Monthly Archives: November 2012

Can We Drop the Fantasy That Transit Is Green?

Atlantic blogger Eric Jaffe asks, “Can we stop pretending cars are greener than transit?” It’s a pointless question because no one really says that cars are greener than transit. On the other hand, claims that transit is greener than cars are vastly overblown.

Jeffe makes a few duffer mistakes that show he hasn’t thought this through. For example, he admits that it is a mistake (which many transit advocates make) to compare full buses with cars of average occupancy. He then proceeds to compare buses of average occupancy with cars with single occupants. But cars don’t average one occupant; the urban average is about 1.6 and the intercity average is about 2.4. While it is true, as many transit advocates point out, that putting one more person on a bus doesn’t significantly increase energy consumption, it is also true (and perhaps even more doable) that putting one more person in a car doesn’t significantly increase energy consumption.

Jaffe suggests that the reason why transit vehicle occupancy rates are low is because transit agencies “choose to design systems that favor coverage over capacity, knowing full well that will mean running some empty buses, because suburban or low-income residents need them.” In fact, “coverage over capacity” is a revenue strategy: agencies want to justify taxing wealthy suburbs, so they send buses and build trains to those suburbs even though most houses have three or more cars in their driveways. If we want to help low-income residents, it would be cheaper, greener, and greater help to them to simply give them used, but energy-efficient, cars.

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The Columbia River Crossing Is (or at Least Should Be) Dead

Taxpayers for Common Sense recently released a report (see page 27) that finds $2 trillion in budget cuts that will allow Congress to avoid the “fiscal cliff”–and one of those cuts is the Columbia River Crossing. The agency planning this bridge has managed to spend well over $130 million without accomplishing anything except to design a bridge that the Coast Guard says doesn’t have enough clearance to allow Columbia River ship traffic.

The latest death knell for this porky project was the rejection by Vancouver, Washington voters of a sales tax designed to pay the operating costs of the light-rail line that was supposed to cross the bridge. This has led fiscal conservatives to argue that the current bridge proposal is dead and planners must start over.

The Oregonian editorial board sycophantically responds that the bridge is vital for economic growth and jobs, and the voters didn’t reject the bridge but merely that method of funding it. What a load of crap. Everyone in the Portland area knows that the bridge is totally bloated with pork and light rail.

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Is Collapse Inevitable?

“What do you think is going to happen?” my friend asked, adding that most people he talked with believed the nation if not the world would suffer a major economic collapse in the next four years. Given the nation’s $16 trillion debt, plus another (according to one calculation) $84 trillion in unfunded liabilities, simple arithmetic suggests that a U.S. government default is inevitable, and that default would have world-wide repercussions.

For this very reason, many conservatives and Republicans argued that the recent election was the most important one in our lifetime, or at least in many years. Apparently, they believed (or wanted voters to believe) that they could somehow prevent this collapse–though if collapse is truly inevitable, by definition a single election couldn’t prevent it.

Now that Obama has won re-election, some people actually seem eager for the collapse in the hope that it will teach some kind of lesson to those foolish enough to vote for the wrong candidates in the recent election. Meanwhile, the web is filled with sites telling people what they need to hoard before the collapse comes (warning: annoying video starts as soon as page opens), or arguing that people should buy gold or providing some other useful (and often profitable, at least to the advisor) advice.

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The Antiplanner’s Library: Coming Apart

One of the subthemes of the Antiplanner’s latest book is that there is a growing divide between the middle class (meaning people with white-collar jobs and their families) and the working class (meaning people with blue-collar jobs and their families). Charles Murray‘s latest book, Coming Apart, explores this split in more detail. He bravely proposes a cause of that split and suggests a possible solution.

Part of this book is the next book the Antiplanner wanted to write. Murray provides a great statistical review of growing income inequality leading to frightening conclusion that the United States is turning into a two-class society, one an upper-class elite and the other lower-class drudges who lack economic security or well-being. However, Murray’s explanation of this decline, and his remedy, are both far less persuasive.

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Back in the Air Again

Today the Antiplanner is flying to Oakland to speak about Gridlock at CSU East Bay. The event is sponsored by the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies.

Tonight, I’ll be speaking in Pleasant Hill to a Contra Costa County citizens’ group about Best-Laid Plans in in particular about problems with urban planning as it is practiced in the Bay Area.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be in Sunnyvale speaking to the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association about American Nightmare. As far as I know, these events are all open to the public, though it may be too late to make reservations for dinner at the Pleasant Hill event.

On Friday I’ll fly from San Jose to Helena, Montana, where I’ll participate in a Montana Policy Institute Legislative Forum. My presentation will focus on the effects of land-use regulation on housing and businesses. If you are in any of those cities, I hope to see you there.


Density’s Parking Impact

The City of Portland has approved numerous massive four- and five-story apartment buildings in neighborhoods of single-family homes separated by streets of single-story shops. These buildings stress the infrastructure built to handle a smaller population, which is most obvious in the increased traffic and parking problems–especially since many of the buildings are designed without parking.

Despite Portland’s reputation as a car-free city, I can attest that neighborhoods that once had few cars parked on the streets are now jammed with cars, indicating far more cars per housing unit than there were a few decades ago. The introduction of apartments lining the business corridors of these neighborhoods has led to huge increases in congestion, which isn’t helped by the fact that the city carefully keeps most signals uncoordinated so that people now frequently drive on neighborhood streets to avoid stopping at frequent red lights.

To allay concerns that the apartments were taking parking away from existing homes and businesses, the city just published a report reviewing the parking situation around eight recent buildings. Four of these had about two-thirds of parking space per dwelling unit on site, while the other four had no on-site parking (page 3). The city’s report found that, even during peak periods, at least 25 percent of on-street parking within two blocks of these buildings was vacant (p. 2).

That was enough to lead the Oregonian to headline its story about the report, “City study finds increase in no-parking apartments but little neighborhood parking impact.” There’s more to the story, however.

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What Happened to the Environmental Movement?

The environmental movement has lost its way, argues a Montana filmmaker, who is using Kickstart to raise funds for his film about the movement. J.D. King isn’t anti-environmentalist, but he is skeptical about where the movement is going.

Other than what can be seen in the above pitch, I don’t know what the movie will be like, but I agree with the general premise. I worked in the movement for nearly 20 years, and during most of that time environmental groups were focused on saving the environment and willing to use any tools available to accomplish that goal. Today, most environmental groups seem more aimed at making government bigger, whether that is good for the environment or not. Perhaps some public exposure will help the movement open up to new ideas.

Ironically, the pitch above opens on my friend, Dave Foreman, giving a speech. Dave was always good at incendiary rhetoric in front of a large group, but at heart he is a libertarian who supported Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. It would be interesting to see what Foreman would say if King interviewed him for the movie.


The Case for Privatizing Amtrak

On Monday, the Cato Institute will release the Antiplanner’s latest paper, Stopping the Runaway Train: The Case for Privatizing Amtrak. Antiplanner readers can preview the paper today.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder outside of Glacier National Park, September 13, 2010. (Click image for a larger view.)

The case against Amtrak is simple. Before Amtrak took over the nation’s passenger trains, average rail fares were a third less than average air fares. Today, thanks to four decades of government management, average rail fares are more than twice average air fares. Moreover, subsidies to passenger trains are nearly ten times as great, per passenger mile, as subsidies to airlines (and more than twenty times subsidies to highway travel). When fares and subsidies are combined, Amtrak spends nearly four times as much moving one passenger one mile as the airlines.

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Smart-Growth Advocates Have No Shame

Advocates of smart growth–density and transit–are either consummate liars or complete idiots. Those are the only explanations for many of the statements that come out of their mouths. The latest is the claim that Superstorm Sandy proves we need to spend more on transit.

What Superstorm Sandy proved was that concentrating a lot of people in one place and making them dependent on an easily floodable, centralized transportation system is a bad idea. Spending more money on New York’s subways prior to the storm just would have meant more money lost to storm damage.

We heard the same nonsense when Katrina hit New Orleans, which just happens to be the nation’s second-most transit-dependent city after New York. The people who had automobiles got out before the flooding; the people who depended on transit did not, either because the transit system was incompetently run or because the people didn’t trust the transit system to take them where they wanted to go. Yet some planners seriously argued that the problems resulting from Katrina–including more than 1,100 deaths–were because New Orleans was too “auto dependent.”

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