Expert: Lack of Infrastructure Can Bust Austin – More Roads Are Needed

June 20th, 2016

COST Commentary: This article is a brief description of a well known national “expert’s” opinion regarding the conflict between Austin’s real need for improved mobility and reduced congestion, with upgraded and expanded roads; and, the City leaders’ primary focus on ways to get people out of cars. Daily passenger miles traveled in Central Texas are 99% on roads, including private, transit, shared, commercial, government, school, emergency, etc.

COST agrees completely with the article’s conclusion that more roads are needed. New and improved roads should be the highest priority for allocation of transportation funds. Austin’s current transportation direction will significantly increase area congestion and degrade the downtown central core as a desirable destination for the vast majority of citizens. The City leaders’ approach to reduce congestion by getting people out of cars has no model of success.

Importantly, all future transportation planning should consider the impact of new technologies such as self-driving vehicles, enhanced “ride hailing” services, smart signalization, ramp metering and others. These will render current approaches to land use, parking, road lane capacity, public transit and others to be outdated in many cases. For example, “fixed” rail transit will be even more outdated than it already is and overall public transit will be require revamping.
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Mr. Boomtown: Austin needs more roads
by Michael Theis, Austin Business Journal, May 17, 2016

Professor and author Joel Kotkin, speaking, will be in San Marcos Thursday to deliver remarks at the Greater San Marcos Economic Outlook event hosted by the Greater San Marcos Partnership.

Joel Kotkin knows a boomtown when he sees one.

Kotkin, an urban studies fellow at Chapman University, has made a career for himself by trying to find out what does and does not make a city boom. Austin has been at or near the top of his annual list of America’s Next Boomtowns, published by Forbes magazine, for years now.

Thursday, he’ll be speaking at the 2016 Greater San Marcos Economic Outlook event in San Marcos, where growth along the Austin-San Antonio corridor has put immense development pressure on the area. Census numbers released in 2014 put San Marcos as the fastest-growing city in America in the fastest-growing county in America, Hays County.

“This tech corridor, this growth corridor, that has opened up between Austin and San Antonio has seen extreme job growth,” said Kotkin. “There is certainly an enormous amount of momentum in that part of Texas.”

Part of that, Kotkin said, is because cities in Texas can offer more bang for their residents’ bucks.

“If you look at coastal cities, you’re really going to have to accept a pretty significant downsizing in how much space you have, the ease of getting around, and you’re going to have to accept a much more limited set of options because the cost of living is so high,” said Kotkin. “The cities on the coast have become more exclusionary. The cities in Texas have become more inclusionary.”

But as Austin’s boom continues, many recognize it can’t last forever. So what makes boomtowns go bust?
Inadequate infrastructure is often the culprit, Kotkin said. In Austin — a city that cites traffic as its No. 1 threat — that usually manifests itself in the form of bad mobility options.

“Austin is obviously the big bottleneck” in the region, said Kotkin, who encourages more road investments in Austin. “I don’t know what fantasy world some of their leaders live in, but they think we can have a lot of growth and choke the roads.”

Austin city leaders, however, are focused largely on ways to get people out of cars. Telecommuting, flex schedules, denser development and an urban rail line are seen as the best ways to fight traffic by the majority at City Hall. The prevailing municipal mentality is that it’s too costly to build and maintain more roads — and the more roads that are built, the more cars will be attracted. The state, on the other hand, is taking the lead on major road projects in the area such as those in the works for MoPac Expressway and I-35.

Other boomtowns have fizzled due to a variety of problems. In the early 2000s, for instance, Las Vegas was the ultimate boomtown. But in the housing crisis it was quite vulnerable. Construction — simply building houses — was a huge driver for the Vegas economy.

“When that faded, those economies faded,” said Kotkin. “The boomtown of the 1950s was Detroit. We know what happened there. Silicon Valley has been through several boom and bust cycles.

“But what is interesting,” Kotkin added, “is since 2000, through the small recession and then the big recession, Texan cities have really outperformed other big cities around the country, both in terms of migration and in job growth.”

Michael Theis
Staff writer
Austin Business Journal

Austin Is not Learning From Failed Transportation Approaches In Many Other Cities

May 4th, 2016

COST Commentary: The article below describes California’s failed effort in its long, expensive attempt to reduce single occupancy vehicles for work commuting. Austin City leaders are following a very similar path and can expect similar failed results. The wasted effort and dollars could be used much more effectively to address Austin’s real transportation challenges. City leaders need to open their blinders and look at actual results such as those in California and numerous other locations.

It is obvious Austin in on the wrong path to serve the greater good of the vast majority of its citizens who continue to choose the superior benefits of single occupancy vehicle’s convenience, time savings, flexibility and destination needs; all providing citizens a greater quality of life. This chosen transportation mode will become even more cost effective and less congested as current and pending new transportation technologies continue to develop and enter public use. Major among these is the wave of self-driving vehicles which will provide all these same benefits plus they will be safer as they reduce human error which is the greatest cause of vehicle accidents and deaths.

It is amazing to us that Austin leaders have launched a “Year of Mobility” and are pursuing a Smart City Challenge from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will award a $50 million grant to one of seven cities. Little in Austin’s actual history of mobility performance provides any evidence they have a clue as to a sound transportation approach. The 2014 proposed 9.5 mile, central City light rail is a recent example which was soundly defeated by voters whoseem to have a much better understanding of needs than the Austin’s City Transportation Department.
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MORE CALIFORNIAN’S CONTINUE TO DRIVE DESPITE POLICIES TO DISCOURAGE
by Wendell Cox 05/04/2016

“California Commuters Continue to Choose Single Occupant Vehicles,” according to a report by the California Center for Jobs and the Economy. The Center indicated:

“The recent release of the 2014 American Community Survey data provides an opportunity to gauge how California commuters have responded to this shifting policy. The data clearly reflects that even with the well-documented and rapidly rising costs of the state’s traffic congestion and costs associated with the deteriorating condition of the state’s roads, California workers continue to rely on single occupant vehicles for the primary mode of commuting. Moreover, their reliance on this mode of travel continues to grow both in absolute and relative terms.” (emphasis in original)

California has experienced substantial growth since 1980. There are approximately 7,000,000 more workers today than 35 years ago. The Census Bureau data shows that 83 percent of the new commuting has been by single-occupant automobile. Working at home accounted for 11 percent of the new commuting, while transit accounted for less than one half that figure, at 4.5 percent (Figure). In 1980, transit accounted for more than three times the volume as working at home. By 2014, the number of people working at home exceeded that of transit commuters.

Chart for California Commuting

The Center noted that state policies to discourage single-occupant commuting had been of little effect:

“The substantial investments in public transit, bike lanes, and other alternative modes have not produced major gains in commuter use. Instead, these investments appear to have simply shifted the choices made by commuters who already are committed to getting to work through modes other than single occupant vehicles. From 1980 to 2000, public transit use grew by 116,000 while “other” modes dropped by the same amount. From 1980 to 2005, public transit use grew by 121,000 while “other” modes dropped by 113,000. In the following years, 1/3 of the growth in public transit and “other” modes was offset by reductions in carpool use.”

The report credited impressive public transit gains in the San Francisco Bay Area, but went on to say that:

“even in the Bay Area, growth of public transit and the “other modes” has come largely from the shrinking relative use of carpooling.”
While improving transit ridership is a good thing, to the extent that it removes passengers from car pools, there is no gain in traffic, because the car and driver are still on the road.

The report laid considerable blame on the cost of houses in California:

“California, the growing body of land use, energy, CEQA, and other regulations affecting housing cost and supply has put both the cost of housing ownership and rents within traditional employment centers out of the reach of many households.”

California’s housing affordability is legendarily desperate. Since the imposition of strong land use regulations began in the early 1970s, the median house price has risen from three times (or less) times median household incomes in of the state’s metropolitan areas to over nine times today in the San Jose and San Francisco metropolitan areas, over eight times in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas and over five times in the Riverside-San Bernardino area (Inland Empire).

Perhaps the most important “take-away” from the report was that: “The current de facto policy of trying to reduce commuting by increasing congestion and its associated costs to commuters has to date not shown itself to be successful.” Simply stated, the vast majority of jobs and destinations in all of California’s urban areas are not accessible by transit in a reasonable time. The question for most California commuters is, for example, not whether to drive or take transit to work, but whether to go to work at all, since most jobs are not readily accessible except by car.

Minnesota and Austin Commuter Trains are Twins in Taxpayer Burdens

May 2nd, 2016

COST Commentary: The article below is about a 40 mile commuter rail in Minnesota. Its performance is very close to Austin’s 32 mile commuter rail to Leander. The bottom line message is that “It costs too much and Does too little.” These rail systems are a major burden on taxpayers and there are numerous, more cost-effective solutions for riders. A tiny percentage of taxpayers use the trains and the trains provide no benefit for the taxpayers who pay 80-90% of the operating costs and almost all of the capital (implementation) costs funded by the Federal Government and the Local Government.
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This Rail System Costs Taxpayers $22 Per Passenger

By Leah Jessen, a news reporter for The Daily Signal and graduate of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.

A Minnesota commuter rail line is costing taxpayers approximately $22 per passenger, per trip.

“When you’re subsidizing about 80 percent of every trip on the line, it’s a really big fiscal disaster,” Annette Meeks, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota CEO, told The Daily Signal.

The Minnesota Northstar rail opened for service in the fall of 2009, providing commute by train down the 40-mile stretch of railway that runs from downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake. The route cost taxpayers $320 million to build, half of which was funded with federal transportation dollars.

“Federal taxpayers have already paid $150 million for the construction costs of the Northstar Line in the form of New Starts’ grants,” Michael Sargent, a research associate in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal.

“Too often these grants incentivize cities to build expensive, inefficient rail systems that rarely live up to ridership expectations and leave taxpayers on the hook to cover exorbitant costs while existing infrastructure and more sensible alternatives are ignored,” Sargent said. “That certainly appears to be the case with the Northstar, which only covers a meager 15 percent of its operating costs through fares. Taxpayers have to pick up the other 85 percent of the tab, which doesn’t even include the cost of the tracks or the cars.”

The federal government has paid out $161.9 million for the rail line.

In 2014, passenger fares brought in approximately $2.3 million dollars, while rail line expenses totaled around $15.5 million, according to the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. During the first full year in operation, 2010, the rail brought in about $2.5 million, but required about $16 million to run.

However, activists in Minnesota are not satisfied with the current rail route and want it expanded. The GRIP/ISAIAH faith-based social justice group is lobbyingfor an extension of the rail line from Big Lake to St. Cloud.

“We feel we deserve the option to not own a car,” Richard Gordon, a St. Cloud State University student, said, the St. Cloud Times reported. “I’ve never owned a car and I don’t plan to, so I need this train.”

The rail line was originally planned to go about 65 miles from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud as a commuter rail line, Meeks says. When applying for federal funding, the rail line did not meet the criteria to qualify for 50 percent of the costs to be funded through the New Starts program under the Bush administration, “because the ridership projections did not meet the Bush administration’s criteria,” she said. Thus, the line was shortened and ended at Big Lake in order to qualify for the federal funding.
Northstar ridership was 722,637 riders last year, up 1,423 riders—only around a 0.2 percent increase—from 2014, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Meeks told The Daily Signal that the daily ridership goals were predicted to be 3,400 riders. Daily ridership last year was around 2,500 riders.

“There were some of us who were strongly opposed to this from the get-go because there is not the population density along this line to ever meet their daily ridership goals,” Meeks said. “That means that it’s going to be heavily subsidized by people who will never set foot on this line.”
Taxpayers subsidized $21.43 per passenger, per trip in 2014. In 2010, taxpayers spent $22 per person, according to the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

“It never should have been built,” Meeks said.

She added: “After five years, if something doesn’t catch on, to me it’s just a bad experiment and you should stop experimenting with taxpayer dollars.”

A Northstar Corridor Development Authority study concluded that it would cost around $150 million to extend the rail line to St. Cloud, which is almost 30 miles away from Big Lake. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that preliminary capital costs for building the line would be around $40 to $50 million.

Currently, to connect by public transportation to the Twin Cities, St. Cloud residents can take a bus to Big Lake before connecting with the Northstar train.

“Expanding this costly system with more federal dollars is a bad deal for taxpayers and riders alike, especially when there are more cost-effective options—such as bus service—available to residents of the region,” Heritage’s Sargent said.

Constraining Growth Reduces Affordability

April 24th, 2016

COST Commentary: The article below further confirms messages in previous COST postings on this site: Cities/Regions with greater growth containment and burdensome development regulations have significantly larger home price increases. This results in unaffordability for many low and medium income citizens, reductions in families with children and reductions in public school enrollment. All of these trends are accelerating in Austin and will continue unless aggressive action is taken by city leaders.

Focusing more closely on the four largest Texas regions, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio experienced lower home prices (inflation adjusted) in 2010 than 30 years earlier in 1980. These regions have expanded greatly and have maintained responsible development regulations. In contrast, Austin, the fourth largest region, has experienced about a 20% increase in a sharp upward price trend starting around 1990 which has been accelerating in recent years. Recent house prices are 9% higher than last year and last year was 11% higher than the prior year. Austin has one of the fastest rising cost of living trends, primarily due to housing price increases. A significant portion of Austin’s price increases are due to regulations. Many of the Austin region political leaders have recognized and voiced great concern for Austin’s rapidly growing home prices and the major negative impact it is having on a significant portion of the population. However, many of the actions of these leaders are contrary to this concern and actually exacerbate the problem.
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The Wall Street Journal

Why the Great Divide Is Growing Between Affordable and Expensive U.S. Cities
By Laura Kusisto, Apr 18, 2016

Across the country, a divide is emerging between cities that are growing outward and remaining affordable and ones that are hemmed in by geography and onerous zoning codes and are becoming more and more expensive.

As a whole, U.S. cities are expanding as rapidly as they have throughout the last half-century. From the 1950s until the 2000s they have added about 10,000 square miles per decade, or an area roughly the size of Massachusetts, according to research by Issi Romem, chief economist at real-estate site BuildZoom, to be released Monday. But beneath the surface a divide is deepening.

On the one side are cities such as San Francisco, Boston, New York and Miami that have slowed their pace of expansion dramatically since the 1970s, in part as they have added layer upon layer of building regulations. On the other side are cities concentrated in the southeast and Texas, which have grown outward and seen much slower price growth.

Chart for Affordability

The developed residential area in Atlanta, for example, grew by 208% from 1980 to 2010 and real home values grew by 14%. In contrast, in the San Francisco-San Jose area, developed residential land grew by just 30%, while homes values grew by 188%.
The developed residential area in Raleigh, N.C., grew by 219% in the same period, while home values grew by 27%. In Seattle, the developed area grew by 69%, while home values grew by 119%.

Mr. Romem draws the distinction succinctly: expansive cities versus expensive cities.

“If you don’t let the city grow, you’re going to get prices going upward…and see the middle class being pushed out,” Mr. Romem said.
Mr. Romem’s research reads on its face like an argument for suburban sprawl, which has come under fire both for its environmental consequences and tendency to lead to oversupply that can lead home prices to crash.

Mr. Romem said ideally cities would relax regulations and build upward rather than outward. But, he said, promoting development on empty fields is more politically feasible than building apartment towers in single-family neighborhoods, and thus likely to ease affordability pressures more quickly.

Many of the more expensive cities are prevented from growing outward by natural barriers, such as oceans or mountains. Those cities are unlikely to grow significantly upward or outward in the next couple of decades, he said, and thus the price divide is likely to continue to widen.

That could be good news for cities such as Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., that have long been overshadowed by more economically powerful legacy cities.

“These cities are growing more important because of having more population. They have become more viable places for certain types of firms to locate,” he said.

U.S. Transit Ridership is Falling

April 6th, 2016

COST Commentary: This short article about reductions in 2015 transit ridership compared to 2014 needs no commentary. Texas’ major cities are not mentioned because ridership changes are very small. Austin, Dallas and San Antonio were down slightly in ridership and Houston was up slightly. This “flat” ridership has been the trend of these Texas cities for many years. These cities/regions have been in the top 10 in population growth and transit use has been stagnant while billions of dollars have been spent to improve transit ridership. It is time for the central Texas region to focus on transportation infrastructure which will improve congestion for all. Transit has proven to have from negative to minuscule positive impact on congestion.
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Transit Ridership Falling

by Randal O’Toole, April 5, 2106 in blog The Antiplanner.

Transit ridership in 2015 was 1.26 percent less than in 2014, with bus ridership falling by nearly 3 percent. But transit advocates wanted to lead with good news, so Progressive Railroading‘s coverage is headlined, “rail ridership increased as overall public transit use dipped 1.3 percent.”

Why did rail ridership increase? In the case of heavy rail (subways and elevateds), the answer is that New York is enjoying its “largest jobs boom ever,” so subway ridership there grew by 14 million annual rides. Heavy rail as a whole grew by only 9 million annual rides, so take away New York and nationwide subway/elevated ridership declined. Among the big losers in heavy rail were Baltimore (-11%), San Juan (-15%), Los Angeles (-5%), and Washington DC (-4%). Of course, rail supporters in most of those cities still want to build more train lines.

For light rail, the answer is that Minneapolis-St. Paul opened its new Green line. This boosted the region’s light-rail ridership by 7 million rides, without which nationwide light-rail ridership would have declined by 5 million annual trips. Among the biggest losers were Baltimore (-15%), Cleveland (-6%), Los Angeles, and Sacramento (each -5%).

Commuter rail was flat, overall gaining just 20,000 riders for the entire year, which considering the total is 490 million is a 0.00 percent increase. Some of the biggest losers were Portland, Maine (-14%), Albuquerque (-12%), and Portland, Oregon (-8%).

Bus ridership declined in all but eight of the nation’s 42 largest bus systems. Ridership fell by 8.4% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, meaning most of the new light-rail riders there were former bus riders. Similarly, ridership in New York fell by 20 million rides, more than making up for that city’s growth in subway ridership. The only major city showing more than a 3 percent gain in bus ridership was rail-free Las Vegas, which saw a 7 percent increase.

Naturally, transit advocates will blame the decline on low fuel prices. But the drop also shows that Millennials and other Americans aren’t making some cultural transition from driving to transit. Instead, it remains true that American commuters and other urban travelers respond more to factors like employment rates and fuel prices than to heavy spending on new rail or other expensive transit projects.

Millennials Defy Predictions and Are Buying Homes in the Suburbs

March 28th, 2016

COST Commentary: Total driving is increasing as the economy improves slowly and population continues to increase ; and, millennials are buying homes in the suburbs, much to the dismay of planners who, in large part, predicted reduced automobile driving due to millennial preferences for living in city central core areas and favoring public transit. These predictions more poorly represent the future as they do not fully consider other elements of transportation’s paradigm shift such as massive increases in car sharing and driverless cars. Following are three articles: The first is an article published in March 2014, reflective of many planners, consultants and “believers” in their unfounded vision of millennials driving less, using transit and living in higher density; a myth spread widely in numerous articles and presentations. The next two are articles written just a year later which describe the myths and facts regarding millennials and their lifestyle preferences. As you will see, the myths of the first article and the facts of the next two articles present a very different picture.

The incorrect assumptions and predictions of millennial preferences provide the foundation for transportation policies of many transit agencies and city planners as well as a large number of elected officials. This disconnect with reality will waste billions of tax dollars on high-cost, ineffective transit, delaying their ability to effectively address growing congestion throughout most major cities, including Austin.
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Nielsen
MILLENNIALS PREFER CITIES TO SUBURBS, SUBWAYS TO DRIVEWAYS
CONSUMER | 03-04-2014

Millennials are the social generation, both online and in-person. As the founders of the social media movement, they’re never more than a few clicks away from friends and family. And offline, they prefer to live in dense, diverse urban villages where social interaction is just outside their front doors.

Breaking from previous generations’ ideals, this group’s “American Dream” is transitioning from the white picket fence in the suburbs to the historic brownstone stoop in the heart of the city. And their dreams have the power to affect cities and towns across the U.S. According to Nielsen’s recent Millennials – Breaking the Myths report, those aged 18-36 are 77 million strong, or 24 percent of the population—the same as Baby Boomers (between 49-67 years old). As Millennials continue to come of age and control an increasing share of the economy, understanding how their diversity and values play into their lifestyle and purchasing preferences will be essential to appeal to this generation of consumers.

A METROPOLITAN FEEL HAS A MILLENNIAL APPEAL

Millennials like having the world at their fingertips. With the resurgence of cities as centers of economic energy and vitality, a majority are opting to live in urban areas over the suburbs or rural communities. Sixty-two percent indicate they prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants and offices. They are currently living in these urban areas at a higher rate than any other generation, and 40 percent say they would like to live in an urban area in the future. As a result, for the first time since the 1920s growth in U.S. cities outpaces growth outside of them.

The markets where Millennials are most highly concentrated reflect their desire to live in more socially conscious, creative environments. Austin, Texas has the highest concentration of this group—almost 1.2 times the national average—and fits the Millennial ideal, combining urban convenience with an exciting art and music scene. Within Austin, most Millennials are found near the city core and less in the suburban and rural areas. With the exception of Washington D.C., the top markets for Millennials are in the western portion of the country, unlike their Boomer counterparts who are mostly highly concentrated on the East Coast. And the growing young population in the Western U.S. will affect demand in these areas.
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Forbes / Leadership
by Travis Bradberry, MAR 6, 2015

Every Big Cliché about Millennials Is Wrong
As every new generation enters the workforce, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly their generation is labeled with “attributes” that are common to young people. These attributes tend to stick, and they quickly become inaccurate as the generation ages (assuming they were even accurate in the first place).

Nowhere is this more evident than with Millennials, who by 2020 will make up more than 50% of the US workforce.

That’s why it’s so great to see that IBM decided we should quit making assumptions, and they conducted a global study that aimed to uncover what Millennials are really all about.

Here’s what they found:

Myth 1: Millennials have unrealistic career goals.

Fact: As it turns out, Millennials are just like everyone else in the workplace. They’re after financial and job security, first and foremost. And who can blame them? That’s a big part of why we work in the first place. So don’t expect your younger workers to make unrealistic requests of you and your company.

Myth 2: Millennials expect endless praise because they were raised in a culture of “everyone gets a trophy.”

Fact: Not only are Millennials not after endless praise, their #1 preference in a boss is the same as Boomers. Both want a fair boss who freely shares information. As it turns out, it’s Gen Xers who believe that everyone involved in a successful project should be rewarded, and members of this generation are in their early 30s-50s. Sounds like they are the ones misappropriating their inadequacies onto younger workers.

Myth 3: Millennials are so addicted to technology that they lack boundaries between their work and private lives.

Fact: This one is quite the opposite. Millennials are actually much less likely to blur the boundaries between their work and personal lives because they’ve been raised with technology. Hence, they’ve been bred on the nuances that older workers fail to understand. In fact, they are 4X more likely than Boomers to keep their work and personal lives separate when it comes to technology. It’s the old dogs that are having trouble learning new tricks.

Myth 4: Millennials are afraid to make decisions for themselves.

Fact: Millennials are no more likely than Generation X to seek group consensus when making decisions. They simply aren’t as timid about making decisions as everyone thinks they are. And, contrary to the mistaken assumption that Millennials have a tendency to buck authority, more than 50% of them trust their company’s leadership to make decisions that are sound.

Myth 5: Millennials will quit if their job doesn’t fulfill their passions.

Fact: When it comes to changing jobs, Millennials are actually just like everybody else. The #1 reason they leave is for money. And just like Boomers and Generation X, Millennials are 2X more likely to leave a job for money than they are because it fails to fulfill their passions.

Bringing It All Together

You are making a grave mistake anytime you allow generational stereotypes to affect how you treat employees. Even worse, companies often make wholesale changes based upon what they assume younger workers want.

Just as we learned from the IBM study, there’s a tried and true method to ensure this never happens to you. Talk to your Millennials and find out what they want, because it’s likely a far cry from what you’d expect.

Note: The IBM
Travis co-wrote the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founded TalentSmart.
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Bentley University
Why Millennials Are Moving to Suburbs and Smaller Cities
by April Lane, May 21, 2015

Some of the biggest myths about millennials and their lifestyle preferences are that they all want to be car-free in urban areas, with public transportation and car-sharing options, and they still can’t afford to get married or buy their own homes, single and renting or living at home. But it looks as though millennials are finally growing up, having kids, moving to the suburbs, and “becoming their parents,” even if they don’t know it yet — or have the choice.

A while back, Forbes reported in “Millennial Boomtowns: Where The Generation is Clustering (It’s Not Downtown” that the majority of millennials (those currently aged 20 to 29) aren’t living downtown, or even in the top 10 major cities, as many assume:

“Like most of America, the millennials are far more suburban, more dispersed and less privileged than what one sees on shows such as “Girls” or read about in accounts in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Reality is often more complex, and less immediately compelling, than the preferred media narrative. But understanding the actual geography of [millennials] may provide a first step to gaining wisdom about how to approach and understand this critically important generation.”

Competition for jobs from baby boomers reluctant to retire, being priced out of top urban metro areas by international investors, as we see here in Boston, and simply the freedom of telecommuting is giving millennials more expanded options, including living in suburbs and smaller cities where the cost of living is more accessible. Clickhole explores the plight of these ‘up-and-coming millennials, among those hit hardest by the sluggish economy, looking for the next affordable, undiscovered city to settle in,’ which we explored in more depth in our 2015 Millennial Predictions and list of The New Best Cities for Millennials.

What’s most surprising to many is which cities have seen the largest increases in their millennial populations, and how young people choose where to live, recently explored by both Yahoo! news and US News & World Report.

“It is dogma among greens, urban pundits, planners and developers that the under 30 crowd doesn’t like what Grist called ‘sprawling car dependent cities,” Joel Kotkin writes for Forbes. “Too bad no one told most millennials. What [actually] emerges…is a picture of a millennial America that does not much mirror the one suggested in most accounts. The metro areas with the highest percentages of millennials tend, for the most part, to be not dense big cities but either college towns — Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio, for example — or Sun Belt cities.”

Cities like Charlotte, NC have seen their fair share of millennial transplants, and the Charlotte Observer reports that despite their preference for mass transit, millennials are embracing cars as a tradeoff to the lower overhead and higher quality of life available in these smaller cities. Millennials — also known as Generation Y — accounted for 27 percent of new car sales in the U.S. last year, up from 18 percent in 2010, according to J.D. Power & Associates. They’ve zoomed past Gen X to become the second-largest group of new car buyers after their boomer parents. Millennials are starting to find jobs and relocating to the suburbs and smaller cities, where public transport is spotty.

“The millennial generation is a diverse bunch, but there are a few common threads that tie them together,” writes Nicole Schreck for US News. “Millennials often value experiences and look at their lives in a different way than previous generations did — and they’re certainly not afraid to shake things up. In fact, according to a recent Rent.com survey of 1,000 U.S. renters ages 18 to 34, nearly half say they moved to a city other than the one they grew up in.”

Those experiences include not waiting any longer to become parents due to the “suspended adulthood” that has plagued their generation, and the Washington Post recently debated what will happen to cities when millennials have kids and the suburbs beckon.

“Previous generations mostly moved to the suburbs, and there is evidence that many millennials also want to live in suburban single-family homes, even if they live in cities right now. Picket fence and all. But in urban planning circles, there is a burgeoning movement to figure out how to better accommodate young families before they depart.”

One thing is for certain as millennials reach parenthood: For investors, their money is on the ‘Burbs, according to Business Insider.

“Especially in the older millennials, we’re seeing a move towards more traditional patterns, just on a delayed time frame,” said Sarah House, an economist at Wells Fargo. “A generation that’s been stereotyped as urban, single, and aghast at the idea of a car-based life in the suburbs is starting to age, prompting fund managers to bet on companies that should benefit if the U.S. birth rate reverses a six-year slump. With 4.3 million millennials turning 30 this year and the number set to jump to 4.6 million by 2020, there will soon be more adults in their early 30s than at any other time in U.S. history, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data.”

April Lane is a freelance writer.

Learn more about Bentley’s PreparedU Project, which examines challenges facing millennial workers, the companies that employ them and the colleges and universities that prepare them.

Rail Transit’s Hidden Secret

March 27th, 2016

COST Commentary: Rail Transit has a major “secret” which is rarely highlighted and almost never discussed in the environment of considering an urban rail transit system for a city or region. This secret is well revealed in the article below (with follow-on comments by the author). It is that few understand or consider the long term implications of the fact that rail systems require significant maintenance throughout their life and wear-out in 30-40 years, requiring almost as much investment as the original system. The specific example below in the first article is of the Washington D.C. Metro system, but, it is valid for all such systems; as demonstrated in numerous regions. When this time comes, there is almost always a lack of source for the major funds necessary and total transportation suffers.

The second article is short a follow-up discussion by the author of the first article.

In Austin and other cities, one’s rail considerations should couple this huge replacement cost with the fact that new technology is rapidly approaching which will render a significant rail system as outdated and irrelevant to the area’s transportation needs before the rail system can be implemented. Modern buses may still play a roll in future transit systems but their roll will be quite different than most bus transit systems in operation today.

A paragraph from the third article about the D.C. Metro system put the nation’s rail maintenance and replacement backlog challenges in perspective: “Like other transit systems, Metro suffers from a lack of investment in infrastructure: As Mr. Evans broadcast on Twitter last week, some of the original 1976 trains are still in use. The Federal Transit Administration says one-quarter of the nation’s rail assets are in “marginal or poor condition.” In 2013, it estimated an $86 billion backlog in deferred maintenance nationwide.”

As an example of proposed new rail systems, the fourth article below is about the California High Speed Rail (HSR) being proposed. To start with, California is unable to define where an estimated $43.5 Billion shortfall of an estimated $64 billion (Earlier estimates were more than $90 billion) High Speed Rail system will come from. A high California government official is questioning the advisability of moving forward as he appropriately should. In addition,there has been little or no discussion of the future of replacing such a system and the burden on future generations. This is totally irresponsible. No one believes the train can pay for itself. It will fall heavily on taxpayer shoulders, most of which will never ride the train or benefit from it in any way.
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Why You Should Think Twice Before Building a Rail Transit System
by Aaron M. Renn in newgeography.com, 03/24/2016

The Washington Metro system was shut down completely for a day recently to allow crews to inspect all of the power cables in the system. They found 26 cables and connectors in need of immediate repair.

This is just the latest in a series of safety problems and breakdowns that have plagued the system.

Metro has a large unfunded maintenance liability. This doesn’t surprise us because we expect American transit systems to have a backlog.

The difference is that unlike NYC, Chicago, Boston, etc., which have systems a century old, the Washington Metro system is actually new.

The oldest part of the Metro opened in 1976. That means Metro is 40 years old – max. Much of it is actually newer than that.

Forty years after opening, Metro already faces a maintenance crisis.

This should give other regions pause when it comes to building a rail transit system. My colleague Alex Armlovich points out that NYC has more or less been on a 40 year refresh cycle, with two rounds of major system investment since the subways opened. This doesn’t seem out of line as a capital life heuristic to me.

So cities need to keep in mind that if they build a rail system, they not only have to pay to build it, they pretty much have to pay to rebuild it every 40 years. This is a challenge because as we see it’s easier to muster the will to build something new than to maintain something you already have.

Given the huge permanent capital outlays implied by rail transit, you only want to build it where there’s sufficient value to justify it. Washington unquestionably achieves this. It simply hasn’t been able to capture the value into a maintenance revenue stream, plus Metro (like many systems) has been badly mismanaged.

The problem comes in for cities that aren’t NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philly, DC, and San Francisco. Once you get below that group, the value starts becoming more debatable.

Exhibit A is Los Angeles, which has spent untold billions on a huge rail system as ridership actually declined. LA is continuing to build more and more rail.

But what happens when this system is old?

LA’s Red Line opened in 1993, so is 23 years old. By the time LA finishes its current rail build out, it’s likely that the original parts of the system will be coming into the zone for a major capital refresh.

Thus shortly LA will find itself in a perpetual capital catchup cycle starting in only a couple decades. This possibly may not happen, but it has happened everywhere else, so why should LA be different?

Given the ridership levels we’ve seen so far, will the value added from rail vs. the old bus approach be there? It’s not looking good. And if the case in LA is looking weak, certainly smaller and less dense places are even more speculative.

All these smaller cities investing billions into rail had better hope their projections of massive benefits come true, because all too soon the rebuild bill will start coming due.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Washington.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian, Forbes.com, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Below is a follow-on note by the author, Aaron Renn
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In Praise of Plain Old Bus Service

Posted: 31 Mar 2016 10:38 PM PDT in new geography.com

My recent post on counting the long term costs of building rail transit got a lot of hits – and as expected a lot of pushback.

There are a lot of people out there that are simply committed to the idea of rail transit, no matter how unwarranted a particular line or system might be.

I find it interesting that the place with the most people applying serious skepticism to transit projects seems to be New York – the place with the biggest slam dunk of a case for it of any city.

Lots of people, for example, have critiqued the proposed Brooklyn-Queens light rail line. In a city where there’s a desperate need for more transit, advocates are very focused on making sure the limited capital we have gets spent on useful projects. Not everyone agrees with each other, but there’s a robust debate, focused on the actual merits.

In cities without much experience of transit, there appears to be a huge bias in favor of very expensive rail projects regardless of their merits.

Some have asked me whether I support Bus Rapid Transit. I can, in some circumstances. Though Alon Levy has convinced me that the economics of South American style BRT don’t necessarily transfer to high income countries.

What I do very much support is significantly improved Plain Old Bus Service (POBS).

Most cities in America have pretty awful bus service, with meandering, radial routes that run infrequently and are basically deployed as a social service.

Contrast that with Chicago or LA (or even New York, despite its subway dominance), where we see bus grid networks that run with reasonable frequency.

I define “reasonable frequency” as meaning I can show up at the stop without consulting a schedule or tracker app, confident that my max burn on wait time is at least semi-humane. Ten minute or less headways would be best, but I can live with 15.

Jarrett Walker has highlighted the role of Portland’s high frequency bus grid, launched in 1982, as changing the game there and making the city’s subsequent light rail system actually functional.

Thirty years ago next week, on Labor Day Weekend 1982, the role of public transit in Portland was utterly transformed in ways that everyone today takes for granted. It was an epic struggle, one worth remembering and honoring.

I’m not talking about the MAX light rail (LRT) system, whose first line opened in 1986. I’m talking about the grid of frequent bus lines, without which MAX would have been inaccessible, and without which you would still be going into downtown Portland to travel between two points on the eastside.

Pretty much any city could benefit from a better POBS network and higher frequencies. This is where there is vast opportunity to invest in American transit without breaking the bank.

Yes, buses cost money. I’m not saying its free. This is where I say we should spend more. A solid POBS system is just the basics to be in the game for any city looking to retrofit transit culture.

Even Portland, the city held up as the exemplar for light rail investment, started by getting its bus system right.
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Washington Metro, 40 and Creaking, Stares at a Midlife Crisis
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and NICHOLAS FANDOS, APRIL 3, 2016

WASHINGTON — Jack Evans was a summer intern here in 1976, the year Metro, the capital region’s subway system, opened to rave reviews. It was an architectural triumph, with escalators that plunged into clean, well-lit stations — a mass transit marvel “like ‘The Jetsons,’ ” he says — a far cry from the graffiti-scarred, decrepit system of that era in New York.

Now Mr. Evans, 62, is the chairman of the transit agency that oversees Metro — perhaps the city’s least enviable job. Last week, at a conference examining Metro on its 40th birthday, he said out loud what Washingtonians had known for years: The capital’s once-glorious subway system, the nation’s second busiest, is short on cash and a terrible mess.

“It’s a system that’s maybe safe, somewhat unreliable, and that is being complained about by everybody,” declared Mr. Evans, who estimates that Metro could face a $100 million budget shortfall next fiscal year.

Then he dropped a bombshell. He warned that whole lines may have to be closed for months for repairs, adding, “If we do nothing, 10 years from now the system won’t be running.”

At a time of deepening concern over aging infrastructure and rail safety around the nation — on Sunday, an Amtrak train struck a backhoe on the tracks outside Philadelphia, killing two people and injuring dozens more — Metro is hardly the only transit agency with problems. But years of well-documented safety lapses, including a crash in 2009 that left nine people dead, as well as petty annoyances like broken escalators and train delays, reveal how a grand vision of American liberalism has collided with reality now that Metro has hit middle age.

The Federal Transit Administration has issued a blistering indictment of the system, warning in a June report of “serious safety lapses.” That month, the National Transportation Safety Board convened hearings revealing that employees of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — which runs Metro, as well as a regional bus service — often felt afraid to report safety concerns.

Commuters are frustrated and are abandoning the subway. Weekday ridership declined 6.1 percent in the last half of 2015, Metro officials say, compared with the same period the previous year. Metro’s new general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, who shut down service last month for a daylong emergency inspection after a tunnel fire similar to one that killed a passenger in January 2015, concedes that the public is losing faith.

“Clearly in the public mind we have lost credibility in both delivery of the service and some of the safety issues,” Mr. Wiedefeld, 60, said Friday in a surprisingly blunt interview. He said he saw Metro’s safety and reliability problems as rooted in “a very large disconnect between front-line employees and management,” and in a culture in need of an overhaul.

“An organization that had such a proud history has lost it internally, to a degree,” Mr. Wiedefeld said. “That is something we have to rekindle.”

As Mr. Wiedefeld works on a plan to address safety and repairs — he spent part of last week interviewing candidates for a new chief safety officer — he says monthslong shutdowns are “highly unlikely.” Mr. Evans, in a separate interview, stuck by his original statement, and local officials warned that such a move would cripple the city.

Riders are a little disgusted, and a bit ashamed.

“It had been this bright and shining way to get to work, and now it’s become kind of a ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ operation,” said Bob Deans, 61, who rides Metro each day from his home in Bethesda, Md., to his job at the Natural Resources Defense Council here. He sees tourists on the train, he says, and wants to “apologize and say, ‘No, we’re really better than this.’ ”

The story of Metro’s transformation from a point of pride to the subject of eye rolling among commuters (as well as a Twitter feed, UnsuckDCMetro, with more than 49,000 followers) is, experts say, traceable to a lack of basic maintenance, a history of inept management and an unwieldy governance structure in which three jurisdictions — Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia — share responsibility for the system.

The United States was at the height of its car craze when the idea for a subway system in Washington began percolating in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Many cities were carving themselves up with freeways, often destroying poor African-American neighborhoods, said Zachary M. Schrag, a George Mason University professor and the author of “The Great Society Subway,” a 2006 history of Metro.

Metro, he said, offered an alternative, a way to connect the capital to its Maryland and Virginia suburbs in a “structured set of corridors where people would live and work,” with development clustered around train stations — a vision that, in many respects, has come to pass.

The system was to be a visual statement about the power and prestige of the American government, and was conceived, Mr. Schrag said, “very much in opposition to New York,” whose aging system was in the thick of a midlife crisis. In 1966, after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation authorizing Metro’s construction, he directed planners to scour the globe for design concepts so the new subway system could “take its place among the most attractive in the world.”

Metro opened on March 27, 1976, with one line, the Red, and five stations. Today the system has six lines (including the new Silver Line, opened in 2014 as part of a plan to eventually connect the city to Dulles International Airport) and 91 stations. Metro riders made roughly 261 million trips last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Like other transit systems, Metro suffers from a lack of investment in infrastructure: As Mr. Evans broadcast on Twitter last week, some of the original 1976 trains are still in use. The Federal Transit Administration says one-quarter of the nation’s rail assets are in “marginal or poor condition.” In 2013, it estimated an $86 billion backlog in deferred maintenance nationwide.

But Robert Puentes, the incoming president of the Eno Center for Transportation, who wrote a 2004 paper on Metro, says the system’s problems also stem from a singular reality written into it from the outset: It is an “institutional orphan” with no single mayor or legislature in charge. Metro, he said, is the only mass transit system of its size without a permanent source of funding, like a tax on businesses near stations. It relies solely on allocations from its three jurisdictions and on its own fares for operations.

Others, like Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s nonvoting delegate to the House, complain that the federal government, which depends on Metro to carry thousands of workers to places like the Pentagon, does not contribute to the system’s $1.8 billion annual operating budget. It would take an act of Congress to change that; Ms. Holmes Norton, a Democrat, says that persuading Republicans to sign on would be “like pulling teeth.”

In 2005, Richard A. White, then Metro’s general manager, warned Congress in written testimony that “without adequate, predictable resources, it is not a question of WHETHER Metro’s service will further deteriorate, but WHEN.”

But the city paid scant heed until the deadly 2009 crash, which ushered in an era of greater federal oversight. Eight riders and a train operator were killed and dozens were injured when one train rear-ended another as it idled near an aboveground Red Line station on the city’s outskirts.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the widespread failure of Metro’s automatic train-control system for the crash, as well as general negligence about safety. The board also said that old train cars posed an “unacceptable risk” and should be replaced as soon as possible.

By this time, Congress had already passed legislation authorizing $1.5 billion over 10 years for Metro to make capital improvements and repairs, like fixing broken escalators and buying new rail cars. Some improvements have been made, and modern trains have been purchased, but Mr. Wiedefeld said Metro had consistently underspent the money.

Safety problems have persisted. In addition to the tunnel fire that killed a passenger in January 2015, a train derailment in August raised red flags. No one was injured, but the track defect that caused the derailment had been detected a month earlier and ignored, reflecting “a system breakdown that was simply unacceptable,” said Peter Goelz, a transportation consultant who has advised Metro.

Metro spent much of 2015 without a full-time general manager, amid disagreement on its 16-member board over whether to hire a transit expert or a turnaround specialist. Mr. Wiedefeld, who previously ran Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, arrived in late November, and has so far been given good reviews.

Now, Mr. Wiedefeld and Mr. Evans appear to be pursuing a two-pronged public relations strategy. While Mr. Wiedefeld tried to tamp down the uproar over potential closures, Mr. Evans made clear in an interview that he was pleased with the reaction, which he hoped would help him “sell the region,” and Congress, on the need for an organizational overhaul and for more money. Metro also has a $2.5 billion unfunded pension liability, Mr. Evans said.

“Unless you are living under a rock,” he said, “everyone now knows that Metro has terrible financial problems.”

Now the question is what it will take to restore the system to its former glory — and whether that can be achieved. Mr. Schrag, the professor and author, remains hopeful. “The New York subway came back, and Metro can come back,” he said. Still, he added: “It’s such a bittersweet moment. This was supposed to be a birthday party.”
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Bullet train: Failure to identify funding for Southern California leg unacceptable, official says
By Ralph Vartabedian, March 26, 2016, 4:56 p.m. in L.A. Times

The California rail authority’s failure to identify a source of funding to connect Los Angeles to the future bullet train system is not acceptable, said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

Until the high-speed rail authority released a new draft business plan last month, the state had planned to open its first operating segment between Burbank and the Central Valley by 2022. But in a major concession to its limited funding, the plan now calls for a cheaper segment that would run from San Jose to the Central Valley by 2025.

By the time that initial segment is built, all the existing funds would be exhausted, leaving uncertainty about how and when the line would cross the geologically complex mountains of Southern California.

The lack of specificity is stirring some deep concerns among legislative analysts and Southern California’s political leadership, reflected in Ikhrata’s position. Ikhrata is scheduled to testify at an Assembly oversight hearing on Monday and says he will deliver a message that there are still too many unknowns in the plan.

“You can’t say you can do something without saying how you are going to pay for it,” he said in an interview. “This is a must. If you don’t have the money in the bank, I understand that. But you can’t assume the money is going to fall from the sky. You have to have a path. You can’t be silent totally.”

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has raised the same concerns, saying in a report that the business plan fails to make a case for how it will pay for a completed system. The bullet train has been funded so far by a $9-billion bond, $3.2 billion in federal grants and about $500 million a year in greenhouse gas fees, all of which leave big shortfalls in the $64-billion megaproject. The shortfall is estimated at $43.5 billion, an amount that would be difficult or impossible to find in the short term.

The Assn. of Governments has played a key role in representing the region at the rail authority, signing a 2013 memorandum of understanding that provided for about $1 billion of investments in Southern California’s transit systems to prepare for the future bullet train. The deal put Southern California on a near equal footing with the Bay Area, which received money to electrify its Caltrain commuter system.

But the larger questions remain about the project’s ability to deliver a system that would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes, which is required under the 2008 bond act that voters approved. In the earlier plan, the rationale for starting Southern California was based on the region’s larger population and the gap in passenger rail service that now exists between Bakersfield and Palmdale over the Tehachapi Mountains.

Rail authority chief Dan Richard said in a recent interview that closing the rail gap remains important, but the state simply did not have the estimated $31 billion it would take to build in the south. The northern alternative would cost $21 billion and allow the state to build an operating system, theoretically with the funding it already has.

“We understand that high-speed rail wants to start in the north,” Ikhrata said. “We understand that logic. Having said that, this system will only be valuable if this connects San Francisco to Los Angeles.”

The statement reflects a continued belief that starting the system in the south remains the most logical approach and some nervousness that the region could be left behind, despite Richard’s often-repeated assurances that “nobody will be left behind.”

“The most important segment is from Bakersfield to Palmdale because there isn’t any rail connection,” Ikhrata said. “That gap must be closed and the business plan must be clear how they are going to close it. If they build a system that fails to connect Los Angeles, this will be the biggest failure of an infrastructure project we have ever had in the state of California. It will be sad for future generations.”

A central political reality of the bullet train project is that its main supporters are from Northern California, led by Gov. Jerry Brown. Ikhrata said the project does not have enough support among the key leaders in the Los Angeles region.

“You don’t find advocates because the story has changed so many times,” he said. “They are getting antsy. They are playing along.”

There also remains critical questions about how the future bullet train system will actually be constructed and how it will operate in Southern California, which Ikhrata believes needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“We are still where we started,” he said.

Ikhrata said the business plan now envisions using shared track through much of Southern California, though exactly what that means is unclear. In earlier planning, the state rail authority had planned to share track with Metrolink commuter trains and freight trains between Los Angeles and Anaheim. In the prior plan, the system would have had dedicated exclusive track between Los Angeles’ Union Station and Palmdale.

But Ikhrata said the blended system would now include the section between Union Station and Palmdale.

If so, it could affect the top speeds of the trains. Under past plans, the rail authority said the trains would operate at the full 220 mph between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. But a blended system could result in lower planned speeds, as it has in the Bay Area.

Rail Transit is NOT the Answer to Future Transportation Needs.

March 21st, 2016

COST Commentary: This is another in the series of articles regarding realty and the perception of some regarding the most effective way to address our overall transportation needs. The first article has a strong message that rail transit is an outdated, high cost, ineffective transit mode. Rail transit in cities/regions like Austin, or several times the size of Austin, wastes billions of taxpayer dollars to serve a minuscule portion of the population while providing no positive benefit to the overall community. In fact, rail transit often provides negative benefits to overall transportation by increasing congestion and wasting tax dollars which could be more effectively spent on transportation and other projects which will serve the overall community.

The second article (also posted here on this site) is about California’s High Speed Rail (HSR) but highlights, in a huge way, what is representative, in many regions which are pursuing rail transit. California cannot define how it will pay for an estimated funding shortfall of $43.5 billion of the $64 billion (earlier estimates were over $90 billion) rail project. This is irresponsible. As appropriate, one of California’s high officials has stepped forward and called this “unacceptable.” It will mortgage the future of all Californians because the huge implementation costs and operating costs. Interestingly, there has been little or no discussion the replacement cost in 30-40 years which will approach the initial costs.

The central message of this article can be highlighted with transit ridership data for the 3 major Texas cities, Dallas, Houston and Austin. It would look very similar with the addition of San Antonio. Total Transit ridership in 2015 was less than it was in 1999, 16 years ago. During this time these three cities have been among the top 10 fastest growing large cities in the nation. They have spent billions of dollars to upgrade their transit systems with rail being a major focus in Dallas and Houston. Dallas has created the longest light rail system in the U.S. but has a much smaller percentage of people using transit for work commuting than Austin does with comparatively, very small rail investment. Austin has been basically “flat” in transit ridership during the entire period with a slight down trend the past 3 years during the existence of the MetroRail commuter train. One wonders why Austin is spending more than $50 million in taxpayer dollars to upgrade the rail system in a declining market. More importantly, why are Dallas and Houston spending billions on rail? The implications of the next article posted on this site, Rail Transit’s Unknown Secret, could be very dire negative impacts on future generations as the Dallas and Houston rail systems began to require major maintenance and replacement costs.

Does this chart appear to recommend transit as the most cost-effective way to address improved mobility and contribute to a positive impact on congestion?

Dallas-Houston-Austin thru 2015
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MASS TRANSIT EXPANSION GOES OFF THE RAILS IN MANY U.S. CITIES

by Joel Kotkin, 03/17/2016 in newgeography.com

Journalists in older cities like New York, Boston or San Francisco may see the role of rail transit as critical to a functioning modern city. In reality, rail transit has been a financial and policy failure outside of a handful of cities.

In 23 metropolitan areas that have built new rail systems since 1970, transit’s share of commuting — including all forms, such as buses and ferries — has actually slipped a bit, from an average of 5.0 percent before the rail systems opened to 4.6 percent in 2013. The ranks of those driving alone continue to grow, having increased 14.4 million daily one-way trips since 2000, nearly double transit’s overall daily total of 7.6 million, according to Census Bureau data.

Virtually all the actual increase in rail commuting has occurred in the “legacy cities”: New York, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia. These are older cities built around well-defined cores that were developed mostly before the automobile. Together the core cities of these metro areas, excluding the suburbs, accounted for 55% of all transit work trips in the nation in 2014, according to the latest American Community Survey data. Overall, transit’s work trip market share in these six metropolitan areas rose from 17 percent to 20 percent between 2000 and 2014. In the entire balance of the country, where most of the new rail systems have been built, transit’s market share is only 2.2 percent, up a scant 0.2 percentage points since 2000, according to Census Bureau data.

Manhattan alone, in fact, accounts for more than 40 percent of all rail commuters in the nation. New York is the only U.S. city where more than 20 percent of workers’ labor in the central business district (downtown). In most cities, the percentage is less than half of that, and in many others, even smaller. In Los Angeles, less than 3 percent of employment is downtown. In Dallas only 2 percent of metropolitan employment is downtown. In Houston, where numerous large companies maintain headquarters, it’s still only 6.4 percent.

For transit to work effectively, employment needs to be concentrated. This explains why between 2013 and 2014, New York accounted for a remarkable 88 percent of the total increase in train commuting. But what works for Brooklynites headed to Union Square does not generally work so well for people living in our increasingly dispersed metropolitan areas. Indeed in most cities — Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Diego, and even the new urbanist mecca of Portland, according to 2015 American Community Survey data, where new transit lines have been put in, it has failed to increase the share of commuters who take public transportation, and in some cases the actual ridership has dropped.

It has even failed where cities are booming and their downtowns flourishing. Houston’s light rail system opened in 2004, but has done little to change the car-dominated commuting pattern of America’s energy capital. Between 2003 and 2014, Harris County’s population grew 23 percent, but transit ridership decreased 12%, according to American Public Transportation Association data. This means that the average Houstonian took 30 percent fewer trips on the combined bus and light rail system in 2014 than on the bus-only system in 2003.

The Next Great Transit City

Nowhere is the transit mania more profound than in Los Angeles, a city progressive blogger Matt Yglesias describes as “the next great transit city.”

There seems to be a conscious strategy of making auto commuting in Los Angeles and the rest of California so unpleasant as to force people into transit. Mayor Eric Garcetti has made bold predictions that commuting times will drop in half, largely by people moving from cars to trains. Of course this is folly, since transit commuting generally takes considerably longer than commuting by car. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research has called for putting all California on “a road diet,” meaning that traffic will simply continue to worsen. This in a state which has among the worst roads in the country – 68 percent of which are in poor or mediocre condition.

Can rail solve or mitigate congestion? L.A. has already spent over $15 billion on rail yet this has proven less than effective in either boosting transit ridership or lessening congestion.

Since 1980 before the rail expansion the percentage of Los Angeles County commuters who take transit has actually dropped from 7.0 to 6.9 percent while the transit share of the combined statistical area has dropped from 5.1 to 4.7 percent. Even the total numbers of riders is heading down. Recently the transit booster Los Angeles Times published statistics that showed that there were now 10 percent fewer boardings on the Los Angeles MTA system than in 2006, and that the decline was accelerating.

One reason for the poor performance is that much of the train ridership turns out to have been former bus travelers in the first place, which limits actual gains there. Taxpayers, however, should be screaming about this switchero; the subsidy for new L.A. new bus riders, who tend to be the poorest of the poor, cost taxpayers $1.40 while the cost for a new rail rider was $25.82 over the period of 1994 to 2007. If you believe in transit as public good, clearly building more trains makes less sense than expanding bus operations.

But it’s not just a cost issue. Los Angeles is a vast and dispersed metropolis in which only one in five residents even lives within the city limits, and even much of the city — notably the San Fernando Valley — is essentially suburban in form. Transit travel takes much more time to get to work than the car, even on the region’s miserable roads and overcrowded freeways. With downtown only a minor employment center, people increasingly travel there for cultural events, sports or even a restaurant, not for work.

Other factors also seem to be contributing to the decline. One is the trend toward working at home; in 2014, the number of Angelinos working at home surpassed the number taking transit. Although this saves more energy, and produces less carbon than transit ridership, there is virtually no government support for this innovative approach to traffic reduction from the climate-obsessed state government.

Finally, there are now other options such as Uber and Lyft, which provide reasonably priced door to service, always available, often on short notice. Down the road, the path for transit looks even bleaker with the development of self-driving cars, which will make even long suburban commutes easier. Looked at objectively, the drive for a traditional transit dominated Los Angeles is on a collision course with reality.

Taking Stock and Changing our Approach

In the alternative world that dominates our transit planners and retro-urbanists, nothing succeeds like failure. Some urban experts still predict that the Sun Belt cities are ripe for a huge infusion of rail transit, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Given what we know about the share of commuters using transit in most cities, pumping money into this form of transportation seems doubly wrong while other needs such as roads, schools, sewers and parks are neglected. Rather than try to fit all cities, and all parts of metropolitan areas, into a 19thcentury technology, maybe we should look to encourage 21st century innovation.

Clearly some of this is already with us, notably in the rise of services like Uber and Lyft which, for many, seems a far more effective way of getting around with your own car. Ride-sharing and services like Zipcar also provide new alternatives. And other innovations could be developed, with expanding shuttle and dial-a-ride services. In many big cities dedicated commuter buses, connecting the dispersed employment centers, would make great sense in cities such as Houston, which has many large employment centers, notes my Center for Opportunity Urbanism fellow, Tory Gattis.

But it’s changing work patterns that may provide the most promising opportunities to reduce traffic and reduce greenhouse gases. In the U.S., working at home, not transit, was the principal commuting alternative to the automobile in 39 of the 53 major metropolitan areas with populations over 1 million as of 2014, according to Census Bureau data. The share of work access accounted for by home workers rose by more than a third between 2000 and 2014, from 3.3 percent to 4.5 percent.

Many of the most striking work at home share gains are taking place in the country’s leading technology regions, including Austin, Raleigh, the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver, Portland and San Diego. Millennials in particular, notes a recent Ernst and Young study, embrace telecommuting and flexible schedules more than previous generations did, in large part due to concerns about finding balance between work and family life.

All this suggests we need to revamp our ideas of transit, particularly in the newer, fast-growing cities. Trains may elicit a nostalgic smile about the good old days, but most Americans, and the vast majority of our cities, need to live not in the past but in an increasingly dispersed, and choice-filled reality. Time to embrace that future.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.
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Bullet train: Failure to identify funding for Southern California leg unacceptable, official says
By Ralph Vartabedian, March 26, 2016, L.A. Times

The California rail authority’s failure to identify a source of funding to connect Los Angeles to the future bullet train system is not acceptable, said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

Until the high-speed rail authority released a new draft business plan last month, the state had planned to open its first operating segment between Burbank and the Central Valley by 2022. But in a major concession to its limited funding, the plan now calls for a cheaper segment that would run from San Jose to the Central Valley by 2025.

By the time that initial segment is built, all the existing funds would be exhausted, leaving uncertainty about how and when the line would cross the geologically complex mountains of Southern California.

The lack of specificity is stirring some deep concerns among legislative analysts and Southern California’s political leadership, reflected in Ikhrata’s position. Ikhrata is scheduled to testify at an Assembly oversight hearing on Monday and says he will deliver a message that there are still too many unknowns in the plan.

“You can’t say you can do something without saying how you are going to pay for it,” he said in an interview. “This is a must. If you don’t have the money in the bank, I understand that. But you can’t assume the money is going to fall from the sky. You have to have a path. You can’t be silent totally.”

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has raised the same concerns, saying in a report that the business plan fails to make a case for how it will pay for a completed system. The bullet train has been funded so far by a $9-billion bond, $3.2 billion in federal grants and about $500 million a year in greenhouse gas fees, all of which leave big shortfalls in the $64-billion megaproject. The shortfall is estimated at $43.5 billion, an amount that would be difficult or impossible to find in the short term.

The Assn. of Governments has played a key role in representing the region at the rail authority, signing a 2013 memorandum of understanding that provided for about $1 billion of investments in Southern California’s transit systems to prepare for the future bullet train. The deal put Southern California on a near equal footing with the Bay Area, which received money to electrify its Caltrain commuter system.

But the larger questions remain about the project’s ability to deliver a system that would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes, which is required under the 2008 bond act that voters approved. In the earlier plan, the rationale for starting Southern California was based on the region’s larger population and the gap in passenger rail service that now exists between Bakersfield and Palmdale over the Tehachapi Mountains.

Rail authority chief Dan Richard said in a recent interview that closing the rail gap remains important, but the state simply did not have the estimated $31 billion it would take to build in the south. The northern alternative would cost $21 billion and allow the state to build an operating system, theoretically with the funding it already has.

“We understand that high-speed rail wants to start in the north,” Ikhrata said. “We understand that logic. Having said that, this system will only be valuable if this connects San Francisco to Los Angeles.”

The statement reflects a continued belief that starting the system in the south remains the most logical approach and some nervousness that the region could be left behind, despite Richard’s often-repeated assurances that “nobody will be left behind.”

“The most important segment is from Bakersfield to Palmdale because there isn’t any rail connection,” Ikhrata said. “That gap must be closed and the business plan must be clear how they are going to close it. If they build a system that fails to connect Los Angeles, this will be the biggest failure of an infrastructure project we have ever had in the state of California. It will be sad for future generations.”

A central political reality of the bullet train project is that its main supporters are from Northern California, led by Gov. Jerry Brown. Ikhrata said the project does not have enough support among the key leaders in the Los Angeles region.

“You don’t find advocates because the story has changed so many times,” he said. “They are getting antsy. They are playing along.”

There also remains critical questions about how the future bullet train system will actually be constructed and how it will operate in Southern California, which Ikhrata believes needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“We are still where we started,” he said.

Ikhrata said the business plan now envisions using shared track through much of Southern California, though exactly what that means is unclear. In earlier planning, the state rail authority had planned to share track with Metrolink commuter trains and freight trains between Los Angeles and Anaheim. In the prior plan, the system would have had dedicated exclusive track between Los Angeles’ Union Station and Palmdale.

But Ikhrata said the blended system would now include the section between Union Station and Palmdale.

If so, it could affect the top speeds of the trains. Under past plans, the rail authority said the trains would operate at the full 220 mph between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. But a blended system could result in lower planned speeds, as it has in the Bay Area.

Transit Is Dead! What Is The Future?

March 4th, 2016

COST Commentary: This is a posting in the series of postings to address “realities” in planning for the transformation of future transportation. The short article presents a summary of technology’s transformational impact on transportation. Very few cities are fully considering these rapidly approaching paradigm shifts in transportation as they plan for the future. In ignoring these trends, many cities/regions are wasting billions of tax payer dollars on ineffective transit which provides no, or even negative, benefits for the vast majority of citizens.
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Transit Is Dead. Let’s Prepare for the Next Mobility Revolution

By Randal O’Toole, CATO Institute. This article appeared in Washington Post on March 1, 2016.

One of history’s greatest inventions, the mass-produced automobile brought mobility to the masses, provided access to better housing and low-cost consumer goods, and enabled both the civil rights and women’s rights movements. We’re solving problems with pollution and auto safety without reducing that mobility: Since 1970 we’ve seen a 180 percent growth in driving, yet total highway air pollution is down 85 percent while fatality rates per billion miles of driving have declined by 78 percent.

Renewed calls for “car-free cities” ignore the great benefits of automobility. As dozens of cities learned when they closed downtown streets in the 1960s through the 1980s, with few exceptions car-free streets are economically dead streets.

Instead of car-free cities, we are on the threshold of another mobility revolution that will make cars more common than ever: the self-driving car. Among other things, self-driving cars will change where we live and almost completely replace public transit systems.

In 2013, America’s transit systems spent more than $60 billion carrying fewer than 59 billion passenger miles, for an average cost of $1.03 per passenger mile. By comparison, Barclays estimates that shared, self-driving cars will cost only 29 cents per mile. Since cars are also faster and more convenient than transit, transit will disappear except in places that are simply too dense to be served by automobiles, which in the United States mainly means New York City.

Self-driving cars will change the way we think about distance. If people can work, watch movies or play video games with their children on their morning commutes, they will be willing to live much further from work than they do today. This means urban areas will become even more spread out than they are now.

No one can predict for certain all the changes self-driving cars will bring about. But we know self-driving cars use the same basic infrastructure as human-driven cars, so states and cities need to fill potholes and maintain bridges. We have a pretty good idea that public transit will at least shrink, so transit agencies should focus on low-cost, flexible bus service, not build expensive and pointless rail lines.

We know that efforts to control so-called “sprawl” have backfired by making housing terribly unaffordable, while self-driving cars will allow more people to live in a single-family home with a yard if they prefer to do so. City planners should reduce land-use regulation and focus on ensuring that people pay for the services they use wherever they choose to live.

The Obama administration wants to spend several billion dollars on pilot “smart-road” projects, that is, electronic infrastructure that can help guide self-driving cars. This is a foolish plan as whatever is installed will be obsolete long before the government can build it into all of the nation’s 4 million miles of roads.

Google, Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo and most other companies designing self-driving cars don’t believe such infrastructure is needed. Instead of relying on smart roads, their cars are completely self-contained, using precise maps showing the exact location of every highway stripe and street sign. A company called HERE has already precisely mapped about two-thirds of the nation’s paved roads and streets, updating the maps every day.

Several manufacturers have promised to have self-driving cars for sale by 2020. Once the basic software is available, it may be possible to upgrade many recent cars to be self-drivable for $1,000 or less, which means self-driving cars will dominate the roads sooner than most people think.

When self-driving cars take the road, will you own your car or car-share? Will you live in an urban condo or on an exurban hobby farm? Will you shop and work online while your self-driving car takes you to Florida? No one knows the answers to these questions, so the best that states and cities can do is to keep options open and not commit themselves to expensive technologies, whether rail transit or smart roads, that are likely to soon be obsolete.

Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of “Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It.”

Millennials are not the end of car buying and driving increases

March 4th, 2016

COST Commentary: This article is further confirmation of several previous postings on this site that Millennials are not the start of a reducing trend in car driving and car use. As shown in a previous post, total driving reached a new record in 2015 and is rising at a faster rate than prior to the recent recession in which driving was essentially flat for several years.
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We’re a long way from peak car

Wall Street Journal, By Mark Mills, Oct. 1, 2015 6:54 p.m. ET

Many environmentalists hope, and oil producers worry, that we’re entering a post-car era spearheaded by tech-savvy, bike-path-loving, urban-dwelling, Uber-using millennials—leaving behind generations of automobile owners whose thirst for gasoline seemed limitless.

“Millennials have been reluctant to buy items such as cars,” a Goldman Sachs analysis concludes, turning to “what’s being called a ‘sharing economy.’ ” David Metz, former chief scientist at England’s Department of Transport, claims that the growth of Uber and its competitors guarantees a decline in automobile and fuel use. Thomas Frey, the DaVinci Institute senior futurist, says that “wealthy economies have already hit peak car.”

The idea may seem plausible given recent history: tepid new-car sales, fewer miles driven per capita and shrinking gasoline use. In reality, it’s poppycock: The car habits of young adults ages 18-33 simply reflected a lack of jobs and money.

Now J.D. Power finds that millennials are the fastest growing class of car buyers. Edmunds reports that millennials lease luxury brands at a higher rate than average. Nielsen reports millennials are 40% more likely than average to buy a vehicle over the coming year. Tesla-inspired hype aside, overall electric-car sales are down 20% this year, with SUV sales up 15%.

Urban dwellers? The latest Census reveals a net migration of millennials from the city to the car-centric suburbs is already under way. And it’s just starting: A survey sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders finds 66% of those born since 1977 say they plan to live in a single-family suburban home.

Peak driving? Federal Highway Administration data show 40 billion more total miles driven in the first half of 2015, compared with the last peak set in the same period in 2007. Gasoline demand in 2015 is rising too, soon to blow past the previous record of 9.2 million barrels a day, also set in 2007. Imagine what happens when robust economic growth resumes.

Consider a related Silicon Valley trope that self-driving vehicles promise fewer cars or less driving. One Rocky Mountain Institute analyst thinks “if implemented correctly” they could be used to increase public transit use. Lawrence Berkeley Lab researchers implausibly posit self-driving cars are “potentially disruptive,” provided they’re used mainly as taxis, and involve fewer solo rides.

But whether a human or an algorithm is driving, it’s still a car. One disruptive change that could arise from self-driving cars is that the growing elderly population, and others infirm or isolated, will be able to continue owning cars and enjoying the freedom and mobility they bring. And cool tech features may, if anything, make cars more attractive, not less, to tech-savvy millennials.

For all their iconoclasm, the baby boomers eventually got married, moved to the suburbs and bought houses, SUVs and minivans for their double-car garages. Generation Y is going down the same road. The forecasts of peak car look to be about as accurate as those of peak oil.

Mr. Mills is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and a faculty fellow at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering.


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