TIGER Rips Through Dallas, Detroit, and Tucson

With typical fanfare, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $1.5 billion in “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” (TIGER) grants to 51 cities. The complete list of grants includes new “modern streetcar” (isn’t that an oxymoron?) lines in Dallas and Tucson, plus an extension of the existing streetcar system in New Orleans.

“In an overwhelming show of demand for the program,” said LaHood, US DOT “was flooded with more than 1,400 applications.” What a surprise to find that there is an overwhelming demand for free money.

Among the lucky winners was Tucson, which received $63 million toward the $150 million cost of a 3.9-mile streetcar line between the Arizona Health Sciences Center and the University of Arizona. So now students can take the streetcar to the hospital when they are too drunk to walk. (Sorry, that’s an insult: most students are too smart to ride streetcars.)

Dallas is getting $23 million of the expected $58 million cost of a downtown-area streetcar line. The line will connect with the city’s light-rail line so anyone who is eager to change from a 20-mph light rail to a 7-mph streetcar will have the opportunity to do so.

Detroit is getting $25 million toward the $143 million cost of a 3.9-mile rail line. The TIGER grant calls it a light-rail line, but it sounds more like another streetcar as it is entirely on Woodward Avenue — home of the annual Woodward Dream Cruise auto show. In your face, auto lovers! I guess the Dream Cruise is going to have to find another street to cruise upon.

New Orleans is getting 100 percent of the anticipated $45 million cost of extending its streetcar line to the city’s train station. This station “is a major southern hub for Amtrak, with three trains serving the station.” Wow! Three whole trains. (Note that it is not three trains a day, since one of those trains only goes three times a week.) That is really going to generate a lot of streetcar ridership.

Other rail-transit TIGER grants include $25 million towards a light rail on congested Woodward Avenue in Detroit (in your face, auto lovers!), $23.2 million towards reconstruction of part of Portland’s streetcar line at a higher elevation (mainly to make it possible to eventually run light rail on that line), and $55 million towards a commuter-rail extension in Massachusetts.

In all, rail transit accounted for only about 16 percent of TIGER grants, with another 18 percent going for other transit projects, including bus-rapid transit in Denver and Las Vegas but otherwise mainly various sorts of transit centers (which the Antiplanner considers a complete waste). In addition, $83 million, or about 5.5 percent of the total, went to the project aiming to convert the old post office near Madison Square Gardens into a train station as a belated apology for allowing the destruction of Penn Station.

About a quarter of the funds went to road projects (some of which is supposed to also benefit transit, such as a bridge in Tulsa that will be used by both autos and commuter trains). A slightly larger share, more than 26 percent, went to various freight rail projects. I don’t know why CSX and the other freight railroads are so poor they have to ask for government handouts. Various other freight projects, mainly port facilities, got another 7 percent. The remaining funds, about 3 percent, went to some pedestrian and bike path projects.

Supposedly, some 80 cities are interested in building streetcars, so quite of few of them must be disappointed by these grants. But perhaps many will come to their senses and realize that they dodged a bullet by not having to subject their streets to this nineteenth-century transport mode and their taxpayers to all the subsidies that will be required to “revitalize” the neighborhoods ripped up for streetcar tracks.


21 thoughts on “TIGER Rips Through Dallas, Detroit, and Tucson

  1. OFP2003

    Regarding “Transit Centers”…
    The cheapest way to get between NYC and DC is on one of the “Chinatown Busses” These different private businesses transport you from street corner to street corner without the burdern of a “transit center.” They do it at a profit, they offer remarkable deals (“$1 each way”), and they offer ammenites (“wifi”). The business model is so successful that there are multiple businesses competeing for this market. As much as I support noble architecture, I’m still and American that likes a great discount!

  2. OFP2003

    Regarding “Transit Centers”…
    The cheapest way to get between NYC and DC is on one of the “Chinatown Busses” These different private businesses transport you from street corner to street corner without the burdern of a “transit center.” They do it at a profit, they offer remarkable deals (“$1 each way”), and they offer ammenites (“wifi”). The business model is so successful that there are multiple businesses competeing for this market. As much as I support noble architecture, I’m still and American that likes a great discount!

  3. TexanOkie

    Man, Randall, not get enough sleep last night or what? There is an extra helping of bitterness in your post today.

    Also, the Dallas light rail system goes a lot faster than 20 mph. It goes about 30 mph through downtown and once it leaves downtown it pulls about 55-70 mph between stops for almost 30 miles into the suburbs.

  4. Mike

    Wow, a free chance to take a potshot at the University of Arizona Wildkittens. There are so many possibilities I can hardly choose just one! Maroon and gold giddiness all over!

    Maybe it’s enough to say that the U of A (and/or Tucson; they’re basically interchangeable) is so stupid they think spending $38.5 million PER MILE for rail transit is cost-effective. This, in a city that, for lack of a proper commuter freeway, ceded the initiative for suburban growth away from the high-dollar high-tax-base foothills and off to Marana and Green Valley for the simple reason that those can be readily reached from the interstate.

    Or I could just say “Fork ’em, Devils!” and think about those four times ASU Football has won the Pac-10, versus… how many times is that now for UA? Remind me.

  5. t g

    Mike, I’m a UofA alumnus, a Tucson resident of twelve years, and many a meal of mine has been paid by local land development; and your assessment is dead on.

    This is one issue where I completely agree with the AP. Forget about the warming, forget about density issues, forget about freedom and yada, yada, yada. Judge it by dollar alone. This thing fails, fails, fails.

  6. The Antiplanner Post author


    You are quoting top speeds. I was using average speeds. I checked Dallas light rail schedules to find out average speeds. Riding end-to-end on all three lines (not counting where they overlap) would take 114 minutes. Since the three lines have a total of 45 miles, that’s an average of about 23.5 mph.

  7. Andy

    The Antiplanner is way too harsh on TIGER. After all, this morning he apologized profusely for all kinds of ethical problems and promised to do better.

    Mike, do I need to remind you about years of consecutive NCAA Basketball Tournament selections?
    UofA 25, ASU 1

  8. Mike

    t g,

    You’re a better sport than I, sir! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Agreed with your take on the rail project issue: I think that even when there is disagreement whether to consider the project in terms of pragmatism or principle, if it’s absolute roadkill (pun intended) by BOTH metrics, how does one possibly justify moving forward from there?

    Several of my in-laws are UA grads and remain Tucson residents. As they work professionally, they are among that percentage of Tucsoners who actually go downtown to work (one is at the One Church building if memory serves, another is somewhere near there). I remember asking the the one who lives out toward Tanque Verde how on earth you commute to work from there in any kind of reasonable time. His answer: “You can’t!”

    The whole rebuilding-the-I-10 logjam only compounds matters… I try to imagine what would happen if they tried closing the I-10 through Phoenix from the 17 junction through the south 202, for like 5 years. It would have been travel armageddon.

    Ah, Andy, always basketball with you ‘Cats. I suppose you gotta take your victories where you can find them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. MJ

    Also, the Dallas light rail system goes a lot faster than 20 mph.

    It probably can go faster than 20 mph, but if you look at the 2008 NTD data for DART’s revenue train miles and hours, you get an average speed of about 21.5 mph.

  10. Dan

    Cars Emerge as Key Atmospheric Warming Force: Study
    February 19, 2010 by Adam Voiland

    (PhysOrg.com) — For decades, climatologists have studied the gases and particles that have potential to alter Earth’s climate. They have discovered and described certain airborne chemicals that can trap incoming sunlight and warm the climate, while others cool the planet by blocking the Sun’s rays.

    Now a new study led by Nadine Unger of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City offers a more intuitive way to understand what’s changing the Earth’s climate. Rather than analyzing impacts by chemical species, scientists have analyzed the climate impacts by different economic sectors.

    Each part of the economy, such as ground transportation or agriculture, emits a unique portfolio of gases and aerosols that affect the climate in different ways and on different timescales.

    “We wanted to provide the information in a way that would be more helpful for policy makers,” Unger said. “This approach will make it easier to identify sectors for which emission reductions will be most beneficial for climate and those which may produce unintended consequences.”

    In a paper published online on Feb. 3 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Unger and colleagues described how they used a climate model to estimate the impact of 13 sectors of the economy from 2000 to 2100. They based their calculations on real-world inventories of emissions collected by scientists around the world, and they assumed that those emissions would stay relatively constant in the future.

    The on-road transportation sector releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide, black carbon, and ozoneรขโ‚ฌโ€all substances that cause warming. In contrast, the industrial sector releases many of the same gases, but it also tends to emit sulfates and other aerosols that cause cooling by reflecting light and altering clouds. Credit: NASA GISS/Unger
    Snapshots of the Future

    In their analysis, motor vehicles emerged as the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming now and in the near term. Cars, buses, and trucks release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.

    The researchers found that the burning of household biofuels — primarily wood and animal dung for home heating and cooking — contribute the second most warming. And raising livestock, particularly methane-producing cattle, contribute the third most.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the industrial sector releases such a high proportion of sulfates and other cooling aerosols that it actually contributes a significant amount of cooling to the system. And biomass burning — which occurs mainly as a result of tropical forest fires, deforestation, savannah and shrub fires — emits large amounts of organic carbon particles that block solar radiation.

    The new analysis offers policy makers and the public a far more detailed and comprehensive understanding of how to mitigate climate change most effectively, Unger and colleagues assert. “Targeting on-road transportation is a win-win-win,” she said. “It’s good for the climate in the short term and long term, and it’s good for our health.”

    Due to the health problems caused by aerosols, many developed countries have been reducing aerosol emissions by industry. But such efforts are also eliminating some of the cooling effect of such pollution, eliminating a form of inadvertent geoengineering that has likely counteracted global warming in recent decades.

    “Warming should accelerate as we continue to remove the aerosols,” said Unger. “We have no choice but to remove the aerosol particulate pollution to protect human and ecosystem health. That means we’ll need to work even harder to reduce greenhouse gases and warming pollutants.”

    By the year 2100, Unger’s projections suggest that the impact of the various sectors will change significantly. By 2050, electric power generation overtakes road transportation as the biggest promoter of warming. The industrial sector likewise jumps from the smallest contribution in 2020 to the third largest by 2100.

    “The differences are because the impacts of greenhouse gases accumulate and intensify over time, and because they persist in the atmosphere for such long periods,” said Unger. “In contrast, aerosols rain out after a few days and can only have a short-term impact.”


  11. Scott

    Any new LRT will have many problems, cost too much, have few riders, make title difference, and interfere with vehicle traffic. Often-times a lane or 2 is taken away, left turns become limited & more difficult, signal timing is messed up, etc.

    It is ridiculous to spend that much money for so little distance. It certainly won’t replace anybody’s car. And I would bet that the expense & energy (including GHGs) will be far more than any alternatives modes of travel currently being used.

    What the hell is wrong with a bus? There are routes on all the major streets, which are laid out in the standard grid system, with superblocks at each mile. Mostly residential on the interiors; some 1/2 mile medium streets. (I lived there 10 years)
    The distance doesn’t make sense.
    The hospital complex & the main UA campus are adjacent.
    Actually, the LRT might go downtown.
    Tucson is very conducive to bikes.

  12. Mike


    Oops, my error — I mistakenly included ASU’s last WAC win, since the list I was looking at listed ASU’s conference championships by year. There were just so many WAC football championships by ASU, it’s hard to sort them out compared with UA, who only won the WAC twice and never as sole champion. But hey! At least UA was the sole champion three times back in the Border Conference era… which is only half as many times as, yep, ASU. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. MJ

    MJ: Is that the most accurate measurement of MPH?

    The data is self-reported, so I think it’s about as accurate as you’re going to get, short of going out and actually sampling a bunch of train runs. Over the course of the year, the measurement errors should average out.

    But the underlying method works: distance / time = speed

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  15. Scott

    Not sure why Randal has a comment here, shorted/self-quoted at that.
    Readers seem to rarely visit posts over a few days old.

    Hey, Randal, how about reformatting this, to get more responses?
    Check out IMDB for ideas.

    As this is now, comments drop off & any response, after a few days is not noticed. The RSS does not work very well. If there was a “latest”, list there would be more discussion.

    These statist planners seem to think that they can avoid certain topics, facts, questions & people do not like to revisit the past or be unread.

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