In this issue:
- Upgrading major arterials for enhanced transit
- The China syndrome
- A caution on U.S. transportation infrastructure investment
- New commuting data: mostly same old, same old
- NHTSA’s autonomous vehicles policy
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
Upgrading Major Arterials for Enhanced Transit
As I’ve recounted in previous issue, there is increasing appreciation in the urban transit community that enhanced bus (express bus and bus rapid transit) generally provides a lot more transit bang for the buck than light rail projects. There is also a growing understanding that a network of express toll lanes provides an excellent and low-cost (to the transit agency) guideway for express bus service—the virtual equivalent of an exclusive guideway, thanks to variable pricing that keeps these express lanes uncongested.
But if we’re going to take full advantage of enhanced bus’s cost-effectiveness, we have to figure out how to make it work on major arterials as well as freeway express toll lanes. Some metro areas are considering or planning bus-only lanes on major arterials. In a few cases, this would be accomplished by widening the arterial (e.g., going from six lanes to eight). But cost and property-owner objections make that a difficult option in many cases. So the primary intention seems to be to convert one existing lane each way to bus-only.
A new Reason Foundation study suggests a better alternative. Since in most cases eliminating one lane out of three, each way, would lead to Level of Service F conditions in the remaining lanes during peak periods, the wiser alternative is to retrofit the arterial with the functional equivalent of express toll lanes. The way to do that is not to convert a general-purpose lane to express toll; frequent signalized intersections make that infeasible. Instead, the retrofit proposed in the new study is adding electronically tolled grade separations at major intersections. This change would enable paying automobiles, express buses, and BRT heavy buses to traverse long distances at the speed limit without stopping, greatly improving bus performance, as we already see on freeway express toll lanes.
The study quantifies the problem of converting arterial lanes to bus-only, finding that on a typical six-lane arterial operating at LOS E during peaks, the buses using the new lane would have to attract 34% of total hourly person throughput (filling 28 buses per hour) to avoid creating much worse congestion in the general-purpose lanes. That seems unlikely in most suburbanized metro areas where transit overall has a 3 to 5% commute mode share. But converting the six-lane arterial to the Managed Arterial configuration would significantly increase its traffic-carrying capacity, by allowing part of the traffic to bypass the signalized intersections. A standard six-lane arterial with signalized intersections has a traffic capacity of about 52,000 vehicles per day; if converted to a Managed Arterial, that number would increase to over 87,000 vpd. The study also estimates that a generic Managed Arterial should be able to recover about 75% of the capital costs of the conversion out of revenues from electronic tolls paid by those choosing to use the grade separations.
There are precedents for grade separations on arterials and for charging to use grade separations. In Santa Clara County, CA (Silicon Valley), several major arterials developed by the county government have (non-tolled) grade separations at some of their major intersections. Local parlance terms these roads “expressways,” as distinguished from freeways such as US 101 and I-280. If you know the area, you may have driven on the Almaden Expressway, the Lawrence Expressway, or the Montague Expressway. They were built in an era when transportation budgets were not as strapped as they are today, and mostly before all-electronic tolling. But today, in nearby San Mateo County, planners are looking into adding grade separations and electronic tolling to facilitate express bus service on arterials going to and from the Dumbarton Bridge across the Bay.
Texas is (so far) the only place I know of where electronically tolled grade separations are being implemented. Houston’s Grand Parkway (SH 99) has been developed in part as a set of what will end up as frontage roads with the option for their motorists to use tolled grade separations as an alternative to signalized intersections. As the project is built out in stages, the main tolled lanes will be built in between the frontage roads. And in Austin, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is designing flyovers to connect SH 130 and US 290. CTRMA will issue $70 million in bonds for the project, and the tolls to use the flyovers will probably be the same 55 cents (for transponder users) as for their existing tolled flyovers at the other end of US 290, connecting it to US 183.
The new Reason study, “Enhanced Transit and Managed Arterials,” is online at https://reason.org/news/show/enhanced-transit-managed-arterials
Conventional wisdom in the U.S. transportation infrastructure community is that our infrastructure is “crumbling,” and that China shows the way forward by “spending more on infrastructure each year than North America and Western Europe combined.” This has also been a theme of economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in recent years. The comparison is very misleading, since China is an economy still emerging from underdevelopment, not an advanced western nation that already has extensive infrastructure. But there is also the question of whether China is making sound investments.
On the latter point, I was not completely surprised to read the following in a letter to the editor of The Economist (September 3, 2016):
“Over half of the investments in transport infrastructure in China are of such low quality that they destroy economic value instead of generating it—the costs of that spending are larger than the benefits they generate. Unless China shifts to fewer and higher-quality infrastructure investments, the country is heading for an infrastructure-led national financial and economic crisis.”
The letter writer was Bent Flyvbjerg, professor of economics at Oxford’s Said Business School and lead author of the classic volume, Megaprojects and Risk (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
His conclusions about China are derived from a major research project, summarized in “Does Infrastructure Investment Lead to Economic Growth or Economic Fragility? Evidence from China,” by Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn. I downloaded and read the paper last week, and found it a very well-done piece of empirical research.
Flyvbjerg and his team obtained data on 95 completed transport infrastructure projects in China. They are among the best-documented Chinese projects, since they received some of their financing from either the Asian Development Bank or the World Bank. Among the team’s findings from this dataset are the following:
- 75% of these road and rail projects had cost overruns;
- Actual costs averaged 31% higher than budget, but many were much worse;
- Road projects were generally completed on schedule, but rail projects on average took 25% longer than planned;
- 65% of the projects had “benefit shortfalls,” primarily lower traffic and revenue than forecast, averaging 41%, and some were much worse;
- The remaining one-third were overloaded, by an average of 61%.
The approved plans that authorized the projects to go forward (including ADB or WB financing) included benefit/cost ratios of 1.4 to 1.5—meaning “planners expected the net present benefits to exceed net present costs by about 40-50 percent.” Using data from the 95 completed projects, Flyvbjerg’s team recomputed their actual B/C ratios, finding that 55% of the projects had an actual ratio of less than 1.0. And, “a majority of these value-destroying projects suffered the double whammy of a cost overrun and a benefit shortfall.”
Well, you might think, at least China’s economy will be improved by all this new infrastructure, even if some of the money was wasted. The latter part of the paper addresses the macroeconomic consequences of these poor outcomes. First, the authors cite other work demonstrating that China’s biggest economic growth came prior to most of this infrastructure development. Bannister and Berechman found that “The ‘China miracle’ happened not because it had glittering skyscrapers and modern highways but because bold economic liberalization and institutional reforms . . . created competition and nurtured private entrepreneurship.”
Flyvbjerg and colleagues conclude that massive over-spending and poor outcomes in infrastructure have led to “an accumulation of a destabilizing pile of debt in the economy; unprecedented monetary expansion . . . and subsequent economic fragility.” And also, “perhaps even more damaging, are the opportunities foregone to build the right infrastructure.”
I’ve only skimmed the surface of this very important paper. Everyone interested in sound U.S. infrastructure policy should read it and ponder its findings.
A Caution on U.S. Transportation Infrastructure Investment
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have proposed massive increases in infrastructure spending, with only vague ideas on how to pay for their $275 billion or $500 billion increases. And unfortunately, much of the transportation and business community seems to be beating the drum simply for more spending, never raising pesky questions such as which investments would actually generate more benefits than costs.
An unfortunate example is the well-meaning but flawed report just out from the National Association of Manufacturers, “Building to Win.” I read it the same day as I read Flyvbjerg’s research report on China’s infrastructure, and was distressed to see NAM making (p. 7) the China comparison with no qualifications whatsoever.
But it got worse when I got to the specifics, such as the table “Funding Needs by Transportation Mode,” on page 15. The table lists four categories—highways & bridges, aviation, ports and waterways, and public transit. Each is addressed in three columns, headed:
- Current annual federal spending level
- Annual funding gap (through 2025)
- Cumulative 10-year funding gap
The numbers in the first column are uncontroversial, with the highway and transit ones coming from FHWA’s most recent (2013) Conditions & Performance Report (C&P Report). Except that the C&P numbers for highways and transit are total capital spending from federal, state, and local governments. So the column heading is wrong.
The annual funding gap for highways and bridges is given as an astonishing $91 billion, which is vastly different from what appears in the C&P itself (which is probably the most authoritative source). I say that because numbers proposed by various transportation interest groups are almost always China-type wish lists, divorced from any benefit/cost ratio testing. But FHWA’s C&P calculations of funding gaps are the end result of serious B/C analysis. And as I wrote in the March 2014 issue of this newsletter, when the current C&P Report came out, the welcome good news was that its estimate of annual capital spending needed to maintain current highway conditions and performance was between $65.3 billion and $86.3 billion, depending on the assumed rate of VMT growth. The higher number slightly exceeds the current annual capital spending, $88.3B. The C&P Report also includes an “improve” scenario, and the more realistic one is based on a B/C screen of 1.5 or more. At the lower of two VMT growth rate assumptions, the annual investment needed to improve things is $93.9B—for an annual gap of just $5.6B. Under the higher VMT growth assumption, the annual need was calculated to be $111.9B, for a gap of $23.9B per year—again, far lower than the table’s astonishing $91B per year.
Similar disparities exist for the public transit spending gap. The C&P Report puts the annualized need at $22B (vs. the current $17.1B), which means the annual gap is $4.9B—not the $34 to $56B in the table. No sources are provided for the annual gap figures for aviation and ports/waterways, but let me make a brief comment on each. The airports that handle 90-95% of passenger traffic are either already self-sufficient or could easily be so, if they had the ability to increase their (bondable) passenger facility charge (PFC) beyond the current federal limit of $4.50. Ports that are economically viable are able to self-finance capital investments for which a realistic rate of return exists. As for inland waterways, the barge industry pays for only 5% of the cost of maintaining and modernizing the system’s locks and dams, so calls for “new federal investment” generally mean increased general-fund support. There is no return-on-investment test for these large-scale subsidies to an industry that competes largely with self-supporting railroads.
In short, while I’m sure NAM’s leaders and staff had good intentions in producing this report, it fails to make its case. Not only are the specific spending recommendations poorly supported, but there is no mention anywhere in its 40 pages of benefit/cost assessment or return on investment criteria. Consequently, it is a poor guide to the actual need, which is for economically viable–as opposed to Chinese type—investments in infrastructure.
New Commuting Data: Same Old, Same Old
Last month brought the release of the 2015 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census. The data on commuting from ACS are generally accepted as the most-representative national-average figures. And what is most notable about these latest numbers is how little change they reveal, compared with their counterparts over the past decade.
Commuting expert Steve Polzin of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida posted an excellent summary, with 10-year graphs, on Planetizen (September 28, 2016). Most of the commuting mode-share data show very little change over the decade from 2005 through 2015. Drive-alone remains the choice of slightly over three-fourths of all commuters (76.6%), with virtually no change over this time period. Interestingly, nearly as many millennials (age 20-24) drive alone (72.5%), despite all you read about them being new urbanists who walk, bike, or use transit.
The two most significant trends over the decade are the continuing decline in carpooling and the ongoing increase in telecommuting. Despite all the guff about the sharing economy and future “mobility as a service,” there is no sign of this so far in terms of increased willingness to share rides with others; carpooling is down to 9.0%, from nearly 11% a decade ago (and from just under 20% in 1980). Telecommuting has increased from about 3.4% in 2005 to 4.6% in 2015 and seems to be catching up with transit’s mode share of 5.2%. Biking (0.6%) and walking (2.8%) are largely flat over the decade.
Polzin notes that average commuting time (heavily influenced by the drive-alone super-majority) is now 26.4 minutes, up from 25.1 minutes a decade ago. But he also provides some useful perspective by comparing the 2005 U.S. figure with average 2005 commute times in other OECD member countries—e.g., 33 minutes in Spain, 36 minutes in France, 40 minutes in Belgium, 45 minutes in Germany, and 46 minutes in the U.K. These countries all have a higher transit mode share than the United States, and since transit trips generally take longer than driving trips, that may help to explain the difference between the U.S. numbers and Europe’s.
NHTSA’s Autonomous Vehicles Policy—A Pretty Good First Step
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its guidance document on autonomous vehicles last month, to generally positive responses. Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser did a long analysis on his Smart Driving Cars blog, the conclusion of which was:
“In sum, this is a very good document and displays how far DOT policy has come from promoting V2V, DSRC, and a centralized-control ‘connected’ focus to creating an environment focused on individual vehicles that responsibly take care of themselves. Kudos to Secretary Foxx for this 180-degree policy turn focused on safety.”
But Kornhauser also noted that the policy does not address commercial trucks or buses and mass transit—a point that was echoed by the American Trucking Associations.
Two free-market-oriented think tanks also put out statements of qualified support. My colleague Baruch Feigenbaum noted that the policy is a turn away from the “precautionary principle” that increasingly characterizes federal regulation and assessed it as largely a step in the right direction. He praised it for:
- Allowing innovation and avoiding mandates like requiring a steering wheel;
- Adopting the globally accepted SAE 5-level categories, dropping NHTSA’s previous idiosyncratic 4-level categories;
- Allowing AVs to violate laws in certain circumstances where a sensible human would do likewise; and,
- Warning states against trying to be all-purpose AV regulators, which would balkanize the emerging industry. (https://reason.org/news/show/nhtsa-av-guidance-as-good-as-it-get)
Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute posted more detailed comments along the same general lines, reviewing all four sections of the document. Both Scribner and Feigenbaum point out that NHTSA asks AV companies for a “voluntary” safety assessment letter, but later recommends that each state require manufacturers to do a voluntary safety assessment—a strange interpretation of “voluntary.” Both also note NHTSA’s omission of driver license reciprocity among states, which could be a serious barrier if not provided. Scribner raises the most concern about Section IV, which discusses “modern regulatory tools.” One of these could be European-type pre-market regulatory approval, as opposed to the self-certification that applies to motor vehicle manufacturers today. (https://cei.org/blog/free-market-response-federal-automated-vehicles-policy)
These are early days, and for the most part, NHTSA’s document offers steps in the right direction.
BC’s $2.6 Billion Toll Bridge Concession. British Columbia is in the procurement process for a $2.6 billion, 10-lane toll bridge to replace the highly congested George Massey Tunnel under the Fraser River on Highway 99 south of Vancouver. Three international teams have been pre-qualified to bid, with proposals due next April, and a planned opening of the bridge in 2022. The 30-year concession will compensate the design/build/finance/operate/maintain team via availability payments, based on toll revenues the province will collect from bridge customers.
ATA Drops Push for Fuel Tax Increase. Under its new CEO Chris Spear, the American Trucking Associations announced on October 5th that it is giving up its long-standing push for Congress to increase federal gasoline and diesel taxes. Instead, Spear has asked staff to assess alternative ways to increase federal highway revenues. However, ATA so far remains opposed to expanded use of tolling or a shift to mileage-based user fees, the two most feasible user-fee approaches.
Surveys Give Opposite Results on Autonomous Vehicles. Two recent surveys of drivers’ views on autonomous vehicles produced strikingly different results. The 2016 Kelley Blue Book Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study found that 51% of drivers would prefer to have full control of their vehicle, regardless of whether an AV has higher safety. By contrast, a survey by the Consumer Technology Association found that “the vast majority of consumers”—about 75%–are excited about AVs’ benefits, and two-thirds would like to swap their current car for completely self-driving vehicles. Clearly, it all depends on whom you ask, and how you ask the questions.
Hawaii MBUF Trial to Give Participants Mock Bills. Under Hawaii’s planned pilot project to test mileage-based user fees, participants will have their odometers read at vehicle inspection stations. Based on those recorded miles driven, they will be given mock bills showing what they would pay based on an 0.8 cents/mile charge (designed to collect the same total as the current 16 cents/gal. state gas tax) and also what they are currently paying via the gas tax, based on their vehicle’s mpg rating and miles driven. The data are expected to show that rural motorists, who generally drive less fuel-efficient cars, will do no worse and possibly better under per-mile charging.
Arizona Considering First Toll Concession. Arizona DOT is studying development of a congestion-relief toll road south of and parallel to I-10 west of downtown Phoenix. State Route 30 has long been in the Maricopa County long-range transportation plan, but is still unfunded. Hence, the current effort to study its viability as a toll road that could be developed as a long-term P3 concession under Arizona’s P3 legislation. The tollway would be about 14 miles long, extending from proposed SR 303 on the west to the new SR 202 South Mountain Freeway, under development as a design-build-maintain P3 project.
World’s First Recreational Express Toll Lane Doing Well. Colorado DOT’s Peak Period Shoulder Lane, heading eastbound on I-70 to ease congestion for those returning from the mountain ski areas, is functioning as planned, CDOT reported last month. While tolls have varied from $3 to $30, most have been in the $4-6 range and are considered a good value for saving 30 to 45 minutes on the trip. During peak periods, the express toll lane is handling 8 to 10% of traffic volume, enough to ease congestion noticeably in the regular lanes.
Rhode Island Truckers Lose a Round, Continue Fighting. The Federal Highway Administration has executed 13 memoranda of understanding with Rhode Island DOT agreeing that tolls to be charged to heavy trucks for 13 currently non-tolled bridges do not violate federal law or regulations. The agency plans to contract with the private sector for electronic tolling equipment for these bridges, and the toll revenues will be used to rebuild or replace 34 bridges throughout the state. Due to concerns about heavy trucks avoiding the tolled bridges by using (and possibly damaging) alternative local roads, the American Trucking Associations has asked RIDOT for information about its planned signage restricting routes those trucks can take.
California Ballot Measure Would Restrict Revenue Bonds. A long-standing principle in most states is that voters must approve general-obligation bonds, since those bonds are backed by tax revenues paid by all citizens. Voters are not required to approve revenue bonds, because the revenues come only from those who pay fees to use the service the bonds make possible. But a populist measure to require voter approval of any project to be financed by more than $2 billion in revenue bonds is on the November ballot in California as Prop. 53. Its two near-term targets appear to be the California High-Speed Rail project and Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for major water-transfer tunnels in the Bay Area.
Elevated Express Toll Lanes Proposed for I-35 in Texas. With congestion on I-35 between Austin and San Antonio awful today and projected to get much worse as the region continues to grow, leaders in both metro areas are looking seriously at a project to add elevated express toll lanes to the congested Interstate. I-35 is already double-decked in part of San Antonio, but both upper and lower lanes are non-tolled. Elevated express toll lanes have been in operation on the Selmon Expressway in Tampa for about a decade and are part of the massive North Tarrant Express project in Fort Worth.
Phase 2 GHG Rules for Trucks Will Cut Highway Trust Fund Revenues. The trucking industry has been generally supportive of the second phase of federal regulations to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions from heavy trucks and buses. Heavy truck tractors need to be replaced far more often than cars, and reducing fuel costs is important to the trucking industry. But Jeff Davis of Eno Transportation Weekly (Aug. 15, 2016) pointed out that once fleet replacement is fully in place by 2040, the improved truck mpg will reduce diesel tax revenues by some $2.6 billion per year. A portion of that will be recouped in the near term via increased revenue from the 12% federal sales tax on large trucks.
Keolis and Navya Begin Driverless Shuttle Service in France. A “driverless” 15-passenger shuttle (albeit with an attendant on board) will soon begin trundling along a one-mile route in Lyon. The route has no intersections or crosswalks, and the shuttle will make five stops, covering the route in 13 minutes. Keolis is the current contract operator of Lyon’s transit service, and Navya is the developer of the electric-powered shuttle.
Greece to Lease Major Toll Road. As part of a mandated program of “asset recycling”, the government of Greece will lease for 35 years the 416-mile Egnatia toll road. Greek privatization agency HRADF hopes to raise $3.15 billion from the lease, to be used to pay down government debt.
Urban Sprawl and Affordable Housing. A study released in September by BuildZoom found that the Smart Growth policy of building upward rather than outward leads to rising rents and housing prices that are crowding out the middle class. Data from cities pursuing “upward” housing policies, such as Portland and Seattle, saw massive increases in housing costs between 1980 and 2010, compared with those where housing growth was “outward” like Atlanta, Houston, and Las Vegas. (“What If Urban Sprawl Is the Only Realistic Way to Create Affordable Cities?” Laura Kusisto, The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2016)
World’s Longest Underwater Road Tunnel in Norway. World Highways reports that a project is getting under way to build a tunnel link between Stavanger and Bokn. The four-lane, 17-mile tunnel will be the world’s longest underwater road tunnel. Called the Rogaland Fixed Link, it will be part of the E39 highway. The $1.4 billion project will be at least partially financed via toll revenues.
Miami Express Toll Lanes Getting Improved Pylons. “Lane diving”—illegally driving over the plastic pylons separating the I-95 Express Lanes from the adjacent general-purpose lanes—is a safety hazard and a significant maintenance cost for Florida DOT. So last month it began replacing all the pylons with a new, sturdier design. In order to provide more of a visual barrier, the spacing between them will be reduced from 10 ft. to 5 ft. There will also be a $179 fine (and 3 points) for lane-diving.
Congestion Leads to Support for Tolls, Says Survey. HNTB’s latest America Thinks survey asked respondents about their willingness to pay a toll to bypass congestion. According to the results of the survey, conducted for HNTB by Kelton Global, 69% said they would be willing to pay a toll if they knew it would save them time or avoid congestion. The survey also found that 77% would prefer either tolls (45%) or mileage-based user fees (32%) over higher gas taxes.
LBJ Express Lanes Win Award. The September 19, 2016 issue of Engineering News-Record presented its 2016 awards. Winning as the best U.S. highway project was the innovative $2.7 billion LBJ Express, which added variably priced express lanes to 13 miles of congested I-635 in Dallas. The project reconstructed the freeway, adding the express lanes in the center, depressed below overhanging general purpose lanes. It was finished on budget and three months ahead of schedule. LBJ Express is also a finalist in AASHTO’s annual competition for the best transportation project; results will be announced mid-November at the AASHTO annual meeting. The project was developed as a toll concession by Cintra and Meridiam.
Managed Lanes Guidebook Released. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has released Guidelines for Implementing Managed Lanes, with seven well-done chapters. It can be downloaded from the Transportation Research Board website. Look for NCHRP 15-49.
Integrated Corridor Management—for Trucks. FHWA has released a detailed report, carried out with the participation of trucking research group American Transportation Research Institute, on how freight movement can and should be incorporated into integrated corridor management (ICM). It is report FHWA-HOP-15-018.
Concession Bankruptcy Protects Taxpayers. My Reason Foundation colleague Baruch Feigenbaum has posted a good case history of the bankruptcy several years ago of the South Bay Expressway, developed as a toll concession project in San Diego. The project fell victim to cost escalation and a drastic decrease in traffic and revenue due to the Great Recession. Though the developers lost their equity investment, the lenders worked out a settlement, and subsequently sold the concession to the San Diego Association of Governments, which got a brand new toll road at half price. (https://reason.org/news/show/south-bay-expressway-proves-that-p3)
Missouri’s MBUF Pilot Project. FHWA’s Angela Jacobs noticed that I had inadvertently omitted one of the state pilot projects on mileage-based user fees in my recap last month. Missouri DOT will implement a vehicle registration fee based in part on the vehicle’s EPA fuel economy rating.
California Studying Traffic-Generated Electricity. I kid you not. The California Energy Commission is spending $2 million to see if piezoelectric crystals in the pavement can generate electricity when vehicles drive over them. Assemblyman Mike Gatto sponsored the legislation that spawned this project, inspired by a pilot project in Israel by start-up company, Innowatttech, which got media coverage of its 2009 test of the product. When AP told Gatto this fall that the Israeli project failed and the company is now being liquidated, he expressed surprise. Pilot projects in Italy and Tokyo also failed or were cancelled. Too bad the funding is already committed.
“[We need to go] beyond the standard response to calls for more public spending: namely, infrastructure investment. To be clear, spending on productive infrastructure is a good thing. Much of the rich world could do with new toll roads, railways, and airports, and it will never be cheaper to build them. To manage the risk of white-elephant projects, private-sector partners should be involved from the start. Pension and insurance funds are desperate for long-lasting assets that will generate the steady income they have promised retirees. Specialist pension funds can advise on a project’s merits, with one eye on eventually buying the assets in question.”
—Editorial, “The Low-Rate World,” The Economist, September 24, 2016
“Centralized federal tax funding of these projects makes inefficiencies and waste even likelier, as Washington, driven by political calculations, gives the green light to bridges to nowhere, ill-considered high-speed rail projects, and other boondoggles. American needs an infrastructure renaissance, but we won’t get it by the federal government simply writing big checks. A far better model would be for infrastructure to be managed by independent but focused local public and private entities and funded primarily by user fees, not federal tax dollars.”
—Edward L. Glaeser, “If You Build It . . . Myths and Realities about America’s Infrastructure Spending,” City Journal, Summer 2016
“Our cognitive elites dislike the very idea that Los Angeles, as Dorothy Parker once supposedly described, has long been ’72 suburbs in search of a city.’ Yet Southern California, as I discuss in a new Chapman University report, has from its early emergence grown around a ‘post-suburban’ model of dynamic, smaller clusters. This urban form has become common in many metropolitan areas, as automobiles have replaced transit as the primary means of getting around. This model worked here brilliantly for most of the last half century—until planners, real estate speculators, and California bureaucrats decided that we needed to emulate New York City and other older monocentric core cities. Like the provincials they consistently prove themselves to be, our leaders have generally complied. So, after nearly 15 years spent in pushing this direction, what have we accomplished? A transit system that barely serves as many people as it did before we started building trains, housing prices among the highest in the nation, super-high poverty rates, and a population that continues to seek to go somewhere else, including some 1.6 million net domestic migrants who have left the L.A. and Orange County area since 2000.”
—Joel Kotkin, “How to Make Post-Suburbanism Work,” Orange County Register, September 30, 2016
“At a time when basic bus service could use a boost, and technologists are promising massive changes in urban mobility, with fleets of electric robot cars or other innovations moving passengers more cheaply and easily, the question is whether streetcars make sense in the nation’s capital. ‘The bottom line is, it’s just not cost-effective,’ said Jeffrey R. Brown, a professor at Florida State University who has studied the economics of streetcars around the nation. ‘They’ve just got a very high cost structure.’ In a paper published last year, Brown and his colleagues cited a wide range of costs per passenger in systems operating from 2008 through 2012. . . . ‘In most of the cities, they’re not primarily about transportation. They’re primarily about urban redevelopment, which, from a transportation perspective, explains some of the silly decisions that got made,’ Brown said.”
—Michael Laris, The Washington Post, September 17, 2016