Monthly Archives: January 2007

Siemens Bribery Scandal and Light Rail

The Wall Street Journal today has a lengthy article about the Siemens company bribing government officials to get contracts. Among other things, Siemens builds light-rail cars.

As far as I know, Siemens has never bribed an American public official to get a contract to for its rail cars — at least, not in the sense of paying people under the table. Instead, it routinely makes large contributions to political campaigns involving light rail.

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The Incentive Problem: Why Planners Always Get It Wrong

Government planning fails because planners face the wrong incentives. Instead of being rewarded for doing good things for their communities, they are rewarded mainly for pleasing other planners. This incestuous system is a recipe for failure.

In a previous post, I listed seven reasons why government planning — that is, long-range, comprehensive planning that often regulates other people’s property — cannot work. I’ve discussed four reasons in detail, and now it is time to address reason number 5: the Incentive Problem.

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Even More on the Aerial Tram

Yesterday’s New York Times features an article on Portland’s aerial tram. Portland is the “city that loves transit”? More like, the city whose officials love to spend money on transit.

Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration publicly expressed criticism of Portland’s transportation planning. “It is difficult to find a transportation focus” in the plan, says the agency. I guess they didn’t get the memo: in Portland, transportation spending is about real estate, not about moving people and goods.

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The Mythmaking Continues on the Portland Aerial Tram

Last week the Oregonian told us that Portland’s $57 million aerial tram was built “on budget” even though the projected cost at the time the Portland city council agreed to build it was only $15.5 million. Now, the Seattle Times reports that the tram “already has helped spur a much broader $1 billion development of the riverfront district.”


Supposedly, this tram car can hold 78 people, but don’t expect that many to ever ride it. City of Portland photo.

It won’t be long before real estate promoters in Seattle, Oakland, and any other city that has 500-foot-high hills will be thumping to have taxpayers build them their own aerial trams.

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Moderating Posts

I’ve changed the WordPress settings so that posts are only held for moderation if this is your first time to comment or if you include five or more links in the post. Since making that change, the only comments that have been held for moderation have been spam. I may be on the road at various times in the next few weeks and so won’t be able to moderate the posts as frequently, but it appears this will not be a problem.

If your post includes lots of links and you don’t want it held until I have a chance to review it, you might break it up into two or more posts.

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Getting People Out of Their Cars

Page 2 of a transit plan for Charlotte, NC, says:

Mobility: Mobility has several components. One is ridership, both in terms of how many people will ride new services and how many new transit trips are attracted away from autos. Reducing auto use lowers congestion, air pollution and energy consumption.”

Too many planners assume without question that “attracting people away from autos” is a good thing. Supposedly, autos are bad because they cause congestion and air pollution, and they consume energy. Yet too many transportation planners are willing to create congestion and air pollution and consume huge amounts of energy in order to get trivial numbers of people out of their cars.

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Transportation: Planning or Procrastinating?

According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s annual mobility reports, traffic delays due to congestion have been growing at nearly 8 percent per year since 1982. Those who closely scrutinize urban transportation planning in the U.S. increasingly believe that planners are doing everything they can to avoid solving this problem.

Case in point: Portland, Oregon, which sits astride the Willamette River and has ten roadway crossings of that river. One of them, the Sellwood Bridge, is structurally unsound and in 2004 the county engineer has banned all trucks and buses from the bridge. I can testify that the bridge is also one of the least bicycle-friendly bridges in the city.

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The Pace-of-Change Problem

In 1976, when Congress required the Forest Service to write comprehensive, long-range plans for each of the 100 or so national forests, the Chief of the Forest Service estimated that it would take about three years to write all the plans. In fact, it took eighteen.

Part of the problem was that planning took so long that reality changed in unexpected ways before the plan could be completed. Planners then had a choice of ignoring reality or starting over. Those who ignored reality delivered plans to forest managers that made no sense. Those who started over never really got done.

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For Sale: Closet for $335,000

From London, the least-affordable housing market in the world, comes news that a 77-square-foot closet can be yours to live in for just $335,000 (plus an estimated $59,000 to clean it up and add such luxuries as electricity and heat).

Such high prices are the result of green belts and an anti-housing planning process. While this closet is in one of the wealthier parts of London, other recent real estate deals in England include:

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