Monthly Archives: December 2007

The Biased FTA Won’t Give Portland Its Streetcar Subsidies

Pity the poor city of Portland. It wants to build more streetcar lines, and its Godfather Earl created a special slush fund small starts program in the recent transportation bill for such new rail lines.

Only now the evil Federal Transit Administration (no doubt goaded by the evil Bush Administration) says that it will only give out small starts grants if cities can show that streetcars are more efficient than buses. Waahhh!

Portland’s streetcar passes through the Pearl District, which received hundreds of millions of dollars of federal and local subsidies thanks to Portland’s former godfather, Neil Goldschmidt.
Flickr photo by NeiTech.

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How Is Abolition Like Land-Use Planning?

Yesterday, one of the Antiplanner’s loyal opponents left a comment comparing land-use regulation with the abolition of slavery, implying that it would just as absurd to compensate landowners for such regulation as it would be to compensate slaveowners for ending slavery. The comparison is apt. Those who make it in favor of land-use regulation apparently think the solution to land-use debates is to have a civil war and kill hundreds of thousands of people.

I’ve heard this comparison before with regard to endangered species. Slavery was immoral, so we didn’t compensate slaveowners. Making a species go extinct is equally immoral, so we shouldn’t compensate owners of habitat when we regulate away their right to use it.

This attitude betrays a profound misunderstanding of both history and economics.

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So Much for Getting Even

Dorothy English will probably never get to subdivide her land. She and her husband bought 20 acres of land outside of Portland in 1953, when there was no zoning on the land. After her husband died, she wanted to divide it into eight parcels to give to her children and grandchildren.

By that time, however, the Oregon legislature required counties to zone all land, and Dorothy’s was outside of Portland’s urban-growth boundary. She fought hard for the right to subdivide, once testifying before the legislature that, “I’m 91 years old, and I plan to live to be 100 because there are some bastards I want to get even with.”

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The Truth About Santa Claus and Prices

Another Christmas has come and gone. Watching my niece and nephew open their presents reminded me of when I was dazzled by the Christmas tree lights and dreaming about the possibilities of all the things under the tree. To this day, the best present I’ve ever received was a model train that I had received the year before but that my father had expertly repainted in the colors of my favorite railroad, the Great Northern.

I remembered asking all sorts of questions at that age: What is the fastest train in the world? How does Santa Claus fit in the chimney? And why do things cost money? Why doesn’t the government just give people what they need?

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Trains

Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year. If you like railroads, my Christmas present to you is some photos of my favorite trains.

One of the little ironies of the transportation debates is that many rail skeptics, such as the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole, Wendell Cox, and myself, are actually rail nuts in our private lives, so today’s post will document the Antiplanner’s long-time obsession with passenger trains. Unless otherwise noted, all photos were taken by the Antiplanner. Click on any photo for a larger view.

Of the literally thousands of pre-digital photos I have taken of trains, this is my favorite. The SP&S 700, the nation’s second-most powerful operating steam locomotive, is rounding a corner near Hope, Idaho, on its way home from Billings, Montana in 2002.

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Broken Machines, Nervous Transit Cops, and Indecent Exposure

That’s what you would have seen if you had taken a recent official tour of Portland’s light-rail line given by TriMet for the Milwaukie city council.

TriMet wants to build a light-rail line to Milwaukie, a Portland suburb, but the council is aware that residents strongly oppose it. They have voted against light rail the last couple of times it was on the ballot and they once voted to recall their mayor and most of their city council when those officials were promoting rail and transit-oriented development.

Now the crime issue has come up, giving opponents a new argument for killing the project. So TriMet offered to take the city council on this tour to show how wonderful it would be to have light rail in their community.

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There’s Something Fishy in Salt Lake City

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) made the stunning announcement Wednesday that it has been overestimating its light-rail ridership by 20 to 30 percent. It recently installed infrared scanners that accurately recorded every passenger who boarded a train and found its previous numbers were way too high.

Don’t worry, rail fans. Utah won’t let little things like lying and cheating stand in the way of building more rail lines at the expense of new roads. When officials discovered that planners had made a “calculation error” to bias their analysis in favor of more trains, they decided to build more rail lines anyway.

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Do Planners Really Want Public Involvement?

It is late and I am tired and I don’t have time or ideas for a lengthy post, so I am just going to vent over one of my pet peeves: how planners say they want public involvement and then through obstacles in the way of members of the public who want to get involved.

Today the plan I am concerned with is for the “central corridor,” a proposed light-rail line from Minneapolis to St. Paul. The Twin Cities Metropolitan Council published a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for this proposal last year.

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HOT Lanes Yes, Cordon Charges No

Denver converted some high-occupancy vehicle lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in 2006. A new review from the Institute of Transportation Engineers finds that they have been highly successful.

On the other hand, the congestion charge being used in London isn’t doing much to relieve congestion. In fact, according to one report, congestion “is spiraling out of control.”

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Missouri Law Should Be a Model for the Nation

How do we fix planning and zoning laws that make housing unaffordable and give planners the opportunity to impose their utopian ideas on unwilling neighborhoods? One answer has been offered by Robert Nelson, a University of Maryland professor of public policy. In various articles and books, Nelson has proposed that states allow neighborhoods to opt out of zoning and write their own zoning codes in the form of protective covenants.

Houston already has a system like this, albeit without zoning. Anyone who lives in a neighborhood that doesn’t already have protective covenants can petition their neighbors and, if a majority agree, create a homeowners association and write such covenants. Nelson has essentially proposed to allow this in all cities, and to slowly replace zoning with such covenants.

But what about rural areas? Should people be allowed to opt out of rural zoning? Since the Antiplanner is not too fond of such rural zoning, clearly my answer would be “yes.” And a law recently passed in Missouri effectively allows this to take place.

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