Monday, June 30, 2008

Oly Trials Coverage: Decathlon

Update: Trey is In! Going to Beijing. Way to go!

My friend Trey is in second going into day two of the Decathlon. If he can stick it out, he'll be going to Beijing. Good luck T! Also, Tyson Gay ran the fastest 100 ever recorded. It won't count because there was too much wind at his back (has to be less than 2 meters per second to count) but its still fast, and this is a guy who takes voluntary drug tests more often than required to show he's clean.

Trey Hardee - Texas Ex

Sloooow Subway Escalators

I was on the escalator going down the cavern that is the Dupont Circle station and thought, man these are really slow. I realize that the Budapest escalators would never be considered safe here, but man do they get the job done.

Slooowww Dupont Circle

Faaast Budapest

Senator Cardin the Man on Transit

More at Gristmill.

Grist: You authored the transit portion of the Climate Security Act. Clearly this is a priority issue for you. What role do you think transit policy should play in climate legislation?

Sen. Cardin: A huge part. [The transit portion called for] $171 billion over the life of the bill. That's big money. That can make a major impact. It can make a huge difference in the capacity for transit programs. We are in desperate need of significant transit improvements. We've got to have the facilities and we don't today, and then we need the fare-box and economic policies that reward people for taking public transportation. Some try to say that it should be "self-sufficient" or have a certain percentage return through the fare-box. We don't do that on our roads, and public transportation is much better for so many reasons -- not just the environment or the quality of life. We should be providing much stronger incentives for people to use public transportation, but first you need to have the facilities.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Let's Not Use the Word Boondoggle

Mass Transit Magazine says so, and I tend to agree.

Cut It Out Already!!! Using Cost to Design a System Is Wrong

No no no no no more using existing rights of way to put together a cheap transit system. Stop talking about it in terms of money and stop thinking its a good idea to start out that way! If we want people to take transit we need good transit that connects to places people want to go. And these days there are very few existing ROW opportunities that do that.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an article about what the region needs to do. It's a good push but the following should never be the start of a regional system.
Minimizing capital costs by extensively utilizing existing rail rights of way.
Existing rights of way mean commuter rail but before commuter rail is implemented, a good central city system needs to be in place to get people to all of their destinations. We're learning this from systems like Houston where an extensive core system is going to lead to a much more effective commuter rail system. This is also evidenced in the large rail cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, and DC. If you don't have central circulation, the commuter rail doesn't work as well. So cut it out already and do it right. We've learned so much in the last few years, why do we want to keep going down the same path?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Running: Olympic Trials Track Coverage

I've got a few friends up in Eugene right now looking for spots on the Olympic team. If you get a chance check out the races. Good luck to Jacob, Leo, Trey, and Jake. Hook 'em. I'm going to do some coverage of the meet between transit posts so bear with me.

Complete video coverage at Flo's site.

Writeups over at


10K 2008 Olympian Kara Goucher: She's a class act and a great person. She's also a story of falling down and getting back up again as she was the NCAA Champion in XC and Track but fell on hard times with her running after college. It's people like her that show perseverance and grit and are truly an inspiration. Watch for her in Beijing, she's going to do something great.

If Ridership Is Up, Why Service Cuts?

My friend Nick was wondering, if ridership is way up, why are some places cutting routes and service. Wouldn't the increased ridership pay for it? In theory I guess it should but there are a number of factors that are specific to the economy and transit funding which need to be addressed.

Part of the problem is that most transit agencies are primarily funded through sales taxes. The problem with this is that when the economy is down and people need to take transit more, transit suffers more because revenue comes down due to that already existing gloomy market. Also, ridership only pays a fairly small amount for most transit system's budget. An article in the Boulder Daily Camera covers this quite well:

But, therein lies the terrible Transit Paradox. It turns out the same factors that are driving a spike in demand for transit services are having an unfortunate negative impact on RTD finances.

Fuel costs, roughly 9 percent of the RTD expenditure budget, have risen 47 percent over last year's rates. At the same time, sales and use tax income, which accounts for approximately 66 percent of RTD operations revenue, is coming in at about 5 percent below projections. The cumulative impact of these two economic factors, alone, is expected to be a hit of about $23 million to RTD's total operations budget.

Adding insult to injury, the fares transit riders pay only cover a portion of the cost of each bus or train trip. Thus, the unprecedented 9 percent increase in transit ridership that RTD is welcoming into the system is actually creating a substantial additional financial burden.

What needs to happen is a better way to fund projects and operations than the sales tax. While it seems the most common form of funding for transit, it often creates these problems with the shrink swell of funds and service. Tri-Met funds transit through a payroll tax. I'm not sure if that is much better but its something different. And then there are development fees for capital expansion and perhaps carbon taxes for operations. Another idea thats used is parcel taxes on estimated value. Anyone have ideas on this?

So also there was an article in the Rocky Mountain News that tests the water for another increase, the idea of just 4 years after Fastrax was passed, having to go after more money to pay for the program. This is somewhat of a problem from an advocates standpoint. It gives opponents a lot of fodder, even though none of them really complains when freeway projects go over, which they almost always do. See Katy Freeway in Houston and I-485 in Charlotte.

Even though the Denver Projects (T-Rex, SW Corridor) have been on time and on budget, its hard to predict the amazing increases in materials that have happened since the initial project budget was created in 2004. It's also hard to predict what the costs are going to be in the future when the lines hadn't even been engineered yet. I think that is kind of the problem with engineering projects. There is generally a standard and other projects, but all projects have different challenges and difficulties. While I think cost/benefit analysis is good, people getting super upset if a big project doesn't meet its exact budget is a little bit out of order. But unless its a project like the big dig which was a ridiculous overrun, people see the benefit in freeway projects, but chide transit projects...why? Most of the time they have no alternative plan, they just don't like transit for some reason.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Bears are Moving In

Epic Fail

I think LOLstuff is pretty funny. This one probably wasn't funny when it happened but its quite transit oriented and a bit humorous now. There's a similar picture of a railroad fail where the train fell out of the second story of a station. Ah I think I found it.

But the photo below kind of got me thinking on how diesel buses are the work horse of transit yet they are still susceptible to all the price hikes and gas issues that hit cars. I wish they weren't, but they don't all have alternatives to diesel yet. Perhaps more trolley buses would help save agencies money. Just a thought.

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hawaii Mayor Calls Out the Opposition

It's not often you see this but I wish more Mayors would hit back at the auto industrial complex. Mayor Mufi is trying to build for the umpteenth time in Hawaii's history a rail system for Honolulu, a very dense city. Basically though, he slams the media for giving surrogates of the Reason foundation too much air time.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann criticized the media for doing a poor job of challenging opponents attempting to stop the city's planned $4 billion rail-transit project, prompting him to spend campaign funds to take out advertisements.

In his first interview since ads ran in Honolulu's two daily newspapers last weekend, Hannemann said yesterday he stands by his assertions that the local anti-rail campaign is backed by mainland companies and individuals connected with the oil and automobile industries.

These guys are big rabble rousers that spread a lot of misinformation. It's funny that these guys only fight in regions that don't have rail yet because they can't beat back the facts on the ground. But everywhere they fight they fail and move on to the next city without. This however is the funniest comment of the bunch:
All three local rail critics denied Hannemann's assertions, calling them "ridiculous," saying they have not accepted any money from mainland companies. "We have not received a penny that we did not raise locally," said Slater, a vocal critic of the 20-mile rail system from Kapolei to Ala Moana.
Cliff Slater is associated with the Reason Foundation as an Adjunct Scholar. The Reason Foundation has gotten at least $321,000 from Exxon. Their funders also include the following; Chevron, Exxon, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Daimler Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, National Air Transportation Association, Western States Petroleum etc etc. Hmmm...

Question About Plug in Hybrid Cars

I have a question about plug in hybrids. Are they predicated on having a snout house or a garage? I park my car all over the place near my house in San Francisco and there is no where I would be able to plug in on the street. I wonder what the urban design implications are for these cars. Are there going to be outlets sticking up all over the place? Cables?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hold That Thought...Until November

What would happen if we stopped pitting projects against each other? An article in the Los Angeles Times discusses this and recommends that instead of deciding on one project against the other, they should wait. This seems to be a common theme. The current administration is so bad, cities are so desperate for improvements to transit that they are willing to gamble and wait for the next administration, hoping its a democratic one. The Times says that they should wait for a half cent sales tax to pass in the county, but methinks waiting for a better shake at the FTA wouldn't hurt either.

Transfer of Wealth Part III

Remember when we were talking about a lot of our money getting transfered to countries that don't like us? Well it gets even better. All those stimulus checks are going to oil. Are we ever going to learn? Why couldn't we have just spent that money on transportation upgrades that last? From the New Jersey Star Ledger:
"The rebate check approach was created with the hopes that consumers would increase their spending on goods and services," said Brandi Kennedy, assistant director for the Montclair office of NJPIRG. "But as gas prices keep rising, American families have been pouring their stimulus money into their gas tanks."

Rebel Without a Charge

My friend Mr. Setty sent me a link to English Russia about a month ago with a copy of this photo asking for a caption. The original post is an interesting photo group of electric trucks with overhead wires. My first thought was the title to this post. What comes to your mind when you see this picture?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Unbeknownst to Virginia Beach city leaders, two republican state legislators from Virginia have introduced a bill that would extend the under construction light rail from Norfolk to the beach. It's another case of taking folks into the 21st Century, kicking and screaming.
“It’s time for this to happen, whether they favor it or not,” Tata said Tuesday....“You’d be foolish to drive in,” he said. “I-264 right now is sort of like a race track , it’s so dangerous. Why fight that kind of battle? You could train in and save on parking fees.”
Fuelish indeed.

Using Space Better Comments

About a month ago I wrote up this post on using space better using San Jose as an example. Well today reader Marc made this observation:
That looks like the lettered part of the Cisco campus (or at least the area near it - lettered buildings are west of 1st, numbered buildings are east). I worked in building 6 (or was it 7) for a few years. While that particular building was at the Cisco Way station, getting around campus without a car was terrible. An example - people would *drive* to get across the street to building 10. Why? Because you can only cross (safely) at the corners and the blocks are very long.

Tasman is also very wide (5 lanes in each direction, if you include the turn lanes), plus enough width for three tracks of lightrail. If you're going from a midblock building to the midblock building across the street, you're looking at a 10-15 minute walk.
Wow. Not just bad to get there, but bad to work there too. Thanks for the comment Marc. And welcome to all those who found their way here from Blogs of Note.

Pot Meet Kettle

I wrote out a long post but I thought I should just let everyone read Mary Peters really gross blog post.

Here's my favorite quote:
Most people haven’t yet fully grasped the unprecedented innovation taking place in transportation today.
Of course its ironic because neither has she.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Employment, Residential Booming Near Transit

Very cool news out of New Jersey. The state created a tax credit program for businesses that located and built near transit and its been stimulating the market. From the New York Times:
The state’s new Urban Transit Hub tax-credit program, which took effect in January for sites near mass-transit stations, is already stimulating the market, real estate specialists say, even though it applies in only nine cities.

Mr. Pozycki said the tax credit program is a crucial reason why SJP decided to move forward with its third corporate center building in Hoboken, which had sat on the drawing boards for nearly four years. (During that time, SJP shifted its focus to the hot Manhattan office market, and has begun construction of 11 Times Square, a glass-and-steel tower at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street.)
It's great because its predicated on locating near transit so even if these offices move out of Manhattan, people can still get to work on transit, and it opens up less invested areas for dense employment development.

On the opposite side of the country, Salt Lake City is seeing more building permits for dense housing near transit. From the Salt Lake City Tribune:
Industry insiders say surging gasoline prices, a sagging economy and energy-policy uncertainty due to the presidential chase have combined to create the latest condo spurt. And it's no coincidence the new league of lofts are located near TRAX light-rail lines.
TRAX spine gets lofty: Open-plan lofts and energy-efficient condos are sprouting along the TRAX spine on the fringe of downtown. There is the funky Angelina's Corner on the curve of 700 South and 200 West and ultra-green Rowhaus just north of the baseball park on West Temple, and there are hundreds of units planned at Market Station, a walkable development slated for the warehouse district in South Salt Lake.

The IRS Raises Automobile Milage Rate

They say nothing about transit, but they allow more money to be expensed to cars. 58 cents a mile, up from 50.5 cents.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Arlington Did It Right

One of the things that bothers me these days is the need for the FTA to judge things based on cost and not long term benefit. An article in the Washington Post discusses the long term benefits that the planners in Arlington VA saw when they decided to run the Orange line underground and away from the freeway.

It got me thinking, what would BART look like if they had made the decision to build like Metro in DC and run the line through main corridors instead of down the center of the freeway. Here is what I came up with. The dotted lines and black dots I drew and the regular line and existing stations are shown by the little BART symbols.

If I were to speculate that these stations would have the ridership of 24th and 16th street mission, we would be seeing an additional 110,000 riders.


Since BART didn't learn anything from Arlington either, the BART to San Jose line will make the same mistakes, running on existing ROW instead of down the main corridors where its needed. The same exists with the BART to Livermore extension which we discussed earlier.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Let Your Elders Sit

A few months ago we linked to Trimettiquet. Tri-Met asked them to stop using their logo, so if someone wants to help them out designing a new one give them a shout. Seems like this transit etiquette thing is taking off and its no different in San Francisco. I've had to make kids get up for elders before. I'm sure I'm not their favorite people now but they should know better. There's a new local resource called Muni Manners as well. I'm often annoyed at those kids that don't get up for elders/pregnant women/folks with disabilities on a full train, I think its great they are doing this and discussing the whole host of things that are polite on transit.


There's chattering on the Metropolitan Policy of Barack Obama. He gave a speech to the US Conference of Mayors and here's what people are saying. I think the best part is a person in the cabinet who would be in charge of metropolitan policy. That's something we really need, considering HUD and DOT don't really talk to each other when they should.

Ezra Klein -
It's worth noting that Obama's promise to fill the coffers of the Federal Highway Fund comes before his promise to build a "a world-class transit system." He does, however, say, "I don’t want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai, I want to see it built right here in the United States of America." I'd sort of like to see that too, so Gobama!
Yglesias -
To seize the possibility of this moment, we need to promote strong cities as the backbone of regional growth. And yet, Washington remains trapped in an earlier era, wedded to an outdated “urban” agenda that focuses exclusively on the problems in our cities, and ignores our growing metro areas; an agenda that confuses anti-poverty policy with a metropolitan strategy, and ends up hurting both.

This is a point that urban policy people have been trying to push into the mainstream for a while. The fact that Obama's saying this means, among other things, that his team is paying attention to the right people. But we have poor people who don't live in cities, and cities are facing issues besides poverty -- among other things, we have the question of how to make it affordable for non-rich people to live in nice urban areas. Other highlights:

Here's obviously this is my favorite part:
It’s time to stop spending $10 billion a month in Iraq and start investing that money in Phoenix, Nashville, Seattle, and metro areas across this country. Let’s invest that money in a world-class transit system. Let’s re-commit federal dollars to strengthen mass transit and reform our tax code to give folks a reason to take the bus instead of driving to work – because investing in mass transit helps make metro areas more livable and can help our regional economies grow.

And while we’re at it, we’ll partner with our mayors to invest in green energy technology and ensure that your buses and buildings are energy efficient. And we’ll also invest in our ports, roads, and high-speed rails – because I don’t want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai, I want to see it built right here in the United States of America.
As many of you know I don't think Maglev is really worth it. You can go almost as fast with HSR which is proven technology. But I like the fighting spirit.

Transportation Corridors

This is what you get when you have a long term plan for developing a corridor and do it right. I was watching some baseball today and the game was in Boston. They showed an aerial photo of the Back Bay and it got me thinking...corridors.

Arlington County Virginia

Wilshire Blvd: Flickr by ATIS 547

Boston Back Bay on the Green Line

Peachtree Street in Atlanta

I know there are more. Anyone have a corridor to share?

Friday, June 20, 2008


What do Tiger Woods and the United States have in common? They are playing through the tournament with two stress fractures and a torn ligament. Both are amazing, but need rest and rehabilitation to heal and are not smart for continuing in the current condition. Infrastructure funding is needed and important, let's not wait till our legs break in half.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Desire for City Living Increasing

I'm going to grudgingly quote from an AP article right now, but its a really good one.
On Wednesday, a survey of 900 Coldwell Banker agents showed a remarkable 96 percent said that rising gas prices were a concern to their clients, and 78 percent said higher fuel costs are increasing their desire for city living.

"When we decided that we were going to make a move we basically put a dot in the middle of the map where my office is and said, `We are not going to live farther than essentially a 20-minute circle around that,'" Bulkeley said.
Worth the read. H/T Eliza H.

Edmonton Council Ditch Trolleybuses, Are Shortsighted

Stephen Rees has the story. I have to mention how dumb I think this is. At a time when fuel is going through the roof, to get rid of overhead wires that can be used for clean electric propulsion and go with "hybrids" is folly. The thing that really gets me is the claim that in 2010 ETBs will be almost a million dollars a piece. Who got these numbers? It was mentioned on one of my list serves that there is a perfectly good trolleybus for sale out there for $500,000(can't find costs for this particular one, but I'm sure there is a low cost version out there. It's just an electric motor!).

Obviously no one was looking into it. And apparently, the 7 of 13 council members are into spewing more particulates into the air. When are we going to get serious about air quality. I must say I appreciate the Muni lines that have electric wires. When I'm walking on the street, I don't feel like I'm breathing dead dinosaur.

Free Shipping

I was talking with my Grandmother last night about downtown Oakland. It used to be the place to go for shopping and she remembers when there were four large department stores downtown. She also mentioned something else interesting; free delivery. Since most people in the 20s and 30s took public transit shopping, if they bought an item at a department store it was delivered to their home, for free. Sure would make some transit trips easier to make when the complaint is, "I can't take that on the train."

The New Patriotism

Denver's Mayor Hickenlooper says: Taking Transit is the New Patriotism. More from NBC Nightly News.

Want Legroom?

Take Rail. In fact, why would you ever fly for a short distance trip if you had a choice?

Safe Driving and Light Rail

Courtesy of the California DMV. The first 2:50 is from the LRT driver's perspective.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spinning Mary Peters

The Baltimore Sun didn't pull any punches today. They basically say what we in the transit blogosphere have been saying for a long time; that the current FTA administration doesn't take the long view on transit investments and is stingy when it comes to funding larger projects. Well the Baltimore Sun is fairly blunt but honest about what cost effectiveness should be, which is not the bare bones penny handouts for in traffic BRT that the FTA has recently been advocating.
Recent news that a Baltimore Red Line with all the proverbial bells and whistles may not be eligible for federal funding should come as no surprise. The Federal Transit Administration funding formula is notoriously stingy, and an east-west light rail line with much tunneling would be pricey.
This is understandable, we want to be smart with our money, but they go on to make more good points...
Every new transit line must demonstrate cost-effectiveness. That's just common sense. But the Bush administration tends to view such proposals far too conservatively while appropriating too little for transit.
This is proven true by Transportation Secretary Mary "Bikes Aren't Transportation" Peters commentary which ignores what has been going on around the country and how the FTA has been manipulating ridership estimates in many communities including Portland and Norfolk by ripping planned development out of the models that estimate ridership. They just don't seem to understand the benefits of transit investment and that shows through with their rating system which offsets future planning with existing density. If you have one or the other, you end up at medium and get no boost at all. Here's her spin from her blog.
The part that frustrated me the most, however, is that the Post is calling for massive increases in federal transit investments (on top of existing massive increases to federal transit spending) while calling for an end to performance standards designed to ensure that money is invested wisely. That the Post’s writers consider it bad policy to set performance standards, demand greater accountability and require honest ridership estimates before investing billions of the taxpayer’s dollars is nothing short of shocking.
Honest ridership estimates huh? How about those estimates in Charlotte and Minneapolis? They weren't allowed a modal constant and look what happens, over estimates! The fact of the matter is that using today's cost effectiveness measures, both of those projects would not have been funded! Today the CE measure must be a medium to receive funding. Both of these projects had medium low measures because of their lame ridership estimates pushed by the FTA.

So when she claims that the Post considers it bad to set standards, she's basically saying that it would have been ok to kill successful projects as long as not as much money was spent. What she's actually doing is projecting, Karl Rove style. Here is what the Post actually had to say:
Meanwhile, the administration has slashed spending on new mass transit projects while toughening approval criteria and insisting that states and localities pony up greater shares of such projects, often up to half. That has slowed the development of projects and, by so doing, has driven up costs. And while the administration is right to push congestion pricing, tolling and public-private partnerships as means to generate additional revenue and projects, they are not substitutes for a robust federal role in building the nation's mass transit capacity.
The Post has it right. The trend for cities now is to not even apply because the line is so long for funding. There is cutthroat competition for so little money that many don't even want to bother. What kind of system is that? It's sad that the spinning from the Bush administration has bled into the transportation department but what can we expect from folks who don't even understand why its important to build a tunnel or an electric light rail line. They see in one dimension, moving people. Many of us see in multi-dimensions, moving people and building places where people can move themselves with low energy. This however isn't counted in the formulas and that is exactly what the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun are getting at.

The end of her blog post is the most disturbing, considering her punches at "interest groups". Considering she once worked for Parsons Brinkerhoff and the FTA Administrator Jim Simpson started out as a trucker, its no wonder they would try to hit down livability and transit advocates as a special interest, again she's projecting for the road lobby.
Instead of providing an informed analysis of our substantial transportation record, the Post’s editorial writers offered a simplistic rehash of special interest groups’ talking points. Instead of asking whether transit agencies are using the money they have today either wisely or well, they called for fewer federal investment standards. And instead of offering a relevant contribution to the transportation dialogue, they offered rusty rhetoric and faulty facts.
A substantial record that has called bike lanes a waste of money, has tried to build freeway toll lanes with transit capital money and taken bus capital money and given it to a select five cities to push their congestion pricing agenda. Spending money wisely includes figuring out ways to use less oil and allow people to spend less money on transportation. Rail and other new starts projects have proven their worth in this regard, which makes it hard to understand her reasoning that boosting investment and using better measures should be stalled using "cost effectiveness". Like the Post says, pricing has its place, but in her mind, Secretary Peters will always be about making it easier for cars in cities, but without alternatives we'll all choke, coughing up more of our hard earned money to get where we want to go.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Space Race Update: Houston

Houston is really starting to pick up on the space race. After building the Red Line which has the highest ridership density per mile of any new rail line (40,000 riders a day) , Houston dreamt big and went for a bigger expansion plan. This included 5 more light rail lines and plans for commuter rail and other improvements.

Now there are beginning to discuss studying 5 commuter rail lines. They have express buses that run in HOV lanes, however these additions will begin to allow for nodes to build up around the stations creating new job centers and destinations. From the Houston Chronicle:
A commuter rail study for the Houston area, unveiled Tuesday, recommends starting with five lines — but none would provide direct service to Sugar Land, The Woodlands or Kingwood, or to Bush and Hobby airports.

Alan Clark, who heads transportation planning for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, where the plan was presented, said conflict with heavy freight rail operations would prevent commuter rail to those destinations in the near future.

You can find the HGAC plans here.


Houston is beginning to catch up and as we've stated before, is at the head of the class.

Signs of the Apocalypse

A presidential candidate that gets it when it comes to transit and mobility in cities. From Streetsblog:
To be sure, the speech -- delivered in Flint, Michigan -- was also heavy on promises to keep cars rolling off the assembly line. But the mention of rail and a proposal to fund a "National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank" (reminiscent of Congressman Earl Blumenauer's stump speech) suggest that a President Obama may steer federal transportation funding, which has long given transit short shrift, in a different direction.
The Governor of Georgia who practically bleeds concrete and oil sets his sights on commuter rail.

After six years as governor, Sonny Perdue on Thursday got down to the details on transportation — telling reporters he was ready to support a test case for expanded commuter rail.

Specifically, he endorsed an Atlanta-Griffin route, a project that has federal funding lined up, even though it might not have the ridership as rail on Atlanta’s north side might have. “If it [succeeds], there are certainly other areas of Georgia that can benefit,” he said.

It's starting to get interesting out there.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Two Types of Impact: Planning and Development on the Rails

While China seeks to sprawl and pursue what they think is the American Dream, the other world population giant India is looking to Japan for its thoughts on urbanization. This is a good sign for those who worry that energy will only get worse if China and India continue down the path of consumption.
Indo-Japan working group on urban development identified many areas including GIS based utility mapping, disaster management, emerging technologies in water and sanitation and clean development mechanism for further cooperation in the day long session today.

The group also agreed to explore on capacity building in urban transport, rail-based transit system, comprehensive mobility planning and management using intelligent transport systems.
Back in the United States, Phoenix is seeing a market shift around its soon to be open light rail line. In fact $6 Billion dollars has been spent on development along the line and now that gas prices are higher, land has become even more expensive and coveted.
Light rail is not the sole reason why projects in the transit system's vicinity have developed, real-estate analysts note. But the future system has definitely been a catalyst prompting developers to pay higher prices for property adjacent to the line for condominiums, office buildings and retail centers. Economic factors, including soaring fuel prices, have caused developers like Eugene Marchese to focus attention on transit-oriented projects.
I expect to see more of these stories about the direct benefits of investing in transit as well as these on the more high profile blogs. Maybe the pols would do well by starting to pay attention.

Yosemite's Relation to Transit

This weekend I was in Yosemite camping with my siblings. There always seems to be a transit twist with my trips and this one was no different, even in the wilderness where there was no cell phone reception or access to technology but there were buses.

On the first day we went to Yosemite Valley. If you haven't been I certainly recommend it. It's stunningly beautiful and made me wish that I could still run twenty miles at a time, specifically during this picture...


After the meadow, we drove to a parking lot and left our car. We hopped on the bus and it took us to a trail head for mirror lake. It was amazing and we got a good view of the lake's reflection of the mountains.




The next day we went to Hetch Hetchy, where San Francisco gets its water. Down stream that water gets turned into hydroelectric power for Muni Metro and trolleybuses. You'll have to turn your screen sideways for the video of Wampama falls.



All in all it was a fun trip.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday Evening Roundup

Whew, it was nice to get away from the computer for a bit. I'll have a post about it soon. But for now, I went through the good ole Google Reader and found some particularly interesting stories from the last few days:

Salt Lake City has signed an agreement to build the "North Temple" or Airport rail line. They are starting to make good on their promise of 70 miles in 7 years.

Becker said the rail line is being viewed as a "demonstration project" for responsible energy use and sustainable development. The mayor also announced plans to recreate North Temple as a "grand boulevard," a makeover that will feature four lanes with the TRAX line running down the center, a "refinished" viaduct, the addition of two bicycle lanes in each direction and new landscaping features.

Bruce Katz from Brookings hits the nail on the head when it comes to the election and policy from Washington as it pertains to infrastructure investment. This from the Christian Science Monitor:

Ultimately, its goal is to revolutionize the way the US views its metropolises. "If you're going to get serious about the economy, then you've got to get specific about how you're going to leverage metropolitan economies," says Bruce Katz, director of the metropolitan policy program at Brookings.

Even though America's 100 largest cities generate two-thirds of US jobs and three-quarters of domestic economic output, much of the policy coming from Washington – and from the presidential candidates – is still rooted in a Jeffersonian ideal of hamlets and small towns, Mr. Katz says.

Prague Post has an article about Washington DC's Skoda streetcars. It has a good amount of information so check it out.

Manufactured through a now-defunct joint venture between Škoda and Inekon, the trams are still in the Czech Republic, stored at the Ostrava Transport Company. Fortunately the trams are under warranty and, like cars, are taken out regularly (without passengers) to keep them in good condition and tested. They are expected to be moved to Washington later this year.
Oklahoma's large cities are in the bottom of the barrel when it comes to transit. No wonder when your state senator says that spending money for the DC metro is like stealing money from your children. I think GW has a monopoly on that action. More from CNN Money.

And finally we have this comedic gem from the Arizona Republic's letters to the editor. It made me wonder where people get all their misinformation.
Congratulations to all the contractors and land speculators that profited from this billion-dollar boondoggle, (How many non-polluting buses could have been bought for the same money?) and to our politicians who shoved it all down our throats.

Great job.

"Light rail" is as good as an idea now as when are city forefathers shut down our trolley system back in 1948. Ironic, isn't it? Ah, the wonders of "modern technology."
Remember, trains with overhead wires aren't modern and the only people that like them are contractors and speculators, unlike those super modern highways which are built purely to serve the people . Didn't you get the memo?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Replay 7/15/07: A.B. Widener, Transit Mogul

Peter A.B. Widener is not one of the most famous railroad barons who specifically ran street railways, but he most certainly was the richest. From the New York Times:
A transit mogul, Widener monopolized the street railways of Philadelphia. Starting in 1875, Widener and a partner began buying transit lines, modernizing the horse drawn cars first with cable cars, then with an electric trolley system that required the repaving of the city's streets. By 1895, the system supported 100 passengers a year.
What is fascinating about this is how the money was made. Before Widener and a few others pioneered the collection of utilities to operate as one, each line and lighting company were separate in different sections of the city, leading to competition and the need to pay a different fare for each transfer.

But it was these moguls who paved the streets and lit the houses in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, however through nefarious means. Dubbed syndicates, they were the reason we have the term 'Public Utilities' :

When Thomas A. Edison invented the incandescent light, and when Frank J. Sprague in 1887 constructed the first practicable urban trolley line, in Richmond, Virginia, they liberated forces that powerfully affected not only our social and economic life but our political institutions. These two inventions introduced anew phrase--"Public Utilities." Combined with the great growth and prosperity of the cities they furnished a fruitful opportunity to several particularly famous groups of financial adventurers. They led to the organization of "syndicates" which devoted all their energies, for a quarter of a century, to exploiting city lighting and transportation systems. These syndicates made a business of entering city after city, purchasing the scattered street railway lines and lighting companies, equipping them with electricity, combining them into unified systems, organizing large corporations, and floating huge issues of securities. A single group of six men--Yerkes, Widener, Elkins, Dolan, Whitney, and Ryan--combined the street railways, and in many cases the lighting companies...
Charles T. Yerkes was the driving force behind Chicago's street railway and lighting was able to control city and state government officials. However in Philly, he was imprisoned for of all things embezzlement which led him to move to Chicago and opened up the door for a City Official named Peter A.B. Widener.
It was this circumstance in Yerkes's career which impelled him to leave Philadelphia and settle in Chicago where, starting as a small broker, he ultimately acquired sufficient resources and influence to embark in that street railway business at which he had already served an extensive apprenticeship. Under his domination, the Chicago aldermen attained a gravity that made them notorious all over the world. They openly sold Yerkes the use of the streets for cash and constantly blocked the efforts which an infuriated populace made for reform. Yerkes purchased the old street railway lines, lined his pockets by making contracts for their reconstruction, issued large flotations of watered stock, heaped securities upon securities and reorganization upon reorganization and diverted their assets to business in a hundred ingenious ways.
Widener stepped up after Yerkes had gotten the previous city treasurer in trouble for the embezzlement. He was also a butcher, which apparently is a pretty big deal for politics.
A successful butcher shop in Philadelphia in those days played about the same part in local politics as did the saloon in New York City. Such a station became the headquarters of political gossip and the meeting ground of a political clique; and so Widener, the son of a poor German bricklayer, rapidly became a political leader in the Twentieth Ward, and soon found his power extending even to Harrisburg.

He also picked up a bond partner in Elkins and the two came into control of Philadelphia's traction organization.


Widener and Elkins, however, not only dominated Philadelphia traction but participated in all of Yerkes's enterprises in Chicago and held an equal interest with Whitney and Ryan in New York. The latter Metropolitan pair, though they confined their interest chiefly to their own city, at times transferred their attention to Chicago. Thus, for nearly thirty years, these five men found their oyster in the transit systems of America's three greatest cities--and, for that matter, in many others also.
Later on, the syndicate ended up buying the Broadway Traction Company in New York City. This led to their organization being the first holding company.
This Broadway franchise formed the vertebral column of the New York transit system; with it as a basis, the operators formed the Metropolitan Street Railway Company in 1893, commonly known as the "Metropolitan." They organized also the Metropolitan Traction Company, an organization which enjoys an historic position as the first "holding company" ever created in this country.
It's a fascinating story and the Age of Big Business is definitely a good read and as much as I want to, I can't quite cover it all without just copying and pasting the whole thing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Replay 6/9/07: Ipod As the Great Transit Equalizer

It’s funny but I think the advertisements for Apple’s IPod are fairly accurate. Especially in San Francisco you see silhouettes of people and these white lines hanging from their ears all over the place, whether its on the sidewalk, bus or train. But it strikes me that the IPod should also be known as the great transit equalizer. When it came to riding in your car you had a cd or tape case where you could choose from all the music you had, or at least what you had in your case. In order to do that on transit one would have to lug around their collection with them.

Now with the IPod, we can have thousands of songs in a device that is the same size of our wallet, allowing us to listen to whatever we want to, whenever we want to. But while the IPod can be hooked up to the car, it seems to be more useful from a transportation standpoint to walkable transit oriented neighborhoods. When you get out of a car the radio turns off or there is a tape transition, but when you leave a train or bus, the music continues on kind of like a soundtrack to your life.

In my opinion, it’s this soundtrack quality that can give transit a bonus versus the car. There are many songs that if I play them in my car they bring back memories. Specific places on a road from Austin to Houston when I would drive home for Christmas or Thanksgiving are imagined in my head when I listen to the particular song I like to play on that stretch of road. Since I had a CD changer in my trunk and not the front deck I would even pull the car over to switch CDs if the one I wanted for that certain section of road was not available in the changer.

Now I’m finding that I’m having similar experiences with transit and my Ipod. However instead of just in the car, I have it for walking around the city, places along bus routes and inside of department stores. It even allows me to drown out the awful music at say the Gap or other places where they try to match the brand with music types. Well what if I want to shop in the Gap or Target listening to some metal or opera? They wouldn’t play those over the speakers but with the great equalizer we can.

There might be some drawbacks including awareness of your surroundings that might lead to some unfortunate altercations with automobiles or with the less desirable and under discussed elements of city life. There is always an issue of being social as well; shutting people out by just having headphones on is easy. But if anything, the great equalizer is incredibly more social than say an automobile. People in their own pods of space cut off from having to deal with social situations has led to rises in the instances of road rage however I’ve never heard of anything called Pod Rage. It might exist but from what I’ve seen, people are generally passive when bumped into with their IPod versus people bumped into who don’t have one on.

There is a serious issue that should be discussed as well with regards to hearing though. I know I’m guilty of listening to my IPod much louder than I should if I’m in a subway to drown out the external noise. However this could lead to long term hearing damage and such is said your eardrums are like lobsters, once their cooked there is no going back. I’m thinking about whether I should get noise canceling headphones or just read with earplugs which might be a soundtrack setback.

But with all that being said, I see the Ipod and MP3 players in general as a great transportation equalizer. You can create a soundtrack of songs you like but now it won’t apply to just your car but rather memories and experiences of life in general.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Replay 10/5/07: Collapse and Civilizations

I don't even know where to begin to talk about my trip. First there are the ring systems of Vienna and Budapest that I want to write about, I've got about 200 pictures to share and as I hopped on BART today to get home from the SF Airport I was more than just a little bit disappointed about transit efforts in the United States. As I get my bearings and overcome some jet lag I'll try to write up some of my experiences. Sitting at a bar with an Austrian named Mike, almost dieing on the faster than American laws would allow escalators on the Budapest Metro, and the legacy of eastern bloc communism in Budapest and Prague.

I would however like to share something I wrote up on the plane ride over to Vienna...

I’m sitting here on a KLM flight to Amsterdam then to Vienna Austria for vacation with my family in Eastern Europe. The seat to my left is empty and the movie Oceans 13 just finished but I noticed something so true. Earlier there was a man sitting next to me from Visalia. It’s a small town in Central California where agriculture is the lifeblood of the community. Earlier I overheard him talking to the man on his left from Stockton, which is quickly becoming a bedroom community for the Bay Area. He asked what he did for a living and the man replied “I’m a developer”.

Now I’m not usually one to listen in but of course being an urban planner I had to hear what was coming next. The man from Visalia was uncomfortable in his seat being about 6’4” or so. Of course these planes are more like cattle cars than luxurious transportation but his knees were sitting in the cracks of the seats in front of us and his elbow was in my ribs. But he continued cheerily talking asking the developer, if there was any more room to build in Stockton because of the disappearance of farmland. The man from Visalia asked, “Why don’t you build up instead of out?” The developer replied, “There is plenty of land left to build on.” Under my breath I said “Yeah right” realizing what kind of developer he was.

The man from Visalia kept going on about resources and conservation and even ended up discussing taking vegetable oil from fast food restaurants for reuse. He then moved on to me asking what I did. I said “I’m an urban planner.” He seemed surprised. “That guy next to me is a developer.” I nodded and said “Yes I heard.” He asked what I did specifically and I told him. He then went on to discuss his former job as a parole officer and the travesty of the red car. “The Mayor was a crook” he said. “Ripping out all those streetcars.” People I talk to always seem launch into the benefits of transit without provocation. I never prodded him or even told him about my thoughts on the subject but he told me about it anyways. He was around for the red car and seemed specifically upset about their demise. “You’d never be able to build it back today” he said. I told him they were trying.

Throughout the flight he kept getting hit in the knees by the lady in front of us who tried to lean her seat back. He had to protest each time which led him to ask to move seats. The flight attendant was more than happy to help him out so he was out of there leaving me and the developer an empty seat between us. As we both put our stuff on the tray table where the man from Visalia was sitting I noticed the book he put down juxtaposed with the one that I put down. His was a hardcover deep crimson red book titled “Empire”. Mine was a softcover book by Jared Diamond called Collapse about the collapse of several civilizations throughout history by climate change among a number of other factors including war and societal suicide (ie: Easter Island). It really stuck in my head the difference between the two sets of warring factions in the sprawl fight. The ones who think there are endless spoils to be had and a never ending supply of resources, and those who are looking to avoid a collapse. I’ve never seen the fight in such black/white or good/evil terms and probably will never again because of course it is never so simple. I’m not a hardcore environmentalist or anything but for a moment there I realized why I do what I do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Technology Sabbatical - Open Thread

I'm taking a few days off and I'll be nowhere near a computer. I think it'll be nice, until I come back to 1000 blog posts and articles in google reader. I'm going to play some of my favorite old posts though, timing them for each day I'm gone.

But I'd also like to make this an open thread. What's going on out there in the space race? What's going on in your city?

Airplane Sprawl Exists

Apparently John Travolta's home is not only suburban sprawl, but Airplane Sprawl as well. I wonder what that house's transportation costs are...

Veto Proof Amtrak Bill Through

Via Greendem's Kos Diary.

Finally, the rail haters have been beaten back into their gas guzzling SUVs.

Every modern country supports their national rail system. Just ask the people stranded in Manhattan during the week of 9/11 how important Amtrak is to America. I was one of them.

The notion that Amtrak is supposed to be completely self-sustaining and require no federal subsidies is Republican hogwash.

Robert at CAHSR has more.

A Very Moving Speech by Robert Caro

Thanks to Lawrence and Jon. Here is the Caro speech from CNU in Austin. It might make you cry, but it explains how damaging Robert Moses was to the City of New York and this Country.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Housekeeping - TOW, CTA

Hey all. So I got back my admin panel for City Transit Advocates after trying out Newsgator Pro. I wasn't able to do anything with it and unfortunately the one thing I would have liked to do wasn't available. There is one drawback though. When I update the aggregator with new blogs, the name displayed will be the author and not the blog, which is the silliest thing ever and drives me crazy, but I don't have control over it.

So I've started fiddling with yahoo pipes. So far it has a lot of potential for filtering news stories about transit out of blogs that might not be completely transit oriented among other cool features. But it might be a while before I can create an aggregator there. So bear with me as I try to make CTA the best it can be. Most of you now hopefully have Google Reader to keep up with all the transit blogosphere, but its nice to see what the headlines are in a quick glance and have it on the side of your blog.

Lastly, if there is a transit blog I'm missing on the roll at CTA let me know.

Update: For an example of what you can do with Yahoo Pipes, I made a Pacific Northwest Transit Aggregator. Still working out some bugs though.

Why It's Not a Priority

I've been meaning to write about Ryan's article in Grist for a bit now, but have only gotten around to it now. Many of you have probably already read it but in case you didn't, check it out. Many kudos to him for putting his thumb on the problem.

He discusses why such a big issue doesn't get a lot of attention and no big plan has come to the forefront to address it. Part of the problem is Journalists afraid to tackle the subject.
And as part of the broader political conversation, transit lingers in relative obscurity. My informal polling of several environmental journalists in Washington suggested that discomfort with available information on transit and emissions reduced their willingness to write on the subject. As such, transit struggles to join the political conversation -- and since it's not part of the conversation, writers have little incentive to learn about it. On the cycle goes.
I'm going to chalk that up to the fact that they don't get it. I give Ben Wear of the Austin American Statesman a hard time on here because it's obvious he doesn't know a trolley pole from his .... but also the conversation is incredible boring, uninformative, and many times patronizing.

For my day job, I cycle through about 400 blogs and articles a day about transit, and if there is one thing that makes me super board its another lame national article without a substantive discussion of the issue but instead a "What is TOD?". This occurs in major newspapers and its not until there is a fiery issue like the Dulles extension that people get more informative news and information.

I'm glad however there is an informed blogosphere with blogs in almost every city to discuss these issues with substance. If only there was a transit beat reporter in every city that understood the issues. Then you might get a more pushy public, and politicians that care more about the issue and saw its importance.

Tacoma Streetcar Ridership

More on the ridership front. At the very end of an article discussing a workshop in Cincinnati on Streetcars, there was an interesting statistic thrown out.
The panelists struggled to explain why streetcars attract more riders than buses. Johnsen cited a Tacoma, Wash. bus line that carried 175,000 people a year was replaced by a streetcar, and ridership jumped to 800,000 a year.
I had never seen this before, but it makes sense. The Tacoma Streetcar has been rather successful with about 3,000 riders a day. This is in addition to the Portland Streetcar Ridership numbers which were modeled to be 3,500 by the usual modeling for transit. It started off there but by the time the extension was built, it was already at 6,500. Now its at 12,000 a day. And that is with 12 minute headways. I can't imagine what would happen if they halved them.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Think Tanks, BRT, Money

Why Paul Weyrich doesn't side with the Think Tanks on BRT. Also, has anyone else noticed the Orange Line BRT ridership in LA has stayed flat while the other lines have gone up? I've heard it's at capacity. Two car trains and you're at 35,000 riders easy and 15 minutes off travel time. Thanks Zev.

And on a side note: Greenpeace found out how much money conservative think tanks took for Global Warming Denial, I tallied the Think Tanks I know of that have paid O'Toole and Cox for a Grand total of $1.87 million from Exxon Mobile alone between 1998-2006.

Assorted Bay Area News

Update: I changed the time of the Livermore meeting to 6pm as it was pointed out in the comments.

Whoa Muni. Looking at the ridership statistics on light rail from this last quarter, more people are definitely riding the rails. 173,000 a day is pretty good I would say. Although it sounds weirdly high. The Transit Effectiveness Project when taking ridership accounted for 157,424.

Also, if you're interested in the Livermore BART extension, there will be a public meeting Wednesday June 18th in Livermore at 6pm. I'm thinking I might show up, given that I'm on that side of the Bay on Wednesday evenings. Here's a post we wrote a while back on it.

More info:

Robert Livermore Community Center, Larkspur Room
4444 East Ave.
Livermore, CA 94550
The website to view the alignments is at

Their contact info is:
Phone: (510) 464-6151

H/T to Joel for the email.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Media Framing on LRT Expansion

In the last two days the media narrative in two cities on light rail expansion hit me as odd. Immediately the framing from the title hit against the rail line, without going into the basics of the story or being somewhat neutral.

In Phoenix it was the light rail "displacing" homeowners, as if there was a train booting out the owners with its foot, pantograph. We later find out at the bottom of the article that the homeowner didn't really have to leave and that about 15 feet was being taken from the property, more than likely not where the line was going to be running. That and he asked that the transit authority buy the whole property, which they did. It seems to me that leaving out those points until the end of the article is a bit misleading.

A buyer told Goodrich that he would buy the house if it were rezoned as commercial property. Goodrich approached the city to change the status and found out it was interested in buying 15 feet of the front yard that faced 19th Avenue. Goodrich petitioned the city, asking they buy the entire property. They agreed and bought the house.

Then there's a story in the Rocky Mountain News in Denver where the Light Rail Line again by itself is "forcing" the business to close. Reading down further in the article, the local transit agency is just saying that the property owner won't be able to use the RTD ROW that it has owned and kindly allowed the business owner to use as a crossing.

But an RTD spokeswoman Sunday said Crespin's business is caught up in an unfortunate crisis of access. RTD has allowed access to the property over its right-of-way for years. But now the agency needs the route for light rail.

"RTD for many years has kept that offer going, and we've allowed them to cross the tracks, which are our property, to have access to the (business)," said RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas. "Last July we sent them a notification letter letting them know they were going to have to cease doing that."

This is the kind of narrative we've had to go through for a long time, the idea that the new transit lines are the problem. No one (well no one in the news) discusses the insane displacement that occurred during the construction of the interstate highway system. Putting it into perspective, during the time of Moses, half a million people were displaced by the New York freeway system construction.

I wish CNU had put together a youtube video of that speech Robert Caro gave at the Congress in Austin about his book about Robert Moses, The Power Broker. It was very moving and showed the pain and suffering that went into building the interstate highway system.

But back to the above. If we're going to change the idea that transit is second class, there needs to be a framing and narrative change. I'm not quite sure how to go about it, but I thought I would at least start by pointing it out.

Sunday Photo Blogging

Here are some photos I picked up last weekend before dinner with some transit friends who were in town for the APTA rail conference.

I know folks complain about Muni signage. But here is one to give some hope. But just a little since this is the first time I've seen a map of this kind. It's a braille map of the Muni light rail system at the Embarcadero station.

Embarcadero Braile

Here's a small pocket park, just on the other side of the shrubs is the busy Embarcadero. I wonder how many people know this is here. It's at the intersection of Greenwich and Embarcadero, right before the Fog City Diner.

Urban Park

And who wants to stand in the middle of a rail ROW taking pictures? Why me of course. This is the F-Line tracks, and hopefully soon to be E-Line.

Embarcadero F Line

And the F-Line is at Crush Load as usual.

F Line Streetcar 1818

Louisville's Third Rail

Apparently Louisville Kentucky had elevated electric rail service in 1886, remnants of which still remain today.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Exporting Urban Tax Base

Wow. Milwaukee Wisconsin is in an abusive marriage. They are a member of a regional planning agency that has 7 counties, of which three people from each county are representatives. There are no representatives from the city itself which provides 1/3 of the agencies operating budget. This agency, the SEWRPC, is in charge of land use and transportation planning for the counties.

The City of Milwaukee has 100,000 more residents than the combined populations of a majority of SEWRPC counties - Kenosha, Walworth, Washington and Ozaukee - but has zero seats on the commission.

Yet Milwaukee County pays the largest share of SEWRPC's operating budget that is collected from the seven counties' annual property tax levies - more than 33%, or $834,000 of $2,370,000 for 2007, records show.

Funny then how this happens...

Little wonder, then, that a major SEWRPC activity in this decade has been the creation of a $6.5 billion regional transportation plan that does not contain a single penny for any transit upgrade or initiative.

The plan is about to launch, over the City of Milwaukee's formal objection, a $1.9 billion, eight-year project segment including a new fourth I-94 lane from Milwaukee to Illinois. The plan deliberately omits a commuter rail plan that is available for the same corridor.

Even though gasoline has broken the $4-per-gallon barrier and demand for transit is up, neither the state nor SEWRPC will revisit the plan, its assumptions, spending and goals. That's not planning. That's denial.

So this is what happens when you give suburban jurisdictions control of the transportation funding that is regional in nature. No wonder they can't get the KRM line built or a reasonable transit network. They are always getting bad planning advice and have no funding clout.

Belmont Stakes Expects Record Rail Ridership

With gas prices high and thousands of people expected to watch Big Brown try for the triple crown, the Long Island Railroad is expecting record ridership.
With a huge crowd expected at Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the Long Island Rail Road is preparing for record ridership of up to 30,000 people to historic Belmont Park in Elmont and is promising plenty of trains to carry them. "As long as there are people, we're going to keep running trains," LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said.
The LIRR only began keeping ridership numbers on Stakes Day in recent years. The largest ridership the railroad has on record to the Belmont Stakes came in 2004, when 25,581 customers went to watch Smarty Jones, who fell short of the Triple Crown when he was upset by Birdstone.

Community Investments

There are a lot of problems with comparing costs across modes. You never know what is going to be included in the estimate and often times critics will take total costs and point out their expense. For example, the City of Houston has to approve Metro to build light rail in their streets. But in addition there need to be other mobility improvements including sidewalks and bike infrastructure.

In this instance it will be provided by the City of Houston, but in the case of Minneapolis and the Central Corridor, the street reconstruction costs are added into the rail line's total costs. The Central Corridor will end up costing $1 B for 11 miles. At first blush you think, wow that's expensive, until you realize that includes reconstructing the whole street and sidewalks.
University Avenue reconstruction, to include the mill and overlay of travel lanes and the reconstruction of 85 percent of the curbs, gutters and sidewalks. Central Corridor planners stated that the City of St. Paul and Ramsey County are considering funding the remaining 15 percent as part of the project.
In terms of pure people carrying capacity though this is important because when compared to highways, it's all throughput, but there aren't any walkers and bikers on a freeway. They also don't need a place to park at their end destination (bikes need space but take up less space for sure). So when we look at costs we should be careful to see all what is involved in the project. There might be more going on than the other side cares to acknowledge.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Lieberman-Warner Bill DOA

Aww shucks, we'll have to wait until the next President is in office to pass a climate change bill. If you couldn't tell, I'm not very upset about it. There needs to be a lot more in there for alternative transportation, especially modes that will reduce VMT like bikes and transit (and walking). It still stuck people in their silos as well not blending the benefits of land use and transportation decisions.

Although it is kind of par for the course that it dies the same day as Oil skyrockets.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not that Simple

Update: You Can Listen to the Episode of Forum by clicking here.

I worry about analysis like these in the Tyee. While it's nice to think that if we didn't build that heavy rail line we could build x more miles of streetcar lines, it's really not that simple. Mostly because they serve two different purposes. You can't just say we can have 8 miles of streetcar for a mile of heavy rail, because what is happening is your trading short trips at a slower speed for longer trips at a faster speed. It's necessary to have both.

This morning I was listening to forum on KQED and one of the callers said it was absurd that he couldn't get from Sunnyvale to Berkeley in 2 hours. This is due to the lack of express trains between major destinations. In a better transit system, you would have Caltrain bullets stopping only at places like San Jose, Palo Alto, and San Francisco. Then it would go in it's own tube to Oakland and Berkeley. This is an expensive service due to the tube and electrification etc, and would likely generate calls to spend money more "cost effectively". They would say, why not build 400 buses or the next big trade off. The problem is you need both. In order to make transit useful, there need to be short trips and long trips made easy.

Now I know there is limited funding, but we need to start thinking like non-transit wonks think. And they think, why can't I get from a to b in under an hour if it takes that long in my car. Transit has to be competitive time wise, whether you're trying to hop a few blocks to get a bite to eat or going to a different city in the region.

FTA Privitization Program Hunts School Buses

Oh the places they will go...with their ideology. More tales of the Bush administration transferring wealth to private corporations. The FTA has decided to make it a requirement to allow charter services to bid for event transport that is now provided by the transit agency such as for baseball games and other special events. And now they are trying to make school bus service. But who is going to serve kids in downtrodden districts that no private entity wants to serve?
In the East Bay, about 30,000 schoolchildren use AC Transit buses to get to and from school, paying $15 a month for discounted youth passes. While many of those trips are on regular routes used for nonschool commuters, some of them with route numbers between 600 and 699 are specially scheduled and routed to serve specific schools. Local officials fear that the change sought by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would ban those special routes.
"If this came to pass, it would be a disastrous development for Oakland and for many school districts in California," said Troy Flint, spokesman for the Oakland school district. Flint said it would be "a huge financial burden" for the district to pay for private contractors, and that it wasn't clear whether private companies would even be willing to serve all of the areas covered by AC Transit.
I'm not sure what to think of this, but at first thought, its the stupidest thing I've heard yet. Especially from the FTA spokesman who when asked about AC Transit situation had this to say: "Federal Transit Administration spokesman Paul Griffo said that because the regulation process is under way, the agency cannot address specific concerns such as those raised by AC Transit." That's probably because they didn't think of it, as usual.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It's All About the Benjamins

Example 1: Charlotte

We talked with several riders who say gas prices and convenience have prompted them to give light rail a try, opting to pay $2.60 for a round trip ticket, rather than a gas guzzling trip to work.

“I did an analysis of it and I save $150 a month, not have to pay to park and drive my SUV uptown,” said Tim Gray, who has been riding light rail since its launch in November.

“I think I'm saving $75 to $100 a month. It really adds up,” said Bernice Parenti, who started riding a month ago.

That's the good kind of wealth transfer. Back into your pocket. So if all those folks filling up the lot at I-485 at the South End of the line saved $75 a month. That is $900 a year. No chump change for sure. It comes out to $672,000 a year in people's pockets. Or $20 million over the 30 year life of the vehicles. And that's just one station. Think about the folks who get rid of cars in the South End or Uptown Charlotte. Big money...for real people.

Cost Rocket

The Denver Transit Stop discusses how expensive roads are going to be to us in a few years.
Focusing just on CDOT, Governor Ritter's Blue Ribbon panel for Transportation Finance and Implementation found that there is a $51 Billion gap just in sustaining the infrastructure we already have. By 2030 that gap is expected to be $104 Billion. What does that mean exactly? According to CDOT, by 2016 if you spend an hour on the highway, about 40 min of it will be on rough pavement (currently it's 20 minutes).
But then again it will cost a lot for transit as well. Krugman jumped on the transit talk express, so Robert Reich joined up.
Even though it’s a hundred times more efficient for each of us to stop driving and use trains and buses, there’s not enough money in the public kitty for us to do so.
So are we gonna keep funding what helps people spend more money, or save it?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Future is in the Past

Orphan Road has photos of a 1920 plan for a Seattle Subway System. It looks awfully familiar.

Second Avenue Sagas discusses the 1960 New York Subway Expansion that never happened.

Switchback laments the loss of the Arborway Branch of the Green Line in Boston. The State has a legal obligation to run it as a rail line again, but they just paved over the tracks, hoping the thought will just go away. I would say that Boston is second to AC Transit in rail hate. Not an easy feat when everyone else is trying to put rail lines back.

A post on the Political Environment Blog discusses the loss of a rail fight in Milwaukee back in 1997. Then Governor Tommy Thompson loved the idea, but apparently its demise was due to right-wing radio. It seems like some things never change. The city still can't quite beat back the scourge of winger radio and in a city that's set up well for transit (weighted density 5,830) with approaching $5 gas, things are starting to look up a little when the main paper is pushing both sides a bit harder.
Had Tommy stood up to the local conservative talk radio hosts who still use "light rail" as an all-purpose anti-urban code phrase, workers and students commuting from Waukesha could be riding the rails with some of that $4-gallon gas money in their pockets.
We can learn much from the past, so we don't make similar mistakes going forward.

Barack Obama on Transit

He's the democratic nominee now. RT Rider has his positions on transport here.

Strengthening America's Transportation Infrastructure

Invest in Public Transportation
Create Greater Incentives for Public Transit Usage
Strengthen Metropolitan Planning to Cut Down Traffic Congestion
Require States to Plan for Energy Conservation

Monday, June 2, 2008

Full Subway Car? Don't Mess with the Ladies

Today is PSA day. This one comes from Ben at Second Avenue Sagas:
Crowded subway cars often create bad situations for women, and the vast majority of men know little or nothing about it. Ask your female friends, however, and more than one of them are bound to have stories to tell about fellow straphangers getting a little too close, a little too frisky and a little too touchy-feely during rush hour. It is a sad reality of life in the subways.
Not cool. Recently on BART its been getting crowded and it does get uncomfortable, I imagine more so for females. Personally I try and make myself take up as little space as possible, taking my bag off so I don't touch people. But it can be a bit hard to do if its a sardine tin day.

Do You Have SOV Disorder?

H/T Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

Sunday, June 1, 2008

State of NC Stepping Up

Today in the Charlotte Observer there was an article about a $1.6 Billion in State Funds to match local transportation efforts. It also authorizes all of the large regions to pass a sales tax if they so choose similar to the 1/2 cent sales tax that exists in Charlotte. But the best part about this is that it leaves decisions up to the localities.

The bill doesn't appropriate any money. It simply authorizes urban counties to adopt local taxes for transportation projects and authorizes creation of the Congestion Relief and Intermodal Transportation 21st Century Fund to provide money for an array of transportation uses. How it would be funded would be decided in another legislative session. But the bill offers Wake, Durham and Orange counties in the Triangle and Forsyth and Guilford in the Triad the opportunity to do what Charlotte has done.

"I just think it starts the framework for a comprehensive transportation plan for North Carolinians, giving them options for getting to work, shopping and recreation," said Carney. "It broadens our thinking for the 21st and 22nd century transportation options."

There's one other thing. Because the bill doesn't appropriate money, it leaves decision-making to local voters, Carney said. "This is about the public, not the legislature, deciding what is best.

This means we could see more money in North Carolina for transit options. With the Triangle looking at an intermodal plan, this could push money their way. And with improved federal funding hopefully under a new administration, Charlotte might be able to speed up their expansion given the extra availability of funds. Currently they are trying to move up the streetcar to 2013 from 2018.

CATS officials also have intentions of extending the light rail to University City by 2015 at an estimated cost of $750 million and building commuter rail to the Lake Norman area by 2012 for an estimated $261 million.

CATS chief executive Keith Parker said in March that CATS can't do all three projects at once without a new funding source.

Muni LRT to be Powered by the Sun

Calgary powers its light rail with wind, Seattle with hydro and Muni which was partial hydro, will now be Solar. So much for those coal fired power plant arguments against light rail and future energy.
The photovoltaic systems at the two facilities and the solar energy they generate will be developed and operated under a "Power Purchase Agreement" between the SFPUC and Recurrent Energy. Under the agreement, which the SFPUC members authorized SFPUC staff to negotiate today, Recurrent will finance, design, build and operate the solar energy projects and provide all the energy generated to the SFPUC for a period of 25 years. The five megawatts generated between the two facilities will be used to help power other San Francisco public services and buildings, including streetlights, San Francisco General Hospital, Muni light rail and city schools.