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.

Empty Nesters Moving into Bigger Homes

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is “surprised” that retirees are moving into bigger homes, not smaller ones like the “conventional wisdom” dictates. Of course, that’s the conventional wisdom of urban planners, not demographers or economists, which means it is more like untested hypotheses, not wisdom. In any case, people who have accumulated a lifetime of toys and suddenly have time on their hands to play with those toys are not going to move into tiny downtown condos, or at least not all of them.

The Antiplanner is between planes so instead of going into this question in depth I’ll let the commenters take this and run.


No Infrastructure Fund

A lot of people have proposed that Congress create an infrastructure bank that would fund or finance the reconstruction and expansion of America’s transportation and other infrastructure. One problem is where the money would come from. Another problem is how would it be allocated.

Representative John Delaney (D-MD) thinks he has the answers to these two questions. He notes that, for tax reasons, American corporations have kept billions of dollars in foreign profits overseas so they don’t have to pay U.S. taxes on them. He proposes to drastically reduce the rate they would pay on this income, leading them to bring the funds back. The revenues from the lower rates (he proposes about 8 percent) that would then be paid would seed what he calls the American Infrastructure Fund.

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Amtrak Not Worth State Support

The Antiplanner arrived at the Purple Line debate debate last night to find protesters who were apparently upset that anyone would consider not building a train whose projected costs have already risen by more than 40 percent and whose ridership projections are so outlandish that even the Federal Transit Administration uses a lower (though still unrealistically high) number. Some of the protesters recognized me and were nice enough to wish me well in the debate.

My opponent, Richard Parsons, seems to truly believe that a 15.5-mph, low-capacity rail line will spur enough development to increase county tax revenues by more than $10 billion. When I pointed out that this has not happened to any rail project in the last 40 years, and that at most all they have done is influenced where development takes place, he didn’t dispute it, but merely claimed that Montgomery County was unique. Those who wish to see my presentation can download the PowerPoint file here.

Meanwhile, in keeping with the fiscally conservative trend that swept much of the nation in the last election, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed (see p. 3-32) to help close the state’s $6.8 billion budget gap by cutting state support for Amtrak from $46.2 million in 2015 to $28.8 million in 2016. Amtrak supporters are unsurprisingly outraged, claiming that a reduction in passenger train service will increase traffic congestion, air pollution, and wear and tear on the highways.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in Washington DC today to participate in a debate over the Purple light-rail line–or, as I like to call it, the Purple Money Eater. In conjunction with this debate, the Maryland Public Policy Institute will release a detailed critique of the proposed low-capacity transit line; Antiplanner readers can download a preview today.

Predictably, rail supporters are claiming that the supposedly evil Koch Brothers “dispatched” me to fight this rail project. In reality, I doubt that light rail is even on the Koch Brothers’ radar screen, since there is no light rail in Kansas (where they are headquartered) and no proposals for any as far as I know. (Could it be that’s not a coincidence?)

We’ll see what the rail supporters say tonight. If you are in the DC area, I hope to see you in Silver Spring at 7 pm.


Will Apple Join the Self-Driving Car Race?

Apple is planning to put an electric car on the market by 2020. No, Apple is planning to build a self-driving car. No, it’s not. It would be stupid to do so.

Rumors about Apple, which has the highest market capitalization of any company in the world, are an industry in itself, so the rumor world was thrilled to learn that Apple had leased a modest Dodge Caravan and was driving it around Silicon Valley festooned with cameras, Lidar, and other devices.

Meanwhile, Apple has hired hundreds of auto engineers away from Tesla, General Motors, Ford, and other companies with the goal of putting as many as 1,000 of them to work on the so-called Apple Car. (Ironically, less than a month after being fined more than $100 million for agreeing not to poach employees from Google, Adobe, and Intel, Apple is being sued by battery maker A123 for allegedly poaching its experts.)

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Faster, Cheaper, Safer, More Convenient

Smallter Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper, by the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce, argues that human innovation will save the planet from climate change and other projected catastrophes. As the title suggests, most of that innovation has to do with making things smaller, faster, etc., but Bryce especially focuses on power density, that is, the amount of energy produced by a machine per kilogram weight of that machine. Thus, steam engines are more powerful than horses; internal combustion engines more powerful than steam; and jet engines more powerful than internal combustion.

Bryce’s formula, with modifications, applies to transportation and other issues as well. For transportation, the key factors are faster, cheaper, safer, and more convenient (convenienter?). From the beginning of the nineteenth century, every major technological innovation in transportation revolutionized society by improving most or all of these factors. The next major innovation–self-driving cars–will definitely improve all four.

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Streetcars and Commuter Trains Are Hot

Ridership on Atlanta’s new streetcar is 18 percent below projections–and the projections assumed patrons would be charged a $1 fare, but (as of the date of the ridership numbers) the city was still offering free introductory rides. Meanwhile, operating costs have proven to be a mere 50 percent more than projected.

Washington, DC’s new streetcar hasn’t yet opened for business, but it has already proven to be hot–as in one of the streetcars being tested on H Street caught fire the other day. DC residents aren’t exactly looking forward to the streetcar, which is increasing traffic congestion and slowing bus service in the corridor. This is just one more example, locals note, of “corporate welfare and the edifice complex.”

Just outside of DC, a new report reveals that the Maryland Transit Administration has done a poor job of tracking consultant costs on the proposed Purple and Red lines. This doesn’t bode well for taxpayers if construction ever begins on these two lines, both of which are expected to cost more than $2 billion.

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Cities Want Federal Grants

Here’s another article claiming that the fact that cities are foolish enough to accept federal grants to build streetcars proves that “America has a renewed desire for streetcars.” The article then lists eleven streetcar projects–some of them under construction, others still in early planning phases–as evidence.

One of the projects is in Kansas City, where less than a year ago voters rejected a plan to expand the starter-system funded by the feds. Another city was Milwaukee, where voters have repeatedly rejected light rail, commuter trains, and other rail boondoggles. A third city was Cincinnati, where voters elected a mayor who promised to cancel the streetcar–but was unable to override the majority of the city council. Considering opposition to streetcars in Arlington, San Antonio, and other cities, there is hardly a groundswell of support for these obsolete systems.

The pro-streetcar article is on a website called FutureStructure, which is basically a rah-rah site for people interested in profiting off of government infrastructure spending. Many readers no doubt drooled over the 11 streetcar projects in the article whose average cost was $37 million per mile, ranging as high as $79 million in one case. Considering that it costs less than a quarter of that average to build a mile of four-lane urban freeway and that streetcars are slower than buses and have far lower capacities, these are insane amounts to spend–unless of course, you are the one profiting from government contracts.


Buses Are Better Than Trains

More people are taking up the call to promote buses rather than build trains. As the Antiplanner noted on February 10, the average number of people on board a transit bus has declined from 15 in 1979 to about 11 today.

Starting today, rides on AC Transit’s double-decker buses will be free for the next three weeks.

Just one week later, New York Times writer Josh Barro argues that if some people won’t ride buses because they “carry a ‘shame factor,'” it makes more sense to spend a little money improving the public image of buses (as Midttrafik is doing) than to spend a lot of money building rail lines that are no faster than buses.

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Farms vs. Transit in Hawai’i

Now that Honolulu’s insanely expensive, low-capacity rail line is under construction (and over budget), Oahu land-use advocates are upset that the city wants to rezone 1,289 acres of farms for residential development. At least some members of the city council claim to have been shocked to learn that just 17 percent of the island is still suitable for farming while 27 percent has been urbanized.

Sadly, efforts to protect farmlands in Hawai’i are something of a joke considering that Hawai’i’s land-use laws–the strictest in the nation–were supposedly passed to protect farmlands and yet in fact are responsible for destroying Hawai’i’s agricultural industry. The land-use laws made Hawai’ian housing so unaffordable that farmers can’t pay workers enough for them to be able to live there. As a result, the state has lost most of its pineapple, sugar cane, and other crop production to other Pacific islands such as Fiji.

Comparing a map of Oahu land-use designations with the route of the rail line reveals that the rail line will cross only a few tiny areas of land zoned for farming. In fact, a lot of the land around Kapolei that is zoned urban hasn’t yet been developed and could still be used for farming, but why bother if you can’t afford to grow crops?

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