June 18th, 2013
COST Commentary: A Heritage Foundation “Backgrounder” paper by Wendell Cox, “Transit Policy in an Era of the Shrinking Federal Dollar”, systematically dismantles the major myths of transit, piece by piece, with irrefutable evidence and analyses of facts from extensive transit systems’ experience; revealing the following key truths:
1. Transit and, especially rail transit, will not relieve roadway congestion.
2. Transit does not provide effective mobility for low income citizens.
3. Transit does not reduce emissions and improve air quality.
4. U. S. transit is not significant except in the 6 “Legacy” cities of New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia where 54% of all transit use occurs.
5. Insignificant numbers of people abandon cars for transit.
6. Transit is not competitive with the automobile for a vast majority of trips and can never be.
7. Transit provides access to a very small segment of employment locations.
8. Transit is not cost effective, produces little value for huge taxpayer subsidies and does not well serve its major purpose to provide effective transportation for those who have no alternative.
Two of Cox’s most revealing comments are: “Why is it that people have not abandoned their automobiles to switch to transit? Commentators often talk of America’s “love affair with the car,” without recognizing a similar attachment to refrigerators, the Internet, and other modern conveniences. The attachment is to convenience and (affordable) products that enhance their lives.”
“There is also a perception that people “have a choice” and that transit can be readily substituted for automobile use. The reality is that there is no practical transit alternative for the vast majority of trips in the modern metropolitan area.”
In addition, other postings on this site destroy other transit myths with the following additional truths:
7. Rail Transit is the least cost-effective and most highly tax subsidized of major public transit.
8. Rail transit is not high capacity.
9. Rail transit, on busy streets, creates major safety hazards in applications such as Austin’s plan.
10. Rail transit creates ugly, visual pollution of cherished, downtown views.
11. Rail transit causes major disruption of traditional charitable and other downtown activities.
See “24 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility“ on this site for further information regarding transportation, mobility and transit.
May 29th, 2013
by Jim Skaggs, Coalition on Sustainable Transportation, May 29, 2013.
We often hear glib, vague, politically secure comments regarding road congestion and the region’s transportation including: “We need all modes of transportation to address congestion including roads, buses, trains, and bicycles.” Or: “We need to offer alternatives to the car for citizens so they have choices for their trips.” Or: “Our growth rate will require trains someday.” Or: “We cannot solve our problems with roads alone.” Or: “We need trains because people will not ride buses.”
While most of these are unfounded statements, some of them and similar comments may have grains of reality and sound all-inclusive, considerate, caring and ‘politically correct,’ with a “feel good” resonance to them. Actually, they are shallow, superficial, mostly incorrect comments regarding a complex subject. These comments, too often, support biased, ideological or self-serving interest of people and lead to the ineffective prioritizing of transportation funds.
Then, there are frequent situations which Wendell Cox encapsulates neatly with this quote:
“Why is it that people have not abandoned their automobiles to switch to transit? Commentators often talk of America’s ‘love affair with the car,’ without recognizing a similar attachment to refrigerators, the Internet, and other modern conveniences. The attachment is to convenience and (affordable) products that enhance our lives.”
—Wendell Cox, “Transit Policy in an Era of the Shrinking Federal Dollar,” Heritage Backgrounder, Jan. 31, 2013.
According to the, Federally required, ‘Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s’ (CAMPO) 25 year transportation plan for the Austin region, almost 50% of the plan’s transportation dollars will be spent on public transit, primarily rail, to serve transit’s less than 1% of the region’s passenger miles traveled. Projections from CAMPO, Austin City, Capital Metro or any other organization do not indicate or support total transit ridership exceeding 1% of the regions passenger miles traveled. Therefore, public transit can have only minimal positive impact on congestion and significant negative impacts if implemented improperly.
It is not rocket science to project: If 50% of the transportation dollars are spent to serve 1% of traveler’s ‘passenger miles’, the remaining 99% of travelers will suffer increasing gridlock and congestion.
The simple truth is: There is not enough money in the region to provide “all modes” or “non-auto alternatives.” for everyone. It is possible to make dramatic improvements in constraining congestion by well-planned road improvements and other cost-effective actions, as already proven in this region.
The greatest positive impact on Austin transportation, public and private, can be achieved by improving road systems which were neglected for many years during strong population growth. Road improvements provide effective auto alternatives as well as substantially improving cost-effective regional transit alternatives which can better and more flexibly meet needs of today’s dispersed population and job markets.
The following guiding principles are intended to be used as guides in more effectively prioritizing the allocation of taxpayer transportation funds to better serve all citizens and the community as a whole. These principles are key but are not intended to be all inclusive. More can be found regarding each of these ‘Principles,’ and others in articles throughout this web site’s ‘News Articles’ section. e.g. - Recent posts include:
12 Reasons Austin’s Urban Rail is Off-Track
Austin’s Urban Rail has Many Unanswered Questions
Auto Access to Jobs is Vital for Better Quality of Life
22 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility
by Jim Skaggs, Coalition on Sustainable Transportation, May 27, 2013
1. An overarching principle is: Greater Mobility Provides Greater Quality of Life.
Throughout history, better human mobility has been associated with higher quality of life as mobility creates time efficiency and access to desires, opportunities and life’s offerings.
2. Private, motorized, road vehicles offer maximum freedom and mobility for people.
Ultimate mobility freedom and flexibility to go where and when desired is provided by private road vehicles; without competition for the vast majority of travelers and trips.
3. Overwhelming economic evidence links personal mobility with prosperity.
Freedom and prosperity benefits of the automobile have been substantial, enabling modern suburbia and powering a century of economic prosperity.
4. Increased road congestion is the primary cause of degraded human mobility.
Congestion constrains and degrades quality-of-life by limiting one’s ability to go where and when they wish/need to experience desired, quality-of-life outcomes.
5. Increased population density creates increased road congestion.The promotion of “mixed-use” and greater density (smart growth) ignores the fact that: in general, greater population density produces greater roadway congestion and air pollution.
6. Roads should be primarily funded by users of the roads.
More effective funding and transparency is promoted if all roads are fairly funded by all users to the greatest extent practical.
7. Austin’s, and other Texas cities,’ commuting by public transit has been trending down for many years.
The greatest use of transit is work trips, but, the Austin region’s 5th highest percentage (less than 4%) work trips, and total transit riders, have been on a declining trend for many years.
8. Public transit must be cost-effective to be sustainable.
Taxpayers highly subsidize all US transit which must be cost-effective; or, it cannot serve the maximum riders who need it and it cannot be financially sustainable for the long run.
9. Bus transit is more cost-effective than rail in Austin today or 100 years from now.
Modern buses can meet or exceed every major performance characteristic of an Austin rail system for one-tenth to one-fifth the costs and are far more flexible to meet changing demands.
10. Traditional “hub and spoke” transit routes are inadequate for today’s demographics.
With under 10%, and falling, of regional employment in Austin’s ‘Central Business District’ (CBD); transit’s routing should change to a “grid” structure to better serve today’s needs.
11. Transit’s most important function is work trips for transit dependent citizens.
Work trips are more than 50% of ridership but transit serves only small segments of dispersed jobs and population with a small percentage of jobs reachable in an hour.
12. Ineffective, high-cost rail degrades overall public and private transportation.
High cost, low ridership rail raises overall transit costs and taxes; increases riders’ fares while reducing service; and, siphons funds from far more effective transportation projects.
13. Many cities have hit a “Financial Wall” with high cost rail.
Numerous rail cities have hit a ‘financial wall’ as their systems deteriorate; requiring many billions of dollars for replacement/upgrade for which there are no identified funding sources.
14. Variable toll lanes provide maximum people movement on road lanes.
Variable toll highway lanes, maintaining fairly constant speeds, effectively maximize the number of people which road lanes can carry including private, commercial and transit riders.
15. Variable toll lanes change driver behavior and reduce congestion.
Free-Choice, variable toll road lanes are effective in changing drivers’ travel-time behavior which reduces peak traffic period trips, reducing congestion on tolled and non-tolled lanes.
16. Low cost traffic improvements can be rapidly deployed and very cost-effective.
A number of lower cost improvements can be implemented quickly to provide faster, safer and more reliable travel: ramp metering, incident management, signal coordination, etc.
17. Austin rail does not provide economic benefits commensurate with high costs.
Austin has been a top three U.S. growth region for many years and not a single development was due to rail transit: Many cities have confirmed that taxpayers loose “big time” with rail.
18. Trains on busy downtown streets increase safety hazards and sight pollution.
Trains mingling with vehicles and pedestrians on busy, central, city streets create greater congestion and air pollution as well as greater safety hazards and ugly, sight pollution.
19. Rail will result in major degradation of Austin’s stated “Social Equity” intentions.Rail’s high cost and ineffective performance has major negative impacts on low income citizens including increases in taxes and transit fares, along with reductions in transit service.
20. Two-way streets downtown are more congested and less safe than one-way.
Converting many downtown streets from one-way to two-way provides reduced vehicle capacity with increased congestion while reducing safety for vehicles and pedestrians.
21. Suburbanization reduces driving and helps provide housing affordability.
Increasing suburban living and dispersed job locations (“sprawl”) have resulted in a long trend of declining ‘daily vehicle miles traveled per capita’ and greater housing affordability.
22. Projections for rail costs are much too low and for ridership are much too high.
Almost all cities have projected much lower costs and much higher ridership than rail achieves and rail offers little advantage over buses, but, has major disadvantages.
23. High cost rail results in all citizens paying higher taxes with little benefit.
High cost rail systems result in higher taxes, directly or indirectly; e.g., commuter rail “bankrupt” Cap Metro and Austin city plans to spend excessive taxes on urban rail.
24. The fundamentals have not changed since light rail was defeated in 2000.
Arguments against an Austin rail are much stronger today than in 2000 as additional, overwhelming, negative experiences, in many rail cities,’ has accumulated with the result:
Rail Transit still: COSTS TOO MUCH and DOES TOO LITTLE!
May 28th, 2013
COST Commentary: It was established long ago that better mobility is directly related to greater quality of life. Introduction of the private auto resulted in major improvements in mobility, providing people freedom and expanded choices which had never been experienced.
With growing economies and expanding urban areas, the auto was vital in providing workers access to wider job choices and opportunities resulting in better jobs and higher income. Average gains in worker income greatly exceeded the costs of auto ownership.
Today, the auto is ubiquitous in society, providing the vast majority of all trips. For those working outside home, the work commute in the U.S. is just over 86% by private vehicle and 95% by road. Counting walking commuters along the roads adds, approximately, another 2% for 97%.
Mare than 50% of Transit ridership is for the work trip. Over time, auto work commuting trips have declined to less than 20% of all auto trips. This is one reason ‘daily vehicle miles traveled (DVMT) per capita’ has been on a decreasing trend in Central Texas for many years. As people moved outward from the major central city of Austin, they were followed by retail, medical, education, restaurant, entertainment and other supporting facilities and services. This has reduced ‘DVMT per capita’ for the 80% of auto trips which is not work commuting. Even though a portion of the 20% work commuting miles traveled have increased, the total ‘DVMT per capita’ has decreasd. Overall ‘DVMT per capita’ for local citizens has decreased more than the numbers indicate because the pass-through trucks and other vehicles’ miles have grown rapidly and are part of the DVMT used to calculate the ‘per capita’ miles traveled.
Additional good news regarding auto trips relates to the fact that the greatest improvement in air quality for Central Texas has been more than 40 years of continuing significant reductions in automobile emissions. During this time the population has increased more than 4.5 times and driving has increased much more while total vehicle emissions have declined dramatically. Austin has never exceeded Federal air quality standards. It is the ‘cleanest air’ major city in Texas and one of the cleanest air major cities in the nation.
The studies discussed below indicate auto travel can reach all jobs in 31 of 51 metro areas in 30 minutes or less. At 60 minutes travel time, almost everyone can reach nearly every job in all 51 metro areas. This contrasts with transit which can reach only 7% of a regions jobs in 45 minutes in the 100 largest metro areas and 13% of the area’s jobs in 60 minutes. Even in 90 minutes average travel time, transit can reach only 30% of the jobs.
This transit performance demonstrates again that the traditional radial (hub and spoke) bus route structure, designed to carry people from outside to the central city area are outmoded by today’s demographics and job dispersion patterns. As Robert Poole, Jr. states below, more flexible transit systems are needed to link more people cost-effectively to jobs. He notes “That argues for grid-based bus systems as opposed to radial bus and rail systems focused on what used to be the “central business district.”
One promising approach to a grid-based bus system is Cellular Mass Transit which is a flexible, cost-effective, demand based concept invented by an Austin citizen but ignored by Capital Metro and the City.
New Study Ranks Access to Jobs via Auto Commuting
by Rowert W. Poole, Jr.. Reason Foundation, Surface Transportation Innovations, Issue Nol. 115 - May 2013
Transportation is not an end in itself; it’s a means to other ends, such as getting to and from work. Taking this point to heart, a growing number of researchers in recent years have promoted the concept of “access” as being more important than speed or travel time, per se. One of the leaders in this field, David Levinson of the University of Minnesota, defines accessibility as “the number of destinations reachable within a given travel time” by a particular mode of transportation. He is the author of a new study called “Access Across America,” released last month by U of M’s Center for Transportation Studies.
In this study, Levinson estimated the accessibility to jobs by car for the 51 largest U.S. metro areas. His data are for 1990, 2000, and 2010, so in addition to providing a snapshot of conditions as of 2010, the data also allow him to document trends over the past two decades. The results may surprise many of those concerned about traffic congestion in the largest metro areas, because Levinson finds that the 10 metro areas that provide the greatest accessibility to jobs via auto commuting are, in order: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Jose, Washington, Dallas, Boston, and Houston. And over the past two decades, the places with the largest increases in accessibility by car are Las Vegas, Jacksonville, Austin, Orlando, and Phoenix. Those with the largest decreases are Cleveland, Detroit, Honolulu, and Los Angeles.
What accounts for these findings? Although Levinson doesn’t really get into the details, I think one of the most important factors is the ongoing suburbanization of jobs. Remember, Levinson’s data are for entire metro areas, and there has been a huge dispersion of jobs throughout these metros over the past 50 years. A good summary of the data was provided last month by Wendell Cox in “Job Dispersion in Major US Metropolitan Areas, 1960-2010.” For example, in 1960 54% of employment in 35 major metro areas was in the historical core municipalities—but by 2010, that figure had dropped to 30%, with 70% in suburban and exurban areas. The suburbanization of jobs has made huge numbers of workplaces more accessible by car than before, leading to shorter average work-trip travel times than in Canada or Europe.
Levinson’s data show that in 31of the 51 metro areas, all the jobs can be reached by car in 30 minutes or less; upping the limit to 40 minutes brings the total to 39 of the 51, and at 60 minutes, almost everyone can reach nearly every job in every one of the 51 metro areas. That’s pretty outstanding performance by the highway system, despite the existence of serious congestion.
It’s instructive to contrast Levinson’s auto accessibility figures with the findings of a Brookings Institution study from 2011 on accessibility to jobs via transit (”Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America”). Using a 45-minute transit commute time, that study found that only 7% of jobs could be reached, in the 100 largest metro areas. Even at 60 minutes, transit could get people to only 13% of the area’s jobs. To reach 30% of the jobs, you need an average travel time of 90 minutes, which is more than three times the duration of the average U.S. auto commute.
Knowing this, some advocates of Smart Growth therefore disparage the suburbanization of employment as “jobs sprawl” and seek to promote public policies that would reverse it, so that transit could do a better job. But that confuses means with ends. If the purpose of an urban transportation system is accessibility, we should work to make the system serve that goal, not engage in a utopian quest to massively reshape the urban landscape. And, as I have written in previous issues of this newsletter, the implication for transit is to develop more flexible systems that can link more people cost-effectively to jobs. That argues for grid-based bus systems as opposed to radial bus and rail systems focused on what used to be the “central business district.”
May 21st, 2013
COST Commentary: As described in this article, Home Ownership has always been an underlying foundation of the “American Dream.” Since the development of private, motorized vehicles more than 100 years ago, this transportation form has provided another major “American Dream” foundation element which is even far more pervasive than home ownership. Private vehicles have provided prosperity and an expansive “freedom” to enjoy life’s abundant offerings in a way which cannot be otherwise provided. There is a direct connection between private vehicles and home ownership as these vehicles provide people access to more affordable homes in the suburbs.
Movements to control human choices and to confine and limit their prosperity and freedom will not be accepted and are not sustainable for the long run. Trends throughout the world are confirming this on a daily basis. For example: China has surpassed the United States in annual automobile sales and in highway lane miles.
Folowing the article below by Kotkin is a related article by Kotkin and Cox regarding poor people in the suburbs and the city.
Orange County Register
May 17, 2013 Updated: 3:36 p.m.
By JOEL KOTKIN / Register columnist
Ever since the housing bubble burst in 2007, retro-urbanists, such as Richard Florida, have taken aim at homeownership itself, and its “long-privileged place” at the center of the U.S. economy. If anything, he suggested, the government would be better off encouraging “renting, not buying.”
Similar thinking has gained currency with some high-rise (or multi-unit) builders, speculators and Wall Street financiers, who would profit by keeping Americans permanent renters, with encouragement from former Morgan Stanley financial analyst Oliver Chang, who predicted we were headed toward a “rentership society.”
Some support comes from research suggesting that higher ownership rates actually create unemployment. A study by the proausterity Peterson Institute for International Economics, cited recently both by Florida and the New York Times’ Floyd Norris, lays out an econometric case against homeownership.
The authors justified their findings by pointing to larger unemployment-rate changes from 1950-2010 in states, mostly in the South, such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia, compared with California, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. They then noted that, in the states with the larger unemployment rate increases, homeownership had increased more. Hence, the connection between higher homeownership and higher unemployment rates.
This analysis is staggeringly ahistorical. It fails to correct for the massive labor market changes that have occurred in the Southern states, as the agricultural and domestic employment common in 1950 has largely disappeared. The analysis begins with a year in which three of the states cited to prove that lower homeownership is associated with lower unemployment had unusually high unemployment in 1950 (California was No. 1, Oregon, No. 4, and Washington, No. 6); unemployment in these three West Coast states averaged nearly double that of the Southern examples.
Another ahistorical implication is that that the South experienced a huge increase in homeownership since 1950, as economically disadvantaged African-Americans began to buy their residences. An analysis by demographer Wendell Cox indicates that, even as labor markets were being radically altered, per capita incomes in relatively underdeveloped Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia rose during 1950-2010 at more than double the rate experienced in California, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin (more than 140 percent, adjusted for inflation, compared with approximately 65 percent).
The Peterson thesis is also undermined by a close examination of county homeownership and unemployment rates, which finds, generally, that large counties with higher rates of homeownership have lower unemployment rates. For example, among the nation’s approximately 260 counties with more than 250,000 residents, those with homeownership rates above 70 percent have average unemployment rates of 8.1 percent. Among the counties with homeownership rates below 50 percent, unemployment rates average 9.6 percent. This is exactly the opposite relationship that would be expected from the Peterson Institute research.
Finally, many large urban counties with the lowest homeownership rates – Los Angeles, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York County (Manhattan), Queens, Cook County (Chicago) and Philadelphia – also suffer well-above-average levels of unemployment and high levels of poverty. In contrast, suburban counties with high homeownership rates, like Nassau County, N.Y., Chester County (in the Philadelphia area), or Fairfax County, Va., boast considerably lower unemployment than their urban neighbors, and higher per-capita incomes. Most of the cities with the highest ownership rates, like Fort Worth and Austin, Texas, Indianapolis, Denver and Columbus, Ohio, all did very well in the most recent Forbes “Best Cities for Jobs” study.
It is also alleged that countries with high ownership rates do worse than those with lower ones. And to be sure, troubled countries like Portugal and Spain have high levels of homeownership, while Germany, Sweden and Denmark have somewhat lower ones. Yet, many successful countries – Taiwan, Singapore, Norway, Australia, Canada and Israel – actually do quite well with higher ownership rates than in America.
Dream that refuses to die.
From a historic perspective, the present U.S. homeownership rate, 65.4 percent, does not represent a structural decline from the middle 2000s, as is often argued, but remains consistent with the virtual equilibrium achieved over the past half century. As recently as 1940, only 40 percent of Americans owned their homes, a share that reached 60 percent by 1960s. Since then, it has remained fairly stable. The modest decline from the middle 2000s was from an artificially high level that resulted from the virtual suspension of mortgage credit standards – egged on by Wall Street and government agencies – which was followed by a deep recession and a weak recovery.
The housing bust changed the market, but not because of some fundamental shift in buyer preferences, as is sometimes alleged. Indeed, the recent spike in home sales confirms that Americans continue to aspire to homeownership. Research at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicated that 91 percent of respondents identified it as essential to the American Dream, and most favored steering government policy to spur homeownership.
Much has been written about how the under-30 population is either living at home or cannot buy a house. Yet, surveys by generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais found that a full 82 percent of adult millennials surveyed said it was “important” to own their own home, which rose to 90 percent among married millennials. Another survey, this one by TD Bank, found that 84 percent of renters ages 18-34 intend to purchase a home in the future.
Homeownership achieves almost cultish status among immigrants, who account for some 40 percent of all new owner households over the past decade. Among Asians who entered the country before 1974, a remarkable 81 percent own their home, while Latino homeownership is projected to rise to 61 percent by 2020.
Societal advantages of owning
Critics of homeownership often point out that renters have far more flexibility to move; that’s true and important particularly for people in their 20s. But, as people age, get married and, especially, have children, they seek to become involved in their communities on a more permanent basis. Pundits and economists often fail to recognize that people are more than simply profit-maximization machines ready to cross the country for an income increase of a few thousand dollars; they also seek out friends, stable neighbors, familial comfort, community and privacy.
Homeowners reap the financial gains of any appreciation in the value of their property, so they tend to spend more time and money maintaining their residence, which also contributes to the overall quality of the surrounding community. The right to pass property to an heir or to another person also provides motivation for proper maintenance.
Given their stake, homeowners participate in elections much more frequently than renters. One study found that 77 percent of homeowners had, at some point, voted in local elections, compared with 52 percent of renters. The study also found a greater awareness of the political process among homeowners. About 38 percent of homeowners knew the name of their local school board representative, compared with 20 percent of renters. The study also showed a higher incidence of church attendance among homeowners.
People who own their homes also tend to volunteer more in their community, notes the National Association of Realtors. This applies to the owners of both expensive and modest properties. One 2011 Georgetown study suggests that homeownership increases volunteering hours by 22 percent.
Perhaps the largest social benefits relate to children. Owners remain in their homes longer than do renters, providing a degree of stability valuable for children. Research published by Habitat for Humanity identifies a number of other advantages for children associated with homeownership versus renting, ranging from higher academic achievement, fewer behavioral problems and lower incidence of teenage pregnancy.
‘A share in their land’
Even before the American Revolution, the notion of ownership, usually of a farmstead, was a critical lure. Even after the yeoman utopia of the early 19th century faded, Americans continued to yearn for their own homes, something that led them in two great waves, first in the 1920s and again in the 1950s and 1960s, to the suburban periphery.
In contrast to today’s progressives, many traditional liberals embraced the old American ideal of dispersed land ownership. “A nation of homeowners,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed, “of people who own a real share in their land, is unconquerable.”
Legislation under Roosevelt and successor presidents supported this ideal. More than a response to the market, governments embraced homeownership as a positive societal and economic good for the majority of Americans. This policy – brilliantly exploited by entrepreneurs – worked for both people and the economy. Almost half of suburban housing, notes historian Alan Wolfe, depended on some form of federal financing.
Road to serfdom?
The suggestion that we need to abandon what the New York Times denounces as the “dogma on owning a home” has grown deeply entrenched among retro-urbanists. Rather than facilitate the broad dispersion of property ownership across economic classes, the new orthodoxy suggests we would be better off as a nation of renters, living cheek-to-jowl in apartments. This works to the advantage of the Wall Streeters and other investors, who profit from our paying off their mortgages rather than our own. The assault on homeownership also pleases some advocates of austerity, such as Pete Peterson, who would like to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction as a way to raise revenue at the expense of the middle class.
Turning against homeownership undermines the very promise of American life and the culture of independence critical to our identity as a people. Housing accounts for about two-thirds of a family’s wealth and the vast majority of the property owned by middle- and working-class households. The house represents for the middle class, devastated by the weak recovery, both a chance to make a long-term investment as well as a place to raise a family; a Wall Street portfolio, for all but the very affluent, who can afford the best advice, provides no reasonable alternative.
We have to consider what kind society we wish to have. The nomadic model now in fashion suggests Americans should simply move from place to place, untethered to any one spot, seeking personal fulfillment and the best financial deal for themselves. Such a model fits with current planning dogma and facilitates a source of profit for some, but undermines the dispersion of property that can sustain our society, and our families, over the long run.
Register opinion columnist Joel Kotkin is a Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University. He is the executive editor of www.newgeography.com.
Poverty and Growth: Retro-Urbanists Cling to the Myth of Suburban Decline
By Joel Kotkin, Wendell Cox May 21, 2013
Suburbs have more poor people mainly because they have more people, write Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.
In the wake of the post-2008 housing bust, suburbia has become associated with many of the same ills long associated with cities, as our urban-based press corps and cultural elite cheerfully sneer at each new sign of decline, most recently a study released Monday by the Brookings Institution—which has become something of a Vatican for anti-suburban theology—trumpeting the news that there are now 1 million more poor people in America’s suburbs than in its cities.
A young girl walks through a trailer park on May 22, 2012, in Joplin, Mo. (Joe Raedle/Getty)
America’s suburbs, noted one British journalist, are becoming “ghost towns” as middle-class former suburbanites migrate to the central core. That’s simply untrue: both the 2010 Census and other more recent analyses demonstrate that America is becoming steadily more suburban: 44 million Americans live in America’s 51 major metropolitan areas, while nearly 122 million Americans live in their suburbs. In other words, nearly three quarters of metropolitan Americans live in suburbs, not core cities.
The main reason there are now more poor people in the suburbs is that there are now many more people in the suburbs, which have represented almost all of America’s net population growth in recent years. Despite trite talk about “suburban ghettos,” suburbs have a poverty rate roughly half that of urban centers (20.9 percent in core compared to 11.4 percent in the suburbs as of 2010).
To be sure, poverty in suburbs, or anywhere else, must be addressed. But not long ago, suburbs were widely criticized for being homogeneous; now they are mocked for having many of the problems associated with being “inclusive.”
Many poor suburbs are developing because minorities and working-class populations are moving to suburbs. Yet even accounting for these shifts, cities continue to contain pockets of wealth and gentrification that give way to swathes of poverty. In Brooklyn, it’s a short walk east from designer shoe stores and locavore eateries to vast stretches of slumscape. The sad fact is that in American cities, poor people—not hipsters or yuppies—constitute the fastest-growing population. In the core cities of the 51 metropolitan areas, 81 percent of the population increase over the past decade was under the poverty line, compared to 32 percent of the suburban population increase.
In Chicago, oft cited as an exemplar of “the great inversion” of affluence from suburbs to cities, the city poverty rate stands at 22.5 percent, compared to 10 percent in the suburbs. In New York, roughly 20 percent of the city population lives in poverty, compared to only 9 percent in the suburbs.
Looking at it from a national perspective, most of the major metropolitan counties with the highest rates of poverty are all urban core, starting with the Bronx, with 30 percent of people living under the poverty line, followed by Orleans Parish (New Orleans), Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Richmond, Va. In contrast all 10 large counties with the lowest poverty rates are all suburban.
This divergence has an impact on other measurements of social health. Despite substantial improvement in crime rates in “core cities” over the past two decades, suburban areas generally have substantially lower crime rates, according to Brookings Institution’s own research. Yet at the same time suburban burgs dominate the list of safest cities over 100,000 led by Irvine and Temecula, Calif., followed by Cary, N.C. Overall suburban crime remains far lower than that in core cities.
A review of 2011 crime data, as reported by the FBI, indicates that the violent-crime rate in the core cities of major metropolitan areas was approximately 3.4 times that of the suburbs. (The data covers 47 of the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million population, with data not being available for Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Providence.)
In the least suburbanized core cities, that is places that have annexed little or no territory since before World War II (New York, Philadelphia, Washington, etc.) the violent crime rate was 4.3 times the suburban rate. Among the 24 metropolitan areas that had strong central cities at the beginning of World War II but which have significant amounts of postwar suburban territory (Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, etc.), the violent crime rate is 3.1 times the suburban rate. Among the metropolitan areas that did not have strong pre–World War II core cities (San Jose, Austin, Phoenix, etc.), the violent crime rate was 2.2 times the suburban rate. Basically, the more suburban the metropolis, the lower the crime rate.
Rather than castigating suburbs for exaggerated dysfunction, retro-urbanists would be much better served focusing on how to correct and confront the issue of poverty, which continues to concentrate heavily in the urban core and elsewhere in America.
Joel Kotkin is a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and a contributing editor to the City Journal.
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a public policy and demographic consultancy located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He was a three term member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.
May 20th, 2013
By Jim Skaggs, January 13, 2012, last update: 3-27-2012 (see note at end)
Below are brief summaries of 12 reasons to reject Austin’s proposed urban rail. Each needs further expansion for one to have a more in-depth understanding. This COST site has several hundred ‘news articles’, reports and references which further address each subject and more. Several, recent, articles are referenced below. You are encouraged to read these and further peruse the site for additional detail.
The article “24 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility” directly relates to this article by providing proven, guiding principles which are important to follow in avoiding the pitfalls and errors listed below. Almost none of these principles are being followed in the Urban Rail evaluation process.
This will be a living document and will be updated from time to time for clarification and as new information develops.
1. Austin’s proposed urban rail is not cost-effective and its exorbitant costs will result in major risks of ongoing tax increases along with degrading mobility and quality of life.
Cap Metro spent several years and millions of dollars studying a downtown urban rail trolley. These studies stopped in late 2007 as commuter rail cost overruns almost bankrupt the agency. At that time, Austin’s Mayor Wynn announced sketchy outlines for a new and expanded urban rail to replace Cap Metro’s abandoned rail trolley which was estimated to cost about $230 million. The City’s current urban rail estimate is more than $1.3 billion (VERY BAD) or 5-plus times this early Cap Metro estimate and it is still not based on detailed engineering. Experience with many rail systems, world-wide, would indicate costs will be closer to $2 billion (WORSE).
There are no viable, identified sources of funding for this ‘largest-in-history,’ Austin project. Nor, is there a source of funding for its operations and maintenance which will be several tens of millions of dollars each year (DISASTER).
And, this is only the first 16.5 miles of the city’s train vision. There will be strong pressure for much more rail which will cost many more billions and become less cost-effective with each link, resulting in major bond debt which will bankrupt the city and starve key, high priority services.
The region’s single, local experience with passenger rail is consistent with that throughout the nation: major cost overruns in both construction/implementation and in annual operating costs. Cap Metro’s commuter operating costs are running about 6 times their promise to voters. Austin’s urban rail is on this same track.
Austin is proposing to take huge taxpayer risks by planning to fund the start of urban rail with the assumption major federal funding will follow later. In the current federal budget environment, it is very unlikely Austin will receive rail funding for a very long time, if ever. Cap Metro promised significant federal funding but received none for its Red Line commuter. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated this by announcing it cannot support all requests and suggesting bus solutions are much more cost-effective for many proposed rail applications. Austin would clearly be better served with buses. Several cities have recently selected buses in favor of rail due to flexibility and costs.
See: Austin’s Light Rail cannot be funded and cannot meet needs
Austin planning ignores vast majority of citizens
Austin Urban Rail: Wrong solution for ill-defined problem.
Economists: Rail transit Benefits Do Not Justify Costs
2. High costs and low ridership result in poor cost-effectiveness requiring massive taxpayer subsidies for the very few train riders.
The City’s ridership estimates for urban rail are greatly exaggerated as are most rail ridership estimates. Generally, more than one-half of public transit ridership is for work commuting. Austin’s proposed urban rail route will serve very few potential home-work commuters and a declining percentage of the region’s workers. More important than the city’s ridership estimates is the cost-effectiveness and this has never been discussed.
The Dallas, Houston and Austin regions have spent billions of dollars to promote and encourage public transit ridership. Each region has made and is planning further major investments in fixed-rail transit. While each region’s population is among the fastest growing in the nation, total public transit ridership is flat or less than a dozen years ago. Public transit ridership is generally less than one percent of the passenger miles traveled in these and similar regions. Also flat or decreasing ridership has been accompanied by annual operating cost increases much greater than inflation which produced continuous degradation of already poor cost-effectiveness.
The dismal transit failure and wasteful tax spending experienced in Texas’ major cities has been long demonstrated in similar cities throughout the nation.
See: Austin’s Light Rail Plan: The Bottom Line
Major Texas Metro Areas Are Confirming Failures in Rail Transit
Today, a very high percentage of cities which implemented light rail transit starting in the 1980’s have fewer total public transit work trip riders and/or declines in the percentage of workers commuting on transit. Portland has achieved the largest ridership on new light rail systems since its initial opening in 1986. However, its percentage of transit use decreased for the 25 years, 1983-2008.
See: Portland is Not a Transit Role Model for Austin
This region’s current 25 year transportation plan has increased its non-roadway spending to almost 50% of total estimated costs and this does not include the full cost of urban rail. The plan’s allocation of a huge proportion of taxpayer dollars to fixed rail transit to serve a tiny percentage of travelers is not sustainable and will result in major degradation of mobility and quality of life.
The most cost-effective public transit solutions can be achieved with rubber tire transit on roads such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and demand response bus/van systems such as Cellular Mass Transit (CMT). Austin’s first BRT system is approximately 7 years late due to Cap Metro’s focus and cost overruns on commuter rail. This first BRT will significantly improve transit for 20 times more riders than the commuter rail and for one-tenth the costs.
3. Providing huge taxpayer subsidies for a small number of urban rail riders is not responsible public policy in any economy.
This ineffective, high cost urban rail is especially irresponsible at this time when Austin is facing budget shortfalls in providing basic, high priority services while citizens are experiencing increasing property taxes, water rates, energy rates and other fees. This all combines to disproportionately impact low income citizens resulting in reduced quality of life for many.
There have been no responsible alterative studies and analyses to determine urban rail is the most cost-effective solution to a well defined, top priority transportation problem. Austin’s urban rail justification is based on superficial studies designed to reach a predetermined outcome with almost no unbiased, objective consideration of cost or effectiveness. Numerous cities, including Ft. Worth, Detroit, and Nashville have recently concluded bus and roadway solutions are much more cost-effective for similar mobility needs and have rejected rail transit.
See: Nashville Selects Bus Rapid Transit, Rejects Streetcars/Light Rail
Detroit rejects light rail, favors bus rapid transit
Bus Versus Train: A Dying Debate
Austin’s first priority must be to establish sound fiscal operations focused on providing priority needs efficiently and providing the opportunity for all citizens to prosper.
4. Urban rail will not improve congestion or air quality. It makes them WORSE.
This rail is proposed to use downtown streets which will reduce vehicle capacity, increasing congestion and air pollution. Implementation of rail, in conjunction with reducing lanes and converting from one-way to two-way streets, will significantly increase downtown congestion and safety hazards; discouraging citizens from visiting, working and living downtown as well as discouraging companies from locating there.
Areas outside downtown Austin will continue to stagnate with increasing congestion for 99% of passenger miles because precious and limited transportation funds will be depleted by rail to poorly serve much less than one-half of 1 percent of passenger miles. The very long list of major mobility needs will be further delayed with huge negative impacts to the quality of life of all citizens.
Examples of mobility needs include: 1) Congested roadway segments such as Mopac, 183 in East Austin, 45 Southwest, 360, 620, I-35, 290/71 through Oak Hill, North Lamar, Loop 1 South, East-West improvements; 2) Interchanges including Mopac & 360 (North and South), Mopac and Lake Austin to Downtown, 360 and 183, 71 & 183, 5th and 6th & Lamar; 3) Many local street and intersection bottlenecks, 4) More effective use of roadway lanes with such tools as smart traffic signals, ramp metering, improved incident management and effective use of managed lanes and tolls, where appropriate.
Rail transit is often promoted as the solution to reduce driving caused by suburban living (called sprawl by some). As shown in Austin, suburbanization has resulted in decreased driving per capita over many years.
See: Market surge confirms preference for homeowning
See: Is paying for transit a waste?
5. Urban rail will not produce measurable increases in economic development or tax base and may reduce Austin’s tax base.
Years of accumulated performance provide robust evidence that rail transit does not relieve congestion or pollution as promoted by early supporters. Many rail transit supporters have turned to ‘economic development’ as their primary reason for rail transit. This, too, has proven to be inaccurate and unsupported.
Austin has been one of the top three growth regions in the nation for many years and not a single development was due to rail transit.
The city of Austin commissioned Capital Market Research, Inc (Heimsath) to perform an economic study of the development impact of downtown rail: ‘Downtown Circulator Service Economic Impact Assessment,’ dated August 16, 2006.
This study concluded Austin received no, net economic benefit based on anticipated development along the downtown train track. The study’s bottom line was: Some development may be relocated due to the train but it would be moved from somewhere else resulting in a “zero-sum game” and no net increase in net development or tax base.
See: Zero Sum Game: Development and the Austin Streetcar
Other, broader and more extensive studies have reached the same conclusion. In Portland’s case, the result was much worse. Portland advertised mixed-use development as a major benefit of their early light rail. Ten years later, there were no additional developments around train stations. The city provided large tax abatements and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to encourage development. They got new development near stations at a huge detriment to other city services as TIFs reduced the city’s general fund. They also built large government facilities near train stations which did not increase the tax base. At one station, mixed-use development turned out to be an IKEA big-box store. Worst of all, the city’s draconian land regulations resulted in substantially increasing housing prices, similar to Austin’s in the mid-1980’s, well above affordability indices and their public school enrollment plummeted from over 80,000 to almost 45,000. Austin’s current enrollment is about 85,000 and its housing affordability index has been trending more negative (less affordable) for several years. This trend will be exacerbated by rail transit which is not cost-effective. Austin is already the least affordable major city in Texas. As in Portland’s case, surrounding cities are growing more rapidly as Austin’s affordability decreases.
Austin’s school enrollment is now about 85,000 and the city’s growth is slowing as the surrounding growth is accelerating. Several Austin schools are facing closure due to declining enrollment.
6. Safety hazards and injuries are increased by street congestion as heavy train cars reduce street vehicle capacity.
Heavy trains, mingling with people and private vehicles on streets, cannot stop quickly or swerve to avoid accidents. Also, many studies have shown two-way streets are more hazardous than one-way streets. Austin’s downtown plan features conversion of many one-way streets to two-way with fewer traffic lanes resulting in the stated purpose to slow traffic by creating congestion.
7. Urban rail degrades social equity, making a mockery of Austin’s stated goals.
Rail’s high cost and low ridership result in two major negative impacts which disproportionately impact lower income citizens: 1) All taxpayers highly subsidize every train rider. All public transit is subsidized at many times subsidy levels for private transportation modes. Cap Metro’s Red Line high cost and low ridership results in average taxpayer subsidies of more than $20,000 per year for every daily, two-way rider. Each of these riders could be given a free taxi pass or a new car, with gas, each year for less cost. Congestion and pollution would also be reduced. 2) The reality is: 40,000 daily bus riders, mostly lower income citizens with no alternative, are helping to subsidize less than 1,000 train riders, mostly with alternatives and higher incomes, by paying higher fares and suffering reduced bus service.
Public transit is a vital community program for those having no alternative. However, confining a person’s transportation range of destinations to that of public transit substantially limits access to better job opportunities, most economical shopping, education, health care, recreation, entertainment; all of life’s offerings. Cost effective transit is critical to serve the maximum number of people needing it in their daily lives and to provide a major stepping stone in assisting them to raise their standard of living. Poor cost effectiveness of rail results in major limitations to transit service as experienced in many cities, including Austin.
See: RAIL TRANSIT: An Increasing Drain on Social Welfare and Society
Austin Urban Rail: A blow to social equity and justice
8. The City’s creation of another transit organization similar to Cap Metro will significantly increase overall taxpayer’s costs for this region’s transit.
Voters created Cap Metro and authorized its maximum one-penny sales tax funding source to provide effective public transit for the region. Cap metro has a long history of poor performance and an extended trend of increasing costs to serve fewer riders. Its costs per rider have increased at almost double inflation rates. Creation of a duplicate transit agency structure within the City of Austin will require major, frequent coordination with Cap Metro, significantly increasing the region’s transit costs. In addition to the one penny sales tax limit which funds Cap Metro, the City will be required to increase property taxes and fees to fund its transit agency as there are no other realistic, viable funding sources.
9. Fixed rail is inflexible and is expensive to meet changing demands and needs.
There is little current demand for downtown trolleys as demonstrated by the previous free Dillo bus circulators. Austin is a growing, adolescent city and no one knows the shape it will take as it fully develops. Fixed rail systems are very difficult and expensive to modify as changes in demand occur. Austin needs flexible, cost-effective bus transit which can easily adjust to changing demands and routes. For example: The new Waller Creek ‘River Walk’ being implemented near Red River Street may be a major development area and current proposed trolley rail routes do not fully support it. Buses have flexibility to rapidly and cost-effectively meet these changing needs.
From Cap Metro’s early proposed rail systems to its downtown rail circulator to Austin city’s current urban rail proposal, rail configurations and routes have changed every time they have been evaluated by different people with different motivations and “politics.” This is, perhaps, the most important decision in the history of Austin and it must be guided by the greater-good of the community now and for several future generations.
10. The downtown trolley and its supporting structures are ugly vision pollution.
The trolley’s maze of overhead power cables, connecting structures, support poles and boarding platforms will destroy cherished Capital views as well as deny the use of Congress Avenue and other key streets for traditional civic events such as parades, charity runs, etc.
11. Austin’s urban rail is obsolete, 150 year old transportation technology
Urban rail technology has been superseded with far more flexible, efficient, convenient and cost-effective transportation which is substantially more effective in meeting today’s needs for shorter trip times with personal choices of departure times and multiple destinations.
Just as river boats, canal boats, horses and horse-drawn buggies provided transportation offering certain advantages over walking for applicable trips, early trains provided additional advantages replacing prior modes to available destinations. Almost all of these early transportation improvements have been superseded by private motorized vehicles for reasons mentioned here.
Rapidly developing technology is again changing transportation needs. Telecommuting (people working at home) is growing much faster than any work commuting mode. It is now greater than the use of public transit for the work trip throughout the United States if New York City is excluded. The use of public transit is now only the fifth most used commute mode in the Austin area. Primary focus should be on the top modes.
The future offers possibilities of new, revolutionary technology. One of these is “driverless cars” which are currently being extensively tested and could, for example: dramatically improve the capacity of existing roads.
Early transportation, including early passenger trains, was generally cost effective. Private, motorized transportation has been generally cost effective from its beginning more than 100 years ago. The current, approximately 30 year transit phase of implementing new trains for urban public transit has been a transportation and financial failure in Austin and almost every other city.
In addition, the 2010 census indicates further long term trends which make urban rail the wrong choice: Central urban areas throughout the US are decreasing in living density while outer and suburban areas are increasing in density and there is a continuing trend in the increasing number of people working at home. More people work at home than use public transit for work commuting, excludiong New York City. These trends are further reducing the effectiveness of traditional ‘hub-and-spoke’ transit systems, particularly fixed rail, which are based on moving people in major corridors from outer areas to the central city.
Due to UT and the State government, Austin’s approximately 15% and declining central employment, is higher than the current US major city average of just under 10% of the regional work force located in the central business district (CBD).
12. Urban rail is not “cool” or “weird.”
Urban rail’s 19th century technology is not becoming of a first class, high tech, creative, visionary city and is not in keeping with Austin’s meaning of “weird.” Cool is antithetical to supporting train transit which is not cost-effective, increases taxes, degrades social equity, increases congestion, is dangerous, reduces mobility, creates visual pollution and is not sustainable.
Bus transit can achieve anything, equally or better, which urban rail transit can achieve. Buses can carry just as many people, just as fast and safer, with less pollution, much more cost-effectively and with greater flexibility to meet changing needs.
Cost-effective bus transit can avoid urban rail’s negative impact to social equity by serving more low income and other citizens, without transportation choices, at lower fares.
Avoiding the exorbitantly high cost of ineffective rail transit will lower overall citizen’s tax burdens, increase mobility and enhance quality of life.
Looking backwards to outdated train technology is the wrong direction to find future visions of the American Dream.
See: Defining Success - The Case Against Rail Transit
Bus Versus Train: A Dying Debate
Note: Significant revision dates and items will be recorded below for reader reference. Revisions are underlined at least till the next revision, except site references are always underlined in blue:
1. A new paragraph was added to the middle of Reason #2, Jan 30, 2012.
2. A second paragraph was added to Reason #7, Jan 30, 2012.
3. Item 4 was added to the end of Reason 4, Jan 30, 2012.
4. A new Reason #5 was inserted, resulting in shifting all remaining reason numbers down one, Jan 30, 2012.
5. A brief summary was added at the end, Jan 30, 2012.
6. A new Reason #11 was inserted, moving the previous #11 to #12, February 5, 2012.
7. A paragraph was added to the end of Reason #4, February 5.
8. New sentences were added to Reason 1, last paragraph; Reason 2, second paragraph; Reason 5 and 6, last paragraph; Reason 8; Reason 9, second paragraph and Reason 11, third paragraph, March 27, 2012.
9. Changes were mostly “fine tuning” and adding the Kotkin reference in Reason 4, May 20,2013
May 20th, 2013
COST Commentary: Almost two years ago, Austin’s Mayor Leffingwell published 30 excellent questions which he suggested needed to be answered prior to proceeding with urban rail. Additional questions were posed by COST following the Mayor’s questions and the Austin Chamber of Commerce developed a list of questions and comments. The Mayor’s questions, COST’s questions and the Chamber’s questions/comments are below. There are some overlapping areas in the three sets.
COST agrees with the Mayor that these his question, as well as other important questions need to be answered before proceeding with urban rail.
COST’s assessment is that most of the questions currently remain unanswered and the millions of dollars spent on planning urban rail do not seem to be focused on first answering the key questions. In fact, a few of the most important questions on the list should have been answered long before spending many millions of taxpayer dollars. With increasing taxes, energy rates, water rates, etc., it is vital that taxpayer funds be spent as effectively as possible.
COST has made the point many times that urban rail was a “predetermined solution to an ill-defined problem” and that a responsible ‘Alternative Analysis’ had not been performed (see: Austin Transit Working Group Meetings: Critique and Comment) . There can be no federal funding without a federally approved Alternatives Analysis. The overwhelming level of government funding requests and the poor condition of the federal budget makes it unlikely Austin will receive significant assistance. Cap Metro promised voters but received no funds from the Federal government for their commuter rail.
A competent alternatives analysis and answers to the Important questions below can take up to two years. This makes it irresponsible for the city to establish the goal of a 2014 rail and bond election as suggested by the Mayor. This election schedule suggests a strongly predetermined conclusion that urban rail is the solution and an unbiased, objective analysis will not be conducted. All those responsible for overseeing and planning urban rail have a strong, vested interest.
Although these rail questions remain unanswered by the City, there are many real experiences and comprehensive studies which basically answer most of the key questions as discussed in articles on the COST web site.
This article was originally posted February, 2012 and its latest update is May 20 and June 2, 2013.
The latest major update items are noted with an underline and previous COST questions 23 and 24 were moved to the 1 (a new sub-question was added) and 2 position and renumbered.
Mayor Leffingwell’s 30 Questions
1. What will be the exact route, including the river crossing of phase one of the urban rail system?
2. What about phase two?
3. What is the anticipated route of subsequent expansions?
4. How much will construction of phase one cost?
5. Of Phase Two?
6. How much are subsequent expansions expected to cost on a per mile basis?
7. How will construction costs of phase one be financed?
8. Of phase two?
9. Of subsequent expansions?
10. What entity will operate the system?
11. What will phase one cost to operate on an annual basis?
12. What about phase two?
13. What are subsequent phases expected to cost to operate annually?
14. How will the capital costs be financed?
15. How will the operational costs be financed?
16. What will it cost to ride?
17. What are the ridership projections for phase 1?
18. For phase?
19. For subsequent expansions?
20. Will the system help reduce traffic congestion Downtown?
21. What about outside of Downtown?
22. Will it reduce traffic congestion traveling in and out of Downtown?
23. What are the other benefits of the urban rail system to Austin and the region?
24. If approved in November 2012, when would construction of phase two begin?
25. If approved in November 2012, when would phase one be operational?
26. When would construction of phase two begin?
27. When would phase two be operational?
28. When would subsequent expansions be expected to begin?
29. What are the plans to mitigate the impact on vehicle traffic and local businesses during construction?
30. What are the major unknown factors that could significantly impact the answer to any of these questions?
COST’s 30 Additional urban rail questions:
1. How does Austin expect to achieve more effective train transit and cost-effective service than that experienced by almost all cities which have implemented rail transit?
2. What will be the increase in local taxes to fund transit due to establishment of “duplicate” transit agency overheads at Cap Metro and the city? Other Texas city regions and cities in other states have implemented transit limited to one-penny sales tax. The City’s urban rail will be a major transit cost increase to the one-penny Cap Metro spends. Cap Metro is essentially bankrupt at this point.
3. Have the priority, and any major secondary, purposes and objectives of the Urban Light Rail system been clearly articulated such that performance measures can be established?
4. What are acceptable performance measures for the system?
5. What will provide the confidence that the urban rail will perform better than the transit systems of Dallas, Houston and Austin as the three have spent billions of dollars to increase transit ridership and implemented significant train transit, but, the total ridership is less today than 12 years ago?
6. Has a thorough and objective “alternatives analysis’ been conducted to determine the most effective transportation method to achieve the stated purposes and objectives?
7. Is each phase of the Light Rail system financially sustainable for the capital/implementation and for long term operations?
8. What is the cost effectiveness of each phase of the Light Rail system and what are the taxpayer subsidies for the system’s capital and implementation and for its operation? For each phase, there should be a minimum of the following including capital/ implementation and operating costs:
a. The average cost and taxpayer cost subsidy for an average rider.
b. Cost and taxpayer subsidy per passenger mile & per trip.
c. The marginal cost to add one more transit rider.
9. How many new transit riders are added to the current transit system by the proposed new Light Rail?
10. What is the impact of urban rail on overall social equity? Will it have similar impacts as Cap Metro’s Red Line commuter rail which increased fares and reduced the backbone bus service for mostly low income riders who do not have alternatives in favor of higher income train riders who mostly have alternatives? Will transit dependent citizens disproportionately bear the burden of this expensive rail and basically subsidize those higher income citizens who have a transportation choice?
11. What is the cost of the bus shuttle system which will be required to support the train? Cap Metro has buses stationed at several RED Line commuter stops to shuttle people to or nearer their destinations.
12. Where will the parking lots/structures be located to collect people coming to downtown so they can park, catch a train, and complete their trip into and out of downtown?
13. What is the cost of these parking facilities and what is the planned parking capacity and fee structure.
14. Will the Light Rail system enhance or degrade transit service and costs for citizens depending on daily service and primarily without alternatives?
15. Does the Light Rail’s operation on the street, mingling with people and street vehicles, increase or decrease safety hazards?
16. Will the system reduce congestion and enhance or decrease mobility for most Austin citizens?
17. Will the system carry more people faster, more reliably and more cost effectively than alternatives?
18. Does the system enhance Austin’s visual environment or result in unsightly views of poles, wires, rigs connecting trains to power wires and boarding platforms such as will be viewed up Congress Avenue to the Capital?
19. Will the system enhance or degrade neighborhoods it passes through: view, noise, safety, congestion?
20. Will the system disrupt or eliminate the use of downtown streets, such as Congress Avenue, for traditional civic and charity events?
21. Does the system effectively enhance development goals for the community’s greater good or is it wasteful subsidizing of developers by taxpayers?
22. How will the system integrate with Cap Metro’s transit system regarding service and fares?
23. At realistic ridership numbers, does the system have an air quality benefit or detriment? The Red Line Commuter was promoted as an air quality benefit but is a significant detriment.
24. Does the system enhance or detract from Austin’s desirability from a citizen and visitor viewpoint?
25. This rail will be the largest project in Austin’s history. How do we assure its funding and sustainability in a way which does not degrade overall quality-of-life by reducing fundamental, priority city services.
26. Previously the city has indicated they may gamble by paying and risking the full cost of the initial urban rail segment and expect major Federal Government funding for following segments. The Federal Government has indicated a desire for cities to use Bus Rapid Transit in many cases where it will do an equal or better job because it has many times the request for transit money than will be available. With major national budget issues and proposed bills which preclude the level of federal participation assumed by Austin, is this a reasonable risk for the city to take? The down-side of the Federal Government not participating as assumed is very ugly for Austin. It leaves a very ineffective rail segment and a strained city budget with the possibility of a similar “bankruptcy” to that which Cap Metro ended up with at the end of the track. All citizens will suffer.
27. How do current and future developments and trends impact the ability of outdated train technology to provide effective transit mobility which is cost-effective? Consider:
a. The fastest growing “mode” of work trips is working at home or telecommuting.
b. The 2010 census indicates a trend in reduced density for central urban cores and increased density for outer urban areas.
c. New transportation technology and approaches are being developed and studied such as:
1. Smarter and even driverless cars.
2. Demand response transit such as Cellular Mass Transit which can more cost-effectively
serve a much higher percentage of the communities transit needs.
d. There is a continuing decline in the percentage of a region’s jobs located in the urban core. Less than 10% of a regions jobs are in the average US city core. Austin is a little higher due to the concentration of State and UT employees, but the core percentage is declining.
e. Many people promote train transit as a 50-100 year “investment,” but it seems certain this 19th century technology will become even more outdated with each passing year, denying investment in the real American Dream.
28. Recognizing current trends and those expected to continue, are hub and spoke transit models appropriate for the future? Today’s transit routes are primarily focused on the “spokes” which take people from their living areas to the central city “hub”. Growing needs are from suburban population centers to suburban employment locations and centers.
29. Has Austin fully considered the reasons that a wave of recent cities have rejected urban rail transit systems in favor of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)? Due to major reductions in funding availability, the Federal Transit Administration has also encouraged cities to look carefully at BRT as it cost much less and can perform just as well as trains for most applications.
30. Isn’t the inflexible and very difficult to move nature of rail transit incompatible with an adolescent city like Austin where development patterns are not really known at this stage. For example: The new Waller Creek waterway area will probably become a major activity area and the current train transit routes will not serve it well.
Austin Chamber of Commerce Questions and Comments about urban rail:
1. Have we sufficiently identified the problem we are attempting to solve?
2. What are the city’s criteria for success?
3. How do we measure cost effectiveness or community benefit?
4. Is this the best use of the limited transportation funds? Would we as a community be better off investing in the Lone Star Rail Project?
5. What has the city done and what is the city doing to make sure land uses are compatible with and support the Urban Rail Program?
6. Urban rail should be accessible by current jobs, but not impede future growth.
7. How does this project proactively plan for intermodal connections?
8. In Texas we don’t have the legal framework (authority) to plan. We think land use will adapt to our infrastructure investment. How patient are we willing to be, how long are we willing to wait to see how the market reacts to our investment?
9. Cheap and widely available parking negatively impacts transit use.
10. Is it possible to have dedicated ROW along the entire route?
11. If we had dedicated ROW along the entire route:
a. What is the cost of the system?
b. What is the ridership on the system?
c. What are the headways?
d. How does this impact vehicular travel times? Other impacts?
e. How does this impact development opportunities?
12. If we had shared ROW along the entire route:
a. What is the cost of the system?
b. What is the ridership of the system?
c. What are the headways?
d. How does this impact vehicular travel times? Other impacts?
e. How does this impact development opportunities?
13. How would connecting Urban Rail to the Red Line during the first phase impact ridership of the Red Line and the Urban Rail Project?
14. How would connecting Urban Rail to the Red Line during later phases impact ridership of the Red Line and the Urban Rail Project?
15. What would it cost to extend the Red Line further into downtown and connect to the Urban Rail Project closer into the urban core? How would this impact ridership on both systems?
16. How does the urban rail project connect to the Lone Star Rail project? How does this impact the ridership on both systems? Does this impact ridership on the Red Line?
17. Is there a cheaper alternative (rubber tired better bus on fixed guide way) that can be the Phase 1 for the project?
18. What peripheral support system would be required to make the system successful?
19. If we retrofit an existing bridge to cross Lady Bird Lake, would all or part of the bridge have to be closed to vehicular traffic during construction? How long would all or part of the bridge have to be closed to vehicular traffic? What travel time delays would vehicular traffic experience due to a partial or complete closure of a bridge?
20. Is Map A an additional route or in place of another route?
21. How do the multiple stations near/on the Red Line impact capital costs, operational costs, ridership, and potential development opportunities for both systems?
May 12th, 2013
COST Commentary: This post recognizes the impact of “Smart Growth” principles on transportation and mobility. Austin’s new “Imagine Austin” comprehensive plan incorporates numerous “Smart Growth” concepts and states the plan will provide many major community benefits. The articles in this posting and many others on this site refute these benefits. A mountain of analyses, studies and actual experiences from cities similar to Austin indicate the implementation of “Imagine Austin” will likely achieve the exact opposite of a majority of its stated benefits. Overall quality of life will be reduced as: congestion increases, taxes increase, safety decreases, air quality degrades and housing prices continue to rise faster than income and other Texas cities averages.
The “New Urbanism” movement and its planning concept “Smart Growth” (compact city) formally began in the US about 30 years ago. Numerous cities/metropolitan areas have embraced and implemented segments of “Smart Growth” by adjusting laws, regulations, codes, policies and planning and development approaches. There are many articles, studies and experiences, including those posted on this site, relating to the failures of “Smart Growth” to achieve its exaggerated promises and to the many negative consequences of “Smart Growth.”
The first article below, by Wendell Cox, is more interesting than many past critiques of “Smart Growth” in that it is about an analysis authored by three distinguished “urban planning insiders” from England and published in the pro “Smart Growth”: “Journal of the American Planning Association,” under the title, “Growing Cities Sustainably: Does Urban Form ReallyMatter?”
The second article, also by Cox, is about another analysis which finds no support and disputes an often stated “Smart Growth” characteristic that cities with greater density produce greater urban productivity. Instead the analysis indicates it is city size and not density which enhances urban productivity.
QUESTIONING THE MESSIANIC CONCEPTION OF SMART GROWTH
by Wendell Cox ,06/28/2012 in newgeography.com
A new analysis from the United Kingdom concludes that smart growth (compact city) policies are not inherently preferable to other urban land use policy regimes, despite the claims of proponents.”The current planning policy strategies for land use and transport have virtually no impact on the major long-term increases in resource and energy consumption. They generally tend to increase costs and reduce economic competitiveness.” The article goes on: “Claims that compaction will make cities more sustainable have been debated for some time, but they lack conclusive supporting evidence as to the environmental and, particularly, economic and social effects.”
These would not be surprising findings to Newgeography.com readers, who are accustomed to similar analyses rooted in economic, demographic, and environmental data. However, this article appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, under the title, “Growing Cities Sustainably: Does Urban Form Really Matter?”
Moreover, the authors are urban planning insiders, including Marcial H. Echenique, a land use and transport professor at Cambridge University, Anthony J. Hargreaves from the Martin Centre for Architectural Studies at Cambridge, Gordon Mitchell from the Faculty of the Environment at the University of Leeds and Anil Namdea of the School of Engineering at the University of Newcastle.
Smart Growth Criticisms
Many of the British critiques parallel those made by critics of smart growth for years. They focus particularly on the concern that smart growth generally has neglected economic and social costs. For example, smart growth policies lead to higher house prices by rationing land (such as with urban growth boundaries). Higher house prices lead to less discretionary income for households, so that there is less money for other goods and services, lowering employment levels. The resulting densification leads to more intense traffic congestion, with resulting economic losses and more intense air pollution, which is less healthful.
The authors modeled land use and travel behavior in three areas of England, subjecting them to three land use alternatives: compact development (smart growth), planned development (which I would label “smart growth light”) and dispersal, the generally liberal approach common in United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for decades after World War II (and still in many US and some Canadian markets).
Echenique et al analyzed the London metropolitan region (Greater London Authority, Southeast England and East England), which has a population of 20 million and the Newcastle (Tyne and Wear) metropolitan region, which has a population of 1,000,000. They also analyzed a sub-region within London metropolitan region, Cambridge, with a population of 500,000.
Their model projected little difference in outcomes between the three land use regulatory regimes to 2031. Predictably, land consumption was less under the compact development, but the variation in land consumed varied no more than plus or minus one percent from the trend (base case) in the London area, where only 11 percent of the land is in urban or transport use. Other factors, such as the change in transport energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport and residences and air pollution varied little between the three regulatory regimes.
Economic costs in 2031 were projected to be the lowest (best) for the dispersed option and the highest for the compact development option, both in the London and Newcastle metropolitan regions. Planned development ranked second.
The compact development option scored best in the Cambridge sub-region, while the planned development option was the highest cost. The dispersed option ranked second. The researchers attributed the better result for compact development in the Cambridge area to its uniqueness as a low-density, centrally oriented, high-tech, university community and further noted that densification could “reduce its attractiveness over the longer term.”
Smart Growth Claims: Setting the Record Straight
Based upon their research and review of the literature, the authors proceed to undermine some of smart growth’s most sacred foundations.
Smart Growth Claim: Smart growth has little or no impact on house prices:
Echenique et al: “…restrictions on the supply of development land have led to property price increases, penalizing city dwellers by leading to less dwelling space…”
Smart Growth Claim: Smart growth increases housing choice:
Echenique et al: “One downside of this policy is a substantial reduction in choice of dwelling types, with new dwellings being mainly apartments.”
Smart Growth Claim: Smart growth does not increase traffic congestion:
Echenique et al: The authors cite research indicating that high average density is the main cause of highway congestion in Los Angeles. They also cite Reid Ewing (University of Utah) and Robert Cervero (University of California) who reviewed studies of household travel behavior finding that a doubling of density would lead to only a 5 percent reduction per person, or an increase of 90 percent in travel (Note 1). The authors add: “The obvious conclusion is that an increase in density will increase traffic congestion.”
Smart Growth Claim: Smart growth reduces air pollution:
Echenique et al: “It can also increase the overall respiratory disease burden as exposure to traffic emissions is increased.
Smart Growth Claim: “Empty nesters” (aging households with no offspring at home) will seek smaller houses in the urban core:
Echenique et al: “There is, however, no substantial evidence that older couples leave their spacious houses and gardens…”
Smart Growth Claim: Smart growth improves the jobs-housing balance.
Echenique et al: “One of the main arguments for the dispersed city is that there is no longer a single center where most jobs and services occur. Urban areas, rather, exhibit a dispersed and often polycentric structure, bringing jobs and services closer to residents with a more complex movement pattern not readily served by public transport.
The authors suggest the following “takeaway:”
“Urban form policies can have important impacts on local environmental quality, economy, crowding, and social equity, but their influence on energy consumption and land use is very modest; compact development should not automatically be associated with the preferred spatial growth strategy.”
Thus, the Echenique et research contradicts the thesis that compact development or smart growth should replace (make illegal) other regulatory regimes, including the more liberal dispersed pattern.
“Smart growth principles should not unquestioningly promote increasing levels of compaction on the basis of reducing energy consumption without also considering its potential negative consequences. In many cases, the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.”
The British research is an important step toward focusing urban policies on objectives, rather than means. Cities are economic organisms. They have increased their share of the population 10 fold in just two centuries and been pivotal to unprecedented economic growth and affluence. People moved to the cities for economic opportunity, not to sample particular urban forms. Cities best serve their principal purpose and their residents best when they encourage economic growth. The fundamental objective is to maximize the discretionary income of residents, and this can be done while reasonable environmental standards are maintained. Yet, as Echenique et al and others have shown, smart growth tends to retard economic growth. In an age of teetering national economies, failing pension funds and the most uncertain fiscal environment in at least 80 years, the world needs cities to be unleashed for the economic growth. Urban policies that ignore economics need to be replaced with wholistic approaches strongly focused on the key reason that cities exist: to enrich their citizens.
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.”
Note 1: Calculation: According to the research, doubling the density of an area reduces vehicle travel per capita by 5 percent. With 200 percent of the previous population (double the density), vehicle travel would be increased 90 percent (200% [x] 95% [=] 190%).
DENSITY IS NOT THE ISSUE: THE URBAN SCALING RESEARCH
by Wendell Cox, 07/30/2012 in newgeography.com
The “urban scaling” research of Geoffrey West, Luis Bettencourt, Jose Lobo, Deborah Strumsky, Dirk Helbing and Christian Kuhnert on cities has attracted considerable attention (references below). They have provided strong quantitative evidence, based upon voluminous econometric analysis that cities tend to become more efficient as they grow in population.
Specifically, West, a theoretical physicist, and his team show that measures such as gross domestic product per capita and income per capita rise, on average, 15 percent with each doubling of city population. They draw parallels with the animal kingdom, noting that larger animals tend to be more efficient than smaller ones, and comparing elephants, efficient because of their size, to cities.
This is all very attractive, especially the elephant analogy, which appropriately suggests that cities are organisms.
The Urban Organism
Yet the research has been widely reported to suggest that density as opposed to size is the key to urban productivity. West et al look at cities as “integrated economic and social units,” at the “level of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs); in the European Union, larger urban zones (LUZs); and in China, urban administrative units.” This is the economic, or functional manifestation of the urban organism (the urban area, the area of continuous urbanization, is the physical manifestation). In so doing, West, et al demonstrate a familiarity with urban geography that is all too rare, even among analysts who have studied cities for far longer.
The key issue here is what constitutes a “city”. New York is a good, example, as headquarters to the national media, a world class city and as urban as it gets in the United States. But the New York metropolitan area, the “integrated economic and social unit” is not Manhattan or even five boroughs. It stretches from a bit west of Blooming Grove Township, in Pike County 25 miles west of Port Jervis, a city 90 miles from Manhattan located in western Orange County, NY, to Montauk Point in Suffolk County and from north of West Point, in Putnam County to Egg Harbor Township, in Ocean County, New Jersey (that’s nearly 30 miles south of Toms River). Suffice it to say most of this vast region is not dense at all.
Yet, some analysts have characterized the West, et al research as being about higher densities, Richard Florida wrote in The Wall Street Journal:
Researchers at the Santa Fe Institute have been able to demonstrate that bigger, denser cities literally speed up the metabolism of daily life.
That’s only half right. The research was about city size, not density, as the authors indicate (below).
All too typical of the way that suburbanized America is disparaged by the media, Jonah Lehrer, of The New York Times sputtered that:
In recent decades, though, many of the fastest-growing cities in America, like Phoenix and Riverside, Calif., have given us a very different urban model. These places have traded away public spaces for affordable single-family homes, attracting working-class families who want their own white picket fences.
In reality, the kind of suburbs found in Phoenix and Riverside-San Bernardino will be found surrounding every one of the nation’s core cities, including New York, an urban area that covers more land area than any urban area in the world at 3,450 square miles (8,935 square kilometers), according to the Census Bureau. That’s twice the expanse of the Los Angeles urban area. Granted, New York’s Hudson Valley suburbs are greener and more affluent than most in Phoenix, but their population density is nearly the same. Moreover, neither Phoenix nor New York (think Staten Island or much of Long Island) should be ashamed of attracting “working class families who want their own white picket fences.” Why demean aspiration?
Urban blogger James Withow refers to their “remarkable findings” that “raise interesting policy issues on density.” Another analyst wrote “West offers data that shows cities create economies of scale that suburbs and small towns cannot match.” This is patently absurd since, as noted above, West did not study any part of the urban organism below the metropolitan area. There was no attempt to make a distinction between the productivity of say, Manhattan or Brooklyn, to White Plains or even Blooming Spring Township. No core city or suburb is an “integrated economic and social unit.”
West et al on Density
Indeed, West et al make it very clear that their findings have nothing to do with urban population density. They tested for correlations population growth and income, patents and violent crimes, and found “no significant trend exists between residuals for income, patents and violent crime and population growth or density.” They further note their equations showed an “R2 consistent with zero” (in every day English, that means they found no relationship between density and the other variables).
This conclusion was correct, though comparing metropolitan area densities is less than ideal. Just to check, we reran the equations with urban density data and found that this approach too produced an “R2 consistent with zero,” not only for income, patents and violent crimes, but also gross metropolitan product.
West et al pointed out that:
The shape of the city in space, including for example its residential density, matter much less than (and are mostly accounted for by) population size in predicting indicators of urban performance. Said more explicitly, whether a city looks more like New York or Boston or instead like Los Angeles or Atlanta has a vanishing effect in predicting its socio-economic performance. (emphasis by author)
In other words, the same improvement in urban performance would be predicted from doubling the population of Atlanta, with an urban density of 1,700 per square mile (700 per square kilometer) as in New York, with more than three times Atlanta’s density or Los Angeles’ with more than four (Los Angeles is highest density large urban area in the United States).
It turns out – counter the misunderstandings of some urbanists – that higher or lower density simply does not matter according to the West, et al research.
It’s About Density Thresholds and Efficient Labor Markets
Cities (integrated economic and social units) are created by reaching urban density thresholds. They tend to become more productive as they grow, so long as they are not too large to function as a labor market. Density doesn’t matter particularly. Indeed, the general tendency is for cities to become more dispersed (less dense) as they grow, as indicated by longer term data in the US, Canada and around the world.
For example, the Seattle and Houston urban areas have population densities much lower than those of Paris, London, Hong Kong and even Los Angeles – yet they still rank higher among the most productive metropolitan areas in the world, according to the Brookings Institution Global Metropolitan Monitor 2011. Brookings rates Hartford as the most productive metropolitan area in the world, yet its urban population density is nearly as low as Atlanta’s.
Finally, the Brookings list excludes the world’s most dense major city, Dhaka. That’s because the economic output of its 15 million people is insufficient to make a list that includes cities one-tenth its size. Dhaka combines the highest population density in the world with perhaps the lowest per capita economic output of any megacity in the world.
Allowing Organisms to Grow
As West et al suggests, cities, like elephants, are organisms. Both expand (dare we say “sprawl”) as they grow. This should be cause for concern, given planning dictates that would restrain urban organism, such as urban growth boundaries. These restraints are akin to depriving a large mammal of sufficient space to roam and feed. That’s no way to treat a productive organism, or a great city.
Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities
Urban Scaling and Its Deviations: Revealing the Structure of Wealth, Innovation and Crime across Cities
2010 US Urban Area Data
May 10th, 2013
COST Commentary: The recent Denver light rail articles below are among many posted on this site which underscore the massive failure of rail transit to deliver on its promises to serve communities by cost-effectively reducing congestion and providing increased mobility for citizens. As described for light rail, here, and the two previous postings regarding commuter rail and streetcars; huge cost overruns and reduced ridership provide unacceptable cost-effectiveness which siphons limited transportation funds, degrading overall transit and total transportation. This results in lower quality of life in general with disproportionately negative impacts on low income citizens.
As described below, a major shortcoming in the vast majority of train transit systems is the failure to start with a clear definition of the problem being addressed and thoroughly evaluating all alternatives. Rail systems frequently start with the foregone conclusion that ‘rail transit’ is the answer to an ill-defined problem. This is often heavily influenced by those having major conflicts with their self-interest such as employment and/or their ideology.
Austin finds itself in the position of pursuing Urban Rail, as it did Commuter Rail, without the benefit of objective alternatives analyses. The purpose of the Transit Working Group [Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) committee], comprised of local leaders, starts with the following:
“As a committee of CAMPO, the Transit Working Group will evaluate and provide input toward a regional high capacity transit plan for Central Texas and explore how its various components work as a system to fulfill the region’s transportation and future growth needs.
Providing a regional high capacity transit system has been a key goal for Central Texas for decades.” ———————————-
These statements clearly indicate advanced decisions regarding ‘high capacity mass transit’ (aka trains) as the “solution.” The preponderance of the Transit Working Group (TWG) agenda items are about trains and train planning.
The facts that train transit systems have proven they are not cost effective, will not reduce congestion and will lower the quality of life of the vast majority of citizens is rarely a subject of these TWG agendas.
Below is a brief lead-in note by Dennis Polhill, P.E., Senior Fellow, Independence Institute of Denver, followed by two articles from The Denver Post. The First article is based on a “No” answer to the title’s question and the second is based on a “Yes” answer.
Hi Transportation Professionals,
Transportation scholars and investigators, O’Toole and Schwartz, offer below more information and true reporting in this column than the Denver Post has done in its many cheerleading articles trumpeting the perceived benefits of light rail.
The pro LRT column and reader comments are also supplied for your reading enjoyment further down this email message. The pro column, of course, continues to claim a traffic reduction benefit. Now that the West line is open, we will soon be able to see what the traffic counts reveal. If it is a negative number it will be a very expensive lesson.
Dennis Polhill, P.E., Senior Fellow
On Friday, RTD opened its new West light rail line, the first corridor completed under the metro-wide FasTracks commuter rail project. (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)
Editor’s note: The authors (below) are responding to the following question: “The West Line from Denver to Golden, which is the first of six rail lines approved by voters in the FasTracks vote of 2004, opened Friday. Given financial problems and delays for other lines, has FasTracks been a worthwhile investment?”
Has RTD’s FasTracks been worth it? No Posted: 04/28/2013 12:01:00 AM MDT
By Randal O’Toole and Brian T. Schwartz ,denverpost.com, April 28, 2013
With great fanfare, RTD opened its West Rail Line for business on Friday. This light-rail line was a boondoggle when it was first planned in 1997. It’s even worse today.
Last year, RTD expected the project to cost $709 million. Surely officials will brag about being “under budget,” as the final actual cost was $707 million. But in 1997, RTD estimated a total cost of just $250 million, or about $350 million in today’s dollars. So the line actually cost more than twice the original projections.
Moreover, RTD’s predictions of how many riders the West Rail Line will carry — and therefore how much congestion it will relieve — have greatly declined. In 2003, RTD predicted 29,100 west line riders per weekday in its first year of operation. Now, it predicts just 19,300. If the train carries 19,400 riders, RTD will likely claim it exceeded expectations when it actually fell one-third short.
Even that level of ridership will be achieved because RTD is canceling six express bus routes, herding riders to the slower and more expensive train. Daily commute times for some riders will increase by 40 minutes or more, RTD board member Natalie Menten told us. “I am getting a ton of calls and e-mails complaining about elimination or reduction. One person alone sent me a scanned petition with about 50 rider signatures from just one route,” Menten said. Many riders “stated they’ll just drive instead of enduring the extra hours they face away from home or family.”
Back in 1997, RTD compared light rail with bus rapid transit (BRT) on high-occupancy vehicle lanes on U.S. Highway 6. It found the bus was 88 percent as effective at reducing congestion, and for half the cost. Notably, the only BRT line that RTD included in its 2004 FasTracks plan has had the smallest cost escalations of any FasTracks route. That means that, for about the same price as RTD thought the West Rail Line would cost, it could have added BRT on both U.S. 6 and Interstate 70, relieving almost twice as much congestion for twice as many people. BRT was much more cost-effective than rail, yet RTD chose the more expensive alternative.
With double the construction costs and only two-thirds of the riders, the West Rail Line is clearly far less cost effective at relieving congestion than originally claimed. In fact, it may not relieve congestion at all. The boondoggle of 1997 has turned into the travesty of 2013.
Every transit agency that builds new rail lines eventually hits a financial wall that forces service cuts, thereby harming the transit riders it is supposed to serve. Atlanta hit the wall in 1985. Since then, the region’s population has nearly tripled, but transit ridership has fallen 16 percent.
San Jose hit the wall in 2001, cutting service by 25 percent and losing more than a quarter of its riders. Portland’s transit district experienced the same effect last year, cutting service by 12 percent and predicting further cuts of as much as 70 percent will be needed to meet its financial obligations.
There are different reasons for hitting the wall, but one cause is that rail lines must be expensively rebuilt about every 30 years. A recent example is the Metrorail system in Washington, D.C. Lacking funds to maintain the system, its rail lines have steadily deteriorated, leading to a 2009 crash that killed nine people. In 2010, Federal Transit Administration head Peter Rogoff chastised transit agencies for planning new rail lines when they couldn’t maintain current ones.
RTD will hit its financial wall sometime in the next 10 or 12 years. When it does, the West line and other rail lines will be an even greater cost burden than they are today. Taxpayers, transit riders, and motorists will all rue the day that RTD built its first light-rail line.
Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and director of the Independence Institute’s Transportation Policy Center. Brian T. Schwartz is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute.
Has RTD’s FasTracks been worth it? Yes
By Phil Washington , General Manager of Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), denverpost.com, April 28, 2013
When voters of the Denver metro area approved the Regional Transportation District’s FasTracks program in 2004, they saw the benefits of investing more of their tax dollars to expand the region’s transit system. The public knew what they were doing when they gave RTD the go-ahead to build out 122 miles of new light rail and commuter rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, new park-n-Rides, and redevelop Denver Union Station into a multimodal transportation hub for the region. They knew we needed more transit options to accommodate future growth, the aging population, younger generations who don’t want to or cannot drive, as well as the daily commuter who’s tired of being stuck in traffic.
Now that the planning, engineering and construction are complete, RTD is opening the first FasTracks rail line — the West Rail Line — known as the W Line. RTD will welcome more than 20,000 passengers per day aboard the new W Line, eight months ahead of the original schedule and within the adopted budget. Riders will travel the 12.1-mile light rail line from the Jefferson County Government Center to Denver Union Station.
The W Line is a regional achievement. It’s the result of strong cooperation between RTD, its contractors, four local governments, federal and state officials, neighborhoods, schools, businesses and organizations. Each of these entities committed to this collaboration because they believe in expanding our transportation alternatives, reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, fostering development opportunities, creating careers, and enhancing the overall quality of life.
Currently, RTD has 81 miles of rail and bus rapid transit in or soon-to-begin construction, and has invested $4.7 billion across the region so far. Specific to the West Line, nearly $300 million was injected into the local economy with more than 550 businesses involved in building the West Line, all during tough economic times. Economists estimate that every dollar invested in transit infrastructure translates into $4 injected into the local economy over a 20-year period. This is a wise investment, considering the development that is already springing up along the corridor.
It is a benefit for the returning military veteran who is trying to get to an appointment at the VA Hospital, or the disabled citizen who cannot drive and needs a mobility option, or to the student who cannot afford a car and depends on transit. We’re talking about real benefits here, far beyond the cost to plan, design and build the W Line. This is infrastructure that will be used for the next 100 years by our children and their children.
All great infrastructure projects endured challenges during their build-outs. The leaders that envisioned great national projects like the Transcontinental Railroad and the Interstate Highway System — and great regional projects like Denver International Airport, the T-REX project and Coors Field — were not deterred by naysayers. I’m happy they stayed the course and foresaw the endgame benefit.
As you travel across the metro area, you’ll see construction on other FasTracks projects, too, at Denver Union Station; the East Line to the airport; the Gold Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge; the first segment of the Northwest Rail Line to south Westminster; the I-225 Line through Aurora; and the U.S. 36 Express Lanes partnership between RTD and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
When the public gave RTD the mandate to move ahead with FasTracks, it was a strong statement that showed the continuing visionary nature of our region. It’s our collective foresight, regional cooperation, and dogged pursuit of excellence that makes us the envy of many other major cities.
So, when you hop on board the West Rail Line, take pride that we, as a region, had a vision that is now becoming reality.
Phil Washington is general manager of the Regional Transportation District.
May 7th, 2013
COST Commentary: There is a tidal wave of many stories, articles, studies and real experiences, in numerous cities, which daily reveal and confirm rail transit, for cities such as Austin, is not effective and is a horribly wasteful expenditure of taxpayer funds. City after city has experienced major cost overruns and significantly less ridership than projected or required to improve transportation, congestion and quality of life.
The article below is about Atlanta’s Commuter rail but it reflects many of the failings of rail transit systems in general. The posting immediately prior to this is regarding rail streetcars which have become a recent fad for a number of cities. No city has proven a streetcar’s value but all have experienced their high costs and low ridership.
Austin’s Urban Rail is described as a cross between light rail and streetcars. The Austin Urban Rail vision seems to be drifting on an ever changing sea of purpose, design, route, funding and justification. It seems to have all the disadvantages of rail systems in general and none of the sparse advantages of any of them.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Tuesdy, May 7, 3013
By Wendell Cox
The fiscal challenges facing metropolitan Atlanta and the nation are clear. Tax funding needs to be as prudently spent as money in a household budget. The proposed commuter rail system would be a classic example of the opposite.
The proposed commuter rail plan would add virtually nothing to the metropolitan economy, and would do so at great cost. Seven lines would converge on downtown Atlanta. Travel times would not be quick. Macon line commuters would spend up to 4 hours 20 minutes on the train, and Athens line commuters up to 3 1/2 hours each day. The Senoia line would have the shortest maximum commute time, at nearly two hours.
In a metropolitan area where round-trip commuting averages one hour commuting each day, so few riders would be attracted that there would be no reduction in traffic congestion.
A report for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in 2007 indicated that of the region’s nearly 2.5 million commuters, barely 20,000 people (projected ridership was about 40,000 daily boardings) would ride the trains each day.
Updating the cost estimates to 2011 dollars and applying federal discounting standards, the total annual subsidy would be more than $13,000 per rider, assuming a very optimistic 40 percent of the operating costs would be paid by passenger fares. The average Atlanta area household spends about this much on housing each year. The taxpayer subsidy could be even higher if the typical cost overrun and overly optimistic patronage projections documented by the leading international research were to occur.
The Atlanta region has opened more high-capacity rapid transit (MARTA) over the past 35 years than any metropolitan area besides Washington, D.C. Yet, only 3 percent of the region’s commuters use transit, and most of them use buses. This is not because transit is undesirable. It is rather because transit does not and cannot go where people need to go in a time that is competitive with the automobile.
Transit’s commuting impact is largely limited to downtown, which with Midtown is less than 10 percent of employment in the metropolitan area. Less than 4 percent of the metropolitan area’s jobs can be reached by transit in 45 minutes by the average employee, according to Brookings Institution research. Commuter rail wouldn’t change that.
Atlanta relies on principally cars, like every other major American and Western European metropolitan areas. Nowhere has there been a material transfer of automobile demand to transit, no matter how much rail is built. Traffic congestion can only be alleviated by providing sufficient capacity for the rapid door-to-door travel people require.
This is a problem in Atlanta with its sparse freeway coverage and less than robust arterial street
system, a factor covered in my Jan. 17, 2010 Atlanta Journal-Constitution commentary (http://bit.ly/100djwu). The expanding HOT lane program is a step in the right direction, though there is much more to do.
Traffic congestion can be reduced, but only if available funding is used to reduce travel delay the most per million or billion dollars of spending. Slow trains cannot compete on a rational basis.
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm. He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission
May 7th, 2013
COST Commentary: This is another excellent paper by Randal O’Toole regarding the ineffectiveness of rail transit systems. While it is directed to a proposed streetcar in San Antonio, the article’s major points are applicable to most rail transit systems, specifically in cities similar to San Antonio or Austin. Austin’s proposed Urban Rail is a prime example of rail systems which have experienced major failings to perform as projected. Austin defines Urban Rail as a cross between light rail and a streetcar. Urban rail is much more expensive that a streetcar and almost as slow as a streetcar’s average of 8 mph.
Many cities which were early implementers of new rail transit systems (light rail, streetcar and urban rail), starting in the early 1980’s, have proven their ineffectiveness in addressing today’s transportation needs. These cities have also shown that rail transit’s high costs reduced the availability of limited transportation funds to support transit and roadway projects which can improve citizens’ overall mobility.
Most of the cities which were early implementers of new rail transit are in serious transportation and transit financial difficulty and many are projecting major transit cut-backs and increased fares. The systems have cost more and produced less revenue than projected. Many rail systems are deteriorating, reaching their operating life replacement time and have no identified source of funding. The cities, states and federal government do not have funding to support the many tens of billions of dollars needed for replacement. Meanwhile, most cities, states and the federal government are woefully deficient in upgrading roadway capacities to meet the demands of growing populations who overwhelmingly choose private vehicle transportation as the only reasonable way to meet their daily needs.
Prior, comprehensive streetcar reports by Randal O’Toole can be found: 1) on this site at: “Austin, don’t ignore warning: The Great Streetcar Conspiracy.” and 2) “The Streetcar Scam“ can be found on CATO’s site.
This report is a Policy Brief of The Heartland Institute
by Randal O’Toole*, November 2012
The Executive Summary and the Conclusion of this comprehensive, 24 page brief are below and the full brief can be found on The Heartland Institute web site.
*Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow of the Cato Institute. For a more complete bio, see page 25 of the full report.
Plans to build streetcar lines in San Antonio are based on several critical fallacies, including claims that streetcars are superior to buses in their ability to attract riders and that streetcars promote economic development. In fact, streetcars are slower, less flexible, less capable of moving large numbers of people, and far more expensive than buses. The biggest argument for streetcars is that they promote economic development. This is mainly based on the experience in Portland, where officials claim a streetcar generated billions of dollars of economic development. In fact, that development was attracted by roughly a billion dollars worth of tax breaks, tax-increment financing, and other local subsidies to developers.
In Northwest Portland, the streetcar serves two neighborhoods of roughly equal size, in one of which developers received hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies while the other received none other than the streetcar. According to the city’s own tally, the first neighborhood received more than 75 times as much investment as the second. Clearly, it was the subsidies, not the streetcar, that attracted the new development. City officials who think a streetcar alone will generate new development have been misled.
What streetcars do is impose huge costs on taxpayers. Cities with streetcar lines spend three to four times as much to operate a streetcar one mile as they spend on buses. Far from moving large numbers of people, most streetcars actually carry fewer people, on average, than the average buses in those cities, and the cost of moving one person one mile is two to seven times greater by streetcar than by bus.
Though streetcar advocates like to call streetcars “high-capacity transit,” they are actually one of the lowest-capacity forms of transit available. So-called modern streetcars can move only about 2,000 people per hour, most of them standing. By comparison, standard 40-foot buses can move well over 6,000 people per hour through city streets, all of them comfortably seated. Double-decker buses are now available that can double this throughput without occupying any more street space.
Claims that streetcars have some kind of a “rail advantage” that attracts travelers who won’t ride a bus are purely hypothetical. If there are people so snobbish that they will ride public transit vehicles only if those vehicles are on rails, taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to subsidize them.
As a practical matter, transit ridership is more sensitive to frequency, speed, and convenience than to whether tires are made of rubber or steel, and buses can operate faster, more frequently, and to more destinations than streetcars. So it is no wonder that, of seven cities with streetcars in the United States, the only two where streetcars attract more riders per vehicle mile than buses can do so only because they offer most or all streetcar rides for free to the riders.
Ridership projections for San Antonio streetcars assume the line would attract the average number of riders per mile carried by streetcars in the seven other American cities that have them. But the projections also assume streetcar fares would cover 15 percent of operating costs. The projections ignored the fact that most of the streetcar lines that attract large numbers of riders charge no fares, and that farebox revenues cover only 8 percent of the costs of operating the seven existing streetcar lines.
Streetcars don’t even have the virtue of saving energy or reducing air pollution. The average streetcar line today uses twice as much energy to move someone one passenger mile as the average car. In places such as Texas, where a major portion of the electricity used to power streetcars comes from burning fossil fuels, the streetcars end up causing more pollution per passenger mile than cars.
Streetcars are an obsolete technology that does not belong in modern cities. They do not promote mobility; they do not promote economic development; they do not protect the environment. The only thing they do that buses can’t do better is cost lots of money. San Antonio should reject the idea of building a streetcar line.
Streetcar advocates who think new streetcar lines will be anything other than a subsidy to contractors and a few property owners (who will also benefit from other TIF subsidies) are fooling themselves. Slow speeds, limited numbers of seats, and inflexibility make streetcars inferior to buses in every respect except in their ability to consume large amounts of taxpayer money.
Local government officials who believe that streetcars alone will revitalize blighted parts of their urban areas have been deceived. Cities with a billion dollars or so to burn could spend $100 million on a streetcar line, support it with $900 million in other subsidies to developers, and still fail to get the success of Portland’s Pearl District if the area is not already supported by a variety of attractive restaurants and shops.
Streetcars are a long-obsolete technology. Cities that wish to revitalize neighborhoods would do better to invest in modern transportation, including repairing their streets, installing the latest traffic signal coordination systems, and improving safety for all travelers, than to build eight-mile-per-hour rail lines in the hope of attracting a few professionals to move into downtown residences.