Saturday, August 07, 2004

Providence Sprawls Least, Colorado Springs Sprawls Less than Portland 

Providence Nation's Least Sprawling Metro Area

Colorado Springs Sprawls Less than Portland

When the Smart Growth America sprawl index is adjusted for genuine metropolitan areas rather than sub-metropolitan areas (which in NewYork exclude neighborhoods from which westside Manhattan apartments can be seen), a much different picture emerges. New York falls below Providence, which has the highest sprawl index, or least sprawl of any genuine metropolitan area. New York also drops below Omaha, with its Calcutta-like squatter settlements. Nirvana (Portland) falls below Colorado Springs, whose model urbanization jumps out at any who have ever been there.

Condo owners may have to pay on transit mall 

Portland has exempted condo owners in the past because it didn't want to discourage ownership. Portland also grants ten year tax exemptions, tax breaks, waved system development charges etc., and has formed may urban renewal districts to subsidize more condo's and mixed use developments downtown.

Light rail in Portland has become so expensive that new tax sources are needed to sustain it. The problem is if you take money that could have gone to schools, police, fire and social services,those departments will also be looking for new sources of revenue to make up for what light rail takes.

Portland has a new income tax and the citizens have referred it to the ballot to vote on this fall. If Portland is not careful they may inspire a tax revolt or a exodus of residents and businesses from the city.

Many of the taxpayers are not happy paying their full share of taxes while downtown Portland seems to get every tax break imaginable.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

First Accident on South Jersey Light Rail 

A train hit a car and injured two occupants on the Trenton-to-Camden light-rail line, which opened last March. This is the first accident on this line, which some predicted would be the worst-performing light-rail line in the nation.

According to Tollroads News, New Jersey Transit claims the line is a success because it carries as many riders as were projected shortly before it opened. Of course, that projection was reduced by half from the projection made just a year before. Tollroads News estimates that the cost per rider -- not the cost per new rider but the cost of every rider -- is $77. What a great success!

Earmarks Betray Highway Users 

Everyone knows that the federal transportation authorization bill has become one giant pork fest. What you may not know is that the earmarks in this year's transportation authorization bill include millions of dollars for non-transportation-related pork. The more than 4,000 proposed earmarks (up from less than 10 in 1981) include $7.5 million for a performing arts center in New York, $2.5 million for a music center in Virginia, and $4 million for snowmobile safety accommodations in Maine.

The Bush Administration has threatened to veto the bill unless total spending is less than total revenues from gas taxes and other highway user fees. But Senate Democrats insist on keeping their pork and refuse to reduce spending, so it is unlikely that any bill will pass this year.

You can also find an amusing take on progress on the reauthorization bill in Tollroads News.

More on Northstar... 

Editorial: Pawlenty is right to revive Northstar
Northstar rail gets a nudge
Many - but not all - along route see move as good news

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Wham-Bam Tram Ram Counter Reaches 56 

Houston's "Wham-Bam Tram Ram counter" is now up to 56, partly due to a counting error. The Houston Chronicle admits that it failed to cover a couple of accidents, raising the count to 55. The Chronicle's count excludes one accident because it was supposedly a suicide attempt, but the Wham-Bam Tram Ram counter includes it.

A memo from the Chronicle's transportation reporter notes that "three pedestrians have been struck by light rail" (not counting the alleged suicide attempt) "plus 52 vehicle crashes equals 55 incidents since October." Five of those took place during the testing stage before January 1, so the count since the light rail officially opened has now reached 50 (or 51 counting the supposed suicide attempt).

Governor Pawlenty Funds Northstar Commuter Rail Project 

Pawlenty finds money to jumpstart North Star rail line

Despite its sound defeat in the legislature this year, our Republican Governor has found a way to provide $22.5 million to fund the Northstar Commuter Rail project.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Cities Growing -- But Why? 

Big news: Cities are growing. Well, some cities are. Though they are not growing as fast as their suburbs. But since they were shrinking a few decades ago, it is news that they are growing today.

Of course, the New Urbanists want to take credit for it. "Young professionals and empty nesters," says this article, are moving to "high-density, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments." Of course, even more young professionals and empty nesters aren't moving to high-density, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments. (Virtually every demographic class is growing faster in the suburbs than in the cities.)

What really happened in the 1970s that caused cities to decline and what happened in the 1990s to cause some of them to grow again? Lots of things, and New Urbanism really isn't one of them. Urban crime, race, and forced busing were among the issues driving people away in the 1970s; all receded in the 1990s. Certainly, some young people are attracted to high-density, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments, but the market for such developments can be quickly saturated by the supply.

One thing this story points out is that "The downtowns that have experienced revivals have been those that were not made unattractive places to live by so-called 'urban renewal.'" Smart growth -- the idea that people should live in high-density, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments whether they want to or not -- has become a new form of "suburban renewal."

Portland Light Rail Kills Man in Wheelchair 

A passenger in a wheelchair was killed after getting off a light-rail train in Portland, Oregon. Transit officials blamed the victim, saying he didn't get out of the way of the train fast enough as it was leaving the station. He apparently got off the first car and was struck by the second car on the train. If he had been getting off a bus, he would still be alive today.

BART to San Jose losing support 

How about building half?

Back to the Future of Transportation 

Transportation Futuristics

Interesting web exhibit on "transportation futuristics" highlights some transportation ideas that never got off the ground. Includes the story of Alfred Beach, an inventor from New York City who used his own money to construct a block-long pneumatic subway in 1870 powered by a huge rotary blower called the "Western Tornado". For a fee of $.25, people could ride aboard the pneumatic subway car complete with upholstered seats, oil paintings and chandeliers!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Sierra Club Threatens Peoples' Health 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal points out that the Sierra Club lawsuit that halted freeway expansion is endangering the health of Las Vegas residents. While the Club claims that its only goal is to reduce air pollution, the paper points out that relieving congestion is the best way to achieve that goal. Moreover, since freeways are safer than streets, expanding freeways and getting cars off of streets will save lives through fewer traffic accidents.

Sierra Club members, says the editorial, "actually believe that if they can hamstring sensible traffic improvements long enough, someone, somewhere, will wave a magic wand and cause Las Vegas commuters to get to and from work under our broiling sun by using a multibillion-dollar 'light rail system,' bicycle paths, or some other 'less polluting option.'" The newspaper urges the Nevada Department of Transportation to put up signs on congested highways reading, "Current congestion exacerbated due to lawsuit filed by your friendly local Sierra Club; call Conservation Chair Jane Feldman at 732-7750 to express your appreciation."

It is certainly refreshing to see a big-city paper that isn't taken in by the light-rail hype.

Hiawatha Light-Rail Users Hog Residential Parking 

Residents in a neighborhood on Minneapolis' Hiawatha light-rail line complain that rail riders are using their neighborhood as a park-and-ride station. "You can't park in front of your own place," complains one resident, who calls the rail users "hide and riders." The transit agency, of course, provides feeder bus service to connect people from distant areas to the light ral, but, just like everywhere else, hardly anyone uses it.

One hide-and-rider says she can ride light rail for $40 a month, while it would cost four times that to get a downtown parking space. Of course, downtown parking is available at market rates, while the light rail is heavily subsidized. If, as is typical, the Hiawatha's cost per new rider is more than $10, the $120 per month this rider is saving by switching from driving to rail is costing taxpayers at least $440 per month.

Transit officials will claim that parking problems are proof that the light rail is successful. But face it: it would be far less expensive to build more parking downtown than to build a light-rail line along with park-and-ride parking lots at every station. If the agency reacts to residential parking complaints by building more station-area parking, the cost of this parking will merely increase the subsidy to a handful of transit riders.

One more thing: To what extent can we call people "light-rail users" if they drive five or ten miles to a station that is located just outside of downtown, park, and ride the train for the last couple of miles? They certainly aren't reducing air pollution, as cars generate most of their pollution when the engines are cold; if they were warm by the time they reach the rail station, another couple of miles of driving wouldn't add much pollution. A better name for such commuters would be "parking fee evaders."

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