Monthly Archives: June 2009

Planned Waste in the Puget Sound

The Puget Sound Regional Council (the metropolitan planning organization for the Seattle-Tacoma area) is seeking comments on its draft 2040 transportation plan. The Antiplanner has long been critical of long-range transportation planning, and this plan is, if anything, even more repulsive than previous efforts.

For one thing, even though it is supposed to be a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), it is written in a patronizing question-and-answer style reminiscent of a children’s book. This sends a clear message that planners think the readers are idiots and need to be guided by the hand or they might want something that is politically incorrect. As it turns out, the data in the document show it is the planners who are the idiots.

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High-Speed Opinions

Publication of the Antiplanner’s views on high-speed rail in the Denver Post and Iowa City Press-Citizen has naturally produced both positive and negative comments. Most of the negative ones fall into two categories:

1. Ad hominem attacks on the Cato Institute; and

2. “Don’t you know we are running out of oil? Running Diesel-powered trains that consume more foreign oil per passenger mile than the average automobile is the only solution!”

It may be a testament to the quality of our public schools that the analytical skills of Americans smart enough to use a web browser have reached such depths of sophistication.

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Sanity Prevails in Texas

After The Onion reported that Texas was building a wall around itself to keep out the job-hungry Americans, the Texas legislature effectively did the same thing by passing a smart-growth bill designed to destroy the Texas economy so that it would no longer have jobs attracting people from the rest of the country. Fortunately, Governor Rick Perry vetoed the bill.

The bill “would promote a one-size-fits-all approach to land use and planning that would not work across a state as large and diverse as Texas,” said Perry. “Local governments can already adopt ‘smart growth’ policies based on the desires of the community without a state-led effort that endorses such planning.”

Actually, what makes Texas work so well is that counties, for the most part, have no zoning authority. This means if some city such as Austin decides to adopt a smart-growth plan, developers can simply go outside the city limits and build for the market instead of what planners want.

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Amtrak Inspector General: Europe’s Trains Lose Billions

Rail advocates are often torn between arguing that everyone else subsidizes passenger trains, so we should too; and arguing that passenger trains could make a profit if only we would provide enough initial capital investment. High-speed rail advocates, for example, often claim that high-speed trains in Europe make money. For example, in 2008 The Economist wrote that the French TGV “lifted the [French state] railway to a profit of 695 million euros in 2006.”

Money maker or money loser?

Last year, Amtrak’s Inspector General hired a European consulting firm to examine such claims. The resulting report demolishes any notion that European railroads make money.

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In Defense of Paul Krugman

As an unabashed supporter of Democratic Party policies, Paul Krugman has made some enemies in conservative camps. So the right-wing blogosphere was gleeful to discover a 2002 column in which Krugman actually urged the Federal Reserve Bank to “create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.” As near as I can tell, the first to point this out was someone named Patrick who commented on a Reason blog.

Since then, Mark Thornton at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute has uncovered many other examples of Krugman saying things in 2001-2004 that promoted a Fed-led housing boom. “Krugman did cause the housing bubble,” Thornton concludes.

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Metrorail Tragedy

It is too soon to know what caused the Washington Metrorail crash that killed at least six seven nine people. The horrific photos show one train car telescoping into another, which is the last thing you want to have happen in a rail accident. Considering the accident took place just after 5 pm, it was lucky there were not more fatalities.

Time has not been kind to the Metrorail system. The Antiplanner remembers when the first lines opened and the trains exploded into the various underground stations and smoothly came to a stop. Today, the trains lurch and shudder, are delayed or cancelled by broken rails and “baffling” smoke in the tunnels, and passengers have to put up with numerous elevator and escalator outages.

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State High-Speed Rail Reports

The Antiplanner’s latest case against high-speed rail is now available in the form of reports published by a variety of think tanks. The reports are pretty similar, so download the one for your state if you see it, or a nearby state if you don’t see yours. The short (6-page) reports make the main arguments; the long (30-page) ones get into the nitty gritty.

Colorado (Independence Institute): Long report or short report

Florida (American Dream Coalition): Long report or short report

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The Lobbying Begins

When Obama announced his “high-speed rail vision” — actually, a group of six disjointed rail networks — the Antiplanner predicted that the 17 states and hundreds of cities not on the network would begin lobbying to have those gaps filled in. The biggest gap is between Kansas City and California — outside of the Pacific Coast, none of the states in the West are on the map at all.

Planners to the rescue! The metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) for Reno, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City have agreed to put up $60,000 each to hire lobbyists to promote high-speed rail to their cities. They’ve asked the MPOs for Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Denver to join them in their “Western High Speed Rail Alliance.” Naturally, the planners in Phoenix support the idea, though I haven’t heard whether the “management committee” approved it during its recent meeting.

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Oberstar’s Grand Plan

Chairman Oberstar and the leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee want to spend $500 billion on surface transportation over the next six years. This is a huge increase over the $338 billion authorized over the last six years.

Page 4 of the plan’s executive summary “provides $337.4 billion for highways.” But, in fact, only $100 billion of this is dedicated to highways; most of the rest is in “flexible funds” such as CMAQ and the Surface Transportation Fund that can be spent on either highways or transit. Nearly $100 billion goes for transit, and $50 billion goes for high-speed rail. The remaining $12.4 billion goes for safety programs.

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