Monday, July 17, 2017

Talking Headways Podcast: More Than Just a Box

On the podcast I’m joined by Matthew Heins, author of The Globalization of American Infrastructure: The Shipping Container and Freight Transportation. Matthew talks about how the American highway and rail systems created a global standard for shipping containers, containerization’s effects on labor and relevance to an automated trucking future, and the massive intermodal freight terminals in cities like Chicago.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Diridon Station and More Notes from French High Speed Rail

There are a couple of pieces of interest that have come out in the last week talking about high speed rail and TOD at Diridon.  Google is getting involved and SPUR is making case studies on main rail station revitalizations the centerpiece of their most recent Urbanist publication.

In regards to Google, the thinking for the Diridon area is ambitious and much more intelligent than what Apple has done with their suburban campus.  By buying up properties around Diridon, they are putting themselves at the center of a major regional transportation hub with light rail, Caltain, High Speed Rail, a revamped bus network, and future BART extensions that allow them to perhaps in the future spend less on their own private transportation modes.

"Google ultimately intends to buy all the parcels in a roughly 240-acre area that would be needed for the mega-campus, said a person familiar with the matter."

Our good friend and podcast guest host Eric Eidlin is also now in San Jose working on the Diridon project so I want to go back in time and pull out a few quotes from Episode 2 of our French HSR podcast as we think about transforming the area around Diridon Station.

Pull Quotes from Episode 2

Stephan De Fay on Return on Investment
"For its part, the French state, in designating a project to be a [project of national importance], is not saying that it wants to receive a full return on its investment in a narrow financial sense. Rather, it is affirming that it wants its money to produce real effects – real effects on the economy, on the housing market—and that these effects are not likely to materialize simply by allowing development to occur in a laissez-faire, Malthusian way."
Stephan De Fay on Overcoming Political Boundaries
"The issue that surfaced early on with the Grand Paris project was the strong and enduring divide between the governance structures of the City of Paris and that of the surrounding metropolitan region.  Just one figure that is quite awful.  In the Paris urban region, we have 1,483 mayors.  This is awful in terms of governance.  The first step of the Grand Paris was to deal with this.  We realized that it was a matter of economic competitiveness.  In order Paris to be economically competitive with other global cities—and with London in particular—we realized early one that we needed to overcome this governance problem."
Stephan De Fay on Big Development and Transportation Project Timelines
"And one point that bubbled to the top that focused a lot of attention because it’s a very big investment --32 billion Euros in this case—was the transportation project.  But the transportation project was actually not really the primary driver.  It was a consequence of a vision, where of course, mobility was a crucial element.  After articulating the vision, the next step was to figure out how to implement it.  And here we came back to transportation.  Because the problem between transportation and district redevelopment is that the transportation project takes longer than the first steps of the urban redevelopment of the district.  And in fact, you can’t really start the redevelopment of the district in earnest until the transportation infrastructure that will serve it is about to be operational.  It is not enough for this infrastructure to simply be promised.  And this is the reason why the primary focus of the Grand Paris project today is on the transit stations and supporting infrastructure.  Because the stations are the nodes of the urban development of the different districts that surround them."
Stephan De Fay on Governance
"One of the clear challenges that I noticed in California – and this hadn’t occurred to me before coming to California in October – relates to governance.  In France, we have one French railroad company and not 15. When you enter a transit station in the Bay Area, it is very strange.  In San Francisco, for example, when you enter a station it is so strange from a European perspective, that there is a lack of comprehensive passenger information.  And there is no integrated ticketing.  And so on.  But this is a big challenge for the customer.   And it is something that needs to be dealt with both at the station level and the district level."
Etienne Tricaud on Risk and Integration
"I would also like to mention a risk.  Coming from our experience, there is one risk in a project like Diridon or LA Union station.  And it is that some decisions are taken too early in terms of infrastructure, in terms of the types of projects and location of projects around the station that become obstacles for the next steps.  I remember when we were at Diridon, we had discussions, and I understood that some decisions – or perhaps not decisions, but studies – had been made regarding the location of the future BART portal, as well as for a potential viaduct for the high-speed train.  And it is good that studies had been done and reflections made on all of these questions.  But decisions on these things should only be made if – and only if – they are considered at a more global scale.  And to be sure that the decision is really the right answer for a specific item or issue within the global vision"

Talking Headways Podcasts: Dr. Lisa Schweitzer

I took a longer session with Dr. Schweitzer and turned it into two podcasts below.

Lightsaber Fights From Autonomous Pods

Supply and Demand is So Boring

Friday, May 26, 2017

Talking Headways Podcast: The Streets Revolution Will Be Televised in Purple

This week’s guest is Streetfilms’ own Clarence Eckerson Jr. Clarence tells us about his start working in video with the BikeTV cable access show, what goes into making Streetfilms, and the best way to approach people on the street for interviews. Listen and you might also catch a few stories about Veronica Moss and the Zozo.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Talking Headways Podcast: The Urban Policy Translator

This week we’re joined by Shelley Poticha, director of NRDC’s Urban Solutions Program, who tells us about the organization’s new programs like SPARCC and the City Energy Project. We get into federal policy like the Clean Power Plan and the story of how FTA and HUD were finally connected, and we talk about The Next American Metropolis, the 1993 book about transit-oriented development she wrote with Peter Calthorpe.

Talking Headways Podcast: The Battery Powered Electric Bus

This week I’m chatting with Matt Horton of Proterra, a company that designs and manufactures battery powered electric buses. We cover the basics of electric buses, power consumption and recharging, the benefits and costs, as well as potential environmental effects.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Podcast: Saving Cities One Picture at a Time

This week on Talking Headways I talk with Chuck Wolfe about his new book, Seeing the Better City. Chuck shares how he makes urban diaries with images, and weighs in on the best ways for bloggers and urbanists to use pictures in their work and advocacy.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Podcast: The Future Is Not Far Away

Our guest this week is Sylvain Haon of the International Association of Public Transport ahead of the organization’s global summit in Montreal. We talk about big transit projects happening around the world, the transition toward mobility as a service, sustainable mobility planning in Europe, and how autonomous vehicles will complement transit in the future.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Podcast: Transport Oakland

I can’t believe this episode is finally out for everyone to hear! More than a year ago, I was approached by a colleague who told me that something big was happening in Oakland, and that I should monitor the process as the city put together a new Transportation Department.

Today I’m pleased to post the first (and hopefully not the last) episode in a series on the Oakland Transportation Department — how it came to be and what comes next. This installments follows a new advocacy group, Transport Oakland, as a parklet project they supported becomes political.

Future episodes will concentrate more specifically on the politics and mechanics of the department, but I thought this would be a good starting point. I hope you enjoy the launch of the series, and hopefully it won’t take another year to get to episode two!

Monday, April 3, 2017

It's Not Devolution, It's Spite

There's been a lot of discussion about devolution over the last few years.  We even had Bruce Katz from Brookings on the podcast to talk about the phenomenon in England where up until 2000, London didn't have a mayor or much say over local matters. 

But even before the new administration made the idea more real with threats to the New Starts and TIGER capital transit funding programs, there's been a push to discuss the idea even more.

On this blog, the idea was passed over briefly when talking about Caltrain funding getting pulled out right at the last second after over a half decade of planning for electrification, and I even think that devolution of some kinds might be a good idea.  But it shouldn't be punishment for political opposition.

But this weekend in Forbes another economics professor, this time libertarian leaning Jeffrey Dorfman at the University of Georgia, has come out in favor of what he calls de-federalization.  What we all know as devolution. 
While many city, state, and federal politicians are decrying the very idea of such transit funding cuts based on the harm that will befall their transit systems without access to such federal funding, what is missing from their argument is any explanation of why the federal government should have been giving them money in the first place.
He then goes on with the tired arguments of "transit doesn't pay for itself" and an interesting new wrinkle for me that sounds a bit too "let them eat transportation cake" for my taste "let's give poor people a tax credit".

Of course roads don't pay for themselves either but driving is such a virtuous activity it shouldn't be hindered in any way right?  Texas even calculated how much tax people would have to pay to break even.  But those analysis were taken down perhaps because they were too true.  Good thing we captured them.
Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes.
That's a 16% farebox recovery just for the tracks. The Center for American Progress also did an analysis looking at major roads and whether they paid for themselves.  The maps are great if you get a chance to look.

But then Professor Dorfman gets to some points I kind of agree with, but for different reasons.
For the most part, transit systems are local matters. Using federal taxes to collect money from the whole country and then send it back to each local transit system is a terribly inefficient way to raise money for transit and is also inherently unfair as different locales receive back either more or less than they paid in.
I would make the same arguments for red states taking blue state hand outs for freeways to fuel sprawl.  But here comes the cognitive dissonance... 
This common practice of using federal funds for local projects in order to hide the true cost should be stopped. The federal government should pay for the things that are truly national in scope (like the interstate highway system).

The only thing that is truly national in scope are the parts of the highway system that are outside of major cities where trucks conduct interstate commerce.  The majority of traffic in cities are not trucks just passing through. It's traffic for regional trips.  Houston's I-10 is now 26 lanes west of the 610 loop, those were created for the Louisiana to New Mexico traffic right?

But aren't most transit trips commute trips as well? And isn't interstate commerce done by train on tracks freight rail companies own and pay property taxes on? Should trucking companies be paying for the roads the operate on or do we see them as a public good? 

We can flip this back and forth and argue what is "national in scope" all day I'm sure.  The point is that it's often based on ideology and what is virtuous in the eye of the person doing the analysis.  In a true libertarian world they'd have a user fee on everything.  But I'm not sure how that works on local streets or things we want to incentivize like say, using more compact transportation modes for traveling into a dense city center because that's where economic activity happens due to agglomeration effects.

But this gets to another point about local decision making as well.  Urban areas are set up to be ruled by the forests.  MPOs are often stacked with suburban representatives and regional transit is hard to create with so many fiefdoms.  In a discussion about the recent highway collapse in Atlanta, New York Magazine goes through all the reasons why having 29 counties in a single metropolitan area makes it impossible to build useful transit. Our extremely racist urban pasts.
Metro Atlanta is scattered across 29 counties, which has made it easy to confine public transit narrowly to the heavily African-American Fulton and Dekalb counties.
Atlanta's history on this is well documented.  But what about other states who have libertarians who hate transit to begin with.  Like say...Texas.
Burton’s bill, which has passed through committee and is awaiting attention from the full Senate, would require that every city through which a commuter line passes hold an election before federal funds are accepted for the projects.
There's a lot to unpack in a bill like this.  Such as why does a city have veto power over a regional project.  Why are rail projects singled out?  I've asked this before, but why does a city need to vote for every single transit project but not a single highway project.  They are both regional projects.  They are both subsidized.  Some might argue we should have that power, I'm not so sure.

But it leaves a place for the federal involvement in large infrastructure projects. So let's not kid ourselves that there's something economic about devolution of transit and not roads to the local level.  And what does local mean anyway?  Because if we go to the state level we all know where the money will be re-purposed.

If we were going to be real about a devolution conversation, we wouldn't just start with the dirty hippy transit.  It's just sad that we know it's all for political show to "punish dirty cities"