Category Archives: Urban areas

Purple Line Losers

Travelers and taxpayers both lose as Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao caved in to Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic Congressional delegation by approving federal funding for the Purple Line. As Antiplanner readers know, the state’s own transportation analysis found that the Purple Line will dramatically increase congestion in Montgomery County suburbs of Washington DC, while the $5.6 billion cost represents exactly $5.6 billion that could have been spent to better effect on just about anything else: buses, roads, schools, or health care, to name a few things.

Administration officials justified the decision by saying that the project was too far along to cancel and the planned public-private partnership was something that President Trump wants to encourage. But, in this case at least, the public-private partnership does not save any money or produce any better service; it is merely a way of avoiding debt limits because the debt from the project will be on the books of the private partner, not the public agency.

As for being too far along to stop, every project on FTA’s New Starts and Small Starts list has already received some federal money for engineering and design work. The Department of Transportation recently told Durham to go ahead with engineering work on its light-rail project, so it too will presumably reach the point where it is “too far along” to stop. Continue reading

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Why LA Bus Ridership Is Declining

Ridership on Los Angeles light-rail lines has “surged” (mainly because they’ve opened new lines), but bus ridership is falling much faster. From 2006 to 2016, light- and heavy-rail ridership grew by 28 million rides a year, but bus ridership fell a whopping 103 million rides a year.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) commissioned a report looking at bus speeds and on-time performance. Thanks to growing traffic congestion–which the report admits is partly due to traffic calming measures–average bus speeds have declined by 15 percent and on-time performance has declined from 76 to 72 percent since 2011.

The strong implication is that there is a relationship between bus speeds/reliability and ridership. But that implication would be just as wrong as an assumption that congestion is caused by too many people driving rather than by local governments deliberately making congestion worse through such things as traffic calming. Continue reading

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Ford to the Rescue

Thanks to maintenance work on Amtrak and commuter-train tracks around Penn Station on top of the usual number of breakdowns, this is supposed to be the Summer of Hell for commuters to Manhattan. But Ford subsidiary Chariot plans to ease commuters’ pains by introducing microtransit service in the form of an on-demand shuttle bus.

Chariot’s routes in San Francisco.

Chariot is already operating a similar service in San Francisco, competing not only with existing transit but with Lyft Shuttle. As the above and below maps show, Chariot and Lyft have similar but not identical routes. The difference between them is that Lyft uses owner-operated vehicles while Chariot uses company-owned Ford minibuses and treats its drivers as full employees with insurance and other benefits. Continue reading

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