Robert Lang, a professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, thinks Las Vegas needs a low-capacity rail line (aka light rail). As the director of something called the Lincy Institute, Lang’s job is to “draw state and federal money to the greater Las Vegas” area, and low-capacity rail is one way to do that.
Of course, that’s not the way he puts it. He claims low-capacity rail has “transformed urban development patterns in the West” by changing “housing development from water-consuming single family homes to multifamily, mixed-use projects.” I guess he thinks people in multifamily, mixed-use projects don’t drink as much water as people in single-family homes. It’s also pretty clear he hasn’t read research by the Antiplanner and faithful Antiplanner allies such as John Charles showing that low-capacity rail attracts no new development unless it is accompanied by large subsidies to developers.
Lang seems to think that, because Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake were all foolish enough to build low-capacity rail, Las Vegas should too. If he would look at the numbers, he would see that rail construction usually results in a shrinkage of transit’s share of commuting.
Now that’s high-capacity transit: Las Vegas’ transit agency also has a fleet of 130 double-decker buses that are probably far more cost-effective than the gaudy BRT bus shown above. Click image to see a larger view of this Wikimedia commons photo by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz.
Indeed, the only urbanized area in the country that has doubled transit’s share of commuting since 1990, going from 2.1 percent to 4.8 percent, did it without any rail transit at all. That urban area? Las Vegas. Transit’s share in Denver dropped from 4.7 to 4.6 percent; in Salt Lake, it fell from 3.5 to 3.1 percent; in Phoenix it at least increased but only from 2.3 to 2.6 percent. In short, Las Vegas transit went from having the lowest share of commuting in these urban areas to the highest, largely because it didn’t build low-capacity rail.
Low-capacity rail is very expensive, costing roughly 50 times as much to build as it costs to start a new bus line and costing far more to maintain. As the name implies, it can’t carry very many people, certainly not as many as a good bus line. The only thing going for rail are specious claims that it stimulates urban development, and the only reason people make those claims are to get federal dollars.
In addition to low-capacity rail, Lang thinks Las Vegas needs to build a 50,000-seat “event center,” because there certainly aren’t enough private event centers in the city. He also wants an allopathic medical school because, darn it, Las Vegas is the largest city in America that doesn’t have multiple quack medicine schools within its boundaries.
The inanity of these ideas is enough to make me question Lang’s support of a plan to build an interstate highway between Las Vegas and Phoenix simply because “Phoenix and Las Vegas remain the two largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. within 300 miles of one another not directly linked by an interstate highway.” The existing highway between these two cities is uncongested, notes another blogger, who argues that this is just “basically a marketing proposal to obtain federal funds.” Las Vegas taxpayers would do well to do the exact opposite of just about everything Lang suggests.