By José Luis Ordóñez
In member states of the European Union, such as France, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom, which had abandoned the tram in the 1960s due to the incredible policy of leaving more space for the car, the return to the tram is beginning to become widespread.
A comfortable, silent, fast and reliable means of urban transport
The choice of the tram is today a decision consistent with sustainability criteria. The implementation of trams with a reserved platform allows improving air quality in the city, rebalancing the public space between pedestrians, bicycles and motorized transport, reducing the floor space occupied by cars, reducing energy consumption, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and make it easier for people to use current integrated urban transport systems. This collective public transport achieves greater regularity, frequency and accessibility, and a reduction in travel times from 20 to 30 percent compared to shared platform transport.
In member states of the European Union, such as France, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom, which had abandoned the tram in the 1960s due to the incredible policy of leaving more space for the car, the return to the tram is beginning to become widespread. France pioneered the reintroduction of the tram in Nantes in 1984. French society then followed with low-floor trams and cities such as Grenoble, Strasbourg, Paris, Rouen, Orleans, Bordeaux, Montpellier and Lyon. The UK also returned to the tram and, in recent years, new networks have been built in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Croydon. In Portugal those of Porto and Lisbon stand out. In this way, the existing tram networks in the world exceed 350.
In Spain, after the disappearance of the tram in many cities during the last years of the Franco regime - in Madrid the last tram ran in 1972 - the city of Valencia was the first to revitalize the tram, and other cities such as Bilbao, Barcelona, Alicante and Coruña are following in his footsteps.
Less space, more speed
Some 60 percent of the streets in Paris (France) are occupied by parked cars, 35 percent by cars in circulation and the remaining 5 percent by surface public transport. These data come from the calculations made by the French Institute for Transport Research, Inrets. These studies have shown that the same urban displacement needs between 30 and 40 times more space in a car than in public transport, a situation generated, above all, by the parking process.
The low speed of surface public transport in some cities, as well as the lack of regularity, are mainly due to traffic congestion caused by cars. For this reason, the most advanced management of urban traffic has resorted to the creation of platforms reserved for collective public transport. This mechanism makes it possible to recover the participation quota that corresponds to collective transport in urban public space, in addition to reducing the impact of congestion generated by the car.
As much as the automotive industry develops special technologies to reduce gas emissions and manufacture self-described low energy consumption engines, automobiles will not be able to solve congestion problems, nor the problems of occupation of public space, and it remains to be seen if they will solve noise and pollution problems.
The transport capacity of the trams is measured between 2,500 and 20,000 passengers per hour and direction, reaching figures of 10,000 to 60,000 passengers / day per line. The frequencies, or intervals between vehicles, which are usually applied, are between 2 and 7 minutes. The average speed is 25 to 35 km / h with a reserved platform and 18 to 20 km / h with a shared platform, always exceeding the bus that usually has average speeds of 12 to 16 km / h, and lower than the underground metro that reaches 40 km / h on average. The maximum, or commercial, speed of the trams moves in the environment of 70 to 120 km / h. The transport capacity of each vehicle varies between 100 and 300 people. Capacity that can be increased since the trams present the possibility of circulating in multiple compositions.
In current integrated urban transport systems, with journeys on foot, by bicycle, by tram, by subway, by bus, etc., the tram represents the most ecological motorized transport. The most important aspects to make this statement are the saving of natural resources and raw materials, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy saving and the reduction of environmental noise.
In saving resources and raw materials, unlike other means of transport, such as the car or the bus, the tram works with electricity, which if it comes from renewable sources, does not consume exhaustible resources. Regarding the absence of polluting emissions, it must be taken into consideration that the tram does not use fossil fuels. In improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gases, it should be considered that a tram is equivalent to 3 or 4 buses.
Other significant contributions of surface meters or trams are in the area of quality of life in the city. They are pleasant, comfortable and versatile vehicles, with a low floor that considerably facilitates access for all types of people. It is a means of transport that extends the right to transport and facilitates an equitable distribution of the public space that is excessively monopolized by the car. Protected road traffic allows you to ride at an attractive commercial speed and respect timetables, making trips at very low cost. The tram contributes to creating a city of proximity, limiting the amplitude of journeys and favoring the compactness and mixed character of the urban area, with a mixture of areas for residence, work, study, commerce, health and leisure.
The intermodality between tram and bicycle is an issue that has aroused interest in public administrations but has not yet taken off, perhaps it would be interesting to create guarded parking for bicycles in the vicinity of the tram stops, seeking maximum synergy between the two modes.
The Lyon option
The commissioning of the trams in Lyon in 2000 has changed the appearance of transport in this French city, the second in number of inhabitants. Lyon has gained public space and urban tranquility. The decision to introduce trams was taken after verifying, in mobility surveys, that despite having put into service 4 underground metro lines, the relative share of the car continued to rise.
The direct opinion of the citizens also influenced the making of this decision, highlighted by means of a process of information and public consultation, where three different projects were presented for the future of Lyon, or city of the automobile, or city shared with the traffic management carried out up to that moment, or a humanized city with provision of public spaces for rest and travel on foot, by bicycle or by tram. The vast majority of people opted for the third model.
One year into operation, the Lyon tram reached a daily demand of 87,000 trips, 22,000 more than expected. The car traffic collapses that were caused by the simultaneous works of the two tram lines, disappeared after three months. As the congestion disappeared, the use of the subway increased. Although streetcars have reduced car space by 50 percent on one of the city's main arteries, there is no more congestion. Recent mobility surveys have shown that the surface metro has managed to attract former motorists, and that where trams circulate in central areas of the city there is less car use.
Some of the cities with urban tram:
Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Cologne, Dresden, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Geneva, Grenoble, Hannover, Helsinki, The Hague, Leeds, Lisbon, Lyon, Croydon (London), Manchester, Marseille, Milan, Montpellier, Munich, Nantes, Naples, Newcastle, Orleans, Oslo, Paris, Rome, Rotterdam, Rouen, San Diego, Strasbourg, Stuttgart, Turin, Valencia, Vienna, Zurich.
Some of the cities with train-tram:
Germany: Karlsruhe, Sarebrüke and Kassel
. United Kingdom: Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield
. Netherlands: Amsterdam
. United States: San Francisco, San Diego and Baltimore
Contributions of trams to the environment
.Increased air quality in urban areas.
. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
. Reduction of the noise level generated by traffic.
. Reduction of energy consumption in urban transport.
. Reduction of congestion.
. Increase in the quality of public spaces.
. Reduction of natural resources used in urban transport.
. Reduction in land occupation, since the tram occupies 30 times less space than the car for the same transport capacity.
. Reduction of waste generated by urban transport, by using reusable equipment and recyclable materials, as happens in Porto's "eurotram", where these materials reach 84 percent of the weight of the tram.
Article published in the magazine "El Ecologista", number 32, corresponding to autumn 2002.
* By José Luis Ordóñez
Ecologists in Action of Majadahonda
Coordinator of the Federal Area of Ecology of Izquierda Unida