Philadelphia Transit Troubles

Service on Philadelphia commuter trains has been interrupted due to serious defects found in Silverliner V cars, which are less than six years old. The cars were built by Hyundai, which had never built railcars for an American transit line before, and make up 30 percent of Philadelphia’s commuter-rail fleet.


Wikimedia Commons photo by John Corbett.

Last Friday, a SEPTA worker noticed one of the cars was leaning to one side. A close look revealed a 10-inch crack in one of the car’s wheel sets. Further inspection discovered similar cracks in 95 percent of the cars made by Hyundai. These have all been taken out of service, and the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has urged commuters to find another mode of travel for the foreseeable future.

Continue reading

Share

Traffic Fatalities Up Nearly 8 Percent in 2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2015, a 7.7 percent increase from 2014. This increase is a result of a combination of a 3.5 percent increase in vehicle miles of travel plus a 4.1 percent increase in fatalities per billion miles traveled.

The 32,500 number is a “statistical projection,” not an exact count, which won’t be available until this fall. NHTSA’s previous statistical projections have been fairly accurate; the estimate for 2014 turned out to match the final number exactly, while the average for the previous six years was off by only 26. The worst was in 2012, when the projection was 298 too high.

According to NHTSA’s estimate, fatalities increased the most in the Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington), with a 20 percent gain. Fatalities declined 1 percent in the South Central region (Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas), while they grew from 4 to 10 percent in the rest of the country.

Continue reading

Share

First Self-Driving Car Fatality

Tesla announced yesterday that one of its self-driving cars was involved in an accident in May that killed the occupant, who was in the driver’s seat but letting the car drive itself at the time. The car was on a Florida expressway and, instead of stopping when a large tractor trailer crossed its path, attempted to drive under the trailer. The low height of the trailer sheared off the top of the car.

Last March, Duke University roboticist Missy Cummings testified before Congress that auto companies were “rushing to market” before self-driving cars are ready, and “someone is going to die.” She didn’t mention Tesla by name, but since that is the only car company that has produced a car capable of not just avoiding collisions but passing other cars, she must have had it in mind.

The person who was killed in the Tesla crash, Joshua Brown, had posted two dozen videos on Youtube showing how his self-driving Tesla responded in various situations. One of them received 1.7 million views for showing a near collision that the car avoided when a truck pulled into the car’s lane.

Continue reading

Share

Portland Addresses Housing Crisis By Making Housing More Expensive

Portland housing prices are growing faster than almost anywhere in the nation. So the Portland city council has decided to address this problem by building 1,300 units of “affordable” housing, adding less than one-half percent to the city’s housing inventory.

How are they going to pay for this? By taxing new homes 1 percent of their value. Because new and existing homes are easily substitutable for one another, when the price of new homes goes up by 1 percent, the price of existing homes will also go up by 1 percent.

The problem is that politicians don’t understand the difference (or hope voters don’t understand the difference) between “affordable housing” and “housing affordability.” The former is something governments build to help people who are too poor to afford decent housing. The latter is the general level of housing prices relative to the general level of incomes. Building “affordable homes” addresses the first problem, but not the second–except in cases such as Portland where affordable housing makes housing less affordable.

Continue reading

Share

Ignorance and Bias About Self-Driving Cars

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has issued a policy statement regarding self-driving cars that betrays ignorance about the technology and bias against cars in general. This summary boils down the policy statement to five recommendations, a few of which make sense but most of which do not.

First, NACTO wants to forbid the use of partially automated vehicles on city streets, allowing them only on limited access highways. “Such vehicles have been shown to encourage unsafe driving behavior, with drivers reading more, texting more, and generally being inattentive while the vehicle is in motion.” Maybe so, but the real question is: do partially automated vehicles increase safety even if drivers are less attentive? Since partial automation measures (such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, and collision avoidance) are aimed mainly at increasing safety, banning them without considering the safety implications is being deliberately ignorant.

Second, they advise cities to “rethink. . . currently planned expressway expansions” that could become “white elephants” when self-driving cars effectively increase road capacities. The Antiplanner has actually offered the same advice, suggesting that new highways be built only where populations are growing rapidly. But the Antiplanner urges that the same advice be applied to transit projects, which are far more likely to become white elephants than highways, yet the city officials remain mum on this subject.

Continue reading

Share

Columbus Wins $90 Million Burden

Columbus, Ohio won the competition for a $40 million “smart transportation” grant from the federal government (plus $10 million from Paul Allen). The city must match this with $90 million in local funds, so it is questionable who is the real winner: Columbus or the cities that applied but didn’t win.

Columbus’ application is somewhat vague. The specific things it proposes hardly seem worth $140 million, and many of them could be done by the private sector without any government prompting.

For example, the city proposes to create an app that would allow truck drivers to find the most congestion-free way to reach their destinations and another app to help tourists reach sporting events and other popular destinations. Don’t we already have such apps in Google maps? And if not, isn’t it likely that private developers can or will make such apps without huge government incentives?

Continue reading

Share

Class Consciousness

In a reversal of stereotypes, “Democrats have become a party of the wealthy” admits Fredrik deBoer in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Republicans–much to the chagrin of some Republican “elites”–have become a party of the working class.

The Antiplanner was reminded of this when I saw a report saying that 29.4 percent of Americans were now “upper middle class,” which the report defines as having incomes of $100,000 or more for a family of three (or roughly $82,000 for a family of two, $115,000 for a family of four, etc.–see page 3 of the report). This highlights something the Antiplanner has said several times before: the real social divide in America is not between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, but between the 30 percent and the 70 percent. Specifically, about 30 percent of working-age Americans are “knowledge workers,” and generally have college degrees, while 70 percent do physical labor, and generally don’t have college degrees.

As the Antiplanner has previously noted, there is a lot of confusion about the term “middle class.” Surveys show that nine out of ten Americans consider themselves to be middle class, but in fact, six of them are wrong. Class is not distinguished by income, though it certainly influences income. The Antiplanner spent the first 20 years of my career earning a very low income, but I was college educated with college-educated parents and definitely had middle-class attitudes (never mind the fact that many of my peers scorned the “middle class” even as they formed a part of it).

Continue reading

Share

Honolulu Rail More Boondoggly Than Ever

The Federal Transit Administration’s latest estimates suggest that the Honolulu rail line now under construction could cost nearly $10.8 billion, or more than twice the $5.1 billion originally promised. That’s the “highest possible cost” calculated by its estimation process, while the “likely range” is $7.2 to $8.0 billion. However, two years ago, the highest possible cost was estimated to be $7.6 billion, which is right in the middle of today’s likely range.

Any of those numbers are drastic overruns. Typically, transit agency officials have denied there is an overrun. But now they are proposing to not build the last five miles of the rail line into downtown Honolulu. Since they started construction in middle of farm lands 20 miles from downtown, they would truly have a rail line going from nowhere to hardly anywhere.

Even if it doesn’t finish the line, the city has already purchased and may continue to purchase land in the downtown area for the rail line. This creates uncertainty among property owners. Even further uncertainty is generated by reports of shoddy construction. Meanwhile, the FTA has hinted it might withhold some of the federal government’s share of funding if the line isn’t completed.

Continue reading

Share

New York Subway: Success or Failure?

New York City subways have been in the news lately. A passenger thought they heard a gun, which lead to a stampede of people trying to get out of the Central Park North station in a case of what authorities called “mass hysteria.” Second, the Wall Street Journal reports that the number of reported gropings, public lewdness, and similar sexual offenses has gone up 50 percent in the last year. City police attribute this to more victims reporting crimes more than an actual increase in the crimes, but the Antiplanner is dubious about that.


Are New York subways really overcrowded? MTA claims that some subway lines are running at capacity.

These problems result, at least in part, from overcrowding. As the Antiplanner has noted before, transit ridership is declining in most cities, but continues to grow in New York due to increased jobs. This ridership growth, however, doesn’t come without cost, including more than a doubling of the number of delayed trains. Even if trains aren’t delayed, they might be so crowded that passengers have to wait for two or more full trains to go by before one arrives that has room for them to board.

Continue reading

Share