Author Archives: The Antiplanner

About The Antiplanner

The Antiplanner is an economist with forty years of experience critiquing public land, urban, transportation, and other government plans.

Not Much of a Comeback

CNN breathlessly reports that, in a “surprising comeback” over the past 10 to 15 years, “passenger rail has seen a resurgence in ridership.” The article is accompanied by 14 beautiful photographs of passenger trains, nearly all either tourist trains or trains in other countries and none of Amtrak, the near-monopoly provider of intercity passenger rail in the country (rectified with the photo below).

In September, 2010, Amtrak’s Empire Builder crosses Two Medicine Bridge near Glacier National Park in Montana. Photo by the Antiplanner; click image for a larger view.

Among the few hard facts contained in the CNN article is that, in its 2013 fiscal year, Amtrak carried a record number of passengers, nearly 31.6 million. Let’s see what that really means.

Continue reading


Frequent Buses Yes; Dedicated Lanes No

In an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, the Antiplanner argues that transit agencies in medium-sized cities such as Albuquerque should experiment with “bus-rapid transit lite”–meaning increasing bus frequencies, reducing the number of stops so as to speed schedules, and prepayment of fares to speed loading of passengers. But dedicating traffic lanes to buses and giving them signal priority will harm far more people than it will benefit and shouldn’t be done.

Click image for a larger view of this Albuquerque rapid ride articulated bus. Wikimedia Commons photo by PerryPlanet.

The op-ed also mentions that the large, articulated buses often used for bus-rapid transit may be the wrong choice. In fact, these buses are about the least cost-effective, in terms of dollars per seat, of any buses available. They take a huge amount of space on the street, are difficult to maneuver, and slow to accelerate. Transit agencies that think they have enough demand to justify large buses such as these should consider instead running smaller buses more frequently. Transit riders are known to be frequency sensitive, but they aren’t particularly sensitive to the size of the vehicle they ride in.


Hal Salwasser R.I.P.

The Forest Service has historically been dominated by foresters and engineers, so a wildlife biologist who joined the agency in 1978 wouldn’t expect to advance very far. But after getting a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from the University of California at Berkeley, Hal Salwasser went to work for the Forest Service and quickly moved up within the agency.

In the 1980s, just a few years after he began working for the Forest Service, he was the agency’s deputy national director of wildlife and fisheries. In 1990, Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson was searching for a way out of the environmental controversies that beset the agency and asked Salwasser to run what Robertson called the “New Perspectives” program. Salwasser made an earnest effort to find new ways of managing the national forests. In one sense, the program was a dead end, but in another sense it contributed to major changes including an 80 percent reduction in timber sales.

Salwasser then left the agency for a short time to become the Boone & Crockett Professor at the University of Montana. In this chair, Salwasser not only taught students but hunted and fished with the 100 wealthy members of this exclusive club. “Am I having fun, or what?” he enthused.

Continue reading


How to Hoodwink the Public

Two years ago, Virginia Beach put a measure on the ballot to extend the Norfolk light rail (which stops at the border between the two cities) into Virginia Beach. All of the advertising for the measure said “Vote Yes to Study Light Rail.” But the actual measure read, “Should the City Council adopt an ordinance approving the use of all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development of The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach?” That’s a lot different than a study.

The measure passed. But it is entirely possible that voters would have been less enthused if they had known that the Norfolk light rail ended up carrying 58 percent fewer riders than projected in its first year. In any case, the Antiplanner’s presentation arguing that light rail makes no sense for Virginia Beach can now be downloaded. It’s a 33-megabyte PDF that includes my narrative in the notes but doesn’t include any of the videos.


Autonomous Vehicle Presentation

The Antiplanner’s presentation on autonomous vehicles, mass transit, and long-range transportation planning is now available for download. It’s about 20 MB.

Tonight (October 16), at 7 pm, the Antiplanner will speak about the Tide light rail in the Virginia Beach Central Public Library Auditorium. (The event was originally to take place elsewhere but the location has changed at the last minute.) If you are in the Hampton Roads area, I hope to see you there.


More Rail Fail

Two more rail transit lines are following in the tracks of so many others that have failed to live up to planners’ promises. First, Orlando’s SunRail commuter train is “losing riders at an increasing pace.” The project, which cost a billion dollars and was built partly to persuade the federal government that Florida was serious about supporting an Orlando-Tampa high-speed rail line, has lost 27 percent of its riders since it opened.

SunRail Fail. Flickr photo by Buddahbless.

Second, Seattle’s seven-year-old South Lake Union Transit (SLUT) streetcar has continually failed to attracted the predicted number of riders. Both the SLUT and SunRail were counting on rider fares to help pay operating costs; the SLUT’s shortfall has required repeated bailouts of the line.

Continue reading


Living in a Fantasy World

Here’s more evidence that rail transit advocates–in this case, streetcar supporters–are totally delusional: proponents of a 7.4-mile Columbia Pike streetcar in Arlington, Virginia, estimate that the streetcar line will carry 42,800 people per day in 2035. That’s nearly 5,800 daily boardings per mile of streetcar line, which is more than twice as great than the most heavily used streetcar lines in the country. It is even greater than all but one light-rail line and only 20 percent less than the Washington MetroRail system.

According to the 2012 National Transit Database, the most heavily used lines that the Federal Transit Administration currently defines as streetcars are in Philadelphia, which carried nearly 85,000 people per weekday (see the service spreadsheet for weekday trips and the fixed guideway spreadsheet for directional route miles–divide directional route miles by 2 to get route miles). But there are 108 route miles of such lines for an average of just 780 boardings per mile. The streetcar line that attracted the most passengers per mile in 2012 was in Portland (probably because it was nearly free), and it attracted 2,670 weekday riders per mile–less than half of the projection for the Arlington streetcar.

“The Columbia Pike corridor currently has the highest transit ridership within the Commonwealth for a corridor without fixed guideway service,” say streetcar supporters. They think the “high-capacity” streetcar will handle this ridership and attract even more riders. But not even most light-rail lines, whose capacities are several times greater than streetcars, attract 5,000 riders per day.

Continue reading


Irrelevance Across America

Something calling itself the “Accessibility Observatory” at the University of Minnesota has mapped transit accessibility for most of the nation’s 50 largest urban areas (Jacksonville, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Richmond were left out for lack of transit data). Different colors on the maps show how many jobs are accessible from each point within 30 minutes by transit.

Click image to download report.

“At the highest levels,” gushes the report, “millions of jobs are accessible by transit within 30 minutes.” To be precise, millions of jobs are accessible by transit in Manhattan. In Chicago, the nation’s second-largest concentration of jobs, under a million jobs are accessible. San Francisco is under 750,000 jobs; Portland is under 500,000 jobs, and places like Tampa are under 250,000.

Continue reading


When Myron Met the Antiplanner

Some two weeks ago, the Antiplanner met regionalist Myron Orfield in a debate over the question, “What is the appropriate role of government in land-use regulation?” A member of the Sensible Land Use Coalition, which sponsored the event, recorded the discussion and asked me to post it to Youtube.

To avoid an overly long video, I elected to post it in four parts. Part 1, above, shows the introductions and my presentation (also available as a 10.5-MB PDF).

Continue reading


The Death of the Auto Industry as We Know It?

Adam Jonas, head of auto research at Morgan Stanley, is predicting the end of the auto industry “as we know it.” Or, at least, that’s what Business Insider is reporting–Jonas’ actual article appears to be behind a paywall.

As near as the Antiplanner can tell, what Jonas is actually saying is that self-driving cars will completely change the auto industry, and industry analysts who fail to account for that change will lose out. The actual title of Jonas’ article is “Death of an Auto Analyst.”

According to the report, Jonas “sees a world in which everyone rents a car instead of owning one.” This means the industry will have to change from one that sells cars to consumers to one that sells cars to car-sharing firms that rent them to consumers. He may believe that this will change the dynamics of auto making such that, for example, style becomes less important than functionality.

Continue reading