Category Archives: Urban areas

Challenging the Poverty Plan

In late February, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council issued its draft Thrive 2040 plan for public review. No one will be surprised to learn it is a standard smart-growth plan with lots of emphasis on transit, high-density housing in transit corridors, and reducing driving. Of course, this isn’t always obvious, as the plan uses euphemisms such as “affordable housing” when it means high-density housing and “orderly and efficient land use” when it means restricting development in rural areas.


Click image to download the 3.7-MB plan.

The Met Council calls it the Thrive plan because it wants to give the impression that, without government planning, the region will wither away and die. Of course, the Antiplanner believes the opposite is true, and that it would be more accurate to call it a poverty plan, since it will likely make housing unaffordable and require higher taxes, both of which will slow economic growth.

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Is Transit Only Transit If It’s Expensive?

Wired magazine freaks out because the Tennessee senate supposedly passed a “mind-boggling ban on bus-rapid transit.” AutoblogGreen blames the legislation on the left’s favorite whipping boys, the Koch brothers because it was supported by Americans for Prosperity, a tax-watchdog group that has received funding from the Kochs.


Not only would Nashville’s bus-rapid transit consume up to three lanes of traffic and be given priority at traffic signals, the design of stations in the middle of a major arterial will create hazards for pedestrians.

In fact, the senate did not pass a bill to ban bus-rapid transit; it passed a bill to limit the dedication of existing lanes to buses. There is no reason why buses need their own dedicated lanes, at least in a mid-sized city such as Nashville. Kansas City has shown that bus-rapid transit in shared lanes can work perfectly well and attract as much as a 50 percent increase in riders.

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Making Housing Affordable

A Bay Area writer, Kim-Mai Cutler, writes what she supposes is the definitive analysis of why housing in San Francisco is so expensive. Unfortunately, she left a few things out.

She blames expensive San Francisco housing on Google’s refusal to build housing on its own campus in Mountain View–which Google says it can’t do because of the need to protect a rare owl. But Cutler defends the right of “anyone–rich or poor–the chance to transform or be transformed by” living in San Francisco. How can the City of 800,000 people achieve that when there are another 2.5 million people at its doorstep most of whom wish they could live in the Paris of the West?

Cutler’s solution is to build “affordable housing.” That means subsidized housing. If everyone in the nation has a right to live in San Francisco regardless of income, who is going to pay the subsidies? It also means high-density housing. Just how attractive and hospitable will San Francisco be after all of its single-family neighborhoods have been replaced by mid- or high-rises?

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Arlington Votes Against a Streetcar

Streetcar skeptic John Vihstadt won a seat on the Arlington County (Virginia) board this week, the first Republican to do so in 15 years. One of the main issues in his campaign was the board’s plan to spend $250 million on a streetcar in this suburb of Washington, DC.

The election took place less than two weeks after the release of a consultant’s report that concluded a streetcar would dramatically boost economic development in the county (a claim disputed by the Antiplanner. Some people believe the report was timed to influence the election. If so, it didn’t work.

The election also took place after the unveiling of Arlington’s $1 million dollar bus stop that doesn’t even provide decent shelter from the elements. This served to raise voter awareness of the county’s free-spending ways when it comes to transit.

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Dead Again–This Time For Certain?

The Columbia River Crossing, which was dead, then was alive, now is once more dead. This $3 billion to $4 billion project was going to replace the Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia between Oregon and Washington, extend light rail into Vancouver, Washington, and rebuild several of the freeway interchanges north and south of the river.

Bridge supporters said it would relieve congestion, but it wasn’t clear how replacing a six-lane bridge with a twelve-lane bridge would relieve congestion when there were only six lanes approaching the bridge from the north and south. Instead, the real goal was to create lots of contracts for bridge builders, rail builders, highway contractors, and various other engineering and construction firms.

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Light Rail & Low-Income Transit Riders

When Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) opened its West light-rail line last April, it naturally cancelled parallel bus service. But, for many people, riding the light rail cost a lot more than the bus. This effectively made transit unaffordable for some low-income workers, who now drive to work.


Click image to download a 2.6-MB PDF of this report.

A group called 9to5, which represents working women, formally surveyed more than 500 people who live near the West light-rail line, and informally interviewed hundreds more. It found that the light rail had put a significant additional burden on low-income families. In one case, someone who was commuting to work by bus for $2.25 per trip now has to pay $4.00 per trip to take the light rail, a 78 percent increase in cost. 9to5 points out that the cost of gasoline to drive the same distance would be about $1.25.

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Time Running Out for TriMet

Portland’s transit agency, TriMet, is building one of the most expensive light-rail lines ever and is planning several more. Yet the agency is running out of money. The cost of maintaining rail lines grows rapidly as they approach 30 years of age, and TriMet’s oldest line was opened for business 28 years ago.


Click image to download the Secretary of State’s audit of TriMet (5.6-MB pdf).

An audit of TriMet by Oregon’s Secretary of State finds that the agency is already falling behind its maintenance needs. A decade ago, it was completing 92 percent of track maintenance and 100 percent of signal maintenance on time. Today those numbers have fallen to 53 percent for track and 72 percent for signals.

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Protesting Private Buses

One of the more ridiculous debates going on this month is the protests over Google and other companies providing commuter bus services for their employees in the San Francisco Bay Area. No one ever comments on how much better it is for the environment that people are taking buses to work instead of driving. No one ever comments on how the fact that at least 18,000 people take private buses to work is a devastating indicator of the failure of the region’s expensive transit system.


Protesters object to “illegal use of public infrastructure,” referring to private buses stopping at public bus stops. But the real issue is revealed by the “Stop Displacement Now” sign. Click for a larger view. Flickr photo by C.J. Martin.

Instead, the debate is about gentrification. The protesters fear that high-paid Silicon Valley employees are driving up the cost of housing in San Francisco by buying homes currently being rented, evicting the renters, and moving in.

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Portland’s Continuing Disaster

The Oregonian‘s latest coverage of Portland’s densification disaster focuses on outer Southeast Portland, a neighborhood that lacks sidewalks on three out of four streets and has poor roads and transit service to boot. When the city proposed to densify the neighborhood in 1996, residents hotly protested, but the city promised to add sidewalks and improve other services.

Since then, the city has added not an inch of sidewalk, roads are in worse shape than ever, and transit service is even less frequent than it was in 1996. But the city has permitted the construction of more than 14,000 new dwelling units. One homeowner (presumably not the home’s occupant) built five three-story duplexes in his or her backyard.

This is the fate that was planned for Oak Grove, a neighborhood the Antiplanner lived in until 1998. Oak Grove was one of 36 neighborhoods targeted by Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, for densification. Metro also gave Portland and 23 other cities and three counties population targets that they had to meet by densifying neighborhoods. Oak Grove residents protested loudly enough that they avoided densification, but that just meant that some other neighborhood had to be densified to meet the population targets.

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Infill Equals Demolition of Existing Homes

When urban planners talk about infill, they make it sound so benign. “We’ve identified some vacant lands, and we’ll direct growth there instead of sprawling at the urban fringe.”


Portland builders often demolish one home and replace it with four “skinny houses” like this one.

In reality, infill can mean a complete transformation of neighborhoods, one house at a time. Hundreds of homes are being demolished each year to be replaced with either larger houses (such as this one that is four times the size of the house it replaced) or multifamily housing. Either way can be way out of character for the neighborhood.

This is happening in wealthy neighborhoods as well as working-class neighborhoods. The Antiplanner doubts that this is what people thought they were signing up for when they agreed to give a regional planning agency authority over their zoning codes. Residents of other regions need to beware of local officials offering the bring them the wondrous benefits of Portland-style planning.

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