Board Members

  • Ned Kennington
    commented 2019-03-07 13:02:44 -0500
    The emperor has no clothes.

    The question of whether the proposed Durham/Orange light rail system would reduce traffic congestion is very important to most local residents. This is because a reduction in traffic congestion might be the only benefit that most local residents expect to receive in return for their taxes to pay for the rail system. That is because the vast majority of local residents would not ride on the rail system, but instead would continue driving their cars.

    In an effort to sell the light rail system, top officials of Durham and Orange County have recently claimed that the system will prevent gridlock1 and bumper-to-bumper traffic2 and reduce the strain on our roadways, and limit vehicle emissions3. Unfortunately, this is NOT true.

    In fact, in the thousands of pages of desperate efforts to sell the light rail system that they have published over the last 30 years, neither GoTriangle nor its predecessor, Triangle Transit Authority, has ever claimed that the rail system would reduce traffic congestion4.

    It is usually difficult to prove that something never happened. If you have lots of time on your hands, you might look for this prediction of a reduction in congestion caused by the rail system in the hundreds of documents on the website at that GoTriangle and Triangle Transit Authority have published in the last 30 years. Good luck finding this nonexistent needle in that mountain of a haystack.

    I gave up that search nearly 20 years ago and since then I have taken a different approach to find out if the rail system is predicted to reduce congestion. Using this approach, I have periodically asked the top managers and engineers of Triangle Transit Authority and GoTriangle if there exists an analysis that predicts a reduction in traffic congestion. I have done this four times5 spread out over the last 18 years. Every time I asked, the only thing I got back was a run-around. None of them would answer the question of whether such an analysis exists.

    Recently I discovered that there is a crude indicator of traffic congestion in the 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement. You can go look for yourselves at the predicted Level of Service (LOS) data on Pages 3-32 to 3-24 in

    There you can see that the Level of Service at roadway intersections near the light rail system is predicted to be bad but essentially the same regardless of whether the rail system were built or not. There is no indication that light rail would improve traffic congestion so much that it would prevent gridlock or bumper-to-bumper traffic.

    What is more interesting about this LOS data is that it is not clear how they could have predicted the Levels of Service at these intersections unless they had previously done an analysis of detailed traffic flow on these roadways. Why has GoTriangle not reported the results of this detailed traffic flow analysis? You don’t suppose that it might be because the results of that analysis do not present the rail system in a favorable light?

    Note that GoTriangle DOES admit that the system will not reduce traffic congestion in one quiet sentence buried at the end of a paragraph about ridership data: “In general, the project is not expected to have a significant effect on traffic on nearby roadways. However, the project will provide a competitive and reliable travel alternative to the congestion on these roadways, particularly during peak traffic hours.” (

    (The “Triangle Regional Model” referred to on that page might be the detailed traffic flow analysis whose predictions on traffic congestion GoTriangle has not reported.)

    Please note that I support the light rail system and most of the officials who are promoting it. I support the rail system because in the future we will need a fast, convenient and affordable way to travel between Durham and Chapel Hill and because the rail system might reduce suburban sprawl.

    The challenge for GoTriangle: After the millions of dollars you have spent doing studies, reports, analyses, models and projections, can you support the claims that the light rail system will reduce traffic congestion so far as to prevent gridlock and bumper-to-bumper traffic on our streets and freeways? Or would you prefer to leave the public with the generally accepted but erroneous belief that the rail system will reduce traffic congestion?
    With regard to the claim that the light rail system would reduce traffic congestion: The emperor has no clothes.

    Ned Kennington

    1415 Pennsylvania Ave

    Durham, NC 27705



    1 1-5-19 Op-Ed in the Raleigh News and Observer signed by the Mayor of Durham and the Chairwoman of the Durham County Commissioners:

    2 1-9-19 email message from the Mayor of Durham to his campaign supporters.

    3 2-16-19 Op-Ed by two Orange County Commissioners:

    4 When I say that GoTriangle has not claimed that the rail system would reduce traffic congestion, I mean they have not presented a serious analysis that predicts a lasting reduction in traffic congestion. By “reduction”, I don’t mean a reduction in comparison with today’s level of congestion, but rather in comparison to the higher levels of congestion that would exist in the future if the rail system were not built, their “No-Build Alternative”. The “No-Build Alternative” is GoTriangle’s preferred benchmark. Using the “No-Build” benchmark instead of today’s level of congestion would show the light rail system in a more favorable light. By “lasting” I mean we should ignore any reduction that lasts only a few days or a few weeks after completion of the rail system and then disappears.

    5 Telephone conversation with John Roberson, Triangle Transit Authority Chief Engineer, 8-17-01; Email and letters between me and John Clafin, General Manager, Triangle Transit Authority, 1-26-05, 2-11-05 & 2-18-05; Face-to-face discussion with GoTriangle traffic engineer, ~2016; Email from GoTriangle engineer Patrick McDonough through the Mayor of Durham, 2-11-19.

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