The big question about self-driving cars is “when?” On one hand, there are rumors that Google will start selling its self-driving cars next year. While even the Antiplanner doesn’t think that’s realistic, Ford is promising self-driving cars in 2019 and other manufacturers are saying 2020.
On the other hand, many are saying that, due to liability concerns and technical problems with such factors as rain and snow, it will take much longer than that. Another study predicts that, even if the first self-driving cars enter the market in the next decade, it will take several decades after that for them to dominate the roads.
The Antiplanner has written on this before, but the more I learn, the more I am convinced that the first self-driving cars will be for sale by 2020 and that they will be the dominant form of travel within not much more than a decade after that.
Progressive Railroading, which has never met a passenger train subsidy it didn’t like, claims that, after six years and $1.3 billion, work on moderate-speed rail service between Chicago and St. Louis is “nearing the finish line.” Since the trains will go a maximum of 110 miles per hour, it isn’t true high-speed rail; Progressive Railroading calls it “higher-speed rail” while the Antiplanner prefers the term “moderate-speed rail.”
It turns out that Illinois is also approaching “the finish line” at moderate speeds. After nearly six years of work, Illinois has trains running at 110 mph on only one 15-mile segment of the 284-mile trip. The “final phases” of the project will be completed “within the next few years,” the magazine says vaguely.
When it is done, trains that currently take 5 hours 20 minutes will finish the trip in “about” 4 hours 30 minutes, for an average speed of 63 mph. Google maps says people can drive the distance in 4 hours 20 minutes, so the train will still take more time than driving. Plus, of course, the train probably won’t go where most people want to go as there just aren’t that many businesses or residences within walking distance of either Chicago Union Station or St. Louis’ Amtrak station. If you are driving alone, the $27 cost of an Amtrak ticket is enough to pay the marginal costs of driving; if you have some passengers, you’ll save money even counting all the costs of driving.
Property-rights and housing-affordability advocates were surprised and elated that the chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, Jason Furman, gave a speech blaming housing affordability problems on zoning and land-use regulation. They shouldn’t be: while Furman is correct in general, he is wrong about the details and the prescriptions he offers could make the problems worse than ever.
There is no doubt, as Furman documents in his speech, that land-use regulation is the cause of growing housing affordability problems. Yet Furman fails to note the fact that these problems are only found in some parts of the country. This is a crucial observation, and those who fail to understand it are almost certain to misdiagnose the cause and propose the wrong remedies.
Citing Jane Jacobs (who was wrong at least as often as she was right), Forman blames affordability problems on zoning that “limits density and mixed-use development.” Such zoning is found in almost every city in the country except Houston, yet most cities don’t have housing affordability problems. Thus, such zoning alone cannot be the cause of rising rents and home prices.
The State of Oregon should change its name to Denial, as state and local leaders seem to be living in that state most of the time. Although Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has declared the region’s housing crisis to be an emergency–one that contributed to his decision not to run for re-election–no one wants to get serious about fixing the problem.
The latest is that Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, has decided that there is no need to expand the region’s urban-growth boundary as there is plenty of room to accommodate the 400,000 new residents that region is expected to gain in the next two decades. Metro’s plans calls for housing 80 percent of those new residents in multifamily housing primarily located in downtowns and along transit corridors.
Downtown Austin today houses about 10,000 people.
As Texas transportation official Mike Heiligenstein pointed out at the American Dream conference in Austin two weeks ago, the idea that huge numbers of people can live downtown is absurd. Downtown Austin today seems to be a forest of high-rise condos, yet only 10,000 people live there. He pictured what it would look like with 20,000 more residents and it seems impossibly dense–yet 20,000 is less than 5 percent of the region’s anticipated growth. Most Americans simply don’t want to live in Manhattan, and given the nation’s wide-open spaces, they shouldn’t have to–yet planners in both Portland and Austin think they should.
The Los Angeles Time seems surprised to report that Los Angeles’ 9-mile-long Expo Line has failed to relieve congestion in the corridor it serves. Rail and bus boardings increased about 6 percent after the line opened in 2012 (at least some of which would be due to transfers of passengers from bus to rail who previously could go the entire distance of their journey by bus), but the rail line had no “significant or consistent impact” on auto traffic.
Many people believe rail transit depends on population density, and if so then the Expo Line should be a perfect candidate, as the area it serves has 26,000 people per square mile (about the same as New York City and nearly ten times the average urban density in the United States). On one hand, even that’s not dense enough for rail to attract a lot of riders. On the other hand, light rail is really low-capacity transit, so is truly the wrong solution for areas of high transit demand.
As the L.A. Times observes in other articles, rail does benefit some people. First, it gives perverts opportunities to engage in anonymous sexual harassment. Second, it gives politicians opportunities to spend a lot of money: with the prompting of Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles is considering spending billions of dollars on six more rail lines.
As previously noted, the Antiplanner left Oregon late in October to drive to Austin for a conference. I just returned on Sunday. To keep up my reputation as an expert in public land management, I also visited eight units of the National Park System.
Cedar Breaks National Monument. Click any image for a larger view.
My first park was Cedar Breaks National Monument, and I was lucky enough to arrive after the first snowfall but before the snow got so deep that the road to the park was closed. Most of my photos use a combination of high-dynamic range (HDR) exposures of several different angles stitched together in Photoshop. This means the photos shown here are anywhere from six to 24 different exposures combined together. One nice thing about HDR is that you can shoot directly into the sun and still get great photos.
Some people have argued that a defect of high-occupancy/toll lanes is that they are expensive to install as they require their own on- and off-ramps in order to keep them separate from the general lanes. But–as the Antiplanner observed on a recent trip from Oregon to Texas–the Utah Department of Transportation has nearly 150 miles of HOT lanes that cost little more than ordinary freeway lanes.
Utah’s express lanes run along Interstate 15 from Spanish Forks (south of Provo) to South Ogden, about 72 miles in each direction. They are separated from the general lanes only by a double stripe. The “on- and off-ramps” consist of periodic replacement of the double stripes with dashed lines. Vehicles are free to enter and exit the express lanes where the lines are dashed, while they aren’t supposed to cross where there are two solid lines.
Educator and writer Michael Copperman has discovered that Portland’s hip scene has come at a price: young people moving to Portland from other parts of the country have gentrified North Portland, traditionally a heavily black neighborhood, and displaced blacks to the suburbs. “The number of people living in poverty in Portland’s suburbs shot up almost 100 percent between 2000 and 2011,” observes Copperman.
While such income and racial integration might be welcome, it has its costs as well. While the whites gentrifying North Portland neighborhoods enjoy food carts, boutique restaurants, and ethnic grocery stores, displaced blacks are not better off in the suburbs and in many cases are worse off, replacing the single-family homes they rented with cramped apartments.
“Suburban Portland, home to the most notorious white West Coast gangs, has in some hotspots become a turf war apartment complex by apartment complex, the traditional Crips and Bloods of urban Portland overlapping areas dominated by the European Kindred and affiliates, all battling to control lucrative sex trafficking operations off the I-5 Corridor,” says Copperman, a transition that is pretty much invisible to recently arrived Millennials.
Oregon is the slowest state in the West. No other western state has such slow speed limits. Nationally, only Hawai’i is slower.
Texas, meanwhile, is the fastest state in the country. On a two-lane rural road, for example, Oregon allows speeds no higher than 55 mph; Texas may allow 75 mph. On a four-lane freeway, Oregon may allow 65 mph; Texas freeways are often 80 mph.
When a state highway enters a city with stop lights, Oregon speed limits slow to no more than 45 mph; Texas may keep speeds as high as 75 mph. That’s right; you can be legally driving at 75 mph and suddenly have to stop at a red light.
After years of indecision and short-term extensions, the House of Representatives passed a six-year transportation bill yesterday. Since the bill is not much different from a bill passed by the Senate a few months ago, it seems likely that the two will agree on a final bill later this month.
One of the main obstacles to the bill has been fiscal conservatives (and some liberals) who objected to $80 billion of deficit spending over the next six years. Many of the conservatives wanted to cut spending to be no more than gas tax and other highway revenues; the liberals wanted to raise gas taxes to cover the deficits and provide revenues for even more spending on roads and transit. Instead, the House stayed the course of spending more than is available, using various accounting tricks to cover the deficits.
What really happened is that newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan wanted to prove his worth, so he twisted enough arms to get the bill passed. The bill even includes reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which many conservatives hated. Apparently, the long-term opponents of this bank and transportation deficits just gave Ryan his honeymoon and allowed the bill to pass without a big fight: only 64 members of the House voted against the final bill.