Back in the Air Again

There’s fresh snow in Santiam Pass, about 15 miles from the Antiplanner’s Oregon home. Unfortunately, the Antiplanner has to fly to Hawaii, where the temperatures are expected to range between 72 and 82 degrees for the duration of my visit. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it.

Santiam Pass yesterday just before sunset.

I’ll be speaking in Maui on Thursday about Hawaii’s housing crisis, which is pretty much like California’s housing crisis and a lot worse than Portland’s and Seattle’s housing crisis. If you are lucky enough to be in Maui on Thursday, I hope to see you there.

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Trump’s Trillion-Dollar Infrastructure Plan

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to spend twice as much on infrastructure as whatever Hillary Clinton was proposing, which at the time was $275 billion. Doubling down again in a speech after winning the election, Trump now proposes to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure over the next ten years.

President Obama had proposed to fix infrastructure with an infrastructure bank, though just where the bank would get its money was never clear (actually, it was perfectly clear: the taxpayers). Trump’s alternative plan is for the private sector, not taxpayers, to spend the money, and to encourage them he proposes to offer tax credits for infrastructure projects. He says this would be “revenue neutral” because the taxes paid by people working on the infrastructure would offset the tax breaks. In short, Trump is proposing tax credits in lieu of an infrastructure bank as a form of economic stimulus.

America’s infrastructure needs are not nearly as serious as Trump thinks. Throwing a trillion dollars at infrastructure, no matter how it is funded, guarantees that a lot will be spent on unnecessary things. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser recently pointed out in an article that should be required reading for Trump’s transition team, just calling something “infrastructure” doesn’t mean it is worth doing or that it will stimulate economic growth.

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A Non-Polarizing Secretary of the Interior

In 1993, Bill Clinton swept into office with a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate. His attempt to pass a controversial health-care bill failed but generated enough of a backlash that the Republicans took over both houses of Congress in 1995.

In 2001, George H.W. Bush entered the White House with Republicans in control of both houses. The events of 9/11 muted criticism of Bush for a time, but by 2007 Democrats had taken over Congress.

In 2009, Barack Obama became president and Democrats held both houses of Congress. He succeeded where Clinton failed in passing a health-care bill, but Republicans took over the House in 2011 and the senate in 2015.

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Not Clear on the Concept

Retired General Motors executive Bob Lutz ruminated recently about the future of self-driving cars. He imagines “they’ll look like telephone booths laid down” and they won’t need to be streamlined “because they’ll be electronically linked in a seamless train on the freeway moving at say 200 mph.” This will happen in 15 to 25 years “depending on how quickly governments are willing to invest in the road technology needed for a fully automated. . . system to work.”

What Lutz is describing is Futurama, not the television show but the General Motors exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That exhibit imagined that highways would have embedded infrastructure that vehicles could electronically read and follow to get to where their occupants wanted to go.

But that’s not how most auto and software manufacturers are designing their self-driving cars. Instead, as the Antiplanner has noted before, they assume that the government will provide no infrastructure other than what is already in place, and all of the electronics and software needed to guide the cars will be on board the vehicles themselves.

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Three Steps to Fix America’s Voting System

Almost everyone agrees that we just finished the most painful election season in anyone’s living memory, an agony made worse by the fact that it was nearly two years long. Fortunately, we aren’t doomed to repeat it, as we know many other countries have shorter and more civil election campaigns. Three changes to our method of electing presidents could reduce costs, save time, and make the process less divisive and alienating to voters.

First, we should replace individual state primaries with a national primary in June. Individual primaries not only stretch out the election season and give a few states inordinate say in the nominations, they promote divisiveness because they force presidential candidates to concentrate on local issues that are really outside the scope of the office of the president.

Second, we should abolish the electoral college. Hillary Clinton won at least 200,000 more votes than Donald Trump, but this is the second election in sixteen years in which the winner of the popular vote didn’t win the election.

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A Victory Over the Elites?

As the Antiplanner writes, it appears that Donald Trump will defy most polls and become the next president. While many people claimed his rhetoric was racist, the Antiplanner and others argued that he appealed to members of the working class who felt downtrodden by elitist policies.

Still, too many election results last night represented a victory of the elites over common sense. There is no better example of elitist thinking than light rail, which many people support because they are too snooty to ride a bus.

There were nearly 50 transit measures on various local ballots yesterday, and I haven’t looked at them all. (Update: APTA says 72 percent of yesterday’s transit measures passed.) But the biggest boondoggle appear to be winning, including Los Angeles’ $120 billion transit measure M and Seattle’s Sound Transit 3. It looks appears San Jose’s measure B, which would raise taxes to fund cost overruns for the BART line to San Jose, is winning.

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Election 2016: New Faces; Same Old Policies

After many months of hype, the election tomorrow almost seems like an anticlimax. Maybe it only feels that way to the Antiplanner because I voted more than a week ago. Polls indicate that Trump has closed much of the gap that had opened up after the conventions. But I can’t help but think that, no matter who wins, nothing much is going to change.

Certainly none of the apocalyptic predictions made for if Clinton or Trump are elected are likely to come true. Our systems has too many checks and balances for anything really bad, such as nuclear war or a fascist dictatorship, to happen.

Instead, what is more likely is continued paralysis as our high-paid representatives in Congress decide the best course for them is to do nothing because doing anything would lend credibility to the other party. That means we’ll continue to fight too many wars, spend money on frivolous domestic projects, and grow more polarized.

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El Paso Falls for Streetcar Scam

El Paso is spending $90 million building a 4.8-mile streetcar line. For that price, they could have built close to 9 miles of four-lane freeway. The streetcar will connect the University of Texas El Paso with downtown, which suggests that they don’t expect many students to go downtown. If they did, they would have provided a bus service, which would have been faster and could move more people per hour.

In the course of paying for the streetcar, the city paid $3.2 million to an email phishing scammer. Two payments intended for the construction company were “misdirected” to another account. The city discovered the scam in early October and tried to cover it up but held a press conference about it yesterday.

The Antiplanner applauds the city for admitting it fell victim to a phishing scam. Now I’m waiting for the city to admit that it fell victim to the streetcar scam. That will be harder. Washington DC, for example, is home to one of the most embarrassing streetcar failures in the country, yet it is already planning another line. El Paso is more likely to argue that the phishing scam it fell for will promote economic development than admit that the streetcar it is building is also a scam.

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This Is Why They Call It “Lie Rail”

When the Antiplanner spoke in Norfolk two years ago, my opening line was “They should call it lie rail because everything about light rail is a lie.” The proponents of building light rail in Virginia Beach have certainly proven that to be true.

Above is an advertisement for the ballot measure. In addition to saying, “Reduce Traffic Congestion,” which it won’t do, it says, “Connect the Oceanfront, ODU [Old Dominion University], Airport & Naval Base.” Yet the ballot measure proposes to increase local property taxes to build a three-mile, $300 million light-rail line that won’t go to any of those places. They say they have long-term plans to build extensions to those places, but they also say that don’t plan to come back and ask for more tax increases.

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2014 Transportation Energy Data Posted

The energy efficiency of the average car on the road increased slightly in 2014 as did air travel, but the average light truck and Amtrak used slightly more BTUs per passenger mile in 2014 than in 2013. That’s the finding from the latest edition of the Transportation Energy Data Book (6.5-MB PDF), which was posted on line on Monday. Specifically, these numbers are from tables 2-15, highway modes, and 2-16, non-highway modes.

The book is published each year by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In addition to the book in PDF format and the individual spreadsheets for each of the 250 tables in the book, they usually have a link to all the spreadsheets in ZIP format, but the isn’t available yet.

According to the spreadsheets, most forms of urban transit became a little more energy efficient in 2014. I suspect declining fuel prices will produce some different results for 2015. Transit ridership is falling, so transit’s energy efficiency per passenger mile is likely to decline, as is Amtrak’s. If falling fuel prices allowed airlines to keep fares lower and fill more seats, airline fuel efficiencies may increase.

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