Monthly Archives: September 2017

Portland’s Transit Experiment Has Failed

As in most other cities, Portland transit ridership is declining, and TriMet, Portland’s transit agency, promised to tell its board of directors why in last Wednesday night’s meeting. Before the meeting, one TriMet rider tweeted, “because it’s unreliable and unsafe. It’s not a mystery.” The “unsafe” part partly referred to last May’s murder of two people who were trying to defend a teenage girl from a bigot on a light-rail train.

The report to the board ignored the safety issue but listed all the other usual suspects: low gas prices; competition from Uber and Lyft; late buses due to traffic congestion. But then it added a new one: rising housing prices. Graphics on pages 21 and 22 of the board report (actually a PowerPoint show, so there’s no explanatory text) show a correlation between neighborhoods with the fastest rising housing prices and the biggest declines in transit ridership. TriMet staff apparently suspect that housing costs are forcing transit riders to move to lower-cost neighborhoods that are less accessible to transit.

It is interesting to note that two of the region’s policies for boosting transit — densification (which makes housing expensive) and congestification (which makes buses late) — are now suspected of hurting transit. Of course, no one at TriMet would ever suggest that these policies be reconsidered. Continue reading

Share

Detroit Streetcar Ridership Drops 40 Percent

Detroit’s streetcar was carrying about 5,000 trips a day when it was free, but ridership dropped “somewhat” after they began charging $1.50 for a three-hour pass. “We fully expected ridership to dip a little bit” when they began charging, said a spokesman for the group running the streetcar.

As it turns out, “somewhat” and “a little” means 40 percent, as the line has averaged just 3,000 trips a day since they began charging fares. Moreover, they aren’t really enforcing the fares, as they estimate that half the people who do ride aren’t paying, and fare enforcement–which is scheduled to begin soon–is likely to drop ridership that much more.

The streetcar goes down historic Woodward Avenue, which has supposedly seen $7 billion in gentrification since 2013. Naturally, the streetcar people take credit for that even though the streetcar only opened in May, 2017. Can anyone really believe that this redevelopment has nothing to do with the fact that the Detroit Economic Development Corporation has poured tens of millions of dollars of public money and tax-increment financing into the EightMile/Woodward Corridor Improvement Authority and similar projects?

Share

Why Public Transportation Sucks in the U.S.

Someone called Wendover Productions has released a ten-minute video about why public transportation sucks in the United States. I have some pretty good ideas why public transportation sucks:

  • Transit agencies are more interested in building infrastructure empires than in moving people;
  • Politicians are more interested in building new infrastructure than maintaining the old;
  • The industry has seen a 50-percent decline in worker productivity since it was municipalized;
  • Transit planners refuse to accept that cities no longer have the same job and residential concentrations that they had a hundred years ago.

The video, however, mentions none of these things. Instead, it blames transit’s problems on the widely discredited General Motors streetcar conspiracy. The video also claims that Republicans subsidized highways and that zoning unnecessarily separated residential and commercial areas. These are specious notions: while there are road subsidies, most major highways paid for themselves and, since at least 1970, transit has been far more heavily subsidized than highways. Meanwhile, Texas suburbs that have no zoning see almost all new construction separating residences from commercial areas, suggesting this is a response to consumer demand, not archaic zoning. Continue reading

Share

Honolulu Boondoggle Recovery Plan

The Honolulu Authority for Ridiculously-expensive Transit (HART) has submitted a recovery plan to the Federal Transit Administration seeking to release $1 billion in federal funds for the project. You know you are in trouble when you have to write a recovery plan for a project that isn’t even half built. Billions of dollars of cost overruns had led the FTA to question whether HART could even finish the rail line, much less operate it, and this plan seeks to answer those doubts.

The 20-mile rail line was originally projected to cost less than $3 billion, but now even HART admits that it will cost $8.2 billion ($9.0 billion including finance charges). For perspective, that’s considerably more than the projected cost of Denver’s 110-mile FasTracks program–a program that many think will never be completed because Denver Regional Transit District lacks the funds to extend one of the lines to Longmont. The Denver-Boulder area has more than three times as many people as the Honolulu urban area, so the per capita cost of Honolulu rail is several times greater.

To cover the cost overruns, Hawaii’s governor called a special session of the legislature. After rancorous debate, the legislature agreed to raise a variety of taxes to help fund the rail line. Most importantly, if you stay in a hotel in Hawaii–even if it is in Kaui, Maui, or the big island and you never visit Oahu–about 1 percent of your hotel cost will go to support the rail line, which is another good reason to try Airbnb. Continue reading

Share

Black Population Trends

Between 2015 and 2016, the total population of the San Francisco-Oakland urban area grew by 13,773 people, but the black population shrank by 5,839, suggesting that Bay Area land-use policies continue to push low-income people out of the region by making housing unaffordable. The Austin urban area, to its shame, saw a decline of 4,439 blacks despite a total population growth of 25,316.

Race is a complicated issue, made more complicated by the increasing (and healthy) mixture of races. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, the number of Americans who are “white alone” declined by 296,061 in 2016, while the number who identify themselves as “two or more races” grew by 445,000; some of the decline of the former and growth of the latter is probably because people are more willing to self-identify as being of mixed races.

In the past, I’ve used blacks as a bellwether of housing affordability problems because black per capita incomes have consistently been about 60 percent of whites’. I’ve previously used “black alone,” but this year that produced some odd results: both white alone and black alone populations declined in sixteen different states. For example, California’s total population grew by 105,000, but its white-alone population shrank by 404,000 while its black-alone population shrank by nearly 12,000. It seems likely that most of the changes in white-alone and black-alone numbers are due to redefinitions, not migrations. Continue reading

Share

More 2016 Commuting Data

People who earn more than $75,000 a year are more likely to ride transit than people in any other income bracket. Most of those high-income transit riders live not in big cities like New York or Chicago but in suburbs of those cities.

That information is from table B08119 from the 2016 American Community Survey. I’ve downloaded the table for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urbanized areas and posted it with calculations showing what percentage of people in each income bracket use each form of transportation. The calculations don’t show this, but you can calculate it for yourself, but about 18.5 percent of people earn more than $75,000 a year, but a full 24 percent of people riding transit earn more than that amount.

I was surprised to discover that New York City was not one of the places where people earning more than $75,000 were the most likely to take transit, so I added a column, EB, that flags those areas where the $75,000 bracket is the most likely to take transit. On a state level, this included Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, and Wyoming. Continue reading

Share

Housing Affordability in 2015

Today the Antiplanner continues reviewing 2016 American Community Survey data by looking at housing affordability, a common measure of which is median house prices divided by median family incomes, or value-to-income ratio. Median family incomes are in ACS table B19113, while median home prices are in table B25077.

To save you time, I’ve downloaded these tables, pasted the value and income data into one table, and calculated the ratio for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urban areas. For comparison, I have the same data for 2015, 2010, and 2006. As noted yesterday, only some counties, cities, and urban areas are used each year and the list varies from year to year so the rows are not identical each year. The states don’t vary from year to year, so I’ve also provided a spreadsheet comparing value-to-income ratios for the nation and each state for all four years.

All of the numbers, by the way, are actually for the previous year, as the surveys asked people how much they earned and how much their homes were worth the year before the survey. So the number shown as the 2016 value-to-income ratio is actually the ratio in 2015, etc. That means the data are a couple of years behind the current state of housing affordability. Zillow shows that prices in some areas have dramatically increased in the last couple of years to the point where many Silicon Valley homes are selling for 50 percent above their asking prices. Continue reading

Share

Commuting Data for 2016

Last week, the Census Bureau posted 2016 data from the American Community Survey, including population, income, housing, employment, and commuting data among many other categories. The survey is based on data from more than 3.5 million households. Today, the Antiplanner will look at commuting data: how people got to work in 2016 compared with previous years.

To save you time, I’ve downloaded and posted 2016’s table B08301, “Means of Transportation to Work,” for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urbanized areas. I’ve also posted similar tables for 2006, 2010, and 2015.

In columns Z through AE, I’ve calculated the shares of commuters (excluding people who work at home) who traveled to work by driving alone, carpooling, transit, rail transit, bicycling, and walking. (These won’t quite add up to 100 percent as are other categories such as taxi and motorcycle.) Only some cities, counties, and urban areas are included because others were too small for the sample size to be valid. Since the places that are included may vary from year to year, the rows of the various spreadsheets do not line up below the state level.

The data show that, nationwide, transit’s share of travel grew from 5.03 percent in 2006 to 5.49 percent in 2015. This growth was at the expense of carpooling, as driving alone’s share also grew. In 2016, however, transit’s share fell to 5.36 percent while both driving alone and carpooling grew. Continue reading

Share

Denver’s Immobility Plan

Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock has issued what he calls a Mobility Plan. But if carried out, it will actually reduce the mobility of the residents of America’s nineteenth-largest city. Instead of doing anything to relieve congestion, the number one listed goal of the plan is to increase the share of commuters walking, cycling, or taking transit to work to 30 percent. Such a 146-percent increase over the current 12.2 percent is unattainable, so the plan ends up devoting most of the city’s transportation funds to forms of transportation that are either insignificant or obsolete.

Click image to download a 5.5-MB PDF of this plan.

The centerpiece of the Mayor’s plan is dedicated bus lanes on Colfax, Denver’s most important east-west street. Currently, buses carry about 22,000 people a day, more than any other corridor in Denver. But, as the Antiplanner noted recently, dedicated bus lanes can move than many people per hour, and even the 50,000 people per day that the city optimistically projects for Colfax isn’t enough to justify dedicating that much street space to buses. Continue reading

Share

Reversible Lanes, Not Trains

Predictably, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, some people are saying that Florida would have been better off trying to evacuate people with passenger trains than over the highways. No one knows exactly how many people did evacuate south Florida, but after the state ordered 6.3 million people to leave their homes, photos of bumper-to-bumper cars on Interstates 75 and 95 became a staple of hurricane reporting.

Rail advocates like to claim that rail lines have much higher capacities for moving people than roads, but that’s simply not true. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the Southern Pacific Railroad moved 300,000 people–free of charge–out of the city in what was probably the largest mass transit evacuation in American history. While impressive, it took the railroad five days to move all of those people. Even accounting for improvements in rail capacities in the last century, moving 6 million people out of south Florida by rail would take weeks, not the four days available between Florida’s first evacuation orders and the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Certainly, the state of Florida could have done more to relieve congestion on major evacuation routes. As near as I can tell, the most it did was to allow vehicles to use the left shoulder lane on part of I-75 and part of I-4 (which isn’t even a north-south route), but not, so far as I can tell, on I-95. What the state should have done, since there was very little southbound traffic, was to open up all but one of the southbound lanes of I-75 and I-75 to northbound traffic. Continue reading

Share