Should the U.S. spend $1 trillion on new infrastructure?

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» Donald Trump wants to make a big splash by supporting a huge new infrastructure bill. But we don’t want to end up with the construction of massive new highways from coast to coast.

After six years of proposals for significant new transportation funding being proposed by President Obama, and then being shot down immediately by intransigent Republican Congresspeople, infrastructure is suddenly the talk of Washington. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton proposed major infrastructure packages during the campaign, and the Trump transition team includes a proposal for transportation investment as one of its top priorities. As I’ll describe below, this proposal would likely primarily fund transportation projects that exacerbate climate change and encourage exurban sprawl.

We must remember that the primary goal of transit advocates should not be to simply get projects built. It should be to create more livable, less carbon-intensive cities by shifting the country’s transportation

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On the ballot 2016

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» If passed, referenda in dozens of cities could expand funding for transportation across America.

This year’s U.S. election has overwhelmingly focused on the dynamics between the two presidential candidates, and for good reason: As I documented earlier this year, the policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on infrastructure are substantial. Control of the presidency and the U.S. Congress could dramatically alter the availability of funds for public transportation and active transportation projects; it is worth emphasizing that the Republican Party has repeatedly argued for the elimination of federal funding for transit, bike, and pedestrian programs while maintaining federal support for highways. At the state level, party control matters for transit as well; North Carolina’s GOP, for example, cut off most funding for light rail last year through a legislative maneuver.

But more is at stake, thanks to dozens of referenda offering voters the opportunity to support billions of dollars in new expenditures on public transportation. The

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Both parties claim support for investing in infrastructure. But how will they do it?

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» The Republican Party, despite its claims about the importance of infrastructure—and big promises from Donald Trump—pushes a more limited federal role. Democrats, in line with Hillary Clinton, advocate large new investments.

During an election year where trade and terrorism have taken center stage, it’s hardly surprising issues related to transportation have played a limited role in the national discussion about how to move the U.S. forward. Some have noted that urban policy has largely been ignored, despite the fact that many American cities continue to face considerable problems related to public investment, poverty, and economic growth.

Yet the reality is that the Democratic and Republican parties and their respective candidates for the presidency, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have laid out positions on the future of the nation’s transportation system through party platforms, candidate issue memos, and public statements. The approval of the two parties’ platforms over the past two

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Frequent service, not escalator access, is what attracts transit users

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» Boston’s Green Line extension, bloated after years of planning, gets slimmed down. A lesson for other cities. 

Given how reliant the people of New York City are on their Subway, an outsider just looking at ridership data might conclude that the system must be paved with gold, or at least its stations must be decent to look at. After all, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the comfort of a transit system plays an essential role in encouraging people to abandon their cars and get on the train or bus. That’s why, some would argue, it’s so important to put amenities like USB charging and wifi into transit vehicles.

Yet anyone who has ever ridden the Subway knows first hand that its success has nothing to do with aesthetics or access to luxury amenities. Stations are hardly in good shape, trains are packed, and cell service is spotty

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Which riders matter?

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» Given the need to prioritize transportation investments, whose mobility needs are most important?

In an article earlier this month, I described the Seattle region’s draft proposal to spend $50 billion over the next twenty-five years on a massive transit expansion program. In that article, I compared the cost of building and operating new transit projects with the expected number of riders each proposed line would carry, concluding that the region was choosing projects that were relatively ineffective from the perspective of maximizing their benefit-cost ratios.

There is no formula that can definitively tell us whether a project is a good or bad one, or how it stacks up against other potential investments.

What I didn’t delve into was the fact that that metric—like any metric—was founded on an assumption that not only biased my conclusions, but also which was impossible to avoid, even if altered to reflect a different premise.

What I assumed

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The Site / The Fight

  • by Yonah Freemark
  • Twitter: @yfreemark
  • yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com
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