Monthly Archives: October 2010

Dead Again

New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie rekilled the Hudson River tunnel project. He had killed it before, a couple of weeks ago, but then promised to reconsider his decision at the request of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Christie did not want to burden New Jersey taxpayers with the cost overruns, now anticipated to be at least $4 billion. Canceling the project means New Jersey has to repay the federal government $350 million spent on planning the project, which seems a bargain by comparison.

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Hiking Up the South Sister

Last week’s weather report for this past weekend (October 23-24) predicted snow in the mountains, so Thursday, October 21, was my last opportunity this year to hike up the South Sister (also known as Charity). At 10,363 feet, the South Sister is the third highest mountain in Oregon and the highest you can hike without any climbing skills. Still, the trail is very steep–5 of the 6 miles averaged 20 percent grades.

I started at Devils Lake, which is about 5,500 feet, so I “only” had to climb about 5,000 feet. The trail began with 1-1/2 miles of steep uphill through dense forest. On emerging from the forest, I had an excellent view of Broken Top, a 9,175-foot mountain east of the South Sister. As the photo shows, morning skies were clear. (Click any photo for a larger view.)

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More Money Wasted

Just in time to influence the November election, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has granted $2.5 billion for high-speed rail to several states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan. Underscoring the political nature of the grants, the announcements were not made by the Federal Railroad Administration, which doesn’t mention them on its web site.

Instead, LaHood phoned major politicians (all Democrats), who then announced the grants to the media. A formal announcement is expected on Thursday. Until then, announcements indicate that:

  • California received $902 million
  • Florida $808 million.
  • Iowa and Illinois received $230 million for a conventional-speed Amtrak line between Iowa City and Chicago.
  • Michigan received $150 million for a high-speed rail line on the vital Dearborn-to-Kalamazoo corridor.
  • Connecticut received $121 million to improve rail speeds between New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, MA.
  • Virginia received $45 million to plan a high-speed rail line from Washington to Richmond.
  • Minnesota received $40 million to renovate the St. Paul Union Depot.
  • New York received $18 million for rail upgrades in the Syracuse area.

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TIGER II Rips Another Hole in the Federal Budget

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood put your money where his mouth is when he dedicated well over 40 percent of the latest round of “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” (TIGER) stimulus funds to streetcars, pedestrianways, and other “livability” projects. The biggest grant was $47.67 million towards a 2.7-mile, $72 million streetcar line in Atlanta.

In all, the grants totaled about $584 million, of which $557 million went for actual construction and $27 million went for planning. Almost 85 percent of the planning money was for some form of a livability program (transit, pedestrianways, “complete streets,” multi-modal stations, etc.), while 40 percent of the construction funds went to livability, 24 percent to highways, and 36 percent to freight projects.

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Portland Urban Renewal Scam

The Antiplanner’s former hometown of Portland, Oregon, is proposing to create a new urban renewal district that is so gerrymandered that blogger Jack Bogdanski suspects it must cover at least 50 scams.

Most of Portland’s previous urban renewal districts are pretty regular, following roughly rectangular boundaries. The proposed new district has fingers going in all directions, often connected to other parts of the district by an area no wider than a street. Some of the fingers overlap existing or lapsed districts.

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How Many Subsidies Can Dance on the Head of a TOD?

Rail transit advocates often claim that new rail lines increase the value of properties near rail stations. While the Antiplanner is skeptical of many of these claims, a new report casts a dark light on such increased property values.

According to this report from the Dukakis Center for Urban Policy (yes, that Dukakis), increased property values push out low-income families that tend to be transit dependent and replace them with higher-income households who tend to own cars. This “undesirable neighborhood change,” the report argues, “is substantial enough that it needs to be managed whenever transit investments or improvements are being planned.”

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Protests in Stuttgart

From 5,000 miles away, it is difficult to tell what is going on in Stuttgart, Germany, where tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest against a $6 billion plan to replace the city’s World War I-vintage train station. Is the main concern the cost? The loss of a historic structure? Or the city’s plan to locate a “true pedestrian haven” on the site of tracks that will be moved underground?

It is probably all of these. One anonymous protester calls the project “a grave for taxes,” and many argue that the money would be better spent on other activities. It was originally supposed to cost about $3 billion, but the price tag is now double that, and this doesn’t even count another $3 billion for a new “high-speed” rail line to the airport.

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Getting Priorities Straight

Detroit is America’s eleventh-largest urban area and (unless you count the insipid people mover) the largest without rail transit. So, naturally, the city suffers from light-rail envy. In 2008, the mayor promised a Detroit-to-Ann Arbor commuter train by October 25, 2010–a promise that, since then, has been deferred indefinitely.

The city also wants to build a light-rail line up Woodward Avenue (home of the Woodward Dream Cruise in which people show off classic cars). This leads the Antiplanner’s faithful allies at the Reason Foundation to ask: Why?

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Urban Planning Dream or Nightmare?

In Best-Laid Plans, the Antiplanner argues that cities are too complicated to plan, so anyone who tries to plan them ends up following fads and focusing on one or two goals to the near-exclusion of all else. The current fad is to reduce per capita driving by increasing density and spending money on rail transit.

The logical end product of such narrow-minded planning is illustrated by a SimCity constructed by Vincent Ocasla, an architecture student from the Philippines. His goal was to build the densest possible SimCity, and the result is a landscape that is almost entirely covered by high-rise towers used for both residences and work. There are no streets and residents travel either on foot or by subway. There is little need for travel, however, as most residents live in the same tower in which they work.

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Crash Postpones Driverless Test

The Antiplanner was looking forward to seeing Volkswagen run a driverless Audi up the windy Pikes Peak Road at racing speeds last month. Unfortunately, this test was postponed by a crash — not of the driverless car but of a helicopter that was aiming to photograph the test. (Maybe someone should develop a pilotless helicopter.)

Meanwhile, Google has been test driving a driverless Prius in California. The car obeys all traffic laws and avoids collisions with other cars and pedestrians. (The one accident was when it was stopped at a light and rear-ended by another vehicle.)

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