Congress Finance High-Speed Rail Infrastructure

Ignoring Inaction in Congress, DOT Pushes Through Grants for Intercity Rail

» Congress isn’t able to do much in terms of passing new legislation — but the Department of Transportation hasn’t hesitated to move forward to fund intercity rail projects.

Americans are frustrated with the Congress: Over 80% of the population disapproves of the job the national legislature is doing. And no wonder. With the unemployment situation out of control and the economy still on the skids, this is the time for government action.

All we seem to be getting, however, are repeated demands from Republicans to reduce spending drastically — and meek replies from Democrats worried about upsetting the electorate. President Obama’s Jobs Bill, introduced twenty days ago, would provide a real, albeit too small, stimulus to the economy, specifically through the construction and refurbishment of infrastructure.* But the legislation has yet to be introduced in either house of Congress. Meanwhile, getting any transportation spending approved other than short-term extensions of the previous multi-year bill (which expired 729 days ago) has been impossible thanks to disagreement between the parties and a general reluctance to identify funding sources.

When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives early this year, they promised to fight to eliminate previously approved grants for states across the nation to invest in intercity rail projects. Facing a Democratic Senate, that would not be an easy proposition, but the intense effort to reduce government spending over the past year could have meant the loss of funds already promised to states — but for projects not quite ready for prime time.

In the meantime, the Department of Transportation has been pushing grants out of the federal government’s hands as quickly as possible so that they can not be rescinded.

In September alone, the Federal Railroad Administration has approved hundreds of millions of dollars for intercity rail upgrades nationwide: $149 million for New York State, $116 million for New England, $49 million for Texas, $48 million for North Carolina and Virginia, $35 million for the Northeast Corridor, $31 million for Washington State, and $13 million for Oregon, among others. Earlier this summer, hundreds of millions of dollars were appropriated to California and the Northeast. Unless states turn back the money, unlikely considering that the projects have gotten so far and their pro-rail sponsors, these funds cannot be taken back by Congress.

It’s worth questioning how ready most of these states are to use these funds now that they have them, or how quickly they’ll be able to get construction started. The first high-speed rail grants were announced in January 2010; other than the project to upgrade tracks between Chicago and St. Louis, has any major construction begun?

The DOT, perhaps, wouldn’t be rushing these grants out to the states if it were completely confident that the high-speed and intercity rail funding program were alive and well. Under an Obama Administration and a fully Democratic Congress, that would be likely.

But the Senate came very close a week and a half ago to approving a fiscal year 2012 budget that had no money at all for high-speed rail — and Mr. Obama seemed ready to go along, in the spirit of budget-cutting bipartisanship. The compromise that was eventually reached last week saved $100 million for the mode (a pittance compared to years passed), though even that could face considerable obstacles in the House.

Though Republicans now seem willing to spend a bit more money on transportation than they did a few months back because of an outcry that set in once it became clear that initial plans would reduce funding (and therefore transportation-related jobs) by 30%, their investment strategies would do little to increase the annual federal appropriations now spent on mobility. We are at a standstill, unable to make a big move.

What has been made manifest over the past few months is that President Obama’s efforts to alter American transport policy have been far from universally accepted, that their long-term effect on U.S. mobility is unclear, and that the DOT has been forced to descend into a defensive mode in which it has no choice but to push grants out as quickly as it can for fears that legislators will change their minds mid-stream.

Mr. Obama’s affection for high-speed rail is well-known, and he has included it as an integral element of his transportation plans from the beginning, unlike former President Bill Clinton, who said he cared about intercity rail during the 1992 campaign but then proceeded to forget about it. Yet, possibly because of low approval ratings stemming from other issues, the current Administration has been unable to convince other politicians — especially many Republicans — that such projects are worthy of investment. Mr. Obama’s message, rebooted several times (first as a way to “win the future,” then as part of the Jobs Bill), simply has not come across loud and clear.

These difficulties, along with the GOP-Governor-forced destruction of three marquee projects in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida, has once again reinforced the idea that Americans simply cannot handle the idea of spending government funds on intercity rail — despite the quite positive effects it has produced abroad. The fact that the Congress continues to debate transportation investments in terms of mode, with a certain pot of money reserved for roads, another pot for transit, etc., suggests that few in power have taken seriously the concept that transportation decision-making should be mode-neutral and oriented towards providing the best-possible mobility, economic, and environmental benefits. The fact that future rail investments are predicated on getting specific outlays for that mode is a sad reflection of the way we currently invest in our travel corridors and in our cities;  we seem to be considering mostly vehicles, not the passengers in them.

So the DOT moves forward, articulating a strategy to distribute the funds it does have as quickly as possible. This is not a long-term approach and it is not a sustainable one.

* The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced how Mr. Obama’s Jobs Bill dollars would be distributed: $27 billion for rebuilding roads and bridges; $9 billion for rebuilding transit systems; $5 billion for TIGER-like competitive grants; $4 billion for high-speed rail projects, $3 billion for aviation improvements; and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank.

Image above: Albany-Rensselaer Station, set to receive aid from the Federal Railroad Administration for improvements, from Flickr user mava (cc).

France High-Speed Rail

After 30 Years, TGV Service Prospers Even as its Future is Questioned

» France’s high-speed rail network is more extensive than ever and attracts huge ridership — but the financial viability of new lines raises concerns.

Thursday, France celebrated the 30th anniversary of the opening of the high-speed link between Paris and Lyon by then-President François Mitterand, an occasion that redefined travel in Europe and encouraged countries around the world in invest in faster train service by offering train service at speeds above 150 mph for the first time. SNCF, the public national rail company, celebrated this evening at Paris’ Gare de Lyon, where services first originated.

The distinct orange and blue TGV trains that have rocketed through the French countryside at speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 mph) since 1981 have been extraordinarily successful in attracting travelers away from airlines and even the highways because of the quick journey times they offer between center-cities. And they’re supremely safe: More than 1.7 billion rides have been taken on TGVs, fatality-free. Because of France’s reliance on nuclear plants, the electric-powered service has provided the country a low-carbon travel alternative; when considering alternative routes people would have taken without high-speed service, new routes — including construction and operations — are carbon positive* in the long-term.

Because of a series of investments in new dedicated passenger lines, Paris is now three hours from the Mediterranean, two hours and twenty minutes from London and the German border, and one hour and twenty minutes from Brussels. 2,300 km of new lines already under construction or planned for opening within the next decade (see map at the end of the article) promise significant improvements that will bring Toulouse and the Spanish border within three hours of Paris.

The high cost of new rail lines, however, puts in question how much further expansion the French can afford.

Combined with relatively affordable fares, lower travel times have increased ridership on TGV trains in France to about 100 million passengers a year (141,000 a day), more than one and a half times the population of the country as a whole. Though SNCF’s one billion total annual riders is dwarfed by ridership on DB German rail (1.9 billion), France’s encouragement of the construction of new high-speed lines and SNCF policies that push all riders to fast trains, rather than segregating train speeds by the means of individual travelers, have allowed the company to control 50% of the European high-speed market, compared to 22% for DB, 11% for Spain’s Renfe (which has a longer high-speed rail network), and 10% for Italy’s FS.

83% of French people have ridden TGV trains, similar to the percentage of Americans who have flown and far higher than the percentage of Americans who have ridden Amtrak, high-speed or not (less than a third of them).

From its TGV services, SNCF has made significant profits, which have reached €900 million annually in recent years, much of which has been used to cross-subsidize losses on slower Intercités trains serving smaller cities and TER operations offering regional rail.

But the demands by President Nicolas Sarkozy — who recently saidThe TGV, it’s France” — on the national public rail infrastructure owner RFF to build more high-speed lines has changed the equation. Though new routes are usually partially funded by local, regional, and national governments, TGV offerings have been expected to pay back a portion of construction costs (and the much smaller cost of line maintenance) through fees on track usage. RFF covered 28% of the construction costs of the LGV Rhin-Rhône Branche Est, which will open for service later this year, for instance; those costs will be paid back through track fees eventually passed down to passengers on TGVs.

But debt accumulated to build the lines has reached €29 billion for RFF and €9 billion for SNCF; new lines, at a cost of €16-27 million per kilometer, will increase those sums substantially.

RFF has responded to this increase in debt by significantly increasing track fees, and it plans to do so by 40% between 2008 and 2012 — enough to wipe out SNCF’s margin of profitability on the TGV entirely (though the French government has said it would work to stabilize those charges after 2013). RFF will increase fees on the most popular TGV routes the most.

SNCF has responded by threatening to cancel routes with lower ridership (even though they are profitable if excluding the track fees devoted to construction) and it has said the loss of profitability will make it impossible for it to replace the original 1981 fleet of TGVs before 2020. Fares are increasing at 3.4% annually, twice the rate of inflation, and SNCF plans to charge users more on select routes even as it reduces customer service for others to a low-cost model over the next few years. Competition on international routes running through France, expected to begin later this year, will put another cog in the TGV’s future.

Other solutions, such as public-private partnerships for new routes, may reduce the burden on RFF, but they won’t help much for SNCF or riders because someone will have to pay for construction costs at some point. The new LGV Sud Europe Atlantique, to run from Tours to Bordeaux, will cover 55% of its construction costs through track fees, but the project’s PPP partner’s investment in the project will have to be paid back through higher track fees on trains through the corridor (the private investor will also get to keep all profits from the line). RFF’s 14% share of the costs of this project will have to be covered by riders on other lines paying track fees, since all track fees from this route will go to the investor, not RFF.

The irony of charging more track fees to pay for the construction of new lines is a lower degree of service on existing lines and less train travel, since SNCF must cover capital costs with operations profits and higher fares reduce demand.

Standing in the way is the inherent conflict between SNCF’s interests, which revolve around maximizing passenger revenue, and those of RFF, which are about minimizing debt from infrastructure construction and maintenance. These must be harmonized. SNCF’s President Guillaume Pépy has suggested that the current separation of operations from track ownership is a clunky, inefficient model that does not respond adequately to the needs of the railway. Other solutions, such as Germany’s or Spain’s, in which infrastructure is owned by a division of the national rail company, may be less amenable to future competition in services but may make for a less administratively complex system.

The fundamental question is whether France should continue to build new lines (and increase the debt of agencies like RFF), even if that means putting existing services out of the price range of some riders. The government has chosen to pursue that path, but it may not be a solution that is viable in the long term.

Nonetheless, the TGV remains a model for the rest of the world. SNCF has successfully demonstrated how to extend fast, safe, and environmentally friendly rail services to most of the country at prices that most of the population can afford.

Note: In the map above, which is just of high-speed lines, not all French rail lines, LGV refers to “ligne à grande vitesse,” or high-speed rail line.

* Carbon positive in this case means that the line will produce less carbon than would have status quo alternatives.

Image at top: Two TGV Duplex units linked at Marseille-St. Charles, from Flickr user Dmitri Sumin (cc)

Finance Social Justice

A Note on Transportation Subsidies

» Why do we subsidize transit? Is skewing the market acceptable?

People are armed with powerful tools that often determine quite directly the future of our society: Their wallets. With the flick of a credit card or the passing over of a wad of cash, an individual aids the society as a whole in determining which products are most desired and which services are most needed. This is an incredible tool of the market economy which — though seriously skewed by the influence of powerful economic interests whose primary goal is increasing personal wealth accumulation — allows for the modern world to be pretty efficient in offering people the things they need to survive.

The market’s power to determine what sorts of things to produce and what sorts of things to discard is an important element of a transportation practitioner’s toolkit, as the value individuals confer on mobility as compared to other aspects of their lives should play a role in deciding how much services to provide and where to do so. It would be nonsensical to promote the construction of busways no one wanted to use or buy trains no one needed to ride in, thus we estimate demand and then alter provision of transport based on use.

If the market can and should be used to determine what transportation offerings to provide, why not charge the full cost to provide those offerings to the person demanding mobility and adjust services to adapt to need, instead of subsidizing trains and buses as we have come to do in almost every city around the world? This, in essence, is the argument transportation economists frequently make and it is one that David Levinson of the University of Minnesota repeated this week. “Maybe you want transit,” Levinson writes. “But maybe you would rather have the cash I am spending to provide you subsidized transit service so you can do something else with it. The only way to know what the best allocation of resources is, is to charge for things what they cost.”

In theory, this seems like a valid line of thought. Here’s an example. You have two choices: Take a ride to your city’s most beautiful park for a fare of $2 on your local bus (with the aid of a $2 subsidy chipped in by your local government), or walk to the nearest, less exciting park and buy an ice cream on the way for $3.00. Thinking about the relative merits of the two possibilities, you might determine that the trip to the better park is actually the best deal (since it is cheaper for you), but for the society at large, it’s more expensive. If you were charged the full $4 cost of providing the bus ride to the park, you might think twice and pick the ice cream option instead — which is cheaper for the society as a whole. But the mobility subsidy is providing an inappropriate incentive to do just the opposite and is causing people, as Levinson writes, “To behave inefficiently.”

But we provide subsidies nonetheless, generally because we believe it is important to provide affordable mobility. This is a political and welfare goal shared by most modern societies. Is this a mistaken policy? Would it make more sense to encourage transit providers to be fiscally independent, so that they do not have to rely on limited allocations of public funds?

The answer comes down to two questions — whether or not the subsidy provided to transit is appropriate considering other transportation offerings; and whether a situation in which there were no subsidies would produce the appropriate social environment from the perspective of social equity.

Jarrett Walker tackled the first issue yesterday, noting that there are significant subsidies provided to highways and local roadways and their users, so eliminating aid to public transportation alone would be poor policy. In addition, he noted that there are significant positive externalities generated by transit — like more efficient land-use patterns, lessened pollution, freer-flowing roads, and decreased traffic fatality rates — that deserve to be compensated by subsidies.

While a surface-level analysis might suggest that the fares for transit should simply equal the cost to provide a ride, a more serious discussion would recognize that moving people away from transit and into automobiles would have negative side effects. This suggests that we either tax the alternatives to transit — the automobile, primarily — at their full cost to society, or we do not have an economic rationale to eliminate subsidies to public transportation. There are few if, ands, or buts around that.

The second question — whether a situation without subsidies would be acceptable — is an ideological one. Levinson describes transit providers as “Transportation organizations first, not welfare organizations. They should be considered public utilities rather than departments of government, which provide a useful service for a price to their users.” Instead of forcing bus and rail operators to run services that are less-than-efficient from a profit-maximizing perspective, politicians should be forced to directly vote and choose to subsidize those services that they consider most important. “This would entirely change public and political perception of transit services,” Levinson writes. “It might also result in fewer bad routes being funded, since it would be crystal clear where the subsidies lay.”

In my mind, this is an appealing solution in some ways, since it would take advantage of the democratic processes we already have to make what are important societal decisions about mobility. If people want better, subsidized transit services, they can vote in politicians who support such offerings in addition to the routes that are profitable.

On the other hand, isn’t that what we have done already? There is a constant battle over funding for transit, and it is because of political differences over whether and how much bus and rail routes should be subsidized. Our current situation — as topsy-turvy as it may be — is reflective of democratic conflict over transportation funding. What is the alternative? Removing transportation from the democratic sphere and simply providing those services that are directly profitable?

This would be disastrous, both for the reasons cited above by Jarrett Walker but also, and even more importantly, because the fundamental logic that underpins Levinson’s argument is flawed. While it might be nice to imagine a world in which every individual has the ability to act as a rational actor in a fair marketplace full of decisions that reflect efficiency and true costs, we do not inhabit it. Whether we like it or not, social inequality in American society has increased significantly over the past forty years, and poverty is a real problem.

Why bring up these issues? Because Levinson describes a situation in which everyone has the option to pay the true cost of transportation services, but in fact many do not. A more efficient approach to ensure that people make the most cost-effective decisions might be one in which everyone got a reasonable amount of money to begin with, but we do not live in a particularly redistribution-inclined society.

So we are left with alternatives along the sidelines. We can crusade for the elimination of transportation services that cannot pay for themselves and in the process eliminate essential mobility for people who need to get around now, all the while hoping that the poor will at some point be handed adequate funds to make economically sound decisions. Or we can recognize reality and admit that transit services are at their core not just transportation organizations but also welfare providers.

This may be a disappointing conclusion, since it provides no insight as to how the state of funding for transit could be improved, but it does suggest that there is no way of getting around the fact that subsidies will continue to be needed in the running of public transportation unless some future technological advance reduces operations costs dramatically. There are plenty of ways to improve the performance and cost effectiveness of transit systems, but we cannot ignore the fact that transit plays an important redistributionist role.

Update, 21 September: David Levinson responds, writing that “I expect that the places that would see service dropped once you went to an appropriate funding model are not the poor inner-city areas, which are (or ought to be with appropriate management/regulation/etc.) profitable given the relatively high densities, but instead the suburban routes.” The problem, in my mind, is that those suburban places are increasingly impoverished themselves. We can no longer associate density with poverty as we have in the past.

Congress Finance President

With Diminished Expectations, President Obama Renews Attempt to Expand Transportation Financing

» Major components of the President’s American Jobs Act include direct grants for improved transportation and an infrastructure bank.

A year and two months away from the United States’ next big election, politics in Washington are at a virtual standstill, with Democrats and Republicans completely at odds with one another when it comes to government policies. The situation has aggravated an already difficult funding situation for the nation’s transportation, which lacks an adequate funding source and faces a murky future. Meanwhile, the unemployment situation worsens.

President Obama’s speech tonight, in which he introduced a proposed American Jobs Act, was designed to stake a strong ground in opposition to the anti-investment GOP. In addition to a number of other policies, it promoted transportation investment as a great opportunity for reducing the rate of joblessness and improving the sometimes miserable condition of the country’s highways, rail, and transit. While the speech is unlikely to result in much Congressional action — Republicans do not seem inclined to support any of the President’s initiatives — it came across as thoughtful and in line with the nation’s great economic needs of the moment.

For transportation, the bill would direct $50 billion to the construction of highways, transit, rail, and aviation. Another measure would deposit $10 billion into an infrastructure bank. Both funds would identify and sponsor the projects most likely to spur job growth as quickly as possible. Though the proposal was not laid out in further detail tonight, it represented another variation of the ramp-up in investments in transportation the Obama Administration has been attempting to promote for several years now.

Even so, the project was a clear step back from the far more ambitious proposals Mr. Obama made at the beginning of the year, when he suggested directing $70.4 billion to highways, $18.5 billion to transit grants, and $8.0 billion to high-speed rail in 2012 alone.

In response to the President’s new plans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) criticized him for being unwilling to describe how the investments would be paid for, evidently unwilling to accept the Keynesian evidence that in difficult economic periods it is a good idea for governments to use deficit funding to support the economy. Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee John Mica (R-FL) immediately articulated a position against the plans for the infrastructure bank, arguing that states should take on the responsibility.

Just yesterday, the Republican leaders of the House Appropriations Committee unveiled their proposals for massive reductions in spending at the U.S. Department of Transportation, reducing highway expenditures to $27.7 billion in 2012 (from $41.8 billion in 2011) and transit formula spending to $5.2 billion (from $8.3 billion). No new New Start or Small Start transit capital grants would be funded. The high-speed rail program, which had once been one of Mr. Obama’s signature policies, would be entirely cut. These are austerity measures completely out of step with an economy desperately in need of stimulus, job creation, and infrastructure improvements.

Alternatives to Mr. Obama’s plan that would continue to limit transportation funding from the federal government have little credibility — at least if we believe that keeping the nation’s mobility networks in a condition of acceptable repair is an important national goal. States have limited ability to increase their indebtedness, and the cutbacks that have followed the recession have demonstrated that governors and state legislatures have been almost universally unwilling (or unable) to invest their own funds to shore up their roads and transit lines — in spite of a decline in support from D.C.

At this point, with a Congress that has now dithered on the matter of transportation funding for 709 days, the President’s proposal is about as good as it gets. That doesn’t mean, however, that it has any chance of making it into law.


Dismantling Democracy to Fight NIMBYism

» Ryan Avent’s The Gated City provides insight into the workings of the urban economy, but its proposals to increase the supply of housing in the country’s biggest cities are unreasonable.

Ryan Avent’s new book, The Gated City, provides one of the most readable summaries of urban economics available; for that alone, the book is more than worth its low price. In highlighting the work of Edward Glaeser among others, this author shows how the density of metropolitan regions can play an essential role in increasing the productivity of workers and expand the economy in general. It is Avent’s quite plausible thesis that the great American suburbanization of the past fifty years contributed to the economic circumstances in which we now find ourselves — with an economy seemingly incapable of growth — because of an inability (or unwillingness) to cash in on the benefits of urban density, which encourages higher incomes and increased productivity.*

The book’s logic suggests that those who care about improving the American economy must take a stand in favor of densification both of suburbs and inner cities — and against the NIMBYs who would do anything to prevent new projects of virtually any kind from being built anywhere near them, and who are systematically increasing housing costs by limiting supply. The market, the author suggests, is being artificially limited by significant constraints imposed by local groups. “When places like Boston and San Francisco make it hard to build new homes and offices,” Avent writes, “they reduce opportunities and productivity across the country… Our inability to accommodate people in high wage cities… has made America poorer, less innovative, dirtier, and more dependent on scarce fossil fuels than it ought to be. that’s a terrible price to pay for the right to keep neighborhoods from changing with the times.

These are compelling words, but Avent’s prognosis of a disease that afflicts American cities and perhaps the economy as a whole is followed by a series of potential cures that come across as dogmatic and sometimes even downright undemocratic.

To fight the problems associated with NIMBYism, Avent proposes a number of ideas: Allowing neighborhoods to “limit development… so long as it’s willing to either buy the land in question or pay the land’s owner to comply;” or providing cities a limited “zoning budget” or “historical preservation budget” that would force political leaders to pick only the most important battles to fight; or requiring developers to throw out offset fees for the “supposed costs of the redevelopment.”

These, however, are solutions that only an economist — whose vision of society is shaped by monetary costs and benefits — would appreciate. Note Avent’s dismissal of the efforts of the people he berates as NIMBYs, arguing that their efforts require low private costs, which he minimizes as “Just the time to circulate petitions and attend council meetings.” The only thing that would make NIMBYs understand their actions, he seems to suggest, would be forcing neighbors “to buy a property in order to limit development.” In these cynical statements, Avent not only implies that community organizers get their way easily (compared to their hard-working real estate foes) but falls back on a solution that allows no role for actual democracy, in which public contestation or conflict plays a role in the decision-making discourse at the political level.

Ironically, this effort in favor of more density is admirable, as is the author’s sense that much of the battles NIMBYs fight are grounded in the fact that “the haves are reluctant to share with the have-nots.” It is hard to fault Avent for developing clever approaches to a difficulty that has probably only gotten worse over the past few decades.

Avent’s argument in favor of the value of increasing densities is solid; he demonstrates that there are significant productivity and income gains that flow from metropolitan areas with people in more concentrated living conditions. And there are significant progressive values that are lost without that density: “When Americans ration access to economically dynamic places with high housing costs, it isn’t the rich that suffer most. It’s the middle- and low-income households who must accept long, costly commutes or move elsewhere.”

But are the people who live in gentrifying neighborhoods simply expected to accept that a market logic suggests that their neighborhood needs to change and that they can prevent a new project only by putting up millions of dollars they do not have to buy the land? Is the market the right decision-maker when it comes to the shape, structure, and economic composition of a city neighborhood? The Gated City asks us to assent.

It is this unsentimental approach that bedevils the urban planning profession in general, so frequently incapable of being able to relate to community members, despite claiming to represent their interests. Avent argues in favor of increasing density,** a reasonable campaign, but can only propose being able to do so through methods that subvert non-economic claims to the city.

Ultimately, though experts like Avent or myself or our readers may know that densification can bring significant benefits and that many of those gains can only come after a reduction in neighborhood opposition, attempting to work out these problems through market-based means is a non-starter. How can we as urbanists both promote more density and do so in a manner that does not disenfranchise the people who have the biggest stake in the matter? It is this dilemma that Avent’s book does not resolve, but it is the question that remains a fundamental difficulty for the urban planning profession in general.

All this said, Avent’s pinpointing of the opportunity possible through the development of new zones is right-headed. His examples of Canary Wharf in London and La Défense outside of Paris (two huge business districts outside of the traditional downtowns) are indeed excellent examples of places where very significant growth can be concentrated around a variety transportation options and yet far enough from existing zones of activity that NIMBYism as a concern will be limited. It is perhaps unsurprising that the largest efforts to bring middle-income housing to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are being pursued on brownfields, not within existing neighborhoods.

* For transportation, the externality benefits of agglomeration are particularly relevant since they can be used to support the business case for a project. Famously, the high costs of the London Crossrail project were in part justified through the use of a cost-benefit analysis that showed significant personal income benefits from, in short, bringing people closer together to one another.

** Avent’s comparisons between cities that show that more dense ones generally perform better in terms of income are illustrated at a metropolitan-wide scale, not a local one. Low regional densities may be cause for increasing densities in individual neighborhoods, but Avent’s book does not show that local-scale density affects regional productivity or income. So the argument has its limitations.