The Cato Institute has published a new paper on Greenlight Pinellas, or, as I prefer to call it, Red Ink Pinellas. As previously mentioned in the Antiplanner, this is a plan to spend $1.7 billion building a light-rail line from St. Petersburg to Clearwater, Florida and boost local bus service by 70 percent.
The paper reveals that the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, which is pushing for light rail, has a poor track record of spending. From 1991 to 2005, it increased bus service by 46 percent but saw a 17 percent drop in passenger miles. Then the recession forced it to cut bus service by 5 percent, yet ridership grew by 9 percent. Given this history, boosting bus service is likely to result in a lot of empty buses. Meanwhile, the agency projects that so few people will ride its light rail that it will only need to run one-car trains.
When compared with bus-rapid transit, the cost of getting one person out of their car and onto the proposed light-rail line is projected to be $50. That means getting one person who currently commutes by car to switch to light rail would cost more than buying that person a new 5-series BMW every year, or a new Tesla class S every other year, for the next 30 years.
America has more than three million transportation workers, more than any other occupational group, and they are all about to lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles. They might fight it, says this video, but “the workers always lose; economics always wins.”
Fortunately, the creator of this video doesn’t understand economics (for example, it is not something that wins or loses). He equates humans with horses, saying that horses never expected that they would lose their jobs to motor vehicles, but as it turned out their population peaked in 1915 and has been declining ever since.
Here’s a story by the Oregonian‘s intrepid reporter, Joseph Rose that has it all: deferred maintenance, delayed trains, $950 million in unfunded retirement benefits, transit cuts and fare increases, secret pay raises to transit agency executives, an angry transit union, and a plan to move transit riders on buses around rail work that “basically imploded.”
Worn pavement and light-rail switch near Portland’s Lloyd Center. Photo from Max FAQs.
The Antiplanner has repeatedly harped on the fact that rail transit infrastructure basically lasts only 30 years and then must be replaced, often at greater expense (even after adjusting for inflation) than the original construction cost. Part of the cost is dealing with the interruptions in service that are almost inevitable when replacing rails, wires, and other fixed hardware.
After a soccer game last week in Santa Clara, California, people complained about lengthy waits to get a light-rail train home. The game attracted more than 48,000 fans, but only about 8,300 of them were able to take the light rail to and from the stadium–and it took 90 minutes to move that number away from the event.
“Mass Transportation,” a painting by Grif Teller used on the 1955 Pennsylvania Railroad calendar.
The sad thing is that transit agencies such as the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) have propagandized the wonders of light rail, calling it “high-capacity transit,” so that people actually believe it can do things like fill and empty a stadium with 68,000 seats. The reality is that light rail cannot come close to doing this, at least not without taking many hours. VTA should give up and rely on buses instead.
One of the conclusions of the Antiplanner’s recent paper on rapid buses was that regions that had fewer than 40,000 downtown jobs didn’t need rapid buses, much less light rail. Austin has about 72,000 downtown jobs, but rapid bus isn’t working well there either.
One reason can be found in census numbers, specifically table B08141 of the American Community Survey. For 2012, this table reports that just 2.2 percent of Austin workers live in households that lack access to an automobile, yet 28 percent of them drive alone to work and 12 percent carpool, while only 25 percent take transit to work. In other words, as I’ve noted for other urban areas, transit is just not relevant to most people.
In March of this year, Austin’s MetroRapid bus attracted nearly 6,500 trips per day. This declined to 5,900 in April and 5,300 in April, rising slightly to just under 5,500 in June.
I never met Sir Peter Hall, who died last week, but I feel like I’ve lost an old friend. His books helped guide me through the history of urban planning and its growing obsession with densification.
Cities in Civilization is his most-frequently mentioned book, mainly because its 1,129 pages made it such a formidable reference. Though I have two copies of that book, the book I really love is Cities of Tomorrow, which traced the history of the urban planning profession.
In it, Hall noted that the earliest urban planners were anarchists who sought to free the working class from their high-density hovels. But that changed when Le Corbusier, who Hall called “the Rasputin of the tale” of urban planning, proposed that all cities should consist solely of high-rises. Planners flocked to this idea, and after World War II, nations all over the world rebuilt their slums or bombed-out areas into high rises. Far from freeing the working class from density, planning became all about forcing the working class into density.
Kansas City voters rejected a plan to build an extensive streetcar system. The city already has plans to build a short “starter” line, and the mayor wanted to build more. But voters agreed that buses were cheaper and more sensible. This is the ninth time Kansas City voters have rejected rail transit.
Meanwhile, the Antiplanner has given several presentations in the Twin Cities about rail transit and associated land-use planning. These presentations can be downloaded, with a summary of my narration in the “notes” section, as either Zip files that include several short videos or smaller PowerPoint files that leave out the videos.
- Presentation to the SW Metro Tea Party: Zip file (111 MB) or PPT file (32 MB)
- Presentation to Daytons Bluff neighborhood: Zip file (82 MB) or PPT file (39 MB)
- Presentation to Metro North Chamber of Commerce: Zip file (98 MB) or PPT file (15 MB)
A few weeks ago, a San Diego news outlet breathlessly reported that, “When more people live near a trolley station, more people use the trolley.” A careful look at the numbers shows, however, that the reason why more people in some areas use the trolley (San Diego’s light rail) is because there are more people, not because people in dense areas are more likely to ride transit.
The article reported “a strong correlation between daily activity at trolley stations and the number of people who live within a half mile of each station.” This was important, the writer noted, because when San Diego has proposed transit-oriented developments (TODs), “people who live in the area affected aren’t usually thrilled about the prospect of increased density, and the parking and traffic concerns that come with it. Often, those residents are wary of the idea that density spurs ridership,” notes the article. “But the data mostly proves developers and city planners right.”
Actually, it doesn’t. While the correlation between density and transit was moderately strong (correl=0.40), it was also not very steep. The slope of the line representing the relationship between density and ridership was 0.55, which means doubling the density results in 55 percent more riders. If density led people to ride more, doubling the density should result in more than double the number of riders. Since that doesn’t happen, the increased number of people are probably traveling by car a lot, which means local residents were right to be wary about TOD proposals.
Recently, the Antiplanner suggested that electronics the Obama administration wants to mandate in all new cars would allow government bureaucrats to turn off your car if they thought you were driving too much. Even I wondered if that was a bit over the top, but last week, Fox News broadcast a disturbing report that the Environmental Protection Agency had confiscated people’s sport-utility vehicles for polluting the air.
If this report is true, it certainly would help make my case that we should be wary of government-mandated electronic controls in our cars. However, it turns out there a few minor errors in the Fox report: First, it wasn’t the EPA. Second, the car wasn’t confiscated because it polluted (or, at least, not just because it polluted). Third, it didn’t even happen in South Carolina.
The Antiplanner is in the Twin Cities this week giving presentations on land-use and transportation issues in that region. Here are the sessions, most of which are open to the public:
- “Thrive Planning vs. the American Dream,” sponsored by the SW Metro Tea Party, Chanhassen Recreation Center, 2310 Coulter Blvd., Chanhassen, 7:00-8:30 pm, Monday, August 4
- “Rebalancing Transportation Planning,” sponsored by Expose the Truth, Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center, 800 Conway St., St. Paul, 5:00-8:00 pm, Tuesday, August 5
- “Transportation and Your Business,” sponsored by the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce (must pre-register), Harvest Grill, 12800 Bunker Prairie Road, Coon Rapids, 11:15 am to 1:15 pm, Wednesday, August 6
- “The Folly of High-Speed Rail,” Goodhue County Fairgrounds, 8:00 pm, Friday, August 8
By coincidence, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, will also be speaking in Minneapolis about the Thrive plan at 7:30 am, Wednesday, August 6 at the Doubletree Hotel Park Place, 1500 Park Place Blvd., pre-registration will save money if done by noon, August 5.
If you are in the Twin Cities area this week, I hope to see you at one of these events.