August 13, 2007

Streetcars not desired.

I've complained in the past -- here and here -- about proposals to install streetcars in Madison. I'm thrilled to see today that the mayor has abandoned the plan:
Major public investments like streetcars should only be undertaken when there is broad consensus in the community, and that is clearly not the case with this issue. Ironically, I have not taken the time to build support for streetcars because I have been focused on more important priorities such as public safety, just the opposite of what has become a common misunderstanding.
In short, we didn't want streetcars, and you didn't get the chance to bamboozle us into wanting streetcars because .... something.

60 comments:

Methadras said...

Ann, just out of curiosity, was the streetcar proposal packaged as a greenie mass-transit alternative to get people out of their car and onto public transportation? or was it packaged as a tourist upgrade to your area that would "increase" revenue after your streets got torn up with major traffic delays and cost overruns to build it and other unforeseen headaches that once started won't stop?

Eli Blake said...

I am the first to admit that I know nothing about the economic cost and benefits, the growth patterns of Madison or what the traffic engineers have to say about it.

But

Consider what happened in Phoenix (obviously a much larger metro area and the fastest growing top-10 city in the country over the past 20 years, a place where most freeways are packed almost from the day they are opened.)

In 1989, I was living there. They had a big debate on a proposed light rail system, and in the end anti-tax advocates (many of whom also oppose philosophically any form of public transportation) voted it down by a narrow margin.

It is now 2007. They are now in the late stages of building almost the identical light rail system. The defeat of the measure lasted for 11 years, and in 2000 virtually the same thing was resurrected. This time it passed (including the taxes to pay for it) because freeway gridlock, especially at rush hour had gotten so bad that people were ready to pay for it (being stuck in a black subaru crawling along at about walking speed on the Loop 101 with the air conditioning almost gone and the battery struggling to maintain power on a 116 degree day in July is a most exquisite form of torture that can change virtually any mind.)

But here is the difference between passing it in 1989 vs. passing it in 2000. The cost had increased thirteen times. That's not 13%, it is 13 times, as in 1300%. Much of the land they are using had since been developed and they had to buy it out (and land in the valley is definitely not cheap, and certainly was not two years ago at the peak of the real estate boom). Taxes have been raised several times as much as they would have been raised had it passed in 1989 (specifically a 0.4% sales tax, augmented by Federal dollars, while in 1989 it would have required a 0.15% sales tax increase, and over fewer years.)

As I said, I know nothing about Madison (in fact I've only been to Wisconsin once and that was to Milwaukee) but be aware that the price of voting against something like this is that IF you later decide you need it, it is likely to cost a heck of a lot more later.

Seven Machos said...

It goes like this, in exactly this order:

1. A large population

2. Tremendous population density within a certain small area

3. Mass transit

Since Phoenix and Los Angeles and Houston do not have #2, #3 will not work. Madison is foolish to try #3 because it does not have even #1.

John Stodder said...

LA planners try to encourage new development to take place in areas served by transit. They've recently encountered a huge success: Downtown LA is booming as a residential area! Development around the Staples Arena (where the Lakers play) is booming. The Eagles will christen a new concert hall in a commercial development area that is intended to become the nighttime playground for downtown's new denizens.

Only trouble is, the LA Times discovered that most of these new downtown residents still get in their cars and still commute on the freeways each morning. Their jobs aren't downtown or in any other area served by mass transit, or if they are, they won't take it because driving, hellish as the freeways are, is faster, and if you drive you can decide yourself where you want to go after work.

The alleged success of NY and Chicago's transit systems is masked by the fact that anyone who can afford to avoid mass transit in those cities, does so. When I go to NY, the people I visit take cabs, and some of them take "private cars." This has been true since I turned 30 or so.

It's sad. I wanted the transit dream to work in LA. But it's just a big boondoggle. Pleasant to ride, especially the Gold Line into Pasadena. But a boondoggle.

dave™© said...

...we didn't want streetcars, and you didn't get the chance to bamboozle us into wanting streetcars because --

They're efficient? They work? They decrease levels of traffic and the need to use a car?

Stop me when - er, I mean if - you sober up, lady...

dave™© said...

The alleged success of NY and Chicago's transit systems is masked by the fact that anyone who can afford to avoid mass transit in those cities, does so. When I go to NY, the people I visit take cabs, and some of them take "private cars." This has been true since I turned 30 or so.

Must be why the subways and busses are virtually deserted in NYC, eh?

Seven Machos said...

ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz...

Joan said...

Oh, the light rail here in Phoenix is a huge, costly joke -- there are buslines running for two, maybe three passengers per trip, and yet somehow the lightrail proponents managed to convince people that it would be a good thing.

The question is, in 3 or 4 years when it's finally done and all, and nobody's riding it, will they dismantle it and say, "whoops, sorry about that!" I doubt it. What a disaster.

Congratulations, Madison! You dodged a bullet.

hdhouse said...

The fact remains..and it is a fact...that automobile use increases year by year. More people, more people with cars, bigger cars - all kinds of factors but it increases on whole every year.

Madison isn't a big city but your DMA is top 100 and you have about half a million people so you are probably above the threshold of loosing population, particularly with the University as the center of attention.

Where, then are you going to put an incremental increase in auto traffic? Are you building new roads? Creating new parking spaces?

These systems can work well for a community if it makes life easier and better and there is a certain incentive for early adoption or use...e.g. usually connection to low cost parking for commuters or pedestrian malls, no drive areas...

I saw no references to this nor in the letter in the Badger Herald that sparked this blog entry...http://badgerherald.com/oped/2007/04/26/streetcars_best_plan.php right Ann?

Gahrie said...

shorter Dave tm and hdhouse:

I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don't tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.

Hoosier Daddy said...

In 1989, I was living there. They had a big debate on a proposed light rail system, and in the end anti-tax advocates (many of whom also oppose philosophically any form of public transportation) voted it down by a narrow margin.

Same thing here in Indy, except most are for a light rail line but for some reason the geniuses in our state legislature seem to only want to 'study' the issue every couple of years. The argument is that no one wants to pay the tax for it which I think is horsesh** considering there was no problem passing a massive food & beverage tax to pay for a new football stadium. That's an 8% tax everytime you go out to eat.

So I have to sit in traffic for an hour to go 17 miles but Peyton and his boys will have a brand spanking new house to play in.

Go figure.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I actually studied this issue a bit when Cincinnati was talking about light rail a few years ago.

What it boils down to is when the city became big. Mass tansit works in New York and Chicago beause mass transit was big before teh Model T. LA wasn't, so you will never get people out of their cars and into the buses.

Another problem with light rail is its rails. They take up space in the street, reducing traffic lanes or parking. Rails are also pracitally impossible to relocate.

People nostalgic for street cars forget whythey were abandoned in the first place; when population or destinations changed the rails couldn't keep up, but a street using bus could.

Pogo said...

Mass transit can indeed work, but it often seems to fail to support itself. When run by a municipality, it becomes another tax kudzu, incapable of being rooted out, trimmed, or repaired, but destined for mass mediocrity.

The argument to start it anew usually highlights the ideological differences between right and left, the individual versus the state. The left seems to favor such measures uniformly, imputing many virtues to its use. But they are unable to recognize the inevitable economic problem inherent in such schemes: The Tragedy of the Commons.

Shiny new cars become canvases for vandals. Politics determines future funding, and service remains forever second to the whim of the philanderous State, whose wandering eye alights quickly on some sexier new issue. Maintenance is deferred until tragedy forces repairs, and blame can never be affixed for anything at all. It rapidly becomes another child to feed, mouth agape, insatiable, unweanable, forever whining for more. More?!

"Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!"

Such is the history of most American public transit, not long after the new car smell wears off. In a more uniform and compliant society like Japan, yes. Among the cantankerous mutts of the US? Meh.

tjl said...

"The defeat of the measure lasted for 11 years, and in 2000 virtually the same thing was resurrected."

Eli, something similar happened in Houston, where a rail system was stalled for more than a decade -- largely through the evil machinations of the then-all-powerful Tom Delay. The system is now being built in piecemeal fashion, more slowly and expensively than would have been possible when it was first proposed.

To the commenters who insist that a city like Phoenix or Houston is unsuited to mass transit: these are young cities that are still growing and developing. Mass transit lines will help focus future development in nodes of more dense, multi-use, pedestrian-friendly activity.

To fairly assess the effects of mass transit, you must also consider the esthetics. Compare a transit-based city like Boston with a car-based city like Houston. In Boston you have a rich street life, an urban core that is lively and active day and night, and an urban fabric that is a constant feast for the eye. In Houston you have freeways, strip malls, vast parking lots, and a total esthetic void. Completing the rail system will change this.

Pogo said...

From Wikipedia, on Boston:
"In recent years, the state has lost population as skyrocketing housing costs have driven many away from Massachusetts. The Boston area is the third-most expensive housing market in the country. Over the last several years there has been about a 19,000 person net outflow from the state."

Warning to Houston: Completing the rail system (and adopting other tax-tax-tax policies of MA) will change you. People will leave in droves, but hey, your urban fabric will be a constant feast for the eye!

tjl said...

"your urban fabric will be a constant feast for the eye"

You prefer looking at vast barren parking lots?

Paddy O. said...

"Boston you have a rich street life, an urban core that is lively and active day and night, and an urban fabric that is a constant feast for the eye. In Houston you have freeways, strip malls, vast parking lots, and a total esthetic void. Completing the rail system will change this."

Doesn't this have a lot more to do with horse and foot transportation than mass transportation? Boston's urban core predates the industrial revolution, let alone rail transit.

Renewing the urban core is a separate, though not entirely unrelated, issue. Los Angeles is doing it, but the fact is that Los Angeles has run out of suburb space, so it's folding back in on itself. The wealthy now want to live close to downtown, rather than in the palatial mcMansions of the 909.

Pogo said...

You prefer looking at vast empty buildings?

Boston's look indeed relates to its colonial origins, not its trains.

And if Boston's so great, why are people leaving? How could a state be shrinking when populations elsewhere swell? So much for the urban fabric when the threads start pulling out.

Roger said...

There is a great urban policy article entitle "A desire named streetcar." Published, IIRC, about 15 years ago. It was by an urban economist, and it demonstrated very clearly that NO heavy nor light rail project as ever come in under budget nor achieved the level of projected ridership. In fact budget overruns were ordinarily around 3X and ridership projects about 50% off. Mass transit, as trademark dave and HD allude to (accidentally I am sure) only work in dense population centers like manhattan. The fail to work in in most metropolitan areas that tend to have suberbs and interstate highway systems. Mass transit is certainly a solution, but it is most certainly not a universal solution.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The lesson I draw from the Phoenix story is that since the people who push these schemes don't care about their practicality to begin with, they won't stop just because they've become even more impractical.

On the other hand, it's good that Phoenix is learning fromthe experience of Boston, where traffic jams are absolutely unknown.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

MadisonMan said...

And if Boston's so great, why are people leaving?

Because of the 6 weeks after February 10th.

Pogo said...

State's patients endure long wait
By Raja Mishra, Boston Globe Staff | June 7, 2005

"Patients in Massachusetts must wait more than six weeks on average to visit primary care physicians, nearly three times the recommended wait, according to new research detailing the costs of the state's doctor shortage.

Six medical specialties in Massachusetts, the researchers found, were facing particularly acute physician shortages: neurosurgery, anesthesiology, radiology, gastroenterology, cardiology, and orthopedics.

Doctors avoid Massachusetts, and medical students flee the state after training here, because they can earn more in other states, the researchers concluded.

Harvey, who works as an anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said shortages in his speciality were running him and his colleagues ragged.

''We have to work longer hours. People are saying it's not a balanced lifestyle. Looking elsewhere, they see the environment is better, and they leave Massachusetts," he said. ''That places more pressure on those remaining here. It's almost a downward spiral."


The urban fabric seems to be a bit threadbare in spots. I suppose the trains run on time, though.

MadisonMan said...

That article seems counterintuitive to me -- if doctors are fleeing the state because they can earn more elsewhere, it suggests that there are too many doctors in MA keeping salaries down. Yet they're all fleeing? If there's a shortage of doctors, why haven't salaries gone up to retain them?

Henry said...

Maybe the Boston doctors are fleeing to Rhode Island. BCBS costs a lot more here, but the wait times don't seem so bad.

BTW, Madison has a population around 220,000.

Houston: 2 million.

Phoenix: 1.5 million.

Salt Lake City, with a population under 200,000 and relatively low density, does have a light rail system -- so it may be a better point of comparison.

Bissage said...

Mayor Cieslewicz deserves some credit. He must be jealously guarding the public fisc by writing his own press releases.

But I’ve got a couple of minutes to spare so here’s a rewrite:

I give up. Not enough people want streetcars in Madison.

The Streetcar Study Committee will meet one more time to finalize its report.

I could have made more people want streetcars, if I tried hard enough, but I’d rather promote public safety despite you ingrates.

I’ll promote other public transportation stuff, if enough people want it.

Stelllllllaaaa!!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Does anyone know where's Althouse? It's already 9 a.m. and no post.

So unlike her.

Pogo said...

Re: "why haven't salaries gone up to retain them?"

Because there is no longer a free market to respond that way. The State and Federal government have tried to make health care cheaper for all by fixing payment rates below the market. The result, as is always the result in price fixing, is a shortage.

From this more recent July 25, 2007 WSJ article about Mass: Doctor Shortage Hurts
A Coverage-for-All Plan
, "A principal reason: too little money for too much work. "

Zeb Quinn said...

Light rail is the wet dream fantasy du jour of urban planners. Has been for a number of years. It is sucking up an incredible portion of available transportation funds.

Over a billion with a "b" dollars were spent on the "Hiawatha Line" in Minneapolis since 2002 for 12 miles of light rail. Anybody wondering where the I-35 bridge inspection/maintenance/repair/replace money went?

Roger said...

Geez Pogo: are you suggesting Health Care is a good and responds to market forces? Blasphemous! I thought it was inalienable right--you know: life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness, universal health care...:)

MadisonMan said...

The State and Federal government have tried to make health care cheaper for all by fixing payment rates below the market.

I think you can apportion some blame to managed Health Care as well. When the doctors stop making the medical decisions because the paper pushers tell them to, things aren't quite right. That observation doesn't mean I have a solution, however.

Roger said...

Madison Man--you are correct and Managed Care is certainly a component of the problem. The big elephant in the health care room, however, is Medicare which ends up being the basis for what are called usual and customary charges. Medicare rates tend to drive all other charges for health care and are the basis by which the U and C charges are based.

Roger said...

and I apologize herewith for thread hijack--health care happens to be my major area of interest. Back to streetcars..........

MadisonMan said...

Yes, back to streetcars.

I suspect Salt Lake City has light rail because of the Olympics. That's why Athens got a coastal Tram.

Saaay...maybe Madison should host the Summer Olympics! Then we'd get Light Rail AND international exposure. Wouldn't that make the Mayor famous!

I'm glad the Streetcars aren't coming. I ride my bike everywhere, and the $8K tax tab on my 1700 sq ft house is quite high enough. If I want to get somewhere far away, I ride the bus. I think a better use of transportation money would be to cheapen the bus fare and make the buses more frequent. And maybe fix the monstrosity that is the 12/14/18/151 interchange at Verona Road.

Pogo said...

"thread hijack"

Roger, mass transit and mass health care represent the same economic problems, now leading to Mass exodus.

hdhouse said...

yes..back to streetcars....and mass transit...and boston which has a very efficient, interconnected mass transit system that is well used and if it were not there would render the city an endless gridlock...and is no way responsible for population shifts...

but the real subject is madison...if it is a parking and traffic congestion nightmare (i don't know one way or another) some sort of plan should come to the fore as matters will not improve with age.

Theo Boehm said...

As someone who was born and raised in Southern California, but who has lived and worked in the Boston area these past 27 years, I can tell you why people are leaving Massachusetts:

It's too damned expensive here.

It isn't the climate, which is ordinary East Coast horrible, but a tad cooler than New York.  It's certainly better than, say, Madison.

It isn't the aesthetics of the place.  New England is one of the loveliest places in the country, and the Boston area is pleasant and interesting by comparison with most cities in the country.   The road layout and driving habits are seriously crazy, but that's an old New England tradition.

It isn't the schools, which are generally quite good.  There are plenty of other excellent resources for kids as well.  As a parent who has friends and relatives on the West Coast and in the mid-South, I can say that, by comparison, the Boston area is the best I know of to raise a family.  My youngest attends the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School in Cambridge, which is a fantastic opportunity and honor, and something I could only have dreamed of as a kid myself.

It isn't the social situation.  I've been pleasantly surprised by the warm family atmosphere and stability of the suburbs we've lived in.  Boston itself has lost a lot of its middle-class in the past 20 years.  But they've been replaced by the usual modern urban types, and the scene in Boston is indeed "an urban core that is lively and active day and night."

It isn't the mass transit, which is okay if you live in the suburbs along the "T" rail lines.  The "T" streetcar/subway system in Boston is small but useful and nicely interconnected, as hdhouse says. It's much improved over what it was 20 years ago.

It isn't the health care, which is unparalleled with all the world-famous teaching hospitals here.  I do have to wait for specialists, but my experience with my primary care physicians has been excellent.  The specialists I've seen have all been extraordinary as well.

No.  The overwhelming reason people can't stay in Eastern Massachusetts is that it is too expensive.  The reasons for this have mainly to do with real estate costs. Other expenses come into play as well, such as high water rates and insurance.  The tax rates overall are not oppressive, compared with California or New York, but the property taxes are high because of astronomical assessments.  My house assessment has gone up almost $300,000 in the 17 years we've lived there.  That's nice if I want to sell it, but in the meantime I have to live somewhere, and my mortgage payment has doubled because of taxes.

My company has trouble recruiting people because of the expense here.  Few want to move to Massachusetts, because it just doesn't make economic sense.  I don't know how this will all resolve itself, but I have no doubt that it will.  I just hope it doesn't happen with the crash, real estate or otherwise, that we all dread.

Beth said...

tax kudzu -- Pogo, what a great image!

Redneck makes a good point about the relationship of when a city became big enough to need transit, and the availability of cars. New Orleans has been urban for a very, very long time, and we use streetcars efficiently. There are only a few lines running now--as also was pointed out, when population shifts in the city, a bus is more adaptable--but I'd like to see them returned to some of the old lines that are still on major population routes.

The abandoned lines act as a history guide to where the working class lived and what they did. The tracks running off a short shopping area uptown terminate at a short stretch called Ferry Road. Dock workers from the other side of the river would ferry over on Saturday, hop the streetcar, and come in for haircuts and shopping. And perhaps a little adult entertainment.

Pogo said...

Theo

Nicley put. It makes me wonder how you can support Hillary, given your conclusions. Excessive taxation can kill anything: corporations or towns.

What's "excessive"?: definitions vary, but your depiction of exodus and declining entry to Massachusetts should serve as fair warning to those wishing to expand government involvement in our lives even further, including transit and hospitals.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

John Stoddard is correct in the Calif situations. One of the biggest problems with the light rail in the San Jose valley and LA systems is that the cities themselves are so sprawling. Once you get to your destination, there is no way to get around other than hoofing it. The the places you needed to go to were still a long long way off. You still needed a car so why bother.

When living in a densely compacted city like San Francisco, I used the streetcar, cable car and bus system for daily commuting. It was easy. Any place you wanted to go was within a block or two of your stop. At night and for safety's sake a car was preferred.

Just wishing that people will give up their autos for light rail or other mass transit communication isn't enough. The demographics and the density of the location trump wishes.

AJ Lynch said...

Route 15 Trolley in Philadelphia. See link:

http://mywebpages.comcast.net/
trolleydriver/girard.htm

I rode this trolley line in high schoool (late 60's). It was replaced by buses later. Just a few years ago, the transit agency, SEPTA, spent about $50-60MM to bring back the "ambience" of troleys. IMHO the trolleys look nice but they kill traffic by holding up both lanes of traffic every time they stop to pick up passengers which occurs every block.

Plus SEPTA has chronic budget woes so how do they justify this big capital expensitures?

Hoosier Daddy said...

The overwhelming reason people can't stay in Eastern Massachusetts is that it is too expensive.

I have a cousin who is a teacher, married to a teacher and live in a $450,000 home which they bought 3 years ago for $275,000 so I hear you.

the property taxes are high because of astronomical assessments. My house assessment has gone up almost $300,000 in the 17 years we've lived there. That's nice if I want to sell it, but in the meantime I have to live somewhere, and my mortgage payment has doubled because of taxes.

Testify my brother. Here in Indianapolis they just went through a revised assessment on property taxes and nearly had a revolt here. They literally had the Frankenstein mob at the City-County buildin protesting. There are people like you who due to the rise in real estate prices saw thier houses increase in value and now are in danger of losing them because their tax payments have gone up in some cases 300%.

Its great when the government can tax you out of your home. So for those of you worried about the constitution being flouted by Bush, you might want to worry about your local leaders even more.

Kevin said...

I recall an article a couple years ago that made the argument that light rail is really only well-suited for cities that are bounded on one side by an ocean or lake or some other geological feature that limits growth.

Examples would be New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.

The problem with a normal metro area is that it will tend to sprawl, so light rail has to go all directions and keep going.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Hoosier Daddy:

Prop 13 for property taxes in CA.

Saved my retired parents from having to sell their home in Pacific Grove due to skyrocketing values. If not for Prop 13 their taxes would be between 25,000 and 30,000 a year on a home that is fully paid for and owned since the early 60's.

MadisonMan said...

...and where do those people leaving eastern MA end up? They bring their suitcases full of cash from selling an appreciated house and plop down in Madison, driving up real estate values here.

tjl said...

"I don't want realism. I want magic!"

Streetcars still have a certain romantic quality totally lacking in smog-based motor vehicles. Blanche DuBois would have had zero chance to become a mythic cultural icon if she'd ridden a Bus Named Desire.

"where do those people leaving eastern MA end up?"

New Hampshire, which has no income tax.

Massachusetts would be high-tax with or without trains, thanks to its one-party political culture and its devotion to government as the solver of all problems. Transit is a relatively small item in the state budget.

Roger said...

Kevin: its simple geometry: as the radius of the city increases, the area increases by pi times the radius squared. That translates into ever increasing need for more and more routes. There is definitely an upper limit to an area that can be served.

cyrus pinkerton said...

Roger wrote:

Kevin: its simple geometry: as the radius of the city increases, the area increases by pi times the radius squared.

I think Kevin is talking about urban sprawl, in which growth tends to follow pre-existing routes (i.e., it is definitely not approximately circular). This creates a need for significantly extended rail lines.

A situation in which a city simply expands in all directions would, in general, not be a problem for rail, as the "radius" required to produce a larger area (assuming population density stays constant), grows only as the square root of the area.

dick said...

But then you have the problem of having to create a bunch of new rail lines because once you get off the rail, how are you going to get where you need to go. The new rail lines would cost more than extending the lines already existing, which is what Boston did. If you look at Boston you have the suburbs expanding out along roads and parallel rail lines in a bunch of spikes. If the city expanded all around you would need a whole lot more lines to cover where the suburbs are not now.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

It is the spikes of growth following the routes out of town that are restricted to only certain areas in the coastal towns (as has been mentioned) that allow dedicated mass transit/light rail to work best.

As the areas between the spikes fill up they are added to the rail lines, but only when the travel time to the ends of the spikes becomes longer than the travel time along the line combined with the travel time to home off of the line.

Simple question to those of you advocating light rail; would you ride it?

If you would, why aren't you now on the bus?

My guess is a significant portion of those pushing light rail have never been on a bus, or other public tranport, in their lives.

From Inwood said...

A note on NYC transit:

It's the perfect system for 1940 NYC.

No new line has been built since then.(OK a new tunnel from Queens to Manhattan to take an existing line in & extensions & tweaking here & there.)

And yes there's a renaissance in parts of the city accessible to the subway.

But why no new subways to follow the demographics, i.e. decline in population in the Bronx & Bklyn & explosion in population in Queens?

Because the people are revolting, M'lord. No one wants to pay what would be a true full fare & no one wants to divert any more revenue into mass transit than now.

So a system of express busses exists from the farthest reaches of the city & even from Inwood in North Manhattan with two subway lines (none directly to the East Side), which add to the congestion in Mid & Downtown.

When I come back to the City, I take an express bus to the Cloisters in Inwood (the Medieval branch of the Met). Never the subway nor a cab. Not because I'm cheap, I am, but because they're efficient.

I'm not suggesting that NYC is like Los Angeles, simply that not all NYers can or will take the subway.

I agree with all the comments that any rail system is completed much later much later & at a higher cost han expected. And usually the goal posts for completion are moved closer & victory is declared!

And yet, the romantic stories of the light rail. Prof A: Your next assignment: suggest that we write an inspiring story about a city with light rail.

From Inwood said...

Oh I forgot. Right after the '06 Election, The Hon Schumer ran off a laundry list of things the Dem Congress was gonna pass & one of them was funding for the 2nd Av subway. (Something like, War, Global Warming, abortion, woman's rights, social security & the 2nd Av subway1)

For those of you who don't get bogged down in NYC lore, this is the subway that NYC voters approved a $500 Million Bond issue for in 1951, repeat 1951, but which money was used for maintenance & new car purchases since the voters would not approve a reasonable fare increase & objected to more taxes for subways.

It's Bush's fault.

Joe said...

I lived in the Phoenix area in the late 1980s and if I remember correctly the proposal was not for light rail but a monorail. This isn't a distinction without a difference--it was clear that the proponents of the monorail had deliberately underestimated the costs and were using the "coolness" of a monorail to push the system through.

Last week I interviewed a fellow who had worked for the Utah Transit Authority. He said they studied how many people consistently used the UTA system and found it was only 20,000. In other words, it would have been cheaper just to buy them all cars and bank the rest of the money.

One problem with both the Phoenix and Salt Lake systems is that they benefit mainly those two cities proper, not the outlying communities, yet all the residents of both states end up paying for it. The real irony is that it simply adds to the illusion that "the downtown" is sustainable and it makes all commuting more congested.

(There is an interesting myth that the bus companies shut down the Los Angeles light rail in the 50s. However, it shut down because it was economically unsustainable.)

In the end, light rail systems are absurd. They require huge infrastructure that could be accomplished using bus lanes, controlled lights and right-of-way granted to those buses. The end result has been taxpayers spending billions more on rigid money-losing systems than they needed to.

MadisonMan said...

One problem with both the Phoenix and Salt Lake systems is that they benefit mainly those two cities proper, not the outlying communities, yet all the residents of both states end up paying for it.

If Salt Lake City and Phoenix are the engines that are driving their respective state's economies, why shouldn't the entire state pay for something that benefits only the cities?

Pogo said...

I doubt very much Phoenix drives Sedona's economy. What you're describing is simple rent-seeking. Big cities always make claims like that when they want to take your cash. Such a claim is impossible to quantify, much less prove.

AJD said...

Oh Annie! Your honesty is so refreshing!!

You have a car that costs mre than the annual income of many people who ride public transit. And you have a cushy job, with tenure, that pays absurdly well for the amount of work that you do. But is that enough for A-House?

Heavens, no. You need to fret and whine that your taxes might support something that you wouldn't use--like mass transit or public swimming pools.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Annie! You have demonstrated so much without even trying!!!

blake said...

Actually, we do have one successful mass transit experiment here: a bus line that has its own lane (where the train used to run). It's been popular enough that they added more buses.

But it wasn't that expensive and it's not very glamorous, so.

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah. What Blake said. We have a great bus system. Buses aren't cute. They aren't a tourist attraction. They aren't quaint. But they are completely covering the territory here and not overcrowded at all. The students get to ride the buses free too.

Pogo said...

Blake is right. Buses get used. Faster. Cheaper. But boooring. No one ever wants a bus named after them.

AJD is wrong. People whine because their taxes do support something even though few people actually use it--like trains or public swimming pools.

But then, AJD is usually wrong. A negative bellwether he.

Buses, yes.
Trains, my heavens, no.

Joe said...

If Salt Lake City and Phoenix are the engines that are driving their respective state's economies, why shouldn't the entire state pay for something that benefits only the cities?

Neither city "drives" their respective state's economies, though both think they do. Moreover, from the state's perspective, that would be horrible policy. Even "giving" them the economic power they do have is a terrible idea.

The larger point is that a significant amount of tax dollars could be saved by distributing jobs more evenly across the larger metropolitan areas if not the state itself. For only a few jobs is close geographic proximity important.