Monthly Archives: November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

As a Thanksgiving gift to all my faithful allies and loyal opponents, the Antiplanner has summarized the recently posted National Transit Data for 2007 into one file. The original data are contained in about 21 different files, many of which are hard to read because you have to cross-reference to other files.

The 1.6 MB spreadsheet I’ve posted is in three parts. The first 1438 rows include data for every mode (light rail, bus, etc.) offered by every transit agency in the country (or at least every one that reports to the FTA). The data are also sorted into “DO,” meaning directly operated by the transit agency, and “PT,” meaning contracted out to private companies.

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Use Your iPhone to Carpool

Take a look at the video describing a new iPhone application people can use to arrange carpools. One tech writer calls it “hitchhiking 2.0.”

Will it work? The number of people interested in carpooling is small, the number of those who have iPhones is smaller (though it also works on other smart phones), and the number who happen to be going in the same direction as others who have smart phones much smaller.

If gas were still $4 a gallon creeping up to $5 or more, it might work. At less than $2 a gallon, it’s a lot more iffy. Still, it’s better than spending billions on rail transit that also only works for a few people. Perhaps more important, the iPhone system also works for transit and vanpool operators.

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When the Facts Change, RTD Ignores Them

“When the facts change,” John Maynard Keynes once said, “I change my mind. What do you do?”

If you are a government agency like Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD), you simply ignore the new facts. That’s because your plans are based on a delicate political compromise, not on a realistic assessment of those facts.

The latest facts show that one of RTD’s proposed FasTracks rail lines will cost almost 60% more and will carry only 55% as many riders than projected in 2004. As a result, the cost-per-rider on that line has ballooned to more than $60, nearly four times the 2004 estimate and more than six times the cost of bus-rapid transit. Yet RTD still wants to build the line.

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GPS Tolling without Invading Your Privacy

While gasoline taxes have built most of the nation’s highway network, most experts agree they are on their way out. First of all, they don’t account for the cost of the roads each user drives on. Second, alternative fuels will make them obsolete.

Many of the Antiplanner’s faithful allies, such as John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, believe that gas taxes should be replaced by GPS devices that charge people based on where and when they drive. But other people have privacy concerns. Do we really want Big Brother to know everywhere we go?

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New York Transit Unfair to Riders?

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to have a “gap” in its 2008 budget of $345 million, climbing to more than $1.1 billion in 2009, nearly $2 billion in 2010, and more than $2 billion per year after that. To close the gap, it proposes to cut service, including some trains and several buses, and raise fares by 23 percent.

Does this deserve your subsidy?
Flickr photo by Jenniferrt66.

Even after these changes, it projects losses of $266 million in 2010, $454 million in 2011, and more than $600 million in 2012 (see page 18). The big problem is that the city and state of New York are both tapped out — “Neither the city nor the state has any money,” says Mayor Bloomberg. Governor David Paterson adds the state has “vast budget problems.”

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Bad News BART

Last week, the Antiplanner reported that it appeared that the BART-to-San-Jose proposal had lost the necessary two-thirds of the votes needed for funding. Now it appears that absentee ballots made up the difference.

According to the latest results, measure B won 66.74 percent of the votes. A few thousand remained to be counted, but with the measure ahead of the required two-thirds by 481 votes, it seems unlikely to lose.

That’s good news for those who believe that every nutty rail proposal, no matter how expensive, should be funded. Yet this proposal was so bad that even, the real rail advocates in California, including the Sierra Club, opposed it.

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J.C. Penney, Entrepreneur

J.C. Penney was, in many ways, the Sam Walton of his age. While many of Penney’s chief competitors came from the big cities — Sears and Montgomery Wards started in Chicago, Macy’s started in New York City — Penney, like Walton, began in a small town in a backwater state.

James C. Penney at about the time he started his first store in 1902.

From there, he built Penneys into the nation’s largest drygoods chain. By the 1920s, Penneys was able to advertise itself as a “nationwide institution.” Before Penney died in 1971, there were nearly 1,700 Penneys stores, and his company also owned the Thrift Drug chain, a discount chain known as The Treasury, and had 1,400 outlets to its catalog store.

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Upgrading

You may have noticed that this blog was down for a few hours yesterday. The Antiplanner’s ISP says someone was trying to hack the site and so they shut it down. They recommended that I install up-to-date software, which I am doing. In the meantime, no new posts until tomorrow or when I sort things out, whenever comes last. Feel free to leave comments and let me know if anything isn’t working properly.

I can already see something screwed up the links in the righthand column (except on the Plain theme). Unfortunately, I never really learned how to do cascading style sheets, so it may take me awhile to fix it. Are there any CSS experts out there willing to give me a hand?

Update: Fixed the righthand column. It is not exactly the way it was before, but it works. WordPress apparently no longer uses the tag I was using for that column, and the replacement tag works a little differently. Someday I’ll learn CSS. Just like someday I’ll master Illustrator, bicycle around the world, and read the complete works of James Joyce.

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New London Redevelopment

In June, 2005, the Supreme Court infamously decided that cities could condemn peoples’ land to give to private developers provided the government had written an economic development plan for the project. In response to arguments that many previous such plans had failed, the Supreme Court merely said that “we decline to second-guess the City’s considered judgments about the efficacy of its development plan.”

Susette Kelo, who fought New London’s plan for her Fort Trumbull neighborhood.
Flickr photo by cereza juana.

Three years after the decision, no one had to second-guess the city’s judgments. Instead, it was clear that they were wrong. The homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors have all been torn down or removed. But, except for the remodeling of one government building into another government building, virtually no new development had taken place in the Fort Trumbull district by May, 2008.

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Will Obama Declare War on the Suburbs?

The Washington Post reports that Barack Obama will be our first president whose heritage is from the central cities since Grover Cleveland, who left the office in 1897. Prior to becoming president, Cleveland had been a reform mayor of Buffalo, and then governor of New York. I think they missed one: Theodore Roosevelt grew up in New York City and represented part of the city in the legislature. But presidents since then have been from suburbs or small towns.

Obama, however, was born in Honolulu, went to school in Jakarta, Los Angeles, and New York, and got his famous job as a community organizer in Chicago. His only “suburban” time was getting his law degree in Cambridge, MA.

From one perspective, the war on sprawl is really a war between central cities and suburbs. The central cities see the suburbs growing and want some of that growth (and the tax revenues that come with it) for themselves. By demonizing the suburbs, at the very least they have a chance to grab more than their share of federal and state funds for housing and transportation.

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