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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once declared dead, the $3 billion Columbia River Cross may yet be built. Despite the Washington legislature’s decision not to fund its share of the
boondoggle project, Oregon’s governor is twisting arms and holding a special session of the state legislature today to gain approval (and $450 million in state funds) for the bridge.
Some of the twisting appears to have been done in the Washington, DC office of the Coast Guard, which granted the bridge a permit despite the fact that it will interfere with navigation. The DC office apparently did an end run around the Coast Guard’s Seattle regional office, which had opposed the permit. Oregon has agreed to pay $90 million in compensation to three shipping companies whose operations will be affected by the bridge.
The Columbia River Crossing is a plan to build a new Interstate-5 bridge across the Columbia. The new bridge would have more and wider lanes than the existing one and would also have room for light rail. Some bridge opponents object to the added road capacity; others object to the light rail. All the opponents agree that a replacement bridge isn’t necessary as the existing bridge is in sound condition.
“Houston Housing Hits Hurdle,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The rapid growth of fastest-growing metropolitan area in America–gaining more than 120,000 people per year in the last decade–is fueled by cheap housing, but prices rose 12 percent last year.
Housing in the Woodlands, the Houston area’s oldest and largest master-planned community. Developers usually dedicate at least 20 percent of the land in such communities to parks and open space.
What’s made rapid growth possible is the growth of master-planned communities in which developers assemble thousands of acres, install streets, water, and sewer lines, and then sell individual lots to homebuilders and homebuyers. One the infrastructure is installed, a homebuyer can purchase a lot, get construction permits, have the house built, and move in within 120 days of closing on the land.
Developers eventually pay for the infrastructure by creating “municipal utility districts” or MUDs that then charge an annual fee to the homebuyers for 30 years–something like a property tax. This is a better way of financing infrastructure than through impact fees or other up-front costs, because such fees then get added to the general cost of all housing in a region. MUDs can be found throughout Texas, but about 40 percent of them are in the Houston area. In the short run, though, MUDs can only work if developers can find the funds needed to initially install the infrastructure.
The once-dead Columbia River Crossing, a $3.5-billion project to build a $1.0 billion bridge across the river between Portland and Vancouver, may be alive again. After the Washington legislature rejected the idea that Washington state taxpayers should contribute $400 million to the plan, Portland bridge supporters have come up with an idea: Just build the bridge, but nothing north of the bridge in Washington.
The plan basically called for a $1.2 billion bridge, a $1.0 billion low-capacity rail line, and $1.5 billion replacing all highway interchanges for miles north and south of the bridge. Although the new bridge would have more lanes than the current bridge, the highways leading to it from both directions would have no more lanes, so the total capacity would not be significantly increased.
The existing bridge is not in any danger of falling down, but Portland wants to cram low-capacity rail down Vancouver’s throat, and replacing the bridge is an excuse for doing so. To keep the plan alive, advocates suggest deleting all of the highway interchange reconstruction in Washington. If Washington decides to reconstruct those interchanges later, it can come up with the funds later. Of course, the plan still includes low-capacity rail.
Washington Metro trains catch fire. The trains are supposed to be run by computers, but since a June, 2009 crash the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) hasn’t trusted the computers, so it has human drivers who aren’t any more trustworthy.
With numerous elevators and escalators out of service and frequent train breakdowns, WMATA is subject to increasingly harsh criticism from even its usual friends at the Washington Post. Even WMATA’s high-paid general manager admits the agency is only half done with the repairs it has scheduled (which are probably less than it needs).
So what does the agency have its employees do? How about spend a day ripping out all of the flowers that a self-styled Phantom Planter put in at the Dupont Circle subway station? Because it would be horrible if non-agency approved flowers bloomed in red, white, and blue, as the planter expected would happen next month.
The Washington legislature refused to fund the state’s share of a proposed bridge across the Columbia River, proving that at least a few Pacific Northwest politicians still have an ounce of common sense. That doesn’t include the Oregon legislature, which had agreed to put up more than $400 million for the project.
As a result of the Washington legislature’s decision, the Columbia River Crossing office is closing its doors after having spent something like $200 million on a stupid plan for a new bridge that wasn’t going to be tall enough for existing river traffic and whose main goal was to send a low-capacity rail transit line from Portland to Vancouver, Washington.
The two bridges that the new bridge was supposed to replace don’t really need replacement. While one was built in 1913 (and the other in 1958). the older of the two could probably have been replaced for about half a billion dollars if it were really necessary. But the proposed new bridge and associated projects were projected to cost $3.4 billion.