Weekend Links

» This week’s big news. Open thread in the comments.

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On The Transport Politic:

Making existing transit work better

  • Reinforcing the sense that the top priority for transit systems around the country is getting to a state of good repair, Chicago announces that it has a $24 billion backlog to get its elevated, commuter, and bus lines back in order.
  • After an evaluation, Charlotte comes to the conclusion that it loses a total of $300 a day to fare beaters on its light rail system, hardly making a dent in its overall budget. In Paris, turnstile-jumpers form an informal insurance society to pay back tickets.
  • Berliners, convinced that the stairs into the U-Bahn are just too boring, opt to build a slide down into the subway.

Gearing up for rail

  • Kansas City, having tried repeatedly to fund a light rail line, turns increasingly towards commuter rail and hopes to get a federal commitment.
  • Paresh Dave writes an intriguing article on the forces at play in the construction of Los Angeles’ Expo light rail line. Meanwhile, California voters will consider a measure this fall that will prevent the state government from removing transit funding.
  • Maryland announces that it will prioritize development around transit stations through subsidies and incentives.

Fighting for speed

  • The United Kingdom, whose newly conservative government is demanding massive reductions in public sector spending, plans to sell off the rights to High-Speed 1, which terminates into London’s St. Pancras International (pictured above) after a trip northwest from the Channel Tunnel.
  • Texas politicians assemble to discuss the potential for implementing a “T-Bone”-shaped high-speed rail line, despite the state government’s manifest unwillingness to put any local money into the project.
  • California High-Speed Rail Blog expounds on the inevitability of fast train service to Las Vegas. Meanwhile, some California legislators promote a bill that would require the state’s high-speed rail project to judge potential operators based on their involvement in the Holocaust — a policy that could affect France’s SNCF, Italy’s Trenitalia, Spain’s Renfe, Germany’s Deutsche Bahn…

Gone…

  • When it was completed in 2005, the SAFETEA-LU transportation bill included billions of dollars in Congressionally approved earmarks for transportation projects around the nation. Five years later, some of that money went unused. At the top of the list: North Carolina’s Triangle, which missed out on $20 million for regional rail; Rochester, which was given $10 million for a transit center; and Michigan, which got $5 million to help build a commuter rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Image above: Eurostar trains at London’s St. Pancras International, the terminus of High-Speed 1, by Flickr user slideshow bob (cc)

12 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Andrew D. Smith

    I would be interested in seeing more discussion on this blog as to what conditions need to exist for public transit to “work,” and I mean that in two senses.

    First, what combination of factors — population density, station proximity, average transport speeds, vehicle frequency, parking costs, etc. — do you need (in the US) to see 20 percent of trips taken by public transit? 50 percent? 80 percent?

    Second, what combination of factors do you need for a city’s public transit system to work so well that people will consistently report higher satisfaction with their transportation system than people in well-designed suburban areas with adequate infrastructure, ample free parking, etc.?

    The first question is interesting to me because I’m always puzzled by the coverage of public transit expansion in places like Dallas or Ann Arbor, where my gut (but no more scientific information I know of) tells me that no transit initiative will ever dent car usage. That (very unscientific) gut feeling tells me that transit will never be a big transportation factor except where serious population density — say over 25k people per square mile — makes car usage really unpleasant. And such places are almost non-existent in the US and zoning laws make it nearly impossible to create any more of them. But I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

    The second, I assume, is a theoretical question because there is certainly no American city with public transit that matches the speed and convenience of the car in a functional suburb, and I’ve yet to find one abroad that can match the power of a well-designed and properly functioning auto system. Here, too, I would suspect that much density is needed, along with a dedication to efficiency and excellence that I have never seen in a public operation anywhere.

    • There’s also the question of what systems can work with 5% of trips, to be sure that a seed network is in place when the peak oil stuff hits the fan.

    • First, let’s start with the 25,000/mi^2 figure. While average for New York and many San Francisco neighborhoods, it’s very high by the standards of such transit meccas as Zurich and Vienna.

      Second, another factor you need to add to your list is the quality of planning, as reflected in transit costs and convenience of use. All else being equal, a system that cost $5,000/rider will be more successful than a system that cost $20,000/rider, because it will be able to expand more or charge lower fares. A network is also going to be more successful if its transfers are timed and cross-platform than if they’re erratic.

      Beyond that, I don’t know. There are low-density places with relatively high transit use, for example Calgary. But Calgary decided not to build freeway networks to compete with its light rail, and restricted downtown parking, driving parking costs higher than anywhere else in North America other than Manhattan.

      • Adirondacker12800

        driving parking costs higher than anywhere else in North America other than Manhattan.

        I found that hard to believe so I googled “Calgary Parking Rates” The parking authority posts it’s rates. 25 dollar maximum at the priciest long term lot. Ya can spend 20 bucks parking in downtown Newark if you pick the wrong lot. 25 in DC, Philadelphia or Chicago is relatively easy to do. ( I’ve seen lots in Chicago where it’s more or less a 25 dollar minimum ) I didn’t bother to go look up today’s exchange rate.

    • Wad

      Andrew, you can’t premise your argument that something becomes viable only when it attains the impossible.

      You can’t goose population density to the heights of 25,000 people per square mile in order to justify a transit project. In order for population density to reach the 25,000 mark, you need astronomical land prices.

      Also, population density by itself isn’t as causal as most people assume.

      High population density doesn’t compel transit use alone. Service supply matters a great deal. If you had a city with 12,500/mile^2 and a general transit service grid with 10 minute service, it would have greater ridership that a 25,000/mile^2 city with basic 20 minute service.

      Don’t forget, transit riders have a preference for any improvement in service. A higher frequency line is bound to attract more riders than a lower frequency one.

      It’s comparatively easier for cities to improve their services through supply (add service) than it is through demand (push up density).

    • Woody

      Andrew has “yet to find [a public transit system in the US or] abroad that can match the power of a well-designed and properly functioning auto system.”

      We can be sure that Andrew drives. Otherwise he might consider the massive, resounding failure of the auto system in every village, town, and city in America to meet the needs of those unable, or unwilling, to drive.

      When I venture into the NY subways, or even onto a city bus, I see thousands of passengers who might never be able to get around if their only choice was to go by car. Consider the elderly, the infirm and physically challenged including those with sight and hearing problems, students too young to get a license, drunks and mentally ill individuals, and in truly enormous numbers, the poor.

      Because I grew up in small town Texas, and have family and friends in cities and suburbs across that state, I have also encountered various drivers who are outspoken that they don’t give a sh*t if the poor have to walk everywhere, or if they just stay home and die. I’ve also heard the Limbaugh-lovers blathering about personal freedom, when actually they fervently desire to limit such freedom. The desire for conformity in lifestyles is so strong that the police power of the state is regularly called upon to enforce it. And that conformity somehow has as a fundamental piece the use of cars, well, SUVs and pickups much more than cars. Individuals wanting to walk, or ride a bike, or take a bus are looked upon as mentally deficient, if not mentally ill. Naturally the conformists give no value at all to public transit that would serve the poor and the non-conforming, whatever its cost or efficiency.

      And forget about density. Even in the biggest Texas cities, the only people allowed to think of living in an apartment above the 3rd floor are the very rich. But what is O.K. for George H.W. Bush and his ilk is most certainly not permitted under the land use and zoning regs for Texans of modest means. They must, by law, get a job in the city and then they MUST drive until they can afford to buy a house and a lawnmower. Sprawl is not an accident, it is designed, it is mandated. And if you don’t fit in with this powerful system, forget you.

  • BB

    Concerning the California HSR “Holocaust Legislation”

    “That history could chase them across time and country, and there could be a train made by the very same company (that took them to the camps) less than a few miles from their house,”

    As opposed to a car made by the very same company (Volkswagen, Daimler Benz, Porsche) parked in the next door neighbors driveway and completely ubiquitous in every US metropolitan region, including those with the highest Jewish population? And not to mention high-end appliances. I know I should be respectful and sensitive to survivors and remembrance advocates of the worst genocide in recorded history, but come on, this is what members legislature are spending time on?

    • Claude Boucher

      I agree with BB.

      The big question is: who would benefit from this trade barrier? Call me cynical, but I wonder if the assemblyman is using an atrocity of the past century to give a boost to local bidder or contributor.

      Then, what’s next? A “genocide-themed” trade war where companies who participated directly or indirectly in the massacre of American Indians would be disqualified from bidding in Europe?

      • JJ

        Before drawing conclusions I’d say look at their history, they were the only railroad that remained private and transported Jews, at a profit, for the Nazis. After the war they did all manner of things to escape justice, and unlike German firms they weren’t governed by other reparations.

        Second, the bill just asks for information. If they are still the lowest bidder, according to California law, they’ll probably get the contract.

      • Tom

        Oh, believe me, your representatives are spending their time on even sillier stuff. If you’ve ever watched a legislative debate on television, you might just start wondering if maybe Singapore-style democracy might be better.

        A genocide-themed trade war might just break out some day. We’ve already had a Cuba-themed trade war.

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