Friday, August 31, 2007

Poor Funding Means Poor Support...

As Ezra Klein points out, you can't expect something to work very well if its poorly funded. The bootstrap argument doesn't really work in those situations.

As it turns out, when you don't fund crucial public services, they don't work very well. It's a fun cycle: The DC Metro has no dedicated source of funding nor particularly united constituency, so it gets shortchanged come funding time. Inevitably, the lack of funds degrade service and lead to failures. This makes the Metro less pleasant, driving people away, serving as an argument that government can't do anything right, and giving fuel to those who say that we should reinvest in more roads and private transportation infrastructure.
Now with the bridge collapse and a number of articles coming out about low funding for the FTA, people are starting to pay more attention as to why some things don't work as well as they possibly should and perhaps why sometimes transit gets a bad wrap.

As Ryan Avent pointed out, here's the result: This year, the government will allot $1.4 billion in federal spending for transit, and $42 billion in federal spending for highways. Sure is a mystery why our public transit systems don't work better....I think a bigger problem is that the sorts of public transportation that are beloved as an alternative to cars -- namely, systems that don't use roads, and thus evade traffic -- need to hit a critical mass of lines, stops, and, stations before they become a real useful alternative. Building that sort of infrastructure takes time, and our politics doesn't tend to like solutions that won't solve anything before the next few elections end.
Very true, we need to start thinking to the future. Or we might end up building these things under the light of a darkened sun. I'm glad bigger blogs are picking up on this.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

DART Expansion

Dallas has started construction on the Green Line. I'm really excited to see this line finally taking shape. The folks at DART are more educated now on TOD and might be able to make some decisions that will help this line be more transit oriented than the others. The Farmer's Branch Station apparently is first.

From the Dallas Morning News:



From Globe Street:
DALLAS-Dallas Area Rapid Transit is set to receive an $80-million grant for an expansion project. The first installment of a $700-million grant, approved last year by the Federal Transit Administration, will go toward construction of the Green Line, a 21-mile, two-segment extension of DART's light rail line, which will extend from the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas through Downtown Dallas and onto Farmers Branch and Carrollton.

The grant coincides with the Aug. 30 ground-breaking ceremony for the Farmers Branch light rail station. Carrollton will hold a similar ceremony Sept. 8 for the city's main Downtown station, one of three planned for the city. The Downtown Carrollton station will be the hub for three separate DART lines, making it one of the busiest in the system.

“Carrollton has the potential to become a major transit hub, joining Downtown Dallas, Downtown Fort Worth and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Airport, in terms of importance to the region’s transportation network,” observes Carrollton Mayor Becky Miller. “We’re committed to leveraging public and private resources to maximize the development opportunities in this transit district.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Will Streetcars Replace Buses on the 16th Street Mall?

Denver's 16th Street mall might undergo an extreme makeover. An article in the Denver Post via Denver Infill Blog states:

As Denver's 16th Street Mall approaches its 25th anniversary in October, local officials and business leaders are exploring upgrades that could include replacement of granite pavers in the bus lanes with concrete or even swapping out buses for streetcars.
That would be very cool and would allow the streetcars to be extended eventually to points all over the Denver first ring. Denver Infill even sees a web of streetcars (It would be cool to see a map of this)
Another solution discussed in the article is replacing the Mall shuttle busses with streetcars. This is ultimately the best solution for several reasons. Installing a streetcar line along Colfax has been gaining strong momentum over the past few years, and upgrading the Mall shuttle to a streetcar line would be the logical first step in that direction. With the 16th Street Mall ending right at Colfax, future streetcar extensions east and west along Colfax from Civic Center Station could easily follow. Next, the proposed Downtown Circulator along 18th, 19th, Broadway and Lincoln, could be implemented as a streetcar or, at least, upgraded to a streetcar line as soon as possible, as has been discussed.

RTD is also considering replacing the Welton Street light rail line with a streetcar line, running from the planned 40th & 40th Station down to the 20th & Welton Station, if not all the way to Civic Center Station. RTD also proposed (but dropped from the FasTracks program) a transit connection between the Broadway Station and Civic Center along Broadway/Lincoln. An extension of the Downtown Circulator streetcar line from 12th Avenue to the Broadway Station would be a no-brainer.
Very cool. It will give some of the closer in neighborhood some rail options and possibly connect some of the more vacant large parcels. I also heard something about a perpendicular bus mall to the 16th street mall this week when I was in Denver. Might be an interesting addition.

Also as a side, here are some photos from my few days in Denver.

Here is a sunset picture I took from the Bellview Light Rail Station.

Sunset

Another At Bellview in the tunnel that goes under the road to the elevators. This was really fun with a flash camera.

Transit Art @ Belview

A lot of people use the C Line to get to special events. These folks were coming from a Rockies Game.

Rockies Game Outlet 2

Man I wish the Bellview Station was on the other side of the road. There would have been some great Transit Orientation. You can see the freeway at right. In the photo after, it shows the view from the station (with a cool cloud formation) to the development the transit might have served better.

Southeast Corridor at Bellview

Clouds Over Bellview

There is also no gambling on Light Rail, suprisingly

No Gambling on LRT

Monday, August 27, 2007

Are You The Gatekeeper? Are You the Keymaster?




Recently the FTA has been playing more of a gatekeeper to transit projects. Beyond DC posted that the FTA just works in DC, and Congress should be to blame. Well thats not really a good excuse. Sure Congress should provide more funding and being a penny pincher is great if you're cutting fat, but not if you're leaning up already lean transit projects. Personally the Tyson's tunnel rejection is the worst transit decision in this century. And making Minneapolis cut the Central Corridor project until its in pieces is ridiculous considering the DOT would fund any road project for the sake of congestion relief. And now the FTA is transferring all the Small Starts money to New York City for their BRT projects, to a place that has a lot of transit and is about to generate a lot of money with congestion pricing.

An article in the Washington Post lays it out:

The concessions show just how focused planners are on pleasing officials at the federal agency. The Purple Line is estimated to cost as much as $1.6 billion, an amount state officials say they can't afford without federal help.

Unlike federal highway funds, which states receive based on a formula and may spend as they wish, money for new transit projects is awarded at the discretion of the FTA. The agency doesn't have much to dole out. The FTA has proposed spending about $1.4 billion on new transit projects next fiscal year, compared with $42 billion that states will receive for highway maintenance and construction, according to federal figures. More than 100 transit projects across the country are expected to compete for federal money in coming years, according to a federal report.

Translation: States don't have to go through a cost effectiveness measure to justify spending on highway projects and should bend over backwards to make the FTA happy. Never bite the hand that feeds you right? In fact, a lot of this competition is what is causing problems for transit agencies around the county. In Charlotte, it took 10 years to build the line, a lot of which was the FTA process. Does no one think that there will be cost overruns? Money doesn't cost the same over a decade! If Charlotte loses its half cent tax, some of the blame lies at the feet of the FTA process.

FTA evaluations can take years, because it rates a project -- and grants permission for it to move forward -- at several different points, controlling it from preliminary engineering through construction. The process has grown so complicated and time-consuming that, across the country, many local officials have begun to forgo federal money if they can secure enough local or private funds to build a project, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report.
The article then goes into something I haven't talked about in a while, the Transit Space Race.

Meanwhile, competition for that money is increasing rapidly. Many booming areas -- including such traditional highway-loving cities as Phoenix, Denver and Houston -- are turning to transit to curb air pollution and control their car-dependent sprawl.

"The demand for transit has never been higher," Puentes said. "At the same time, the federal government substantially underfunds transit, so it's very competitive to get those funds."

Very competitive? Try knock down drag out fight. Cities such as Columbus Ohio can't even build a BRT line to the FTA cost standards, and they are the 15th largest city in the United States. This alone means there is something very wrong with fixed guideway transit funding, yes give Congress hell, but don't give the FTA a pass for being the Gatekeeper. That's like saying, that Rove guy just lives in DC, George Bush is the only one to blame.

Update: Looking deeper into the Beyond DC blog, they make a lot of good points. But this brings about my point that we still have to take the FTA rules to task. Congress can fix it, but it would help if these projects weren't looked at through the cost-effective TSUB lens as advocated by the FTA.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

China's Subway Boom

An article in the LA Times discusses the subway boom that is going on in China. Realizing that they can't fit their population into cars without choking on the result, they decide to expand rapidly like Robert Moses. While its fast and it gets it done, I'm not sure I would want the government to come and just kick whole neighborhoods up to build lines. On the other hand, it sure beats having to wait ten years for the New Starts program. Ridiculous. We could build a system like that with all the public involvement we enjoy, it just needs to be funded. Subways for America. How about starting out with massive expansions of Subways in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Baltimore etc. Perhaps even lines in places like Minneapolis and Tampa. Being a little selfish, could we put one on Geary and Van Ness? It would really help me get to the In N Out Burger and the local gatherings on Saturday's for Texas football without spending an hour on transit to go 5 miles.

Brian Taylor, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, noted that the United States used to be much more heavy-handed in its planning policies. Consider, for instance, the way whole swaths of central Los Angeles were razed to make way for the Santa Monica Freeway. Perhaps, he said, China is simply at a different stage in its evolution, both in terms of economic development and political participation.

From about 1890 to the late 1970s, he said, Los Angeles expanded its transportation system at an astonishing rate, first building the world's most extensive streetcar system and then tearing it down and building the world's first and largest freeway network.

"So it's not as if we haven't had these enormous investment eras in transportation infrastructure," Taylor said.

Cities "go through these various epochs of growth," he said, and at the moment, Los Angeles is in a very different stage than Shanghai.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Charlotte's Transit Web

Neil Pierce has a column in the Hartford Courant about Charlotte's trials and tribulations in their fight for transit. It's a fabulous article and tells a lot about the trouble we have in this country explaining the benefits of good transit and alternatives to driving. One part of the interview is telling,

But why should an elected official take all the grief for pushing a new concept? Public transportation and land-use planning were nowhere on the agenda, McCrory acknowledges, when he ran in 1995. But a few weeks into office, he read a previous mayor's neglected "Committee of 100" report on public transportation. The report's thrust: The fast-growing Sunbelt city would choke on its expansion without effective bus and rail transit lines.

Then McCrory noticed for himself: "When I took my nephews out on strollers, we couldn't get to the street because there were no damned sidewalks. We had no connectivity or pedestrian access - just total reliance on the car." He began to see alternative futures: Charlotte could have tree-lined streets with bikeways and sidewalks, or "traffic lights every 15 feet, strip malls and unlimited pavement."

No sidewalks. That is the mark of a city with its priorities in the wrong places. And Charlotte has many people who want that burgeoning banking center to go back to a southern hole in the wall. But kudos to McCrory for having a vision and doing something to change that.

So why did McCrory become his region's lead advocate for public transit at all? One reason was purely pragmatic. While the exciting idea of rail service got the most attention in the 1998 sales tax referendum, McCrory had another, bigger worry. The city had a dilapidated, poorly run bus system, supported by the city property tax.

McCrory explains: "I thought a regionwide sales tax would be better - people driving in from outside sharing the burden." In fact, 65 percent of the proceeds from the expanded sales tax that opponents are attacking actually finances an expanded, successful new bus system. If the sales tax gets repealed, McCrory says, "the entire bus system cost gets transferred back to Charlotte property taxpayers. I'm a conservative; I want to protect them."
This is a side I hadn't heard before but its true. Why should the residents of Charlotte take the burden of the region? Similar to Minneapolis and Portland, Charlotte is somewhat of a regional government given that their county and city are under one government. It makes it easier to establish a vision and build on it. Also suburbanites have been sucking on the subsidies from cities for the last half century and not paying for it. Tax base created by downtowns often gets exported to the burbs in the form of utility outlays and freeways. Now they are being asked to ante up a bit and they cry not fair. But what about the people who pay most of the taxes?

Many of the opponents have it very wrong. Sure there are things to learn from the inflation and bidding on the original line and service doesn't go to every part of the city yet, but Rome wasn't built in a day and there are solid plans for expansion. Charlotte is one of those cities where the cost of living will benefit from an extensive rail network. There is no doubt in my mind that Charlotte would be a new flash of gold in a southern region choking on its own congestion and autocentricity. And when gas goes to $10 a gallon, you know who is going to win? Cities that thought ahead, like Charlotte.

On a side note, this letter to the editor hits the nail on the head.

Transit critics outed: Just follow the money

Ever since I read in the Observer about the Chamber's involvement in the transit study conducted by UNC Charlotte, I've been waiting to read more about the backgrounds of transit opponents.For example, David Hartgen's work has been funded by the Reason Foundation, known for its connections to the auto and oil industries. Do you think it might have a vested interest in less light rail?

Many opponents' funding can be traced back to the conservative John Locke Foundation, based in Raleigh. Why might they be interested in defeating light rail in Charlotte?

Bea Quirk

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Internets & MKT

I haven't been posting as much due to a down internet at my house but check out Intermodality for some info on the MKT (Missouri Kansas & Texas)'Eureka' Corridor in Houston. It's interesting that these ROWs are still around.

UPDATE: There are plans for a bike trail on this ROW. Metro admits it jumped the gun, but personally I think they should figure out a way to share.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Last PCCs of Mattapan

We know all about the PCC collections that reside in San Francisco and Philly but how about the last holdouts of a bygone era in Boston. The Ashmont-Mattapan Line is the last bastion of operating PCCs that never stopped. And hopefully it will continue past the repairs its undergoing at the moment. The following is a great article about the line from the Weekly Dig. (Links Added for emphasis)
The Mattapan Line is the only continuously operating system of PCCs left in the country, although Mattapan-Ashmont trolleys have been off-line for over a year. The T began jettisoning PCCs in the name of progress in the 1950s and 1960s; today, stretches of their track have been razed to make way for an enormous construction project at Ashmont, a gentrification-happy makeover that includes a new T station and a 116-unit condo development, the Carruth, abutting the Red Line tracks.

While Ashmont is being rebuilt, the trolleys have been moldering at the Mattapan carhouse, which finds itself besieged by more construction at the Mattapan station. In their place, the T has been running a temporary "trolley shuttle" (an MBTA bus). Neighbors have become disgruntled; some worry that the "temporary shutdown" might become permanent. After all, the Arborway Line in Jamaica Plain met its fate that way.

It's an interesting article, check it out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Seattle's Shiftyness (A Good Thing)

Seattle Transit Blog has highlighted the shift from cars to transit while construction on I-5 is underway. A barrage of articles highlight the big scare that occurred before the construction started, which as should be known from previous experience including the Maze Meltdown would not materialize. The Stranger reports:

So, you might have heard that a couple lanes of northbound Interstate 5 were closed last week. Hysterical media predictions of "nightmare" traffic failed to come true. Lists of "survival tips" for dealing with hellish commutes failed to be necessary. Even an entire blog (the Seattle Times' The Clog) devoted to "the Closure" couldn't make the predicted traffic clusterfuck materialize. For nearly two weeks, half of I-5 has been closed down—and traffic has, as if by a miracle, actually gotten better.
The News Tribune: Sounder is looking to keep the added ridership by adding trains.

Last Monday – the first commuting day during construction on I-5 in Seattle – nearly 12,000 people boarded Sounder trains between Tacoma and Seattle. But while the number of passengers remained high throughout the week, it declined each day as I-5 gridlock didn’t materialize.

Sound Transit, the agency that operates the Sounder, knows it will take more than a construction project to persuade many people to leave their cars behind.

“A lot of people have made choices for this particular (construction) project that are probably not sustainable,” said agency spokeswoman Linda Robson.

From the Olympian.

From the Times.

From the Post Intelliger.

And so on...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Honeymoon & The Angry Monkey

Aaron Donovan over at Streetsblog decided to take his honeymoon with less carbon. A great story about traveling without a car ensued.

My wife and I were married last month in Brooklyn. For our honeymoon, we wanted to see as many great American cities as we could. In 19 days of travel, we visited Chicago, Seattle, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans (and also stopped briefly in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia).

How could two people as obsessed as we are with minimizing our transportation carbon footprints possibly justify taking so many flights for leisure travel? We didn't take any flights. We also didn't rent any cars or even set foot in a single taxi. We learned that thanks to the magic of transit-oriented hotel development (often inadvertent), it is entirely possible to travel this great country from sea to shining sea without any of those carbon-belching modes of travel -- and still have a fantastic time.

On another news note today, a man and his monkey were angered when a MARTA bus ruined their day.

Here’s a reason an Atlanta-area monkey owner doesn’t like the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and it has to do with damage to his Porsche.A DeKalb County man says a MARTA bus caused damage to his car but MARTA refuses to accept blame. He was on I-20 earlier this month when he says his car was hit by flying rubber from a MARTA bus tire.Marketing man Bobby Manheim and his sidekick, a monkey named Dr. Irving, spend a lot of time on the road."If I wasn't in a car like I was I probably would've flipped just trying to avoid the chunks of rubber. Some of them were the size of baseballs," said Manheim.Manheim said while driving on the interstate August 1, a MARTA bus blew a tire spewing rubber all over his red Porsche.
There is video with the news article. I suggest taking a look only if you have free time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pawlenty Relents on Bridge

The Governor relented when the City of Minneapolis restated their belief that the bridge should be build with the ability to hold light rail at a future date and not necessarily for the Central Corridor. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Friday the state may be willing to pay the extra $20 million to $30 million it would cost to include light-rail transit on the Interstate 35W bridge.

Pawlenty's comments came after nearly two weeks of debate and division among state, Minneapolis and federal officials over whether the replacement for the collapsed span should be built with the potential to carry light rail.

Before Pawlenty's comments, Minneapolis officials modified their stance, saying the bridge should have light-rail capacity but need not be built specifically for the Central Corridor line, which is to connect downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The city's role could be pivotal because, under state law, it will be asked to provide "municipal consent" for the bridge design.

A disagreement over light rail could stall the project for months, jeopardizing the state's plans to push for completion by the end of 2008.

This is a good sign that the Governor understands or at least is willing to consider the future needs and not just the present. The Star Tribune also reminds everyone that a transportation package needs to be passed as they reiterate what I had thought in the previous posts:

What is clear, however, is that routing the Central Corridor light-rail line across a new bridge doesn't work. Changing its route would eliminate a critical West Bank station at the University of Minnesota, attract fewer riders and add time and distance to the line. That, in turn, would lower the project's federal rating and risk its funding.

If a future rail line were projected for the Interstate Hwy. 35W corridor, a stronger bridge would make sense. But no such line is projected. Instead of obsessing on the replacement bridge, officials should focus on passing a comprehensive transportation bill that repairs bridges and actually pays for the new roads and transit lines that the state has needed for so long.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bridge Design & The Central Corridor

Update: The Mayor has made it clear that he wants the bridge to handle light rail at a future date and doesn't necessarily have plans for a line now.

So the Mayor of Minneapolis and the Governor are having a bit of a spat over whether the I35W Bridge should include light rail. Initially the Gov and his lackeys said that there is no room, and emergency funds stipulate that the bridge must be built using the previous footprint. Ok, thats fine, so then why are you building a 10 lane bridge to replace an 8 lane bridge?? Personally I don't think that LRT should be on that bridge anyway but don't lie about what you can and can't do. Perhaps a provision that it could be built at a future date would suffice and priority transit lanes would be a good addition but it doesn't really make a lot of sense from a ridership standpoint for the Central Corridor unless you were going to build a line to the Northeast at some point.

Bridge2

If you look at the picture, the red line is how the light rail would work over the bridge in a sorta kinda way. The orange line is the existing Hiawatha Line and the Yellow is the planned central corridor line. Look how the yellow line goes through the University (Yellow Boxes) rather than around it. (Hmmm, lesson for Austin?) Basically they got it right the first time so they shouldn't be trying to fix it wrong.

Now there are whole other issues at play with the retrofitting of the existing bridge to handle Light Rail and the possible tunneling under the University but really any cost savings that would have come by crossing the I-35W bridge would have lost a lot of ridership because people would have had to walk further. So Mayor Rybak, i love your spirit and willingness to fight for LRT, but save your chips for another day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ridership Levels High in St. Louis, San Diego

From Adron at Transit Sleuth, Metrolink ridership in St. Louis hit an all time high. From the transit agency newswire:

“The new extension is certainly the reason why ridership is rising to these levels,” said Todd Plesko, Metro’s Director of Planning and System Development. “While we knew ridership would increase because of the additional eight miles and nine new stations that now offer more choices, no one really expected it to climb this high this fast.” Early predictions for the Cross County MetroLink Extension forecasted an average of 18,900 additional daily riders by the year 2025. However last month, after only eleven months of operation, MetroLink ridership totaled more than 88,000 boardings per average weekday, an increase of more than 27,000 additional daily riders—much higher than predicted.
Not to be outdone, San Diego rocked this months ridership as well. Average weekday boardings for July were just under 120,000 per day. This was likely helped by the huge Comic-Con convention and 4th of July celebrations.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Single Tracking to Save Cash

RTD in Denver while moving towards its goal of new rail lines is deciding to cut some of the budget on the west corridor by single tracking the western most section of the line. While this is making some folks in Golden a little worried about service levels, i'm sure that they will have the foresight to reserve the ROW for future expansion in order to facilitate expanded service should they decide to single track.

This is the way that Sacramento and San Diego went initially, later expanding to double track when the funding permitted. It should be considered in other settings as well for cost savings.
From the Rocky Mountain News:

The project originally included two tracks on that final segment. But in 2005, faced with cost increases, RTD decided to cut service on the outer leg to trains every 15 minutes instead of every five minutes. That allowed RTD to reduce the number of train cars it had to buy, saving more than $12 million.

Then last year, with costs still escalating sharply, RTD realized it could run 15-minute service on a single track west of the federal center by including a short passing track near Red Rocks Community College. The move saved another $33 million.

Jefferson County planners and commissioners objected, saying if RTD's ridership estimates are wrong and more growth occurs than anticipated, RTD would be locked into having inadequate track capacity to handle it.

Jeffco had asked RTD to consider running 10-minute trains, which would have required a second passing track.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Madison Mayor Kills Streetcar Proposal

Mayor Dave was getting hammered on all sides for his streetcar proposal (mostly by people who don't like public transit anyways). I guess the lesson is to not make your idea the end all be all and educate everyone involved. There was no route picked and no one understood how they worked. A lot of folks stated "They aren't right for Madison". They don't really know that, they are just scared of change. Unfortunately the opponents of everything made the streetcar their glow point, hopefully other cities will learn from this. Some folks in Madison are outraged, and rightfully so. This is a mistake not just on Dave's part, but some of the blame could lie at the feet of Kathlene Falk. Perhaps someday County Executives who root for the suburbs and City Mayors (This means you too Milwaukee) can get along and build transit networks that help everyone, not just folks who were not smart enough to figure out that traffic to downtown is what happens when you sprawl. As Portland has shown, 9,000 riders a day , even with 12 minute headways, does a lot for circulation and city vitality.

Transit Board at Portland Transport

A cool new tool for folks to use. They explain more at Portland Transport:

Transit Board is a web browser interface designed to be used in a fixed location, perhaps as a kiosk or as an intranet page for a company office, allowing users to see multiple transit lines departing from a particular place or general vicinity.

One TMA has already implemented it.

There are two ways to set up a Transit Board. One requires help from the admins at Portland Transport, the other can be done on a do-it-yourself basis.

The first model requires defining something we call a 'choice set', which is a list of transit stops and specific lines that serve them. If you'd like to do this, send e-mail to webmaster@portlandtransport.com and we'll work with you. With the custom approach we can tailor colors and create special messages as well.

The do-it-yourself form just requires a URL with a list of stops.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hillary for TOD?

Apparently Hillary Clinton has an infrastructure program and has pledged to raise the federal state for local and intercity rail by $2.5 billion. She also mentions the nexus between land use and transit and doesn't mention TOD by name but perhaps thats what she's thinking. I wonder though if she or her staff even know about the policy behind this or if someone told them it was a good idea. In any event i'm glad she's mentioning it. Hopefully some of the other candidates will follow suit. From her website:

Public Transit

Increase federal funding for public transit by $1.5 billion per year. Increased public transit usage is arguably the best strategy for ameliorating the energy and environmental costs of transportation. As energy costs rise, more people will rely on public transportation. Today, only 5% of Americans commute by public transit, but doubling that figure could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%. Public transit is also critically important to people who live in urban areas and rely on buses and trains for travel to work and school. Moreover, as the population ages, an increasing number of people will need public transit as their ability to drive diminishes. Hillary will increase federal investment in public transit by $1.5 billion per year to ensure needed capacity expansions and service level improvements.

Link federal public transit funds to local land use policies that encourage residential developments that maximize public transit usage. Over the next 25 years, a large percentage of the buildings we live, work, and shop in will be rebuilt or newly built. This presents a significant opportunity for the federal government to encourage sensible residential and commercial development that are linked to, and encourage, public transit usage. Local areas seeking large federal investments in public transit are already required to have land-use plans and policies that make investing in a high-density transit system worthwhile. Today, these requirements are focused mainly on commercial developments and not enough on residential considerations. Hillary will encourage the sort of dense residential concentrations needed to support public transit systems by better linking public transit funding with residential land-use policies. This will help to discourage sprawl and fight congestion.

Intercity Passenger Rail

Invest an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems. In the 21st Century, intercity passenger rail should be a viewed as a critical component of the nation’s transportation system. It is an environmentally efficient alternative to highway driving and short flights; it relieves congestion on roads and airports; reduces the emission of automotive pollutants; and it stimulates economic growth by linking metropolitan areas. States have been left to pursue intercity rail projects with only modest federal support. Hillary believes that greater federal involvement is needed to maximize the potential of this transportation mode. She will increase federal investment in intercity passenger rail by $1 billion over 5 years in order to help finance capital projects. These investments are in addition to those made in Amtrak.

Taxing Air Travel for Rail

They are doing it in England but its a rather small country where the rails are competitive, could it work here? Perhaps a carbon tax on flights shorter than 300 miles could produce enough money for high speed rail capital startups. The airlines might even be able to get tax breaks if they build their own high speed lines. Just a thought. The BBC reports:

The Liberal Democrats say they would put an extra £10 tax per ticket on internal flights in Britain to help fund improvements to the rail network. They are also proposing to put a toll on road freight, while encouraging private investment in railways. The party says it would generate £12bn in five years and be a temporary measure, without specifying how long. The proposals are part of a package aimed at making Britain's transport system carbon neutral by 2050.
A fund source for California HSR? Carbon tax for flights between SFO and LA or San Diego?

National Transit Blogging

I love reading blogs and have been reading ever since the 2004 election. I just keep finding more good ones with better stories. The national transit blogosphere is getting bigger as more people contribute making it more exciting as well. Here are a few of the many blogs I like to read, the others are in the blog roll at the bottom right.

RT Rider: Life Saving Value of Transit

Want to stop the war? Ride the bus.

OK. That's a bit of a stretch, but everyone can agree that if America were to reduce its reliance on foreign petroleum supplies, national security would benefit.

In January of this year, the American Public Transportation Association released "Public Transportation and Petroleum Savings in the U.S.: Reducing Dependence on Oil," a study prepared for the association by ICF International, a global consulting firm that specializes in the connection between transportation and energy.

Sacramento Regional Transit's local system is part of a national effort that, according to the report's executive summary, "reduces U.S. gasoline consumption by 1.4 billion gallons each year.

Transit Miami: Stupid Legislators

Republican Patrick McHenry, an ignoramus congressman from North Carolina is attempting to hamper efforts of other congressman who are writing a provision to encourage increase bicycle use. Apparently McHenry openly opposes the paltry $1 million proposition yet he openly favors wasting Billions more in Iraq, you know, "fighting the war on terror..."

The U.S. infrastructure is falling apart McHenry, quit wasting our money building a new one in Iraq...Bikes aren't a solution, but, they are part of the puzzle...Here is an e-mail I received word for word from a loyal TM reader:

Last Saturday the House of Representatives passed Energy Independence legislation that amends a section of the IRS code to include "bicycles" in the definition of transportation covered by the qualified transportation fringe benefit.

Introduced earlier this year by Congressman Earl Blumenauer as H.R. 1498, the provision calls for a $20 monthly benefit for riding a bike to work.

However, according to Blumenauer, even this modest amount sparked some heated opposition — even ridicule — from other House lawmakers.


Urban Planning Overlord: Light Rail in Downtown Milwaukie

There's a tussle breaking out over the preferred location of light rail tracks in downtown Milwaukie. The original plan would use a grede-separated right of way along the existing train tracks. But the Waldorf School (next to the tracks) doesn't like the noise and wants the MAX line to use two downtown streets. The merchants don't like that idea.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hartgen the Hitman: Charlotte

There was an article in yesterday's observer written by professor emeritus David Hartgen about why Charlotte shouldn't continue on with the Space Race. Well let's go over the reasons why he didn't do his research and got all the facts wrong. For shame, but not unexpected from someone who has written papers for the uber libertarian road warriors at the Reason foundation.

Let's dissect shall we?

You asked me to state the basis of my concerns about continued funding for light rail corridors in the Charlotte region. My concerns are based on the following observations:

The key transportation issue is traffic congestion, not "choices." The county grew 36 percent in the 1990s and 19 percent from 2000 to 2006, and population will increase 300,000 by 2030. Most newcomers will drive. Congestion will double, to Chicago-like levels, even if the current plans are built. This threatens job access.

No one ever said that road construction was going to stop, nor does transit ever seem to lower congestion, mostly because of induced demand, where people will use a free service until it is all used up. This happens with roads. If everyone moved to transit, then others would find that the roads were wide open. So for example on the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis there were 34,000 riders taken off the road in q3 2006. Since 40% of riders are new to transit, that would mean around 13,600 cars were taken off of the road, but that space will be taken up by other drivers who find the space.

Transit system costs are high and out of line with use. The 1998 vote was based on a $1.1 billion plan; now the estimate is $ 8.9 billion. Of the region's $12-13 billion transportation budget the transit system would consume two-thirds but serve just 2 percent of commuters. The other 98 percent will stew in congestion....

This has nothing to do with the specific plan, but more to do with inflation and materials costs. From almost 10 years ago when the plan was passed, costs have surged. The producer price index has gone up 28% between 1998 and 2006 while the consumer price index has only gone up 23.6%. This is a lot. Also, the roads in Charlotte have been developed at a cost of billions upon billions of dollars over the last century and costs for those roads today are high. Houston's I-10 expansion has been hit by the same type of cost increases, yet you don't hear the libertarians crying over that one.

... Even if the transit forecasts are to be believed, transit's effect on congestion would not be noticeable. The transit share will be only 2-3 percent of work trips, and 1-2 percent of regional travel, too small to affect even corridor congestion. Far from providing "a choice," the system would do little for most commuters.

The 2% of commuters has been debunked many times. In fact, the trips he is referring to are all trips including truck trips and trips that aren't served by transit in rural areas. On corridors where transit is available, the commute trips are more competitive between 22% and 40%. This is obviously meant to mislead the public into think that transit is ineffectual where if it were deployed on all corridors, it would do almost half the work on them. The Big Dig takes less than 2% of trips but many people at the Reason Foundation see it as something that should be done in more urbanized areas.

Rising densities will increase congestion, not reduce it. Most growth will go to the edge of the region and to nearby counties, not to transit corridors. While a higher share of work trips will be by transit, the remainder will use the street system, adding to congestion. Cities with high transit shares (New York City, Chicago, Washington, etc.) have worse, not better, congestion.

As places grow, they get congested. Now imagine New York, Chicago, Washington DC etc without transit? If all of those 100s of thousands of people got out of the trains and into their cars, the region would be in a world of pain when it comes to congestion and carbon emissions. This is a ridiculous argument. No city has built its way out of congestion, its what comes with cities, transit is a way to mitigate that by providing predictable travel times and an alternative to sitting in the congestion that built up on that brand new freeway.

Areas our size exclusively operate bus service, not light rail. Austin, Columbus, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Orlando, Hartford. Syracuse and Rochester all have bus-only service. When the South Boulevard Line is completed, Charlotte will be the smallest city in the U.S. with a LRT line (excepting a two-car line in Little Rock).

This is a flat out blatant lie. The city of Charlotte is larger than light rail cities Denver, Seattle, Washington DC, Portland, Sacramento, Cleveland, Minneapolis etc etc. And if we are going by Metro Region, then Charlotte(24) is bigger than Portland and Salt Lake City while slightly smaller than Sacramento and Pittsburgh! Birmingham and Rochester are in the 50s versus Charlotte at 24. Research Professor?

Many cities much larger than Charlotte also rely largely on buses. Kansas City, Detroit, New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis and Louisville have bus-only systems. Buffalo, San Diego, Sacramento, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Houston, Dallas, St. Louis and Salt Lake City have just one LRT line each. Our present and future densities do not warrant transit.

All cities rely on buses, and 68% of the tax in Charlotte is used for Buses so cutting the transit tax would take out a lot of the transit capacity. But buses serve a different role than light rail. Systems are for different functions and buses are feeders to the longer haul operations of light rail which are cheaper per passenger mile. He also didn't do his research on each of these cities. New Orleans had three streetcar lines(Canal, St. Charles, Riverfront), San Diego has three operating lines(Green, Blue, Orange), Sacramento has 3 operating lines(Watt, Folsom, South Corridor), Minneapolis is planning three more lines (Central, Southwest, Northwest),and a streetcar system, Baltimore has heavy and light rail as well as commuter rail, Houston is planning 5 new rapid transit corridors to go with its light rail line, Dallas has 2 light rail lines and is building two more to go along with its commuter rail, St, Louis has 2 lines, and Salt Lake City has 2 lines and is building 4 more and commuter rail. EVERY CITY HAS MORE THAN ONE LINE and is planning for a massive expansion.

The recent UNCC study inappropriately compares Charlotte with larger cities that have light rail service. Since those cities have generally higher transit operating and construction costs, the comparison is not appropriate. The report should have compared Charlotte to other mid-sized bus-only systems.

Charlotte isn't a tiny town anymore. It will grow to be larger, and in ten years time, many of those systems which were bus only are going to have rail. I don't know if I would want to aspire to be any of the bus only systems he mentions. Mid-sized cities are ranked in the 50s, not the high 20s.

What should be done now?

Repeal the transit sales tax. Operate the South Boulevard light rail line but build no more. Instead, focus on express transit and improve bus service. Add point-to-point service with smaller vehicles. Implement a "fair fare" policy that riders pay no less than 25 percent of costs. Review route performance. Contract out services. Use higher fares, federal operating assistance funds, and local funds budgeted competitively; transit should not have a dedicated fund source.

Basically they say put it on the backs of working people, while they build more roads. This does nothing for the budgets of families that often pay more than 20% of their incomes for transportation. Transit is a way to reduce this cost but they want you to buy more cars and gasoline. Why shouldn't transit have a dedicated funding source? There is no reason why there shouldn't be a funding source to pay for transit when there is a funding source for roads. Transit is an important part of a region's economic competitiveness, if it is neglected, the region will suffer.

Make congestion relief the primary concern. Like Atlanta, set a goal for congestion reduction, and select projects accordingly.... Increase funding: about $4 billion more is needed to hold congestion at current levels.

Oh yeah, Atlanta the king of congestion where they want to build a tunnel under the city for all the cars is a great act to follow. Charlotte has been the envy of cities wanting such a transit network as is planned there yet they want to be more congested and auto oriented like Atlanta? Give me a break. And San Francisco should be more like Houston right? $4 billion to hold congestion at current levels? You mean he can't solve the problem and reduce congestion with roads? This is what they claim can't be done with transit yet they can't do it with roads either, and when they do it with roads, it is going to result in libertarian's nightmare of takings galore for the expansion of the freeway, yet they don't care.

Redirect the region's focus to roads. Remove bottlenecks, improve signal timing and add arterial turns. Consider HOT lanes (high-occupancy-toll lanes on freeways) for use by both transit and other vehicles.

Focus on roads? Regions have focused on roads for the last century and look where it has gotten everyone. More congestion!

Implement regional flex-time and ridesharing programs to lower traffic demand....

These actions will put our region back on the path to a high-quality road and transit system that we can be proud of.


This is the worst letter I've seen written on behalf of the other side. Surely they can do better than this, but again I'm expecting too much from a libertarian think tanker. Charlotte will make the right choice and this will be over soon and the libertarians will go back to their anti-tax holes. Hopefully where they stay until they drown in Grover Norquist's bathtub.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

245,000 Dead Drivers (& Passengers)

Streetsblog led me to a Los Angeles Times article on the death toll on our highways since 9-11. Why is no one else appalled?

Suppose 245,000 americans had died in terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. The United States would be beside itself, utterly gripped by a sense of national emergency. Political leaders would speak of nothing else, the United States military would stand at maximum readiness, and the White House would vow not to rest until the danger to Americans had been utterly eradicated.

Yet 245,000 Americans have died because of one specific threat since 9/11, and no one seems to care. While the tragedy of 3,000 lives lost on 9/11 has justified two wars, in which thousands of U.S. soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice, the tragedy of 245,000 lives lost in traffic accidents on the nation's roads during the same period has justified . . . pretty much no response at all. Terrorism is on the front page day in and day out, but the media rarely even mention road deaths. A few days ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that 42,642 Americans died in traffic in 2006. Did you hear this reported anywhere?

Scapegoat the Train

UPDATE: IT WAS RANDALL O'TOOL that was cited as an engineering expert! The Austin American Statesman printed the article without his name!!! Also, there was no mention of Capital Metro in the national article. Did someone at the Statesman edit the article before printing it? And were they knowingly leaving out RandalL's name when printing an abbreviated article?

An article in the Statesman via New York Times took some potshots at rail transit today. In fact it seems they were a planned hit, something from a Soprano's episode rather than looking at the facts. In this country we are sprawling into oblivion. Many of the developments on the periphery require new roads and addressing the congestion by expanding the roads is like loosening ones belt to lose weight. But if legislators give people a break by building a rail line, its seen as a waste when money could have gone to more roads? I'm sure thats where these phantom expert engineers want it to go.

Give me a break people. Billions upon billions of dollars go into the road system every year, 80% of which is paid for by the federal government for new roads, yet this reporter decides to take a pot-shot at real transit options including I'm assuming the Hiawatha Line. Well what other line carries people as such a lower cost per passenger mile? Not the automobile and roads. If you look at the cost of a freeway and the cost of the automobile the Hiawatha Line will win hands down, so why didn't they do an honest cost comparison? Because they were looking for a political scape goat.

This makes me so sick. I'm sick of all these half baked lies on the part of people who don't like transit. What is so wrong about not sprawling and giving people an alternative to the car? 32,000 people per day take that line. That is reducing GHGs and allowing people to save money. Possibly to the tune of $10,000 a year are saved per person if they get rid of their car. Building more roads instead of repairing them is your own problem. Don't blame it on expansion of capacity that could only come with a transit line instead of ripping down people's homes along the route just as they have done on I-10 in Houston. If you want a scapegoat, blame fellow citizens and government for allowing sprawl that doesn't pay for itself but requires more and more subsidy and road repair every year.

We're choking on our roads and transit is the lifeblood that regions need to live again. Road repairs are important, but don't give me that crap that transit is taking away from roads when there is a whole gas tax dedicated to fixing them. When the McArthur Maze fell down what came to the rescue? BART! In Minnesota, the Central Corridor would have looked really good right now if it were complete, but road monkeys have been sitting on transit expansion for decades. No one will ride it right? Hell yes they ride! Right now regions are choking on their own fat, the fat that is cars, highways, and a way of life based on wars for oil. It's time we got the facts instead of someone's factually incorrect opinion.

Monday, August 6, 2007

When the Bubble Pops

The bubble is popping and the pundits are going nuts about it. On Wall Street folks like Jim Cramer are going crazy with the lending industry.



So when the housing market is down, what are the good investments? Apparently in New Jersey its housing near commuter rail stations. Easy access to transit and less housing cost is where people are going. According to realtors:

Homes along many of Central Jersey's commuter rail lines have a better chance of being sold than residences in more rural or suburban areas, according to real estate experts and housing statistics.

That's one of the conclusions drawn from a study of the sales numbers, which paint an uneven -- and depending upon where you live, unsettling -- picture of the Central Jersey housing market.

In some towns, the market is actually improving over last year, while in other areas, homes are languishing on the market even longer than in 2006, when the real estate bubble burst in earnest. Prices began to get soft in August 2005.

Hat Tip to Atrios & The Big Picture

Using Shame to Promote Good

There was a story today from Thailand which was quite disturbing, yet seemed like it might work. Thai police will be forced to wear a Hello Kitty Armband if they are caught misbehaving. This will in turn guilt them into being good in order to avoid having the Hello Kitty shame.

The guilt trip was also used by a Judge in my neighborhood who is now a US Representative in the Houston area. But shame might also be useful in terms of environmental stewardship. What if people who let a certain amount of GHGs into the atmosphere had to put hello kitty on their cars? Well maybe not hello kitty but some sort of sign that they were producing more than their fair share of pollutants.

This is an idea I had for a public service commercial as well. "Carrying your carbon." And if you rode a bike you could carry a black marble but if you were riding a moped it would turn into a small brick. If you drove a huge SUV you would have a huge block on the top of your car. I'm not sure if it would work, but it would be interesting.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Jan Gehl: Urban Mastermind

He's the anti-Robert Moses and has led cities such as Copenhagen and Melbourne to pedestrian and cycling greatness. Now he's been hired by the Bloomberg Administration to retool New York City. From Streetsblog:

Asked during questions what he would do specifically for the city, Gehl said he would make pedestrians more comfortable in the city by adding street furniture, widening sidewalks and creating "oasises" for them. In addition, he would put immediate emphasis on better conditions for cyclists. And finally, he said attention should be paid to the mass transit system. Good mass transit and good pedestrian environments, he said, "are brothers and sisters," each depending on the other.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Riding at Night

I'm dismayed at transit in the bay area. It's convenient, but at a certain time of night on the weekends (midnight) it all shuts down and you need to know the alternate universe owl schedules to use it. BART and the J Church line close down. But why is that? In New York City, trains run all night and people use them. I know that maintenance is performed on BART tracks that late, but how many people drive into the city to drink and drive out drunk as skunks because they have to memorize a bus schedule and a new location?

This doesn't just happen in the bay area though, a writer recently discussed this phenomenon for the Twin Cities.

There really is an issue with the light rail system not staying open until 2:15 or 2:30 am. There were two letters published on July 31 concerned with the "Minding the gap" article. The letters seemed to be arguing against the light rail staying open later and had some very weak points.

First, there were suggestions to take a bus or taxi. But the buses run once every hour or so at that time, so you'd have to wait until 3 a.m. if you leave the bar at 2 a.m. Also, if you've ever been downtown and tried to take a cab at 2 a.m. you'd realize it takes over 20 minutes to finally flag one down -- and when you do it's a very expensive ride home. Most people just want to use the light rail at bar close, get closer to their homes and take a cab from there.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Planned Streetcar Networks

There has been a lot of talk of streetcar networks lately. Just to share a few of the cities that are discussing not just one line, but a network.

Portland: Obviously their first line has been a success and now they are looking to expand. Citizen planning has already begun and a review of corridors will be underway shortly. They also have a leg up given the United Streetcar folks would make cars for them in town.

Seattle: Construction on the South Lake Union streetcar line is almost complete and there are plans for a more extensive network. There are maps in this report.

SeattleNetwork

Minneapolis: After the success of the Hiawatha Line, Minneapolis is ready for expansion. They are in the third stage of planning for a streetcar network downtown that would consist of a number of corridors.

MinneapolisNetwork

Washington DC: Plans for a streetcar network are beginning with the Anacostia Streetcar however they have hit a snag with some overhead wire rules that have been discussed earlier in the blog. But that hasn't stopped them from planning corridors or having the first streetcars tested.



Some cities such as Baltimore are hopeful, but haven't gotten into the planning stages yet.

I think its important to think big. As i've said before, one line does not a transit system make, and its important to have a network so people can go more places. Streetcars serve a certain short hop circulation service in street and can be used for shorter line haul operations but there are some jobs that light rail, commuter rail, heavy rail, or bus can do better. But there's nothing like a good land use plan and a streetcar to rebuild a neighborhood.

(Sorry for the picture quality, but I took screen shots from the linked PDFs)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Talking TOD With Peter Calthorpe

Peter Calthorpe is sort of seen as the godfather of modern TOD. His 1992 book, the Next American Metropolis written with Shelley Poticha was the first real guidebook on how TOD should work after data on density was collected by Jeff Zupan and Boris Pushkarev of the RPA in 1977.


Here's a little of what he has to say in a podcast interview with Reconnecting America:

It’s interesting to me that in the age of the streetcar, you had low-density streetcar suburbs that worked just fine. I think that that kind of lifestyle can work, where you can get even moderate densities to be very effective in supporting transit systems. I don’t think we have to correlate high density apartment living with TODs, I think there can be townhouse neighborhoods and even small lot, single-family neighborhoods with transit systems. Once again, it’s the mix.
I think that's a really important point. TOD doesn't need to be super dense everywhere to be effective. There is a general fear out there that planners are trying to change neighborhoods into 100 unit per acre condo towers. But that is simply not bearable in the Market.

Anyways, check out the interview.