Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CEI: Magic Numbers From a Magic Computer

This is directly related to a number of previous posts that I've had about the dumb cost-effectiveness measurement that the FTA uses. Apparently now we're calling an important investment based on a magic number now. How did they choose that magic number? Well it has to do with ridership and travel times and cost of the project. You're not allowed to use transit oriented growth, just what the MPO predicts for the district surrounding the station from an outdated 2000 census. Economic development isn't included which produces value for the region, the FTA will say that travel time includes this measure and they say that with serious faces. Don't expect to count VMT reductions because thats just not possible either. Cities starting out don't get to use a rail bias which we know exists. The Pioneer Press Reports:

In its simplest form, the CEI is a basic ratio: capital and operating costs divided by time saved. "Another way to say it might be 'cost per user benefit,' " said Arlene McCarthy, head planner for the Metropolitan Council, the lead agency heading up the Central Corridor effort.


The computer programs that calculate the CEI draw on transportation data from the census, honed down to areas the size of a few city blocks. The programs look at the entire region and attempt to project what commuters would do differently if the rail were built this way or that way.

There's even a sub-variable in that portion known as "rail bias," which states that some people never take buses but will give up their cars to take a train. It's real, planners say. No one knew the metro area's rail bias before the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis was built, and they say that's one of the reasons that Hiawatha's ridership today is 58 percent higher than projected before construction.

Cost per user benefit. Not benefits that the project brings to everyone, just the user. That one person. I wonder what would happen if they applied this index to highways.

In any event, here the article about that ridiculous index that has kept many a city from building a transit line. It might not let Minneapolis build the Central Corridor, because they want to build a tunnel to bypass the heavy foot traffic at the University and make a future connection to a major train hub. Apparently its one or the other, even though it would be cheaper to do it now rather than later. Did they consider that? The Hiawatha Line which is way over ridership did not pass the test, yet look at it now. Guess how it passed? Land Use considerations. But those don't matter as much anymore. It's all this index. Yes, I'm still bitter about Columbus Ohio. I highly suggest the read.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sign Em Up for a North Corridor

While the libertarians in Charlotte are still whining because they got destroyed in the election, the city is moving on. Charlotte allocated $30 million dollars for engineering studies for entrance into the FTA New Starts Program. Now it is great to report that but I'm starting to wonder what is going to happen with the program now that a lot more cities are seeking expansions. A lot of cities are going to be seeking funding for multiple lines now that they have starters which makes me think that the program better change soon to accommodate the natural increase, before we even start to talk about increasing it.

CATS plans to periodically assess how it stands with the FTA as it proceeds with the two-year engineering study. The council approved a $9.5 million payment to STV Monday, enough for the first phase of the study.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory stressed that the engineering contract is structured so there are "outs" if the initial engineering reports aren't favorable.

He also cautioned that even if ridership numbers appear to meet federal requirements, "we'll be in competition with a lot of other cities."

I'm worried now after the Dulles issue that the FTA will just string cities along. It's also annoying that cities are worried about competing with other cities for such a small piece of transit pie. You could spend $30 million (seems like a lot of money) and do everything right and get rejected for being a dollar over an arbitrary cost measure. Which by the way is based on ridership numbers that have seemed a little low lately. It's ridiculous that it has become a competition of cost rather than creating a quality transit system. It seems to me that we should be working together to reduce our dependence on foreign oil with a multitude of solutions. Charlotte's first rail line, which has been about 3,000 riders a day over projections, has been a success but local planners are worried after what happened to the Dulles line. Apparently the initial rejection (It's now paused) of that line has greater implications than we thought, but we can hope the next administration is better about transit and funding it. From the T&I hearing, looks like we might have a shot.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Electric Transit Paragraphs Back in Report

As was reported last week, Paul Weyrich was really mad that his paragraphs on the importance of electric transit were taken out of the National Surface Transportation Report. Well this week Renew America reports that it was a misunderstanding and they will be put back in.

Both Weyrich and Commission Vice Chairman Jack Schenendorf — in discussions with us — agreed that a dispute (again see last week's column) over a last-minute deletion of a pro-rail transit section of the commission study was a "misunderstanding."

There seemed to be agreement among the majority commissioners, including Steve Heminger of San Francisco — whose role in the controversy was discussed also here last week — that the situation "wasn't handled right," and that the deletion "should not have been made." The Bay Area Metropolitan Commission executive director has now signed off on a revised draft of the deleted section which was crafted — with Weyrich's approval — primarily by Commissioner Frank McArdle, a contractor from New York. (Bear in mind, again, we are referring here to discussions among the pro-rail majority. Peters and Co. are out of this particular loop.) The wording changed in some emphases, but in the end still stipulated that "Public transportation, especially in the form of electric railways, must and will play a significantly larger role in Americans' mobility over the next 50 years and beyond."
He also went on to say that he wouldn't be voting for John McCain, in part because of his role in trying to kill Amtrak.

Weyrich knows that Senator McCain, throughout his career, has been very anti-rail, and in that respect "would be [even] worse than the present [Bush] administration," whose Transportation Secretary Mary Peters (a big highway booster) has fought tooth and nail (as commission chairman) to block the pro-rail efforts of Weyrich and others allied with his 9-to-3 commission majority.

The Arizonan has said shutting down Amtrak — he's if elected — would be "a non-negotiable issue" for him. Short-sighted, indeed.
I'm guessing thats a deal breaker.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

House T&I Hearing

On the 17th there was a hearing on the National Surface Transportation Policy Report. CSPAN has the unedited video. It's a long video (3 hours), but here are a few highlights I got while listening through it. They aren't direct quotes because the stream can't really be rewound and I haven't seen a transcript, but I typed the ideas I thought were interesting.

Rep. John Mica (R - Florida)

- Hopes that infrastructure is a major part of the stimulus package because the money will stay in the United States -

Unfortunately we know that won't happen...

Mr. Oberstar (D - Minnesota)

- the administration won't be here when we make decisions on these things anyways -

Mr. Defazio (D - Oregon)

- China and others are making massive investments. Moving towards a third world transportation system - We are investing less than we need to in order to just maintain what we built in the Eisenhower era - I look forward to discussing this issue with a more enlightened administration -

Rep. Duncan (R - Tennessee)

- Streamlining environmental processes are important 7-10 years here is way to slow - Want to reduce the dependence on foreign energy sources - We are spending megabillions in other counties besides our own - We need to start keeping our money here and providing for the American People -

Steve Heminger - MTC

- 120 M more citizens by 2050 - Most of those American's will live in Metropolitan areas
50 areas account for 60% of GDP - 90% of market share for Auto related air pollution, congestion, transit ridership - Over 40,000 people die on highways every year that's a 9-11 every month -

Frank Busalacchi Wisconsin DOT

- Intercity Passenger Rail must be a part of a multi-modal solution. We don't envision rail replacing other modes -

Matt Rose - BNSF

- High Speed Passenger Rail must be in the Next Transportation Bill - must not overburden freight railways and build corridor service -

Frank McArdle - NYC

- 1 Bedroom Apartment in Manhattan for $20,000 dollars - 30 years later $800,000 dollars - People want to be in Manhattan that works well because of its transit system - It creates value -
We now rely on petroleum for 97% of the energy that runs our transportation system -
2/3rds of all petroleum goes to our transportation system -

Pat Quinn - US Express Trucking Company

- Bottlenecks create more goods on the road creating more trucks and more congestion -
There is no alternative today to congestion pricing due to the needs that need to be met - I don't like saying that from my position but it's needed -

Tom Skancky - Transportation Consultant Las Vegas Nevada

- When you add 1 Federal dollar to a project it adds 14 years to the process - NEPA is part of that but not the whole thing - $1 billion project today costs tax payers $2-3 billion dollars to 2022 because of inflation, bidding etc. - 5 years instead of 14 years per project would save us money -

Paul Weyrich - Chairman and CEO of Free Congress Foundation

- Half of the country does not have any mass transit, and of the cities that have transit, many don't operate a system worthy of getting people out of their automobiles - People do not like to ride buses - Which is why the commission recommended an increasing dependence on electric rail, particularly cities that don't have it now - It is imperative that we offer people a choice - No one wants to put a gun to anyones head and tell them they have to ride transit, we want to have the kinds of systems in place such as in new communities - Transit in the great society aimed at transit dependent. Became thought of as a program for the poor and elderly. Look at Metra in Chicago. Most of the people riding that system are Republicans, most are business people, most come into Chicago with their suits and briefcases-

Mr. Oberstar (D - Minnesota)

-A strong message to congress, do not reauthorize the transportation bill - We need a renewed mission statement for transit -

Mr. Baird (D - Washington)

Q: We need to do dynamic scoring of infrastructure investment that captures the value of investment - The FTA has established a cost effectiveness index, how do you calculate that bump in economic development?

Mr. Oberstar (D - Minnesota)

Why can't the investment consequence be calculated into the cost effectiveness index? These are investments in the community, why can't they be calculated?

A Step Towards Death, But the Ledge Is Still Far Away

The Washington Post is reporting that the FTA has all but killed the Dulles Rail project. Everyone is saying almost because they know it isn't dead. Governor Kaine, Senator Warner and others are going to fight back hard and I expect you'll see some congressional intervention. Virginia Transportation Chief Pierce Homer told the Washington Times, "We believe there will be rail on this corridor, the only question is whether there will be a federal partner in doing that."

At issue according to Administrator Simpson is funding for the capital maintenance backlog of projects that Metro has not completed along with the change orders not submitted in writing to the FTA. Officials dispute the amount but any backlog has been exacerbated by the year to year funding that is not permanent and often in doubt.

Much of Northern Virginia has been planning their new growth along the rail line because they learned from the Rosslyn Ballston Corridor that has created walkable neighborhoods, boosted tax base and shown that TOD is a real solution to autocentricity. This is a real blow to their efforts as well.

But what does this mean for everyone else? The implications of this death are not just for Metro and Northern Virginia but the rest of the country as well. Heavy Rail line expansions have been limited lately due to costs because the FTA doesn't measure all the real benefits of these projects. If this project goes down, what does that mean for expansions of Heavy Rail in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Miami? Other regions are building light rail and staying away from heavy rail completely. A complaint is that the areas aren't dense enough, but neither was the Rosslyn Ballston corridor before that was built, so the economic development issue needs to be addressed before the next transportation bill comes out.

For more commentary on this, I suggest a visit to The Bellows, or DCist for commentary and comments about the project.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Calculating the Taxpayer's Real Expense

There is a discussion going on over at the Capricious Commuter about transportation funding resources. It was mentioned in a comment on a previous entry that 63% of the area's resources are going to transit when it only carries a limited amount of trips. But CC sets us straight by trying to calculate how much we spend all together on transit versus cars, not even counting all the parking garages.

So if we consider that, in 2005, the most recent year for which I have stats at arm’s length, Bay Area motorists drove nearly 58 billion miles, at AAA’s average U.S. operating cost of 52 cents a mile, that’s $30.2 billion to add to our transportation funding formula, and that still doesn’t include the purchase price of new cars.

That’s like a once-in-a-generation statewide transportation bond measure, but just for the Bay Area. We all, collectively and for the most part unwittingly, agreed to approve and finance that funding package.

So here’s the new math: $3 billion a year for transit, including fares paid by individual commuters, and $31.9 billion a year for the streets, roads and vehicles that operate upon them. That would be 8.5 percent of the Bay Area’s transportation spending.

My favorite comment, "We all, collectively and for the most part unwittingly, agreed to approve and finance that funding package." We only seem to complain when gas prices get a little higher.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Central Corridor Issues

I often wonder if the Twin Cities is ever going to get its act together on the Central Corridor. I think Governor Pawlenty is part of the problem by not getting funding for the project earlier, and now holding out. He's acting a bit like the FTA with the Dulles Rail line or Arnold with High Speed Rail. All wanting to hold it back until it dies.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Property Rights, Transit , and Urban Design

Property rights activists in Denver are fighting hard to curtail the eminent domain abilities of the Regional Transit District. While I do personally believe that the government shouldn't be able to just take your property and redevelop it at random, I also believe that there are certain urban design considerations that should be allowed when land must be taken for transit. At issue here is what happens after RTD takes land and builds a parking garage which is an allowed transit use. The second part is the ability to wrap that parking garage with retail which is what property owners do not want their land taken for, what they call economic development. This taking for economic development was the subject of the recent supreme court case Kelo vs City of New London.

Now this is a very thin line drawn in the sand, but what is the difference between pure economic development and good urban design? I don't think RTD is trying to take the property to build a casino or shopping mall. I do think they should be able to do as much with the land as they can to make it pedestrian friendly and a part of the surrounding neighborhood. No one wants a hulking parking garage on their street face or as a next door neighbor and RTD should be doing as much as it can to get a return on their investment, which in transit is ridership and revenue.
In order to get a return on investment, they need to create an environment that supports transit usage from modes other than the automobile and trip reductions.

In my dream world I wish that transit authorities had real estate departments that could buy up key pieces of land at fair market price (not through eminent domain) and lease them after the line is built when value has been created. I've actually wondered at times if a non-profit entity could be set up that raises money for the transit agency's capital projects. At one time the way streetcar companies made money off of land was by building lines to it. In Hong Kong and Japan, the rail lines make money off of developing property more than operating the trains, but they operate in a symbiotic way generating ridership and demand as well as an efficient means of transport.

I'm not sure how this is going to end up, and I'm not sure how you can legislate the difference between economic development and proper urban design issues, but there must be some way to strike a balance between ugly and nothing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

LRT Vehicle Design Elements

There have been many discussions recently about light rail but not much about vehicle design. Well there are a number of elements that make a tram attractive to passengers, not just from a visual standpoint, but also from a physical comfort standpoint.

Visual Appearance:

Whether its a Porche designed tram from Skoda to one of the older PCC's that used to run in most american cities, appearance has mattered a great deal to patrons. Recently tram designs have gone from functional designs that served tram companies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s to the more stylish models that are seen today. Some will say that today's designs aren't as classic. Below are a few examples.

The Trams in Prague are functional and to those who ride them familiar. Many of you know my favorite below, the Siemens Combino Supra "Caterpillar". It's a bit boxy but others such as the Siemens SD70 Avanto used in San Diego, Charlotte, and Houston are much more streamlined.


Now some don't think this is very important, but there are a few who push the need for soft seats every chance they get. It's important to be comfortable, especially as Light Rail travels further out of the city and people need to sit longer. I noticed that seats in Denver had nice cushions while the Muni LRVs here have hard seats that I wouldn't want to sit on for very long and don't. I usually stand, but its not uncomfortable for the few minutes I'm on. The PCC seats remind me of school bus rides in 9th grade. They aren't super plush but they aren't uncomfortable either.

Flickr photo of Muni Metro Seats by Digiyesica.

Flickr Photo of PCC Seats by Jef Poskanzer.

Complaints about trams aren't just for folks in the United States. A blogger in Prague has been complaining and for some of the commenters, it seems a bit like sour grapes. There is also a facebook group against the new trams as well which my dad happened to take a photo of this fall in Prague.



This is a major issue and drives a lot of decisions in planning for new light rail lines, streetcars and tramways. Buses, even low floor, have ramps that can be flipped up and down. Many light rail vehicles have level boarding which means they pull up next to the platform and there is no need for a ramp or bridge plate. This makes the train more accessible, especially since in trains, wheelchairs don't need to be strapped in with belts as they do in buses.

Flickr photo of Level Boarding in Seattle. Photo by Bejan.

Portland Streetcar Bridge Plate. Photo by the City of Albuquerque.

This brings up another important consideration of LRV design which is aisle width. Moving around inside of the vehicle is important. A currently cited issue with many BRT vehicles is that the aisles where the wheel wells are very narrow. Light rail of the low floor variety is rather wide in the center.

Flickr Photo NJ Transit LRV Interior. Photo by Manish Karnik.

All of these things are important. Depending on the length of the trip, some are more important than others. More standing room in streetcars is better because there are lots of ons and offs while LRVs need more seats for longer distance passengers. And then there is the future. What will future designs bring? I've only covered a few of the most discussed elements but does anyone have more of what they look for in a LRV?

Monday, January 21, 2008

"...They Wasted Everyone's Time and Money"

Update: I wrote this post last week and this morning right after posting, there is an article in the Washington Post about Mary Peters Ideology when it comes to transit and investment in infrastructure. You can find it here.

In the Washington Post there was an article which discussed that even though the Dulles Airport Extension to Metro has gone through all of the hoops that the FTA has set up for it, it might still not get funded. Why? Because the Bushies don't like rail transit. In fact they don't like it so much that they are willing to kill it because of a famous road project that cost way more than it was supposed to and still hasn't delivered on its environmental offsets; The Big Dig.
Federal officials remain skeptical of the plan to extend Metrorail to Dulles International Airport and might reject it, even though their consultants recently found that the proposal meets requirements for full funding, government and project sources said.

Officials with the Federal Transit Administration say they are concerned about the price tag and the specter of another Big Dig, the Boston project built by the same contractor in charge of the Dulles rail line, which took years longer and cost millions more than planned, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are sensitive. In addition, the agency has been reluctant to promote large-scale transit projects.

And what is this comment about moving away from infrastructure as Quade points out? Surely that can't be true? Why didn't they say the same thing about three other projects in the New Starts pipeline that have big budgets? Seattle's line to the University($1.6 Billion), New Jersey's Access to the Core ($7.3 Billion), and the Long Island East Side Access Project ($2.6 Billion). But the Dulles project is about $2.06 Billion. So what's the rub? Why pick on this project? This screams a basic ideological bias. But tell us something we didn't know right? Congressional backers of the project even stated to the Post:

Officials on Capitol Hill, in Richmond and at the airports authority's headquarters have speculated in recent days about what the problem might be. Some say the FTA has long been skeptical of expensive rail projects; in recent years, it has more often championed bus rapid transit projects.
Bingo. There has been no recent evidence to be against big rail projects. In fact does anyone know of a big rail project that hasn't delivered recently? I know the Silver Line BRT in Boston hasn't delivered on promises and locals call it the Silver Lie but light rail projects in Denver, Houston, Charlotte, Minneapolis and St. Louis have delivered, all of them far exceeding ridership projections.

But basically the DOT is waging an ideological battle. And so far, as Ryan states at The Bellows quite succinctly, "...they wasted everyone's time and money".

As the linked Post piece makes clear, it’s not the Silver Line’s specifics that are the issue, it’s an ideological opposition to big new transit lines. I think that’s dumb, but I think it’s even more dumb to nonetheless pretend that normal operating rules apply with regard to consideration of big new transit lines only to back out for ideological reasons after all the planning has been done and construction is underway. At any moment during this process, the feds could have said, we’re not going to go ahead with this money, because we don’t like new heavy rail lines. Instead, they wasted everyone’s time and money.

This comes just a few days after the release of a National Surface Transportation Commission Report panned by DOT Secretary Mary "Bikes Aren't Transportation" Peters where the dissenting side led by the Secretary claimed falsely that there were not enough cost-effective rail projects to spend money on. Looks like there is a project in DC that needs some money and has merit. And there are more like it such as the Subway to the Sea in Los Angeles.

But in addition, there have been rumors floating around that certain pieces of that report pertaining to light rail and electric transit were approved by the commission but taken out mysteriously before the final printing. When learning about pro-rail segments being taken out of the report, Commissioner,Staunch Conservative, and rail advocate Paul Weyrich stated,

“It is disappointing that after the paragraphs indicated were passed by a nine to three vote that someone without ever asking me would see to it to do away with these important policy considerations, Weyrich said to NCI. “ It is the kind of gutter politics which make people hate their government, and Washington in general."
Now we know where the battle lines are drawn. It's time for a new direction.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Local Money for Starter Lines

There has been a lot of news lately on the federal process in Kansas City and in Houston. Kansas City is floundering and their leaders have about 10 different ideas as to what to do. Some say streetcar (please no), others say rapid streetcar or LRT (yes) and others are even calling for subways (perhaps but not likely). Aside from that, the debate is also about whether to go with federal funding or not. Some argue that it needs to be done with federal funding because then the starter line will get 50% funding (It should be 80% like freeways but that's another post). I'm going to argue that cities today should start on their own. The reason? Time and Politics.

What has time got to do with it? Everything. Because time means political will and citizen backing, time means money and time means solutions. The shorter amount of time that occurs between the start of the idea and operation of the first line, the better off the city is and the more people see tangible results.

Charlotte just opened its first light rail line and used federal funding to build it. The CATS experience serves as a warning to new transit cities who take the network view on transit expansion. When we look back at it now, it does not seem like such a long time, but the 10 years or so it took to build caused a lot of trouble and roadblocks along the way. Charlotte escaped but others have not been so lucky.

The time it took for this project to be completed led to cost overruns because of inflation and a referendum that almost stopped expansion. The Seattle streetcar (This is just a time comparison, not technology) took from idea to opening only five. The Seattle Streetcar didn't seek federal funding, didn't have to wait for the federal government to approve the process. Phoenix's Light Rail system first showed up in the federal process in 1999 and will be completed next year 2008.

But why is this important? The time it takes to build a line is not and should not be ten years. Whole interurban and street transit networks were built in 10 years at the end of the 19th century. The wait for federal funds in todays highway centric government is not worth the wait in

A. Cost
B. Political Will.

The cost issue rears its ugly head when calculating for inflation. You can't calculate that far ahead of time as to what inflation is going to bring. And you don't start buying materials until later on in the process. Charlotte saw this happen as are other projects, not just rail. And recently the Light Rail to Milwaukie in Portland has a high cost estimate, I'm guessing because the planning is keeping up with the federal timeline (Now 10 years standard). Not that this is a starter line, but its been under planning for so long, its no wonder the cost keeps getting higher.

Another issue is political will. The longer the process is, the less people who were involved at the start are likely to still be involved and 10 years in politics is eons. Charlotte was lucky to have the same Mayor and Transit Chief throughout the whole ordeal. I would say that is one of a few reasons why Austin moved to commuter rail, because they lost pro rail leaders along the way like Kirk Watson who now happens to be back as the head of CAMPO.

But not only do leaders matter, the opposition solidifies behind mistakes and as we saw in Charlotte can led to a referendum or a no vote for more funding. Salt Lake City has been the beneficiary of good news and good moves when it comes to politics. And we saw they will be rewarded with a huge 70 mile expansion and 5 new lines. This is after a starter line and very short extensions that have surpassed ridership expectations by leaps and bounds breeding confidence in the system and creating a mostly (there will always be naysayers) positive political environment.

So the time issue is important. The next issue is the expansion. Generally large cities are trying to build expansive transit networks instead of just one line. So the starter line is really just that, a start. But its an important step again because of the politics aspect. Cities such as Houston and Minneapolis are enjoying pro transit political will because of their great ridership numbers and community benefit. Minneapolis went with federal funding for the first line and is going for it again for the Central Corridor. If they keep up at this rate, they will have a transit network in 50 years with 5 lines. Remember, 50 years is the total amount of time it took to build the national federal highway system and all they are going to get through the federal process is 5 lines and maybe a city center streetcar?

Houston on the other hand, along with Salt Lake City and Denver will build 5 new lines in the next ten years. Why? Because they got political will from their starter lines and have forged ahead with local and federal funding for expansion. Salt Lake City signed a deal for the FTA to pay for 20% of their expansion after upping their sales tax for new transit while Houston will likely get 50% funding for two lines. Houston was able to build light rail on its corridors because they also got their rail bias ridership set and networked the corridors in the modeling. This means that any cities first line might be able to qualify for federal funding because its a good candidate, but it will be even better for expansions to other areas of the city which might not have as good of numbers. Cities might also be able to spend a little more money on the starter making sure everything is right instead of letting the feds take out elements that increase ridership like an extra station here and a subway segment there. The rail bias adjustment makes the extensions better able to qualify for federal funding under the cost effectiveness measure.

So if we are playing by the current rules set by the FTA and current funding levels, you can bet that cities will be waiting even longer for transit money. Especially if cities that already have starter lines are starting to ask for money for expansions making the field even more crowded than it is currently. In short, if you want it done fast and you want to build out fast, build it yourself, and come for help on a network later.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oil Money Buys Rail Transit

The Middle Eastern boomtown of Doha, Qatar which makes a lot of money off of oil exports is looking to build 140km (87 miles) of light rail for an Olympic Bid in 2016. The bid isn't really surprising to me given that in the past Qatar has been known to just buy athletes from other countries including Kenya. It's also proof that they will do whatever it takes to get the Olympics. The construction timeline is nothing short of amazing either given they plan to get 85km done in 6 years. Again showing us up like China in getting things done.

Friday, January 18, 2008

That Sounds Kinda Expensive

The planned Milwaukie Max in Portland had its cost estimates released and it wasn't pretty if you're thinking about raw numbers. Yes $1.2 to $1.4 Billion is a lot of money but what is involved? Materials are skyrocketing and the project plans to build a transit bridge over the Willamette River (which will cost $340 million itself) that would carry the Milwaukie Max and East Side Streetcar extension along with bikes and peds.

It will also allow any further light rail expansion to the east side and create a second river crossing for light rail which would be important should one of the bridges go down in the chance of an earthquake. This is all about expanding the network as Metro Councilor Robert Liberty States.
As Liberty sees it, completing the Portland-to-Milwaukie line will keep the promise of the original system and open up new possibilities, including an extension to Oregon City and east-west connections that do not pass through downtown Portland.
As I think further about this and look at the distance, even with the bridge section, 6.5+ miles at a billion dollars seems like a lot of money. It works out to around $150 million per mile (without the bridge section costs). Are they building a trench for it? Is it a subway? Especially since the Yellow Line was under budget and $60 million per mile in 2004. Folks at Portland Transport are commenting on this as well. I wonder what costs so much? Specifically after the Portland folks have gotten good at the track work after the Streetcar and Yellow Line. We really need to reign in these cost issues or new lines will never be built. I believe thats what the opposition wants, as well as our very best friends in Washington DC. Perhaps its time for the rapid streetcar but we'll figure out what is behind the costs soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When You Ride With...

Martin over at Seattle Transit Blog has a good discussion going about how to appeal to anti-transit conservatives on issues of transit expansion. The Bill Maher book cover that he uses is taken directly from a WWII poster that promotes carsharing. 60 years ago they had carsharing yet we're just starting to pick it back up.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mary Peters Says...

Taking a look through the recent National Surface Transportation Policy Report, you can see what we are fighting in Washington when it comes to efficient electric transit. Mary Peters, Bush's Secretary of Transportation, (who said bikes aren't transportation on PBS) who was on the committee was on the dissenting side pushing the need to raise money from private companies through tolling and the usual Bush administration stances. But here is what stood out. Apparently, the opposition, including Mary Peters, say this about rail...

Some of the transit investments are not based on a strict benefit-cost analysis. The estimates for rail passenger investment needs ($7 - $9 billion per year, of which over $6 billion would be Federal grants) are similarly unrealistic. It is not clear that even our current investments in passenger rail yield benefits in excess of their costs; it is highly unlikely that $9 billion per year in cost-beneficial investment opportunities in passenger rail could be found.
She's right about one thing. Most transit investments aren't based on a benefit-cost analysis, today they are based on the Cost Effectiveness measure which does not measure many benefits of transit including economic development even though they have been asked many times by Congress to do so. It's funny that they don't ask any roads to go through such rigor. Is there a cost effectiveness measure for roads? No.

Unrealistic? I have a whole list of valuable projects here that could use funding. This shows how reality is lost on the current administration in terms of transportation investments and importance. I know that many of you would love to be able to compete for $6 Billion a year versus the current $1.6 B. Much of that money goes to larger cities as well such as New York (which i think should keep getting funding), but the new starts pipeline is said to be 50 years long. You can't tell me that the FTA couldn't use more funding for projects. In fact that is what people around the country have been asking for!

And in sure Bushy fashion, here is what they would do in writing if they had control (wait, right now they do). All highways all the time.

As is evident from the preceding observations, we would advocate a substantially different approach than that proposed by the Commission Report. Our approach would sustain current gasoline and diesel tax levels and refocus Federal efforts on

(a) maintaining the Interstate Highway System;
(b) alleviating freight-related bottlenecks that impede the flow of commerce and goods; and
(c) providing States with appropriate analysis, incentives, and flexibility regarding the adoption
of market-based reforms to their highway systems.
Tomorrow I'll talk about the majority recommendations in the report.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Covering the Transportation Peep from Candidates

We all know it should be a roar, but apparently telling people the truth about how much damage their driving habits do is a no no in the electioneering process. Grist discusses the little tiny mention Bill Richardson gave to rail systems and open spaces.

The remark was all but ignored by the Democratic front-runners, and was greeted by pundits with praise or disdain, depending upon their ideological stripe, before being once again set aside in favor of discussion on sexier issue areas.

But Richardson had hit upon a truly pressing matter, one which deserves the attention of federal policy makers. Transportation accounts for a third of all carbon dioxide emissions in this country. Moreover, concerns about gas prices, congestion, housing costs, and other related urban ills loom large in the lives of Americans, if not necessarily in political debates. We should be having a discussion about the way in which we build and grow our cities, the costs of our current approach, and what the federal government can do to fix what's broken.

Hmm choices don't seem so bad to people now...

And while commuters in New York and Chicago can shift (and have shifted, impressively) from driving to transit as gas prices rise, residents of autocentric towns in the south and west cannot, and are therefore forced to swallow high fuel costs. If the U.S. manages to adopt carbon limiting rules, as it should, long automobile commutes will become more expensive still; as such, the massive southward migration based on low-density development will make emission reductions more difficult and more painful. It may also make them less likely, since consumers will have a strong incentive to fight new costs they can't easily avoid.
Our government has sold out to Detroit, even John McCain is telling them to suck it up, because as we all know, after the car, the horse and buggy market just wasn't the same. Apparently, Alex Smith's hat reference has caught on. From the Times UK:

This gnarled truth-teller of Republican politics — who says that he is “as old as dirt, with more scars than Frankenstein” — refuses to join Mr Romney in promising to save every job. Time moves on, Mr McCain suggests, just as it did for those working in “buggy-whip factories and haberdashers when cars replaced carriages and men stopped wearing hats”.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thinking Big: The Next Bay Area Project

I know that BART to San Jose is in the pipeline and as usual it wasn't planned to serve people but to be cost effective. This means that it goes where no one is along available ROW and skips major employment centers except Downtown San Jose. You would have thought that we might have learned something from the planning of BART in Oakland and Berkeley but apparently not.

But that isn't what i really wanted to talk about. I have a new idea for the Bay Area's newest New Start/Transit Project. I'd like to call it the Subway to the Sea 2, Urban Core Capacity Enhancement. The title is a nod to the Subway to the Sea bubbling up in LA and the New Jersey Access to the Core tunnel under the Hudson. If we're going to densify the bay area further, we need more of a metro system along major corridors. We need to be cost effective, so we should start with a corridor that would generate a lot of new ridership. So how about we build a line between the beach and downtown on Geary, build the new trans-bay tube that's been planned, and build up Broadway in Oakland to Rockridge and Berkeley under the 51 line.

Current ridership in this corridor is 56,000 for Geary and 18,600 boardings on the 51. This means that if everyone changed modes (which we know there still has to be a surface bus line for shorter trips) there could be about 80,000 riders. Given the speed of the new line and convenience it could increase ridership to way over 100,000 a day just on the line. This is a third of BART's ridership. Now the line is 19 miles from Berkeley to the Sea along the route I mentioned.

Now the line wouldn't just generate a lot of ridership, but it would generate a lot of new TOD, Office and Residential. In Oakland on Broadway, there would be a surge in new development along the corridor between College Avenue and Downtown. It's possible to capture a lot of the office and residential markets and take some pressure off of the outer sprawling suburbs. It will also take pressure off of the almost at capacity Transbay Tube.

Another feature of this would be the tunnel under the bay. it should be designed to be dual mode so that Caltrain/HSR could go to Oakland, Emeryville, and/or Jack London Square. That way Caltrain could extend into downtown and across the bay to Emeryville and possibly beyond making a connection between the jobs there and Silicon Valley (Yellow). It's possible to electrify the line all the way up to Martinez making commutes from around the horn easier with new stations in North Richmond and Hercules. It might also provide a way to keep trains away from Jack London which has had some issues with accidents. It would be a big project and more than likely cost a lot of money, but it will also be a huge ridership generator. Not only will you get over 100,000 from the subway alone, there will be the tens of thousands that want to get across the bay with a one seat ride to Emeryville and Jack London Square.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Idea: LACMTA Turnstiles = Electricity

If the MTA is going to install turnstiles to take tickets for the Red Line, they might as well make them able to generate electricity. Each time someone turns them, they should be able to trap that energy perhaps to operate the stations if nothing else. Not sure if that is feasible but they need to figure out a way for them to pay for themselves.

Another idea that came up this week sent to me by a colleague and friend was the ability to use excess body heat from subway stations to heat buildings. Sounds kind of gross to me, but if it works...

APTA Technical Document on Streetcars

The Circulator Trackway Report was created to bring back some of the technical design skills we lost with the disappearance of street railways. An example of the kind of information you can find in the document ...

Problems typically found on track of questionable design and/or construction are:
  • Improper gauging of track and guard rails.
  • Use of apparently railroad-based designs not suitable for Light Rail Circulator System rolling stock with street
  • railway wheels and/or the curvature employed on the system. (See Figure 3.)
  • Failure to understand the criticality of certain crucial track dimensions and tolerances under small radius circumstances.
  • Employment of design details that increase the cost and complexity but have no payback in terms of performance or utility

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thinking Big in Raleigh-Durham

After a failed attempt at a regional rail system connecting Raleigh and Durham, the Triangle region has gone back to the drawing board and come up with 16 corridors that need transit. The local paper backs the idea because of success in Charlotte with their transit expansion which includes not only light rail, but express buses and increased local service. Recommendations will be coming soon on technology so we'll see what happens, but it sounds ambitious. According to the News and Observer.

The Triangle can afford to expand bus service and build new rail projects if local leaders make a "Charlotte level of effort," the head of a regional transit agency said Friday.

A new half-cent local sales tax could augment local and state transit funds to pay for 150 new buses in the next few years and launch more than $1 billion worth of capital projects by 2020, said David King, general manager of the Triangle Transit Authority.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Seattle Streetcar Network

Diamajin at the Seattle Transit Blog has a post with a lot of comments (Please read them too) on an idea for a Seattle Streetcar Network. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

China: 270 KM of Subway Under Construction Simultaneously

This just makes me feel ridiculous. We're fighting over 10 or 11 miles at a time of surface rail and they are building 270 km (167 miles) of subway!

Monday, January 7, 2008

The First Carbon Credits for Rail

The Dehli Metro has received the first carbon credits for a rail system in the world. They didn't however do it in a way that people would expect, by taking people out of cars (which they are trying to do), but rather registering the energy saved through regenerative braking of the system. I find that the most fascinating thing about it. Recently there has been news about Sacramento retrofitting their cars to put power back into the grid through regenerative braking but I haven't heard much about other systems doing it. Anyone heard anything about other systems?

I do know that folks in Portland and New York city are looking for ways to capture carbon credits. This might be a better way to start than going after the amount of tailpipe emissions saved by people moving from cars to transit which is often hard to figure out, but should be done eventually. I wonder how hard it would be to retrofit the New York City Subway Cars with this technology?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Density is Relative

Check out this post by the Austin Contrarian which shows densities in different cities around the world. I was interested to see where some African cities lie in the density comparison. Also, Budapest was high on the list and you can see why in the photo below.



Saturday, January 5, 2008

Giving Employees a Bonus by Charging for Parking

On the other side of the coin from the suburban subsidization is the money that can be saved by transit, whether its rail or an express bus. Richard Layman has a post over on his blog about when companies decide to charge for parking and give an allowance for transit. The original article was in the New York Times.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Subsidizing Suburban Metro Riders

Check out this graph by Robert Goodspeed. He looks at how much more subsidy suburban riders get going into DC than urban riders. Once again the suburbs not paying their weight for services.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Corzine Says Invest Near Transit

This is a lot of money and the idea relates to all the subsidies that Austin has been giving to companies to locate there (ie. The Domain and Samsung). The Governor of New Jersey has decided that it's worth it to incentivize companies to locate near transit. I 'm wondering if there is a better way than just throwing money at the problem he is trying to address but he's got the right idea with locating near transit.

In the final days of the lame-duck legislative session, Gov. Jon Corzine is pushing a bill to give tax credits of up to $75 million to companies that build or lease offices in urban centers within a half-mile of a transit station.

The measure to create "urban transit hubs" will have simultaneous hearings today in the Senate Budget and Assembly Appropriations committees. The seven-page bill, introduced two weeks ago, is expected to be voted on in both chambers Monday, the last day of the session.

"We're excited about the concept and we're really looking forward to answering questions the Senate and Assembly might have about it," said Gary Rose, chief of the Governor's Office of Economic Growth.

The bill is meant to expand on the idea of transit villages -- initiatives to curb urban sprawl by encouraging residential development in urban areas near mass transit -- and apply it to the corporate world. It would offer tax credits as an inducement to invest in offices in struggling cities rather than far-flung suburbs.

The Sierra Club isn't so happy with the idea and we always see folks that are skeptical of tax credits. Perhaps if the suburbs had to pay their fair share of infrastructure instead of the usual road freeloading, we wouldn't need incentives to lure companies to cities or to build more urban headquarters.

Home Values and Commuting Costs

There is an interesting article in the Pioneer Press about costs and tradeoffs of transportation and housing. I suggest the read.

Location, location, location. Johan von Thunen did not coin that adage on what determines real estate values. But von Thunen's explanations of the relationships between location, transport costs and product prices remain relevant 180 years after he wrote them.

They help explain, for example, why development reportedly is stalling in some distant Twin Cities suburbs while home values in some St. Paul and Minneapolis neighborhoods are holding steady. Not bad for an old German farmer.


Von Thunen also examined how a cheap transportation corridor affects property values. Suppose there is a canal or placid stream. One can load tons of rye onto a barge and move it to market much cheaper than with a wagon. Land prices are higher along the watercourse than elsewhere because produce transport costs are lower.

Ditto for the Twin Cities right now. Property prices have increased along the Hiawatha light rail line. More people want to live where getting to work is relatively cheap and convenient. In response to rising rental demand along the line, developers build apartments and condos. Neighborhood retail businesses spring up to serve the new residents.

The Central Corridor light-rail line is seeing similar activity, even though construction has not yet started. Developers are turning old commercial buildings into condos even though the buyers will have to depend on the No. 16 bus instead of snazzy light rail trains for years yet.

And yes, the same is true for communities along the planned Northstar commuter rail line. There is increased interest in buying property near planned stations.

Von Thunen predicted it all. The only difference is that commuters have replaced rye and the real estate is houses and apartments rather than sandy north German fields, woodlots and pastures.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Growing Up and Walking

I was out walking around the city a few days ago with my family and noticed that my sister and her husband loved the fact that we could walk everywhere (Grocery store, restaurants etc). In fact when we they didn't have to drive the minivan for two days they seemed quite refreshed by the idea. However the kids thought differently. Every time we said we were walking somewhere it was a groan here and "do we have to?" there. They live in Bakersfield and are accustomed to driving everywhere. But as we know it gets to be a crutch.

So when I read this quote, it made me understand how meaningful it is to walk. The recently assassinated former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, had this to say about being sheltered and walking to school.

So sheltered was Benazir's life that, at 16, she was completely unprepared for life at Radcliffe College, Harvard University.

"I cried and cried and cried because I had never walked to classes in my life before," she once told an interviewer. "I'd always been driven to school in a car and picked up in a car, and here I had to walk and walk and walk. It was cold, bitterly cold, and I hated it ... but it forced me to grow up. "

Perhaps some walking would make some folks grow up when it comes to the discussion on walkability versus autocentricity. My family is all about walking. When I lived in Bakersfield, and even in Texas, I walked and biked to school. It made me a little more aware of direction, and perhaps a little more of an explorer. It also builds a bit of independence. Anyone want to share any stories of walking to school as a kid?

H/T Leroy Demery of for the quote

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone. Let's hope the new year brings better transit and mobility.