Monthly Archives: June 2017

Light Rail for Las Vegas?

On the same day that the Antiplanner debated rail transit with Vukan Vuchic, the Las Vegas Sun announced that transit planners there are once again studying light rail. Las Vegas is the nation’s third-largest urban area not to have spent large amounts of money on rail transit: Detroit has a people mover and is building a streetcar line; Tampa has a streetcar; and Las Vegas has a monorail connecting casinos, but none of these were megaprojects (and all should be considered failures).

Rather than pat themselves on the back for avoiding the cost headaches that come with light rail, the city’s Regional Transportation Commission is considering an $800 million light-rail line vs. a $350-million bus-rapid transit line. Officials should look at Denver, where the bus-rapid transit line provides faster service than any of the region’s rail lines; is the only line that didn’t have huge cost overruns and did greatly exceed ridership projections; and whose buses share space with cars so the line relieves congestion for everyone, not just a handful of train riders.

Professor Vuchic maintains that light rail is somehow essential for urban livability. Cities that built light rail, he said, created pedestrian friendly streets. On one hand, light rail kills three times as many pedestrians as buses, per billion passenger miles carried, so I don’t consider that very friendly. On the other hand, any actions that can be taken to create a pedestrian-friendly environment are completely independent of what kind of transit is provided. Continue reading

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Richard Florida Supports Trump’s Urban Policies

Like so many urbanists, Richard Florida went into a “state of shock” on the election of Donald Trump. And yet, on reflection, he ends up agreeing with Trump’s basic principles regarding the cities.

Even if Clinton had won, he realized, “we would have been unlikely to see anything like the sweeping new set of urban policies that I’d recommended” in his books. As a result, he reached the “stunning” conclusion that, “When it comes to urban policy and much else, the federal government is the wrong vehicle for getting things done and for getting them done right.”

This, of course, is exactly why Trump and his supporters want to end federal funding of urban programs. Unfortunately, Florida doesn’t really understand the reasons for the blue-red divide, arguing it has more to do with gay rights and homophobism than economic stagnation and declining working-class jobs. Continue reading

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Saving Energy While Liberating the Poor

Last week, the Antiplanner argued that transit is going extinct and, rather than fight this trend, regional officials should find ways to smooth the transition. One way of doing so is to improve the mobility of low-income workers.

Transit advocates love to use phrases like oil dependency and auto dependency to suggest that automobiles are environmental disasters that have reduced our freedom. In fact, the 2015 National Transit Database shows that the only transit systems use less energy per passenger mile than driving are those in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco-Oakland, Portland, and Honolulu, while automobiles have liberated Americans, giving them far more mobility and economic opportunities than the people of any other country.

Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the benefits of this liberation. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, about 5 million workers who take transit to work live in households with either no or one car. About 2 million of those are in New York City and most of them presumably choose to live without cars, but it may be reasonable to estimate that about 2 to 3 million workers nationwide take transit because they can’t afford a car. Continue reading

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New Driving Data

The Federal Highway Administration has just released urban highway statistics for 2015, including the miles of roads and daily vehicle miles of driving by road type and “selected characteristics” for each urban area, including population, land area, freeway lane miles, and similar information. These data are quite useful as they allow interregional comparisons as well as, when combined with past data, a look at trends over time.

For example, the Los Angeles urban area is more than twice as dense as the Houston urban area, yet both report the same number of miles of driving per capita (see population note below). Though there is a weak correlation between density and driving, it isn’t as strong or as certain as urban planners would like you to believe.

As published by the FHwA, each table of more than 400 urban areas is divided into nine worksheets of 50 urban areas. Since this is clumsy, I’ve copied-and-pasted them into one worksheet each, which you can download for the miles of roads and selected characteristics. Continue reading

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The Transit Apocalypse

With declining ridership, growing costs, and increasing competition, the nation’s transit industry is on the verge of complete collapse. The trends leading to this collapse appear to be permanent, yet transit officials across the country are pretending they are only temporary. Instead of preparing for the collapse, they are simply seeking more subsidies.

The Antiplanner has witnessed in the collapse of an industry before, and the results are not pretty. I spent the first two decades of my career fighting money-losing timber sales on federal forests. Between 1990 and 2000, those sales declined by 85 percent, turning communities built around sawmills that purchased federal timber into near-ghost towns.

Some communities could see the handwriting on the wall and made the transition to a recreation economy. Bend, Oregon, near where the Antiplanner currently lives, is thriving as a resort and recreation town, with one of the fastest-growing populations in the country. Coos Bay, Oregon, near where the Antiplanner used to live, turned up its nose at the recreation economy, saying its high-paid union millworkers would not be satisfied flipping burgers and changing bed sheets. The area is currently depressed and–despite outstanding beauty and recreation opportunities–its population is stagnant.

Like timber communities, transit cities have the choice of preparing for or denying the impending collapse. Those that prepare for it will enable a smoother transition to future transportation systems while those that deny it will create huge problems for local taxpayers. Continue reading

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Response to Congestion Report

Two weeks ago, the Center of the American Experiment published a report by the Antiplanner showing that traffic congestion in Minneapolis-St. Paul was the deliberate result of the region’s Metropolitan Council’s plans to increase congestion in order to get more people to ride transit, walk, or bicycle. The Antiplanner quoted Met Council documents saying that it was not going to try to relieve congestion, cited budgetary numbers showing that more than 80 percent of capital spending was going for transit systems that carried less than 1.5 percent of travel while less than 10 percent went for roads that carried 90 percent.

Since the report was released, Met Council supporters have issued a couple of responses, including one yesterday. What do they say?

  1. Let’s spell Cato Institute with a K as in Kato. Get it? KKK? Right wing? Ha ha!
  2. Don’t believe anything the Antiplanner says; he doesn’t even have a degree in urban planning. (Thank Edwin Mills for that.*)
  3. Congestion is actually a good thing; be glad you have it.

Continue reading

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Will Driverless Cars Lead to Street Wars?

“Street Wars 2035” cries The Guardian; “Can cyclists and driverless cars ever co-exist?” The article predicts that streets will be designated “autonomous-vehicle only routes” where cars will whiz by, centimeters apart, allowing no room for pedestrian or bicycle crossings. Apparently, the writer never heard of stop lights or rights of way.

“The forces of driverless motordom try to push pedestrians and cyclists off the road” shrieks Treehugger, citing the Guardian article. All this hysteria is derived solely from one quote by Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn in January, 2016. Speaking to CNBC, Ghosn said, “One of the biggest problems is people with bicycles. The car is confused by them because from time-to-time they behave like pedestrians and from time-to-time they behave like cars.”

I’m not sure why Ghosn is even considered an expert, as Renault is hardly the forefront of driverless car technology. However, Renault’s partner, Nissan, has promised to have several models of self-driving cars by 2020. While Ghosn was technically CEO of Nissan when he made the statement (Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan and Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault), I suspect his statement was just an unguarded remark and not meant to the first shot of a war on bicycles. Continue reading

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A Monorail for LA? Really?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to build a monorail in the city. His reasoning is they are cheaper to build than subways but won’t face interference from traffic like light rail.

Despite futurist fantasies of the past, there are only a few monorails in the world, and most are in Japan. There are good reasons why no other American cities emulated the Seattle World’s Fair monorail: they are ugly, expensive, slow, and don’t move very many people. A monorail in India fit the Antiplanner’s definition of high-cost, low-capacity transit.

By coincidence, two days after the mayor announced the monorail idea, Disney World had to shut down its monorail when parts began to fall off of it onto the rail. With shared, driverless cars right around the corner, the last thing Los Angeles needs is a new kind of infrastructure it won’t be able to maintain, but last November the mayor persuaded that spending $120 billion on transit would relieve congestion (it won’t), so they might as well blow it on something ridiculous. Continue reading

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in Atlanta today and tomorrow to debate the question, “What are the Biggest Threats to Liberty in Urban Policy?” I think I already debated the issue, but I guess someone was entertained by it enough to ask for a rematch.

I’ll probably take a little time to bicycle around while I am here. If you can think of any good places to ride to from downtown Atlanta, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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