Seattle Votes Down Transit Tax

Voters in King County, Washington, soundly rejected a proposed tax increase that King County Metro said was needed to maintain bus service. With the failure of the ballot measure, the transit agency says it will have to make cut bus service by about a sixth.

King County was unable to persuade the Seattle Times to endorse the measure. Instead, the Times suggested that the agency was mismanaged, citing cushy union contracts and other excessive costs.

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Urban Planners Live in a Fantasy World

A few recent articles reveal just how out-of-touch with reality planning advocates are today. In the New York Times, architect Vishaan Chakrabarti claims that “millions of Americans [are] gravitating toward cities,” so we need to subsidize them with “subways, great schools, innovative work spaces, affordable housing and high-speed rail.”

Thousands? Maybe. Millions? Hardly. Relying on actual data, rather than wishful thinking, demographer Wendell Cox shows that, between 2000 and 2010, only about 206,000 people moved to within two miles of city centers in the nation’s 60-plus metropolitan areas of one million or more people. But the area just a little further out–two to seven miles from downtowns–lost 272,000 people, for a net change of minus 66,000. That doesn’t sound like millions are “gravitating” to the cities.

Another article in the New York Times advocates building a streetcar between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Here is the one city in America where high-capacity rail transit could possibly make sense (though it doesn’t today, probably because it is run by the government), and they want to build a super-low-capacity rail line!

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This Land Is Whose Land? Part 2

The Antiplanner understands politics well enough to know that polarization is sometimes useful. But I still find it annoying when people who don’t understand an issue use it to create unnecessary hysteria. On one hand Senator Harry Reid calls people protesting federal land policy “domestic terrorists.” On the other hand, some people hope that rancher Bundy’s stand will be the first shot in a “war on federal bureaucrats.”

The Bundy issue is neither war nor terrorism. It is a simple case of trespass. It won’t be solved by turning federal land over to the states or selling it. Nor will it be solved by demonizing ranchers, property rights advocates, or federal land managers.

For one thing, we can’t give the land “back to the states,” as some people advocate, because it was never state land to begin with. With the exception of Texas and a few Spanish land grants, pretty much all land west of the Mississippi River was, at one time, federal land. When Congress made Nevada a state, it offered it 4 million randomly selected acres. The state asked if Congress would be willing to give it 2 million but let it select the acres it wanted, and Congress agreed. The state eventually sold all but 2,500 of those acres.

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Challenging the Poverty Plan

In late February, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council issued its draft Thrive 2040 plan for public review. No one will be surprised to learn it is a standard smart-growth plan with lots of emphasis on transit, high-density housing in transit corridors, and reducing driving. Of course, this isn’t always obvious, as the plan uses euphemisms such as “affordable housing” when it means high-density housing and “orderly and efficient land use” when it means restricting development in rural areas.


Click image to download the 3.7-MB plan.

The Met Council calls it the Thrive plan because it wants to give the impression that, without government planning, the region will wither away and die. Of course, the Antiplanner believes the opposite is true, and that it would be more accurate to call it a poverty plan, since it will likely make housing unaffordable and require higher taxes, both of which will slow economic growth.

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Is Transit Only Transit If It’s Expensive?

Wired magazine freaks out because the Tennessee senate supposedly passed a “mind-boggling ban on bus-rapid transit.” AutoblogGreen blames the legislation on the left’s favorite whipping boys, the Koch brothers because it was supported by Americans for Prosperity, a tax-watchdog group that has received funding from the Kochs.


Not only would Nashville’s bus-rapid transit consume up to three lanes of traffic and be given priority at traffic signals, the design of stations in the middle of a major arterial will create hazards for pedestrians.

In fact, the senate did not pass a bill to ban bus-rapid transit; it passed a bill to limit the dedication of existing lanes to buses. There is no reason why buses need their own dedicated lanes, at least in a mid-sized city such as Nashville. Kansas City has shown that bus-rapid transit in shared lanes can work perfectly well and attract as much as a 50 percent increase in riders.

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Making Housing Affordable

A Bay Area writer, Kim-Mai Cutler, writes what she supposes is the definitive analysis of why housing in San Francisco is so expensive. Unfortunately, she left a few things out.

She blames expensive San Francisco housing on Google’s refusal to build housing on its own campus in Mountain View–which Google says it can’t do because of the need to protect a rare owl. But Cutler defends the right of “anyone–rich or poor–the chance to transform or be transformed by” living in San Francisco. How can the City of 800,000 people achieve that when there are another 2.5 million people at its doorstep most of whom wish they could live in the Paris of the West?

Cutler’s solution is to build “affordable housing.” That means subsidized housing. If everyone in the nation has a right to live in San Francisco regardless of income, who is going to pay the subsidies? It also means high-density housing. Just how attractive and hospitable will San Francisco be after all of its single-family neighborhoods have been replaced by mid- or high-rises?

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Your Freedom Is Someone Else’s Hell

Yonah Freemark, a writer over at Atlantic Cities–which normally loves any transit boondoggle–somewhat sheepishly admits that light rail hasn’t lived up to all of its expectations. Despite its popularity among transit agencies seeking federal grants, light rail “neither rescued the center cities of their respective regions nor resulted in higher transit use.”

Not to worry, however; Atlantic Cities still hates automobiles, or at least individually owned automobiles. Another article by writer Robin Chase suggests that driverless cars will create a “world of hell” if people are allowed to own their own cars. Instead, driverless cars should be welcomed only if they are collectively owned and shared.

The hell that would result from individually owned driverless cars would happen because people would soon discover they could send their cars places without anyone in them. As Chase says, “If single-occupancy vehicles are the bane of our congested highways and cities right now, imagine the congestion when we pour in unfettered zero-occupancy vehicles.” Never mind the fact that driverless cars will greatly reduce congestion by tripling roadway capacities and avoid congestion by consulting on-line congestion reports.

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Progressives Promote Inequality

Why is it that cities that consider themselves most progressive also tend to have the most segregated schools and the greatest income inequality? UCLA economist Matthew Kahn offers one possible answer: “Educated liberals are tolerant people who are willing to live in racially integrated areas even if the minority neighbors are poor,” suggests Kahn. “Such liberals are more willing to vote for redistributionist policies and this may attract poor people to collect such transfers.”

This off-the-cuff answer sounds unlikely. The Antiplanner has a different suggestion. Progressives are more likely to give government power to try to control people’s lives. The planners who get that power are all middle-class people who use their power to try to design cities for middle-class people like them. This prices low-income people out of the market, putting them in inferior housing and neighborhoods with poorer schools.

Kahn’s own research finds that blacks are more likely to own their own homes in lower density urban areas (“sprawl”). Regions that try to control sprawl end up making housing unaffordable. In most of these regions, the liberals already own their own homes and don’t mind policies that keep others out of the housing market.

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Arlington Votes Against a Streetcar

Streetcar skeptic John Vihstadt won a seat on the Arlington County (Virginia) board this week, the first Republican to do so in 15 years. One of the main issues in his campaign was the board’s plan to spend $250 million on a streetcar in this suburb of Washington, DC.

The election took place less than two weeks after the release of a consultant’s report that concluded a streetcar would dramatically boost economic development in the county (a claim disputed by the Antiplanner. Some people believe the report was timed to influence the election. If so, it didn’t work.

The election also took place after the unveiling of Arlington’s $1 million dollar bus stop that doesn’t even provide decent shelter from the elements. This served to raise voter awareness of the county’s free-spending ways when it comes to transit.

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The Cost of Renewable Energy

Life is about trade-offs. Some people act as though solar and wind power are somehow free, but of course they aren’t–and the cost goes beyond just the dollar cost of erecting wind turbines or putting solar cells in the desert.


A yellow-rumped warbler singed by the reflecting mirrors of a solar power plant. Fish & Wildlife Service researchers say the area above solar mirrors can easily reach more than 400 degrees Celsius (750° F).

A study reported just a few months ago found that wind turbines kill between 140,000 and 328,000 birds per year. A more recent study from the Fish & Wildlife Service found hundreds of bird carcasses around three solar energy facilities in Southern California. The report added that, “The numbers of dead birds [found] are likely underrepresented, perhaps vastly so,” partly because birds carcasses attract more birds, creating a cycle of death.

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