Transportation Policy

Light Rail to Nowhere

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A front-page story in yesterday's New York Times noted that politicians' transportation vanity projects drain money away from the sort of maintenance work that apparently was needed on the Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis last week. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Times put light rail lines in the same category as boondoggles like Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere:

Further, transportation and engineering experts said, lawmakers have financed a boom in rail construction that, while politically popular, has resulted in expensive transit systems that are not used by a vast majority of American commuters.

Representative James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota and the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sent out a news release last month boasting about Minnesota's share of a recent transportation and housing appropriations bill.

Of the $12 million secured for the state, $10 million is slated for a new 40-mile commuter rail line to Minneapolis, called the Northstar….

Some transportation experts also said that though light rail and other public transportation projects made sense in cities, investing in them in sprawling suburban regions might not, even if the systems were supported, in theory, by the public.

"Too many American cities are spending far too much money on expensive rail transit projects, which are used for only 1 to 2 percent of local travel, and far too little on highway projects which are used for 95 to 99 percent of local travel," Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, said in an e-mail interview.

O'Toole explained the folly of light rail in this 2004 paper (PDF) co-published by the Reason Foundation, which has assembled its light rail links herereason's coverage of the subject includes a 1999 piece by O'Toole and an article by Sam Staley and Ted Balaker in our April issue.

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  1. Well, with infrastructure crumbling, people may be *forced* to take light rail in from the suburbs. That’ll get those ridership numbers up!

    Unless, of course, the light rail infrastructure also collapses, as it might in the case of a powerful earthquake or devastating flood. In which case everybody’s fucked.

  2. Some transportation experts also said that though light rail and other public transportation projects made sense in cities, investing in them in sprawling suburban regions might not, even if the systems were supported, in theory, by the public.

    Or cities that never figured out vertical construction, i.e. Phoenix and surrounding valley cities.

  3. Of the $12 million secured for the state, $10 million is slated for a new 40-mile commuter rail line to Minneapolis, called the Northstar….

    That leaves only $279 million to go, not counting the inevitable overruns.

    What a deal for Minneapolis!

  4. Or cities that never figured out vertical construction, i.e. Phoenix and surrounding valley cities.

    Are you suggesting the Phoenix light rail system isn’t going to make Phoenix the environmentally-friendly utopia the project backers claim?

  5. Light Rail fetishism is hitting new heights here in Seattle, as construction has begun on the rail system that will soon proudly take its place in the transit boondoggle constellation.

    Of course, leftist publications like The Stranger have been pushing relentlessly for the system. Their staff should be forced to read the links provided by Mr Sullum, not that it would make a difference to them.

    To try to force people to use the transit system, the transitistas are trying like gangbusters (and might succeed) in having the busy, aging Alaskan Way Viaduct torn down and replaced with… nothing.

  6. AC | August 8, 2007, 8:04pm | #

    Or cities that never figured out vertical construction, i.e. Phoenix and surrounding valley cities.
    Are you suggesting the Phoenix light rail system isn’t going to make Phoenix the environmentally-friendly utopia the project backers claim?

    Yeah, maybe if the valley had one downtown. Instead people who live in Peoria work in Gilbert, and people who live in Ahwatukee work in Scottsdale, etc.

    And, remind me, I’ve forgotten since I moved south, but aren’t the stops in the most ridiculous places (like, still blocks from where people actually work)?

    Personally, I think that in order to give it the prestige it so clearly deserves, it should be named after an online college.

  7. So the share of transportation modes can be changed, but the sprawling surburban system of land use can’t?

    Sure, that’s reasonable.

    It’s true that it doesn’t make sense to build transportation systems designed for urban densities – at least at one end – to service sprawling areas. It’s also true that, absent strict land use regulations forbidding urban densities, transit stations become surrounded by land use patterns that take advantage of the access provided by the transit system, just as highway off-ramps become surrounded by land uses that take advantage of the access provided by THAT transportation system.

  8. -Big construction firms pay for congressmen to go to Tahiti in January to study Bora Bora’s light rail system.

    -People who drive to work do not pay for congressmen to go to Tahiti in January to study Bora Bora’s freeway system.

  9. So the share of transportation modes can be changed, but the sprawling surburban system of land use can’t?

    Not without massive state intervention and unprecedented control of where people live and how they travel.

  10. Well, I suppose we could round up all those evil suburbanites and shoot them. Just a thought.

    Or we could spend our money on things we need rather than on things some of us want.

  11. Nick:

    Ever driven Minneapolis/St. Paul? They never figured out vertical construction either. The whole place is pure sprawl. (Which, I contend, is the curse of midwestern cities; being able to buy up cheap farmland in every direction makes density less of a concern.)

  12. At least the light rail in Seattle is, y’know, in the city of Seattle. I think it stands a fair chance of being popular. The main problem with the light rail boom is that it’s mainly for the benefit of transient suburban voters at the expense of city voters who by-the-way had their “light rail” ripped out 50 years ago and could stand to benefit from it far more.

  13. just as highway off-ramps become surrounded by land uses that take advantage of the access provided by THAT transportation system

    Two gas stations, a McDonald’s, and if you’re lucky a sleazy motel?

  14. Wrong, RC.

    Sprawl can’t continue to exist “without massive state intervention and unprecedented control of where people live and how they travel.”

    What a lousy cause for “by any means necesssary.”

  15. Matt XIV,

    Or a few million square feet of malls, depending on where you are.

    Pro Lib,

    What makes you think other people’s commutes are a want and yours is a need?

  16. Light Rail fetishism is hitting new heights here in Seattle, as construction has begun on the rail system that will soon proudly take its place in the transit boondoggle constellation.

    What? Didn’t these people see Singles? Apart from a brilliant Xavier McDaniel cameo, they’d have learned that people love their cars.

  17. What government planner though that people with 3000 sq ft homes on 2 acre lots in the ex-burbs with a pair of Lexuses in the 4 car garage would give up heated seats to freeze their ass off at the train station every morning?

  18. Actually, Garrison, a lot suburbanites use park and rides.

    If there’s a large enough city, the commute from suburb to city along certain corridors makes rail the most convenient way to get in. Parking lots at many of the train stations around Boston fill up early in the morning.

    Which is not to say that every project makes sense.

  19. Why is it whenever these lying clowns brag about how much money gets thrown into mass transit, the so called “public guardians” in the media fail to point out it’s only A DOWN PAYMENT? Every public transist system in the country requires a continuing subsidy.

  20. RC, if you cut public funding for roads that support sprawl development then the market can determine where people live and how they get there. That would be a reduction in state intervention.

    Every public transist system in the country requires a continuing subsidy.

    But roads are free, yay!

  21. To try to force people to use the transit system, the transitistas are trying like gangbusters (and might succeed) in having the busy, aging Alaskan Way Viaduct torn down and replaced with… nothing.

    Um….

    I think you have misread the signals for some time with Seattle…it should have hit you when the M’s sued the city because its publicly financed stadium named after Safco insurance did not come with a publicly funded parking garage….FUCKING MOVE!

  22. Which is not to say that every project makes sense.

    What? Like every light rail project west of the appalachian mountains.

  23. Randal O’Toole’s dandy blog!

    Right here!

  24. I think you have misread the signals for some time with Seattle…it should have hit you when the M’s sued the city because its publicly financed stadium named after Safco insurance did not come with a publicly funded parking garage….FUCKING MOVE!

    Yeah, you’re probably right – but at least it looks like all that we Seattle taxpayers are going to give the Sonics is some advice regarding not letting the door hit them on the ass on the way out.

  25. Not that it changes any of the arguments, but “light rail” is not a synonym for commuter rail or public transit. Light rail is something different, specific, and often far sillier.

    Light rail refers to systems designed for quick movement of small numbers of people. Examples would be trams and streetcars.

    Think of light rail vehicles as being like buses, but on rails, meaning they don’t carry any more people than a few buses would, but they can’t detour around problems, and they can’t change their route without new construction.

  26. Think of light rail vehicles as being like buses, but on rails, meaning they don’t carry any more people than a few buses would, but they can’t detour around problems, and they can’t change their route without new construction.

    But they’re so shiny when they’re new!

  27. I think a lot of the hostility that libertarians have towards light rail is the fact that it’s slow because it’s above-ground and therefore slowed by surface traffic. They’d have no problem spending the necessary additional government funds for efficient underground systems like Washington DC’s Metro or the SF Bay Area BART system, or for fast inter-city trains like they have in Europe or Japan, right guys?

  28. The light rail here in Portland, OR, is awesome, and expanding. I take it all the time, sometimes with bicycle, sometimes without. It’s used by a lot more than 1%-2% of local traffic. It actually makes it possible to live here (depending upon your neighborhood) without owning a car. So I fail to see how this is wasted money when the vast bulk of transportation goes to supporting fellow citizens’ auto addictions. I’m sick of my tax dollars subsidizing overcrowded freeways that can’t be expanded no matter how much money you throw at them because there’s no space left to add lanes. The only “folly” is putting all your transportation dollars in one overfilled basket (without making the idiots who insist on crowding the roads with SUVs pay for their selfishness through gas taxes or tolls).

  29. I think a lot of the hostility that libertarians have towards light rail is the fact that it’s slow because it’s above-ground and therefore slowed by surface traffic. They’d have no problem spending the necessary additional government funds for efficient underground systems like Washington DC’s Metro or the SF Bay Area BART system, or for fast inter-city trains like they have in Europe or Japan, right guys?

    If only.

    Libertarians (at least those of the thinktank variety) apparently think that publicly funded highways equal freedom.

    I say that these things should be privately funded, but if we can’t do that we should at least spend the some of the stolen money on high-speed trains and urban subways.

  30. My, the number of libertarians posting here who think that highways and roads suddenly magically appear out of nowhere with no construction costs….

    And who think that light rail has “maintenance costs” but roads don’t?

    Look–I lived in Tokyo. I know exactly how efficient a train/subway setup can be at moving people around. I’d much rather deal with a crowded subway car which still gets me to where I want to in time rather than sitting in traffic for N hours. (How many of the people posting here have had to deal with morning Chicago traffic?)

    And if we’re going to do a comparison between the costs of light rail and other methods of transportation, don’t forget all the money that was already sunk by the feds into the “other transportation”. That also was paid for by taxes, hmmm?

    If you want to live in a country without taxes, there are tons of places around the world that provide that. Please move. Just don’t complain when you end up in places with absolutely no infrastructure or in the middle of a civil war. If you want to live in a organized society, you have to pay for the infrastructure and maintenance of that infrastructure. TANSTAAFL.

  31. Christ on a crutch.

    Guess what? The fucking highway system is already built. Just because such we use that doesn’t somehow mean that it’s suddenly ok to spend even more money on a debacle like light rail.

  32. Morning traffic in Chicago? It’s unpleasant, but I’d be thrilled if I made the return trip at night in the same amount of time.

  33. Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans and Houston are west of the Appalacians. Not to mention, Los Angleles itself grew up around an urban passenger rail system.

    I get what you’re saying about older cities, but that was poorly phrased.

    The fucking highway system is already built

    And in many areas, it’s at or over capacity. Often way over during peak hours. Meaning some expansion of the transportation system is necessary.

    So when you’re talking about moving people into and out of a city, is it preferable to use eminent domain to widen urban highways in areas that already have air quality problems, or to give commuters a different option that doesn’t harm the city it’s supposed to serve?

  34. Libertarians (at least those of the thinktank variety) apparently think that publicly funded highways equal freedom.

    I think, at least to some extent, what libertarians want to see is people paying for what they use. We already have a way to approximate this with car travel – the roads can be paid for with gas taxes, and people of course buy their own cars and insurance. The gas tax is essentially a use tax.

    The way to charge a “use tax” for buses, or light rail, or etc. is to charge a fare when the person gets on. But if the true price was charged, most of these systems would not exist, as the ride would be prohibitively expensive… I believe in Seattle about 21% of the cost of a bus ride is paid for by the rider, the rest comes out of someone else’s pocket.

  35. Look–I lived in Tokyo. I know exactly how efficient a train/subway setup can be at moving people around. I’d much rather deal with a crowded subway car which still gets me to where I want to in time rather than sitting in traffic for N hours. (How many of the people posting here have had to deal with morning Chicago traffic?)

    There are places with massive population density, like Tokyo and New York, where there is simply no other way to get around than a mass transit system. The problem is that the transitophiles want to impose massively expensive systems in places where either the population density or the distribution of jobs in the area make it impractical.

    In places like Seattle and Atlanta (and I’ve lived in both places), many of the jobs have moved to the suburbs years or decades ago, yet the transit planners keep laying shiny, multi-billion dollar rails to downtown.

  36. And in many areas, it’s at or over capacity. Often way over during peak hours. Meaning some expansion of the transportation system is necessary.

    So when you’re talking about moving people into and out of a city, is it preferable to use eminent domain to widen urban highways in areas that already have air quality problems, or to give commuters a different option that doesn’t harm the city it’s supposed to serve?

    Leave the highways exactly as they are. Wouldn’t that encourage people to move back into the cities?

  37. I’d much rather deal with a crowded subway car which still gets me to where I want to in time rather than sitting in traffic for N hours.

    As Reason magazine pointed out recently, sitting in traffic turns out to be a faster option than the transit system for many people.

    “Minneapolis-St. Paul is about average. The typical commuter takes 21 minutes to get to work by car or 32 minutes by public transit. Congestion can be pretty bad: The average driver in the Twin Cities spends 43 hours-more than an entire work week-stuck in traffic every year. According to the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, that costs Twin Cities drivers almost $1 billion in wasted time and fuel. But mass transit takes even longer, and it isn’t as flexible as a car when it comes to picking where and when you’d like to go. Is it any wonder Sue drives to work rather than taking the bus or train?”

  38. “If there’s a large enough city, the commute from suburb to city along certain corridors makes rail the most convenient way to get in.”

    New York, Boston and Chicago. That’s about it. DC is some respects, but people I know that live there work past 6 O’clock and can’t make the trains home, plus they like to hit a bar or two after work sometimes. Too many smaller cities lack the infrastructure within their business districts, and many cities have business sprawl as well as residential. Light rail is neat where it works. I suspect too many people go to NYC or Boston, fall in love with the rail systems, then wish they had them back home.

  39. JMR,

    Poor access to urban cores was one of the major reasons why jobs moved out of there. How is driving into downtown Atlanta at 8:15 on a Tuesday morning, anyway?

    jf,

    Leave the highways exactly as they are. Wouldn’t that encourage people to move back into the cities? That depends on the transit system in-town. In many cases, cities grew up around a transit system which either no longer exists or has been dramatically scaled back.

    A related issue here is the problem of transit funds being steered towards suburban rail, while starving intra-city bus and rail of funds. There was big lawsuit in Los Angeles in the 90s about this.

  40. JMR,

    The comparison you quote implies that the people taking rail and the people driving are taking the same commute, but using different modes. In practice, most of the people taking rail are not replicating the trips of people taking the highways. The people taking 32-minute train rides aren’t choosing them because they are less convenient for them, but because they are more convienient. In other words, their other choice isn’t a 21 minute drive but a 40 minute drive.

  41. JMR,

    Poor access to urban cores was one of the major reasons why jobs moved out of there. How is driving into downtown Atlanta at 8:15 on a Tuesday morning, anyway?

    I admit, when I lived in Atlanta, I rode MARTA to work. (hanging head in shame)

  42. “I’m sick of my tax dollars subsidizing overcrowded freeways…”

    Do you buy gasoline? Do you pay vehicle registration and license fees? In theory those sources of revenue are to be used for the highways and freeways. As JMR correctly pointed out above, there are already roadway “use taxes” of a sort (and a growing number of roads are tollways).

    In practice, however, the politicians divert the revenue streams mentioned above to other purposes — among them the financing and subsidy of public transportation, but also purposes that are totally unrelated to the automotive infrastructure. When road construction projects or needed, those same politicians raid other funds to finance them — paving the way for the complaint above.

    I’d be quite pleased if the “use taxes” that motorists and truckers pay went exclusively for the roadway infrastructure. I think we’d see in short order “who’s subsidizing whom.” Not to mention that there would be more improvements to the roadways than politicians claim we can afford now (absent new taxes or bond indebtedness, at least). Also, the people who don’t own or drive cars wouldn’t be “forced” to contribute to the road system through the other taxes they pay — fair enough.

    If you want to get people out of their cars, you have to eliminate the need for roadtrips, or you must point the people toward alternative transportation that provides the benefits that would normally cause them to choose to use their personal auto in the first place. The alternative mode of transportation should also offer its own attractive benefits, as well as avoid one or more of the personal auto’s weaknesses. Does such an alternative exist? Can it? If not, why do people criticize the automobile so? But if such a thing can or does exist, why don’t we look more closely into it and make it happen? As a Libertarian, I would count, among the compelling benefits an alternative might offer, the ability to pay back construction costs and fund ongoing operations completely from the fare box, systemwide advertising, and other reasonable revenue streams that do not involve taxpayer subsidy.

  43. I agree with Joe.

    Socialist roads aren’t less socialist than socialist rail systems.

    In fact, in terms of their net impact on the total level of state control over property use, I would argue that socialist roads are MUCH, MUCH worse than socialist rail systems.

    The road system isn’t made viable merely by socialist road construction. It also requires a massive system of land-use controls that micromanage the use of ALL property right down to the number of parking spaces a new shopping center must provide.

    You can build a system of relatively free private property use around public rail transportation. It’s much harder to do so around the kind of massive public road system we currently have.

  44. In my posting above, “When road construction projects or needed, those same politicians…”

    should have been

    “When road construction or maintance projects are needed, those same politicians…”

  45. Poor access to urban cores was one of the major reasons why jobs moved out of there.

    Even if this is the case – whatever. We now have cities and regions where decades of residential and business location decisions have been made based on automobile travel being the dominant mode of transportation. We can’t have a do-over.

    It’s as silly to ask Minneapolis to become a transit-based region as it would be to tell NYC to turn off the subway and have everyone drive.

  46. “Poor access to urban cores was one of the major reasons why jobs moved out of there.”

    You’re saying that the ‘urban cores’ were so valuable that people couldn’t be bothered to go there? Poor access isn’t zero access. How did those urban cores become urban cores in the first place if there’s no access?

  47. The light rail in Minneapolis has the added advantage of crossing over key traffic corridors. So, even though it isn’t used by many people, it actually makes traffic worse by adding to the number of times traffic stops for train crossings. I honestly haven’t heard one person in Minneapolis/St. Paul speak well of the new system (admittedly anecdotal evidence).

  48. I grew up in the Pasadena area of Southern California. If I had never left SoCal, and worked downtown, I can practically guarantee that I would drive to work every day.

    I now live in Chicago and take either the brown line or the purple line to work every day. If I were to move back to Pasadena, I would now take the Pasadena gold line to get downtown every day. It’s a question of mindset. People who aren’t used to public transportation won’t start taking it simply because it’s there.

    I don’t know what the solution is. Hell, I still won’t take the bus anywhere, just because of the stigma. In L.A., the people who take the bus are the people who can’t afford a car.

  49. There’s a simple response to all of this, folks: the coming energy crunch–barring any unforeseen deus-ex-machina energy miracle–will make your exurban lifestyle look MUCH less attractive and will result in many more people sharing vehicles by necessity. Those cities that are unprepared for this will become very unpleasant places to live during the ensuing chaos.

  50. Poor access to urban cores was one of the major reasons why jobs moved out of there

    Jobs moved out of Atlanta? Which jobs? Atlanta is booming. The businesses have simply moved to the burbs as well. They’re in office complexes all up and down 400. We’re all clerks now anyways. If your job is accountant, database administrator or secretary you need the same thing: a desk, a computer, and a phone. Why do these things have to be in an “urban area”? Hell why do they even have to be in an office? You have those things at home now.

    And why do we all have to work from 0830 to 1730? Atlanta traffic is atrocious – at 0830 and 1730. At 0530 you can drive straight from Alpharetta to the airport in 30 minutes. It seems to me staggered work schedules and telecommuting can reduce traffic a lot better than a light rail system when the majority of jobs are office jobs.

  51. The people taking 32-minute train rides aren’t choosing them because they are less convenient for them, but because they are more convienient. In other words, their other choice isn’t a 21 minute drive but a 40 minute drive.

    There is one more choice: a 21-minute drive and a $20 parking fee.

  52. I now live in Chicago and take either the brown line or the purple line to work every day.

    If you lived by the blue line, your trip to work would be roughly 90 minutes every day. As Bee mentioned above, public transit infrastructure is collapsing, and it isn’t because of lack of funding, it’s because of pissing the funding away on “low-value but NEW NEW NEW” things like the never-gonna-happen circle line, the huge waste of money that is the “how many minutes until the next bus” system (get a fuckin bus schedule) and numerous other wastes of money the CTA commits to every year because “NEW” just sounds soooo sexy. Look at any CTA rail stop on the Dan Ryan – there must be at least 30 brand-spanking new signs at each stop that say “cta” and nothing more, some of which have already fallen off onto the expressway. How many fucking times do I have to be reminded that I’m on the goddamned CTA? And how much did each one of those signs cost?

  53. It seems to me staggered work schedules and telecommuting can reduce traffic a lot better than a light rail system when the majority of jobs are office jobs.

    Telecommuting… what a joke that turned out to be. Oh, the shitty laptop IT gave you can’t connect? Just call IT Support! I’m sure they’ll get right back to you. What’s that, I can’t hear you. Turn off the goddamn speakerphone and PICK IT UP!

    Staggered hours however, are a great idea and that’s why most companies do it now.

  54. (How many of the people posting here have had to deal with morning Chicago traffic?)

    I live in Bartlett and used to work in Naperville. The commute in my 17 mpg SUV was an hour and not particularly pleasant.

    Now I take ‘Heavy Rail’ into the loop for my new job. It only takes 45 minutes and I get to read the paper on my ride in. Driving from Bartlett to Chicago is almost a physical impossiblility.

    Poor access to urban cores was one of the major reasons why jobs moved out of there

    I can’t speak for other cities, but for Chicago, I think it was increasing levels of taxation where part of the problem.

    Coupled with the fact that many families had already fled to the suburbs because of the declining quality of the Chicago Public Schools, when a business was looking to expand or relocate, the fact that their work force was already in the burbs, and real estate and real estate taxes where cheaper, the suburbs where very appealing.

  55. As Bee mentioned above, public transit infrastructure is collapsing, and it isn’t because of lack of funding, it’s because of pissing the funding away on “low-value but NEW NEW NEW” things like the never-gonna-happen circle line, the huge waste of money that is the “how many minutes until the next bus” system

    Russ 2K, I’m not as familiar with the CTA as Metra, but doesn’t the CTA have a lot of problems with administrative bloat also?

  56. I believe in Seattle about 21% of the cost of a bus ride is paid for by the rider, the rest comes out of someone else’s pocket.

    In NYC it’s over 50%. In 2002 it was 67% but now the huge cost of fighting 50 years of neglect is doing more damage in the form of larger-than-expected interest payments.

  57. “The alternative mode of transportation should also offer its own attractive benefits, as well as avoid one or more of the personal auto’s weaknesses. Does such an alternative exist? Can it? If not, why do people criticize the automobile so? But if such a thing can or does exist, why don’t we look more closely into it and make it happen?”

    It’s not a fair competition when the power of the state is used to limit the ability of property owners to use their property in ways that might harm the automobile “regime”.

    In the absence of micromanagement by zoning boards and town/city governments, property owners would tend to develop valuable property right up to the property line, and provide minimal or limited parking. The entire reason zoning codes exist to prevent this is because it’s the natural course for development to take over time. Land use development of this kind tends to slow traffic overall and make it less convenient to use a car overall. It’s also relatively easier for areas developed in this manner to utilize rail systems.

    You can’t use the market to argue that cars are simply naturally more convenient and that it’s not fair to criticize them until other modes can duplicate this convenience – when they’re only convenient because of widespread interference in property rights.

  58. Even if this is the case – whatever. We now have cities and regions where decades of residential and business location decisions have been made based on automobile travel being the dominant mode of transportation. We can’t have a do-over.

    Problem is, we will be forced by increasing gas prices (they are never going down, only up in the future) to have a do over.

  59. Marcvs,

    I live in the Twin Cities and have all sorts of anecdotal evidence that people love the rail line. But that doesn’t count for much (’cause it’s all anecdotal and whatnot), so read this here intertubes page: http://www.metrocouncil.org/transportation/lrt/lrt.htm I live near the rail and see massive revitalization along the line. People *want* to live near light rail. Ridership continues to grow beyond all expectations. In addition, whenever there’s an event downtown (frequently, as this covers sports events, competitions, conferences, etc) the rail cars are completely packed. It’s a hell of a lot easier to use a park & ride south of the city than to try and slog your way through brutal downtown traffic. That is a fact.

    As for crossing points – the line runs OVER all major crossroads (Lake, 62, 494, 94). With a 10 minute schedule, traffic is interrupted once every five minutes for about 20 seconds, or for much less time than a simple stoplight. Again, I live in the area, I don’t ride the rail much, and as a driver find it utterly unobtrusive.

    I know the libertarian line is that anything funded by tax dollars is evil socialism, but c’mon. Highways (especially the interstate system) were built using monstrous means, including vast sums of money and the destruction of many communities. As the system becomes older it requires more and more from tax dollars to maintain. Pretending that our road system is free or subject to a ‘use fee’ is absurd. The only ‘fee’ has been the creation of a social contract that requires all members to own a car. The rest is taxes and bullshit about freedom.

  60. Lamar,

    Read the rest of the post. The bit about the transit systems that provided access, and allowed urban cores to develop at that density, being removed or scaled back. Lots of people went there in the past, when the access was better.

    James Anderson Merrit,

    It’s misleading to treat the transit system and the road system as two distinct entities that only benefit two distinct groups of people. If building a transit system removes enough traffic from the highways that peak hour traffic volumes no longer overwhelm the roadways, that benefits every driver on those roadways to exactly the same extent as building additional road lanes to produce the same improvement, in addition to the benefit it provides to those who use the transit system. Do you complain that your road user taxes go to off-ramps other than the ones you use?

    JMR,

    Filling sparsely-built areas is much more feasible than depopulating urban cores. One requires only that the investment in new building that would take place anyway be done slightly differently than under the existing set of land use regulations, while the other requires the destruction of a great deal of real estate with existing values. Remember, every urban core that exists today was once a low-density rural village, while none of the sprawling suburbs we see were built atop demolished urban cores.

    Licoln,

    I didn’t say “jobs moved out of Atlanta,” but “jobs moved out of urban cores.” As you say, the jobs moved (either in absolute terms or in the share of jobs) to the suburbs.

    It’s an interesting question as to why the economy still runs mostly on a 9-5 basis.

  61. Lamar,

    Ever see an 80-year-old map of LA’s transit system? How much more convienient would it be to drive vs. take transit if that still existed?

    And consider – how much more convienient still would it be if the development that had occured in the past 50 years – both the commercial and residential development – had taken place while that system was still operational?

  62. Y’know, it is possible (and preferable) to have both transit and highway systems that run in good shape. The transit lovers here seem to be East Coasters or urbanites whose views don’t mesh with those of the folks who have voted with their feet for a suburban lifestyle. Both cost the other some dough, so get off your high horse already!

    In the pure libertarian view, both highways and transit should be 100% privately funded. Obviously, that’s not happening anytime soon. A good mix of transportation options is probably the best way to ensure maximum practical amount of personal freedom for the most people.


  63. Ever see an 80-year-old map of LA’s transit system? How much more convienient would it be to drive vs. take transit if that still existed?

    Having lived in both places, I’ve often joked that L.A.’s public transportation system was designed by people with a lot of money invested in freeways and car travel, while Chicago’s freeway system was designed by people with a lot of money in public transportation. At least in the former situation, that’s somewhat accurate, as it was the big 3 who basically dismantled L.A.’s streetcar system.

    Now I take ‘Heavy Rail’ into the loop for my new job. It only takes 45 minutes and I get to read the paper on my ride in. Driving from Bartlett to Chicago is almost a physical impossiblility.

    The traffic in Chicago is horrendous. MUCH worse than Los Angeles, primarily because there aren’t really any good alternate routes available if you’re driving. When I was home from school one summer, I was commuting from Pasadena to Santa Ana. The drive sucked, but if there was extra heavy traffic, or an accident, I could go a different way (I usually took I-5, but I could take the 60 to the 57, or the 605 to the 91, or the 22).

    To add to that, they apparently had retarded people design freeways in Chicago. I’d love to meet the genius who thought that it would be a good idea on the westbound Eisenhower to not only have exits on the left, but also take away a lane at the same time. Or on the eastbound Eisenhower to have three freeways come together at the same point, and take away a lane there as well. Fucking morons.

    Of course, on the weekends, traffic isn’t too bad on the freeways. The only problem is that it can take me about a half hour to actually get travel the 2 or 3 miles to the freeway from my apartment in Lincoln Park.

  64. I’d love to meet the genius who thought that it would be a good idea on the westbound Eisenhower to not only have exits on the left, but also take away a lane at the same time. Or on the eastbound Eisenhower to have three freeways come together at the same point, and take away a lane there as well.

    From what I have read/heard, When the Eisenhower was built, almost no one lived out there. It was mainly farming communities. Talk about lack of vision.

  65. The traffic in Chicago is horrendous. MUCH worse than Los Angeles, primarily because there aren’t really any good alternate routes available if you’re driving

    Seitz, I hadn’t really thought about that. I had always hear LA traffic was bad and had assumed it was worse than it is in Chicagoland. Now I know better.

    Seitz is correct. If you live in the suburbs and want to get into the city, or vice versa, there is but 1 way to get there.

  66. What about the bike paths? That’s another thing < a href=”http://porkbusters.org/hall_of_shame.php”>libertarians love to hate. I’ll bet the bridge collapse was caused too many bike paths or something.

    One of the first entries: $1.76 million for “Portage bike path development”. There’s one thing we’ve learned here at Porkbusters: it’s always the damned bike paths.

    Oh lordy, $1.76 million, that’s money wasted that could have been better used widening a Minneapolis highway about 2 extra inches.

  67. Ever see an 80-year-old map of LA’s transit system? How much more convienient would it be to drive vs. take transit if that still existed?

    I about fainted the first time I ever saw that map. I live at the extreme north mountainy end of LA – currently very poorly served by public transportation – and I could have walked a couple of minutes from my house (which did exist at the time!) to catch a trolley that would have taken me anywhere in developed Southern California. I was absolutely boggled.

    All ripped out. All gone.

  68. From what I have read/heard, When the Eisenhower was built, almost no one lived out there. It was mainly farming communities. Talk about lack of vision.

    When I-95 was built in Massachusetts – I-95, the perimeter highway 5 miles outside of Boston – it was nicknamed “the road to nowhere.”

    Nobody had a clue back then. The justification for perimeter highways back then was that truckers and vacationers should go around the city as they drove through the state.

  69. Heh, the road to nowhere.

    Which brings us back to the healine of this post.

  70. Yes, expressways are frequently justified by future use but don’t dare try that with public transit.

    All ripped out. All gone.

    The same was true virtually everywhere. Even my hometown–sad, depressed little Rochester, NY–had a subway of sorts and a network of “interurban” trains radiating in all directions to nearby cities and villages. How much freer we are now! And to ensure the freedom from convenient public transit for all time, not only were all the rails ripped out, many of the routes were covered with buildings and in one case, an expressway. What vision!

  71. Did the libertarians give up on this thread because they’re they just bored or is that no one believes the Cato talking points any more?

  72. And consider – how much more convienient still would it be if the development that had occured in the past 50 years – both the commercial and residential development – had taken place while that system was still operational?

    Hey, imagine if we had just kept Philadelphia and New York at populations of less than 20,000 – their size during the Revolutionary War. It would be so convenient! Everything would be in walking distance.

  73. Did the libertarians give up on this thread because they’re they just bored or is that no one believes the Cato talking points any more?

    All these threads lose steam eventually, thank goodness.

  74. Did the libertarians give up on this thread because they’re they just bored or is that no one believes the Cato talking points any more?

    For various reasons it is difficult for libertarians to be cheerleaders for public spending on roads, public management of roads, eminent domain of rights of way, or zoning. It is not surprising that there isn’t often much outside of subjective opinion for a libertarian to contribute.

    I’ll just note that one should not underestimate the consumer surplus of driving: It is truly enormous, as represented by the insensitivity of driving to the costs of fuel, car, insurance, parking, and roads themselves.

  75. The other reason why I much much prefer the L rather than driving into Chicago is once I get downtown, I’ve got to figure out what to do with the car. 20$ parking space vs 4$ if I take the train? Duh, no question which is more cost-effective.

    Any city where it is quicker to get to locations via car vs. the train has a badly-designed transport system. I hate with a passion having to go up to Northwestern U. because with the three changes on the train it takes me fully an hour-and-a-half each way. C’mon, run the Purple Line Express all the friggin’ time. On the other hand, if I take the car, I’m screwed because there’s no bloody parking anywhere.

    The best results I noticed from living in cities depending highly on public transportation is that it’s a very easy way to keep one’s weight down. You don’t think you’re walking all that much, but all those little bits add up.

    The other major distinction I’ve noted between European and US cities has been a question of scale. European cities, for the most part, were built on a scale for humans, with a lot of stuff in walking distance. US cities were unfortunately for the most part built around catering to the car and transportation by car. Result: everything is far too spread out for pedestrians, even if they had sufficient sidewalks. Which discourages people from walking.

    Urban design–it’s not just for liberals.

  76. the westbound eisenhower has exits on the left so they didn’t have to tear up a whole bunch of oak park to put the expressway through.

    that said, the congress expressway was the brainchild of daniel burnham, who was pretty much a genius.

  77. JMR,

    Hey, imagine if we had just kept Philadelphia and New York at populations of less than 20,000 – their size during the Revolutionary War. It would be so convenient! Everything would be in walking distance.

    So now we know you don’t know the difference between allowing growth to occur on its own while taking advantage of the conditions around it, and forcibly preventing growth from occuring.

    Very helpful comment.

  78. I’m sorry, JMR, that was unnecessarily pissy of me.

    In my opinion, eliminating our cities from growing beyond provincial towns would have been extremely inconvenient. The destinations I’d like people to have better access to wouldn’t exist at all.

    But this is a moot point – cities grow, and they grow in a manner that orients them around their transportaton system. Cities oriented around effective public transportation systems – London, New York, Moscow, Tokyo, Boston – are more convenient than cities that lack such a system – Detroit, Los Angeles – both for their residents, and for those who commute into the city.

  79. JMR,

    The Alaskan Way Viaduct will take care of its own destruction soon.

    Replacing it with nothing is a fabulous solution. Cheaper, better, faster.

    http://www.moreperfect.org/wiki/index.php?title=People%27s_Waterfront_Coalition

  80. 1) If light rail is such a loser, why is it so widespread in Europe? Spend a week in Berlin or Munich or Stockholm. You don’t need a car to get around. Check out the layout with google maps. You might learn something.

    2) Sprawling suburbs tied together with concrete ribbons won’t be a good deal when the price of gas hits $6/gallon. The underlying issue is urban planning. The U.S sucks at it.

    3) I have ridden Metra Rail recently in Chicago. The trains were packed. Amtrak has recently added six daily trains to their Illinois schedules. I guess the ridership must be unreasonable non-libertarians. 🙂

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