Monthly Archives: April 2010

America 2050

Think back (if you are old enough) to 1970 and imagine you were then asked to write a plan for America for 2010. In 1970, you wouldn’t have known about personal computers, and so you probably wouldn’t expect that the number of people working at home in 2010 would be growing faster than the number of people riding transit to work.

In 1970 you wouldn’t have known about the Internet and FedEx (which began in 1973), and so you probably wouldn’t have predicted that many people in 2010 would shop from home and have their goods delivered to them by truck. (In 1970, for those who don’t remember, UPS home deliveries were rare.)

In 1970, the private railroads still operated passenger trains and the airlines hadn’t been deregulated yet so airfares were mainly at wealthy and business travelers. So you probably wouldn’t have predicted the doubling in per capita air travel or that air travel would be one-fourth the cost, per passenger mile, of passenger trains.

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Lying with Statistics

As the Antiplanner recently noted, rail and smart-growth advocates are fond of using touchy-feely arguments for their costly policies, and when presented with evidence that a preponderance of their projects are unquestionable failures, they simply respond that critics “lie with statistics.” The Antiplanner’s response is that you have to rely on data to figure out of policies are working or not, and if you are afraid someone is lying with statistics, you had best learn enough about data to watch for the signs of such lying.

Of course, an entire book was written on this subject way back in 1954. But here are a few ways of lying with statistics that Antiplanner readers should watch out for.

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Unsustainable Transportation

Is is possible that some transit advocates are figuring out that financial sustainability is a prerequisite for sustainable (meaning non-automobile) transportation? You would think so from a recent article about the San Francisco Bay Area’s transportation problems.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission‘s annual report projects that the region needs to find $1 billion a year to support transit. Since 1997, the Bay Area’s transit funding has increased by more than 50 percent (net of inflation), yet transit service has grown by only 16 percent and ridership by just 7 percent. “That is a terrible return on our region’s transit investment,” the annual report points out, “and it should cause us to think long and hard before committing future funds to such a low-yield strategy.” As a result, the report concludes, “the current transit system is not sustainable.”

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Travels with the Antiplanner: New Orleans

Last week was the Antiplanner’s first visit to New Orleans since Katrina. What I remember from my previous visit in 2002 was a thriving area centered around the French Quarter filled with overweight tourists eating fatty foods at overpriced restaurants. (I remember weighing myself as soon as I got home to see how many pounds I would have to shed through hard cycling.)

Yet all but the most brain-dead tourists could catch glimpses of another city: run-down buildings, poor people — mostly black — many of whom may have considered themselves lucky to have menial jobs in the tourist hotels and restaurants. At the time, the city was building a new Canal Street Streetcar line for the tourists even as it was cutting back on bus service to the low-income neighborhoods: bus vehicle miles dropped by 12 percent between 1999 and 2003, while streetcar service grew by 40 percent. The 3 million new streetcar riders hardly made up for the lost 6 million bus trips, especially since the streetcar riders were “choice” riders while the bus riders were transit-dependent.

Thousands of homesites in the Lower Ninth Ward remain vacant today.

Katrina transformed the region’s demographics. In 2000, New Orleans had 485,000 people and the urban area had just over 1 million. In 2008, says the Census Bureau, the city had only 312,000 and the urban area less than 800,000. Most of the departed are poor blacks, many of whom found refuge from the flooding in Houston and decided to stay in a city that had better schools and less corruption.

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2009 National Household Travel Survey

Every few years, the Federal Highway Administration conducts a major survey called the NHTS to find out how Americans travel. The 2009 survey collected questionaires from more than 150,000 different households. Some of the results from that survey are now available in several formats.

The complete dataset is about 500 megabytes in ASCII format. Much briefer are a number of frequently-asked for table, including tables showing daily trips and miles by household income, mode and purpose, and other variables. You can also design your own table, though many useful variables in the survey, such as person miles of travel, are not (yet?) included in the design-your-own tables.

The first thing that must be noted is that the 150,000 households surveyed were not an accurate cross-section of the nation. For example, they surveyed one household for every 1,000 people in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area, but only one for every 11,000 people in the Chicago metropolitan area, and (apparently) no one at all in the Atlanta metro area. Further, though more than two-thirds of Americans live in urban areas of 50,000 people or more, only about 61 percent of the surveys came from such areas.

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Environmental Teach In

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first National Environmental Teach In, which has since been renamed Earth Day. As Idaho Statesment writer Rocky Barker notes, the Teach In changed the Antiplanner’s life, as I had been interested in becoming an architect but decided to go to forestry school instead.

As I noted two years ago, I had already started my first environmental group — we called it the “Environmental Research Center” –at my high school in 1969. We had perhaps a half dozen active members who went to hearings, wrote letters, and took other steps on land-use and pollution issues. When we heard about the Environmental Teach In, we were ready to take advantage of it, and I suspect we had the biggest teach in at any Portland high school. Speakers included several major politicians, including two future mayors of Portland and two future governors of Oregon, plus experts from state agencies and other sources.

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Mansion or Crack House?

Normally, the Antiplanner doesn’t have time for on-line games. But here is a great on-line game illustrating the insanity of housing in Vancouver, BC, which Wendell Cox says is the least-affordable housing market in the English-speaking world. Of course, the reason it is unaffordable is that Vancouver adopted a growth-management plan in the 1970s that put 70 percent of the land in the region off limits to development.

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