Category Archives: News commentary

Indiana Tollroad Operators File for Bankruptcy

The consortium that paid $3.8 billion to lease the Indiana Tollroad filed for bankruptcy yesterday. The operators–a Spanish company named Cintra and an Australian company named Macquarie–said that revenues were up and costs down, but it wasn’t enough for them to keep up on their mortgage payments.

According to toll-advocate Robert Poole, the problem was that Cintra-Macquarie had structured its debt to require a large payment after ten years, but the recession prevented it from collecting enough money to meet that schedule. On the other hand, toll critic Terri Hall argues that the bankruptcy helps demonstrate that such leases are inappropriate and cronyistic.

Coincidentally, Poole and Hall debated tollroads and public-private partnerships at the American Dream conference in Denver last Friday. (The debate also included Greg Cohen of the American Highway User Alliance.) Hall argued that long-term leases allowed governors such as Indiana’s Mitch Daniels to collect and spend large sums of money during their administrations but left travelers paying heavy tolls for generations to come.

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What Happened to Progressives?

“Fifty years ago this month, Berkeley was the epicenter of the Free Speech Movement,” intones Robert Reich. “Now, Berkeley is moving against Big Soda” by imposing a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks.

Naturally, Reich fails to see the irony that a city known for freedom is now attempting to take away people’s freedom. Of course, a one-cent-per-ounce tax doesn’t really take away freedom to enjoy sugary drinks. Nor does quadrupling the price of housing take away freedom to live in a single-family home. The whole point is to reserve these privileges for the wealthy, who no doubt are considered refined enough to appreciate the homes and drinks they consume.

The same people who supported free speech are those who support taxing behaviors they don’t approve. They don’t believe the government should have the right to censor what we say, but they do believe the government should have the right to censor what we consume or where we live. I hope some cultural anthropologist has studied how the Progressives managed to transition from suspecting government to loving it.


Robots Want Your Job

America has more than three million transportation workers, more than any other occupational group, and they are all about to lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles. They might fight it, says this video, but “the workers always lose; economics always wins.”

Fortunately, the creator of this video doesn’t understand economics (for example, it is not something that wins or loses). He equates humans with horses, saying that horses never expected that they would lose their jobs to motor vehicles, but as it turned out their population peaked in 1915 and has been declining ever since.

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Farewell to an Honest Planner

I never met Sir Peter Hall, who died last week, but I feel like I’ve lost an old friend. His books helped guide me through the history of urban planning and its growing obsession with densification.

Cities in Civilization is his most-frequently mentioned book, mainly because its 1,129 pages made it such a formidable reference. Though I have two copies of that book, the book I really love is Cities of Tomorrow, which traced the history of the urban planning profession.

In it, Hall noted that the earliest urban planners were anarchists who sought to free the working class from their high-density hovels. But that changed when Le Corbusier, who Hall called “the Rasputin of the tale” of urban planning, proposed that all cities should consist solely of high-rises. Planners flocked to this idea, and after World War II, nations all over the world rebuilt their slums or bombed-out areas into high rises. Far from freeing the working class from density, planning became all about forcing the working class into density.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in the Twin Cities this week giving presentations on land-use and transportation issues in that region. Here are the sessions, most of which are open to the public:

  • “Thrive Planning vs. the American Dream,” sponsored by the SW Metro Tea Party, Chanhassen Recreation Center, 2310 Coulter Blvd., Chanhassen, 7:00-8:30 pm, Monday, August 4
  • “Rebalancing Transportation Planning,” sponsored by Expose the Truth, Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center, 800 Conway St., St. Paul, 5:00-8:00 pm, Tuesday, August 5
  • “Transportation and Your Business,” sponsored by the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce (must pre-register), Harvest Grill, 12800 Bunker Prairie Road, Coon Rapids, 11:15 am to 1:15 pm, Wednesday, August 6
  • “The Folly of High-Speed Rail,” Goodhue County Fairgrounds, 8:00 pm, Friday, August 8

By coincidence, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, will also be speaking in Minneapolis about the Thrive plan at 7:30 am, Wednesday, August 6 at the Doubletree Hotel Park Place, 1500 Park Place Blvd., pre-registration will save money if done by noon, August 5.

If you are in the Twin Cities area this week, I hope to see you at one of these events.


The Dead Billionaire’s Club That Runs the Environmental Movement

A new report from the minority staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works shows just how a handful of left-leaning foundations have taken control of the once-grassroots environmental movement. These foundations both shape the environmental agenda and help put people in power in the Environmental Protection Agency and other bureaucracies.

Click image to download the 2.3-MB report.

The report uses the unfortunate term “Billionaire’s Club” to describe the funders who give groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club Foundation millions of dollars a year. In fact, in most cases it would be more accurate to describe it as the “Dead Billionaire’s Club,” as most of the money comes from foundations set up by wealthy people who were often fairly conservative, but their foundations are now run by their liberal children and/or left-wing staffs.

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Autonomous Cars Yes, V2I No!

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech in Virginia calling for mandatory installation of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications in all cars. By coincidence, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is holding its annual symposium on autonomous (that is, driverless) cars in California.

V2V allows vehicles to communicate with one another to allow them to avoid accidents, while V2I allows highway infrastructure (such as traffic signals) to communicate directly with motor vehicles. While Obama touts the safety benefits of these technologies, there are at least four reasons why they should not be mandatory.

First, V2V and V2I communications pose serious security risks for travelers and cities. With V2V communications, an automobile that suffers a fender-bender would communicate to all nearby vehicles that they ought to take a different route to avoid congestion.

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San Antonio Petition May Stop Streetcar

San Antonio streetcar opponents submitted a petition today to allow voters to decide whether the region’s transit agency, VIA, should spend $280 million on a 5.9-mile streetcar. They needed about 20,000 signatures, and submitted well over 26,000 of which they personally pre-verified nearly 24,000.

Streetcar skeptics hold a press conference on the steps of San Antonio’s city hall as they present signatures for a ballot measure requiring that voters approve any streetcars built in city streets or rights of way. Photo by Michael Dennis.

Unfortunately, this petition still has several hurdles to leap. First, the city is claiming that signature gatherers didn’t follow proper procedures; the petitioners claim they did, and that the procedures the city wants them to follow only apply to recall petitions. Second, even if the measure makes it to the ballot and is approved by voters, VIA argues that it won’t be bound by the results.


Is MagLev a Game Changer?

Much like the proposed Florida passenger trains that can be run without government subsidies (but can we have some anyway?), train supporters are gushing over Japan’s tentative decision to build a magnetically levitated (maglev) line from Tokyo to Osaka. Japan apparently sees this as a way to revitalize its economy, especially if it can sell the trains to the United States and other countries.

Maglev train being tested in Japan. Wikimedia commons photo by Yosemite.

The Antiplanner has maintained that transportation improvements are economic game changers only if they make travel faster, cheaper, and/or more convenient. Maglev meets only one of those criteria: at projected speeds of a little more than 300 mph, maglev would be at least 50 percent faster than existing high-speed trains and possibly even faster than flying over short distances. Flights from Tokyo to Osaka, the route of the proposed maglev, take about 80 minutes, and the maglev promises to reduce times to little more than an hour.

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Funny, Funny Men

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver are very funny men. Their humor also has a distinct liberal bias. It’s possible that they don’t think they are biased, because they sometimes criticize Democrats as well as (though not nearly as often as) Republicans. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t biased.

By “liberal bias,” I don’t mean they always support Obama. Most of their humor is directed to two targets: first, government officials who lie, waste money, and/or support policies that kill innocent people; and second, people who don’t trust government.

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