U.S. Public Transit is Small and Stagnant, for 57 Years

April 5th, 2014

COST Commentary: Below are two articles regarding the minor and declining role of public transit in the U.S. The first is by assistant professors at Columbia, Cornell and Rutgars Universities and the second by Wendell Cox, one of the nation’s leading experts in U.S. and international public policy and demographics.

These articles reinforce the reality of the minor role of transit in overall society as described in many postings on this site. However, this does not indicate a lack of understanding of the critical importance of transit to a small portion of our citizens who depend on it in their daily lives and have no alternatives. Our challenge is to understand priorities and to serve the communities greater-good within finite funding. The worst outcome, now being pursued by Austin and other cities, is to spend “all” available funds to serve a very minuscule few who have private vehicle alternatives at the expense of those who have no alternatives and need transit for basic living needs. The wasteful spending of huge tax dollars on ineffective rail transit leaves no winners among the array of mobility needs including transit, private, emergency, other government/school, commercial goods and services vehicles; as well as taxpayers who will face higher taxes/fees with very little benefit, if any.
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Use of public transit isn’t surging

By David King, Michael Manville and Michael Smart, Washington Post, Published: March 20

David King is an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University. Michael Manville is an assistant professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University. Michael Smart is an assistant professor of city planning at Rutgers University.

The American Public Transportation Association reported this month that U.S. transit ridership hit an all-time high last year. The March 10 report came with a caveat — “all-time” means “after 1956,” but the numbers nevertheless sound impressive. Transit users took 10.65 billion trips in 2013, topping the previous record of 10.59 billion trips in 2008. These numbers were widely reported in the media, including in The Post, often with commentary suggesting a fundamental change in American travel behavior: a nation moving away from driving and toward more efficient and sustainable public transit.

But the association’s numbers are deceptive, and this interpretation is wrong. We are strong supporters of public transportation, but misguided optimism about transit’s resurgence helps neither transit users nor the larger traveling public. Transit trips did rise between 2008 and 2013. But so did the U.S. population, from 304 million to 316 million , as did the total number of trips made. Simple division suggests that, if anything, transit use fell between 2008 and 2013, from about 35 trips per person annually to 34. Many numbers look impressive without denominators, but anyone who examines transit use as a rate — whether as trips per person or share of total travel — will find that transit is a small and stagnant part of the transportation system.

Transit receives about 20 percent of U.S. surface transportation funding but accounts for 2 percent to 3 percent of all U.S. passenger trips and 2 percent to 3 percent of all U.S. passenger miles. In fact, use of mass transportation has remained remarkably steady, and low, since about 1970. There is nothing exceptional about last year’s numbers; they represent a depressing norm.

This is not to say that public transportation is unimportant. Most U.S. transit use occurs in a handful of dense cities, and in these cities transit provides vital mobility, especially for poorer people (particularly immigrants) who don’t own cars. New York alone accounts for a third of all transit travel. A close look at the report shows that while U.S. transit trips increased by 115 million from 2012 to 2013, trips on New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority rose by 123 million. In other words, transit use outside New York declined in absolute terms last year. This fact shows how crucial public transportation is to our largest city and how small a role it plays in most other Americans’ lives.

So there is no national transit boom. Why does this matter? The U.S. transportation system is deeply troubled. The country has difficulty financing improvements to its aging infrastructure, and heavy reliance on driving creates congestion, increases carbon emissions, pollutes our communities, and is a leading cause of injury and death. No one should pretend these problems are spontaneously solving themselves because Americans have decided en masse to ride transit instead of driving.

Nor should we misdiagnose problems caused by too much driving as problems caused by too little transit. Building transit systems is not the same as having people ride them, and people riding transit more is not the same as people driving less (plenty of transit riders are people who used to walk). Additionally, transit is not the only viable alternative to using a car. The environment is helped when drivers switch to buses but also when drivers switch to bikes.

Resting our hopes on a transit comeback distracts from our real transportation problem, which can be summarized in four words: Driving is too cheap. Drivers impose costs on society — in delay, in pollution, in carbon, in wear and tear on our roads — that they don’t pay for. As a result, many of us drive more than we otherwise would. Ending this underpriced driving — through higher fuel taxes, parking and congestion charges and insurance premiums based on miles driven — is a central challenge for local, state and federal transportation officials.

Charging the right price for driving would give drivers a better-performing system, both by reducing congestion and raising revenue to help repair roads. It would help communities and the planet by reducing pollution. And, not least, it would help public transportation by leveling the playing field between transit and private vehicles. Increased subsidies for public transportation have neither reduced driving nor increased transit use. But ending subsidies to driving probably would do both.
Ending these subsidies will be hard work, politically. Yet we will have no incentive to do this work if Americans continue to believe that transit is making a comeback on its own. It isn’t. Transit, like the rest of our transportation system, is in trouble. We need to act quickly to save it.
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NO FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT TO TRANSIT: NOT EVEN A SHIFT
by Wendell Cox 03/20/2014

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is out with news of higher transit ridership. APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy characterizes the new figures as indicating “a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities.” Others even characterized the results as indicating “shifting consumer preferences.” The data shows either view to be an exaggeration.

1935 and 2013

This is hardly a reliable time for making judgments about fundamental shifts or shifts in consumer preferences. Economic performance has been more abysmally abnormal only once in the last century –during the Great Depression – than at present.

The last year, 2013, is the sixth year in a row that total employment, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was below the peak year of 2007 (Figure 1). This run of dismal job creation was exceeded only between the Great Depression years of 1929 and 1936 in the last 100 years (Note 1). From World War II until the Great Recession, the maximum number of years that employment fell below a previous peak was two, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001 to 2003). The Great Recession may have ended, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, but the Great Malaise continues as the economy is performing well below historic levels. Judgments about fundamental shifts and consumer choice today are not more reliable than they would have been in the Great Depression year of 1935.

Transit’s Market Share: Stuck in Neutral

But more importantly, there is no shift to transit. APTA is right to point out that transit ridership has grown faster than vehicle travel in the United States since 1995. Nonetheless, transit’s share of urban travel has barely budged, because its 1995 share of travel was so small. This is indicated by Figure 2, which compares the overall market share of transit to that of cars and light trucks from 1995 to 2013. Indeed, the top of Figure 2 (the 100 percent line) is virtually indistinguishable from the personal vehicle share over the entire period. The bottom of the chart (the zero percent line) is virtually indistinguishable from the transit share. This is not the stuff of fundamental shift.

Commuting: The Story is Not Transit

A similar pattern of little or no change is indicated by the commuting (work access) data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Over the past five years, as with virtually all the years since such data has been collected, the overwhelming majority of new commuters have driven alone (Figure 3). Indeed, transit has not taken a single net automobile off the road since 1960, and not in the last five years. Between 2007 and 2012, 93 percent of the additional commuters drove alone (Note 2). The drive alone market, which might have been thought to be saturated, actually rose from 76.1 percent to a 76.3 percent market between 2007 and 2012.

The biggest change has been the continuing loss in carpool use, which dropped from 10.4 percent to 9.7 percent from 2007 to 2012. It is estimated that nearly 450,000 passengers left carpools (excluding drivers), approximately 1.8 passengers for each additional commuter using transit (250,000).

The largest gain from 2007 to 2012 was in working at home, including telecommuting. Working at home increased from 4.1 percent to 4.4 percent. In actual numbers, working at home added 1.9 times the increase in transit commuting. Its change in market share was greater than that of transit in 42 of the 52 major metropolitan areas. Surprisingly, this includes New York, with its incomparable transit system (by US standards).

Transit’s share of commuting inched up only 0.1 percentage points between 2007 and 2012. This is so small that if this rate of annual increase were sustained for 50 years, transit’s commute market share would edge up to only 6 percent (Figure 4), approximately transit’s 1980 market share (doubling to 10 percent would require 130 years). The latest data indicates both gains and losses for transit, with market shares up in 28 major metropolitan areas and down in 24.

Transit Losses

In Atlanta, with the nation’s second largest Metro (subway) system built since 1975, a declining overall employment base was accompanied by a loss of 13,000 transit commuters, at the same time that there was an increase in working at home of 19,000.

In Portland, considered by many around the world to be an urban planning Utopia, the data is hardly favorable. Since 1980, the last year with data before the first of five light rail lines and one commuter rail line opened, transit’s market share has dropped from 8.4 percent to 6.0 percent. While spending billions of dollars on rail, working at home – which involves little or no public expenditure – increased by triple the number of people drawn to transit. And things have not changed materially, even during the claimed “fundamental shift.” In the last five years, the working at home increase is more than double that of transit.

In Los Angeles, ridership at the largest transit agency continues to languish below its 1985 peak, despite having opened 9 light rail, Metro, and rapid busway lines and adding more than 1.5 million residents. Even this decline may be under-stated because of how transit counts passengers. Each time someone steps on a transit vehicle, they are counted (as a boarding). A person who transfers between two or three buses to make a trip counts as two or three boardings, which is what the APTA data reports.

When rail is added to a transit system, bus services are reconfigured to serve the rail system. This can mean many more boardings from transfers without more passenger trips. This potential inflation of ridership is likely to have occurred not only in Los Angeles, but in all metropolitan areas that added rail systems.

Transit Gains

At the same time, gains are being made in some metropolitan areas. Ridership has risen more strongly in transit’s six “legacy cities,” the municipalities (not metropolitan areas) of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington. Between 2007 and 2012, 68 percent of the additional transit commuting occurred to employment locations in these six municipalities. This is higher than the 55 percent of national transit commuting that these areas represented in 2012. The much larger share being attracted by these areas in the last 5 years is an indication that transit ridership, already highly concentrated in just a few places, is becoming even more concentrated. Further, 50 percent to 75 percent of commuters to the corresponding six downtowns reach work by transit.

Rational Consumer Behavior

Even when the nation finally emerges from the Great Malaise, only vain hope will be able to conceive of a large scale consumer preference driven shift toward transit. The rational consumer will not choose transit that is slower or less convenient than the car. Where transit access is impractical or impossible, people will use cars. This is the case for most trips in all US metropolitan area, as the Brookings Institution research cited below indicates.

The Brookings Institution research indicated that the average employee in the nation’s major metropolitan areas are able to access fewer than 10 percent of jobs in 45 minutes. This is not only a small number of jobs, but it is a travel time that is approximately twice that of the average employee in the United States (most of whom travel by car).

More funding for transit cannot solve this problem. The kind of automobile competitive transit system needed to provide rational consumer choice between cars and transit would require annual expenditures rivaling the total personal income in the metropolitan area, as Jean-Claude Ziv and I showed in our 2007 11th World Conference on Transport Research paper (2007). It is no wonder that not a single comprehensive automobile competitive transit system exists or has been seriously proposed in any major US or Western European metropolitan area (Note 3). Transit is about the largest downtowns and the largest urban cores.

Unbalanced Coverage

All of this appears to have escaped many media outlets, which largely parroted the APTA press release. For example, The New York Times, CBS News, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune were as parish newsletters commenting on a homily by the priest, for their failure to report both sides. A notable exception was USA Today, whose reporter consulted outsider Alan Pisarski (who has written for newgeography.com). Pisarski placed the APTA figures in historical context and expressed reservations about restoration of the transit commuting share numbers of 1980 or before.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey” and author of “Demographia World Urban Areas” and “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.” He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photograph: DART light rail train in downtown Dallas (by author)
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Note 1: Current Employment Statistics Survey data, 1939 to 2013. 1913 to 1938 estimated from data in Historical Statistics of the United States: Bicentennial Edition.

Note 2: The source for the commuting data is the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau, which indicates an employment level in 2012 that is higher than in 2007. The Current Employment Statistics Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a decline.

Note 3: I would be pleased to be corrected on this. In 2004, we issued a challenge on this subject, and while there were some responses, none met the required criteria (seehttp://demographia.com/db-challenge-choice.htm). The criteria are repeated below:

To identify an actual system or propose a system that provides the following in an urban area of more than 1,000,000 population:

• Transit choice (automobile competitive public transport service) for at least 90 percent of trips and passenger kilometers in the particular urban area.

• Automobile competitiveness is defined as door to door trip times no more than 1.5 times automobile travel time.

The description of any system not already in operation should also include an estimate of its cost, capital and annual operating.

Mayor “Off Track” in Final ‘State of City’ Address Promoting “Rail Failure”

April 1st, 2014

COST Commentary:

Austin’s Mayor Leffingwell gave his last “State of the City” address February 25 during a lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel. The full speech is below following this COST commentary:

Early in the speech, he quoted his prior statement “a good quality of life begins with a good job” and related much of his address to this theme. As appropriate, he extolled Austin’s many achievements and accolades including “fastest growing job market in America,” “fastest growing city in the U.S.,” one of the lowest unemployment rates and becoming “the 11th largest city in the country.”

As mayors before him, Leffingwell mixes regional (five county metropolitan area) statistics and city statistics in a way which can confuse those less knowledgeable. Basically, the politically drawn Austin city boundary lines mean very little to the region’s (Metropolitan Statistical Area or MSA) growth and prosperity. While Austin city is the 11th largest (population) in the country, the MSA is the 35th largest in the nation.

The Mayor also uses an approach from previous Mayors regarding Austin’s phenomenal growth since founding in December 1839. Previous Mayor Wynn and others have stated “Austin has doubled (population) every 20 years since its founding. Leffingwell stated “every 25 years, which was verified by the “Statesman PolitiFact.” Research shows the Dallas region also grew at a similar rate until it reached roughly Austin’s current size, phasing to lessor growth rates to the current time. Dallas’ MSA is currently more than 6.7 million and is more than 3.5 times Austin’s 1.8 plus million. In 1990 Dallas was 4.7 times Austin. However, Austin’s, much greater growth rate, has reduced in the past decade. With a very imprecise projection, it will probably take the Austin region at least 50 years to reach Dallas’ current size.

While the Mayor warns “population growth is no guarantee of economic growth,” there really are no examples of this, other than a few “retirement cities.” There is a solid link between economic growth and population growth. However, there is absolutely no link between implementing train transit and economic growth, as the Mayor implies. Austin stands as the most obvious example of this. None of the Austin Region’s extraordinary growth has been motivated by trains and growth is now “exploding” without train transit. This seems compelling support for

He then presents an unconvincing case that the City Council’s stream of incentives for businesses to develop or move to Austin were important to Austin’s success in creating jobs. There is no way to substantiate this and it appears to be a minor influence.

The Mayor praises the virtues of the newly approved medical school and the Waller Creek project which may well increase jobs and development in Central Austin.

He then turns to transportation and suggests Austin’s “traffic crises” is a “deadly serious threat to almost all the things we have achieved and continue to strive toward.” Traffic congestion is clearly a top priority issue for a majority of Austin’s citizens.

Here, the speech departs radically from reality as the Mayor relates most major problems to the “traffic crises” and suggests an urban rail is an imperative to address this crises of traffic congestion.

He bolsters this pro rail position with the threat that his designated peer cities (regions), including Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Portland, and San Diego are competition for the Austin regions continued economic development. One common thread in these “peer cities” is their spending of many billions of dollars to implement light rail systems. The Mayor says: “Our competitors figured out the equation – and our competitors took action.” and “Now, the ball is about to be in our court one more time, and it will be up to us, as a community, to decide how to move forward.”

These so-called competitors’ regions range in population from Denver and Portland being less than 50% larger than Austin to San Diego and Seattle being about double and Dallas at 3.7 times larger. The Mayor provided zero reasons for Austin to mimic the failed rail path of these regions. In light of the fact Austin’s growth rate of 37.3% (2000-2010) is more than double the rate of each of these non-Texas peer cities and almost 60% greater than Dallas, would lead common sense to suggest Austin should avoid this rail fad which has not spurred “competitors” economic growth or slowed Austin’s growth.

Rail has played an insignificant role in Austin’s success to date and maybe a negative one due to the ineffective, high cost MetroRail and its presence creating more congestion with its trivial ridership. Thankfully, Austin has minuscule rail transit compared to “peer cities.” Austin’s one, minor rail line has reaffirmed the much larger rail failures experienced by the Mayor’s peer cities.

Why does the Mayor suggest Austin needs to move faster to follow the major rail transit path of its “peer cities” when Austin is far more successful, in almost every respect, than the 5 peer cities mentioned. None of Austin’s success has been inspired by rail.

Regarding transportation, congestion and economic prosperity, the Mayor suggests: “the only real solution is to change behavior.” Human behavior in free societies reflects choices, which they have fully considered, to best serve their desires and preferences. There are many examples of these choices, but, the fact that less than 1% of the passenger miles traveled in the region are on transit is compelling. This is consistent with other similar cities.

Rail cannot solve Austin’s traffic crises (congestion) or even make a major contribution. The total use of transit has declined over the past 15 plus years in the four major Texas regions (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin) after billions were spent on transit, primarily rail. The American Public Transit Association’s (APTA) 2013 ridership report indicated these regions dropped a total of about 2,900,000 bus riders during the year while expanded rail, primarily in Dallas and Austin, slightly increased ridership by a little over 500,000 or just under one-sixth the drop in bus riders. These regions remain among the fastest growing in the nation. APTA reported Austin’s bus system declined 1,600,000 riders while the MetroRail service gained 222,000, about one-seventh of the bus loss, due to expanded weekend, special events and higher frequency schedules which were very expensive for Austin Taxpayers. It was sad to witness Cap Metro and the media focus on the minor, but large percentage, increase in MetroRail riders while downplaying or ignoring the loss of 1.6 million bus riders. This is a tragic example of the degradation of social equity being driven by incompetent transportation policy.

The Mayor is correct about “a good quality of life begins with a good job.” Before this, a good job begins with mobility and the Austin transportation plan will not provide the mobility for all citizens to access their best job opportunities and retain a good quality of life.

Former World Bank principal planner Alain Bertaud points to an approach to urban planning which is more consistent and compatible with today’s human aspirations in his article “Cities as Labor Markets,” recently published by the Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment at New York University. He states: “Increasing mobility and affordability are the two main objectives of urban planning. These two objectives are directly related to the overall goal of maximizing the size of a city’s labor market, and therefore, its economic prosperity.” Unfortunately, Austin is heading in the opposite direction with its transportation policy; the result will be massive amounts of money spent on ineffective train transit reducing citizens’ mobility and Austin’s ill-advised, higher living density strategy will continue to reduce affordability as it has for the past 10 years.

Wendell Cox comments: “That brings us back to first principles. Cities are about people. Planning is justified to the extent that it facilitates the aspirations of people. The city requires prosperity, which Bertaud shows in a much needed first installment of Urban Planning 101.” The source of these quotes can be found at newgeography.com.

Human mobility and standard of living have been inextricably connected for thousands of years. Increased mobility provides increased standard-of-living. This has been confirmed and reconfirmed throughout human history.

Austin’s Transportation Department director, Robert Spiller generally represents the Mayor and City Council member’s positions regarding transportation. He was recently interviewed on NPR and was asked “How do you convince people that they need more rail to lighten up the roads? To this and other questions, Spiller stated: “We’re giving people choices. And that’s really what we are promoting in terms of dealing with congestion.—Our chamber of commerce here is fairly supportive because, you know, they say we need everything.—And it is not that we’re focused only on rail. We’re focused on bicycles. We’re focused on new sidewalks. We’re certainly focused on buses and rails, but we’re also focused on completing the roadway network where we can.”—We’re planning for that generation of folks that don’t want to own their own car.”

He also did not deny NPR’s comment regarding the failed metro-wide rail vote in 2000 and their comment: “The mayor hopes that if it’s just among Austin residents, who might be better seeing this influx of people and be more likely to vote, that this (November rail referendum) will pass.
Spiller’s responses do not reflect a sound transportation plan for Austin. “Choices” and changes in behavior will not solve congestion and will not meet the quality of life needs of citizens. Ninety-nine percent of passenger mile trips are on roads and congestion requires roadway solutions. The tired rhetoric of: “We need everything,” and, “We need more choices,” is foolish, political rhetoric and not a basis for transportation planning. The simple fact is there is a finite amount of taxpayer funds and we cannot have it all: It is not financially sustainable and is not responsible; even if we had all the money in the world. Sustainable cost-benefit must be achieved.

Trains, bicycles and walking will not relieve roadway congestion and the spending of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for a starter train to be followed by spending billions of taxpayer dollars for expanding the train will not relieve road congestion and the high costs of trains will deplete transportation funds for roadway projects which are the only viable way to improve mobility for private, transit, emergency and commercial vehicles. This has been proven in every one of the peer cities and all cities in the nation which are similar to Austin today and Austin 100 years from today. We see this entire spectrum in the peer cities. Do not be led to believe Austin can do some unknown, miracle magic with trains’ 19th century technology in this 21st century city. There are sound mobility solutions and they begin with the roads where more than 99% of our daily passenger miles are traveled. This urban rail, in total, would be the largest project in Austin’s history and this rail implementation could very likely have the greatest negative impact on Austin and its citizens for generations.

Follow-up note: Following the mayor’s speech, Project Connect, announced yet another change in the recommended initial rail route and another major cost increase. Recommended routes and costs have changed many times over 20 years, with each new person and committee. Austin is a young, growing city and fixed, inflexible, high cost rail, limiting mobility and opportunity is not a sensible or sustainable transit approach.

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State of the City 2014
Mayor Lee Leffingwell

Thank you, and thank you for that kind introduction, Tim.

I also want to thank Ward Tisdale and the rest of the staff and board of the Real Estate Council of Austin for inviting me to be here today.

Before I get started I want to acknowledge some folks who were kind enough to join us, starting with my Council colleagues - Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison, and Bill Spelman.

Thank you all for coming, and thank you for what you do for Austin.

I’m also want to recognize our City Manager, Marc Ott, who could not be here today due to a family illness…as well as: Deputy City Manager Mike McDonald and the other Assistant City Managers joining us today from our management team.

These folks all do great work at City Hall, so please join me in giving them a big hand.

I’m also happy to have my wife Julie Byers here today. Julie, thank you for your unwavering loyalty and for being my best friend.

Finally, I want to ask you to please indulge me while I make a special recognition.

This will be my 6th year as mayor, and come December, my 10th and final year at City Hall.

As some of you know, I spent 32 years as an airline pilot before I ran for City Council, and then was elected mayor.

And what I can tell you is that that flying a B-767 back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, in sometimes bad weather…is the less stressful job.

But the turbulence at City Hall has been made much more tolerable by a talented and devoted group of staff.

So I want to recognize them today – Chief of Staff Nancy Williams, Amy Everhart, Janet Jackson, Sly Majid, Reyne Telles, Lily Smullen…as well as the other support staff and Vista volunteers who help my office run smoothly. Some of my former staff members Matt Curtis, Andy Mormon, and Mark Nathan may be out there, too.

Thanks to each of you for what you’ve done, and what you continue to do for me, and for the city, every day.

Now – before we get down to business, since this is also my final “state of the city” speech, I think I should probably go ahead and address some of the rumors that have been going around about my plans when I do leave the mayor’s office at the end of the year.

And let me say that I can understand why these kinds of rumors get started. Because, as you know, some former Austin mayors have gone on to achieve some great things – from becoming a state senator… to dating Wendy Davis.

So first, the big one – and let me just be very clear about this. I will not – I repeat, I will not – be a candidate for District 10 of the Austin City Council. Obviously the grassroots movement to recruit me has been flattering – but frankly, but I’ve done my time – and – I’d sooner slash my wrists.

Second – and let me be very clear about this one, too – I will not – I say again will not – be replacing Ben Affleck in the new Batman movie. It’s true that there were discussions with the director – and some other people at Warner Brothers – but that’s it.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard or read the rumor that when I leave the mayor’s office - I’ll be recording a double album of duets with Willie Nelson. And actually, this is true.

In fact, we’ve already laid down a few tracks. We’ve recorded some of Willie’s hits, like– “On the Road Again” and we’ve recorded some of my original songs, like the ever popular “Please Take Your Conversation Outside,” “I’m Sorry, Your Three Minutes Are Up”…and “That Passes On A Vote of 5 to 2.”

So I hope you’ll pick that up when it comes out next year.

In the meantime, there’s still a lot of work left to do at City Hall, so let’s try our best for now to focus on the present.

Giving this speech every year is daunting and it’s one of those things that… looking back…makes my job as a jet pilot seem less stressful.

I did give several speeches every day as a pilot – but they were all about 30 seconds long… and focused mainly on the weather.

So to try to fully or fairly characterize the full scope of opportunity…and also challenges facing this dynamic city today…and to get you out of here before you start to get restless…this speech is kind of a tough gig.

That is because there really is so much going on in Austin, Texas. And there are so many different issues that really, truly do matter – even urgently.

The key to our future success is finding connectivity between our obstacles and our opportunities.

Whether it’s economic development, transportation, education, healthcare, public safety, housing, the environment, or any of a dozen other things – they all play a meaningful role in making up this complex system we call Austin.

And believe me, every week at City Hall, we are meeting, and talking, and working on, and debating almost every one.

In the past, I’ve tried my best to touch at least briefly on as many of those issues as I could.

I could do the same today and talk about a lot of different things we’re focused on in the mayor’s office – everything from connecting low-income families to the Internet… to getting our seniors connected to local resources…

…and of course, being a former Navy man, I try hard to be innovative and supportive of veterans’ issues, such as Honor Flight Austin….And I thank many of you out there for your support of that project, but especially Gary Farmer and the St. David’s Foundation for their generosity.

But with the clock ticking on my term, I’m trying hard to narrow my focus - to the one thing that has always mattered most to me as mayor.

And that’s doing everything I can to help ensure that our local economy is as strong as it can be, and that our residents have good jobs.

So that’s what I want to spend a lot of my time talking about today… Because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now – I think “a good quality of life begins with a good job.”

A good job can help us achieve many of our goals in life, while giving us meaningful purpose and a sense of accomplishment.

It helps us provide for ourselves and our families. It helps us earn the things we want – and value the things we earn. It sometimes brings us together with our best friends…

…And often, what we do in our jobs defines how we view ourselves – how we see our role in the world – and how we decide to give back to our community.

In short, getting a good job – or better yet, creating a good job – is how many, maybe even most of us, get to become the people we want to be.

The good news is that Austin, Texas, today, is a great place to get, or create, a good job.

In fact, if you believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’d be hard pressed to make the case that there is any better city in America.

Over the time I’ve been mayor, our job market has grown by leaps and bounds and we’ve been called the #1 fastest-growing job market in America – by far.

As recently as November, our unemployment rate was as low as 4.7% – compared to 6.1% statewide, and 7% nationally.

And just in the last three months, the Austin economy has been ranked as the top performing metro economy in the country by the Milken Institute and the Business Journals.

And just two weeks ago, Forbes named Austin the fastest growing city in the U.S… for the fourth year in a row, saying that with an economy like ours, and I quote, “it’s hard for others to compete these days.” Not too shabby.

So, if good jobs are the big issue – and I think they are – then there’s really nothing other to say about Austin than this:

In its 174-year-history, the state of our city has never, ever been stronger – and it’s still getting stronger every single day.

So the next important questions are: How did we get here, and how do we keep it going?

Why exactly have we enjoyed this success?

Well, first, as I’ve said before, I think we have to acknowledge that at least some of Austin’s economic success isn’t due to anything that any of us have done.

If anything, we were smart enough to “move to” – or, like me, were lucky enough to “be born in” – a city and a region where the conditions have almost always been – and still are today – ripe for growth.

We’re the capital of one of America’s largest and fastest-growing states and we’re home to the one of the largest public universities in the country.

We have extraordinary natural beauty, a temperate climate – most of the time – and the best natural swimmin’ hole in America.

We’re on the receiving end of longtime national migration trends from east and west, and from rural to urban…

…And, we live in a state that is very friendly to economic development.

All of this together means a city that has basically doubled in size every 25 years or so since it was founded. In fact, I have seen Austin’s population double about three times in my lifetime.

Today, as hard as it is to believe that we have surpassed cities like San Francisco and Indianapolis…we’re the 11th largest city in the country.

So on one hand, it seems pretty clear that – to some extent – favorable circumstances laid the foundation for population growth, and population growth laid the foundation for economic success.

On the other hand, it’s not that simple. Because the truth is that population growth is no guarantee of economic growth – even though the two are sometimes mistaken for each other.

In fact, when it comes to jobs and our economy, we’ve actually been far less lucky than we’ve been good.

Over the last 30 years in particular, Austin has been focused, methodical, and strategic about really making sure that if our population was going to continue to grow… our economy would grow along with it.

We have aggressively, creatively, and successfully, pursued and developed semiconductors, software, healthcare and life sciences, clean energy, film and music, mobile and social media, tourism and conventions, and other targeted industries… using every tool at our disposal, to help bring sustained economic growth to our city.

That includes the strategic and judicious use of economic incentives, many of which have been in the news a little lately.

Now, whether you like them or not, I have to say here that I think it’s undeniable that incentives have played a key role in Austin’s economic success in recent years.

Because – again, like it or not – when it comes to winning and keeping good employers and good jobs, it’s a competition…and we are competing with some great peer cities across the country…and even around the world.

Major employers that any city would have killed for – Apple and Facebook, for example – set up shop or expanded their operations in Austin, in part because we, through a vote by my colleagues on the City Council, were able to work with the State to offer them appropriate, competitive incentives to do so.

Now, the fact is, we use incentives far less than I think most people assume. Actually, since I’ve been mayor, we’ve only approved a total of eleven incentive packages, three just this month.

That averages out to about two per year.

But…from 2009 to 2012, just these deals have resulted in agreements to deliver over 8,000 good new jobs, and more than 550 million dollars in new investment in our community.

With just these 11 deals… I’m talking about over a half a billion dollars in: Austin property being purchased, leases being signed, contracts for improvements to build out space being executed, and office furniture, computers, and machinery being bought… Here in Austin. That’s a big deal.

So, incentives have proven to be an effective tool to attract jobs and economic opportunity to Austin – and a tool that actually results in a benefit to the taxpayer. Economic incentives help achieve economic growth and deliver jobs.

My further view is that we shouldn’t – as we have recently done – burden those incentives with other requirements that are so stringent as to render the benefits moot… that the deal becomes a wash. But, I’ll save that speech for another day.

So – if we go back to the first question – “how did we get here?” – I think the answer is probably two-fold: We were dealt a pretty good hand, and we played our cards very well.

But it’s the second question that’s really the more important of the two: “How do we keep it going?”

Obviously, to a great extent, what we have been doing is working, and we should keep on doing it…..

But our work is not done, you see, while we outpace our peers, as I understand, we still have over 20,000 unemployed in our region… and more than 170,000 folks living under the poverty line…. so while it seems like we are on top, our work is not finished.

We need to continue to focus on developing and diversifying our mix of industries and employers… and working diligently for good jobs with good pay and good benefits… using every tool we have.

We also need to keep our eyes peeled, constantly, for new opportunities to build on our strengths, and take advantage of the unique diversity of industry and expertise that we have created.

I can tell you that I think we do have at least one special opportunity like that now, in the coming-together of a few of the most exciting, big new projects in Austin’s modern history.

As I think most of you know, thanks to Austin voters and the vision and determination of a group of community leaders led by Senator Kirk Watson…downtown is about to become home to the new U.T. Medical School, as well as a new Seton teaching hospital.

That medical complex will be a transformative development… for UT, downtown Austin, and the city as a whole…. and will do as much good for our economy as it does for the quality and availability of our healthcare.

I am eager to see the vision for the Dell Medical School executed by inaugural dean Dr. Clay Johnston, a practicing neurologist.

Now – at the same time the medical school is coming online, the transformation of Waller Creek will also be coming to fruition.

Running the full length of the eastern edge of downtown, from Waterloo Park to Lady Bird Lake, the Waller Creek project will lift 28 acres of downtown land out of the floodplain, and invest as much as $60 million – most of that private funding – in creating a series of dynamic, new, signature public parks.

This incredible and important project is also the product of yeomen’s work on the part of many people, but perhaps none more so than the trio of founding board members of the Waller Creek Conservancy.

So in recognition of their ongoing efforts, I want to recognize Tom Meredith, who could not be here today, and to ask Melba Whatley and Melanie Barnes to please stand up and let us give them a big round of applause.

Thank you all very much for what you are doing for Austin.

Now, with these two very big things happening in the same part of downtown – and with the potential redevelopment of many of the buildings in the Capitol complex, also in this area – and, more broadly, because of the successful ongoing transformation of our downtown into a place to work, and live, and play – I see what I think is a unique, new, and big opportunity for Austin.

Like Boston did with Kendall Square near MIT, I believe we have the potential to remake what has been one of the most underutilized parts of downtown into a thriving new cluster of global commerce, culture, creativity and connectivity.

That’s why I’ve created and convened what we’re calling the “Innovation Zone” Advisory Group.

Made up of community stakeholders and representatives from UT, the City, the County and the State…the group’s goal is to develop a vision and a plan for transforming the northeast quadrant of downtown, around 15th and Red River, into a new epicenter of job creation… with cutting-edge medical research…development…and commercialization at its core.

I intend to continue to chair the Advisory Group through the remainder of my term, and then at the end of the year, ask Senator Watson to assume leadership of this effort in his spare time, and he’s agreed.

I can tell you that I am truly convinced that the Innovation Zone project holds real promise for Austin’s economy…a connected Austin…an Austin of tomorrow… and I know that with the active participation of the partners, and the leadership of Senator Watson and others, we can and will realize that promise.

Now, as much as I like being positive and upbeat – and yes… this is what I look like when I’m being positive and upbeat…

…the truth is that if we want to continue to prosper, we can’t just build off of our strengths. We also have to attack our weaknesses.

So I want to address the huge risk I think our city and our economy will face if we fail to act on one of our critical weaknesses.

Folks, if you’ve ever believed anything I’ve ever said, I hope you’ll believe me now when I say that our traffic crisis… and I did say crisis, in Austin, Texas has reached a point where it threatens to undermine what we’ve accomplished, and what we can accomplish.

I know that it can be easy to think of Austin’s traffic as just an annoyance, an inconvenience or a fact of life. But it’s wrong, and in fact it’s dangerous, to let ourselves think that way.

Our traffic problem isn’t just an annoyance. It is a deadly serious threat to almost all of the things we have achieved and continue to strive toward.

It threatens our safety. In each of the last two years, we’ve seen nearly 80 traffic fatalities on our roads. That’s an unacceptably high and worrisome number. Congestion slows down our first responders in situations where every second counts.

It threatens our environment – especially the quality of our air. Know that the EPA has set minimum air standard measurements. If we fail to meet these requirements we face possible loss of federal funding for transportation projects…. and Austin and Central Texas have been flirting with this federal non-attainment status for years.

If traffic congestion continues to grow like this, we’ll reach it soon – and we’ll pay a price if we do.

Our traffic crisis also undermines our efforts to keep Austin affordable.

As congestion worsens, it becomes a key factor in the housing choices people make. That leads to the huge increases in the cost of housing we’ve already seen in the central city. That, in turn, only forces more people to commute even farther every day.

But most of all, our traffic problem slowly steals away the thing that I think all of us value the most…our time.

According to a recent analysis, a typical Austin driver with a 30-minute commute now, experiences an estimated 83 hours of traffic delays over the course of a year.

83 hours. That’s almost two full weekends a year spent sitting in traffic, instead of being home with your family, or out with your friends.

Not only are all these negative impacts bad and unsustainable in and of themselves, they also work together to punch a gaping hole in our economic strategy.

The basic premise of Austin – the thing that’s truly at the heart of our prosperity – is our special quality of life… it’s a mindset, it’s an attitude, and by in large…. it’s the reason events want us to host them here and why so many folks choose to live here or want to move here.

But our traffic crisis today is eating away at almost all the things that make this city what it is.

You may have recently read the estimate that the Austin metropolitan area’s net population grows by 110 people… every single day. Our best guess is that means 70 additional cars on our roads every day.

At this rate we could see 490 more cars on our roads this week than last, and we would see 25,550 additional cars on the road this year. That means a potential quarter million new cars on the road in 10 years by 2024.

And that means – unless we’re prepared to simply watch our quality of life and economy deteriorate – we must act.

Now, I think it has to be said that we got into this mess in the first place by virtue of our own inaction. For years, we did mostly just sit and watch as our population grew, and our traffic got worse.

But fortunately, over about the last 15 years or so, we have finally started to get serious about dealing with our transportation problem.

Since 2000, Austin voters have approved almost $500 million in bond funds to help pay for transportation infrastructure – most of it improvements to our roadways.

We’ve also seen more than $4 billion in county and state funds spent on transportation infrastructure in our region over the last 16 years – again, the vast majority on roadways.

Looking ahead, we have somewhere around $3 billion worth of transportation projects planned in our region – and again, most of it is for roads. Not all, but most. And that’s good.

But – even as we have made and planned these big investments, it’s only become more clear, to more people, that roads – while good – are just one piece of the puzzle… and by themselves are not going to solve our traffic crisis in all parts of the region.

I have met with folks that think more roads are not the answers… and some that say that building more roads to solve your traffic problem is like buying a bigger belt to solve your weight problem.

And in the end, many agree that the only real solution is to change behavior.

The behavior we have to change, in order to fix our problem, is to connect people – in every way we can – by helping them get from where they are, to where they want to go by providing sustainable options on how to get there.

That means one thing: We must – we must – prioritize and invest now in a real multi-modal mass transit system for this region, if we want Austin to continue to prosper.

Now, it’s true we’ve made some progress on this front as well. Capital Metro, especially over the past four years, has picked itself up and become, in my view, an effective mass transit agency.

Our bus system is good and getting better. The new MetroRapid service has just launched, with the help of nearly $40 million in federal funds… The new buses use priority lanes and have the capability to delay a signal light change for several seconds, speeding up the routes.

MetroRail – the Red Line commuter rail between Leander and downtown Austin – is also online, with ridership growing steadily. Boardings now average 65,000 per month, with trains at full capacity during peak hours.

But what has been missing from our approach - until now - has been a shared regional vision for how our mass transit system should connect.

That’s why, two years ago, CAMPO re-created – and I have been proud to Chair – the Transit Working Group.

Made up of elected and community leaders from across the region, the Transit Working Group has been working diligently to develop a high-capacity transit plan for Central Texas.

The work of that Group – along with the effort called Project Connect… which is a partnership between the City of Austin, Capital Metro, Lone Star Rail District and CAMPO – will soon culminate in a plan, and a recommendation for action.

I think it’s safe to say that the next recommendation will likely be for the first phase of an urban rail system through central Austin – and that proposal, with the support of the City Council, is likely to land on the November ballot.

Now, let me say, for most of us in this room, the only passenger rail system we’ve had in Austin has been the Zilker Zephyr.

And I’ll admit that for a long time, I thought the Zilker Zephyr might be sufficient.

But by the time of the 2000 light rail election, it was apparent to me that Austin needed a real urban rail system.

But the measure failed…barely – and here we are, 14 years later. And I can tell you, it’s crystal clear to me that the price of failing at the ballot box this time would be enormous.

Here’s the basic equation:

#1. If we want continued prosperity in Austin – if we want to connect our residents with good jobs – we’ve not only got to build on our strengths, we’ve got to attack our weaknesses.

#2. Our single greatest weakness – the one thing that promises to adversely affect our quality of life – is our traffic crisis.

And #3. Roads alone won’t solve our traffic crisis. Neither will rail – but it’s clear we’ll never succeed without both.

Let me make it even simpler:

Rail – or fail.

A few minutes ago, I said – and I bet most of you agreed – that Austin is in a competition with our peer cities to win and keep good jobs.

30 years ago, probably most people would have considered cities like Tallahassee or Sacramento or Little Rock or Madison to have been Austin’s peer cities.

But today, I think you’d find consensus here and elsewhere that Austin’s peers are now cities like Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Portland, and San Diego.

And what you need to know is that just Denver, Seattle and San Diego, over the past 14 years, have together invested more than $10 billion in rail transit.

Our competitors figured out the equation – and our competitors took action.

Now the ball is about to be in our court one more time, and it will be up to us, as a community, to decide how to move forward.

Of course, all of the final details matter – the technology, the cost, the funding plan, the route, the operations plan, and more.

But there will be good answers to all of those questions. And when we get to Election Day, there’ll only be one big question left:

Yes – or no?

I hope you’ll agree that the correct answer yes.

Let me finish today by going back to the beginning and saying it again plainly – the state of our city is strong. It’s never been stronger.

On December 27th of this year, Austin will celebrate its 175th birthday – its septaquintaquinquecentennial. And I think we can confidently say that we are living today in what is the golden era of our city’s long history.

In so many ways, Austin is simply one of the most amazing and most promising cities of the 21st century.

We aren’t without our shortcomings – no one is.

But for the most part, today, our economy is fundamentally strong and sound. And our community is fundamentally safe thanks to our public safety employees and their Chiefs in Fire, EMS, and Police: Kerr, Rodriguez, and Acevedo. And Chief Acevedo – you’re doing a great job, and we won’t forget that.

Our culture is vibrant and evolving. Our aspirations are for greater equity and justice.

Yes, in some ways, we’ve been lucky. But in more ways, we’ve been good. Our success in Austin has not happened by accident – and it won’t continue by chance.

The future of Austin is an Austin connected to rail… but also… the future of Austin is an Austin connected to good jobs.

An Austin that connects our growing elderly population, as well as our Veterans, with the types of services they need.

An Austin that is proud to be among the first in the country to have several companies provide high speed internet to its residents… yet does not forget to connect this service, with those who really can use it the most…

And friends, as a new dawn approaches for our form of City Government… and we look to a map that shows 10 districts…. let us not forget that Austinites are… and always have been a connected community.

If we’ll keep working hard and smart, and choose wisely when we reach big crossroads, then I know we can – and will – leave Austin better than we found it.

And believe me that’s saying something.

It has been, and it remains, the great privilege of my life to serve as the mayor of my hometown – and so I say thank you, God bless you, and God bless Austin, Texas.

Note to Austin’s Mayor: Portland light rail revolt continues as financial problems grow and transit market share drops.

March 12th, 2014

COST Commentary:Mayor Leffingwell recently designated Portland as one of Austin’s current peer cities and, although weasel worded, suggested Austin needed to move faster to follow the transit path of its peer cities as related to their major implementation of rail transit. Never mind Austin is far more successful, in almost every respect, than the 5 peer cities he mentioned (see speech below, near end, in bold letters).

The Mayor provides many distorted, misleading and incorrect comments regarding rail transit. He blames traffic for making Austin more unaffordable, but, the city’s regulations and public policies are the main culprit. The mayor suggest trains are needed to relieve congestion. Contrary to his statements, the main problem is: Austin has not provided transportation funds for roadways even close to the approximately 98% proportion of passenger miles traveled on roads. Austin’s funding allocation is more in line with the CAMPO 25 year Transportation Plan which indicates almost one-half the region’s transportation funds will be spent for transit, substantially trains, to serve 1% of the passenger miles traveled. This will substantially degrade overall transportation and transit. It is impossible for train transit to provide the vast majority of individual citizens with access to better opportunities and support their needs for a higher quality of life.

Rail cannot solve Austin’s traffic crises (congestion) or even make a major contribution. The total use of transit has declined over the past dozen years in the four major Texas regions (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin) after billions were spent on transit, primarily rail. The American Public Transit Association’s (APTA) 2013 ridership report indicated these regions dropped a total of about 2,900,000 bus riders during the year while expanded rail, primarily in Dallas and Austin, slightly increased ridership by a little over 500,000 or just under one-sixth the drop in bus riders. These regions remain among the fastest growing in the nation. APTA reported Austin’s bus system declined 1,600,000 riders while the MetroRail service gained 222,000, about one-seventh of the bus loss, due to expanded weekend, special events and higher frequency schedules which were very expensive for Austin Taxpayers. It was sad to witness Cap Metro and the media focus on the minor, but large percentage, increase in MetroRail riders while downplaying or ignoring the loss of 1.6 million bus riders.

The future of Austin is not connected to rail, as the Mayor suggests, and its good jobs have no relationship to rail. The Mayor’s comment of “Rail - or fail” is one of the more uninformed comments made. It defies all evidence and common sense. Austin has already proven this with a large “rail failure” which has burdened taxpayers, reduced overall transit, increased fares and degraded social equity. Austin’s MetroRail (Red Line) boardings are about 2% of total transit boardings but the costs are several times greater than this proportion. Cap Metro reports MetroRail commuter operating cost is $20 per passenger. This is 5 times the $4.00 cost of a bus passenger. Adding capital costs to this substantially increases the cost of MetroRail making it even much less cost-effective than the bus system which carries 98% of transit passengers. Rail costs are not sustainable and moving more bus riders to new rail can only increase costs, reducing overall transit service and choices.

Cap Metro is already planning to spend another $47 million to upgrade the Metro Rail to be able to carry more riders supported by very large taxpayer subsidies, estimated to exceed $10,000 per year for a daily two way rider.

Rail has played an insignificant role in Austin’s success to date and maybe a negative one due to the ineffective, high cost MetroRail. Thankfully, Austin has minuscule rail transit compared to the “peer cities.” Austin’s one, minor rail line has reaffirmed the much larger rail disasters experienced by the mayor’s peer cities.

The story below is about Portland area’s growing revolt against light rail. Portland has often been referred to as “The Mecca of Light Rail” over the past 15 years and promoted by some, with support from the city, as the city to emulate. However, for some years this fairyland story has been crumbling as reality is revealed. As the story below indicates, the region’s citizens are rejecting additional light rail and the transit agency, Trimet, is facing major financial problems with a declining transit market share. Even the head of Trimet stated they may be faced with cutting up to 70% of their transit service if new funding sources are not found (higher taxes for the citizens).

Portland and Austin had similar, and reasonable, affordability thirty years ago, but Portland has become dramatically less affordable due to its transportation and land use policies which place major restrictions on development in an effort to increase population density. Unfortunately, Austin’s affordability is now trending in Portland’s direction as Austin in in the early stages of implementing similar density policies and regulations to those in Portland. Portland has lost more than 60% of its public school enrollment due its lack of affordability for families. At its peak in the 1980s, Portland was at about the same enrollment as Austin is today (over 80,000) Many schools have been closed as Portland is now below 50,000.

If mayor Leffingwell intends for Austin to copy his designated peer cities, we can expect to face similar transit and affordability problems as those which light rail train transit has brought to each of these cities. There is not a single one of these so-called peer cities of Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Portland and San Diego which Austin should mimic in creating rail transit. Rail transit will increase congestion, increase taxes and degrade social equity by reducing transit service, and increasing fares, for the portion of our citizens which are transit dependent and have no alternatives.

Austin has great pride and accomplishment in being creative, unique and above the crowd as one of the most successful and fastest growing regions for several years. This should extend to developing new, innovative transportation and transit solutions which are not based on old, tired 19th century train technology. It does not meet the needs of Austin’s citizens in the 21st century. There are far better models and approaches than the “Rail to Failure” approach which has been demonstrated numerous times by most of Austin’s peer cities and numerous others. We urge the citizens of Austin to rise out of this “rut” and work to effectively address critical citizens’ transportation needs and not those of major greedy rail consultants, contractors and misguided politicians.
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PORTLAND LIGHT RAIL REVOLT CONTINUES
by Wendell Cox, newgeography.com, 03/12/2014

In a hard fought election campaign, voters in the city of Tigard appear to have narrowly enacted another barrier to light rail expansion in suburban Portland. The Washington County Elections Division reported that with 100 percent of precincts counted, Charter Amendment 34-210 had obtained 51 percent of the vote, compared to 49 percent opposed.

The Charter Amendment establishes as city policy that no transit high capacity corridor can be developed within the city without first having been approved by a vote of the people. High capacity transit in Portland has virtually always meant light rail.

In a previous ballot issue, Tigard voters had enacted an ordinance requiring voter approval of any city funding for light rail. Similar measures were enacted in Clackamas County as well as King City in Washington County. Across the Columbia River in Clark County (county seat: Vancouver), voters rejected funding for connecting to the Portland light rail system. After the Clackamas County Commission rushed through a $20 million loan for light rail (just days before the anti-light rail vote), two county commissioners were defeated by candidates opposed to light rail, with a commission majority now in opposition.

Further, a Columbia River Crossing, which would have included light rail to Vancouver was cancelled after the Washington legislature declined funding. In a surreal aftermath, interests in Oregon seriously proposed virtually forcing the bridge on Washington, fully funding the project itself. A just adjourned session of the Oregon legislature failed to act on the proposal, which now (like Rasputin) appears to be dead.

At the same time, Portland’s transit agency faces financial difficulty and has been seriously criticized in a report by Secretary of State. The agency has more than $1 billion in unfunded liabilities and carries a smaller share of commuters than before the first of its six light rail and commuter rail lines was opened. Moreover, the latest American Community Survey data indicates that 3,000 more people work at home than ride transit (including light rail and commuter rail) to work in the Portland metropolitan area. Before light rail (1980), transit commuters numbered 35,000 more than people working at home. Over the period, transit’s market share has dropped one-quarter.
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State of the City 2014
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell

Thank you, and thank you for that kind introduction, Tim.

I also want to thank Ward Tisdale and the rest of the staff and board of the Real Estate Council of Austin for inviting me to be here today.

Before I get started I want to acknowledge some folks who were kind enough to join us, starting with my Council colleagues - Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison, and Bill Spelman.

Thank you all for coming, and thank you for what you do for Austin.

I’m also want to recognize our City Manager, Marc Ott, who could not be here today due to a family illness…as well as: Deputy City Manager Mike McDonald and the other Assistant City Managers joining us today from our management team.

These folks all do great work at City Hall, so please join me in giving them a big hand.

I’m also happy to have my wife Julie Byers here today. Julie, thank you for your unwavering loyalty and for being my best friend.

Finally, I want to ask you to please indulge me while I make a special recognition.

This will be my 6th year as mayor, and come December, my 10th and final year at City Hall.

As some of you know, I spent 32 years as an airline pilot before I ran for City Council, and then was elected mayor.

And what I can tell you is that that flying a B-767 back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, in sometimes bad weather…is the less stressful job.

But the turbulence at City Hall has been made much more tolerable by a talented and devoted group of staff.

So I want to recognize them today – Chief of Staff Nancy Williams, Amy Everhart, Janet Jackson, Sly Majid, Reyne Telles, Lily Smullen…as well as the other support staff and Vista volunteers who help my office run smoothly. Some of my former staff members Matt Curtis, Andy Mormon, and Mark Nathan may be out there, too.

Thanks to each of you for what you’ve done, and what you continue to do for me, and for the city, every day.

Now – before we get down to business, since this is also my final “state of the city” speech, I think I should probably go ahead and address some of the rumors that have been going around about my plans when I do leave the mayor’s office at the end of the year.

And let me say that I can understand why these kinds of rumors get started. Because, as you know, some former Austin mayors have gone on to achieve some great things – from becoming a state senator… to dating Wendy Davis.

So first, the big one – and let me just be very clear about this. I will not – I repeat, I will not – be a candidate for District 10 of the Austin City Council. Obviously the grassroots movement to recruit me has been flattering – but frankly, but I’ve done my time – and – I’d sooner slash my wrists.

Second – and let me be very clear about this one, too – I will not – I say again will not – be replacing Ben Affleck in the new Batman movie. It’s true that there were discussions with the director – and some other people at Warner Brothers – but that’s it.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard or read the rumor that when I leave the mayor’s office - I’ll be recording a double album of duets with Willie Nelson. And actually, this is true.

In fact, we’ve already laid down a few tracks. We’ve recorded some of Willie’s hits, like– “On the Road Again” and we’ve recorded some of my original songs, like the ever popular “Please Take Your Conversation Outside,” “I’m Sorry, Your Three Minutes Are Up”…and “That Passes On A Vote of 5 to 2.”

So I hope you’ll pick that up when it comes out next year.

In the meantime, there’s still a lot of work left to do at City Hall, so let’s try our best for now to focus on the present.

Giving this speech every year is daunting and it’s one of those things that… looking back…makes my job as a jet pilot seem less stressful.

I did give several speeches every day as a pilot – but they were all about 30 seconds long… and focused mainly on the weather.

So to try to fully or fairly characterize the full scope of opportunity…and also challenges facing this dynamic city today…and to get you out of here before you start to get restless…this speech is kind of a tough gig.

That is because there really is so much going on in Austin, Texas. And there are so many different issues that really, truly do matter – even urgently.

The key to our future success is finding connectivity between our obstacles and our opportunities.

Whether it’s economic development, transportation, education, healthcare, public safety, housing, the environment, or any of a dozen other things – they all play a meaningful role in making up this complex system we call Austin.

And believe me, every week at City Hall, we are meeting, and talking, and working on, and debating almost every one.

In the past, I’ve tried my best to touch at least briefly on as many of those issues as I could.

I could do the same today and talk about a lot of different things we’re focused on in the mayor’s office – everything from connecting low-income families to the Internet… to getting our seniors connected to local resources…

…and of course, being a former Navy man, I try hard to be innovative and supportive of veterans’ issues, such as Honor Flight Austin….And I thank many of you out there for your support of that project, but especially Gary Farmer and the St. David’s Foundation for their generosity.

But with the clock ticking on my term, I’m trying hard to narrow my focus - to the one thing that has always mattered most to me as mayor.

And that’s doing everything I can to help ensure that our local economy is as strong as it can be, and that our residents have good jobs.

So that’s what I want to spend a lot of my time talking about today… Because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now – I think “a good quality of life begins with a good job.”

A good job can help us achieve many of our goals in life, while giving us meaningful purpose and a sense of accomplishment.

It helps us provide for ourselves and our families. It helps us earn the things we want – and value the things we earn. It sometimes brings us together with our best friends…

…And often, what we do in our jobs defines how we view ourselves – how we see our role in the world – and how we decide to give back to our community.

In short, getting a good job – or better yet, creating a good job – is how many, maybe even most of us, get to become the people we want to be.

The good news is that Austin, Texas, today, is a great place to get, or create, a good job.

In fact, if you believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’d be hard pressed to make the case that there is any better city in America.

Over the time I’ve been mayor, our job market has grown by leaps and bounds and we’ve been called the #1 fastest-growing job market in America – by far.

As recently as November, our unemployment rate was as low as 4.7% – compared to 6.1% statewide, and 7% nationally.

And just in the last three months, the Austin economy has been ranked as the top performing metro economy in the country by the Milken Institute and the Business Journals.

And just two weeks ago, Forbes named Austin the fastest growing city in the U.S… for the fourth year in a row, saying that with an economy like ours, and I quote, “it’s hard for others to compete these days.” Not too shabby.

So, if good jobs are the big issue – and I think they are – then there’s really nothing other to say about Austin than this:

In its 174-year-history, the state of our city has never, ever been stronger – and it’s still getting stronger every single day.

So the next important questions are: How did we get here, and how do we keep it going?

Why exactly have we enjoyed this success?

Well, first, as I’ve said before, I think we have to acknowledge that at least some of Austin’s economic success isn’t due to anything that any of us have done.

If anything, we were smart enough to “move to” – or, like me, were lucky enough to “be born in” – a city and a region where the conditions have almost always been – and still are today – ripe for growth.

We’re the capital of one of America’s largest and fastest-growing states and we’re home to the one of the largest public universities in the country.

We have extraordinary natural beauty, a temperate climate – most of the time – and the best natural swimmin’ hole in America.

We’re on the receiving end of longtime national migration trends from east and west, and from rural to urban…

…And, we live in a state that is very friendly to economic development.

All of this together means a city that has basically doubled in size every 25 years or so since it was founded. In fact, I have seen Austin’s population double about three times in my lifetime.

Today, as hard as it is to believe that we have surpassed cities like San Francisco and Indianapolis…we’re the 11th largest city in the country.

So on one hand, it seems pretty clear that – to some extent – favorable circumstances laid the foundation for population growth, and population growth laid the foundation for economic success.

On the other hand, it’s not that simple. Because the truth is that population growth is no guarantee of economic growth – even though the two are sometimes mistaken for each other.

In fact, when it comes to jobs and our economy, we’ve actually been far less lucky than we’ve been good.

Over the last 30 years in particular, Austin has been focused, methodical, and strategic about really making sure that if our population was going to continue to grow… our economy would grow along with it.

We have aggressively, creatively, and successfully, pursued and developed semiconductors, software, healthcare and life sciences, clean energy, film and music, mobile and social media, tourism and conventions, and other targeted industries… using every tool at our disposal, to help bring sustained economic growth to our city.

That includes the strategic and judicious use of economic incentives, many of which have been in the news a little lately.

Now, whether you like them or not, I have to say here that I think it’s undeniable that incentives have played a key role in Austin’s economic success in recent years.

Because – again, like it or not – when it comes to winning and keeping good employers and good jobs, it’s a competition…and we are competing with some great peer cities across the country…and even around the world.

Major employers that any city would have killed for – Apple and Facebook, for example – set up shop or expanded their operations in Austin, in part because we, through a vote by my colleagues on the City Council, were able to work with the State to offer them appropriate, competitive incentives to do so.

Now, the fact is, we use incentives far less than I think most people assume. Actually, since I’ve been mayor, we’ve only approved a total of eleven incentive packages, three just this month.

That averages out to about two per year.

But…from 2009 to 2012, just these deals have resulted in agreements to deliver over 8,000 good new jobs, and more than 550 million dollars in new investment in our community.

With just these 11 deals… I’m talking about over a half a billion dollars in: Austin property being purchased, leases being signed, contracts for improvements to build out space being executed, and office furniture, computers, and machinery being bought… Here in Austin. That’s a big deal.

So, incentives have proven to be an effective tool to attract jobs and economic opportunity to Austin – and a tool that actually results in a benefit to the taxpayer. Economic incentives help achieve economic growth and deliver jobs.

My further view is that we shouldn’t – as we have recently done – burden those incentives with other requirements that are so stringent as to render the benefits moot… that the deal becomes a wash. But, I’ll save that speech for another day.

So – if we go back to the first question – “how did we get here?” – I think the answer is probably two-fold: We were dealt a pretty good hand, and we played our cards very well.

But it’s the second question that’s really the more important of the two: “How do we keep it going?”

Obviously, to a great extent, what we have been doing is working, and we should keep on doing it…..

But our work is not done, you see, while we outpace our peers, as I understand, we still have over 20,000 unemployed in our region… and more than 170,000 folks living under the poverty line…. so while it seems like we are on top, our work is not finished.

We need to continue to focus on developing and diversifying our mix of industries and employers… and working diligently for good jobs with good pay and good benefits… using every tool we have.

We also need to keep our eyes peeled, constantly, for new opportunities to build on our strengths, and take advantage of the unique diversity of industry and expertise that we have created.

I can tell you that I think we do have at least one special opportunity like that now, in the coming-together of a few of the most exciting, big new projects in Austin’s modern history.

As I think most of you know, thanks to Austin voters and the vision and determination of a group of community leaders led by Senator Kirk Watson…downtown is about to become home to the new U.T. Medical School, as well as a new Seton teaching hospital.

That medical complex will be a transformative development… for UT, downtown Austin, and the city as a whole…. and will do as much good for our economy as it does for the quality and availability of our healthcare.

I am eager to see the vision for the Dell Medical School executed by inaugural dean Dr. Clay Johnston, a practicing neurologist.

Now – at the same time the medical school is coming online, the transformation of Waller Creek will also be coming to fruition.

Running the full length of the eastern edge of downtown, from Waterloo Park to Lady Bird Lake, the Waller Creek project will lift 28 acres of downtown land out of the floodplain, and invest as much as $60 million – most of that private funding – in creating a series of dynamic, new, signature public parks.

This incredible and important project is also the product of yeomen’s work on the part of many people, but perhaps none more so than the trio of founding board members of the Waller Creek Conservancy.

So in recognition of their ongoing efforts, I want to recognize Tom Meredith, who could not be here today, and to ask Melba Whatley and Melanie Barnes to please stand up and let us give them a big round of applause.

Thank you all very much for what you are doing for Austin.

Now, with these two very big things happening in the same part of downtown – and with the potential redevelopment of many of the buildings in the Capitol complex, also in this area – and, more broadly, because of the successful ongoing transformation of our downtown into a place to work, and live, and play – I see what I think is a unique, new, and big opportunity for Austin.

Like Boston did with Kendall Square near MIT, I believe we have the potential to remake what has been one of the most underutilized parts of downtown into a thriving new cluster of global commerce, culture, creativity and connectivity.

That’s why I’ve created and convened what we’re calling the “Innovation Zone” Advisory Group.

Made up of community stakeholders and representatives from UT, the City, the County and the State…the group’s goal is to develop a vision and a plan for transforming the northeast quadrant of downtown, around 15th and Red River, into a new epicenter of job creation… with cutting-edge medical research…development…and commercialization at its core.

I intend to continue to chair the Advisory Group through the remainder of my term, and then at the end of the year, ask Senator Watson to assume leadership of this effort in his spare time, and he’s agreed.

I can tell you that I am truly convinced that the Innovation Zone project holds real promise for Austin’s economy…a connected Austin…an Austin of tomorrow… and I know that with the active participation of the partners, and the leadership of Senator Watson and others, we can and will realize that promise.

Now, as much as I like being positive and upbeat – and yes… this is what I look like when I’m being positive and upbeat…

…the truth is that if we want to continue to prosper, we can’t just build off of our strengths. We also have to attack our weaknesses.

So I want to address the huge risk I think our city and our economy will face if we fail to act on one of our critical weaknesses.

Folks, if you’ve ever believed anything I’ve ever said, I hope you’ll believe me now when I say that our traffic crisis… and I did say crisis, in Austin, Texas has reached a point where it threatens to undermine what we’ve accomplished, and what we can accomplish.

I know that it can be easy to think of Austin’s traffic as just an annoyance, an inconvenience or a fact of life. But it’s wrong, and in fact it’s dangerous, to let ourselves think that way.

Our traffic problem isn’t just an annoyance. It is a deadly serious threat to almost all of the things we have achieved and continue to strive toward.

It threatens our safety. In each of the last two years, we’ve seen nearly 80 traffic fatalities on our roads. That’s an unacceptably high and worrisome number. Congestion slows down our first responders in situations where every second counts.

It threatens our environment – especially the quality of our air. Know that the EPA has set minimum air standard measurements. If we fail to meet these requirements we face possible loss of federal funding for transportation projects…. and Austin and Central Texas have been flirting with this federal non-attainment status for years.

If traffic congestion continues to grow like this, we’ll reach it soon – and we’ll pay a price if we do.

Our traffic crisis also undermines our efforts to keep Austin affordable.

As congestion worsens, it becomes a key factor in the housing choices people make. That leads to the huge increases in the cost of housing we’ve already seen in the central city. That, in turn, only forces more people to commute even farther every day.

But most of all, our traffic problem slowly steals away the thing that I think all of us value the most…our time.

According to a recent analysis, a typical Austin driver with a 30-minute commute now, experiences an estimated 83 hours of traffic delays over the course of a year.

83 hours. That’s almost two full weekends a year spent sitting in traffic, instead of being home with your family, or out with your friends.

Not only are all these negative impacts bad and unsustainable in and of themselves, they also work together to punch a gaping hole in our economic strategy.

The basic premise of Austin – the thing that’s truly at the heart of our prosperity – is our special quality of life… it’s a mindset, it’s an attitude, and by in large…. it’s the reason events want us to host them here and why so many folks choose to live here or want to move here.

But our traffic crisis today is eating away at almost all the things that make this city what it is.

You may have recently read the estimate that the Austin metropolitan area’s net population grows by 110 people… every single day. Our best guess is that means 70 additional cars on our roads every day.

At this rate we could see 490 more cars on our roads this week than last, and we would see 25,550 additional cars on the road this year. That means a potential quarter million new cars on the road in 10 years by 2024.

And that means – unless we’re prepared to simply watch our quality of life and economy deteriorate – we must act.

Now, I think it has to be said that we got into this mess in the first place by virtue of our own inaction. For years, we did mostly just sit and watch as our population grew, and our traffic got worse.

But fortunately, over about the last 15 years or so, we have finally started to get serious about dealing with our transportation problem.

Since 2000, Austin voters have approved almost $500 million in bond funds to help pay for transportation infrastructure – most of it improvements to our roadways.

We’ve also seen more than $4 billion in county and state funds spent on transportation infrastructure in our region over the last 16 years – again, the vast majority on roadways.

Looking ahead, we have somewhere around $3 billion worth of transportation projects planned in our region – and again, most of it is for roads. Not all, but most. And that’s good.

But – even as we have made and planned these big investments, it’s only become more clear, to more people, that roads – while good – are just one piece of the puzzle… and by themselves are not going to solve our traffic crisis in all parts of the region.

I have met with folks that think more roads are not the answers… and some that say that building more roads to solve your traffic problem is like buying a bigger belt to solve your weight problem.

And in the end, many agree that the only real solution is to change behavior.

The behavior we have to change, in order to fix our problem, is to connect people – in every way we can – by helping them get from where they are, to where they want to go by providing sustainable options on how to get there.

That means one thing: We must – we must – prioritize and invest now in a real multi-modal mass transit system for this region, if we want Austin to continue to prosper.

Now, it’s true we’ve made some progress on this front as well. Capital Metro, especially over the past four years, has picked itself up and become, in my view, an effective mass transit agency.

Our bus system is good and getting better. The new MetroRapid service has just launched, with the help of nearly $40 million in federal funds… The new buses use priority lanes and have the capability to delay a signal light change for several seconds, speeding up the routes.

MetroRail – the Red Line commuter rail between Leander and downtown Austin – is also online, with ridership growing steadily. Boardings now average 65,000 per month, with trains at full capacity during peak hours.

But what has been missing from our approach - until now - has been a shared regional vision for how our mass transit system should connect.

That’s why, two years ago, CAMPO re-created – and I have been proud to Chair – the Transit Working Group.

Made up of elected and community leaders from across the region, the Transit Working Group has been working diligently to develop a high-capacity transit plan for Central Texas.

The work of that Group – along with the effort called Project Connect… which is a partnership between the City of Austin, Capital Metro, Lone Star Rail District and CAMPO – will soon culminate in a plan, and a recommendation for action.

I think it’s safe to say that the next recommendation will likely be for the first phase of an urban rail system through central Austin – and that proposal, with the support of the City Council, is likely to land on the November ballot.

Now, let me say, for most of us in this room, the only passenger rail system we’ve had in Austin has been the Zilker Zephyr.

And I’ll admit that for a long time, I thought the Zilker Zephyr might be sufficient.

But by the time of the 2000 light rail election, it was apparent to me that Austin needed a real urban rail system.

But the measure failed…barely – and here we are, 14 years later. And I can tell you, it’s crystal clear to me that the price of failing at the ballot box this time would be enormous.

Here’s the basic equation:

#1. If we want continued prosperity in Austin – if we want to connect our residents with good jobs – we’ve not only got to build on our strengths, we’ve got to attack our weaknesses.

#2. Our single greatest weakness – the one thing that promises to adversely affect our quality of life – is our traffic crisis.

And #3. Roads alone won’t solve our traffic crisis. Neither will rail – but it’s clear we’ll never succeed without both.

Let me make it even simpler:

Rail – or fail.

A few minutes ago, I said – and I bet most of you agreed – that Austin is in a competition with our peer cities to win and keep good jobs.

30 years ago, probably most people would have considered cities like Tallahassee or Sacramento or Little Rock or Madison to have been Austin’s peer cities.

But today, I think you’d find consensus here and elsewhere that Austin’s peers are now cities like Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Portland, and San Diego.

And what you need to know is that just Denver, Seattle and San Diego, over the past 14 years, have together invested more than $10 billion in rail transit.

Our competitors figured out the equation – and our competitors took action.

Now the ball is about to be in our court one more time, and it will be up to us, as a community, to decide how to move forward.

Of course, all of the final details matter – the technology, the cost, the funding plan, the route, the operations plan, and more.

But there will be good answers to all of those questions. And when we get to Election Day, there’ll only be one big question left:

Yes – or no?

I hope you’ll agree that the correct answer yes.

Let me finish today by going back to the beginning and saying it again plainly – the state of our city is strong. It’s never been stronger.

On December 27th of this year, Austin will celebrate its 175th birthday – its septaquintaquinquecentennial. And I think we can confidently say that we are living today in what is the golden era of our city’s long history.

In so many ways, Austin is simply one of the most amazing and most promising cities of the 21st century.

We aren’t without our shortcomings – no one is.

But for the most part, today, our economy is fundamentally strong and sound. And our community is fundamentally safe thanks to our public safety employees and their Chiefs in Fire, EMS, and Police: Kerr, Rodriguez, and Acevedo. And Chief Acevedo – you’re doing a great job, and we won’t forget that.

Our culture is vibrant and evolving. Our aspirations are for greater equity and justice.

Yes, in some ways, we’ve been lucky. But in more ways, we’ve been good. Our success in Austin has not happened by accident – and it won’t continue by chance.

The future of Austin is an Austin connected to rail… but also… the future of Austin is an Austin connected to good jobs.

An Austin that connects our growing elderly population, as well as our Veterans, with the types of services they need.

An Austin that is proud to be among the first in the country to have several companies provide high speed internet to its residents… yet does not forget to connect this service, with those who really can use it the most…

And friends, as a new dawn approaches for our form of City Government… and we look to a map that shows 10 districts…. let us not forget that Austinites are… and always have been a connected community.

If we’ll keep working hard and smart, and choose wisely when we reach big crossroads, then I know we can – and will – leave Austin better than we found it.

And believe me that’s saying something.

It has been, and it remains, the great privilege of my life to serve as the mayor of my hometown – and so I say thank you, God bless you, and God bless Austin, Tex

Washington State stalls (killed) Oregon’s Rail Folly: Travelers, Taxpayers & Social Equity are Winners

March 9th, 2014

COST Commentary: This was originally posted July 7, 2013 and was partially updated on March 9, 2014.

The last two short stories are partial updates to the previous stories and cover of the final close-down of the Columbia River project. They are summarized by the title of the first one: “Columbia River Crossing: ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) to pull plug, bridge project is dead” The tragic line in the story is: “The shutdown comes after more than a decade of planning and nearly $190 million worth of planning, engineering, financial and traffic forecasting and other work.” This massive waste of taxpayer funds could have been avoided with just a little common sense and leadership. The good news is that the waste of additional billions of dollars was avoided.

There is a major, very relevant lesson for Austin in this story: Austin wasted about the same amount of money in building the Red Line commuter rail not counting the loss of more than $12 million a year to operate the train. This has proven to be a very large waste of taxpayer funds. So far, Austin leadership has not indicated they understand this tragedy. The Mayor is pushing hard for an urban rail election in November 2014 which would result in the wasteful spending of billions of dollars on ineffective rail.

The following COST commentary was in the June posting.

There were, at least, two major victories for transportation, taxpayers and all citizens during the last week of June, 2013.

The articles and papers below address the second event which halted the continued wasteful spending of taxpayer funds for a joint Washington and Oregon state project to construct a new bridge across the Columbia River boundary between the states; including the expansion of Portland’s extensive light rail system to cross the river into Vancouver, Washington.

The two states have reportedly spent $170 million dollars on planning this misguided venture. It began in the mid 2000s as part of the response to address the problem of an old bridge which had become a congestion bottleneck; jeopardizing the major population growth and economic efficiency on both sides of the Columbia. This led to the involvement of transit officials and the ultimate, ill-advised decision to accommodate a light rail on the new bridge. Making light rail transit a higher priority than solving the bridge congestion problem resulted in many blunders including a major increase in project cost.

Portland has a long history of implementing high costs, ineffective, and unsustainable light rail, prompting Oregon to approve their “down payment” portion of the project, $450 million. Fortunately, Washington had some objective citizens and elected officials who were committed and worked hard to uncover the facts before the legislature committed its $450 million share. This “down payment” was based on a $3.4 billion finance plan (current dollars, not including interest). It was clear, when the truth was unveiled, that the costs would be much higher as experienced in almost every rail transit system. Based on the information revealed and more thorough analyses, Washington Legislatures did not approve the funding, in spite of the Washington Governor’s strong support of the project.

What are the lessons learned for Austin? Austin has lost focus on the priority of congestion relief, much as Oregon and Washington did. As in this Washington-Oregon project, Austin’s solution of an Urban Rail system is ineffective, will have no impact on congestion and its exorbitant costs will be a major burden for taxpayers while siphoning limited transportation funds from roadway projects which would reduce congestion and improve public transit with greater coverage and efficiency with lower costs. Wasteful spending on ineffective rail will also reduce the effectiveness of public transit by reducing funds available for the bus system which is the primary source of transit for those who need it and have no alternative; resulting in degradation of social equity.

The first memo below is from the head of the company which played a major role in uncovering the facts and truth of the Columbia River Crossing (CRS). This truth was filled with unsubstantiated, wasteful payments, costly blunders and no valid evidence or support the project would achieve its projections and promises. The second and third items below are media articles revealing key facts in his situation and they also clearly reflect the biases present in those whose self-interest and ideology is a priority over the facts and the best interests of all citizens. Ms Couch’s memo reflects the frequent truth in these projects: massive wasteful spending of taxpayer funds driven by nonobjective, self-serving citizens and political leaders.

Some suggested the project should not be stopped because so much money had been spent: As Ms Couch notes, this reflects a miserable situation which was allowed to escalate for years without objective checks and balances. Continuing would be a sad conclusion and much worse than the difficult decision made by courageous folks: to stop now. Unfortunately, similar cost escalations are occurring in Austin as Urban Rail planning continues to build momentum without objective checks and balances.

The second “victory” in late June also concerns the work by a few courageous, dedicated citizens to uncover the facts and reveal the truth about rail transit. This work of Georgetown, Texas citizens resulted in their city council rejecting, by a vote of 6-1, their continued financial support of the plan for an ill-advised commuter rail from Georgetown to San Antonio in central Texas. See: Rail Jumps The Track AGAIN!: Georgetown City Council Votes To End Participation In Lone Star Rail District

There are also three, recent, additional negative articles regarding rail transit projects at the following COST site: Rail Disasters Mounting: Tales of Three Cities
______________________________________________________________________
From: Tiffany Couch
Sent: Sun, Jun 30, 2013 12:14 am
Subject: My heartfelt gratitude to you

To my very dear friends and colleagues:

The governors of Oregon and Washington have indicated tonight that they will start moving to shut down the Columbia River Crossing office in Vancouver. This project is officially dead since Washington State Legislators chose to decline any future dollars towards this project. (the news article referenced here can also be seen below)

By far, this is the largest case we’ve worked. Tens of thousands of documents, hundreds (maybe thousands?) of hours; all with: an inordinate amount of public and professional scrutiny. Most times, that work was met with silence. Most of those with the decision making power chose to ignore rather than to act.

Most would think this would be a big “W” in our Win column. For the record, I see it differently. To me, the win is not whether we were right or wrong. The only win in all of this is the fact that we were able to be a conduit for the truth. We were able to scrutinize and then communicate complex financial information into a format for others to understand. From the public to the public officials that made the decisions; our work certainly shed light on many troubling issues.

In my personal opinion, I don’t see this as a win for Clark County or as an example of how government should work. I see this as a huge disappointment. A consequence of what happens when government doesn’t work as intended. Over $170 million was spent on a bridge project wrought with cost overruns, planning errors, and major design flaws. As a result, a project that could have helped this region; most importantly the people of Clark County, was never truly considered. As a result of this failure, many people will lose their jobs in the coming weeks as the CRC office is shut down. We will have to find a new course to hopefully find a bridge project (or 3!) that will help solve the transportation problems facing our community…problems that the CRC Project admitted it would not fix: congestion and freight mobility.

I do not believe for a moment that this bridge project was killed solely because of our work. I do, however, believe that our work led to legislators asking questions and seeking to understand the discrepancies we discovered. Those questions led to answers which confirmed many of the opinions set forth in our reports. Couple our findings with design and other errors by the CRC project office, legislators found themselves with no choice but the one they made.

Speaking of legislators – two stand out to me as the types of representatives we wish to have in our government. Senator Ann Rivers from the 18th Legislative District here in Clark/Cowltiz County and Senator Curtis King from Yakima, took the lead on this. They reviewed reports, attending meetings with me and CRC and Coast Guard officials. They asked questions and demanded answers. They took a lot of heat from the Governor, their own colleagues, and others who tried to convince them that this project was a “done deal” and that they should just get on board. They didn’t. They sought to find answers to the questions. When those answers revealed problems, they articulately communicated them to their colleagues. I cannot think of any other legislator I’ve had the pleasure of working with who I’ve seen work so hard on an issue. Not to “win” – but to find answers to get to the truth and then make informed decisions. Other legislators that have worked hard on this should not be discounted: Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler; Representative Liz Pike; Representative Ed Orcutt to name a few.

There are numerous other experts who have provided contrary opinions: Economist Joe Cortright; John Charles, a Transportation Expert from the Cascade Policy Institute; and Kevin Peterson, a world renowned Transportation Design Architect. They, too, have suffered the same types of personal and professional attacks as I have. Yet their work stands on its own. More beacons of the truth.

And, then there are those who sacrificed personal time and talent all for this project. The volunteers and “grass roots” efforts that were there from beginning to end.

If you are receiving this message tonight it is with my heartfelt gratitude and thanks. You are the ones who read reports and offered excellent professional advice. You were the ones who prayed or sent good thoughts our way as reports were published. Others of you stood by and continued to be a friend or a business partner or a colleague even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do. Perhaps you did something as simple as sit next to me at Rotary or offered kind words of encouragement. You’ve no idea how much those simple acts were appreciated by me. I will never forget them.

Many in our community believe that, with the CRC “over,” so is Acuity Group! Sorry to disappoint! Acuity Group was strong before the CRC came through the door. Most of the time we had to fit in the CRC work as we had time; as we were generally handling anywhere from 12 to 18 cases at any given point over the last two years! Right now, we’re juggling cases from our region and beyond – with a big trip to Louisiana on the horizon and a great speaking gig in Indiana coming up in August. We are blessed beyond measure with great clients and interesting and fulfilling work.

Most importantly, I look forward to working in our community as it’s a wonderful place to live and work and raise a family!

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support and your wisdom.

With much love,
Tiffany

Tiffany R. Couch, CPA/CFF, CFE
Principal
ACUITY GROUP PLLC
Financial Investigation and Forensic Accounting
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Washington lawmakers’ denial of funding ends project; governors pull plug
By Eric Florip, Columbian Staff Reporter Originally published June 29, 2013

The Columbia River Crossing is dead.

After intense political wrangling, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent, and a controversy that embroiled Clark County for the better part of a decade, the Washington Senate delivered the fatal blow to the beleaguered project Saturday. Lawmakers there turned back a last-ditch effort to push through a transportation revenue package that would have steered crucial funding to the CRC and other projects across the state. The full Legislature’s adjournment without approving that money left the planned Interstate 5 Bridge replacement with an aggressive schedule and a $3.4 billion finance plan ready to fall apart.

Instead, both states’ governors said Saturday that they’d pull the plug. The project’s downtown Vancouver office will begin shutting down. Its dozens of employees and consultants will land elsewhere. Funding that Oregon lawmakers had already committed will evaporate. And Clark County will move on to life after the CRC.

Gov. Jay Inslee will meet with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and transportation officials to decide next steps, said Inslee spokesman David Postman. But the assumption all along was that the project would fold if Washington lawmakers made no commitment this year, he said.

“We’re now looking at what that means and exactly how that’s going to proceed,” Postman said.
Kitzhaber confirmed the CRC’s demise in a statement expressing disappointment Saturday. The failure of Washington lawmakers doesn’t eliminate the safety and economic risks on the existing Interstate 5 Bridge connecting Vancouver and Portland, he said.

“But without the funds from Washington and adherence to the project budget and schedule, neither state can incur the further costs of delay,” Kitzhaber said. “Consequently, project managers have begun to close down the project.”

The development is a major political defeat for Inslee, Kitzhaber and other high-profile forces that had lobbied hard for the CRC in recent months. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was among those leading the charge. Then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited Olympia in the session to put additional pressure on lawmakers to act.

CRC planners had banked on Washington and Oregon to jointly contribute $900 million to the project’s $3.4 billion cost. Oregon lawmakers approved their state’s $450 million share this year. House Democrats in Olympia passed a $10 billion transportation revenue package and project list that would have committed another $450 million from Washington.

But Senate Republicans had long indicated they weren’t keen on the package, which included a 10½ cent increase to the state gas tax. Plenty of members singled out the many financial and logistical questions surrounding the CRC, which would have extended light rail into Vancouver and rebuilt freeway interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River.

Ultimately, the Senate didn’t act on either the transportation package or CRC funding before the final gavel dropped. After adjournment, a clearly frustrated Inslee laid blame squarely at the feet of the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus, made up of mostly Republicans. He called the result a “total failure.”
“Where have you been for the past six months? Has anyone here heard leadership from the Senate majority caucus?” Inslee said on live television. “I think not, and that’s very regrettable.”

He later added: “This was supposed to be a bipartisan majority. But it has turned into nothing but a roadblock to a transportation package.”

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, expressed disappointment that senators received the House’s transportation package on what ended up being the 151st day of a 153-day legislative session. And Rivers noted that the House failed to pass a required bonding authority bill as part of the package.
It’s not clear the House even had the votes to pass the bonding authority bill, which would require a three-fifths majority. Earlier components of the transportation package scraped by on slim majorities, and only after an unsuccessful first attempt.

Rivers said Senate leaders plan to meet with constituents in the coming months to decide the best way to proceed with the state’s transportation needs, including the I-5 corridor. “Bring folks in on the front end instead of the back end,” she said.

As for the death of the CRC, “I take neither joy nor pleasure,” said Rivers, who opposed the CRC as planned. “It’s heartbreaking that it got as far as it did with such questionable results.”

High-profile blunders

The CRC had become a lightning rod of controversy in Clark County, particularly the light-rail component local leaders approved in 2008. Opponents also decried the CRC’s cost and plans to toll the new I-5 bridge, saying it put an undue financial burden on the Southwest Washington residents who account for the majority of traffic over the bridge.

Supporters called the CRC an essential fix for an aging bridge that’s an economic and safety liability. The twin spans of the I-5 bridge were built in 1917 and 1958. Both are considered “functionally obsolete” by state transportation officials.

The CRC had friends in high places, but it was a series of high-profile blunders that ultimately helped facilitate the project’s undoing. The CRC went through multiple bridge designs, multiple delays and multiple project directors over the years.

All of that led to perhaps the project’s most embarrassing misstep: designing a bridge too low. Planners initially drew up a fixed span with just 95 feet of clearance over the Columbia — a height roundly dismissed by the U.S. Coast Guard and others as inadequate for the navigation and economic needs of river users.

Planners scrambled to come up with a 116-foot-high design late last year and applied to the Coast Guard in January for a bridge permit — even as mitigation talks continued with upriver businesses that would have taken a financial hit due to the bridge design. Negotiations centered around how much the CRC would pay them as compensation.

“In the private sector, if this had happened, there would be no forgiveness of the companies that did this,” Rivers said of the CRC’s blunders.

Local players react

Local reaction to news of the CRC’s death varied. Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, a strong supporter of the project, called the outcome “politics at its worst.”

“It’s hard to find diplomatic words to describe the disappointment at what is really the failure of leadership in the legislature — by some of our representatives — to invest in the future economy and safety of the roads and bridges in our state,” Leavitt said. “Of course, it’s not just the CRC project that comes to a halt, but all the other important projects around the state that other communities were hoping would be completed, addressing the challenges they face in their local economies.”
Leavitt continued: “Sadly, that’s politics. This is unfortunately a poster child of poor politics.”
Clark County Commissioner David Madore became a key voice galvanizing opposition to the CRC in the later stages of the debate. Reached late Saturday, Madore welcomed the news — and reiterated his call for a third bridge over the Columbia River at 192nd Avenue.

“Many people worked very hard to defend this community from being exploited, and we owe them a debt of gratitude,” he said. “Our state legislature, our senators and many local citizens that worked so hard and conducted themselves with honor are very thankful to see the outcome.”

If there’s one thing to learn from the CRC, Madore said, “it’s how not to build a bridge and force a project upon the community.”

It’s unclear what will become of the ongoing efforts surrounding the CRC. The Coast Guard is still reviewing the project’s bridge permit application, and CRC leaders had been engaged in mitigation talks with upriver business as recently as last week. C-Tran, a local partner in the project, has spent recent months discussing how to pay the local cost of operating light rail in Vancouver.
In all, the project spent more than $170 million in planning.

The Columbia River Crossing project office officially formed in 2005. Its leaders had hoped to begin construction in 2014.

Instead, it appears the project will disband in 2013 without turning a shovel.
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Kitzhaber: Washington killed CRC project
Created on Saturday, 29 June 2013 11:00 |
by Jim Redden, Portland Tribune (http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/155712-kitzhaber-washington-killed-crc-project )

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber declared the Columbia River Crossing project dead Saturday evening following the 2013 Washington Legislature’s refusal to vote on a transportation funding package.
Although the 2013 Oregon Legislature committed $450 million to the project, Washington needed to commit a similar amount to secure the federal government’s share of the $3.4 billion cost to replace the Interstate 5 bridge between Oregon and Washington and make related freeway improvements.

Kitzhaber’s statement reads as follows:

“I am extremely disappointed that our legislative partners in the Washington State Senate failed to address the clear and present safety and economic need for this essential I-5 bridge. I have worked with three committed Washington governors on this project — starting with Governor Locke, then Governor Gregoire and now Governor Inslee — which makes the demise of the Columbia River Crossing without an up or down vote in the Senate even more disheartening. I want to thank Governor Inslee for his strong support and extraordinary effort to deliver Washington’s share of funding for the I-5 replacement bridge. The failure of the Senate to act does not eliminate the safety and economic risks to both our states, but without the funds from Washington and adherence to the project budget and schedule, neither state can incur the further costs of delay. Consequently, project managers have begun to close down the project.

“Governor Inslee and I will continue to work together, but our options will be different without Washington state’s financial partnership. Without bi-state funding, I have asked ODOT to review all of the work on the Oregon side of the project to determine if any stand-alone investments could be made to improve safety and reduce congestion on a smaller scale. That work will be subject for further
legislative review.”
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Columbia River Crossing: ODOT to pull plug, bridge project is dead

By Jeff Manning | jmanning@oregonian.com

March 07, 2014 at 5:55 PM

The Oregon Legislature, through its inaction, has apparently put the final stake in the heart of the Columbia River Crossing.

The Oregon Department of Transportation announced Friday it is closing the project’s offices, issuing cease-work orders to its many contractors and shutting the project down entirely by May 31.

The Oregon Legislature adjourned Friday having taken no action on the CRC other than a committee hearing. Oregon lawmakers lost their appetite for the project after the state of Washington pulled out as a co-funder last summer.

The shutdown comes after more than a decade of planning and nearly $190 million worth of planning, engineering, financial and traffic forecasting and other work.

It is an enormous victory for both environmental and urban planning groups from the left and conservative fiscal hawks from the right. This Green Tea Party, as they came to call themselves, attacked the project as a wasteful, bloated plan that was both bad for the environment and too risky for one state to bear alone.

It’s a stunning loss for Gov. John Kitzhaber, who continued to fight for the project until nearly the bitter end, and the mainline business and labor organizations that fought with him.

In the end, the boosters failed to convince the skeptics that the project would adequately address the I-5 crossing’s chronic congestion or that they could pull off the project without disastrous cost overruns or other problems.

“ODOT, WSDOT and TriMet will begin demobilizing agency staff,” ODOT said in an announcement issued late Friday. “We will issue stop work orders on consultant contracts on or before March 15, 2014. We will release consultant staff once they have archived and catalogued their work products.”
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Subject: ODOT announces plans to close down Columbia River Crossing Project
Date: Fri, 07 Mar 2014 19:03:54 -0600
From: “Oregon Department of Transportation”

ODOT announces plans to close down Columbia River Crossing Project

CRC will shut down completely by May 31, 2014

The following is a statement issued this afternoon by ODOT Director Matthew Garrett:

“On March 7, the Oregon Legislature adjourned without reinstating construction funds for the CRC I-5 Bridge Replacement project. As identified in Governor Kitzhaber’s January 27, 2014 letter to legislative leadership, the project will begin the process of orderly archival and closeout. We have the fiduciary responsibility to close out the project in a systematic, retrievable manner in order to adequately preserve a decade of research, environmental reviews, community involvement, and detailed engineering work for potential future use. We will archive work products according to Oregon record retention requirements.

Expenditures will be reduced immediately; further design and deliverable development will not occur. The project will shut down completely by May 31, 2014.

Conclude Staff and Agency Agreements

ODOT, WSDOT and TriMet will begin demobilizing agency staff. Each agency will be responsible for necessary personnel actions.

We will issue stop work orders on consultant contracts on or before March 15, 2014, including instructions to record the current status of the work product and contract amendments to archive work products and conduct contract closeout. We will release consultant staff once they have archived and catalogued their work products.

In addition, the project has intergovernmental agreements in place with agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Multnomah County Drainage District. We will close out these agreements this month with formal stop work orders.

Archive and Catalogue Work Products

We will archive and catalogue all work products, past deliverables, and permit documentation in their current state. The following types of work products exist:

-Environmental documentation required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including the Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement(s), the federal Record of Decision and required re-evaluations.

-Financial analysis, including extensive documentation required by the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, a transit operations and maintenance agreement, the investment grade analysis, and work products related to application for a federal TIFIA loan.

-Recent cost estimates for elements of the Oregon-led project and the project’s history of risk-based cost estimating.

-Geotechnical research and reports that have been informed by the drilled shaft and driven test pile program.

-The bodies of work that led to receipt of the U.S. Coast Guard General Bridge Permit and Section 401 water quality certification in Oregon and Washington. Work efforts required as part of the Section 404 flood and wetland and 408 navigation and levee impact permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were underway and will be archived. Other permitting plans and work products will be catalogued.

-Draft design build procurement document for the River Crossing Bridges and Approaches

-Documentation and summary of the robust public involvement program, including comments, advisory group activities, outreach presentations and public information materials.

-Work efforts to support right of way plans and utility relocations. Development drafts of procurement documents, including those intended to guide construction of the Columbia River bridges.

Vacate Office

The project occupies one floor of the Vancouver Center building. The lease is on a month-to-month basis, so there is no penalty for early termination. ODOT facilities will coordinate the retention of computers, phones, and furniture; ODOT fleet services will coordinate vehicle disposition.”

Strong trend in ‘Work-at-Home’ is important and cost effective congestion relief

March 1st, 2014

COST Commentary: As shown in the article below, there is a strong continuing trend in the increase in percentage of people working at home. It is the fastest growing “commute to work” mode and has surpassed the use of public transit in many metro areas, including Austin’s metro area. ‘Work at home’ is approaching three times the use of public transit for work commuting in Austin and reduces much more than three times the number of commuter vehicles on the roads as many transit riders do not have a vehicle choice. According to the census in 2012, 6.4% of Austin’s work force ‘worked at home’ and only 2.3% of its workers commuted by transit. However, the top 15 regions in work-at-home percentage range from 9.5 % to 13.8 %. Austin has a lot of room to increase. Work at home is clearly the most cost effective mode to reduce commuting peak hour traffic.

Austin’s public transit is 5th in “commuting to work” mode behind drive alone, car pool, work at home and other (walk, bicycle, other). Almost has almost as many people walking to work as riding public transit. Even poor public transit performance with essentially a bus only system (less than 2% ride Austin’s only passenger train) Austin’s public transit system has been far more effective than Dallas’ which has several train routes. Both have meager ridership which is not growing; even though tax payer costs continue to grow.

As shown in the table below, Austin (2.3%) has more than 50% higher percentage of commuters using public transit than Dallas (1.5%), which has spent billions of tax dollars to implement the longest light rail system in the nation. Dallas also has 6.6% higher percentage of ‘drive alone’ commuters than Austin. Dallas’ billions spent on train transit have not reduced highway traffic and road congestion. Commuting is the greatest use of public transit in almost all cities.

The total public transit ridership in the four largest Texas metro areas (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin) has declined over the past dozen years while many billions of dollars have been spent to encourage public transit, primarily implementing trains. This actual transit decline is in spite of these four Texas regions being among the fastest growning metro areas in the nation.

The facts refute Austin Mayor Leffingwell’s recent speach in which the coined the term “rail or fail” for Austin. This is clearly an absurd statement as proven throughout the nation in many cities. The reverse is more accurate: city after city is finding the focus on rail transit to be a major burden on taxpayers with no benefit; it does not relieve congestion and degrades overall transit service for those who need it most and have no alternative.

The Mayor’s proposed initial rail route is less 9 nmiles, going from a very low density living and employment area at the old Highlind Mall to another low density area on East Riverside Drive requiring a new bridge/tunnel across Lady Bird Lake. This assures very low ridership and it will cost more than a billion dollars. The project depends on the U.S. government paying one-half of the cost. There is a low probability of this U.S. participation as the government faces severe financial difficulties and a depleted Highway Trust Fund. The greatest part of this disaster is that the Mayor calls this a starter line with the goal to spend many additional billions of taxpayer dollars to significantly expand from this initail route. It has been shown many times that the further rail is expanded, the less cost effective it becomes.

It is most interesting that Austin has discussed urban rail for more than 20 years since the founding of Capital Metro. In this time, numerous groups and organizations have evaluated many rail routes. In every case, the groups have arrived at different route conclusions. The proposed route has changed several times during just the past five years and again two weeks ago. Austin is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the nation ans not a single development is due to rail transit. It is a changing city with changing public transit needs. Rail is inflexible, ineffective and exorbantly expensive for all taxplayers, most of which will never ride the train. It is even more expensive to move it once installed.

Urban rail would be the worst decision in the history of Austin and would have the greatest negative impact on today’s citizens and future generations. It would be a major step in a continuing trend of actions to discourage Austin citizens from downtown trips. What does it take to convince City officials? There are no city role models they can point to and we already have a very negative local experience with Cap Metro’s Red Line commuter train which carries less than 2% of total transit riders which are less than 1% of the region’s passenger miles traveled. It cost taxpayers more than 5 times as much to subsidize riders on this train as it does riders on buses making the same trip.
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LONE EAGLE’ CITIES: WHERE THE MOST PEOPLE WORK FROM HOME
by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox 02/27/2014

In an era of high unemployment and limited opportunity, more Americans are taking matters into their own hands and going to work for themselves out of their homes.

Normally small businesses have led the way during economic recoveries, but this time around they’re not creating many jobs. Instead much of the growth we are now seeing is in “lone eagle” businesses, to borrow a phrase from Phil Burgess, often operating out of the worker’s residence. This reverses the trend from 1960 to 1980, when there were steady reductions in the number of people who worked at home. Indeed, despite all the talk of increased mass transit usage, the percentage of Americans working at home has grown 1.5 times faster over the past decade; there are now more telecommuters than people who take mass transit to work in 38 out of the 52 U.S. metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 residents.

One clear driver of this trend is technology, particularly the growing ubiquity of high-speed Internet. A consultant in New York can now serve customers in Fargo, and vice versa, greatly expanding the range of places where people can live. This is particularly true for aging boomers, as well as younger workers having problems finding a full-time job in this tough economy.

Not surprisingly, of America’s 52 largest metro areas, the ones with the highest proportions of home-based workers are generally those with high-tech, information-based economies. Tops is San Diego, a major center for digital and biomedical businesses, where 6.6% of workers are based at home.

The next five metro areas, which have home worker concentrations ranging from 6.1% to 6.4%, all boast a high number of STEM workers and tech firms: Austin, Portland, Denver, Raleigh and San Francisco-Oakland. They all also have another thing in common: They tend to be popular destinations for millennials, who seem far more comfortable with unconventional work arrangements than older generations.

High real estate costs may be accelerating the trend in San Francisco, San Diego and Portland — if office space isn’t affordable, why not stay at home? All are also plagued by traffic congestion, most notably the Bay Area, which has among the longest commute times in the country. Rather than drive down snarled freeways, or take slow mass transit, individuals may do better working from home and heading into the traffic maelstrom only when absolutely necessary.

College Towns, Suburbs and Exurbs

Many metro areas, of course, are huge, and have many different kinds of geographies. But when we looked at the percentage of home-based workers in all municipalities with populations above 25,000, two types dominated the top of the table: college towns and tech-oriented exurbs. Boulder, Colo., for example, has the third highest proportion of people who work at home, at 11.6%, almost three times the national average. Other college towns with large proportions of telecommuters and one-person businesses include Berkeley, Calf. (tied for fifth, 10.6%), and Columbia, S.C. (12th, 9.9%), home to the University of South Carolina.

But the bulk of our leading work-at-home locales are tech-oriented suburbs or exurbs. These include several communities around the often traffic-clogged greater Atlanta area, including No. 2 John’s Creek (13.1%) and No. 6 Alpharetta (10.6%).

There are even more in the sprawl of Southern California. As many longtime Southland residents can attest, the best workday is one that does not involve either driving or taking transit. The top municipalities on our list in the region tend to be more affluent communities, including two suburbs of our top-ranked metro area, San Diego: Carlsbad (16th, 9.4%) and Encinitas (fourth, 10.7%).

The Codger Economy

Yet it would be a mistake to think cities with large home-based workforces are necessarily youthful ones. Nor are they all in large metropolitan areas. Although still slightly below the average for metropolitan areas, the pace of new telecommuter growth is now much faster outside the major metro areas.

More than 5 million Americans aged 55 or older run their own businesses or are otherwise self-employed, according to the Small Business Administration, and their numbers soared 52% from 2000 to 2007. As research from the Kauffmann Foundation suggests, many of these aging workers are not ready to hang up their work boots.

This entrepreneurial push could correlate with the movement of aging boomers to more rural communities, and sleepier outer suburbs. Contrary to the much-hyped notion of a “back to the city” movement among boomers, Census research suggests that if they move at all, most head further to the periphery. At the top of our list of communities over 25,000 is the coastal North Carolina city of Jacksonville, home to the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune and a good number of military retirees. A remarkable 13.8% of the people in this highly affordable, scenic community of 70,000 work out of their homes, roughly three times the national average. The median home price in Jacksonville: $141,000.

Other retirement hot spots with high telecommuter shares include Boca Raton, Fla. (9.8%), Scottsdale, Ariz. (9.8%), and Bend, Ore. (9.0%). These communities tend to attract well-educated boomers, many of whom have kept their business connections and work as consultants. In many cases, telecommuting allows people to continue their careers, but in an atmosphere of comfort, without the burden of commuting and, in many cases, sans the high income taxes of places like California and New York.

We can expect the wired economy to expand to other smaller communities. Already numerous smaller towns in the Midwest, such as Albert Lea, an hour and a half from Minneapolis, Brainerd, Minn., and Hastings Neb., all have home worker shares well above the national average. Many of the areas with the fastest growth in the number of self-employed people, notes EMSI is in small, somewhat isolated communities.

Many analysts who follow these trends expect stay-at-home workers to become more common in the future. According to research by Kate Lister and Tom Harnish of the Telework Research Network, the typical teleworker is a 49-year-old, college-educated, salaried, non-union employee in a management or professional role, earning $58,000 a year at a company with more than 100 employees.

This suggests that, as more workers enter their 50s, the telework population will expand further. These numbers will continue to be buttressed by both economic and social factors. The shift towards outsourcing by companies seems unlikely to slow in the years ahead, with more work going to subcontractors who can often work at home. At the same time more boomers, particularly those with skills and connections, will continue to move to places that offer more attractive lifestyles — a process that Joel Garreau has labeled “the Santa Fe-ization of the world,” which he links to people with enough money to have choices.

In the future, however, less well-heeled workers can also be expected to increasingly shift to affordable locales that appeal to them. This can be almost anywhere — a beach community, a rural hamlet, an exurb or even a dense urban location, as we can see by the geographic diversity in these rankings. As USC grad student Jeff Khau writes, this should encourage the development of wired coffee shops and casual restaurants in smaller communities and exurbs.

Finally, there are both familial and environmental reasons for this trend to expand. With more two-worker households, it has become more attractive to have at least one person working from home, part-time or full-time. And then there is the environmental desire to reduce carbon admissions. Compared to being forced to live in dense cities, or taking mass transit, the best way by far to reduce energy use – not to mention stress – is to not leave home at all.

Top Places Where Residents Work at Home

No. 1: Jacksonville, NC - 13.8%

No. 2. Johns Creek, GA - 13.1%

No. 3: Boulder, CO - 11.6%

No. 4: Encinitas, CA - 10.7%

No. 5 (tie): Berkeley, CA - 10.6%

No. 5 (tie): Alpharetta, GA -10.6%

No. 5 (tie): Santa Monica, CA -10.6%

No. 8: Frisco, TX - 10.2%

No. 9 (tie): San Clemente, CA - 10.1%

No. 9 (tie): Columbus, GA - 10.1%

No. 11: Bethesda CDP, MD - 10.0%

No. 12: Columbia, SC - 9.9%

No. 13 (tie): Boca Raton, FL - 9.8%

No. 13 (tie): Scottsdale, AZ - 9.8%

No. 15: Newport Beach, CA - 9.5%

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Journey to Work Market Share by Mode (2012 ACS.1 & Year)

This story originally appeared at Forbes.com.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.
Photo by By Rae Allen, “My portable home office on the back deck”

Massive Runaway Rail Costs - Modern Buses are Superior Choice

December 10th, 2013

COST Commentary: There are numerous articles posted on this site regarding the continuing, huge under-estimating of Rail costs and major over-estimating of ridership. The items below from The Washington Post and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation are two, more recent reminders that almost no passenger rail systems are completed and operated even close to original estimates of costs and ridership resulting in significant financial stress and negative community impact.

When will we recognize the reality which extensive, nationwide experience continues to expose: Rail systems are very ineffective at best and often major operating and financial disasters? Directing massive, wasteful, rail spending to useful community needs will improve the quality of life for all and reduce already burdensome tax and fee levels which disproportionately impact lower income citizens. Redirecting this irresponsible spending can provide significant overall transportation and transit improvements while creating a more affordable Austin.
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The Arlington board’s runaway streetcar

By William Vincent, Published: December 6, The Washington Post

Virginia is developing a fine tradition of squandering precious public-transit dollars. Rail in the Dulles corridor was originally estimated to cost around $1.5 billion but will end up close to $6 billion . The Tide line in Norfolk ballooned from around $200 million to nearly $320 million and is one of the poorest-performing light-rail systems in the country.

Arlington County is following in these footsteps. In 2006, the county board approved a $120 million streetcar for Columbia Pike. By 2010, despite the financial crisis and very low inflation, the price tag had skyrocketed beyond $250 million, which would have rendered the project ineligible for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Small Starts grant that the county intended to seek.

The county could have taken the escalating costs, and the threat of losing federal financing, as an invitation to consider alternatives to the streetcar. Instead, it made the streetcar appear to cost less than $250 million by shifting various streetcar components to other projects. For example, streetcar stations were moved into the county’s “Superstops” project, and most utility work was budgeted under “other projects either currently in construction, or proposed to be constructed prior to commencement of [the] Streetcar Project.”

While this shell game was underway, the planning and engineering firm AECOM was preparing an “alternatives analysis.” In theory, such analyses assess multiple transit options, helping officials choose the best one. But the board had already approved the streetcar years before, and AECOM has a longstanding and lucrative business relationship with the county. Last year, the AECOM study recommended the streetcar, even though it found that an enhanced bus system would carry virtually the same number of passengers, cost roughly one-fifth as much to build, and cost millions less to operate.

The county also released a return-on-investment study in June 2012. Unfortunately, that study was limited to the streetcar and did not evaluate the potential return-on-investment of other options. Would doing so have contradicted the county’s carefully constructed narrative in favor of the streetcar? Quite possibly. A recent study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy found that, dollar for dollar, bus rapid transit generally is a better investment than streetcars or light rail.

Once this paper trail was complete, the board approved the streetcar again and submitted its Small Starts grant application. It was promptly rejected, because the FTA found that the streetcar’s true cost could be as high as $400 million.

In a rational world, the county would reassess, especially in light of the barrage of negative attention surrounding the $1 million it spent on the first “Superstop.” But the board, with the exception of Libby Garvey, appears blind to the growing pile of red flags.

For example, the board approved an additional $1 million contract to AECOM for more streetcar planning. Most recently, the board awarded a contract to update its streetcar return-on-investment analysis. Although the contractor is now required to consider streetcar alternatives, County Board Chair Walter Tejada has declared that the streetcar will move forward regardless of the update’s conclusions. Moreover, the contract specifically states that the consultant will not be paid unless the county approves its work product. Given this veto power, the views of a majority of the board and the history of prebaked studies, I have a hunch the streetcar will come out smelling like a rose.

Citizens deserve honest, independent cost estimates and analyses. They also deserve elected officials who are capable of reevaluating when promises and expectations prove to be wildly off the mark. Until this happens, we will continue wasting public transit resources by spending too much and accomplishing too little.

The writer, an attorney and private transportation consultant, is a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit. From 1994 to 1998, he served in the U.S. Transportation Department, including as director of the Office of Policy and Program Support in the Research and Special Programs Administration.
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Published in the Georgia Public Policy Foundtion, Friday Facts, August 2, 2013

Transportation

Off-track math: San Diego’s SPRINTER light rail system has turned 5. It serves 15 stations on a 22-mile route. According to Metro Magazine’s April 2013 edition, “The rail line has seen record-breaking ridership in recent months, with averages of over 10,000 passengers per weekday.” Record-breaking? According to a 2007 press release, “The SPRINTER is projected to transport more than 11,000 passengers per day at the end of the first year of service.” Meanwhile, the 12-train system resumed service in May 2013 after accelerated brake wear shut down the system for more than two months.

Other people’s money: The environmental impact statement for the Purple Line light rail proposed for Maryland suburbs predicts that the line will increase congestion, use more energy than the cars it takes off the road, and cost $22 million more per year to operate and maintain than a bus-rapid transit line. The federal government funded the project anyway. Source: American Dream Coalition

Less if by bus: A new study prepared for the American Bus Association Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Reason Foundation reveals lower consumer and taxpayer costs and reduced emissions associated with motorcoach travel as compared with Amtrak’s rail system. It found that motorcoach travel is either more effective or on par with Amtrak, but at a fraction of the cost and with little to no public subsidy. Source: Metro Express

Rail Reality Revealed: Train Transit will Degrade Austin

November 18th, 2013

COST Commentary: The article below is one of the best written and most concise we have seen regarding the false promises of rail transit to provide efficient transportation and improve people’s economic prospects. Rail transit has all the major shortcomings discussed in the article below and is very outdated for most new applications.

This article’s author, Joel Kotkin, addresses several points specifically to the “Bay Area Plan” in California. The points are valid for any similar plan in the U.S., including Austin’s.

Perhaps the one very significant area not addressed in this article is the wave of glamorized impact of rail transit on development and tax revenue increases near stations. Many years of rail experience has essentially debunked modern rail’s original major impetuses: Reduced highway congestion, reduced air pollution and cost-effectiveness. As these advertised qualities have been discredited, many supporters have turned to “economic development” as the new leading support banner. There is a wealth of study and experience which verifies this to be a sham much as the other promoted benefits of rail transit, as discussed below.

The summary economic development “story” is somewhat straight forward. The vast majority of people do not move to an area because rail transit is available. They move to an area to find opportunity as usually demonstrated by the availability or promise of good jobs. If rail transit exists, a small number may choose to live near it. If there is no rail transit, they will live somewhere else. The bottom-line is that home building and new business, health, education, entertainment, etc. supporting new people will locate near customers and are not incremental development resulting in tax increases for the region due to the train. A train may influence a small number of people in their location choice. Therefore, incremental tax funding as proposed by Lone Star Rail on its “Investment Road Show” visits to all local communities is not additional money and sharing it with Lone Star Rail or any other such scheme, will only serve to increase citizens’ taxes to subsidize trains or reduce basic services provided by local governments.

It is troubling that Lone Star Rail District (Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail) management is pleading for an agreement, with local Austin-San Antonio corridor governments, to share tax revenue increases within a half-mile of train stations with Lone Star on a 50/50 basis. Lone Star is not operating with transparency and has not revealed its detailed financial plan for the project including schedules, estimated capital costs, operating costs and ridership, with the proposed cost share for each local government entity. Lone Star basically wants a deal without revealing key elements of the plan. It is not surprising, many years and millions spent on the plan has not produced an acceptable roadmap with costs for such major elements as: 1) moving the Union Pacific Railroad to a new rail east of I-35, 2) determining the total capital cost and developed a viable plan to pay for it, 3) determining the operating costs and a viable plan to pay for it, 4) determining how much each local government entity would be required to subsidize the operations, 5) determining the fare for riders, 6) determining the cost-effectiveness and, therefore, sustainability of the rail line. Funding viability is paramount recognizing the 50% portion of rail funding, assumed to be coming from the Federal Government, is by no means assured. There are 10 times the, maybe, available Federal dollars being requested throughout the country.

There are no commuter trains in the U.S., similar to the Lone Star Rail, which are financially sound and Lone Star has not revealed a comparable model system of success which they hope to emulate.

These open project definitions and funding issues as well as numerous others, should have been addressed already and, certainly, prior to soliciting funding commitments from local governments, who must have high assurance of their required level of commitment. This is an extremely high risk rail venture with every indication of a very negative outcome. In all likelihood, it will take many years longer than being advertised and local governments could lose huge amounts of taxpayer funds requiring higher taxes or reduced basic city services while receiving miniscule, if any, benefit from this project.

Project Connect, a “committee” funded by Capital Metro, the City of Austin and the Lone Star Rail District just released a proposed route for Austin’s initial urban rail. More on this later. This route is different than all previously proposed rail routes, over many years. Each time a new group; Capital Metro, Austin City, citizen committees, Project Connect, political bodies, etc. have evaluated a route for the first urban rail, a different route is chosen. This is a flashing, red, warning light that Austin is an adolescent city and is continually changing. Rail is not flexible and is very expensive to move. It is clear, Austin should use very flexible cost-effective transit systems until its development patterns are more developed; prior to evaluating any form of expensive “fixed” transit. Based on continually developing experience, it is very unlikely, long outdated, rail technology will be chosen as the most cost-effective to meet the needs of our future transportation system.

The initial urban rail route, just recommenced by ‘Project Connect,’ seems to be very ill-advised. Its route is a short 4.5 miles north of the city center to the old Highland Mall area and 3 miles south to Riverside and Pleasant Valley road: Current discussions are to limit the first segment the northern portion for a “starter” segment which makes even less sense with wasteful spending of $500 million (about $100 million per mile) of taxpayer funds. This Billion Plus dollar system would serve a very small community of people in two areas which are still in their early development stages. This will assure anemic ridership, requiring huge tax subsidies, for a very long time and it will never be cost effective. It almost appears this route selection is based on an attempt to “fix” transit shortcomings of Cap Metro’s Red Line Commuter; primarily the Red Line does not provide convenient, direct access to UT and the major employment sections of downtown Austin, without transit transfers. This proposed urban rail route would connect to the Red line at Highland and bring riders through UT to downtown Austin. Urban rail is a very expensive transit, shuttle service, especially for the meager ridership of the Red Line.

The following COST posting contains Mayor Leffingwell’s lists of urban rail questions, established 2 ½ years ago, required to be answered prior to proceeding with rail. Also contained are a list of additional key questions by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and by COST.

Austin’s Urban Rail has Many Unanswered Questions

None of these key questions have been answered to this date. The election was previously planned, but not conducted, for 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, all with different routes and similar unanswered key questions.

This entire new urban plan needs a thorough evaluation of alternatives which could take two years. A 2014 election is not responsible as key questions cannot be adequately answered prior to city’s projected urban rail election, less than 12 months from now. Issues include: 1) the lack of firm cost estimates, 2) the lack of credible ridership estimates, 3) it will have zero impact on congestion, air pollution and economic development, 4) it is not an effective way to spend a Billion dollars of taxpayer funds, 5) there are no viable ways to fund this project and its operation without higher taxes, 6) it will degrade overall transportation by using a huge, disproportionate share of funds and starving more effective mobility solutions, 7) it will increase taxes or reduce basic city services, 8.) it will degrade social equity by having a disproportionate negative impact on low income citizens, and, many other issues noted in “unanswered questions,” above

A statement made about a new, proposed high speed rail in Japan certainly applies to Austin’s proposed urban and commuter rail lines: “If you seriously take a look at its high cost and low demand, you’ll find it makes no business sense,” said Reijiro Hashiyama, a visiting professor at Chiba University of Commerce (Japan), who has argued against the project for years. Proposed Austin trains do not “make business sense” and in the broader context: They do not serve the greater societal good of citizens and community.

We have added a few comments in brackets [ ] and italicized below to supplement the article.
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Thinking Outside the Rails on Transit

by Joel Kotkin, 09/23/2013, newgeography.com

To many in the transit business – that is, people who seek to profit from the development and growth of buses, trains and streetcars – Southern California is often seen as a paradise lost, a former bastion of streetcar lines that crossed the region and sparked much of its early development. Today, billions are being spent to revive the region’s transit legacy.

Like many old ideas that attract fashionable support, this idea, on its surface, is appealing. Yet, in reality, the focus on mass transit, however fashionable, represents part of an expensive, largely misguided and likely doomed attempt to re-engineer the region away from its long-established dispersed, multipolar and auto-dependent form.

Traditional transit works best when a large number of commuters work in a central district easily accessible by trains or buses. New York and Washington, D.C., where up to 20 percent of the regional workforces labor downtown (the central business district), are ideal for transit. Even in those metropolitan areas, however, the auto is king. [The average downtown employment in major U.S. cities is under 10% of their regional work force. In Austin, this is slightly higher, about 14%, due to the State Capital and UT but it is not 30% which has been reported by Lone Star Rail and various train supporters in the area, as they wish to emphasize the larger work force to support rail.]

In contrast, less than 3 percent of Southern Californians work in downtown Los Angeles. Overall, despite all the money sunk into new rail lines around the country, Americans’ transit commuting is overwhelmingly concentrated in a few older “legacy” cities. Altogether, 55 percent of transit work trips are to six core cities: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, and 60 percent of those commutes are to downtown.

In contrast, in the Los Angeles-Orange County region, barely 6 percent of workers take transit, one-fifth the rate in New York. Yet we’re a bunch of committed strap-hangers compared with Phoenix, Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas-Fort Worth, where, despite surfeits of new trains and streetcars, 2 percent or less of commuters use public transit. Even in Portland, Ore., widely proclaimed the exemplar of new urbanism and transit investment, the percentage of commuters taking transit is less today than in 1980. Portland is now contemplating cutbacks that could eventually eliminate up to 70 percent of its transit service.
[
Austin region’s transit work commuting is about the middle of U.S. regions, outside the six legacy cities mentioned above, at 2.3% of total commuting. This has declined over the past dozen years as it has throughout most of the nation. Commuting is the most extensive use of transit as overall transit in the Austin region is less than 1% of total passenger miles traveled. In Austin, public transit is the 5th highest commute mode behind: drive alone; carpool; work at home and other.]

Imposing Past on Future

This miserable record reflects how trains, a largely 19th century technology, have limited utility in a contemporary setting. Indeed, the only way to make it work, planners insist, is if the population is moved from their low-density neighborhoods to high-density “pack and stack” areas near transit stops, while suburban businesses are dragooned to denser downtown locations. This is the essence of the recently approved Bay Area Plan.

Although these kinds of strategies have never materially reduced automobile use – the Bay Area Plan itself says automobile use will still increase by 18 percent over 30 years – the bureaucratic logic here is almost Stalinesque in the scope of its social-engineering ambitions. As Bay Area journalist and plan advocate John Wildermuth puts it, people know they should take transit but don’t because it’s very inconvenient. But by forcing three quarters of new residents into dense housing, some with no parking, he reasons, it then will be “easier for them to either give up their cars or, at least, use them a lot less.”

Yet getting people to change their way of life, as many central planners have discovered, is not as easy as it seems. The highly dispersed San Jose-Silicon Valley area, the economic epicenter of the Bay Area and worldwide information technology, has a commute trip market share barely a third of major metropolitan area average. Building “one of the longest” light rail systems in the United States in 50 years has barely moved the percentage of transit commuters over the past three decades.

What the Bay Area Plan will probably accomplish is to boost housing prices ever further out of reach, both in urban areas and in the suburbs. With new single-family development effectively all but banned, prices of homes in the Bay Area already are again rising far faster than the national average and now are approaching two and half times higher, based on income, than in competitor regions such as Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Tex., Houston or Raleigh, N.C.

Environmental Imperative?

Greens and their allies in the high-density housing lobby long have suggested that “peak oil” and rising prices will inevitably drive suburbanites out their cars. But, clearly, recent advances in U.S. oil and natural gas production may have already made this moot. Transit activists increasingly have focused on climate change to justify massive spending on expanding transit and forcing recalcitrant suburbanites from their cars.

This logic is largely based on the notion that suburbanites must travel greater distances to work. Yet, a study by McKinsey & Co. and the Conference Board found that – largely because of the impact of higher energy standards for cars forecast by the Department of Energy – sufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions can be achieved without reducing driving or necessitate “a shift to denser urban housing.”

The fundamental limitations of transit in dispersed cities further weakens environmentalists’ claim. Ridership on some transit systems is so sparse that cars are more energy efficient. Then, there’s the oft-mistaken assumption that higher-density housing will reduce congestion and travel. But in multipolar areas like Southern California, traffic congestion and resultant pollution generally becomes worse with higher density.

There may be other, more technologically savvy ways to reduce emissions and energy use. People have cut automobile use the past three years but their reduced travel is not showing up so much in transit usage, but, rather, is driven by other factors such as unemployment and the high price of gasoline.

But, arguably the biggest reduction can be traced to the rise of telecommuting. Over the past decade, the country added some 1.7 million telecommuters, almost twice the much-ballyhooed increase of 900,000 transit riders. In Southern California, the number of home-based workers grew 35 percent, three times the increase for transit usage. By 2020, according to projections from demographer Wendell Cox, telecommuting should pass transit, both nationally and in this region, in total numbers.

What About the Poor?

Perhaps the most compelling argument for transit stems from serving those populations – the poor, students, minorities – who often lack access to a private car. Yet, for workers in newer cities, public transit often is not an effective alternative. Brookings Institution research indicates that less than 5 percent of the jobs in the Los Angeles and Riverside-San Bernardino areas are within reach of the average employee within 45 minutes, using transit. The figure is less than 10 percent in the San Jose metropolitan area, the same percentage as for cities nationwide. Moreover, 36 percent of entry-level jobs are completely inaccessible by public transit.

Not surprisingly, roughly three in four poorer workers use cars to get to work. Recent work by University of Southern California researcher Jeff Khau finds that car ownership is positively correlated with job opportunities; no such relationship can be proven with access to transit.

At the same time, we should look at more-flexible systems, notably, expanded bus and bus rapid transit, which work better in dispersed areas and are less costly. Most rail systems tend to cannibalize most of their riders from existing bus lines, which explains the small net increases in total transit ridership.

Transit too expensive

Costs matter, and will become more important as cities and counties face the looming threat of fiscal defaults. In this respect, rail systems essentially steal from other transit – notably, the buses used mostly by the poor – and from hard-pressed city and county general-fund budgets. Gov. Jerry Brown’s outrageously expensive high-speed rail, which will principally serve the affluent, takes this unfairness to an extreme.

Instead, we should push far more cost-effective ways to provide transportation options, including those from the private sector, such as the successful Megabus, which provides efficient, quicker and far-less expensive transport between cities than either existing rail or short-haul airline flights. [Megabus routes from Austin to San Antonio are much cheaper than the proposed train, just as comfortable and schedules are comparable..] USC’s Khau suggests the private sector also could enhance solutions for lower-income commuters through car loans and car-sharing services such as ZipCar and Lyft, a mobile app that links riders with drivers.

As we attempt to figure out ways to improve both the environment and people’s economic prospects, innovative 21st century solutions – from telecommuting to car-sharing – may prove more effective than relying on the 19th century technology of rail. We should not blindly follow transit ideology but focus on how to improve people’s mobility in ways other than the overpriced, inefficient and often far-less-equitable solutions being bandied about today.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

YES, Increased Road Capacity CAN Reduce Congestion - Higher Density and Greater Transit Share Increase Congestion

November 13th, 2013

COST Commentary: The article below is filled with additional, data-rich confirmations of many, long-held COST positions relative to transportation and mobility. The article below by Wendell Cox is based on congestion study work conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) covering U.S. urban areas over the past 30 years. TTI’s traffic congestion ratings were adopted internationally. INRIX, a Seattle based automobile navigation services company was first, providing virtually the same measure for urban areas in North America and Western Europe. More recently, ‘Tom Tom’, an Amsterdam based automobile navigation services company issued its ‘TomTom’ Traffic Index, providing the most comprehensive international coverage, adding Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

These analytical, congestion studies and observations throughout the “Higher Income World” provide significant insights into the negative impacts of numerous Austin transportation and land planning policies and approaches which are justified with shallow, unsupported and incorrect, foundation assumptions. Among others, these include:

1. Myth: “There is no point in expanding roadways because they will only be filled up by new traffic.”

Reality: “In fact the TTI data, which measures at the comprehensive urban area level (and the only reliable level), says we can.”

We see an example of this in the Austin region. For many years, Austin did not improve its roadway system to meet the needs of its major growth in population. The TTI travel time index indicated increasing congestion over more than 20 years through 2005. Then, congestion began to decrease as a number of highway improvements were implemented including new roads, expanded roads and new intersections. Major improvements now in process on U.S. 290 East and lesser improvements being implemented on SH 71 East and 290 West will improve East-West traffic. The expansion of MoPac has begun and should provide critically needed relief in this congested north-south corridor. This region continues to grow and further roadway improvements, to “catch-up and keep pace with population, will be needed such as the I-35 expansions being discussed and numerous others.

2. Myth: Higher population density will reduce traffic congestion.

Reality: “The TomTom traffic congestion rankings are further indication of the association between higher population densities and more intense traffic congestion.” Throughout the U.S. and other higher income countries, higher density has a strong correlation with higher congestion. The driving per person may be slightly lower for higher density living, but the higher density of people overwhelms this slight reduction in per capita driving, resulting in greater driving per area and increased congestion.

It is interesting to note the TomTom congestion index ranks Austin as less congested than more extensive U.S. transit cities with bus and rail, including: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, Washington, New York, Portland, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Denver and Houston. Austin is also less congested than all of the major Canadian cities, except Calgary, with their major rail transit.

Following is the partial abstract from a paper referenced in the last paragraph of the paper below: “It is often assumed that lower density cities have longer average work trip travel times and greater traffic congestion than more compact cities. This paper summarizes available data with regard to the association between urban densities and work trip travel times as well as between urban densities and the intensity of traffic congestion. The analysis indicates that higher urban densities are associated with both longer work trip travel times and greater traffic congestion. Because greater access is associated with more favorable urban economic outcomes, a greater focus on access seems advisable.”

3. Myth: Sprawl (lower density living and employment) results in greater congestion.

Reality: “Residents of the United States also benefit because employment is more dispersed, which tends to result in less urban core related traffic congestion. Lower density and employment dispersion are instrumental in the more modest traffic congestion of the United States, including such large urban areas as Dallas-Fort Worth (the fastest growing high income world metropolitan area with more than 5,000,000 population), Houston, Miami and even roadway deficient Atlanta.”

The Austin region has experienced reductions in driving per person over many years as the population and employment have grown rapidly and become more dispersed. This is very contrary to the promotion of most ‘higher density’ and ‘increased transit’ advocates. However, the reality is reasonably simple. Work commuting is less than 20 % of total driving. So, even if some work commutes are longer, the other 80% of driving is reduced because dispersion of living results in dispersion of supporting business, recreation, health care, education, etc. Today, total regional driving increases can be closely related to population growth percentage. An additional and major plus to “dispersion” is it provides higher quality of life for most due to increased affordability of homes.

Summary:

The actual data, created by free citizens’ choices and actions, would indicate public policies resulting in: 1) spending huge, disproportionate amounts of tax dollars on public transit, 2) regulating, promoting and incentivizing developers to build higher density, 3) creating obstacles which increase congestion and other constraints to discourage the convenience of automobile use, and, 4) implementing regulatory constraints to citizens’ choices of achieving their desired and deserved quality of life through “free” selection of affordable housing; are contrary to the greater good of the Austin region and will result in the degradation of citizens’ quality of life and Austin as a world-class city.
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NEW ZEALAND HAS WORST TRAFFIC: INTERNATIONAL DATA
by Wendell Cox 11/13/2013 in newgeography.com

Three decades ago, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at Texas A&M University began a ground-breaking project to quantify traffic congestion levels in the larger urban areas of the United States. The Urban Mobility Report project was begun under Tim Lomax and David Shrank, who have led the project over the first 30 annual editions. Perhaps the most important contribution of this work to the state of transportation knowledge is TTI’s “travel time index,” which measures the extent to which peak period traffic congestion as to travel times.

Of Highway Expansion and Maternity Wards

The TTI data has been invaluable. One important contribution has exposed a fallacious interpretation of the “induced traffic” effect, which holds that there is no point in expanding roadways because they will only be filled up by new traffic. As if more maternity wards would increase the birth rate, the argument goes that we “can’t build our way out of congestion.” In fact the TTI data, which measures at the comprehensive urban area level (and the only reliable level), says we can.

I recall a 1980s City Hall meeting with a Portland Commissioner, who admiringly cited Phoenix for not having built a Los Angeles style freeway system. I remarked that if there was anything worse than Los Angeles with its freeways, it would be Los Angeles without its freeways. Then, Phoenix was the 35th largest urban area in the nation, yet had the 10th worst traffic congestion. The situation soon was improved, after Phoenix voters authorized funding for the largest recent freeway expansion program and now Phoenix ranks 37th in traffic congestion, despite having more than doubled in population (now the 12th largest urban area).

The lesson repeated itself in traffic clogged Houston, which led Los Angeles in traffic congestion in three of the first four years of the Annual Mobility Report. Under the leadership of visionary Mayor Robert Lanier, freeway and arterial expansions were built, and Houston dropped to rank 10th in traffic congestion despite having since added more residents than live in Portland. Meanwhile, Portland, with its densification and anti-automobile policies has been vaulted from the 47th worst traffic congestion in 1985 to 6th worst in 2012, which is notable for the an urban area ranking on only 23rd in population.
Houston’s roadway expansions cleared the way for a Los Angeles run of 26 straight years as the nation’s most congested urban area, with little prospect of improvement.

The Travel Time Index Goes International

TTI’s traffic congestion ratings were adopted internationally. INRIX, a Seattle based automobile navigation services company was first, providing virtually the same measure for urban areas in North America and Western Europe. More recently, TomTom, an Amsterdam based automobile navigation services company issued its own TomTom Traffic Index, providing by far the most comprehensive international coverage, adding Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

TomTom has just produced its results for the second quarter of 2013. Looking globally, Los Angeles does not look so bad; it didn’t even make the top 10 most congested, outpaced (or perhaps better: underpaced) by urban areas in Western Europe and Canada.

Higher Income World Urban Areas

TomTom produced data for 122 urban areas in the higher income United States, Western Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This included nearly all urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population, and some smaller. It might be expected that the “sprawl” of US urban areas, and their virtual universality of automobile ownership, as well as the paucity of transit ridership in most metropolitan areas would set the US to the nether world of worst traffic congestion. This is not so, and not by a long shot.

1. New Zealand: The trophy goes to, of all places, New Zealand (Figure 1). The average excess time spent in traffic in the three urban areas of New Zealand rated by Tom Tom was 31.3%. This means that the average trip that would take 30 minutes without congestion would take, on average, approximately 40 minutes in the three urban areas of New Zealand. This is stunning. New Zealand’s urban areas are very small. The largest, Auckland, has a population of approximately 1.3 million, which would rank it no higher than 25th in Western Europe, 35th in the United States and 4th in Canada and Australia. Christchurch and Wellington are among the smallest urban areas (less than 500,000 population) covered in the TomTom Traffic Index, but manage to rank among the 20 most congested (Figure 2). Christchurch has no freeways and Wellington’s are not long.

2. Australia: Second place is claimed by Australia. The average trip takes 27.5 percent longer in Australia because of traffic congestion. All five of Australia’s metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population are among the 20 most congested urban areas in the higher income world. In the case of four urban areas (Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide), every larger US urban area has less traffic congestion. Melbourne is the exception, but is still “punching well above its weight,” with worse traffic congestion than larger Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Riverside-San Bernardino and Boston.

3. Canada: Canada is the third most congested, with an excess travel time of 24.8 percent. Vancouver ranks as the third most congested urban area (36 percent excess travel time) in the higher income world, and has displaced Los Angeles as suffering the worst traffic congestion in North America. This is a notable accomplishment, since Los Angeles has more than five times the population, is more dense and only one-third as many of its commuters use transit to get to work. None of the other five largest urban areas in Canada (Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary) is rated among the 20 most congested in the higher income world (Figure 3). Toronto is tied for 6th worst in North America with Washington (DC-VA-MD) and San Jose (Figure 4).

4. Western Europe: Fourth position in the congestion sweepstakes is occupied by Western Europe, where the excess travel time averages 22.2 percent. Marseille (France) and Palermo (Italy) are tied with the worst traffic congestion in the higher income world, with excess travel times of 40 percent. Excluding Christchurch and Wellington, Marseille and Palermo are among the smallest urban areas among the most congested 20, though their large and dense historic cores complicate travel patterns. Rome, Paris and Stockholm, all with strong transit commute shares, are tied with Vancouver for the second worst traffic congestion (36 percent excess travel time). Other Western European entries to the most congested 20 rankings are London, Nice and Lyon in France and Stuttgart, Hamburg and Berlin in Germany. Western Europe contributes only 11 of its 54 rated urban areas to the most congested 20 list (the most 20 most congested list includes 24 urban areas because of a five way tie for 19th).

Unlike New Zealand, Australia and Canada, Western Europe has representation in the 20 least congested urban areas (Figure 5), taking seven of the 22 positions (A three way tie at the top places increases the total to 22). The least congested urban area is Zaragoza in Spain (seven percent excess travel time), itself a small urban area of approximately 700,000, while similarly small Bern in Switzerland, Malaga in Spain and Malmo in Sweden are tied with four US urban areas in the second least congested position (10 percent excess travel time).

5. United States: The United States is the least congested in these rankings with an excess travel time of 18.3 percent. Even after losing its top North American ranking to Vancouver, Los Angeles continues to be the most congested urban area in the United States, with an excess travel time of 35 percent. San Francisco (32 percent), Seattle, and much smaller Honolulu (tied at 28 percent) are also in the most congested 20. Only four of the 53 rated US urban areas is in the most congested 20.

The US dominates the least congested 20 list, with 15 urban areas. Richmond, Kansas City, Cleveland and Indianapolis share the second least congested position with three Western European urban areas (10 percent excess travel time). Phoenix, which was formerly one of the most congested in the US, is also on the list, ranking as the 12th least congested in the higher income world and the 5th least congested urban area in North America.

Less Traffic Congestion: Lower Densities and Less Employment Concentration

The TomTom traffic congestion rankings are further indication of the association between higher population densities and more intense traffic congestion. But there is more to the story. Residents of the United States also benefit because employment is more dispersed, which tends to result in less urban core related traffic congestion. Lower density and employment dispersion are instrumental in the more modest traffic congestion of the United States, including such large urban areas as Dallas-Fort Worth (the fastest growing high income world metropolitan area with more than 5,000,000 population), Houston, Miami and even roadway deficient Atlanta.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.”

2012 U.S. Census: Single Driver Car Commuting Nearing All-Time Record – Carpooling and Public Transit Commuting are Down.

November 11th, 2013

COST Commentary:

Most of the recent flurry of reports suggesting changing trends and projecting reduced single vehicle driving are essentially dispelled by the recently released Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey estimates. The seizing of short term trends by factions to support their preferred projections of long term changes is a regular occurrence and almost never substantiated.

Two COST postings regarding myth trends in reduced driving:
Baby Boomers Return to the City is a Myth.
Millennial Generation choices are not fundamental changes in America’s future driving and living.

As reported in the U.S. News article below, commuting trends were interrupted slightly by the recession, but, have returned to their former status and the “Drive Alone” commuting mode percentage is approaching its all-time high of 76% (counting “Worked at Home” people) in 2005. Austin’s ‘Drive Alone’ percentage is the same as the national average of 76%. Nationwide, ‘Drive Alone’ is 79.8% of those actually leaving home for work. In Austin, 81.2% of those leaving home for the work commute are single drivers.

This increasing “drive alone’ trend is further described is a recent article by Wendell Cox on newgeography.com: DRIVING ALONE DOMINATES 2007-2012 COMMUTING TREND

‘Worked at Home’ remains the fastest growing commute mode; its nationwide 4.4% has more than doubled since 1980. Excluding New York, ‘Worked at Home’ percentage has surpassed public transit commuting throughout the rest of the nation. U.S. public transit, total work commuting of 5%, is significantly influenced by the fact that 55 percent of all U.S. transit work trips are to six core cities: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, and 60 percent of those commutes are to downtown. Austin’s public transit use of 2.3% for work commuting is more consistent with the nation outside these six, older cities. Austin’s 2.3% commute use results in an overall transit use of less than 1% of the region’s passenger miles traveled.

In the Austin region, ‘Worked at Home’ has reached 6.4 % which is 45% higher than the total nation and is 2.8 times the use of Austin public transit for commuting. This means ‘Worked at Home’ has taken many times the number of commute vehicles off Austin’s roadways than has the spending of billions of tax dollars on public transit. The ‘Worked at Home’ group has a much greater impact on reducing ‘single driver’ vehicles because a large portion of this group has a vehicle, whereas, a large portion of public transit riders do not have access to a vehicle and cannot be single drivers. This work at home trend could, perhaps, benefit from public policy/investment which has proven ineffective relative to public transit.

Along with Austin’s very small transit use and many continuing years of decline in the overall use of public transit, these 2012 commuter mode data highlight the question: What cost-effective benefits do the citizens of Austin achieve by elected leaders continuing to massively and disproportionately allocate tax dollars to the small, transit portion of overall transportation which serves a declining number of so few citizens?

The current transit public policy will result in higher taxes for citizens and redirects a major portion of finite transportation dollars from citizens’ preferences, as the vast majority have demonstrated by their choices and actions. This results in degrading overall mobility with increasing congestion and reducing citizens’ quality of life. Perhaps more importantly, this reallocation of funds to exorbitantly expensive, ineffective rail transit degrades transit service for those who have no alternative by reducing bus service and increasing fares. This is not consistent with our commitment to social equity. In the longer run, this policy of creating greater downtown inconvenience will likely degrade central Austin as an attractive place for citizens to live, enjoy and work.

Other commute modes are largely unchanged nationwide, or have dropped in use: Carpooling has dropped more than 50% since 1980 to 9.7% of commuting in 2012. Public transit commuting has dropped just over 20% since 1980 to 5% of commuting in 2012. Austin carpooling of 11% is slightly above the national percentage in 2012 even though Austin has not encouraged carpooling with HOV or managed lanes.

Commuter’s find car-pooling and public transit modes are not as convenient and effective as private vehicles. It is this convenience in meeting individual needs which drives overall trends and not the often stated “love of the automobile.” Convenience, not love, is reflected in the use of modern “conveniences” including refrigerators, micro-waves, cell phones and many others.

One “bottom line” is: Austin could spend billions of dollars and if it achieved a, probably impossible, doubling, or even tripling, of transit ridership, it would have little impact on overall transportation. This level of increase in public transit has never been achieved in modern times. Meanwhile, this would starve the funding for the transportation system serving 96+% of the citizens’ trips.

Austin is near the national average for similar cities and very close to the average public transit commute percentage for both Dallas and Houston; even though Austin has spent substantially less than Dallas and Houston have spent for their high cost rail systems. After spending many billions of dollars to encourage transit ridership, the sum of Dallas and Houston transit ridership is much less today than it was a dozen years ago.

I have inserted the Austin region census data in the article below, italicized in parenthesis ( ). Also, shown in brackets [ ] are the actual census numbers which have been rounded by the articles author and clarifications for the reader’s benefit.
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More Commuters Go It Alone

Americans Increasingly Go Solo or Work From Home; Carpooling Now Below 10%

By Neil Shah, Updated Nov. 4, 2013 6:51 p.m. ET, Wall Street Jolurnal, US News

American commuters prefer to go it alone—mostly by driving to the office, but increasingly by working from home.

Last year, about 76% [Actual 76.3%] (Austin region is %76%) of workers 16 years and older drove to work alone—just shy of the all-time peak of 77% in 2005, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Driving alone dipped slightly during the recession, but it has been ticking back up as the economy revives.

Meanwhile, just about every other way of getting to work has either languished or declined. Carpooling has tanked—falling from about 20% in 1980, when gasoline prices were soaring from the oil shock of the late 1970s, to under 10% [Actual 9.7%] (Austin region is 11%) in 2012. Public transportation accounted for just over 6% of daily commutes in 1980 and is now 5% (Austin region is 2.3%). A category the Census calls “other means”—which includes biking—stands at 2% [1.8%] (Austin region is 2.2%), largely unchanged over the past decade. [“Worked at home” is 4.4 %, discussed below, and “Walking” at 2.8 % are the remaining segments.]

These commuting trends come despite efforts to get people to use public transportation or other alternatives. And a variety of forces are coming together to ensure that Americans continue to seek out lonely commutes—and the numbers could grow.

Tim Anson, 35 years old, an architect in Birmingham, Ala., is one of America’s solo commuters. He drives about 25 minutes to work—roughly the national average—from his home near downtown to an office park in a suburb south of the city.

He says he has no viable or appealing alternative. “Biking would be practically impossible,” he said. While he recently helped a colleague with car trouble get to work, he generally thinks carpooling means less freedom. “If you’re carpooling with someone, you find yourself on someone else’s schedule,” he said.

The only area of commuting that has seen clear growth is working from home—which has doubled to 4% [actual 4.4%] (Austin region is 6.6%), up from 2% in 1980. Technological advances are making it easier to work from home, sparking a debate among business executives, especially in tech centers, over the benefits of telecommuting. Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Marissa Mayer created a stir earlier this year when she ended the firm’s work-from-home arrangements.

“It used to be, 30 years ago, to work from home, you had to take something like a 20% wage cut, all else equal. Now that wage cut has vanished,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University.

James DeMichele, 33, a software developer in Austin, Texas, has worked from home for four years, and stays in touch with the office via Skype. He misses the “social aspect” of being in an office and says it’s useful to be face to face with colleagues when planning projects. But at other times, “being at home is really useful in terms of being productive,” he said.

And there’s another advantage: Mr. DeMichele and his wife had a daughter earlier this year. “Having the flexibility of being able to watch after her is really good, too,” Mr. DeMichele said.

The share of Americans driving to work has always been high—climbing steadily from roughly 64% in 1960, when the Census began tracking commuting—and various demographic forces could ensure that it stays high or even rises further.

More older Americans are working past retirement, which can mean more car commutes or work-from-home arrangements. And car use among lower-income Americans and minorities has generally been rising, according to Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit demographic research group. For instance, the share of black U.S. workers driving to jobs hit 71% in 2010, up from 66% in 2000, census data show.

At the same time, work and home are, for many people, getting farther apart geographically. That trend makes cars, which offer more flexibility, more attractive to commuters. Plus, around 45% of American households have no access to public transportation.

To be sure, national and even state trends can mask changes in cities. Alabama’s share of solo drivers has risen from 83% in 2008 to over 85% in 2012—the highest in the country. Meanwhile, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have seen decreases in their shares of workers driving alone, and increases in the use of mass transit, biking and working from home, census data show.

America’s commuting patterns are a politically sensitive issue due to rising concerns about the nation’s obesity rates and the environment. Mass transit, carpooling, biking and walking have been touted by advocates as ways to build civic camaraderie, make Americans healthier and preserve the environment.

But others say the nation’s love affair with cars—and the growing trend of home workers—simply reflects the changing way Americans work and live, from the rise of two-worker households in recent decades to the fact that attractive jobs, homes and schools are often farther away from each other rather than clustered together in old-style urban neighborhoods.

Many people “relish the time to be alone,” said Alan Pisarski, a transportation consultant and author of “Commuting in America,” a series of commuting studies for the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Research Council.

Workers, especially younger ones, increasingly mix their commuting modes—driving alone one day, but then taking the bus or biking the next, said Peter Varga, chairman of the American Public Transportation Association.

Tracy Sunderland, a professor in Boise, Idaho, recently got a bicycle and uses it to get to work sometimes. “I ride it to work when I can—not as much as I should,” she said. “Sometimes I’m prepping for class right until I have to be there.” More often, the 48-year-old relies on her 1997 Nissan Pathfinder, since the city’s buses run infrequently. Driving, she said, is generally more convenient. “Like a lot of Western cities, Boise sprawls.”

Health, Happiness, and Density

September 22nd, 2013

COST Commentary: Promoters support increased living density and rail transit with directly related and often the same reasoning. This article highlights many of the misleading and false justifications for increased density and rail transit. This web site addresses density and train transit from several additional perspectives which are related to health and happiness which are not emphasized in this article, including: increased congestion, increased housing costs, higher taxes, degraded overall transit, disproportionate negative impact on lower income citizens, decreased safety and others. Just click on ‘News Articles” and browse the titles.
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Health, Happiness, and Density

by Tony Recsei 09/19/2013, newgeography.com

The proponents of currently fashionable planning doctrines favouring density promulgate a variety of baseless assertions to support their beliefs. These doctrines, which they group under the label of “Smart Growth”, claim, among other things, that from a health and sustainability perspective, the need to increase population densities is imperative.

With regard to health these high-density advocates have seized upon the obesity epidemic as a reason to advocate squeezing the population into high-density. This is based on a supposition that living in higher densities promotes greater physical activity and thus lower levels of obesity. They quote studies(1) that show associations between suburban living and higher weight with its adverse health implications. But the weight differences found are minor – in the region of 1 to 3 pounds. Nor do the studies show it is suburban living that has caused this.

The suburbs, after all, have been with us for 70 years and reached its mature development over 40 years ago. Obesity, on the other hand, is a much more recent (2) phenomenon and is primarily due to people eating too much (3) fattening food.

Less discussed, however, are other facets to human health and it is important to consider the results of research on the association with high-density living of mental illness, children’s health, respiratory dsease, heart attacks, cancer and human happiness.

A significant health issue relates to the scourge of Mental Illness. There is convincing evidence showing adverse mental health consequences from increasing density.

A monumental Swedish study (4) of over four million Swedes examined whether a high level of urbanisation (which correlates with density) is associated with an increased risk of developing psychosis and depression. Adjustments were made to cater for individual demographic and socio-economic characteristics. It was found that the rates for psychosis (such as the major brain disorder schizophrenia) were 70% greater for the denser areas. There was also a 16% greater risk of developing depression. The paper discusses various reasons for this finding but the conclusion states: “A high level of urbanisation is associated with increased risk of psychosis and depression”.

Another analysis, in the prestigious journal Nature (5), discusses urban neural social stress. It states that the incidence of schizophrenia is twice as high in cities. Brain area activity differences associated with urbanisation have been found. There is evidence of a dose-response relationship that probably reflects causation.

There are adverse mental (and other) health consequences resulting from an absence of green space. After allowing for demographic and socio-economic characteristics, a study (6) of three hundred and fifty thousand people in Holland found that the prevalence of depression and anxiety was significantly greater for those living in areas with only 10% green space in their surroundings compared to those with 90% green space.

High-density advocates seem most oblivious to the needs of children. Living in high-density restricts children’s physical activity, independent mobility and active play. Many studies find that child development, mental health and physical health are affected. They also find a likely association of high-rise living with behavioural problems.

An Australian study (7) of bringing up young children in apartments emphasizes resulting activities that are sedentary. It notes there is a lack of safe active play space outside the home – many parks and other public open spaces offer poor security. Frustrated young children falling(8) out of apartment windows can be a tragic consequence. Children enter school with poorly developed social and motor skills (9). Girls living in high-rise buildings are prone to increased levels of overweight and obesity (10).

A British study (11) found that 93% of children living in centrally located high-rise flats had behavioural problems and that this percentage was higher than for children living in lower density dwellings. Anti-social behaviour often results. An Austrian study (12) showed disturbances in classroom behaviour higher for children living in multiple-dwelling units compared to those living in lower densities.

There is also evidence of other potential health impacts on children living in higher density housing. These include short-sightedness (13) due to restricted length of vision, and diminished auditory discrimination (14) and reading ability due to exposure to noise.

Air pollution (15) increases with density. This results from higher traffic densities together with less volume of air being available for dilution and dispersion. Nitrogen oxides (16) in this pollution have adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma. There is consistent evidence that proximity to busy roads, high traffic density and increased exposure to pollution are linked to a range of respiratory conditions. These can range from severe conditions (such as a higher incidence of death) to minor irritations. Moreover, these respiratory health impacts affect all age groups.

Several studies relate low birth weight to air pollution. A South Korean report (17), for example, found the pollutants carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and total suspended particle concentrations in the first trimester of pregnancy pose significant risk factors for low birth weight.

Air pollution particulates (18) are associated with killing more people than traffic accidents (19). Pollutants such as those emitted by vehicles are significantly associated with an increase in the risk of heart attacks (20) and early death (21).

Cancer (22) is a major health scourge and a relationship between increased colon cancer, breast cancer and total cancer mortality with population density has been found.

There is an association between overall Human Happiness and density. Professor Cummins’ Australian Unity Wellbeing Index (23) reports that the happiest electorates have a lower population density. A United States study (24) finds the satisfaction of older adults living in higher density social housing reduces as building height increases and as the number of units increases. By contrast, in lower densities there are higher friendship scores, greater housing satisfaction, and more active participation. This does not apply only to single family houses: Residents of garden apartments have a greater sense of community (19) than residents of high-rise dwellings.

An example of misinformation on this issue can be found in R.D. Putnam’s famous book “Bowling Alone” (20). Putnam states that “suburbanisation, commuting and sprawl” have contributed to the decline in social engagement and social capital. However I have shown that data from charts in his book indicate quite the opposite (21):


Adapted from Figure 50, Putnam R D, Bowling Alone, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000

This shows that involvement in these social activities are more common in the suburbs than in the denser centres of cities (and that they become more common as the community size and density decreases).

Community contentment relating to the density of surroundings is revealed by a study in New Zealand (22) that asked people if the type of area they would most prefer to live in is similar to the area they currently live in. The responses are shown in this table.

So 90% of rural residents would prefer an area similar to their current area but only 64% of central city dwellers would prefer an area similar to their current surroundings. It can be seen that satisfaction decreases as density increases.

Thus evidence from a variety of sources points to greater human happiness and better health in lower densities — the exact opposite of the theories of the advocates for “cramming” people into ever small places.

(Dr) Tony Recsei has a background in chemistry and is an environmental consultant. Since retiring he has taken an interest in community affairs and is president of the Save Our Suburbs community group which opposes over-development forced onto communities by the New South Wales State Government.

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References:
1. Direct web access in article.
2. Direct web access in article.
3. Direct web access in article.
4. Sundquist, K., Golin, F., Sundquist, J., Urbanisation and incidence of psychosis and depression, British Journal of Psychiatry (2004), 184, 293-298.
5. Lederborgen, F. et al. 2011. City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans. Nature 474, 489-501, 23 June 2011
6. Maas J, Verhej RA, de Vries S et al. J Epidemiol Community Health published online 15 Oct 2009
7. Randolph B. 2006. Children in the Compact City. Fairfield B, (Sydney) as a suburban case study, University of NSW, Paper Commissioned by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, October 2006
8. Direct web access in article.
9. Randolph B. 2006. Children in the Compact City. Fairfield B, (Sydney) as a suburban case study, University of NSW, Paper Commissioned by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, October 2006
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Lazarou C., D.B. Panagiotakos, G. Panayiotou, A.L. Matalas. 2008. Overweight and obesity in preadolescent children and their parents in Cyprus: prevalence and associated socio-demographic factors the CYKIDS study. Obes Rev 2008; 9(3):185-193
11. Evans G. W., P. Lercher, W.W. Kofler. 2002. Crowding and children’s mental health: the role of house type. J Environ Psychol 2002; 22(3):221-231
12. Ineichen B., D. Hooper. 1974. Wives’ mental health and children’s behaviour problems in contrasting residential areas. Soc Sci Med 1974; 8(6):369-374.
13. Ip J., K. Rose, I. Morgan, G. Burlutsky, P. Mitchell. 2008. Myopia and the urban environment: findings in a sample of 12-year-old Australian school children. Investigative Ophthalmology Vis Sci 2008; 49(9):3858-3863.
14. Lercher P., G.W. Evans, M. Meis, W.W. Kofler. 2002. Ambient neighbourhood noise and children’s mental health. Occup Environ Med 2002; 59(6):380-386
Cohen S., D.C. Glass, J.E. Singer. 1973. Apartment noise, auditory discrimination, and reading ability in children. J Exp Soc Psychol 1973; 9(5):407-422
15. Direct web access in article.
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17. Eun-Hee Ha, Yun-Chul Hong, Bo-Eun Lee, Bock-Hi Woo, J. Schwartz, D.C. Christiani. 2001
Is Air Pollution a Risk Factor for Low Birth Weight in Seoul? Epidemiology Vol. 12, No. 6 (Nov., 2001), pp. 643-648
18. USEPA, Air Quality Criteria for Particulate Matter. 2002. US EPA/600/P-99/002aC, April 2002, Third External Review Draft, Volume II, page 284.
19. for the number of traffic accidents see US Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstracts of the United States, 1999 which gives the number of traffic accidents as 42,400
20. Mustafić, H. et al. 2012. Main Air Pollutants and Myocardial Infarction. Journal of American Medical Association 2012;307(7):713-721, 15 Feb 2012
21. Yim, F.H.S., S.R.H. Barrett. 2012. Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (8), pp 4291–4296, 21 March 2012
22. Giles-Corti, B., K. Ryan, S. Foster. 2012. Increasing density in Australia: maximising the health benefits and minimising harm, Heart Foundation, March 2012, p8
23. Cummins R.A. 2006. Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. School of Psychology, Deakin University, 2006
24. Lawton M.P., L. Nahemow, J. Teaff. 1975. Housing characteristics and the well-being of elderly tenants in federally assisted housing. J Gerontol 1975; 30(5):601-607
25. Zaff J., A.S. Devlin. 1998. Sense of community in housing for the elderly. J Community Psychol 1998; 26(4):381-398.
26. Putnam R.D. 2000. Bowling Alone, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2000, p. 283
27 Recsei T. 2005. Pipe dreams: the shortcomings of ideologically based planning. People and Place, Vol. 13 no. 2, 2005, pp 77-78.
28. UMR Omnibus Results, UMR Research, Wellington, March 2009


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