Category Archives: Transportation

Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in Philadelphia today for the World Metrorail Congress. Apparently, one of the conference organizers thought it would be a good idea to have the Antiplanner debate University of Pennsylvania Professor Vukan Vuchic about the future of transit. Needless to say, I will take the position that its future is very short.

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Saving Energy While Liberating the Poor

Last week, the Antiplanner argued that transit is going extinct and, rather than fight this trend, regional officials should find ways to smooth the transition. One way of doing so is to improve the mobility of low-income workers.

Transit advocates love to use phrases like oil dependency and auto dependency to suggest that automobiles are environmental disasters that have reduced our freedom. In fact, the 2015 National Transit Database shows that the only transit systems use less energy per passenger mile than driving are those in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco-Oakland, Portland, and Honolulu, while automobiles have liberated Americans, giving them far more mobility and economic opportunities than the people of any other country.

Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the benefits of this liberation. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, about 5 million workers who take transit to work live in households with either no or one car. About 2 million of those are in New York City and most of them presumably choose to live without cars, but it may be reasonable to estimate that about 2 to 3 million workers nationwide take transit because they can’t afford a car. Continue reading

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New Driving Data

The Federal Highway Administration has just released urban highway statistics for 2015, including the miles of roads and daily vehicle miles of driving by road type and “selected characteristics” for each urban area, including population, land area, freeway lane miles, and similar information. These data are quite useful as they allow interregional comparisons as well as, when combined with past data, a look at trends over time.

For example, the Los Angeles urban area is more than twice as dense as the Houston urban area, yet both report the same number of miles of driving per capita (see population note below). Though there is a weak correlation between density and driving, it isn’t as strong or as certain as urban planners would like you to believe.

As published by the FHwA, each table of more than 400 urban areas is divided into nine worksheets of 50 urban areas. Since this is clumsy, I’ve copied-and-pasted them into one worksheet each, which you can download for the miles of roads and selected characteristics. Continue reading

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The Transit Apocalypse

With declining ridership, growing costs, and increasing competition, the nation’s transit industry is on the verge of complete collapse. The trends leading to this collapse appear to be permanent, yet transit officials across the country are pretending they are only temporary. Instead of preparing for the collapse, they are simply seeking more subsidies.

The Antiplanner has witnessed in the collapse of an industry before, and the results are not pretty. I spent the first two decades of my career fighting money-losing timber sales on federal forests. Between 1990 and 2000, those sales declined by 85 percent, turning communities built around sawmills that purchased federal timber into near-ghost towns.

Some communities could see the handwriting on the wall and made the transition to a recreation economy. Bend, Oregon, near where the Antiplanner currently lives, is thriving as a resort and recreation town, with one of the fastest-growing populations in the country. Coos Bay, Oregon, near where the Antiplanner used to live, turned up its nose at the recreation economy, saying its high-paid union millworkers would not be satisfied flipping burgers and changing bed sheets. The area is currently depressed and–despite outstanding beauty and recreation opportunities–its population is stagnant.

Like timber communities, transit cities have the choice of preparing for or denying the impending collapse. Those that prepare for it will enable a smoother transition to future transportation systems while those that deny it will create huge problems for local taxpayers. Continue reading

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Response to Congestion Report

Two weeks ago, the Center of the American Experiment published a report by the Antiplanner showing that traffic congestion in Minneapolis-St. Paul was the deliberate result of the region’s Metropolitan Council’s plans to increase congestion in order to get more people to ride transit, walk, or bicycle. The Antiplanner quoted Met Council documents saying that it was not going to try to relieve congestion, cited budgetary numbers showing that more than 80 percent of capital spending was going for transit systems that carried less than 1.5 percent of travel while less than 10 percent went for roads that carried 90 percent.

Since the report was released, Met Council supporters have issued a couple of responses, including one yesterday. What do they say?

  1. Let’s spell Cato Institute with a K as in Kato. Get it? KKK? Right wing? Ha ha!
  2. Don’t believe anything the Antiplanner says; he doesn’t even have a degree in urban planning. (Thank Edwin Mills for that.*)
  3. Congestion is actually a good thing; be glad you have it.

Continue reading

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Will Driverless Cars Lead to Street Wars?

“Street Wars 2035” cries The Guardian; “Can cyclists and driverless cars ever co-exist?” The article predicts that streets will be designated “autonomous-vehicle only routes” where cars will whiz by, centimeters apart, allowing no room for pedestrian or bicycle crossings. Apparently, the writer never heard of stop lights or rights of way.

“The forces of driverless motordom try to push pedestrians and cyclists off the road” shrieks Treehugger, citing the Guardian article. All this hysteria is derived solely from one quote by Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn in January, 2016. Speaking to CNBC, Ghosn said, “One of the biggest problems is people with bicycles. The car is confused by them because from time-to-time they behave like pedestrians and from time-to-time they behave like cars.”

I’m not sure why Ghosn is even considered an expert, as Renault is hardly the forefront of driverless car technology. However, Renault’s partner, Nissan, has promised to have several models of self-driving cars by 2020. While Ghosn was technically CEO of Nissan when he made the statement (Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan and Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault), I suspect his statement was just an unguarded remark and not meant to the first shot of a war on bicycles. Continue reading

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The City That Loves to Spend on Transit

In 2007, the New York Times called Portland “the city that loves mass transit.” The Antiplanner took issue with that claim then, and it is even less appropriate now. APTA’s latest ridership report reveals Portland’s transit agency, TriMet, carried 1.6 percent fewer trips in 2016 than in 2015. The American Community Survey says that the share of commuters taking transit to work fell from 8.1 percent in 2014 to 7.9 percent in 2015.

In reality, as the Antiplanner wrote in 2007, Portland is “the city whose officials love to spend money on transit.” That also remains unchanged, as TriMet is preparing a regional transit strategy that calls for more streetcars, more light-rail lines, and exclusive busways. To top it off, TriMet wants to build a light-rail subway through downtown, which will probably cost almost as much as all of Portland’s previous light-rail construction combined.

The region has already spent between $4 billion and $5 billion on light rail. Before commencing construction on the city’s first light-rail line, 9.9 percent of commuters took transit to work. Since it is now down to 7.9 percent, rail clearly has not boosted transit ridership. According to a report released last October, one-third of the region’s capital spending on transportation is going for transit, yet transit carries just 2.5 percent of the region’s motorized passenger miles (and virtually no freight). Continue reading

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Transit Subsidies Are “Ridiculous”

A Pensacola, Florida politician has come out and said what many are thinking: maybe taxpayers don’t need to subsidize transit. Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill has proposed to ask voters whether they want to continue subsidizing the county’s bus system.

It’s ridiculous of us to try to continue to push a service that the citizens are telling us everyday that they don’t want,” says Underhill. By “don’t want” he means “aren’t using”: According to the 2015 American Community Survey, only 1,230 people take transit to work. The 22-route bus system should “be about half the size of what we’ve got right now at the very maximum,” he estimates. Continue reading

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New York City Transit Deteriorates

As the Antiplanner has previously noted, claims that transit ridership grew in 2014 and 2015 obscured the fact that all of that growth was accounted for by the New York City subway. But subway ridership declined in 2016, contributing to a 2.3 percent decline in nationwide transit ridership.

The drop in the Big Apple’s subway ridership was only 0.8 percent, but unlike most cities where transit fares bring in less than 20 percent of operating costs, the subway covers 60 percent of its operating costs with fares. So even a small decline hurts a lot more than a bigger decline would do elsewhere.

Money is particularly crucial now, as the subway and other New York transit systems have become increasingly unreliable. It is so bad that some transit riders have sued New York City transit for failing to provide safe and reliable service. Continue reading

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Trolley Follies

The Antiplanner’s recent review of a proposed streetcar in Fort Lauderdale compared data for a dozen streetcar lines operating in 2015. Left out were streetcars in Cincinnati and Kansas City, which began operating during 2016. Now the early results for those two lines are in, and–not surprisingly–they aren’t good.

When it was planned, the Cincinnati streetcar was projected to carry 4,600 riders per weekday (see p. 16). By the time construction began, officials reduced this to 3,200 trips per weekday, and by the time it opened they dropped it further to 2,600. Actual ridership in May, its ninth month of operation, was just 1,713 trips per day. Since the city was counting on fares to help pay for operations, the streetcar is expected to have a $474,530 deficit this year and will need even more money from the city next year.

The Kansas City streetcar, meanwhile, was projected to carry nearly 3,200 weekday riders at fares of $1.50 a ride. So the city was elated when ridership in the first couple of months was more than 6,000 trips per weekday. What they didn’t mention was that the rides were free, not $1.50. Judging by Atlanta’s experience, raising the fares to $1 would reduce ridership by 58 percent; raising them to $1.50 would reduce it even more. Continue reading

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