Monthly Archives: March 2009

Time and The New York Times Get It Wrong

Writers for both Time and The New York Times have recently pontificated on the need to rebuild American cities so as to stop “sprawl.” The authors of these articles completely fail to understand recent housing markets and urban trends.

Writer Bryan Walsh, who has previously written on environmental issues for Time, claims that “The American suburb as we know it is dying,” which is a good thing because the suburbs “left our nation addicted to cars.” (Which, of course, is backwards: cars allowed more people to live in the suburbs.)

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Get Ready for More Cars

Tesla Motors cut the price of an electric car in half last week with the announcement of the Model S, a seven-passenger sedan. Tesla’s earlier model, the Roadster, was a two-seater that retailed for $109,000. The new hatchback sedan will go for $57,400. After deducting a $7,500 tax credit, the new car is less than half the cost of the old one.

With optional long-range batteries, the Model S will have a cruising range of 300 miles (the standard battery has a range of 160 miles). The batteries are located in the floorboards and the motor is in the rear, leaving enough room for two child seats behind the conventional backseat.

The long hood is merely cargo space, leading Tesla to say that, despite its sleek design, the Model S can compete with most SUVs for moving people and goods. After folding down the seats, you can load a bicycle or 50-inch flat-screen television. But with three rows of seats, “it’s just like a station wagon,” says Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

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Service With a Scowl

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has raised fares and cut service. But several young women wearing stewardess-like uniforms are volunteering their time to make life easier for transit riders by offering directions, handing out free treats, and helping passengers with children and other mobility needs.

MTA has responded by sending them a cease-and-desist order. After all, transit agencies wouldn’t want anyone to think that someone helping them might actually be associated with the agency.

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Unsustainable Transportation

Looking at census data for Calgary, the Antiplanner was amused to note that Statistics Canada says there are two ways to get to work: either by automobile or by “sustainable transportation,” meaning transit, walking, or cycling. But what makes transit more “sustainable” than the automobile?

The New York Times recognizes that, even in New York City, transit is perpetually hungry for subsidies. The state’s proposed solutions are to toll the remaining free bridges into Manhattan and new payroll taxes, all to subsidize so-called “sustainable” transportation. But why should drivers pay to subsidize transit and why should the state pay to subsidize Manhattan’s unsustainable densities?

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Other People’s Money

Good news! You can save money by selling your car and riding transit instead. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) says the average person can save $8,500 a year taking transit instead of owning a car.

This is based on the AAA cost-of-driving formula, which says that driving costs an average of $0.54 cents per vehicle mile. Funny how Americans only actually spend $0.39 cents a vehicle mile, at least according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The difference? The BEA uses actual costs while AAA numbers are hypothetical.

So that might reduce the savings to only $6,100, which is still a lot. But the other big thing APTA is leaving out is the huge subsidies to transit. Transit subsidies amount to $0.61 per passenger mile. APTA assumed that, prior to giving up their car, the transit rider drove 15,000 miles a year. At $0.61 per mile, a transit rider who rides 15,000 miles a year gets about $9,150 in subsidies.

So you can save, maybe, $6,100 a year by imposing more than $9,100 in costs on other taxpayers. Good deal!

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Streetcar Stimuli

Remember how the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis proved we had to invest in infrastructure? And then it turned out that the bridge collapsed because of a design flaw, not a lack of maintenance?

I guess cities got the message, because instead of using their stimulus funds to replace dated and defective infrastructure, they are building new infrastructure that will immediately be obsolete and soon be defective. Specifically, many cities have decided to blow hundreds of millions of dollars of their stimulus funds on streetcars.

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Does California Deserve the Lion’s Share?

The Antiplanner has been so busy in Washington this week that I’ve barely had time to download email, much less read your no-doubt excellent comments on the posts I wrote earlier this week. But I did read a story about high-speed rail from the San Francisco Examiner.

Apparently, California thinks that it deserves “the lion’s share” of the $8 billion in the stimulus package for high-speed rail. Of course, in Aesop’s fable, the lion ended up with all of the stuff that was in dispute.

But whoever makes the decision parcelling out high-speed stimulus funds to the states will have to confront the fact that California’s high-speed rail plan is qualitatively different from those of most other states. These qualitative differences make it quantitatively at least a dozen times more expensive, not to mention far from shovel-ready.

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