Monthly Archives: August 2017

This Is Why Cap-and-Trade Is Stupid

Despite the fact that Los Angeles voters agreed to spend $120 billion on light rail and related transportation projects last November, the region’s transit agency, Metro, says it has a $280 million shortfall in extending its Gold light-rail line 12.4 miles to Montclair. Cap-and-trade to the rescue! Members of the state legislature representing the area have proposed to use cap-and-trade funds to fill the gap.

The cap-and-trade or emissions trading system allows people to spend money buying the right to emit greenhouse gases, and the state uses that money to do things that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The result is a more efficient allocation of resources than if the state were to simply order everyone to reduce emissions by an arbitrary amount.

So spending cap-and-trade revenues on light rail would make sense if light rail reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But does it? According to page 4.9-33 of the supplemental environmental impact report for the project, the line would actually increase emissions. But that’s okay, says the report, because “the project would contribute less than 0.00001% to the GHG burden for the planet.” Continue reading

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Let the Property Owners Decide

The Houston flooding isn’t even over yet, and planners are already blaming it on urban sprawl. That’s absurd: if 30 to 50 inches of rain fell on New York City, Los Angeles, or anywhere else over a weekend, they would have flooded too.

The Antiplanner is not an expert on hydrology, but I do know a couple of basic principles. First, the way to minimize flooding is to minimize the percentage of each acre of land that is rendered impermeable by development. Second, high-density development leads to a higher percentage of land that is impermeable. This means that sprawl is a natural defense against flooding.

Planners would like you to believe that concentrating development on a smaller land base, even if that land is made mostly impermeable, is better because more land is left permeable. But all that does is concentrate the flooding in the developed area. Continue reading

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No to Las Vegas Light Rail

The Antiplanner is in San Antonio, the nation’s largest city not to have fallen for the rail-transit hoax. In fact, San Antonio is the epitome of a 21st-century city, since it does not pretend to have a huge downtown–only 6 percent of the region’s jobs are located in the downtown area.

Another 21st-century city, Las Vegas, has also escaped any publicly funded rail transit but some would like to change that. The Antiplanner commented on this proposal a couple of months ago, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a similar commentary yesterday. I hope that city can avoid the mistakes made by Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake.

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So-Called “Gaps” Not a Problem

The Antiplanner much appreciates the work done by Dr. Joseph Schwieterman of the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University in studying and raising public awareness about the Megabus-pioneered revival of the intercity bus industry. But the institute’s latest study is both misleading and has been misreported.

According to one news article, “eight of the 50 most heavily-traveled routes between cities 120 to 400 miles apart in America have lost either express bus or Amtrak service since 2014.” Low gas prices are supposed to be responsible for the loss in service; “As long as gas remains cheap,” says the article, “public transportation seems bound to suffer.” Supposedly, according to another article, these changes are “forcing more to drive.”

In fact, all of the declines in Amtrak service documented by the Chaddick study took place prior to 2006, well before today’s low fuel prices. While Megabus did drop some services since 2014, Megabus will go anywhere people want to go, so if it dropped service between some cities, that probably means there weren’t many potential riders for it to carry. Continue reading

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The Antiplanner’s Library:
Richard Florida’s The New Urban Crisis

In a review of Richard Florida’s recent book, The New Urban Crisis, left-wing writer Sam Wetherell says that cities that have followed Florida’s “creative class” prescriptions “are becoming gated communities” for the rich, “or at least the college-educated children of the rich.” They suffer from increased inequality, gentrification pushing the poor out to the suburbs, and a disappearing middle class.

As a socialist, Wetherell believes the problem is a crisis of capitalism. But really the problem is a crisis of big government. Whatever the source of the problem, Wetherell claims that, in The New Urban Crisis, even Florida “all but admits that he was wrong,” though “he stops just short of saying it.” Continue reading

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Purple Line Losers

Travelers and taxpayers both lose as Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao caved in to Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic Congressional delegation by approving federal funding for the Purple Line. As Antiplanner readers know, the state’s own transportation analysis found that the Purple Line will dramatically increase congestion in Montgomery County suburbs of Washington DC, while the $5.6 billion cost represents exactly $5.6 billion that could have been spent to better effect on just about anything else: buses, roads, schools, or health care, to name a few things.

Administration officials justified the decision by saying that the project was too far along to cancel and the planned public-private partnership was something that President Trump wants to encourage. But, in this case at least, the public-private partnership does not save any money or produce any better service; it is merely a way of avoiding debt limits because the debt from the project will be on the books of the private partner, not the public agency.

As for being too far along to stop, every project on FTA’s New Starts and Small Starts list has already received some federal money for engineering and design work. The Department of Transportation recently told Durham to go ahead with engineering work on its light-rail project, so it too will presumably reach the point where it is “too far along” to stop. Continue reading

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For Sale: Eclipse Glasses, Slightly Used

The Antiplanner’s eclipse was nearly smoke-free, thank you. In fact, I was in one of the best places in the nation to watch the eclipse, as we were also cloud-free.

Waiting for the eclipse near Camp Sherman.

Prior to the eclipse, many people were predicting chaos and even a “disaster nightmare.” “Officials are bracing for toilet shortages, cellular blackout zones and the potential for emergency service vehicles to be stuck in traffic.” Continue reading

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Are Environmentalists to Blame for Wildfires?

Today is National Eclipse Day, and thanks to the Milli, Nena Spring, and Whitewater fires, I’m likely to be viewing it through a lens of smoke. So this has me thinking about wildfires and wondering if it is true, as some claim, that environmentalists are ultimately responsible for the increase in acres burned in the last decade or so.

Partly due to pressure from environmentalists, federal land timber sales declined by about 80 percent in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the ten-year rolling average of the number of acres burned grew from about 3 million acres in the 1980s and 1990s to 6.5 million acres in the 2000s and (so far) 2010s. Is this a coincidence or did the cessation in timber cutting lead to the growth in wildfires?

Those who blame environmentalists argue that timber cutting and related activities allowed forest managers to minimize fuel loads in the forests. When those activities stopped, the fuel loads grew and fires became hotter, larger, and harder to control. Continue reading

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“Quick Win” for Buses = Loss for Commuters

New York City rail transit lines have fallen on hard times, with frequent delays, accidents, and even trains not running at all. While Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency, some transit advocates want to make sure buses aren’t forgotten in any multi-billion-dollar fix.

Some of their ideas, such as having people pay before they board to hasten loading, are good ones. But they also want more dedicated bus lanes and to have traffic signals be programmed to give buses priority at intersections.

In any city but New York, giving transit priority over other traffic is foolish because cars typically move 50 to 100 times as many people and trucks move far more freight than transit. In New York City, however, transit carries well over half of commuters to work, so deserves more consideration. But how many of those transit commuters take the bus? Continue reading

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Black Crater Fire

The internet and phone service were both down in Camp Sherman yesterday afternoon and evening, which is when I would normally write the next day’s Antiplanner. So instead I took some night photos of the Milli Fire, which was burning on about 256 3,500 acres a few miles from here.

Click image for a larger view.

Next Monday, Camp Sherman will enjoy 90 seconds of total eclipse. Local residents are torn between hoping for clear skies and hoping that smoke from the fires obscures the view so the millions of eclipse-watching tourists go somewhere else.

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