Monthly Archives: October 2007

Block Grants for Efficient Transit

Last month, the Congressional Research Service put out two reports on federal transit funding. These reports offer some intriguing alternatives for transit for the next round of federal transportation reauthorization, which is due in 2009.

Click on image to download.

The first report (above), issued in September, deals a little more with transit history and structure. The almost-identically titled second report (below) came out about two weeks later and deals a little more with transit finance. But the two reports overlap in many ways, including their recommendations.

Click on image to download.

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CBS News Doesn’t Get It

Yesterday’s post on wildfire suggested that it will take awhile for the “new new wisdom” to be accepted. Last night’s CBS News proved my point.

A report (annoying ad comes before the news report) from CBS reporter Sandra Hughes showed hundreds of homes built to “shelter-in-place” standards and found that “not one home had even been touched by the flames.” So what does Hughes learn from this? That people should not be allowed to build to shelter-in-place standards because it will encourage them to build in fire-prone areas.

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Learning from the SoCal Fires

It is too early to do a post accendium on the southern California fires, but not too early to suggest some lessons that should be learned. According to Monday’s report, the fires spread across nearly 474,000 acres and burned 2,700 structures (at least 1,700 of which were homes).

Fourteen deaths have been associated with the fires. Four of the eleven fires started on national forests, four on state lands, two on county lands, and one on a military base. Government agencies collectively spent more than $63 million to suppress the fires.

So what can we learn from these fires?

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Condo Booms Go Bust

A couple of years ago, it seemed like every major downtown in America was experiencing a condo boom, lending support to planners’ claims that baby boomers and others were moving back to the inner cities. Now most of those booms are busting: Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Portland — all the hip places.

Condo and office towers under construction along Portland’s South Waterfront.

Of course, real estate prices are declining almost everywhere. But there was supposed to be this huge pent-up demand for downtown living. Planner Harriet Tregoning, who once held the exalted title of “Secretary of Smart Growth” in Maryland, even wrote about the “coming oversupply of single-family home” in a recent book on urban planning. (Her article is given added credibility by being preceded by one by the Antiplanner.)

Yet in city after city, developers saturated the market for high-density downtown living by building just a few condos. While I am sure the market will return, just like the market for all housing, developers should be wary of listening to planners in the future.

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Shelter in Place Works! The Real Answer to Fire

This morning’s post on fire mentioned “shelter in place,” in which homes are made sufficiently firewise that people can safely remain in the homes during a firestorm. Five neighborhoods in the San Diego area were approved as shelter-in-place communities. The fires touched those neighborhoods, but not a single home was scorched.

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Heck of a Job, Smokey!

A couple of weeks ago, the Secretary of Agriculture proudly gave the Chief of the Forest Service an award for “exemplary leadership and accomplishment in reducing the risk of catastrophic fire to both the wildland and Wildland Urban Interface areas through the U.S. Forest Service Hazardous Fuels Program supporting the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative.”

This award would be pathetic if only because the Secretary gave it to the only agency in the Department of Agriculture that could be considered eligible for such an award. But it is particularly ironic in view of the forest fires that are now burning hundreds of homes in southern California.

Just why does the Forest Service deserve such an award? So far in 2007, more than 8.2 million acres have burned — and counting. That’s is almost twice the average number of acres burned in the last 40 years.

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Latest Scam to Increase Congestion: “Complete Streets”

Let’s face it: urban planners hate automobiles. They probably don’t hate their own car — many of them drive as much as anyone else. But they believe that Americans drive too much.

Their solution is to increase traffic congestion. But the question has always been, how do they sell that idea to a public that relies on cars for more than 80 percent of their travel? The answer is to come up with some fluffy phrase that sounds nice.

Traffic calming is one such term. Who could object to calm? Originally, traffic calming was applied to neighborhood streets. Then cities like Portland proposed to do arterial traffic calming. This meant converting, say, a four-lane street into a two- or three-lane street with bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

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Drew Carey: We Can Build Our Way out of Congestion

The Reason Foundation has posted a great video about traffic congestion featuring Drew Carey. Carey touts variable-priced high-occupancy toll lanes as a solution to congestion.

The video features California’s SR 91 HOT lanes, which cost anywhere from $1.50 to $9.50 to use depending on the traffic. “Sounds pricey,” says Carey, “but each day about 40,000 people pay the toll.”

“Traffic can often keep parents from picking up kids at day care on time,” says Cary. “Imagine paying five bucks for each minute you are late.” Carey interviews a man who was paying $120 a week for daycare late fees. Now he uses the HOT lanes and saves most of that, plus his time.

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TriMet Responds to “Debunking Portland”

TriMet, Portland’s transit agency, has posted on its web site a response to the Antiplanner’s article, Debunking Portland. The response makes six points:

1. Light rail is “a well-considered decision” made 25 years ago (TriMet says 55, but that is obviously a typo).

2. Portlanders love light rail.

3. Light rail is cheap.

4. Light rail is fast.

5. Light rail “translates into more density, less parking, and new mixes of commercial and residential development.”

6. Light rail is a great investment in the future.

The laugh is on the taxpayers who had to shell out $1.65 billion, and rising, to build Portland’s light-rail lines.

Here are the Antiplanner’s replies.

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Road Trip Next Week

Or, more accurately, air trip. Next Tuesday, October 23, the Antiplanner will be in New York City speaking at a seminar described in the ad below. As you can see, the Antiplanner gets top billing, followed by some guy named Steve Forbes.

It is easy to understand why the Antiplanner would be billed higher than Forbes. After all, it is not as if he were Steve Jobs. Or even Fake Steve Jobs. Although, as it turns out, Fake Steve Jobs works for Steve Forbes. Go figure.

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