Category Archives: Transportation

Transit Crime

Is there an upsurge in crime on and around transit, and if so, why? A few days ago, a Portland woman was stabbed at a light-rail stop, supposedly by a complete stranger. The very next day, a remarkably similar report came out of Tempe, Arizona, except in this case police said the victim and alleged perpetrator were acquaintances.

A month ago, a gang of at least 40 teenagers boarded a BART train and, while some held the doors to prevent the train from leaving the station, robbed seven passengers and beat up two or more who refused to cooperate. Continue reading

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Sometimes the Answer Is “Yes”

As the Antiplanner has noted before, Betteridge’s law states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” But there are always exceptions, and one can be found above a recent Seattle Times article about a recent light-rail ballot measure, asking “Did Sound Transit mislead legislators and voters?

The Antiplanner doesn’t like to use generalities, but one that is even more reliable than Betteridge’s Law is that almost everything light-rail advocates say is untrue. Contrary to what they claim or imply, light rail is not light (light-rail cars weigh more than heavy-rail cars), it’s not high-capacity transit (buses can move four times as many people in the same corridor), it’s not fast (averaging less than 20 mph), and it’s far from efficient.

Last November’s ballot measure, known as ST3, asked Seattle voters to agree to pay $54 billion in taxes to get 62 miles of light rail and a few new commuter trains. That’s an unbelievable amount of money for so little in return. Continue reading

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The Antiplanner’s Library: Bike Battles

University of Wisconsin historian James Longhurst has written a book about the history of conflicts over cyclists’ rights to use the road. As Longhurst points out, cycling has gone through a number of “booms,” starting in the late nineteenth century, then during World War II, later with the growth of environmentalism in the 1970s, and most recently in the last few years. As a cyclist myself, I was familiar with most of this history except for the WWII part, and as near as I can tell Longhurst’s account is accurate.

However, as illustrated in the video below, Longhurst approaches the debate as an environmental issue, which leads him in the wrong direction. Treating cycling as an environmental issue leads to the conclusion that bicycles are morally superior to automobiles because they use less energy and pollute less. That leads to demands that cyclists be allowed special rights, such as the right to unnecessarily block traffic or use the middle of a lane even if it slows auto traffic. Continue reading

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Who Is to Blame for Downtown Sacramento?

If anywhere is a poster child for the effects of light rail on economic development, it is downtown Sacramento. Sacramento was one of the first American cities to build a modern light-rail line, opening its original 10-mile line in 1987 just a year after Portland’s. Since then it has extended that line and built two more, all of which go downtown, for a total system that is 45 miles long (compared with 60 miles in Portland).

Downtown Sacramento is mostly low-rise buildings with a few scattered high rises. Flickr photo by Sacramento Real Estate Photography.

As the capital of the nation’s most populous and possibly richest state, Sacramento is no small town. The urban area had 1.8 million people in 2015, slightly less than Portland and slightly more than San Jose. The city itself had half a million people, more than Atlanta, Miami, or Minneapolis. Continue reading

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Wave Bye-Bye

One of the projects likely to die if Congress doesn’t overrule Trump’s plan to stop funding new rail transit projects is the Wave, a 2.8-mile long streetcar line proposed by Broward County for downtown Fort Lauderdale. In order to assess the impacts of Trump’s proposal on Fort Lauderdale, the Antiplanner reviewed the environmental assessment (EA) and other documents for the Wave.

For $200 million, Broward County can buy five streetcars like this one and build 2.8 miles of track for them to run on plus a maintenance facility. The county would also have to pay nearly $4.9 million per year operating the streetcars every 7-1/2 minutes. Wikimedia commons photo by Cacophony.

Broward County wants to build the Wave because it believes it will stimulate economic development in downtown Fort Lauderdale, an area that is in the midst of a development boom without the streetcar. According to the EA, the transportation benefits of the streetcar are only about 20 percent of the costs, but the EA claims that the economic development benefits will make up the difference. Continue reading

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The Secretary of Immobility Is Back

The governor of Virginia has asked former Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood to figure out how to fix the Washington Metro rail system. That’s a little like asking someone who blew up your house to figure out how to rebuild it.

LaHood is proud of the role he played in getting the Silver Line built. Yet that line caused many of the problems Metro is facing today, all of which were known when the decision was made to build it. Most important, long before LaHood was secretary, Metro knew it needed billions of dollars to rehabilitate its system. Instead of finding the money to do that, LaHood insisted they build a new rail line. In addition, because the Silver Line merges with the Blue Line, which was running at capacity, they had to reduce service on the Blue Line and may have lost more Blue Line riders than they gained on the Silver Line.

Now Metro is on the hunt for funds to reduce some of its $25 billion maintenance backlog. LaHood thinks he’s going to find a consensus for how to do that, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that someone else should pay for it. With Republicans in control of Congress and fiscal conservatives in control of the Republican Party, the federal government isn’t going to pay for it, but neither Maryland nor Virginia want to pay for it either. Continue reading

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Reason #10 to Stop Subsidizing Transit
Driverless Cars Will Soon Replace It

“Ford is going to be mass-producing vehicles with full autonomy” by 2021, Ford CEO Mark Fields vowed last August. “That means there’s going to be no steering wheel, there’s not going to be a gas pedal, there’s not going to be a brake pedal, and of course, a driver is not going to be required.” These vehicles will not be for sale, at least immediately, but will be used “in a ride hailing or ride sharing service.”

And that means the end of mass transit, especially if–as RethinkX projects–shared driverless car services will cost far less than owning a car (meaning far less than 40 cents a mile, which is what Americans currently spend buying, operating, maintaining, and insuring cars). It also means an end to most congestion, even for people in human-driven cars, as new research finds that congestion will begin to decline when as few as 5 percent of cars on the road are autonomous. Continue reading

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Prediction: 95% of 2030 Travel by Self-Driving Cars

“By 2030,” says a new report from a group that calls itself RethinkX, “95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals.” The Antiplanner is more optimistic about the rapid growth of self-driving cars than most, but RethinkX’s prediction is more dramatic than anything the Antiplanner has said.

As recognized in this more moderate report from UC Davis, RethinkX’s statement is really three predictions in one: first, about self-driving cars; second, about what powers those cars; and third, about who owns those cars. I think 95 percent by 2030 is optimistic for any one of these predictions, much less all of them.

First, the decision about what powers cars is completely, 100 percent independent of the decision about whether humans or computers drive cars. So long as the United States gets most of its electricity from fossil fuels, even natural gas, the environmental benefits from converting to electric cars is negligible, especially since we can make gasoline-powered cars more fuel-efficient. Continue reading

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Is Your Transportation Project a Boondoggle?

Tony Dutzik, writing for the progressive Frontier Group, offers a ten ways of recognizing whether a highway project is a boondoggle. A few of his ideas are valid: a highway widening project aimed simply at creating a continuous four-lane road even when there is no demand for four lanes seems silly. But most of his suggestions are wrong: for example, he thinks that, if environmentalists have delayed a project long enough, that proves it shouldn’t be built, when in fact all it proves is that our current planning process allows people to indefinitely delay projects for little or no reason.

In response, I’d like to offer my own list of ten ways to determine whether a transportation project is a boondoggle. His list focused on highways, though some of his suggestions (“It is sold as needed for economic development”) are valid for transit. Although my list starts out with transit projects, it eventually applies to all types of transportation projects.

1. It’s a streetcar. Streetcar technology is 130 years old and has since been replaced by less expensive, more flexible buses. Streetcars being built today are no faster and are far more expensive than the ones built 130 years ago. All new streetcar projects and rehabilitations of existing streetcar lines are boondoggles. Continue reading

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Reason #8 to Stop Subsidizing Transit
It Only Moves People

Many urban areas spend 25 to 50 percent of their transportation funds on transit systems that carry only 1 or 2 percent of passenger travel. Transit advocates eagerly plan rail lines, dedicated bus lanes, and other forms of intensive transit services in the hope of getting another 1 or 2 percent of people out of their cars. As bad as this is, they inevitably forget about the other component of transportation: freight.

Transit carries a respectable number of people in the New York urban area, a visible number in a few others, but an almost irrelevant number in most. Transit’s share is less than 1 percent in virtually all U.S. urban areas not on this list.

If people are the heart of any city, freight is the life blood. Without freight movements, people starve, hospitals run out of medical supplies, construction companies can’t get materials to job sites, traders can’t get their goods to market, and manufacturers can’t get the raw materials they need. Continue reading

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