Slate posted an article yesterday by someone named Charles Montgomery who has fallen, hook, line, and sinker to the design fallacy–the idea that urban planners can shape human behavior by shaping urban design. The title of the article says it all: “Why cul-de-sacs are bad for your health.”
Montgomery’s thesis–expressed at length in his book, Happy City–is that people who live on cul-de-sacs drive more and walk less, so therefore cul-de-sacs must be at fault. Gee, could it be the other way around? Perhaps people who don’t want to walk to go shopping choose to live on cul-de-sacs because they offer the best combination of privacy and security they can find. After all, numerous studies have shown that neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs have significantly less crime than neighborhoods with the gridded streets favored by planning advocates like Montgomery.
Studies have also shown that plenty of people who live in the suburbs get exercise doing things other than walking to shops or cycling to work. Who are urban planners like Montgomery to tell them they are doing it wrong? Meanwhile, while urban planners continue to have faith in the design fallacy, most economists believe that the trends planners think they see (such as people walking more in dense, mixed-use communities) are the result of self-selection, not urban design.
The Antiplanner is flying to Washington DC today to testify at a hearing tomorrow on federal grants for transit capital projects, also known as New Starts. My testimony will summarize my recent paper on the subject: that the New Starts grant-making process gives transit agencies incentives to choose high-cost solutions; that buses are superior to rails in almost every place agencies want to build new rail lines; and that transit riders suffer when agencies cannibalize their bus systems to pay for the rails.
The Obama Administration hates wealth and success. That’s the only explanation for recent actions it has taking to bring down those who are wealthy and successful.
First, the administration is plundering J.P. Morgan of $13 billion, partly for actions taken by Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, financial institutions that went broke and which J.P. Morgan took over as a favor to the federal government. These fines are for things WAMU and Bear Stearns did that no one thought were illegal at the time. The Obama administration has effectively made them retroactively illegal and fined a company that hadn’t engaged in similar activities itself. Normally, when a bank goes broke, the government asked another bank to take over so that people don’t lose access to their savings. Good luck convincing a bank to do that now. As J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon says, “A Bear Stearns deal would not happen again that way, we simply wouldn’t undertake it.”
Second, the administration has charged Apple for acting as a monopoly price fixer for selling ebooks at certain prices. Never mind that Apple was entering an already competitive textbook market and offering to sell ebooks for far less than its competitors sell hard-copy books. The judge in the case has appointed as an inquisitor someone who has no experience in antitrust law, but is charging Apple more than $1,000 an hour to go through its books and question its employees.
Sam Stein at the Huffington Post frets that “Obama’s vision for high-speed rail is in danger of stalling out.” Where has he been the last three years? High-speed rail was in danger of stalling out in 2010, when Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin elected governors who turned back funds for their states’ programs. Today, Obama’s “vision” is dead, and so is high-speed rail in this country.
Unlike air and highway travel, with Obama’s high-speed rail vision, you won’t be able to get from anywhere in the country to most other places in the country.
Like other rail nuts, Stein tries to make it appear we are in some kind of race for supremacy with Japan and other countries. “With countries like Japan already investing in the newest form of rail technology –- magnetic levitation, which LaHood called “way too expensive” for the U.S. –- the nation is very much set to be left in the proverbial dust.” The problem is that “the newest form of rail technology” is just as obsolete as the previous form. Stein might as well worry that we aren’t keeping up with the Japanese on floppy disk technology.
A few days ago, the Federal Transit Administration posted the 2012 National Transit Database. Data are downloadable in three formats. First, you can download profiles for every transit agency (21.3 MB). These give basic data such as trips, passenger miles, fares, and costs broken down by type of transit. If you don’t want to download the whole book, you can also download profiles for individual agencies by entering the agency name, city, or ID number in a search box (scroll down and look for “Individual Profiles” on the righthand column).
Second, you can download data tables, which present the data for all transit agencies in fairly user-friendly spreadsheets. All of the tables at once can be downloaded in a self-extracting exe file (4.1 MB), but my Macintosh doesn’t want to extract the spreadsheets. One problem with the data tables is that there are separate tables for trips, fares, operating costs, capital costs, and other data, so comparing the numbers is difficult.
Third, you can download database spreadsheets. These are more difficult to read than the data tables, but are easier to manipulate on a computer because every row on each spreadsheet follows a consistent format. Like the data tables, these spreadsheets can also be downloaded as one self-extracting exe file (5.1 MB).
One of the many inane things about Obamacare is the Cadillac tax, which punishes employers who provide their employees with “too much” health insurance. The Democrats who supported this are now having to deal with the fact that the employers most guilty of providing Cadillac health insurance are public agencies. Of these, transit agencies have some of the most expensive plans of all.
The Cadillac tax, which takes effect in 2018, is 40 percent of health insurance costs above $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. As of 2013, Portland’s TriMet reported it was providing health coverage averaging $21,000 a year for individual plans. The agency asked employees to accept a cut to $19,000, but even if the union accepted, this remained well above the federal limit. The recent BART strike was over the same issue.
Even if TriMet negotiated a lower rate, it is likely to rise by 2018 due to inflation. Assuming most employees are on the family plan, paying the Cadillac tax for TriMet’s 2,400 employees could cost as much as $20 million per year, which is about 5 percent of the agency’s operating budget. TriMet was already threatening to cut service by 70 percent if unions did not agree to lower benefits. The Cadillac tax could make this even worse.
A winter storm has cancelled and delayed flights in some parts of the country, but so far the Pacific Northwest remains clear if a bit cold. Travel safe and have a happy Thanksgiving wherever you are.
A California judge has refused to allow the California High-Speed Rail Authority to sell $8 billion worth of bonds to begin construction of the project. The judge said the authority had failed to meet legal requirements necessary to begin construction.
Not everyone was thrilled about the high-speed train.
The authority had filed a “validation” lawsuit last March, challenging anyone in the state to argue that it didn’t have the right to build. A variety of groups, including Kings County Board of Supervisors and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, rose to the challenge. As a result, Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the authority had failed to show that it was “necessary and desirable” to sell bonds and begin construction.
The Antiplanner paid $2.99 a gallon for gasoline last week, which–according to my records–is the lowest I’ve paid for three years. The United States is now producing more oil than it imports for the first time since 1995. Not only is the U.S. producing more oil than Saudi Arabia today, it is poised to become the world’s largest oil producer (ahead of Russia, which is currently number one) by 2015.
Despite these dramatic changes, there are some who still want to harp on peak oil. “A new multi-disciplinary study led by the University of Maryland calls for immediate action by government, private and commercial sectors to reduce vulnerability to the imminent threat of global peak oil,” says one news article.
In fact, the study in question doesn’t predict that peak oil will take place soon, only that if it does, it will have serious consequences. But even that conclusion is wrong, as the “multidisciplinary team” would have known if one of the disciplines had been economics.
The Antiplanner is old enough to remember what happened 50 years ago today, and even to remember that November 22 was a Friday 50 years ago just as it is today. That gave most people two days to be at home to think about it–or in one case to do something about it–before the funeral on Monday.
There is no doubt the assassination changed America. We lost an innocence that had infused the nation since the end of the Korean war–an innocence we did not truly deserve. Yet we lost less than many think and may even have gained more than some want to believe.