Politicians Love Transit, Just Not For Themselves

Transit system is good enough for you, but the mayor's too busy.

“You’ve got to use public transit,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared. “You can't keep on pointing to someone else and saying it's their responsibility.”

Imagine the credibility and public relations points Villaraigosa could have racked up uttering those words while commuting on a bus to City Hall. But instead of being the “eco-friendly transit-riding mayor” Villaraigosa rides an SUV to work.

Yet many Angelinos probably sympathize with the mayor. “Give me a first-rate transit system, and I’ll use it,” they might say. Until that system arrives, they support new transit proposals, like the $5 billion “subway to the sea,” while continuing to drive everywhere.

But what would it say about the practicality of mass transit if the mayor of the city with the nation’s best subway system also took an SUV to work?

After Michael Bloomberg became mayor of New York City, he invited reporters to follow him to work. The billionaire mayor didn’t slip into a limo—he piled into a subway car like a “regular Joe mayor.” Positive press gushed forth. Bloomberg was the real-deal, a green leader and blue-collar populist. One transit group dubbed him “the MetroCard Mayor.” Bloomberg bragged about taking transit, and urged others to follow.

Yet, after a five-week stakeout, New York Times reporters discovered that Bloomberg’s enthusiasm for transit has since fizzled. These days he only takes the subway to work about twice a week. That’s more transit travel than Villaraigosa, but not enough to meet the federal government’s definition of a transit commuter.

Even during transit days, Bloomberg doesn’t schlep to the nearest subway stop. Staffers drive him 22 blocks so he can hop aboard an express train, avoiding the hassle of making a transfer and shrinking his commute time by about a third. Avoiding transit is commonplace for those who run some of our nation’s other top-tier transit systems.

The Philadelphia Inquirer discovered that only four of 14 transit board members interviewed used that city’s system at least twice a week. And when asked by the Washington Post, only five out of 10 local transit board members said they rode their rail system even occasionally (two others refused to talk, so it’s probably safe to file them under “infrequent transit user”).

Villaraigosa’s actions make the obvious point that his words never would: Public transit doesn’t work for the vast majority of Angelinos, 95 percent of whom find another way to get to work. Still he and other public officials fuel a double fantasy.

First, they claim our existing public transit system is a better choice for motorists, at least those who aren’t serving as mayor.

Villaraigosa says he’d use transit more often, “But my problem is I have to go all over the city … It’s very tough because of my schedule.”

City Councilman Herb Wesson, a transportation committee member, says the same thing, "Given the type of work I do, it just doesn't work for me to take public transportation."

Don’t the rest of us also have busy schedules - jobs to get to, kids to pick up, and errands to run?

Why are we being urged to ditch our cars for a transit system that is ill-suited to serve city officials?

The second fantasy is that each new rail transit project represents a step toward building a New York-style transit system. New York’s subway system boasts 468 stations; LA’s 78 (if you generously count light rail stations too). The current piecemeal transit approach should get LA to New York’s level sometime in the middle of the next millennium, and the “build it all at once” strategy made fashionable by Denver is really just a replay of LA in 1980, when Prop A was supposed to fund 11 rail transit lines. What committing to rail really did was soak up funds that could have gone toward more sensible fixes: mainly improving and expanding bus service for the transit dependent poor

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  • Paul||

    "But my problem is I have to go all over the city … It's very tough because of my schedule."

    That's pretty much what I'll be saying if ever asked. Thanks Mr. Mayor for a good quote.

  • ||

    The problem is that mass transit proponents think we still live in some kind of a "man in the grey flannel suit" era where everyone lives in the burbs and commutes to one central business district to work. That is just not the case anymore. Businesses have moved to the burbs. It makes building a useful transit system very difficult. For example, here in Washington there is a great metro system. But, the area around Dulles airport out in Hernden and Reston has exploded in recent years. Unless you live close to a metro line and work in the city, you really can't take the metro to work.

  • ||

    Ted Balaker wonders why politicians who sing the praises of public transportation don't bother to use it.

    Probably the same reason they send their kids to private school while singing the praises of public school. Because public transportation, like public schools, usually sucks.

  • Highway||

    Better than Balaker's previous apples/oranges comparison articles. People in transit administrations should be examining how transit could be reinvented to serve the US model of dispersed suburbs and less dense CBD's, because even if we use clustered communities, there's a lot less pressure for people to live in high densities in the US in places other than NYC.

    However, transit administrations keep trying to fit the same old rail line focus in on people, and they either don't recognize the scale of the issue, where their parking lots fill up and the trains are packed during rush hour and empty rest of the day while making almost no difference on the auto volume, or they don't provide what more people need, putting stations outside of realistic walking distance for most folks, but within some 'population radius'.

    And the answer isn't buses. I don't know what the answer is. But I do know that what we have does not suit what people want to do, even if you could have more dense 'walkable neighborhoods'. You can't run the rail line to every neighborhood around a major city. The distances are just too large, the costs too great. And if you don't keep people from getting in their vehicles, you're not going to get them out of them.

  • ||

    It's not that these government officials haven't used public transporttaion. They have. And found it wanting. But YOU should be a good citizen and use it. Then a myriad of problems will go away!
    Trust them, They're your betters and know what's best for you. They have only your best interests at heart.

  • Russ 2000||

    "But my problem is I have to go all over the city … It's very tough because of my schedule."

    Plus the city apparently reimburses him for all the extra expenses of driving (and being driven around).

    My gf works for the city - the city provides discounted parking for her position. And because they'll dock her pay if she's late, which only happens when she takes public transit, the city just creates more incentives to drive one's personal vehicle.

  • The Artist Formerly Known as T||

    John said: "
    The problem is that mass transit proponents think we still live in some kind of a "man in the grey flannel suit" era where everyone lives in the burbs and commutes to one central business district to work."

    Very good point, in my city mass transit designers must think that all people work downtown. The mass transit system for travel between suburbs is minimal at best. I don't live downtown, and I don't work downtown.

    I think alot of politicians don't take mass transit because they get reimbursed milage and fuel. Why not take a car when the taxpayers are paying for it.

  • ||

    The mass transit in my city doesn't even go outside the city line except for one route that runs twice a day to Petersburg--which isn't exactly an economic boom town.

    The buses here are pretty much ghetto-ghetto service, and then they wonder why nobody except the extremely poor uses them.

  • ||

    Highway,

    The other problem is that the climate is pretty extreme in most of the country. Yeah, walkable neighborhoods are great somewhere like San Diago where the climate is perfect, but what about Indiana where it is below freezing 6 months out of the year? Or Dallas where it is 95 or better five months out of the year? You can't expect people to walk for more than a block or to or to stand outside waiting for a bus under those conditions. People won't do it.

  • NP||

    What committing to rail really did was soak up funds that could have gone toward more sensible fixes: mainly improving and expanding bus service for the transit dependent poor

    Wait, so reason would actually support public bus service? ¡Qué blasfemia!

  • uncle sam||

    Why should the shepherd ride in the cattle cars?

  • The Artist Formerly Known as T||

    "Why should the shepherd ride in the cattle cars?"

    How true.

  • ||

    So, uh, what mode of transportion isn't public?

  • ||

    Even with the quality of the NYC subway system (and I'm not being that ironic) there is no easy way to get from Brooklyn to Queens. It takes about 15 minutes to drive from Queens Blvd at the LIE to the Manhattan Bridge off Flatbush, but the same trip via public transport would take well over an hour.

  • ||

    The politicians don't care much for the health insurance or retirements plans of the lumpen either (at least those of the proles lucky enough to have them).

    The politicians are the new nobility, living high off the hog while the common folk scramble for an occasional bit of sausage.

  • ||

    Randolph--

    Has anyone figured out why on earth even the New York City mass transit system, with a massive ridership and fees that aren't exactly cheap, isn't able to turn a profit?

  • ||

    For example, here in Washington there is a great metro system. But, the area around Dulles airport out in Hernden and Reston has exploded in recent years. Unless you live close to a metro line and work in the city, you really can't take the metro to work.



    But it's great for tourists. They can stay at a hotel in Reston or Fairfield, then take the metro into the city where all the touristy stuff is. But unless you're a bureaucrat, you probably don't work there.

  • carrick||

    So, uh, what mode of transportion isn't public?

    I've decided Dan T isn't a troll. He is an idiot savant.

    95% of what he posts is pure drivel. The other 5% is drop-dead funny.

    This one is part of the 95%.

  • ||

    Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson has participated in Ride Your Bike To Work day.

    My retinas nearly melted from the sight of him in bike shorts; but I think I will recover.

  • ||

    Right now Chicago is going through a public transit meltdown because the legislators refused to allocate sufficient funds. Small sales tax increase in Cook County, which is where the money would have been spent. As quite a few people have pointed out, this is bloody illogical. The amount of increase-in-sales tax per year is far less than one taxicab ride.

    I like public transportation because if it's a train, I have the choice between a squashed railway car and getting to my place on time, or taking my own car and sitting in traffic for 30 minutes or more. After having lived in Tokyo for over a decade, let me tell you that the damn city would not run if it were not for public transportation--there is NO WAY that the same amount of population could get around via car on the presently existing roads.

    And Ted Balaker should go talk to some politicians in Boston. Everyone goes around by the T--mainly because the system has been well-designed, the bus stops hook up with the subway lines, and I'm damned if I'm going to freeze my tush walking over Harvard Bridge in a Boston winter.

  • ||

    Has anyone figured out why on earth even the New York City mass transit system, with a massive ridership and fees that aren't exactly cheap, isn't able to turn a profit?

    Probably for the same reason the interstate highway system doesn't turn a profit.

  • ||

    "They can stay at a hotel in Reston or Fairfield, then take the metro into the city where all the touristy stuff is"

    There isn't any metro in Reston. The orange line goes straight west to Vienna and the Yellow and Blue lines go southwest to Alexandria and points beyond. The northwest burbs are pretty much either bus or car.

  • ||

    I've decided Dan T isn't a troll. He is an idiot savant.

    95% of what he posts is pure drivel. The other 5% is drop-dead funny.

    This one is part of the 95%.


    Why? I'm asking a question. Perhaps there are people out there who get around entirely on their own dime that I don't know about.

  • Episiarch||

    Has anyone figured out why on earth even the New York City mass transit system, with a massive ridership and fees that aren't exactly cheap, isn't able to turn a profit?

    The transportation worker's union is a big cause. They have very nice salaries, fantastic benefits, the usual government union crap. The strike at the end of 2005 was over a number of things, but a big part was them actually having to pay a tiny percentage of their health premiums. However, once the details of average salary and benefits were in the paper and being read by people who made less and couldn't get to work because of the strike, public support went through the floor.

    Also, the subway routes in the boroughs have far less ridership than Manhattan.

  • ||

    Probably for the same reason the interstate highway system doesn't turn a profit.

    Except I-95 doesn't charge me $2.50 every time I drive on it, and the Department of Transportation doesn't list turning a profit on the IHS as one of their goals.

  • ||

    Also, the subway routes in the boroughs have far less ridership than Manhattan.

    Could have fooled me, I've been to NYC several times and whether I'm in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens I've never seen a subway car thats seems uncrowded.

    Of course anything would seem crowded when compared to the ridership of the Richmond bus system.

  • ||

    "Probably for the same reason the interstate highway system doesn't turn a profit."

    Depending on how you look at it, it does. I think one can make a compelling argument that construction of the IHS has greatly improved U.S. productivity and economic efficiency. In other words, Dan, if we could turn back time I would argue that this public investment would generate far more than its cost in private economic benefit. While not a profit in the traditional sense, I would call the IHS a good investment.

  • ||

    I like public transportation because if it's a train, I have the choice between a squashed railway car and getting to my place on time, or taking my own car and sitting in traffic for 30 minutes or more. After having lived in Tokyo for over a decade, let me tell you that the damn city would not run if it were not for public transportation--there is NO WAY that the same amount of population could get around via car on the presently existing roads.

    Yeah, every time I'm sitting in my personal little metal box in traffic I seriously wonder why Americans put up with it. We talk about how expensive and inefficent mass transit is but how much time and money is wasted by having millions of people trapped in gridlock? Not to mention the waste of fuel, pollution, traffic accidents, road rage, etc.

    With the resources we have in America, we could establish a real kick-ass mass transit system if we put our minds to it. And with the worldwide supply of oil dwindling I have a feeling we'll wish that we had.

  • ||

    The transportation worker's union is a big cause. They have very nice salaries, fantastic benefits, the usual government union crap.

    This pretty much sums up the libertarian attitude in a nutshell. The horror of workers getting a good salary and benefits. Why aren't we exploiting these people a little better?

  • iih||

    I used the Portland, OR transit system a couple of years ago and it was really nice. Just a word of honesty. And it is probably the rare exception, and God knows how good it is today or in the future. And, still, there are those who paid for it but have absolutely no need to use it.

  • robc||

    I think one can make a compelling argument that construction of the IHS has greatly improved U.S. productivity and economic efficiency. In other words, Dan, if we could turn back time I would argue that this public investment would generate far more than its cost in private economic benefit.

    Its tough to prove either way, but I would bet you are wrong. I will claim that the same money, left in the hands of the taxpayers would have generated more productivity and economic efficiency.

    Ditto NASA. Yes, some great Tech came out of the space program, but what didnt get invented because that money was out of the taxpayers pockets?

    Because you cant disprove it, Im claiming that without the IHS or NASA, we would now have flying cars.

  • ||

    Depending on how you look at it, it does. I think one can make a compelling argument that construction of the IHS has greatly improved U.S. productivity and economic efficiency. In other words, Dan, if we could turn back time I would argue that this public investment would generate far more than its cost in private economic benefit. While not a profit in the traditional sense, I would call the IHS a good investment.

    I agree it was a good investment, but the same could be said about the NYC transit system.

    Surely even you guys don't think that city could function without subways and buses?

  • Episiarch||

    Could have fooled me, I've been to NYC several times and whether I'm in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens I've never seen a subway car thats seems uncrowded.

    Sure, if you go Brooklyn Heights or Yankee Satadium. Take it all the way out to Rockaway or Kew Gardens and see how many people are still on it. The lines go all the way out, riders or not. Just make sure you bring a book because it'll take you an hour to hour and a half.

  • carrick||

    With the resources we have in America, we could establish a real kick-ass mass transit system if we put our minds to it. And with the worldwide supply of oil dwindling I have a feeling we'll wish that we had.

    Mass transit systems can be quite effective in urban settings and between urban settings. In the US, that might cover 10-20% of the land mass and 40-50% of the population.

    The population densities along the coasts is approximately the same as Europe and Asia where heavily-subsidized mass transit system work reasonably well.

    But for the vast majority of the land mass of the US, these system are not efficient in any way.

  • carrick||

    This pretty much sums up the libertarian attitude in a nutshell. The horror of workers getting a good salary and benefits. Why aren't we exploiting these people a little better?

    Another 95 percenter. Wrong on many levels, and not entertaining in the least bit.

  • robc||

    A few years ago, I spent 7 months at a client site downtown in my hometown. My commute from suburbs to downtown was 30 mins, 40 if raining. I hated it. I dont understand people willing to commute for longer than that.

    As already pointed out, if more people do what I do, live and work in suburbs (10 min commute), mass transit doesnt make a lot of sense.

  • Episiarch||

    Another 95 percenter.

    Well, you're only going to get one good one out of twenty by your own math, so you best be patient.

  • ||

    Sure, if you go Brooklyn Heights or Yankee Satadium. Take it all the way out to Rockaway or Kew Gardens and see how many people are still on it. The lines go all the way out, riders or not. Just make sure you bring a book because it'll take you an hour to hour and a half.

    The only line I went really far out on was the one to Flushing. It was still pretty packed. I can't remember if thats where the line ends or not though.

  • ||

    This pretty much sums up the libertarian attitude in a nutshell. The horror of workers getting a good salary and benefits. Why aren't we exploiting these people a little better?

    Another 95 percenter. Wrong on many levels, and not entertaining in the least bit.


    Still waiting to hear from you as to what forms of transportion are not public.

  • robc||

    Still waiting to hear from you as to what forms of transportion are not public.

    Indiana East-West Toll Road

  • Sean||

    I used to live in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It was an hour to work, at 1 Penn Plaza. The whole trip was maybe 7 or 8 miles.

    Now I'm almot 60 miles east out on long island, I take the LIRR and I'm at work in an hour and a half.

    So uh, yea. As much as I like it in NYC, I like the trees out here.

  • ||

    Yeah, every time I'm sitting in my personal little metal box in traffic I seriously wonder why Americans put up with it. We talk about how expensive and inefficent mass transit is but how much time and money is wasted by having millions of people trapped in gridlock?

    It's called "revealed preference" in economics jargon, Dan. Good economists ignore what people say they want and concentrate on what they do. You're voting against mass transit by driving your "little metal box". If you thought the mass transit alternative was better, you'd be taking it -- just like the hypocritical folks in the article.

  • ||

    Indiana East-West Toll Road

    Not a form of transportation.

  • ||

    "the Department of Transportation doesn't list turning a profit on the IHS as one of their goals"

    Well, that's the trillion dollar problem libertarians have when addressing transportation issues. If all environmental externalities were accurately costed (including transferring particulate pollution from dense population areas - city streets - to sparse population areas - generating stations), would running electric Budd Silverliners, trolley cars or trolley buses over select routes be a net win for the economy?

    Do you have any issues with free school buses? I used to, but I don't any more.

    Jose, are you willing to give similar credit to transit systems for any increase in value in real estate for access to transit?

  • ||

    I agree it was a good investment, but the same could be said about the NYC transit system.

    Surely even you guys don't think that city could function without subways and buses?


    It would function much better with privately-owned subways and buses and jitneys (though I suspect no one could make the subways a profitable venture).

  • Episiarch||

    The only line I went really far out on was the one to Flushing. It was still pretty packed. I can't remember if thats where the line ends or not though.

    Flushing is pretty far out and it is the end of the line, but that's also a line with LaGuardia and Shea on it.

    I took the green line a few times from my apartment in the Upper East Side to King's County Hopspital in Brooklyn where I worked. Took me over an hour. Driving, even with traffic, was 40 minutes. I drove.

  • robc||

    Not a form of transportation.

    If you are going to be that way:

    Walking isnt public, I own my feet.
    Ditto bikes.
    Ditto cars.
    Ditto private planes.
    Ditto private buses.
    Ditto private trains.
    Ditto skateboards.
    Ditto unicycles.
    Ditto pogo sticks.
    Ditto camels.
    Ditto llamas (and [privately owned]lamas and lllamas)
    Ditto alpacas.

  • carrick||

    Still waiting to hear from you as to what forms of transportion are not public.

    Many great styles of humor are based on the context-sensitive nature of language.

    Here you are riffing on "public transportation" and "transportation that is not public".

    Unfortunately, you were not attempting a joke. So we have to ask?

    Is Dan so stupid that he thinks these two phrases are equivalent?

    Or is Dan just being a prick?

    If I were you I would plead stupidity, because it is not as great a character flaw.

  • ||

    Do you have any issues with free school buses? I used to, but I don't any more.

    I have issues with both the "free" government-run buses and the "free" government-run schools they go to. Privatize both and you'd get better service at about half the cost.

  • ||

    To restate the incredibly obvious, the average public transit system works well for those it works for, and fails fails miserably for those it doesn't. That is, if you live in an urban center and travel to somewhere else in an urban center, or if you travel in a straight line from the inner suburbs to downtown, you probably like transit. If you travel suburb-to-suburb, or drop the kids off on the way in or have to travel during the day, it doesn't work and it never will work.

    Plus, transit users hate buses, and who could blame them? Transit systems also don't scale well - once you fill up the rail cars, the incremental cost of serving a passenger is a whole lot more than two bucks. When I was in DC, I used Metro, even though it mean driving to a Yellow line station, transferring to the Blue line and walking about a mile at the other end, because the train didn't take that much longer than driving and I could sit and read on the way. Then Metro cut the number of trains and increased the number of four-car trains, and the hour commute became an hour-and-a-half of life in a cattle car, and the 45 minutes in my car looked a lot better.

  • Episiarch||

    It would function much better with privately-owned subways and buses and jitneys (though I suspect no one could make the subways a profitable venture).

    There are private bus lines (I am not sure how much in bed with the MTA they are, though), and all the ferries are private, if I recall correctly.

    However, the dead hand of government weighs on everything private. Taxi medallions are crazy expensive ($250,000), for instance.

  • ||

    It's called "revealed preference" in economics jargon, Dan. Good economists ignore what people say they want and concentrate on what they do. You're voting against mass transit by driving your "little metal box". If you thought the mass transit alternative was better, you'd be taking it -- just like the hypocritical folks in the article.

    You're right, in a way. I "choose" to drive because my city's mass transit system does not meet my needs. So I'm saying we need to make mass transit better.

  • ||

    Many great styles of humor are based on the context-sensitive nature of language.

    Here you are riffing on "public transportation" and "transportation that is not public".

    Unfortunately, you were not attempting a joke. So we have to ask?

    Is Dan so stupid that he thinks these two phrases are equivalent?

    Or is Dan just being a prick?

    If I were you I would plead stupidity, because it is not as great a character flaw.


    Carrick, the point (as I suspect you know) is that even "private" transportation like cars takes place on public roads.

  • ||

    I used to live in the SF Bay Area, on the peninsula, which is pretty much the seventh level of hell for mass transit. When I moved to the DC area, I was stunned at how minimally acceptable the Metro was. If I worked anywhere near a station, I'd be tempted to use it.

    Similarly, there's a self-selection issue with finding pols on mass transit. Those who seek power also tend to value the privilege that goes with it. Rare, indeed, is the society in which mass transit is considered a privilege.

  • ||

    When I moved to the DC area, I was stunned at how minimally acceptable the Metro was. If I worked anywhere near a station, I'd be tempted to use it.

    Too bad most of the growth is in Northern Virginia, which is probably the second worst place in the nation to drive next to Greater Los Angeles.

  • robc||

  • ||

    You're right, in a way. I "choose" to drive because my city's mass transit system does not meet my needs. So I'm saying we need to make mass transit better.

    And yet, whenever public transit measures find their way onto the ballot, the two largest voting blocks are "I don't want to pay for that" versus "I'll pay for that so silly schmucks will take public transit and leave more room on the freeway for me!"

  • robc||

    the point (as I suspect you know) is that even "private" transportation like cars takes place on public roads.

    So, you cant combine "private" vehicles with me listing a "private" road and figure out that is private transportation. Idiot.

    You really should go back to non-troll mode. I guess you dont enjoy life unless people actually respond to you though.

  • carrick||

    Carrick, the point (as I suspect you know) is that even "private" transportation like cars takes place on public roads.

    Yes, but the discussion is about "public transportation" which has a fairly specific meaning.

    The carriage of private vehicle on public roads in not really relevant to the discussion at hand. So your post is a distraction at best or manipulative attempt to obscure the discussion at worst.

  • ||

    So, you cant combine "private" vehicles with me listing a "private" road and figure out that is private transportation. Idiot.

    Okay, you got me. If there's anybody in America who gets where they need to go in a private car only on private roads then I tip my hat to 'em.

    (Of course, the Indiana East-West Toll Road is owned by the government so that doesn't really count anyway).

  • ||

    Mike Dukakis took the T to the statehouse every day.

  • ||

    So your post is a distraction at best or manipulative attempt to obscure the discussion at worst.

    Or, it serves to remind everybody who is against "public transportation" that it's all public to some degree or another.

  • ||

    Prolefeed,

    I don't even have a problem any more with the $1 million spent by my childhood public school district on busing around private school kids (a statewide legal requirement). I have problems with how the district is financed on real estate tax, and I know that school privitization would change school locations, and thus impact transportation patterns, presumably for the more efficient. But given the way systems stand, I see a net economic and environmental benefit if the district spends $1M operating a 70 bus fleet instead of there being 10,000 extra 20 minute private car trips for 180 days a year.

  • Geotpf||

    In dense areas, or if there is an attempt to get more people to use transportation, rail makes a lot of sense over buses (that is, it's basically impossible for a bus to be faster than a car (unless you set aside bus-only lanes), but it's not impossible for a subway or heavy rail system to be so, or at least be close enough for some richer people to make the switch).

    Of course, public transportation has enviromental benefits as well (fewer cars on the road means less pollution and greenhouse gases). Plus, it provides mobility to the poor and those who can't drive (the very old, the very young, and the handicapped), but if those are the only people one is aiming for, buses are probably all that's needed.

  • ||

    the point (as I suspect you know) is that even "private" transportation like cars takes place on public roads.

    Gasoline taxes at the state and federal level pay for around 80% of road costs. And there is little doubt given the lack of elasticity of driving to rising gas prices that there remains a massive consumer surplus to driving.

    So is there any question that if you made every road a toll road and covered its costs with fees on its users that virtually every road could pay for itself?

    Roads are "public" only in the sense that they are provided by the government. They are not "public" in the sense that the public must pay for them. Public transportation, on the other hand, appears to virtually always require public funding.

  • ||

    95% of the peak hour trips into and out of Manhattan are on public transit. That's not because New Jersyites and Lon Gislanders are better people than the rest of the country, but because the designs of the communities and region makes that the most convenient, cost-effective choice.

    Mike P,

    Isn't reducing traffic congestion for non-transit riders a worthwhile goal?

  • ||

    With the resources we have in America, we could establish a real kick-ass mass transit system if we put our minds to it. And with the worldwide supply of oil dwindling I have a feeling we'll wish that we had.

    That's simply not true. No amount of spending will make mass transit a preferred option for a vast majority of this country. Only pain works. Until people have enough of an incentive to live in high density areas, most will desire to live in low density areas. If you really wanted mass transit to be the preferred option, you would:

    1) Impose a $3/gallon gas tax (or keep waiting around for Peak Oil).
    2) Remove all zoning restrictions on high density housing.

    Neither will ever be politically feasible. Mass transit people should give it up already.

  • ||

    Gasoline taxes at the state and federal level pay for around 80% of road costs.

    Those taxes pay for around 80% of the MAINTENANCE COSTS of the roads.

    Capital costs are paid almost entirely from other revenue sources.

  • ||

    Roads are "public" only in the sense that they are provided by the government. They are not "public" in the sense that the public must pay for them.

    Well, who pays for them if not the public?

    Why is a gasoline tax different from any other tax? I still help pay for roads that I never drive on, and others who never drive on the roads I use help pay for them.

  • carrick||

    Or, it serves to remind everybody who is against "public transportation" that it's all public to some degree or another.

    Stating the obvious is not a public service.

  • robc||

    For the next 75 years, IN E-W "belongs" to a private company. Ditto 99 years and Chicago skyway.

    Yes, the state owns them. It is just a lease. But all maintenance is provided by the private company for the forseeable future. If you want to call it privatized instead of private, Im okay with that, but its not public.

  • ||

    MP: peak oil is the real wild card in all this. You're right that people will not embrace mass transit until personal transit becomes too expensive. The problem is that a mass transit system takes a while to develop and so you have to start on it before it's needed.

    As I mentioned earlier, Americans will endure quite a bit of stress, expense, and wasted time to preserve car culture. But eventually the common man will no longer be able to afford to drive everywhere.

  • ||

    For the next 75 years, IN E-W "belongs" to a private company. Ditto 99 years and Chicago skyway.

    Yes, the state owns them. It is just a lease. But all maintenance is provided by the private company for the forseeable future. If you want to call it privatized instead of private, Im okay with that, but its not public.


    A true private road would be one where a company purchases all the land it needs at market value, builds the road at its expense, and then charges customers whatever price they can agree to in order to drive it.

    Maybe someday this will happen. I doubt it, though.

  • robc||

    Dan T.,

    Dulles Greenway is privately owned, not just privatized.
    Same company as Chicago Skyway and IN Toll Road.

  • ||

    Dan T.,

    You have aggressively missed the point.

    It is entirely out of my control who pays for the roads. But all the evidence tells me that, if the users paid for the exact roads they used via transponder toll or the like, the roads would support themselves.

    The historical accident that makes the roads public in no way refutes the conclusion that the roads could pay for themselves privately. Thus the fact that they are public is quite irrelevant when discussing public transportation.

  • ||

    Isn't reducing traffic congestion for non-transit riders a worthwhile goal?

    Perhaps. But building more transit is, in most parts of the country, a very expensive way to achieve it.

  • ||

    Except I-95 doesn't charge me $2.50 every time I drive on it, and the Department of Transportation doesn't list turning a profit on the IHS as one of their goals.

    Exactly. Maybe they should. It would cut down on congestion, that's for sure.

    Why is it that people grumble about subsidies to public transport, while untold billions of their dollars have been spent on paved roads for automobile drivers to use (invariably) free of charge? That's a subsidy to the auto industry of biblical proportions.

    What, do you suppose, would North America would look like today if both provision of paved roads and of public transport had been left to private enterprise (as all good libertarians should insist upon)? Discuss.

  • ||

    Phrasing the point as Remove all zoning restrictions on high density housing. is an effort to steal bases, but the reform of planning and zoning laws to undo the aritifical dispersion and auto-dependency imposed by the decades-long enforcement of the sprawl model is something that's going to have to happen to make expanded transit feasible.

    If you look at the skyline of Toronto, it looks like an EKG, with blips of highrises around each transit station as you go out of the urban core.

  • robc||

    An ottawa reader,

    What, do you suppose, would North America would look like today if both provision of paved roads and of public transport had been left to private enterprise (as all good libertarians should insist upon)? Discuss.

    I covered this above. Freakin' Flying Cars!!!!

    Thats my guess.

  • Geotpf||

    The government owns half the transportation system in refrence to cars. That is, it owns the roads, but not the vehicle itself. Same goes for airplanes-the government owns (most) of the airports and pays the air traffic controllers, but the vehicle (airplane) is privately owned. It also owns half the system in refrence to long distance rail (Amtrak), but the opposite way around-private (freight rail) companies own the tracks, but the government owns the vehicles (trains). Buses and subways have a situation where the government owns both the vehicle and the infastructure.

    None of the above are fully private.

  • ||

    Mike P,

    Then we need an answer tailored to each location facing that problem, one that combines the different modes in the degree and manner best suited to each place.

  • robc||

    joe,

    Remove all zoning restrictions on high density housing

    I improved your point and only used half as many words.

    Efficiency for the win!

  • ||

    Maybe a politician once had a bad experience in which an already reeking homeless guy across the aisle on the bus shat his pants, provoking the entire busload of passengers to empty out into the freezing cold where they waited almost 40 minutes for the next bus to arrive. And then s(he) told all the other politicians and it turned them off of public trans. It turned me off, anyway, but I can't afford to rent a parking space and an apartment too.

  • ed||

    What this country needs is a Hugo Chavez-type reeducation scheme. Not to stifle thought, mind you, but to help you think critically. All good citizens must learn to love the bus.

  • ||

    The problem is that a mass transit system takes a while to develop and so you have to start on it before it's needed.

    Sure, except that any transit built now is simply a bet that it might really be needed someday in the future. And that's a lot of money to bet.

    I'm doubtful that, even if the shit really hit the fan with fuel prices, that the country couldn't adapt quickly. Sure, there'd be some short term pain, but at least at that point you'd know the shit hit the fan instead of speculating that it might.

    And joe, for every Toronto, there's 10 US cities where existing mass transit attracts nothing but flies.

  • ||

    It is entirely out of my control who pays for the roads. But all the evidence tells me that, if the users paid for the exact roads they used via transponder toll or the like, the roads would support themselves.

    Maybe, maybe not. I suppose they would if the price was high enough, but then again if the price was high enough then some people wouldn't be able to afford it and would literally be stuck at home all day.

    Of course, there would also be the problem of monopoly pricing. I'd kind of have to pay whatever price the guy who owns the road I live on wants, because I'd have no other choice.

  • robc||

    MP,

    for every Toronto, there's 10 US cities where existing mass transit attracts nothing but flies.

    Based on a study I recently saw (maybe posted on H&R?), that isnt true. Mass transit stations cause an increase of usage among residents around the station. However, it doesnt increase overall usage, because the increase is due to pro-mass transit folk moving to be near the station. If we follow joe's idea and get rid of hi-density zoning restrictions (which I agree with), we will see these kind of dwellings near stations. But, it will be from people moving to the area from other areas. Which is still okay, because it thins out the area around my place.

  • carrick||

    Of course the real answer is the intertubes ;-)

    Speed of light, can't beat that.

  • robc||

    Speed of light, can't beat that.

    I would like to rescind my flying car answer and replace it with teleportation booths, as described by Larry Niven.

    But, remember folks, once we have teleportation booths, everyone is your neighbor.

  • ||

    MP,

    And each and every one of those US cities (or regions, more likely) includes zoning regulations forbidding the construction of transit-supportive development, and/or has a core city that is itself laid out, by government fiat, in an auto-dependent manner.

    Where other models have been followed, such as around some of the DC suburban metro stops, denser development has followed the construction of transit.

  • rho||

    Tune in next week, when wacky Dan T. will get a job at a candy factory!

  • ||

    robc,

    If the city/region in question is growing, then we're not talking about a zero-sum game. Those people moving the transit district would have moved somewhere else anyway.

  • ||

    rho,

    Will hijinks ensue?

  • carrick||

    Will hijinks ensue?

    You gotta 1 in 20 chance . . .

  • ||

    I think a big part of the disdain for mass transit has to do with American car culture. For most people (myself included), a car is like a little moving house. You can smoke in there, eat food, stop when you want to take a piss, blast whatever music you want. It's a little bubble of personal space.

    I think a lot of people would rather wait in their own comfortable bubble w/ climate control in traffic than sit (or, if you're taking Amtrak during rush hour, not sit) on a cramped bus, train, or subway. If the mass transit system had some element of privacy or personal comfort to it, it would be a lot more successful.

    So I don't really know if it's a design flaw or an inherent structural flaw that keeps most mass transit in the crapper.

    PS joe - the T rules, it actually takes you where you need to go.

  • ||

    Back to the original premise of this thread, what difference does it make if the mayor of LA does not personally use mass transit?

    I don't find it hard to believe that it doesn't meet his needs as mayor of a huge city.

    And he's certainly not saying that everybody in the city should use it, except him.

  • ||

    If we follow joe's idea and get rid of hi-density zoning restrictions (which I agree with)

    On this particular thread, I offered that up first, so there's no need to regurgitate it back to me.

    And each and every one of those US cities (or regions, more likely) includes zoning regulations forbidding the construction of transit-supportive development, and/or has a core city that is itself laid out, by government fiat, in an auto-dependent manner.

    Clearly. Wake me up when a serious transit proposal is bound tightly to serious zoning reform for the area to be transitized. It simply doesn't happen. And it will continue to not happen because of rampant NIMBYism empowered by zoning.

    Which is why I hate zoning so much. It completely destroys any natural (and likely far more efficient) evolution that would occur in a truly free market.

  • robc||

    MP,

    On this particular thread, I offered that up first, so there's no need to regurgitate it back to me.

    Heh, sorry about that. I thought it was just joe using italics poorly again. :) My bad.

  • ||

    Which is why I hate zoning so much. It completely destroys any natural (and likely far more efficient) evolution that would occur in a truly free market.

    Maybe, but I'm kind of glad that my next door neighbor can't tear down his house and build a gas station or fast food restaurant in its place.

  • ||

    Flying cars would be handy absent public rights of way. Perhaps the subsidy of the rail system in the 1800s or the outright public construction of the IHS were inefficient, but I fail to see where the market could secure say, over 40,000 miles of rights of way. While I may lean libertarian, I fall well short of living in the fantasy land where the market solves every possible problem. Modern infrastructure is necessary for a modern economy. Sure, perhaps if the U.S. government had not built an IHS, the cumulative economic power given unto consumers would have been unleashed in a massive road building frenzy... but I doubt it.

    As for public transit, the only places it can be competitive is where it can match vehicles in terms of cost and travel time from portal to portal. This can happen where parking is very expensive and where transit is faster than vehicle traffic. There are a few metro areas where transit works. Otherwise, it's just a way for the wealthy to give some of the poor a way to get around.

    While Dan makes his point poorly, there is a point buried in there. Public roads should be funded by users. You could do this through fuel taxes or congestion pricing schemes. Of course, it would be nice to keep state legislatures from routinely raiding transportation trust funds. Creating self-supporting roads would open the door to increased privitization by teaching the American driver that roads are not "free." They are actually rather expensive but for those of who drive, they are generally well worth the price.

  • robc||

    Maybe, but I'm kind of glad that my next door neighbor can't tear down his house and build a gas station or fast food restaurant in its place.

    He also cant put a pub in his house. Im willing to take my chances.

  • ||

    Randolph,

    The T does indeed rule. Between 7AM and 11 PM.

    It's that "take you where you want to go" bit, and not the "private house" bit, that matters here.

    The T takes you where you want to go because of how Boston and the region are laid out.

  • ||

    MP,

    Wake me up when a serious transit proposal is bound tightly to serious zoning reform for the area to be transitized. It simply doesn't happen.

    It happens a little, and it's happening more and more.

    As far as the NIMBYISM goes, the best way to beat that is to show them success stories, which means plucking the lowest hanging fruit.

    New Urbanism is selling like hotcakes. The aircraft carrier IS coming around. Remember, it took us 70 years to get here.

  • carrick||

    Maybe, but I'm kind of glad that my next door neighbor can't tear down his house and build a gas station or fast food restaurant in its place.

    Since you don't own his house, you don't get to impose your own desires on what he does with the place.

    But you could buy him out if you don't want the property developed.

    Or you could have bought into a development with a covenant.

    Or you could do alot of things in the free market that would give you some confidence that the property next door won't be turned into a commercial enterprise.

    But if you don't put any skin in the game, you have no right to restrict your neighbors rights to use his property.

    By the way, you're still in the 95% zone today.

  • ||

    haha yeah, it's not so hot when the T isn't running at around 2 AM and your booze-addled brain thinks it runs all night like Manhattan subways...

  • robc||

    Sure, perhaps if the U.S. government had not built an IHS, the cumulative economic power given unto consumers would have been unleashed in a massive road building frenzy... but I doubt it.

    I doubt it too. While we might have only gotten 60% of the road based efficiency, we would have gotten another 60% (I said it would be better) thru other means, not necessarily transportation related. Maybe instead of better roads, we would have had increased productivity in computers or increases in crop yields. It would have been a different world.

  • ||

    Dan T, robc,

    There's a middle ground when it comes to zoning reform. Start with corner stores and pubs in single family neighborhoods. In-law apartments. Special Permits for SFHs on 7000 square foot lots with front porches up against the sidewalk. That's how you change minds.

  • Perry||

    The 5% of the NYC metro area is such a deceiving statistic. It has catchment area thats probably about the size of the LA metro area.

    If you live in Manhattan or within 5-8 subway stops on any line, you take public transit. If you need to get into downtown or midtown manhattan during am or pm rush hours, you likely take public transit. And that is because it is both the cheapest and the fastest form of transportation available to you.

  • robc||

    joe,

    Fuck changing minds. If it aint your property, you get no say. Period. End of story. They can deal with it.

    I want my walkable neighborhood pub NOW!!!!
    And, hell, a walkable McDs and grocery store would be nice too. I will put up with a gas station on my block to get all those.

  • ||

    ...7000 square foot lots...

    Did you misspell "3000 square foot lots"?

  • ||

    Apartments on upper stories above the strip malls. Mix in some townhouses in a mall development.

    Zone some rural-density land for two-families. Farmers don't freak out like suburbanites over that type of thing, and the next thing you know, you've got a nice little neighborhood of mixed single- and two-family homes, allowing people to discover that it is not, in fact, riddled with pants-shitting child molestors.

  • Episiarch||

    haha yeah, it's not so hot when the T isn't running at around 2 AM and your booze-addled brain thinks it runs all night like Manhattan subways...

    This is very true. One gets used to NY transit being 24 hours, and when in other cities, sometimes you get screwed. Like in London.

  • ||

    robc,

    Fuck changing minds. If it aint your property, you get no say. Period. End of story. They can deal with it.

    How's that working out for you? Changed any zoning laws to allow businesses where they had formerly been forbidden yet?

    No? I have.

  • ||

    "If you look at the skyline of Toronto, it looks like an EKG, with blips of highrises around each transit station as you go out of the urban core."

    So does Houston's Joe. Go to any big city in the South or west and you will see the same thing. That in fact makes it harder to build mass transit because the jobs are at so many different points. You have to build a station within walking distance to everyone of those points and that is too many, especially considering that from May through September walking distance in Houston is about a half a block.

  • ||

    Mike P,

    Easy there, big fella! Baby steps.

    There's one apartment house in my city that's on an oddly-shaped 1900 square foot lot. The lot is literally drawn around the foundation.

  • carrick||

    Special Permits for SFHs on 7000 square foot lots with front porches up against the sidewalk.

    The quirks of the evolution of zoning laws.

    There is a small strip of land in one of the local neighbors striving (and mostly suceeding) in preventing an old neighborhood from going into decline.

    A prize-wining architect designed a one-bedroom house that would fit on the lot. The plan was published in the local newspaper during a series on alternative housing.

    Someone tried to build and got rejected because the house didn't meet the minimum square footage for new development.

    The lots is still covered in weeds ten years later.

  • ||

    John,

    Do you think Toronto is any more walkable between November and March than Houston between June and September?

    The people in Toronto can still drive their cars if they want to. They just don't want to, because there's a better option.

  • ||

    joe,

    Maybe I'm missing something, but the square footage of a single family home on 7000 square feet with its porch against the sidewalk will be on the order of 5000 square feet.

    Are you saying that no one builds houses on a sixth of an acre anymore?

  • ||

    I have no beef against mass transit, I am not just sure it is particularly workable in most cities. You really have to build a lot of it between a lot of different points and that costs an enormous amount of money and if you don't get it right, people end up driving anyway. It is a very tough nut to crack.

  • rho||

    Ha ha, watch him stuff the chocolates into his mouth! He can't keep up with the conveyor belt. Ha ha!

    Oh, that crazy Dan T. When will he ever learn? Ha ha.

  • ||

    Since you don't own his house, you don't get to impose your own desires on what he does with the place.

    But you could buy him out if you don't want the property developed.

    Or you could have bought into a development with a covenant.

    Or you could do alot of things in the free market that would give you some confidence that the property next door won't be turned into a commercial enterprise.

    But if you don't put any skin in the game, you have no right to restrict your neighbors rights to use his property.


    Like I said, I'm glad this scenario is just an insane libertarian fantasy and not real life.

  • robc||

    How's that working out for you?

    Just fine, thanks for asking.

    Changed any zoning laws to allow businesses where they had formerly been forbidden yet?

    Im 2 for 2 in my neighborhood in fighting against the people fighting against zoning changes. Well 1.5 for 2.

    One was an attempted change of zoning from single dwelling to multi-dwelling. The other was a change from single dwelling to a mixed office/apartment zone (not sure what that is called). Instead it changed to multi-dwelling. Considering the original plan was the dumbest plan in the history of developments (okay, maybe not, but it was outrageously stupid) I think that one came out okay.

    Personally, I dont waste my time over those issues. Im not worried about the little things, I can deal with the current situation until we get rid of zoning entirely. I figure Im only 4 supreme court justices away from having zoning declared unconstitutional (Thomas will come along for the ride).

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Still waiting to hear from you as to what forms of transportion are not public."

    I'm waiting for you to prove that driving in one's own car counts as "public transportation".

    You aren't the least bit capable of doing so.

  • ||

    Mike P,

    Huh?

    You can build a 2000 square foot house on a 7000 square foot lot, with the front porch on the sidewalk. You just leave a rear and side yard.

    But remember, I'm talking baby steps. 7000 is a non-scary number.

    John,

    Cities are constantly being rebuilt. If you provide the transit, the rebuilding will eventually fill in to take advantage of it.

  • ||

    Freakin' Flying Cars!!!! Thats my guess.

    Don't laugh too loud, robc--they exist. They're called bush planes. And in outlying areas where it wouldn't be profitable to build a road (not enough users to make it viable), we probably would have seen much more use of planes, as we do in northern Canada where there are very few roads.

    But try parking a bush plane in downtown Ottawa!

  • robc||

    If you provide the transit, the rebuilding will eventually fill in to take advantage of it.

    By the same token, if mass transit was such a good idea, someone would build a private system to take advantage of the rebuilding.

  • carrick||

    Like I said, I'm glad this scenario is just an insane libertarian fantasy and not real life.

    Houston, a ficticious place in the TX

  • robc||

    Don't laugh too loud, robc--they exist.

    Im not, I was being semi-serious. Even about the teleportation booths, although maybe less so on that one.

  • ||

    robc,

    Good for you, but zoning isn't going away. There will never be the acceptance of tire recyclers next to single family homes. Utopianism is fine as a thought exercise, but in practice, we need the incremental improvements you've fought for. We need answers that satisfy people that their neighborhoods aren't going to go to hell, not just dismissals of their concerns.

  • ||

    Fair enough, joe. I was missing something.

    I'm not sanguine about people wanting mongo backyards with the rowhouse look in front, but I could be wrong. Certainly they should not be prohibited from doing it if they want to...

  • ||

    And how would those crops get to market? Flying cars?

    Transportation and communication networks are the sinews of the modern economy. A better strain of wheat is all fine and dandy by itself. What makes the wheat exponentially more valuable is the farmer's ability to ship it around the world at reasonable costs.

    As for the New Urbanist dogma, I am always amused at how planners think they can impose via regulations that which happened organically in decades past.

  • ||

    My family had an unbelievable zoning situation when I was like 12 years old - the family that lived in our house before us had about 12 people in it, so they set up a kitchen in the basement.

    The town inspectors came around for the census (I'm not sure if it was the census, whatever it is when they go around doing updates on house info), and we had to remove and hide the downstairs stove to prove we weren't a 2-family or duplex home. Bastards.

  • ||

    robc,

    Ah, but unlike building and rebuilding, the construction of a transit system isn't going to happen on its own.

    Houston doesn't have zoning, but it does have a system of land-use controls that, in terms of controlling development and redevelopment, amounts to the same thing.

  • robc||

    joe,

    We need answers that satisfy people that their neighborhoods aren't going to go to hell, not just dismissals of their concerns.

    From a pragmatic point of view, (which I actually think my "Fuck zoning" is the most pragmatic point of view, but whatever) the fact you almost cant find a neighborhood without deed restictions/HOAs handles that "problem" just fine.

  • robc||

    And how would those crops get to market? Flying cars?

    With increased crop yields, local crops might be all thats necessary, if not, the farmers conglomerate might have put money into roads/trains. At least the Florida Citrus people would have. :)

    Im the perfect age to have been completely sucked in by Schoolhouse Rock propaganda. I have the Mother Necessity jingle going thru my head right now. Without the IHS, necessity would have provided, and provided better than the IHS did.

  • ||

    the fact you almost cant find a neighborhood without deed restictions/HOAs handles that "problem" just fine.

    And as I've argued before, HOA's are a form of government.

  • ||

    Jose,

    New Urbanist projects are typically "permitted" through the waiving or elimination of reguation, not by mandating that type of development.

  • carrick||

    And as I've argued before, HOA's are a form of government.

    Drivel is bad enough, repeating your drivel is a mortal sin.

  • robc||

    the construction of a transit system isn't going to happen on its own.

    Really? Why not. In a zoning free city, I can see a private bus/train/trolley system developing. Train/subway would be the least likely. Would probably need some government right of way help, but other than that it should be privately fundable, if its a good idea.

  • robc||

    joe,

    New Urbanist projects are typically "permitted" through the waiving or elimination of reguation, not by mandating that type of development.

    The ones Ive seen have only had the regulations waived/elimination due to their being an acceptable "plan" to replace them. Not a deregulation and see what happens.

  • ||

    Drivel is bad enough, repeating your drivel is a mortal sin.

    Remember, if the community uses the government to restrict what you can do with your property, it's a gross violation of your rights.

    If the community uses the homeowners association to restrict what you can do with your property, it's okay. Because they don't call themselves government. I guess.

  • ||

    robc,

    Because a transit system in an area that isn't (yet) built to be transit-supportive isn't going to be profitable, so no one except the government is going to do it. And people aren't going to build out their property in a transit-supportive manner if there isn't a transit system in place to take advantage of.

    If you build a transit system in an area that isn't transit-supportive, it will lose money for a little while, until the redevelopment catches up. On the other hand, if you build highrises without the parking spaces to fill them up, in an area with no transit, the buildings won't fill up enough to make the construction of transit viable.

  • robc||

    Dan T,

    We have covered this before. Contract, contract, contract!

    I have a contract with my HOA. They cannot do anything beyond what that contract allows. Both my cities (and the fact that I even live in 2 cities), on the other hand....

  • carrick||

    robc, save your fingers . . no more typing

    Dan is immune to reasoned arguments.

  • ||

    The ones Ive seen have only had the regulations waived/elimination due to their being an acceptable "plan" to replace them. Not a deregulation and see what happens.

    Sure, it's not laissez faire libertopia, but it is still the elimination of regulations. Yes, the government agreed to eliminate the regulations because they liked the plan, and held the power to decide whether or not to waive them, but waive them they did.

    And if that happens a few times, it becomes a habit. Maybe there are now two models of development a developer gets to choose from - that's better than one.

  • robc||

    joe,

    If you build a transit system in an area that isn't transit-supportive, it will lose money for a little while, until the redevelopment catches up. On the other hand, if you build highrises without the parking spaces to fill them up, in an area with no transit, the buildings won't fill up enough to make the construction of transit viable.

    So what? A single company could do both at the same time.

    Also, many companies lose money for the first few years or so, if the present value of the future income stream is large enough, its worth doing.

    Build it and they will come.

  • ||

    robc,

    How are people who think there need to be strict and broad regulations to ensure quality development ever going to realize that there need not be if they don't have one or two or three experiences seeing developments that violate the regs produce quality, desireable outcomes?

  • ||

    Dan T,

    We have covered this before. Contract, contract, contract!

    I have a contract with my HOA. They cannot do anything beyond what that contract allows. Both my cities (and the fact that I even live in 2 cities), on the other hand....


    But you had no choice but sign the contract if you wanted to live in that neighborhood. Just like you have no choice but abide by the laws of a city in order to live in that city.

    I suppose the city could make you sign a formal contract before you move there agreeing to adhere to the laws of that city. But that would be a pointless waste of time.

  • ||

    robc,

    So what? A single company could do both at the same time.

    No single company has ever built a major city, large enough to justify a public transit system, let along redevelop a major city whose land is currently under diverse ownership.

  • robc||

    joe,

    Sure, it's not laissez faire libertopia, but it is still the elimination of regulations.

    Ive watched these meetings. It isnt elimination of regulation, it is replacing one regulation with another. Because that new regulation is trendy or something.

  • ||

    Oh, man, now we get to watch someone "refute" Dan T by arguing "You could always move."

    That's going to be so sweet...

  • ||

    Yes, robc.

    It's the replacement of more-stringent regulations with less-stringent regulations.

  • Russ 2000||

    Most of the problem with mass transit is the price fixing. Some routes are priced low because no one would take them if they were priced any higher, others would be well-used at twice the price.

    Taxi service is especially fucked up: 1)to keep ragtag/dangerous operators out cities limit the licenses issued, 2) and to keep that artifical limit from inflating the prices the fares are regulated, and 3) because of the price fixing you wind up with low-quality service anyway - and not enough cabs.

  • robc||

    joe,

    How are people who think there need to be strict and broad regulations to ensure quality development ever going to realize that there need not be if they don't have one or two or three experiences seeing developments that violate the regs produce quality, desireable outcomes?

    Because they have brains and can reason. Or, they could just ask you. Or me. I promise to tell them if they ever ask me.

  • robc||

    joe,

    You could always move.

    That doesnt even work. I intentionally bought
    1) outside of Louisville
    b) inside another city

    The city of Louisville still fricking annexed me. I now get to pay taxes to TWO cities.

    Sorry, now Im truly pissed off. Democracy doesnt work.

  • robc||

    joe,

    It's the replacement of more-stringent regulations with less-stringent regulations.

    Yep, and even though they are mixed use neighborhoods, I still cant buy a house in it and turn it into a pub, or McDonalds or gas station. I dont see it as an improvement.

  • ||

    joe,

    The other issue is that mass transit is typically sold as a way to improve current issues, which is usually completely false.

    Consider the 128 corridor in your backyard (MA for those who don't know). There is no mass transit system that can effectively serve that corridor. The corridor simply is not dense enough. And it never will be. The only thing that mass transit would do there is to enhance options for future generations. But it wouldn't affect any current problems.

    It's why I strongly oppose idiotic ideas of extending the MBTA to NH. It's a relatively small percentage of suburban commuters who actually commute into downtown Boston. The rest go to the 128 corridor, or wherever else the jobs have sprawled to.

    And that's the other thing...there's still no shortage of land for businesses and residences to sprawl into, even in eastern MA and southern NH. Which means that without severe economic incentives, you'll continue to see sprawl to perpetuity.

    PS - I don't mean to use sprawl in a derogative way. I couldn't give a crap how much land gets developed.

  • Perry||

    Joe,

    Not that I was around then but as I hear the story goes, once upon a time transportation and development were very much so linked. Real estate developers funded or helped to fund private streetcar lines and developed the land near those lines as streetcar suburbs.

    What killed it? Public development of transportation infrastructure.

  • ||

    MP,

    Actually, there is some mass transit-probably bus-based - that could serve the 128 corridor, and bring about a marginal improvement.

    But believe you me, if they allowed dense housing and/or multidecked parking garages near all the suburban T stations, you absolutely would see an improvement in taffic congestion on 128, as some of the people taking it as part of their drive into the city (or to the Alewife station, for example) would take the park-and-ride instead. Haven't you noticed that those surface lots fill up by like 7AM?

    Perry,

    True, but you'd have to be more specific. It wasn't just the socialization of transportation infrastructure, but the implementation of a deliberate policy of social engineering.

  • ||

    But believe you me, if they allowed dense housing and/or multidecked parking garages near all the suburban T stations, you absolutely would see an improvement in taffic congestion on 128, as some of the people taking it as part of their drive into the city (or to the Alewife station, for example) would take the park-and-ride instead. Haven't you noticed that those surface lots fill up by like 7AM?

    Sure I've noticed. And if you built the garages, the garages would sell out.

    But the traffic problem would remain. Is there still a traffic problem in NY? Most definitely. What about all the mass transit? Well, the transit simply allowed NY to become more dense. It didn't solve the traffic problem, just like how nothing Robert Moses built solved the traffic problems. Because if you build it, they will come.

    Thus, the only reason to build transit is to improve density, and not to solve congestion. And the only reason to improve density is to save on fuel.

    And the cost/benefit justification for saving fuel is still very debatable.

  • ||

    That is one of the fundamental errors, Joe. America is not a nation of people who yearn to live in high-density housing near transit nodes. Zoning schemes may influence land development, but suburban sprawl reflects the cumulative choices of housing consumers. Many people want a single family house; they don't want an apartment. They want good public schools and low crime. The State of Maryland will need to absorb over 1 million people in the next couple of decades due to population growth, immigration and base realignment. The majority of these people will not live in the City of Baltimore because, despite having transit, the schools suck, crime is high and the place is a mess. The city government is as corrupt and/or incompetent as any in the western hemisphere.

    And Robc, those Florida growers are running trucks and rail cars over subsidized infrastructure. But hey, think of how great America would be would zero government over the past 200 years... and clean yourself up when you are done.

  • Perry||

    I don't think its the specifics that matter as much as the end result. Market forces used to automatically dictate that suburbs be built only at the rate that a fiscally sustainable form of transportation could also be built linking those residences to the services that they needed.

    But beginning with the Federal Works program all the way through till today, you have Government dictating development patterns not as much through zoning as through the placement of highways and transportation infrastructure.

  • ||

    Re: the "we have to build mass transit systems that people won't ride now because maybe we'll have real high Peak Oil prices down the line" argument ignores the fact that we have huge amounts of coal in the U.S. waiting to replace petroleum for transportation uses once a certain price point is hit. Coal power plants are already being built like crazy, and electric cars run off those power sources will start replacing internal combustion engines once the price of gas gets high enough.

    Mass transit simply doesn't work for most people, and it's becoming more and more unpopular as our country keeps getting wealthier, and higher gas prices won't change that except for a few people at the margin.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Government regulation is a major hindrance to transportation. Regulation nearly destroyed the railroads about forty years ago. Economic regulations, like government price fixing that basically caused shippers to use trucks on government subsidized highways instead of private freight trains. Safety type regulations such as the 79mph speed limit for all tracks, reguardless of condition, if they didn't have cab signal systems, which basically fucked up schedules enough to drive more passengers from private passenger trains to government subsidized airlines and highways.

    Regulations still just make it more difficult for any kind of private systems. Things like insurance and bullshit pollution regulations make it more expensive. And transportation is by its nature not a high profit business.

    During the design process of the Acela trains, the Federal Railroad Administration imposed a crash standard-- heavier cars- that forced a huge design change in the middle of the process, and basically led to problems that shut down the trains temporarily a couple years ago. So instead of lighter, more efficient trains that accelerate faster, the government put a fucking wall obstructing any future progress. More standards are proposed.

  • Asharak||

    Trying to force people to use mass transit is wrong, I agree, but is it any more wrong than being forced to drive? How can cars be "freedom" if they're a necessity in most parts of America?

    And libertarians used to have a different take on this issue.

    "However, the effects of the Federal road-building program go much farther than that. By intervening in the transportation market on the side of the automobile and truck, the state has caused an unnatural shift of demand away from other modes of transportation. Dollars which would have been spent on or invested in trains, inland shipping or newer alternative modes of transportation, such as monorails, were diverted to servicing the automobile industry. Dollars which railroad companies could have reinvested to improve service were instead spent by companies making automobile-related products; this, in turn, further fueled the automobile industry. The interstate highway program has therefore seriously damaged if not destroyed the American mixed transport system, and the collapse of the Penn Central Transportation Company is only the most recent and most spectacular proof of this fact.

    The effects of the interstate highway program do not end here, however. It has also wreaked havoc in and is causing the death of American cities. Street congestion, noise and air pollution have become the bane of almost all city dwellers. These human costs, added to others which the state has imposed in various ways, have caused a drastic change in American living habits, forcing many out of the city into the suburbs. The suburbs, in turn, have created what is referred to as the "automobile culture" - the automobile is the major, if not the only, transportation mode available. Thus the highway program has had social as well as economic effects; moreover these effects stretch far beyond the imagination or intentions of the original planners."

    So what changed?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Re: the "we have to build mass transit systems that people won't ride now because maybe we'll have real high Peak Oil prices down the line" argument ignores the fact that we have huge amounts of coal in the U.S. waiting to replace petroleum for transportation uses once a certain price point is hit."

    It is certainly true that we have plenty of coal available to use. It is also true that there is more sources of oil in places like the Canadian oil sands and in oil shale in places that will become more economical to extract at higher price points. There are also places that are known sources of oil that are currently off limits because of bullshit eco-socialist politics. When push comes to shove and people actually have a hard time getting gas, those sources will be developed.

    And of course we can also start building new nuclear power plants to generate energy. That is already in the works to start ramping up.

  • ||

    It is certainly true that we have plenty of coal available to use. It is also true that there is more sources of oil in places like the Canadian oil sands and in oil shale in places that will become more economical to extract at higher price points. There are also places that are known sources of oil that are currently off limits because of bullshit eco-socialist politics. When push comes to shove and people actually have a hard time getting gas, those sources will be developed.

    Said Canadian oil sands will require so much natural gas (also a depleting resource) and physical plant that it's questionable how much will ever be processed. The quality of coal is declining (the U.S. hasn't mined anthracite since the 1940's if memory serves); I don't know if you're assuming coal liquefaction will be an answer, but I'm skeptical, especially considering ExxonMobil has abandoned (for now, at least) its big Qatar gas-to-liquids project.

  • ||

    I should say that anthracite production is in decline, and accounts for 0.5% of all coal mined in the U.S.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Said Canadian oil sands will require so much natural gas (also a depleting resource) and physical plant that it's questionable how much will ever be processed."

    I don't know about that. I read a story on the CNN Money web site the other day about some new process that they said makes it economical to extract oil from oil sands with oil at a $35 a barrell level down from $50-60 a barrell level (and it's over that now).

    I also recall reading some time ago that the French oil company Total was considering building a nuclear power plant in Canada to supply the energy needed to extract the oil from the oil sands.

  • ||

    Jose,

    Let's talk about your fendamental errors.

    America is not a nation of people who yearn to live in high-density housing near transit nodes. They did until the 1940s, when land use controls and aggressive social engineering imposed a different order.

    Many people want a single family house; they don't want an apartment. If you look at any tradtional suburb, New Urbanist development, or outlying urban neighborhood, you will find many, many single family homes - a majority of the residential buildings.

    They want good public schools and low crime. Yes, they want those things. And because they find them in newly built suburbs, they move there. And because the newly built suburbs have largely been sprawl-style, that's what they've bought. Now that other varieties of new, quality neighborhoods with good schools and low crime are being built, people are snapping those homes up like hotcakes. As urban centers become better on issues of crime and schools, they are becoming more desireable, too.

    Single family homes on large lots with no transit do not cause the schools to improve or crime to go down.

    prolefee,

    Mass transit simply doesn't work for most people, True. It is popular when it works, as in New York and Boston, when there is good public transit and development patterns that support it, and this does not describe most of the country.

    and it's becoming more and more unpopular as our country keeps getting wealthier False. Regions with more public transit use - ie, blue states on the coasts and upper midwest - have the highest rates of transit use.

    BTW, Philadelphia's transit system saw a signficant increase in ridership last year.

  • ||

    Rob McMillin - drive on I-81 near Schuykill. There is a waste coal liquefaction plant being built.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Here's a story about burning the hydrogen in seawater with radio waves.

    If they can make this work, it could be the magic bullet to kill the energy supply problem.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/10/tech/main3246430.shtml

  • ||

    By your logic, Joe, there would have never been a westward migration in America because Americans were so happy living in congested urban areas. What changed America is the availablity and affordability of the automobile. Between 1910 and 1930 automobile registrations in the United States increased from half a million to almost 22 million. The car allowed people to escape the city and live in the 'burbs. The post-war housing explosion in the suburbs was not due to "land use controls" and "social engineering" (althoug if it were, why should we trust urban planners now when the so badly screwed the pooch then?)

    All the new urbanist movement does is substitute one form of social engineering for another. Planners, Joe, are not smarter than the marketplace. Almost everything planners do is trying to manipulate market outcomes. The marketplace has made "Category killers" like Wal-Mart and Home Depot successful but new urbanists want to roll back the clock to the five and dime and neighborhood hardware store. New urbanists want to have people live and work in the same place. The reality of the new labor market is that people change jobs frequently and are willing to commute to preserve stability in housing, schools, etc. New urbanism is nothing more than nostalgia for days that never were. Street cars are romantic, but most people do not arrange economic life based on romantic notions. New urbanists think Americans secretly hate their cars. Americans LOVE the automobile.

    Perhaps most damning, new urbanism is nothing more than a marketing plan. It really does not address the fundamental economic relationship of land, development, housing, work and our communication and transportation networks. It is an insipid half-measure rejected by the capitalists and the collectivists.

    Finally, Joe the reason schools are great and crime is low is not the size of a lot. It is affluence. The wealthy will always live in great neighborhoods because they can afford to leave lousy ones. American cities are often wastelands of urban decay for two reasons. One, there are entrenched cultures of poverty and dependence that are very resistant to change. Two, the fabric and structure of the city resist affluence. Oh, sure, the city attracts missionaries who want to rescue "what was once great and could be again." On the whole, however, the modern economy with its decentralized, knowledge-based workers and off shore manufacturing, has made the city nonrelevant. The new urbanists just have not received the memo.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "What changed America is the availablity and affordability of the automobile."

    Not only the availability and affordability of the automobile but the continually expanding technology of the automobile that increased ease of use, comfort, entertainment, etc. Electric starters, power steering and brakes, automatic transmissions, air conditioning, stero systems. A continuing progression that has made the car virtually one's own little rolling house on wheels with most of the comforts of a real home.

    The new urbaninsts think urban and the early denser suburbs are the epitome of human existence and were all "naturally" occuring. Many people moved from the country to the cities because they had to to get jobs - not because they enjoyed living in high density areas. It was changes in technology that precipitated the move from farms to cities in the first place and it was further changes in techology that precipitated people moving back out of the cities by enabling them to do what they wanted to do.

  • ||

    No, Jose. That is not my logic.

    BTW, have you ever actually SEEN how the towns in the west were built? Houses close together, apartments and offices on upper stories about stores and pubs, the whole shebang.

    Don't pretend that moving to a quarter acre on a cul de sac is going back to the land.

    And since you brought up the automobile, have you ever seen the neighborhoods that were built in the 20s-40s, while automobile ownership was already widespread among the people building and buying there? They looked just like modern New Urbanist neighborhoods. Yes, they were suburbs - but they weren't sprawling, and they largely still featured transit.

    The post-war housing explosion in the suburbs was not due to "land use controls" and "social engineering" (althoug if it were, why should we trust urban planners now when the so badly screwed the pooch then?)

    Why should we trust your indefensible explaination, when you can't even accurately describe the history that occured?

    Finally, Joe the reason schools are great and crime is low is not the size of a lot. It is affluence.

    Thank you for making my point, and renouncing yours. Good move - your point was absurd.

    The wealthy will always live in great neighborhoods because they can afford to leave lousy ones. American cities are often wastelands of urban decay for two reasons. One, there are entrenched cultures of poverty and dependence that are very resistant to change.

    Cities are poor because cities are poor. Thanks for that, professor.

    Two, the fabric and structure of the city resist affluence.

    Which explains why the richest neighborhoods in America are found around Central Park.

    You know dogma, Jose, but you don't know very much about cities and development.

  • ||

    People who claim that the technology of the automobile explain sprawl can never account for the 20s-50s, and have to contort themselves to pretend that the shift of trillions of dollars in transportation spending to highways instead of transit didn't influence development choices.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    You're the one contorting yourself, joe by trying to claim that many millions of people were engineereed by the government into a lifestyle that they never wanted - dragged kicking and screaming into it.

    That's nonsense. Highways were built out because people wanted them to be built out - and the technology of road building continued to evolve as well - making it easier to do so.

  • Big Cat Kahuna||

    Right now Chicago is going through a public transit meltdown because the legislators refused to allocate sufficient funds.

    The problem isn't legislators did not allocate "sufficient funds," whatever that might mean. It is that whatever funds where available were likely squandered. The CTA has a reputation for cronyism, inefficiency and poor service, a notion reported from friends who have tried to business with them and that appears to be borne out by the NTSB as well.

    I take the red line to work. It is always dirty, usually uncomfortable, and at times dangerous. Yet, if you work downtown it beats driving. It could be improved, but it appears there is no incentive at all to do so. I say privatize it and let the riders pay the actual cost of their rides. Heck, I would be willing to pay double the current fare (just raised to $2.00/ride)


  • ||

    Gilbert,

    You never manage to understand when I explain why your absurd charactures of my points are inaccurate, so I'm not going to bother trying anymore.

  • ||

    Gilbert Martin - won't work in a moving vehicle: still gotta get yer energy elsewhere. Still, going nuclear for power generation (with a longer shot at thermonuclear, maybe even with something as exotic as mining the moon for He-3) and diverting coal into liquefaction just might be a decent solution short-term (whatever collectivists say - fuck 'em). Longer term - once I can get 300 miles per charge and recharge in 5 minutes on every street corner (will probably require interchangeable battery pack), I'll want my electric car.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    You don't have any "points", joe - all you have are claims.

    Claims that you have never been the least bit capable of actually proving.

  • ||

    Nice discussion....

    I have absolutely no problem with investing heavily in new transit lines on the grounds that development will change over 50 years to make them more usable. In the short term we are really screwed with automobile-gridlock and there isn't a lot we can do about it.

    The original suburbs (and cities too) were relatively dense (not super dense) places where you at least had the option of doing some things without a car. Not everything, but some.

    That's the problem. Today, 90% of Americans must drive somewhere to blow their nose. if you lost your car you would literally starve to death. This is a very bad situation that is only going to get better by changing the way we build - in addition to building some transit.

    My advice - buy land in cities and stay out of the stip-mall zone. Cities and older suburbs wil be the place to be and mimic as we move on. The exurbs will die a painful death.

  • ||

    New urbanism is a fad, Joe. Another fad will come along and the urban planning herd will stampede towards it.

    America spent money on highways because Americans wanted roads. The transition from an industrial to a service to a knowledge-based economy radically changed the home-work dynamic. Mass transit is nifty when one can connect the one place everyone lives to the one place everyone works. The economy changed, Joe. You want to socially engineer land development to accommodate a 1920s economy. Huzzah.

    Cities like DC and Baltimore (two metro areas I suspect you know) are poor because they have the most inept and/or corrupt local governments in the western hemisphere. They also have an intergenerational culture of poverty that has been perpetuated by well-intentioned government programs and entrenched political interest groups. If you want to cherry pick Manhatten as proof of the success of urban life, you are just putting on an asshat. Sure, I can pick a gentrified area of almost any American city... Canton in Baltimore is a good one. Walk a half mile in any direction out of Canton and let's set up a card table and talk on a street corner about how great the American city is.

    The city is an artifact of an old economic model. The new urbanists are little more than a bunch of nostalgia buffs who want to ride street cars to and from Pleasantville. If government would just get the hell out of the way, people would create new places that fit their needs... but since urban planners are just so much darn smarter than everyone else, I guess they'll tell us what is best for us...

    at least until the next fad.

  • ||

    Jose,

    Sprawl is the fad. New Urbanism a reversion to the time-tested, eternal practice of building communities in their natural form, the form they took everywhere on earth from the beginning of recorded history until the 1950s.

    You have such a funny, historically-bound view of these things. You see what is common in the time and place you grew up in, and universalize it.

    You clearly don't know much else, and haven't bothered to learn.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "New Urbanism a reversion to the time-tested, eternal practice of building communities in their natural form, the form they took everywhere on earth from the beginning of recorded history until the 1950s."

    Something else you aren't the least bit capable of proving.

  • John||

    Actually, one can go back and see how communities have been built throughout history and see that the "new urbanist" movement is about the closest thing to it that's being built today.

    It's not hard, though it's probably harder than typing a blog comment!

    As for the "people want suburbs and roads!" myth, well, it's funny what happens when the government subsidizes new suburban style development and roads and it becomes pretty much impossible to finance development in the city, which is what happened during the great wave of suburban building in the US. If you think that this was all just consumer desire in a free market, you're ignoring history.

    None of which really answers the question of what makes sense now. It's interesting watching this debate play out in Houston, where central parts of the city are increasing in population density - because there are a lot of people choosing good locations over large lots and oversized homes. Not all, of course, but it makes sense to think about the best ways to move those people around before they're all sitting in a gigantic traffic jam.

    The net effect, of course, isn't to eliminate suburbs - lots of people still choose them - but it does increase the diversity of housing choices, meaning that people can elect to live in dense central city neighborhood or a suburb. Those kinds of options make a city more appealing to more residents, and economically more competitive.

    The premise of the original article - if the mayor doesn't take transit, it proves it's a bad idea - is thoroughly moronic, however, and it's kind of embarrassing to see a publication that claims to be taking a serious look at issues running it.

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