a single station near the Fremont Main Library, it would provide access to Fremont’s recreation and social center. Lake Elizabeth, the water park, the police station, the playing fields and the library itself.

    It would also be an easy connection solution to the Kaiser campus, Washington hospital (a short walk) as well as the current BART station and the many apartments in that area.

    After this one station on Stevenson, it could double back to Fremont Blvd and continue down tho the NUMMI area as Doug suggested.

  2. Doug Tinney Reply

    I agree that light rail is not possible in our city’s immediate future, but I believe it should b e incorporated into a long range plan.

    Fremont Blvd. is ideal for it for the following reasons:

    – It runs the entire length of the city including out into the industrial area west of I-880
    – It crosses the major cross town arteries, i.e., Peralta, Mowry, Stevenson, Grimmer, Washington Blvd., Blacow and Automall.
    – BRT service could be used on East/West routed to tie in with light rail.
    – There are many apartment and condo complexes either directly adjacent to it or within two-three blocks on side streets.
    – More high density housing is planned for Centerville and Irvington.
    – Three schools, American H.S., Irvington H.S. and Centerville Jr. High are in close proximity.
    – It runs past Amtrak in the north and a shuttle from the Hub could reach BART/central. If the Irvington BART station becomes a reality it would be within walking distance in Irvington.
    – It runs past the Marriott Hotel on south end.
    – Right of way already is city owned, which is a huge cost factor in per mile construction
    – It would calm traffic in Centerville, downtown and Irvington by creating more pedestrian friendly thoroughfares.
    – It would bring shoppers to Centerville, downtown and Irvington because of the connection. Hop on/hop off.
    – Fremont’s demographic now comprises many people who are used to using urban public rail transit systems and would readily adapt to using it.
    – If the Fremont/NUMMI site were to house a stadium the light rail line would sit immediately adjacent at the corner of Grimmer Blvd. to serve local residents.
    – A spur line on the west side of I-880 could run north to Pacific Common.

  3. Coyote Bill Reply

    Vinnie, It is the chicken and the egg, Development will follow light rail.
    How can the general plan call for less parking without proper public transportation. ACTransist is always changing there routes and schedules it is hard to keep up with, they have failed and most people I have talked to gave up trying to keep track of ACTRANSITchanging its routes and schedules, except for those who have no choice, people with no choice is the ridership of AC Transit.
    People that take Bart do not have to, they choose to, because the route never changes, schedules are posted.

    Coyote Bill

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