The Arrogance of the Elite

America needs less democracy to avoid tyranny, says Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine. America “suffers from too much democracy,” agrees Richard Cohen in the Washington Post.

Anyone who supports Donald Trump is a traitor, writes Charles Pierce in Esquire. James Traub in Foreign Policy calls Trump and Brexit supporters “ignorance masses” and says it’s time for the “elites to rise up” against them, or at least to “un-delude them,” perhaps in re-education camps.

These elites act like crybabies who don’t get their way. They use bad names for anyone who disagrees with them. They say they know best and anyone who disagrees must not (as Traub puts it) “believe in reason, expertise, and the lessons of history.”

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More Obsolete Than Ever

Bryan Mistele, the CEO of traffic tracker Inrix, argues in the Seattle Times that proposed new light-rail lines will be “obsolete before they are built.” Specifically, he says, automated, connected, electric, and shared vehicles–which he abbreviates as ACES–are already changing how people travel, and those changes are accelerating.

Sound Transit, Seattle’s regional rail transit agency, wants voters to approve a $54 billion ballot measure this November for more light rail. This, Mistele points out, is more than twice the cost of the Panama Canal expansion, yet isn’t likely to produce any significant benefits.

A rail advocate named Joe responds in the Seattle Weekly by calling self-driving cars “snake oil” similar to predictions in the 1950s that supposedly said everyone would be flying around in helicopters. Joe betrays ignorance about traffic, suggesting that a freeway that is congested with stop-and-go traffic could not possibly support any more cars even if they were self-driving. In fact, a road with stop-and-go traffic can move only half as many cars per hour as one with free-flowing traffic, and free-flowing traffic spaces cars six or seven car-lengths apart. Self-driving cars could easily beat that.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in San Francisco today to speak about housing affordability and land use regulation at the Free Market Road Show. If you are in the area, the event will be from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm at the Infinity Club, 333 Main Street. I hope to see you there.

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The Politicization of Data

A few weeks ago, the Antiplanner reported on a questionable change in transportation data published by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. An even more questionable change can be found in table VM-1 of Highway Statistics, an annual report published by the Federal Highway Administration.

Before 2009, Highway Statistics regularly appeared months before the Federal Transit Administration published its annual National Transit Database for the same year. There may have been good reasons for that: the highway data depended on reports from the 50 states and District of Columbia, while the transit data depended on data from nearly 700 transit agencies (as of 2008; more than 850 today). Collecting, reviewing, and collating all that data no doubt took a lot of time.

After Obama took office, a funny thing happened: the highway data started coming out after the transit data. In some cases, not just months, but years after. For example, the on-line 2009 Highway Statistics is still missing some minor tables, and one of the most important tables about highway finance, HF-10, is still missing from the 2011 edition.

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Time to Stop Long-Range Planning

The Department of Transportation is inviting comments on a proposed change in the rules for metropolitan transportation planning. Under the current rules, every metropolitan planning organization (MPO) must write a long-range (20 years) transportation plan and update it every five years, as well as a short-range transportation improvement plan that lists that projects the organization expects to fund in its region.

Some urbanized areas, however, have multiple metropolitan planning organizations. For example, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach each have their own metropolitan planning organizations even though (since 2000) they are in the same urbanized area. The proposed rule would require the MPOs to submit a single long-range transportation plan for the entire urbanized area.

On one hand, the purpose of MPOs in the first place is to save the federal government from having to review thousands of grant proposals from the thousands of different cities and counties that make up the nation’s urban areas. Thus, this represents a streamlining from the federal government’s point of view since it reduces the number of grant proposals it will have to deal with.

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Don’t Count on Shared Mobility

The OECD has published a fairly realistic report about the effects of self-driving cars on urban transportation. However, the report contains some implicit assumptions that may not come true.

“Single-occupancy car use generates individual and collective benefits,” admits the report, “but these are eroded and, in some cases, obviated by environmental impacts, loss of transport system efficiency due to congestion, social inequity and exclusion, as well as road crashes and strong dependence on fossil fuels.” Except for congestion, however, most of these problems are exaggerated and even congestion is technically easy (but politically difficult) to solve with congestion pricing.

“Typically, the response to the negative impacts of car-dominated transport systems,” continues the report, “has been to promote public transport.” But this “comes at a heavy cost,” and despite many cities paying that cost, “public transport continues to lose market share to private vehicles in most developed economies.”

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Philadelphia Transit Troubles

Service on Philadelphia commuter trains has been interrupted due to serious defects found in Silverliner V cars, which are less than six years old. The cars were built by Hyundai, which had never built railcars for an American transit line before, and make up 30 percent of Philadelphia’s commuter-rail fleet.


Wikimedia Commons photo by John Corbett.

Last Friday, a SEPTA worker noticed one of the cars was leaning to one side. A close look revealed a 10-inch crack in one of the car’s wheel sets. Further inspection discovered similar cracks in 95 percent of the cars made by Hyundai. These have all been taken out of service, and the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has urged commuters to find another mode of travel for the foreseeable future.

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Traffic Fatalities Up Nearly 8 Percent in 2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2015, a 7.7 percent increase from 2014. This increase is a result of a combination of a 3.5 percent increase in vehicle miles of travel plus a 4.1 percent increase in fatalities per billion miles traveled.

The 32,500 number is a “statistical projection,” not an exact count, which won’t be available until this fall. NHTSA’s previous statistical projections have been fairly accurate; the estimate for 2014 turned out to match the final number exactly, while the average for the previous six years was off by only 26. The worst was in 2012, when the projection was 298 too high.

According to NHTSA’s estimate, fatalities increased the most in the Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington), with a 20 percent gain. Fatalities declined 1 percent in the South Central region (Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas), while they grew from 4 to 10 percent in the rest of the country.

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