Monthly Archives: March 2007

Toll Roads: Public, Private, or Leased?

After Chicago received $1.83 billion to lease the Chicago Skyway and Indiana received $3.85 billion for the Indiana Tollway — both significantly more than expected — other cities and states got interested in public-private partnerships for their tollways. But now a backlash has set in and some advocates of private tollroad operations are facing strong resistance.

A recent poll by AAA (which, ironically, has not strongly supported congestion relief for urban motorists) found that 70 percent of Pennsylvania and New Jersey drives oppose selling public tollroads to private operators. But this is a deceptive poll, because no one is proposing to sell the roads. The poll found that only 40 percent opposed leasing the roads.

Such polls always depend on how they are worded. What if AAA had asked, “Would you support leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private operator who would quickly act to relieve congestion and allow you to get to work faster?” I suspect support would be a lot greater than 60 percent.

Are we willing to pay the cost for less congestion? Flickr photo by Lull_in_Traffic.

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The Antiplanner’s Law of Rail Transit

I often hear people say things like, “Light rail might make sense in Europe, but it doesn’t make sense here because our city isn’t dense enough.” To which I respond, “Light rail doesn’t make sense in Europe either.”

In fact, based on the numbers in the post on moderate-capacity transit, we can derive the following Antiplanner’s Law of Rail Transit:

By the time a city is dense enough to justify rail transit, it is too dense for light-rail transit.

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Glaeser Stumbles on Regional Governments

A year ago, New York Times Magazine called Harvard economics Professor Edward Glaeser “the most exciting urban researcher in half a century.” Many of Glaeser’s research papers show that land-use regulation, not demand, is the primary cause of unaffordable housing.

This work has made Glaeser something of a hero in the antiplanning movement, and I’ve unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to speak at several of our conferences (although one of his co-authors, Bryce Adam Ward, gave an excellent presentation at the 2006 Preserving the Amercan Dream conference).

So it was with great disappointment that I read his latest paper latest paper, “Do Regional Economies Need Regional Coordination?” He argues that, since local government regulation is driving up housing prices, one solution is a regional government that could give local governments direction or incentives to provide affordable housing. Residents of Portland, Denver, and other cities with strong regional governments will find this bitterly amusing.

The East Coast was famous for the affordabilty of its post-war housing markets. Housing in the New York and Boston regions did not become unaffordable until the 1980s.

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Aerial Tram Ridership Exceeds Expectations

Portland’s aerial tram carried 125,158 people in February, nearly twice the anticipated 66,000 trips. The tram connects the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) hospital with medical offices and clinics.

That sounds pretty good. However, only 8,184 of those people paid the $4 fare to ride the tram. The $32,736 revenue won’t go very far towards the operating costs, which are projected to be nearly $150,000 a month.

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The Nation’s Worst Transit Agency

I’ve previously noted that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) may be the nation’s worst-managed transit agency, at least among those serving big cities. Now a new report commissioned by VTA’s own board of directors confirms many of my concerns.

The new report was written by a company called Hay Group. Most consultants fawn all over their clients, but this report is surprisingly frank. Among other things, it accuses VTA of building “capital projects” (i.e., light rail) that benefitted politically powerful neighborhoods without insuring that it had the money to operate those projects. The result is low ridership and high operating costs.

When there is just one car, it is not a train. Flickr photo by LazyTom.

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Spam Spam Spam Spam

We’ve been getting hundreds of spam comments each day. It isn’t a big problem except I always fear missing a non-spam message from a new user.

As you know, the first comment by any user gets moderated. Once someone is approved, all their comments get immediately posted. I try to go through comments at least twice a day, but when I am on the road I sometimes get delayed.

If you are a first-time commenter and you make a comment that does not show up right away, send me an email and I’ll make sure it gets approved.

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Impact Fees Are the Wrong Tool for Any Job

In The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, I suggested that impact fees might sometimes be a good way for cities to pay for the costs of growth. I have since changed my mind. Impact fees are bad under any circumstances.

I was persuaded of this when I reviewed housing affordability in urban areas across the country. I realized that the cost of existing homes closely tracks the cost of new homes. So when government regulations or fees increase the cost of new homes, the price of existing homes also rises.

Will the taxes paid on this new home pay for the services its residents consume?

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By Godwin’s Law, We Win! (sort of)

Godwin’s Law holds that, in any Internet debate, one side will eventually compare the other wide with Nazis or Hitler. A corollary to Godwin’s Law is that, as soon as that happens, the side so accused can declare victory and end the debate.

What, then, shall we make of a presentation posted on the Congress for the New Urbanism web site that compares those who want to build roads with Hitler? The presentation was originally given by former Milwaukee mayor and current CNU President John Norquist.

Hitler built bridges, so this bridge must be evil.

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