Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Revolutionary Way to Think About Transportation

A brief but fascinating passage appeared in a Free Lance-Star story about a legislative luncheon hosted by the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce. House Speaker William J. Howell "would like a thorough shake-up of the way the Virginia Department of Transportation does business," reported Chelyen Davis. "While senators are talking about tying road planning to land use planning, Howell said he'd like to see VDOT use different measuring sticks to determine the success of a road project.

"For example, instead of measuring a project by whether it gets done on time and on budget, Howell said, he'd like to measure things like whether that road mitigates congestion".

Now that's breakthrough thinking! Imagine if the Kaine administration developed a methodology for ranking all highway projects, all rail projects, all demand-mangement projects (like telecommuting), and all capacity-improvement projects (like synchronized stop lights) by how much traffic mitigation they offered per dollar spent. Imagine if transportation projects were funded on a Return on Investment basis!

Do you think such a list would bear any resemblance to the top-priority projects on the books today? If we could combine this idea with the idea of connecting transportation and land use planning, we could truly revolutionize transportation policy in Virginia.


At 4:56 PM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

Maybe the Speaker will break the logjam. As Bacon's Rebellion reported on Friday, December 09
One popular fix with many legislators -- at least at election time -- got another dose of cold reality. Delegates William Fralin (Roanoke) and Tom Rust (Fairfax) reported that their working group on the funding formula would be recommending no changes. Only about one in five transportation dollars goes through the traditional highway formulas anyway. "We're not going to reformulate our way out of the transportation problems," Fralin said.

The current one fifth of the dollars going through the traditional highway formulas are used to fill the holes in the allocation formula after the rest of the dollars have been allocated in other ways.

Until each district allocates money among the modes, Virginia will see no reduction in congestion. To reduce congestion we need to fund transit where the roads are overburdened. You can’t pave your way out of congestion.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

You can't transit your way out of cengestion either, as thirty years of funding Metro has shown, conclusively.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

I like the concept of measuring state investments in transportation or transportation alternatives as to their effect on reducing congestion. While there are likely some areas of the state where one might argue for investing in transportation improvements as an economic development tool, in most areas, the problem is too much demand and too little supply.

Some would ignore demand factors and simply pour money into supply. But both supply and demand must be considered, and tax- and toll-payers should be protected against public investments that do not produce sufficient reductions in traffic congestion for the amounts invested. Kudos to the Speaker of the House. Whether this discipline occurs at the state, regional or local levels, it needs to occur. Bring on Service Level Agreements.

Turning to transit, the Post reports today that WMATA is going to engage in a trial of reducing the number of Orange Line trains going to D.C., but making some trains eight-car ones, in an attempt to reduce the tunnel delays on the Orange and Blue Lines, which share the single tunnel from Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom in the District. As I've been told, the tunnel's capacity is 30 trains per hour in each direction and it now runs 29 trains during rush periods. The trial would reduce morning in-bound trains to 26 per hour.

This trial would also seem to have an impact on the proposed extension of Metrorail to Dulles since those "Silver Line" trains would also share the tunnel. (WMATA is apparently planning to move some Blue Line trains from the tunnel by routing them as if they were Green Line trains. There's probably a negative impact on many Blue Line commuters from this proposed change, but WMATA does not seem interested in its customers when it comes to extending Metrorail to Dulles.) It would be good to know what the impact of a reduction in the number of trains would have on the Silver Line. However, virtually every public official in Virginia, save Senator Ken Cuccinelli, has abandoned all questioning thought when it comes to the extension of Metrorail in order to be boosters. It would be nice if others actually began asking questions too.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Metro is never going to pay its own way, probably not even if you count the enormous profits that will accrue to those with property nearby.

Even so, I think that Metro to Dulles is a good idea if only to make Dulles a transportation hub. When the rail line from Richmond to Washington happens, it should go from the Richmond Airport to the Dulles Airport, and on to BWI. Then you would have a transportation network that makes some semblance of sense.

I sometimes fly to Providence, on my way to the Vineyard. I can take a bus from Providence to Wood's Hole, but the connection to the city is so bad it's much faster to rent a car and drive to Wood's Hole.

Under an eventual scenario that makes rail useful to more residents, you can then argue that the costs should be shared more widely than it is through the current unfair plan of paying for it with auto tolls.

It's going to be hard to sell the idea of measuring road utility on the basis of mitigating congestion because we have heard from naysayers for so long that roads do not mitigate congestion, but create it. Metro doesn't mitigate congestion either, as we have found through thirty years of experience. This could be another example of a plan that amounts to a strategic stalemate: hardly a metaphor for any kind of advancement.

TMT: it seems to me that Metro to Dulles might avoid or at least reduce further Fairfaxization, so I'm confused as to why you oppose it, given your previous statements.

It probsbly will require another river crossing: maybe we can put on the same structure as the Three Sisters roadway.

At 10:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In the commonwealth as a whole, most public officials know that development should take place someplace else. If residential development is proposed, their job is to stop it. Why? Because it costs about $6,000 per year to educate a child, and they know the real estate taxes on a $300,000 home won't cover it."

The result of this reluctance to build housing results in housing shortages, which results in higher housing costs, which tends to reduce density. Some members of the panel spoke about using incentives to counter this tendency.

Barry Bluestone, an economist who directs the Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, has suggested that the state government offer cities a $2,000-$3,000 density bonus for each unit of housing built to help cover the cost of schools and other services.

So here is a revolutionary way to think about transportation: take that $2000-$3000 density bonus out of the transportation budget.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Why the extension of Metrorail to Dulles is stupid - let me count the ways.

It does nothing to improve traffic congestion. The State's own evidence, Final Environmental Impact Statement, Table 6.2-2, demonstrates virtually no difference on LOS conditions for major roads in the area between the "no-build" and the building of the project. Fs generally stay Fs.

I've asked the State to explain this and received a response that the added traffic must be from growth. My follow-up question was: How much of the growth would stem from the added construction that would be permitted by the extension of rail? (Fairfax County has indicated its willingness to super-size Tysons and the Dulles corridor upon the extension of rail.) The response: You must ask Fairfax County about land use decisions. (This entire subject reminds me of the old Thomas Nast cartoon of the Tweed Ring, each member pointing his finger at the next person.) My conclusion: we are going to spend at least $1.8 B on expanding Metrorail, which, in turn, would likely trigger more development and more traffic. Great use of taxpayer funds!

How about cost-overruns? We have the Post writing articles about cost overruns at the National's proposed stadium. We have cost overruns at virtually all transportation projects. A friend of mine, who is a retired engineer and was heavily involved in government contracts, informed me that the typical transportation project with federal funding has a final cost that is 2.1 times its budgeted cost. If this holds true, despite the assurances from the State that there will not be overruns, our little train to Reston costs $3.78 B and the completed project costs $8.4 B. Who will pay those increased costs? Probably not the feds, and anyway, I don't see wasting federal tax dollars as worthwhile in any event. The business community is taxing itself, but there's a ceiling that could easily be reached. Toll road users will probably be smacked wiht high increases, but will that be enough? That leaves the general taxpayers, be they state or local; but, given Virginia's tax structure, residents of NoVA would be the big payers. All this so that a few landowners at Tysons can make billions.

Building Metrorail's extension greatly increases the system's track mileage in Virginia, which also has the affect of shifting the largest share of funding Metro's subsidies to Virgina. Given Virginia's tax structure, that means NoVA pays. Of course, people have also discovered that Metro is poorly managed. It has few cost controls and a bloated union pay structure. Sounds like further tax increases to me.

Metrorail will be elevated for portions of its travel through Tysons Corner at 45 to 55 feet above the ground. That will be very unattractive from an aesthetics perspective. Let's pay more for something ugly.

In sum, the emperor has no clothes.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

TMT: you are correct in every respect, but you left out a few things:

Kenneth A. Small
University of California, Irvine
Professor of Economics, specializing in Land Use, Transportation and Environmental Issues

"I find it impossible to imagine Orange County being a favorable case for light rail."

"I am not saying no one will use it; rather, that not enough people will use it to make it cost-effective as a tool for reducing congestion or pollution or for improving accessibility. Rail is so expensive that putting the same amount of money into improving the bus system -- perhaps including more reserved lanes to free busses from congestion -- can have much greater impacts." (3)

Dr. Michael G. McNally
Institute of Transportation Studies
Transportation Science Program
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
University of California, Irvine

"I'm opposed to light rail anywhere in Orange County for two reasons:

a. the planning process was biased from the start and disinformation is biasing the public reaction
b. there is no evidence that it will work to achieve any realistic transportation performance goal"

Los Angeles

Randall Crane
University of California, Los Angeles
Associate Professor, School of Public Policy & Social Research

"There is no credible evidence that new systems in built out urban areas are worth anywhere near what they cost. They do not reduce traffic congestion, anchor development, or improve travel access in any substantial fashion." (7)

Wendell Cox
The Public Purpose

Cox, who helped Los Angeles launch its rail program, now believes it was not justified. "Rail has not and will not reduce traffic congestion in the nation's urban areas." Claims of development impacts, he argues, "are driven by subsidies." (2)

Thomas A. Rubin, and James E. Moore, II
Reason Public Policy Institute

In the war of transportation politics, no amount of statistical whitewashing can overcome the fact that expensive new rail systems have done nothing to improve the viability of American transit. In fact, according to a new report from Reason Public Policy Institute (RPPI), these experiments have actually made matters worse. (4)

The Los Angeles rail system is steadily destroying public transportation services in a city that should be much more respectful of the gap between the transit-optional haves and the transit-dependent have nots. (5)

"Los Angeles's unique combination of high population density with a massively overloaded surface transportation network is not the ideal situation for the introduction of rail transit. Urban rail transit systems are very expensive to build. Rail capital costs are justifiable only when they can be amortized over very high travel demand. Unfortunately, for Los Angeles, it's not population density that determines potential demand for rail; it's trip density within the corridor." (9)

The Cascade Policy Institute

Even in Portland, touted as a light rail success with the introduction of Tri-Met in 1986, traffic congestion grew faster there than in any other city up to 1992. Travel on Tri-Met also ended up being slower than on buses. (2)

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Governor Jesse Ventura
State Representative Philip Krinkie

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (Reform) supports a $548-million, 12-mile starter line in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Legislators, however, filed a lawsuit in December to stop the project. "The public will receive only 42 cents in benefits for every dollar spent on the line," says State Rep. Philip Krinkie (R). (2)

Carter & Burgess
Transportation Consultants

Their study found "no measurable difference in total regional vehicle miles of travel when comparing [building light rail or not] for an 18-mile system." (2)

Stephen Miller
Independence Institute
Senior Fellow in Transportation

The Colorado Department of Transportation "shouldn't be expected to expend scarce public transportation tax dollars...for a project that will only serve a very small fraction of the people actually using the corridor." (2)

Governor Jeb Bush

Ambitious rail plans have been stymied or outright killed-such as in Orlando, Fla., where the last leg of an $880-million, 72-mile system lost state funding commitments. New light rail won't come elsewhere in Florida anytime soon, as Gov. Jeb Bush (R) allocated most of his current transportation budget to road construction. (2)

Los Angeles, Buffalo, San Diego, Portland
Jonathan E.D. Richmond
Harvard University

A 1998 study of U.S. light rail systems notes..."In no case has new rail service been shown to have a noticeable impact upon highway congestion or air quality."

"Light rail lacks flexibility, and in many cases passengers who previously had direct bus service now have to transfer from bus to train, with extended journey times."

"Modest improvements to basic bus service combined with an attractive fares policy have shown they can secure substantially more ridership increases than capital projects involving either light rail or busway construction." (8)

"in most cases, capital costs have been higher than forecast, in some cases by a large margin." For example, the Los Angeles Blue Line's cost escalated from $194 million to $890 million, while Buffalo's $24-million tab ballooned to $552 million. Richmond argues that while there are successes such as in San Diego, buses often would have been cheaper and just as viable. In Portland, "light rail ridership has also been encouraged by the simple expedient of taking alternatives away." (2)

Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis
Linda Gorman
Independence Institute

"The experience in other cities that have built light rail suggests that Carter & Burgess got it exactly right. In the last 25 years, light rail systems have been built in Baltimore, Buffalo, Dallas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, and St. Louis. These rail systems were sold with promises that they would attract more riders than buses, reduce pollution, and ease congestion. Not even one of them has had any impact on either congestion or pollution. Typical ridership has been 50 to 60 percent below initial projections, and the total cost per rail passenger has been underestimated by 200 to 400%. Only in Houston, where planners choose to concentrate on road based solutions, has transit produced measurable improvement." (1)

from NoCenterLine

As taxpayers, auto users have an interest in providing a workable transportation sytem at the lowest price. Some people claim that autos are overused because they are underpriced, then they claim that sprawl occurs because it is underpriced or supported by various subsidies. Others claim that the subsidy for transit riders is far higher, per user, than the subsidies for roads and autos.

Both arguments are probably correct: both autos and transit use should be priced higher. This means that transit should be restricted only to the densest areas where it can pay it's own way. Despite wild claims that urban areas are experiencing a resurgence in vitality, the fact remains that the vast proportion of growth is occurring outside the urban core. Some people go so far as to claim that the single major drawback to sprawl is its effect on those people left behind: those that cannot afford a car. We saw one result of this in New Orleans and later in Dallas.

It may be that the support of transit in the densest and poorest areas is a social necessity, and also financially workable, but that outside those areas the auto is the least expensive option. It may be that transit should be designed such that everywhere in the service area is within a walkable distance, and elswewhere, it should be abandoned.

It may be that cars should be banned where adequate transit is available, and that the feasibility of transit rquires that cars be banned so that tranit is not bogged down in the same congestion as everyone else. After all, if my car slows down your ability to travel and vice versa, that is pretty much an even swap: but if my car slows down a bus full of people, it is not an even swap.

We should refine the claims of who pays for what with real data, studies and analyisis. ZIf it turns out, for example, that people who move to far out places for the purposes of home affordability are correct in their assessment of the trade off between travel costs and hoousing affordabilty, then autos should be credited with the value added of being able to own a home. If the use of transit requires density such that home owners pay an equivalent amount of money for a lesser product, then transit should be asssesses a cost that amounts to the de facto subsidy of the costs of density.

If we ever get all those variables straightened out, absent the histrionics of special interest groups, then maybe we can make some rational decisions.

In its present state, Metro to Dulles is a certifiable financial disaster. But if it results in the closing of Reagan national, that might be an unforeseen benefit. My suggestion that you might dream up some kind of hypothetical saig grace for it was based on a highly unlikely scenario that presupposes that Maryland and Virginia can agree on a long term transportation strategy and we admit up front that Dulles is a burgeoning edge city.

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"On the basis of narrowly defined operating energy, bus, commuter rail, and heavy rail systems show up quite well. As illustrated in Figure 1, these public transportation modes require less than one-third of the energy that single-occupant automobiles require to operate per passenger mile. This apparent advantage may disappear, however, as other factors are taken into account.

In particular, new heavy rail systems appear much less energy-efficient than new bus services, when the energy needed to build roadways and track, the energy needed to manufacture and maintain vehicles, the energy used to heat and light stations, the energy required to drive to stations, and the directness of alternative modes of travel are taken into consideration. The principal reason for this is that the limited route mileage of rail systems necessitates a high degree of auto travel to and from stations, resulting in overall, door-to-door travel patterns that are less energy-efficient than rail travel by itself. As illustrated in Figure 2, a typical trip on a new heavy rail system requires about twice as much energy per mile as does a typical trip by bus, all things considered. Old heavy rail systems, located in concentrated urban areas where stations are easily reached by foot and by bus, rank only slightly behind bus in terms of their modal energy requirements. Vanpools use the least energy, whereas single-occupant automobiles and dial-a-ride service use the most.

In computing the energy savings of new programs, it is necessary to go one more step: since most of the passengers on a new service formerly made comparable trips by some other mode, the energy savings associated with these shifts in travel behavior must take into account the fuel efficiency of the former mode of travel as well as that of the new mode. Experience across the country indicates that patronage on new public transport services is more apt to be drawn from existing public transport services and from carpools. As a result, the net savings in energy can be surprisingly small or even negative. Our findings, which are illustrated in Figure 3, show that a typical trip on a new heavy rail system actually requires more energy than before, while new trips by bus, carpool, and vanpool show substantial energy savings per passenger mile."

Congressional Budget Office

This is an example of the kind of real world trade-offs we need to make to determine the overall least cost transportation system, absent histrionics and special interests.

If vanpools use the least energy then my previous comments about jitneys are justified. We should eliminate the leagal and liability problemsassociated with vanpools and work to make them more popular and efficient through communication technology.

Kain should scrap the richmond to Washington rail idea and institute a system of vanpools that works.


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