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I’ve been looking at the capital, maintenance and operations costs of four transportation modes (walking, biking, traffic and rail transit, natch’) for the last year or so.

The numbers haven’t changed, but my discovery and interpretation of them has.  Aside from discovering that traffic costs us over a trillion dollars every year in operations, and that sidewalks are not maintained by governments, but by adjacent property owners, it has mostly been a long slog through a bunch of numbers. 

My estimates of capital costs for rail transit have gone from 32 million a mile to 156 million a mile, all depending on how I tally the data.   I finally went multi-year in my analysis, and think I have arrived at the more reasonable $71 million a mile for transit (right of way, track, power, stations and vehicles).  I know no other transportation mode pays for so much, but you can’t really have rail transit without these things, so, I found a per mile cost, dammit.

Since space interests me, I wondered what the cost per linear foot width of each mode was, what the capacity per linear foot was. or even what the cost per linear foot per dollar was.  A mile of 12′ traffic lane costs 2.3 million dollars to build, but only has a capacity of 3,200 people per hour.  A 11′ mile of transit costs $71 million to build, but could handle up to 48,000 people per hour.  By contrast a 3′ walk lane and 4′ bike lane cost $120,000 and $60,000 to build but can bring 2,000 and 2,700 people to a place in an hour, respectively.

So given that, what do we find?  Here are the per mile costs of the four modes:


And here are the per mile costs, divided by capacity.  What does it cost to set up a mile of way for a peak passenger?


Here are the per mile costs, divided by linear foot.  In other words, what does a 1′ x 5,280′ strip of this transportation way cost?


And finally, here are the per mile-foot costs, per capacity.


Transit is still more expensive than everything else, but not by as much as the raw cost would lead you to believe.   Especially when you consider what transit can do for development and the use of far cheaper biking and walking in their station areas.


* I’m pretty irked about the graphic quality here, but I’ll edit that if the graphs are truly illegible.

Next week, I’ll talk a bit more about biking and the burning curve.