Bus Rapid Transit vs. Rail
I the column, you sort of blew off rail as attracting attention which a busway never would, which seemed silly. There are several factors to the viability of rail as urban transit, the first being costs. Yeah, it costs way more to build - sort of. (Though these days, a dedicated freeway lane at a million dollars a mile is more-or-less the same price). The gotcha is productivity, where one operator in one connected vehicle can carry several hundred citizens, as opposed to the practical maximum of about 80 for even the largest buses. This explains why the Minneapolis light rail line carries passengers at less than half the cost of the bus line it replaced. On that basis alone, with the 29,000 passengers per day, the rail line's $750 million cost will be paid off as fast as most mortgages (a bit over 35 years). If you are moving a few people, put in a bus line, if you want to handle crowds, go rail.
Another major factor is land use, with a double-track rail line coming in considerably narrower than a two-lane highway (or a pair of freeway lanes). Most of the block busting that was done to build the freeways in the 1960s can be avoided, as a rail line can, in many cases, fit in the width of an urban lot. A 10-foot car width is plenty, since the rail vehicles stay in a very consistent "lane" to an accuracy of fractions of an inch. Say two feet between the rails (old Chicago streetcars and some spots on the El are far less!) and say five feet of land for right-of-way fencing on either side amounts to 32 feet. In a cut, where you would need little buffer at the track edges, this could be as little as 25 feet.
So, that's it, besides less pollution, far longer vehicle life, more flexible propulsion, better ride, safer, and far better at stimulating other development. Disadvantages? Yeah, more expensive and operates on fixed routes. But we were comparing to bus rapid transit, not bus in the street, and I don't see anyone moving the Kennedy Expressway. A BRT lane is certainly no more flexible.
And there is that undeniable appeal, which does drive the antirail crowd nuts. In Salt Lake City in 2000, people left the Millennium Celebration (a year early) and passed rows of waiting buses to wait for the trains. Same as at opening day in Minneapolis, where people waited for hours in the hot sun to ride the trains, then waited again to go back, as the shuttle buses along the route ran almost empty.
I also have to note that virtually all of the BRT vehicles are designed to imitate the look of railcars, with tires hidden, etc. Even the designers of those vehicles realize that these are just an ersatz substitute for the real thing.