The big question about self-driving cars is “when?” On one hand, there are rumors that Google will start selling its self-driving cars next year. While even the Antiplanner doesn’t think that’s realistic, Ford is promising self-driving cars in 2019 and other manufacturers are saying 2020.
On the other hand, many are saying that, due to liability concerns and technical problems with such factors as rain and snow, it will take much longer than that. Another study predicts that, even if the first self-driving cars enter the market in the next decade, it will take several decades after that for them to dominate the roads.
The Antiplanner has written on this before, but the more I learn, the more I am convinced that the first self-driving cars will be for sale by 2020 and that they will be the dominant form of travel within not much more than a decade after that.
Progressive Railroading, which has never met a passenger train subsidy it didn’t like, claims that, after six years and $1.3 billion, work on moderate-speed rail service between Chicago and St. Louis is “nearing the finish line.” Since the trains will go a maximum of 110 miles per hour, it isn’t true high-speed rail; Progressive Railroading calls it “higher-speed rail” while the Antiplanner prefers the term “moderate-speed rail.”
It turns out that Illinois is also approaching “the finish line” at moderate speeds. After nearly six years of work, Illinois has trains running at 110 mph on only one 15-mile segment of the 284-mile trip. The “final phases” of the project will be completed “within the next few years,” the magazine says vaguely.
When it is done, trains that currently take 5 hours 20 minutes will finish the trip in “about” 4 hours 30 minutes, for an average speed of 63 mph. Google maps says people can drive the distance in 4 hours 20 minutes, so the train will still take more time than driving. Plus, of course, the train probably won’t go where most people want to go as there just aren’t that many businesses or residences within walking distance of either Chicago Union Station or St. Louis’ Amtrak station. If you are driving alone, the $27 cost of an Amtrak ticket is enough to pay the marginal costs of driving; if you have some passengers, you’ll save money even counting all the costs of driving.
The Los Angeles Time seems surprised to report that Los Angeles’ 9-mile-long Expo Line has failed to relieve congestion in the corridor it serves. Rail and bus boardings increased about 6 percent after the line opened in 2012 (at least some of which would be due to transfers of passengers from bus to rail who previously could go the entire distance of their journey by bus), but the rail line had no “significant or consistent impact” on auto traffic.
Many people believe rail transit depends on population density, and if so then the Expo Line should be a perfect candidate, as the area it serves has 26,000 people per square mile (about the same as New York City and nearly ten times the average urban density in the United States). On one hand, even that’s not dense enough for rail to attract a lot of riders. On the other hand, light rail is really low-capacity transit, so is truly the wrong solution for areas of high transit demand.
As the L.A. Times observes in other articles, rail does benefit some people. First, it gives perverts opportunities to engage in anonymous sexual harassment. Second, it gives politicians opportunities to spend a lot of money: with the prompting of Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles is considering spending billions of dollars on six more rail lines.
Some people have argued that a defect of high-occupancy/toll lanes is that they are expensive to install as they require their own on- and off-ramps in order to keep them separate from the general lanes. But–as the Antiplanner observed on a recent trip from Oregon to Texas–the Utah Department of Transportation has nearly 150 miles of HOT lanes that cost little more than ordinary freeway lanes.
Utah’s express lanes run along Interstate 15 from Spanish Forks (south of Provo) to South Ogden, about 72 miles in each direction. They are separated from the general lanes only by a double stripe. The “on- and off-ramps” consist of periodic replacement of the double stripes with dashed lines. Vehicles are free to enter and exit the express lanes where the lines are dashed, while they aren’t supposed to cross where there are two solid lines.
Oregon is the slowest state in the West. No other western state has such slow speed limits. Nationally, only Hawai’i is slower.
Texas, meanwhile, is the fastest state in the country. On a two-lane rural road, for example, Oregon allows speeds no higher than 55 mph; Texas may allow 75 mph. On a four-lane freeway, Oregon may allow 65 mph; Texas freeways are often 80 mph.
When a state highway enters a city with stop lights, Oregon speed limits slow to no more than 45 mph; Texas may keep speeds as high as 75 mph. That’s right; you can be legally driving at 75 mph and suddenly have to stop at a red light.
After years of indecision and short-term extensions, the House of Representatives passed a six-year transportation bill yesterday. Since the bill is not much different from a bill passed by the Senate a few months ago, it seems likely that the two will agree on a final bill later this month.
One of the main obstacles to the bill has been fiscal conservatives (and some liberals) who objected to $80 billion of deficit spending over the next six years. Many of the conservatives wanted to cut spending to be no more than gas tax and other highway revenues; the liberals wanted to raise gas taxes to cover the deficits and provide revenues for even more spending on roads and transit. Instead, the House stayed the course of spending more than is available, using various accounting tricks to cover the deficits.
What really happened is that newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan wanted to prove his worth, so he twisted enough arms to get the bill passed. The bill even includes reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which many conservatives hated. Apparently, the long-term opponents of this bank and transportation deficits just gave Ryan his honeymoon and allowed the bill to pass without a big fight: only 64 members of the House voted against the final bill.
(Callaghan doesn’t mention the other Pickrell Effect, which is that government employees who report such shenanigans are likely to be sent to the local equivalent of Siberia. For his effort, Pickrell was told by a Deputy Secretary of Transportation that he would never be allowed to work on a transit study again.)
Callaghan does say that Pickrell’s study led to “more scrutiny” by the Federal Transit Administration, resulting in “a measurable improvement in forecasts, with mixed results.” Which is it: an improvement or mixed results? Callaghan says that a 2003 FTA study found that, of 19 projects since the Pickrell report, “only” eleven greatly overestimated ridership while eight came within 20 percent of ridership estimates.
“Innovation” means introducing new things. But to be successful, innovators don’t just introduce new things, they introduce things that are cheaper and better than what preceded them. Steam trains were a successful innovation because they were faster and less expensive than horses and wagons. Automobiles were successful because they were faster and less expensive than trains. But if automobiles had come first, no one would have successfully introduced the “innovation” of steam trains.
A New York transit advocacy group called the Transit Center has a very different view of innovation. As expressed in the above graphic from its recent report, A People’s History of Urban Transit Innovation, innovation doesn’t mean finding new things or finding ways of doing things better for less money. Instead, it means selling the public on old things that are more expensive and less effective than what we already have.
After three months of debate, Congress has agreed to extend federal highway and transit spending for three weeks. Authority to spend federal dollars (mostly from gas taxes) on highways and transit was set to expire tomorrow. The three-week extension means that authority will expire on November 20.
Many members in Congress hope that the three-week delay will allow them to reconcile the House and Senate versions of a six-year bill. Among other things, the Senate version spends about $16.5 billion more than the House bill, $12.0 billion on highways and $4.5 billion on transit. The two bills also use different sources of revenue to cover the difference between gas tax revenues and the amounts many members of Congress want to spend.
To cover this difference, the Senate bill, known as the “Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act” or DRIVE Act, provides three years of funding by supplementing gas taxes with new customs, air travel, and mortgage-backed securities guarantee fees. The House bill, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, doesn’t offer any source of funds; instead, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster merely expressed hope that the House Ways & Means Committee would find a source of funds.
The Los Angeles Times has a special report finding that the California high-speed rail project will cost far more and take far longer than the rail authority is promising. The official cost estimate remains $68 billion for an abbreviated system despite the fact that a 2013 Parsons Brinckerhoff report to the authority said there was no way the project could be done for that price.
P-B’s report was “never made public” and the rail authority refused to release it under the state public records act. However, “an engineer close to the project” slipped a copy of the report to the Times.
The rail authority has established a record for ignoring such reports. In 2012, another consultant told the authority that costs should be revised upwards by 15 percent. The authority simply fired the consultant.