Still on the Road

Tonight, the Antiplanner will be in Rochester, Minnesota to address a proposed high-speed train between Rochester and Minneapolis. I’ll speak at the Rochester International Event Center, 7333 Airport Drive SW, at 7 pm.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is going through the process of preparing an environmental impact statement for the “zip train.” I suspect there is only a tiny chance that the train could be funded, but MNDOT wants to be ready in case money for high-speed rail falls out of the sky as it did in 2009 when Congress passed the stimulus bill. Not surprisingly, Parsons Brinckerhoff is also behind the effort.

The response to a request for comments on the scope of the planned EIS produced so much opposition that MNDOT is taking longer than it expected to produce a final scoping document. Among other things, MNDOT has decided to include a “no-build” alternative in the EIS, the absence of which would have been reprehensible. After all, the no-build alternative was found to be the environmentally preferred alternative in the EIS for the Tampa-Orlando high-speed train (see p. 2-38).

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Debate with Myron Orfield

The Antiplanner squared off against regionalist Myron Orfield in Minneapolis yesterday over the question of whether governments should try to regulate land uses. My presentation (11.6-MB PowerPoint or 10.5-MB PDF version) argued that urban areas are too complicated to regulate and that attempts to do so end up doing more harm than good. Dr. Orfield responded that letting people do what they want led to housing discrimination and too many septic tanks destroying ground water supplies in exurban areas.

Perhaps the most difficult question anyone asked us is where we agree. We both stared at each other for a minute before answering. Obviously, we both oppose racial discrimination and water pollution. The question is how these problems are solved. Dr. Orfield thinks that regional government is needed; I would push things down to the local level as much as possible.

It is one thing to say that people shouldn’t impose costs on others by polluting the water table. It is quite another thing to have a regional government restricting growth beyond an urban-growth or urban-service boundary based on the idea that it is too expensive to allow leapfrog development.

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Indiana Tollroad Operators File for Bankruptcy

The consortium that paid $3.8 billion to lease the Indiana Tollroad filed for bankruptcy yesterday. The operators–a Spanish company named Cintra and an Australian company named Macquarie–said that revenues were up and costs down, but it wasn’t enough for them to keep up on their mortgage payments.

According to toll-advocate Robert Poole, the problem was that Cintra-Macquarie had structured its debt to require a large payment after ten years, but the recession prevented it from collecting enough money to meet that schedule. On the other hand, toll critic Terri Hall argues that the bankruptcy helps demonstrate that such leases are inappropriate and cronyistic.

Coincidentally, Poole and Hall debated tollroads and public-private partnerships at the American Dream conference in Denver last Friday. (The debate also included Greg Cohen of the American Highway User Alliance.) Hall argued that long-term leases allowed governors such as Indiana’s Mitch Daniels to collect and spend large sums of money during their administrations but left travelers paying heavy tolls for generations to come.

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You’re a Racist

Unless you live in a neighborhood or town that has a perfect balance of all racial minorities, you are a racist. At least, that’s the view of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and of the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council. According to the cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, which have a lot of low-income minorities, the Met Council’s housing plans perpetuate segregation by assigning more low-income housing to the plaintiff cities and not enough to wealthier suburbs such as Edina and Mendota Heights.

The notion that every suburb should have a perfect balance of minorities and those that don’t are de facto racist is absurd. Different people have different needs, and the things that low-income people need–access to public transport, social services, and family support–are not the same as the things that moderate- to high-income people need.

The solution of advocates of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” is to require that cities with racial imbalances build new, high-density housing and require the developers of that housing to set aside a share of those homes for low-income families. But, even if that were a good idea, that wouldn’t solve the problem that low-income people would rather live in areas where they can get the support they need than in wealthy suburbs.

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American Dream Presentations

Of the more than 30 presentations given at the 2014 Preserving the American Dream conference in Denver this past weekend, 18 used PowerPoint shows, all of which are downloadable below. A complete agenda shows when each presentation was given.

PowerPoint Presentations

Session 1: Debate Over Tolls and Public/Private Partnerships

Robert Poole: The Case for Tolls and PPPs

Greg Cohen: The Case Against Tolls and PPPs

Session 2: Transportation

Christian Holter: Struggles and Successes of Private Transit in America

Session 2a: Transportation Issues

Alan Pisarski: Where Is VMT Going?

Marc Scribner: The Future of Automobility

Session 2b: Transportation Finance

Baruch Feigenbaum: The TIGER Program–Discretionary Grant or Political Tool?

Session 2c: Data Workshop

Wendell Cox: Urban Data (10 MB)

Session 3: Land-Use Issues

Wendell Cox: Britain’s Declining House Sizes (13 MB)

Session 3a: Sustainability vs. Freedom

Rick Harrison: Sustainable Suburban Development Can Defeat Social Engineering (108 MB)

Thomas Wambolt: Problems with TIF

Session 3b: Fighting Sustainability Plans

Mark Gotz: Fighting Southern Florida’s Seven-50 Plan (14.1 MB)

Video on slide 9 of Mark’s show (12 MB)

Peter Singleton: Fighting Plan Bay Area

Session 3c: How to Review Transportation Plans

Thomas Rubin: How to Review a Transit Plan (10.8 MB)

Randal O’Toole: How to Review a Regional Transportation Plan (19 MB)

Session 5b: Getting out the Message

Sharon Nassett: Stopping Wasteful Projects Through Citizen Advocacy

John Anthony: Shattering America’s Trance (2.0 MB)

Jim Karlock: How to Make YouTube Videos

Mimi Steel: Fighting a Plan After It Has Been Approved (5.1 MB)

Videos associated with Mimi Steel’s presentation (107 MB).

Size not shown for files smaller than 2 megabytes.

Supplemental Papers

Marc Scribner on Regulation of Self-Driving Vehicles

Which Way for the Highway Trust Fund

Emily Goff on Bringing Transportation Decisions Closer to the People: Why States and Localities Should Have More Control

Tom Rubin on Strategy for Preparation of NEPA/CEQA Administrative Record

Selling the Northwest Passage, an article about a proposed third bridge across the Columbia River

Survey of St. Johns-Lombard about transportation issues

A Line in the Sand, an article about Sharon Nasset and the Columbia River Crossing

Interesting Data (Excel Files)

Most of the files below are from the 2012 American Community Survey, a Census Bureau survey of more than 3 million households. Some of the files for urbanized areas may not include data for smaller urban areas because the sample size wasn’t large enough for statistical accuracy.

How people with no cars get to work by urbanized area

How people with no cars get to work by state

How people get to work by income class by state

Median home price to median family income ratio by urbanized area

Median home price to median family income ratio by state

This spreadsheet is a summary of the 2012 National Transit Database, which includes data for nearly all transit agencies and modes in the nation. An Antiplanner post explains most of the rows and columns in the 1.8-MB spreadsheet.

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Policy Implications of Autonomous Vehicles

Tomorrow, the Cato Institue will release a new paper on the policy implications of self-driving cars. Antiplanner readers can download a preview of the paper today.

In a nutshell, the paper argues that self-driving cars combined with car sharing will put public transit agencies out of business. The average cost of transit, including subsidies is $1 a passenger mile. Self-driving cars should cost far less than half of that. This means there will be no reason to continue to subsidize transit except in a few very dense areas such as New York City.

The paper also points out that most of the effects of self-driving cars can’t be predicted today, so Congress should give up on the idea of having states and metropolitan planning agencies write long-range transportation plans that we know will be wrong. Transportation agencies should solve today’s problems today and prepare for autonomous vehicles by keeping roads in good repair and following consistent sign standards.

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What Happened to Progressives?

“Fifty years ago this month, Berkeley was the epicenter of the Free Speech Movement,” intones Robert Reich. “Now, Berkeley is moving against Big Soda” by imposing a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks.

Naturally, Reich fails to see the irony that a city known for freedom is now attempting to take away people’s freedom. Of course, a one-cent-per-ounce tax doesn’t really take away freedom to enjoy sugary drinks. Nor does quadrupling the price of housing take away freedom to live in a single-family home. The whole point is to reserve these privileges for the wealthy, who no doubt are considered refined enough to appreciate the homes and drinks they consume.

The same people who supported free speech are those who support taxing behaviors they don’t approve. They don’t believe the government should have the right to censor what we say, but they do believe the government should have the right to censor what we consume or where we live. I hope some cultural anthropologist has studied how the Progressives managed to transition from suspecting government to loving it.

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Facts vs. Insults and Innuendo

Rail transit is excessively expensive, inflexible, and incapable of moving as many people as buses. Yet when the Antiplanner points out these facts, rather than respond with factual arguments, rail supporters reply with insults and innuendo.

In Florida, for example, a Tampa Bay Times columnist named Daniel Ruth spent an entire column attacking my credibility apparently because someone paid me an honorarium of $500 to evaluate the St. Petersburg light-rail plan. Ruth did not make any factual arguments in favor of the plan; he merely contended that my opposition was a foregone conclusion and so should be ignored.

He even implied that I didn’t get paid enough for my conclusions to be credible. After all, the transit agency spent millions of dollars hiring consultants to write reports about the proposal, and those very reports were the sources of much of my information. Those same consultants are, of course, financially backing the election campaign in favor of light rail, and if voters approve, they stand to make tens if not hundreds of millions in profits. If the measure loses, neither I nor anyone at Cato will make a dime of profit. Yet somehow they are supposed to be more credible than I.

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More Light-Rail Critiques

Sorry about the light postings this week, but I’ve been pretty busy talking with people about light rail. Here is my presentation about light rail in Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), Florida, and here is my presentation about light rail in Austin, Texas.

These are large files–Pinellas is 18 MB, Austin is 24–and they don’t include the videos I used for those presentations. If you want the videos, which are self-driving cars, click here to download a 44-MB zip file with three videos that I used in both presentations.

Next week I go to Denver for the 2014 American Dream conference, so postings may be light then as well. The week after that I’ll be back in Minneapolis to debate Myron Orfield over land-use regulation and density. That should be fun.

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Left-Wing Streetcar Skeptics Don’t Get It

More left-wing writers are expressing skepticism of the streetcars that have been infecting so many American cities. They aren’t anti-rail transit, they say, just anti-bad rail transit.

“Too many new streetcars are being deployed as economic engines first and mobility tools second (if at all)” says Atlantic writer Eric Jaffe. However, “if they run in dedicated lanes and with high frequencies as part of a wider network, they can perform quite well.” That all depends on how you define “perform.”

Streetcars have a huge disadvantage over almost all other transit: their extremely low capacities. Dedicated lanes or not, they can only move about 2,000 people per hour (about 100 people per streetcar about 20 times per hour). Combine this limited capacity with their high cost and streetcars are a huge waste compared with buses that can easily move 10,000 or more people per hour at a much lower cost.

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