Category Archives: Transportation

“Quick Win” for Buses = Loss for Commuters

New York City rail transit lines have fallen on hard times, with frequent delays, accidents, and even trains not running at all. While Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency, some transit advocates want to make sure buses aren’t forgotten in any multi-billion-dollar fix.

Some of their ideas, such as having people pay before they board to hasten loading, are good ones. But they also want more dedicated bus lanes and to have traffic signals be programmed to give buses priority at intersections.

In any city but New York, giving transit priority over other traffic is foolish because cars typically move 50 to 100 times as many people and trucks move far more freight than transit. In New York City, however, transit carries well over half of commuters to work, so deserves more consideration. But how many of those transit commuters take the bus? Continue reading


“True” BRT Clogs Up the Roads

The strange notion that bus-rapid transit isn’t “true” bus-rapid unless it uses lanes dedicated only to buses has infected Denver. The city is now considering converting two lanes of Colfax, the most important (and most congested) east-west street in the region, into dedicated bus lanes.

This would make the remaining lanes even more congested, yet Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) simply does not have enough buses to fully utilize dedicated lanes. Despite this, the idea has gained the editorial endorsement of the Denver Post, which nonsensically claims that this would “fix” Colfax’s congestion problems.

Recall that Istanbul has a dedicated busway that supports more than 250 buses per hour. RTD has less than 1,200 buses in total, the vast majority of which never go on Colfax. It would never be able to run more than a small fraction of 250 buses per hour down Colfax, even if the demand existed, which it does not. Continue reading


Make [Some] Commuter Pay Their Share

New York City subways are falling apart. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a $38 billion debt and $18 billion in unfunded health-care obligations. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio spend most of their time blaming each other for the region’s transportation woes.

The New York Times thinks it has a solution: “Make commuters pay their share again.” That sounds like a great idea! The people who ride the trains should be the ones to pay for them.

But that’s not what the Times means. Instead, it wants people who live outside the city to pay a commuter tax to work in the city. Such a tax, equal to 0.45 percent of each commuter’s income, once was in place, but was repealed in 1999. If renewed, the Times estimates, it would add nearly a billion dollars a year to the city’s coffers, which it could use to restore the subways, though it is more likely that it would spend it on such frivolities as extending the Second Avenue subway. Continue reading


Why Rail Transit Doesn’t Work in Atlanta

One of the more interesting presentations at the 2017 American Dream conference was by Alain Bertaud, a French demographer currently working at New York University. He has compared urban areas all over the world to see how transportation has influenced the layout of those areas.

Click any image for a larger view.

He started by comparing Atlanta with Barcelona, Spain. Although both have about the same number of people, Barcelona occupies about 63 square miles while Atlanta covers 1,650 square miles. Barcelona has about 62 miles of rail lines, while Atlanta had about 46 when Bertaud was making his comparison (it’s up to 52 today). In order for Atlanta’s rail system to provide the same level of service to its residents as Barcelona’s, the region would need to build another 2,350 miles of rail lines. At current construction prices, that would cost at least $700 billion. Continue reading


The Last Mile May Hasten the End for Transit

Amtrak has agreed with Lyft to cooperate to allow the railroad’s passengers to order a Lyft ride from Amtrak’s own app. Dallas transit riders can call Uber to get them from a transit station to their final destination. A town in New Jersey is offering the same service to New Jersey Transit riders.

Transit agencies have long known that their transit vehicles usually can’t reach the final destinations for every rider, something known as the last-mile problem. Now, some of them see Uber and Lyft as the solution to that problem.

This is going to bite them in the end. A century and a half ago, river boat companies thought that railroads would solve their last mile problem. It never occurred to them that the railroads would soon be competing against them by building along the rivers. Within a few decades, the river boats were out of business. Continue reading


Los Angeles Gets People Into Cars

Los Angeles “finds a way to get people out of their cars,” reports the Washington Post. What way is that? Light rail!

According to the article, Los Angeles opened an extension of the Expo light-rail line in 2016 that cost a mere $2.43 billion. With that extension, weekday ridership on the line grew from 46,000 to 64,000 trips. So, for a mere $135,000, the region got, at most, one car off the road each day.

According to the Southern California Association of Government’s long-range transportation plan, the region sees more than 62 million trips per day. So, for only $8.4 trillion, the region could build enough light rail to get all of the cars off the road. That’s assuming constant returns to scale, which is unlikely. Continue reading


Is Transit Getting More Dangerous?

Someone was shot at a Washington Metro station yesterday. Violent crime on BART appears to be increasing. Emergency calls at Phoenix light-rail stations went up 73 percent between 2014 and 2016. A transit station in Minneapolis is known for “piss, dope, beggars & blow jobs.”

Is crime on board transit vehicles and in transit stations rising, or are news outlets just reporting it more? One answer to this is provided by table 2-38 of National Transportation Statistics, “Reports of Crime by Transit Mode.” Unfortunately, this table only goes through 2012, and the Federal Transit Administration stopped making the data it collects available through the National Transit Database in 2002.

But table 2-38 shows crime falling into three periods. From 1995 through 2001, transit crime was very high, with around 20 homicides, 40 rapes, and 3,000 robberies a year. From 2002 to 2009, crime seems to have have fallen by at least 50 percent, with a couple of homicides, 20 rapes, and 1,500 robberies a year. In 2010, the numbers appear to rise again, though some of the categories are suspiciously low in 2011 and 2012, suggesting that they hadn’t really tallied all of the results.

A note, however, suggests these data aren’t really reliable. “Beginning in 2002, data are no longer collected for the following offenses: Sex offenses, Drug abuse violations, Driving under the influence, Drunkenness, Disorderly conduct, and Curfew and loitering laws,” the note says. “Analysts for the FTA believe the change in reporting requirements in 2002 may have resulted in unreliable data in that year. The reliability of reporting is believed to be much better in 2003 and is expected to improve in the future.” Continue reading


The Benefits of Light Rail

The Millennials favorite city, Portland, is showing just how well light rail works in reducing congestion. Which is to say, it’s not working at all.

According to a new report from the Oregon Department of Transportation, between 2013 and 2015 the population of the Portland area grew by 3.0 percent, but the daily miles of driving grew by 5.5 percent. Since the number of freeway lane miles grew by only 1.0 percent, the number of hours roads are congested grew by 13.6 percent and the number of hours people are stuck in traffic grew by 22.6 percent. Many roads are now congested for six hours a day.

I’m not sure where those new freeway lane miles are supposed to be unless they resulted from expanding the region’s urban-growth boundary. Except for reconstruction of part of state highway 217–which wasn’t counted in the above numbers–there hasn’t been any new freeway additions in Portland since the 1970s. Instead, the region has been putting all of its spare dollars into light rail and streetcars. Continue reading


Using Driverless Cars as an Excuse to Do
What Planners Wanted to Do Anyway

Minnesota planners want to be “ready” for driverless cars. But most of what they propose sounds like things that the anti-car crowd wants to do anyway.

This includes things like reducing parking spaces and shrinking the size of streets–both items high on urban planners’ agendas for years. While that may be possible when driverless cars come to dominate the road, there is no guarantee, so they shouldn’t jump the gun.

They are happy to jump the gun when it comes to not building new roads. “The last thing cities should do is add lanes to existing roads,” said a planner from the University of Minnesota. This assumes that driverless cars will dramatically relieve congestion and that neither population nor personal mobility will grow in the future. Actually, a good case can be made that some lanes should be added to existing roads both because they are needed now and because population and travel growth in some areas will make up for the potential congestion relief from driverless cars. Continue reading


Time to Pretend to Get Serious About Traffic

It’s “time to get serious about fixing Austin’s traffic,” says a headline at KVUE. However, no one quoted in the article is actually willing to get serious about fixing Austin’s traffic.

Instead, the article is exclusively about Project Connect, a front group that has promoted light rail for Capital Metro, Austin’s transit agency. All of the “solutions” discussed in the article involve transit, including light rail and dedicated bus lanes, both of which will actually increase congestion.

Here’s why transit won’t work to fix traffic in Austin, which by some measures is the nation’s fastest-growing urban area. Between 2010 and 2015, the Austin urban area grew by 220,000 people, or 3.0 percent per year. Transit passenger miles, meanwhile, grew by 3.5 percent per year. Sounds pretty good so far. Continue reading