Transportation

Because being there is what's most important, WPC's Center for Transportation researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement.

What's New

Upside down transportation policy

July 10, 2009 in Blog

This, in today's Seattle Times:

As light-rail opponent Emory Bundy and others have noted, the 36-minute
ride from Westlake Center to the airport, via Rainier Valley and
Tukwila, is longer than the 194 bus, scheduled to take 28 minutes using
freeway HOV lanes. Next year the 194 will be dropped, so transit riders
heading to the airport will have to take a train.

Tell me again, why spending dozens of billions of dollars on Light Rail is a good idea?

Status of Puget Sound Traffic Congestion

July 8, 2009 in Blog

The Texas Transportation Institute just released their newest Mobility Report. Using a Travel Time Index (TTI), the report measures and tracks congestion among the nation's biggest cities.

In Seattle,
the TTI fell from 1.30 in 2006 to 1.29 in 2007. This means during the
peak times, the average commute was 29% longer than it should have been
under free flow conditions. The report also shows that the Seattle
region ranks as the 20th most congested city (of the cities measured in
the report). This is down from 17th in 2006.

Despite a slight
fall in traffic, the cost of congestion rose to a new high, from
$1.556 billion in 2006 to $1.591 billion in 2007.

Most data
shows that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is flat or even falling in the
last couple of years. This is a result of the economy and unemployment.
Some assume that a permanent shift from driving to transit is taking
place. While others believe transit is not absorbing the majority of the shift: US Transit Increase Captures Only 2% of Road Use Decline in 2008

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has this table that shows mode share in the most common forms of traveling to work.

I think most of the shift is captured by more people working from home. But you can decide for yourself.






Public Transportation: A Core Climate Solution?

July 8, 2009 in Blog

On Tuesday, WPC Adjunct Scholar and Senior Fellow at CATO Randal O'Toole, testified on the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development. Note the full list of witnesses and the interesting news article following.

Panel 1

  • Mr. Michael A. Replogle
    [view testimony]
    Global Policy Director
    Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
  • Mr. Clinton Andrews [view testimony]
    Professor and Director
    Urban Planning and Policy Development Program in the Bloustein School of
    Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University
  • Honorable Christopher
    Cabaldon
    [view testimony]
    Mayor
    City of West Sacramento, California
  • Mr. Randal O'Toole
    [view testimony]
    Senior Fellow
    Cato Institute
  • Mr. Ernest Tollerson
    [view testimony]
    Director of Policy and Media Relations
    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, State of New York

Standing in the transit bread line

By: Barbara Hollingsworth
Examiner Columnist | 7/8/09 7:13 AM

He was outnumbered four-to-one at a Senate hearing on transportation and
climate change, but nobody challenged CATO senior fellow Randall O'Toole's
claim that rather than saving energy, mass transit uses massive amounts of it
and produces copious amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to boot.

"Transit produces as much greenhouse gas emissions [per passenger mile]
as the average SUV, and consumes far more energy," O'Toole told the Senate
Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development.
"Transit is the culprit, not the savior."

Neither of the two senators there - Chairman Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and Sen.
Mark Warner, D-VA - nor any of four pro-transit witnesses who testified
alongside O'Toole directly addressed his point.

And nobody produced data proving O'Toole wrong, even though the stated
purpose of the hearing was to "chart a course towards lowering emissions
in the transportation sector" - which accounts for nearly one third of all
air pollution in the U.S.

When O'Toole noted that, besides being energy guzzlers and polluters, urban
mass transit systems are typically "in a perpetual state of financial
crisis" requiring massive taxpayer subsidies, Menendez cited the $200
billion spent on highways over the last few decades. "That's a
subsidy," he said.

No, senator, it's not. As Gabriel Roth, research fellow at the Independent
Institute who was present at the hearing, told me afterwards, gasoline taxes
and other highway user fees have paid for nearly 90 percent of all the costs of
building and maintaining the nation's highway system.

In contrast, fares cover less than half of the operating costs and none of
the capital costs associated with building and running mass transit.

A decades-long experiment in O'Toole's former hometown of Portland, Oregon,
showed transit to be the loser in cost effectiveness as well. Portland spent $2
billion on an extensive light rail system and dramatically increased operating
subsidies in inflation-adjusted dollars, yet transit still lost market share.
Forty years ago, 4 percent of Portland commuters took transit to work; today
it's a pathetic 1.6 percent.

"And what they don't tell you," O'Toole told me, "is that the
city spent another $2 billion to subsidize transit-oriented development. They
have to build huge parking garages for the developers or it's not commercially
viable."

Michael Replogle, policy and strategy consultant for the Environmental
Defense Fund, told the subcommittee that even the draconian cap-and-trade
provisions in the House-passed cap-and-trade bill will not be enough "to
bring about an efficient reduction in transportation -related greenhouse gas
emissions." But if the Senate passes a similar bill, electricity costs
will skyrocket, dramatically increasing mass transit operating costs.

Since more than 90 percent of all urban travel is done by automobile anyway,
O'Toole says, "small improvements in autos can be far more significant
than large investments in transit."

If you're really serious about lowering carbon emissions, supporting mass
transit doesn't make much sense. Neither does expanding passenger rail lines,
which slurp up large quantities of coal-generated electricity, if your major
goal is to decrease energy use.

But if you're part of the politically correct pro-transit lobby, you just
ignore such inconvenient facts. With a new administration in town ready to hand
out billions of tax dollars for prohibitively expensive rail projects that
cannot be justified on the basis of cost, energy use or even carbon emissions,
all you have to do is stand in the transit bread line and wait for your
hand-out.

Barbara F. Hollingworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

I-90 Traffic Congestion

July 7, 2009 in Blog

I-90 commute into Seattle slower today, but not by much, says DOT

That's "a little longer than typical — maybe five minutes — but not huge," said transportation spokeswoman Jamie Holter.

It helps when your baseline comparison is already congested.

Passenger Rail: not so good for the envrionment

June 30, 2009 in Blog

A new study by two professors at the University of California, Berkeley argues that when assessing the environmental impacts of a transportation system, one should include life cycle costs of infrastructure, fuel production and supply chains, not just the simple measure of tail pipe emissions.

In doing so, the researchers conclude:

We find that total
life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63% for
onroad, 155% for rail, and 31% for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation.

Why is rail so much more harmful to the environment than other modes?

          Ranges in passenger occupancy can easily change the relative
performance of modes.

This means transit modes that don't carry a lot of people are more harmful to the environment when compared to other transportation modes that are more efficient, like air travel or private vehicles. This is the point we try to make in our analysis of Sound Transit's Light Rail system and High Speed Rail.

Yet rail advocates continue to push for greater public spending under this false premise of environmental stewardship. Consider this statement from the campaign folks supporting the 2008 ballot measure to expand light rail in the Puget Sound:

="margin-left: 40px;">"One thing that really struck me is, when people get a sense of the
greenhouse gas levels that will be reduced, that will be a compelling
argument," said Alex Fryer of the group Mass Transit Now.

Yet our analysis shows ST2's poor ridership would only reduce CO2 emissions by 1.11%. Randal O'Toole made similar findings in his remarks about High Speed Rail. And these don't even include the life cycle costs of infrastructure or supply chains that the Berkeley researchers count.

You can find the full U.C. Berkeley study here.

 

Train collides with car

June 30, 2009 in Blog

Sound Transit train and car collide in Seattle

According to local transportation policy expert, John Niles, Sound Transit's EIS,,,

...forecast a collision with a vehicle, bike, or pedestrian averaging every 12 days. Most are expected to be minor, but serious injuries and fatalities are not unheard of in other light rail cities, at a rate per passenger mile that exceeds urban car and bus driving/riding.

John has portions of the EIS showing Sound Transit's analysis posted on his website here.

Interestingly, yesterday's collision was caused by a driver crossing the tracks after turning left against a red light. According to the EIS:

A review of the experience of other light rail transit systems indicates that motor vehicles turning left in front of light rail vehicles account for the largest percentage of collisions.

Yet, despite this latest collision !
and according to the EIS, the light rail line will reduce overall accidents along the MLK corridor by about 37%. This is because an at-grade line will separate oncoming traffic and require more signalization. Only time will tell if Sound Transit's estimate is correct....

Update: originally I questioned whether Sound Transit should have installed some sort of audible or visual warning device at each intersection on MLK Way and apparantly, they have. Who knew I had that much influence...now if I can get them to reconsider placing light rail across I-90.

Federal Transportation budget going broke....again

June 25, 2009 in Blog

From AASHTO....

On June 24th Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari sent a
letter to the chief executive officers of every state department of
transportation in the country advising them of an impending cash shortfall in
the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF is the federal funding source for
thousands of state highway projects, which support hundreds of thousands of
jobs, across the country.

The Deputy Secretary's letter put all state DOTs on notice, warning that
instead of sending states overnight reimbursements for transportation
investments, the Federal Highway Administration could begin to ration state
repayments; possibly shifting to weekly or bi-weekly payments in the event that
state reimbursement requests exceed the cash available in the Highway Trust Fund.

Faced with the same crisis ten months ago, Congress transferred resources
from the general fund back into the HTF to prevent a shutdown of the Federal
Highway Program.

Using general fund dollars for the HTF can be dangerous at the federal level. Once the subsidy from the general fund reaches a certain amount, it triggers a provision that forces all future allocations to become subject to the regular budget process. This means transportation funding will have to compete with every other federal program, like defense and health care.

GAO: Gov't lacks strategic high-speed rail plan

June 25, 2009 in Blog

On Tuesday, the GAO testified to Congress on the federal government's plan to expand high speed rail. The GAO's concerns reiterated the same claims made by Randal O'Toole in WPC's most recent study on high speed rail: Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail.

The Federal Railroad Administration does not have a clear role other
than to distribute the stimulus money, which states are competing
fiercely to obtain, said Susan A. Fleming, director of infrastructure
issues at the Government Accountability Office.

"In our view, it is more of a vision than a strategic plan," Fleming said.

The Transportation Department's deputy secretary, John Porcari, said the agency's plan was "carefully thought out."

Fleming
also said the $8 billion represents only a small fraction of the
estimated costs for starting and enhancing service on federally
authorized high speed rail corridors.

"While the potential
benefits of high-speed rail projects are many, these projects — both
here and abroad — are costly, take years to develop and build, and
require substantial upfront public investment, as well as potentially
long-term operating subsidies," Fleming said.

Read the full AP story: GAO: Gov't lack strategic high-speed rail plan

Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail

June 23, 2009 in Blog

Washington should apply for its share of federal high-speed rail stimulus funds for safety improvements such as grade crossings and signaling systems, but not for new trains that will obligate taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in annual subsidies, says a new study written by WPC adjunct scholar UntitledRandal O'Toole.

The report, Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail makes the following key findings:

∙ Initial funding commits the nation to a program whose eventual costs!
could exceed $1 trillion. This doesn’t count overruns, operating subsidies, and rehabilitation costs.

∙ Outside of the Boston-to-Washington and Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg routes, Amtrak short distance trains lose an average of
$37 per passenger and Amtrak expects the states to cover most of these operating losses.

∙ A hidden cost of rail is that it must be rebuilt about every 30 years. This means construction could leave states obligated to fund billions of dollars in rehabilitation costs.

∙ The fact that American freight railroads are profitable while European passenger lines are not suggests that freight, not passenger, is the highest and best use of a modern railroad in most places.

∙ It is far more cost-effective to save energy by encouraging people to drive more fuel-efficient cars than to build and operate high-speed rail.

∙ Considering the energy required for rail construction, improvements in auto and airline energy ef!
ficiencies, and the high energy cost required to move trains a!
t higher speeds, high speed rail will have little to no environmental benefit.

∙ Upgrading the 280 rail miles in Washington to 110-mph standards would cost nearly $1 billion.

∙ The average Washingtonian will take a round trip on high-speed rail once every 8.5 years.

∙ For every Washingtonian who rides high-speed rail once a month, more than 100 Washington residents will never ride it.

 

The complete report can be viewed online: Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail

National and local transit ridership falls

June 17, 2009 in Blog

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has released its most anticipated quarterly ridership statistics. As I suggested before, transportation analysts have been eagerly waiting for the first quarter reports to see whether the spikes in passenger demand during 2008 would last since fuel prices and employment rates have fallen.

Nationally, overall ridership during the first quarter of 2009 is down 1.17% from the first quarter of 2008.
Heavy Rail is down 1.77%.
Light Rail is up 1.78%.
Commuter Rail is down 3.03%.
Buses are down 1.22%.

Overall, King County is down 1.27%, with bus ridership falling 1.33%.

Bucking the trend is Sound Transit, whose overall ridership is 8.04% higher. But Sound Transit officials shouldn't get too excited because their ridership didn'!
t peak until the last quarter of 2008. Looking at Sound Transit's daily demand in 2009 reveals average weekday boardings have fallen nearly 3% from 2008. This suggests that barring another spike above the average, Sound Transit's ridership will be lower in the next quarterly reports.

As I said before, most agencies ended 2008 with large increases in transit use. The
larger demand placed pressure on budgets and had policymakers calling
for higher taxes to expand service. The larger demand also had some
suggesting that society had fundamentally shifted behavior away from
the personal automobile, which has federal officials calling for
massive spending increases in traditional transit and high speed rail
with the next reauthorization bill.

The early data however, suggests the spike may have been temporary and travel behavior has not fundamentally shifted. Motorists are simply reacting, quite predictably as fuel prices and the economy fluctuate.

Here is APTA's full 2009 1st quarter report.