Category Archives: Transportation

Light Rail


Trains are cool.  And fast trains are fastly cool.

I live nearly 15 miles from my office.  And I would love to be able to take a train, preferably a fast one, to the office each day.  However, there are some constraints  on even an imaginary train.

  1. I have to take my kids to school.  So, even if I can take the train to work, I have to drive to school.
  2. My kids would appreciate it if I picked them up.
  3. Sometimes, more when they were younger, I have to go to school to get them because they are hurt or sick.
  4. Now that they are older, they need to go to places like dance, karate, soccer and basketball after school.
  5. I have to go to places like lunch, the grocery store and Wal-mart during the day.

All of this is a not so obvious way of saying that unless the train stopped at my door, my kid’s school, the grocery and each of our events, I can’t use it.  None of the things in my life are close enough that I can afford to give up the car.

My wife was born in Brooklyn.  And I love to visit.  Everything is so close to the house that you can go for days, weeks I suspect, without having to go further than 6 blocks.  Within just 2 are more than 20 places to eat, a movie theater, grocery and drug stores.  Everything.

But here, in Raleigh, and most place sin America, things that people need and want are spread all over the place.  And because of that, trains, being static once built, are of very limited use to a very limited population of people.

And saying that makes me happy:

“The commuter rail plan and the light rail plan just don’t make sense to me,” said John Pucher, a professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He is a visiting professor this semester at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the Department of City and Regional Planning.

Pucher has more than 40 years of experience in transportation planning. He supports alternative modes of transportation, but he said planners often underestimate cost and overestimate ridership projections.

“It’s just so difficult in this very decentralized, very sprawled metropolitan area,” he said.

I wish I could take a train to work.  Maybe in 12 years after the kids are in college and I have fewer variable trips, I can.  In fact, when I was single and living in Seattle, I often had thoughts of moving to Bainbridge Island and commuting by ferry.  I could arrange to work from home in the morning, miss the massive morning commute, take the boat across and be in the office by 10.  Same thing on the way home.

But right now, the way that we have built our cities, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze on this light rail.  The money just doesn’t make sense.

But what does?

A better option for Wake County would be a “bus rapid transit system,” he said. The system essentially allows buses to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes on area highways, which he said is more efficient, flexible and cost-effective than rail systems.


Public Transportation – Going Private

There’s often talk of public transportation.  And I get the idea; the more accessible work, shopping and other services are to folks who might be struggling, the better off those folks might be.  A second argument surrounds the environment.  The more people use mass transit, the better off we are in terms of gas use, pollution and, recently, CO2 emissions.

Not to mention the fact that traffic just sucks and anything that we can do to minimize it is a plus.

All arguments aside, suppose, for the same of this discussion, that I cede all points.  That mass transit is the way to go, my question is this:

Does it matter what agency provides that transit?

The answer is:

Apparently so.

By now you’ve heard about the perks that come with working in Silicon Valley. Free lunch, 20 percent time — that’s the work time you can use to pursue independent projects.

Well, another perk? A private bus that picks you up in your neighborhood in San Francisco and shuttles you down to your corporate campus about an hour south in the suburbs of Silicon Valley.

During rush hour in San Francisco, you see them everywhere, said Eric Rodenbeck, the creative director of Stamen Design in the Mission District of San Francisco.

“They’re just so big,” Rodenbeck says. “These buses are two stories high and they’re barrelling down residential streets, and no one knows where they’re going except the people who are on them.”

So now the complaint against “Big Business” is that they bus people to work.  It’s almost like if the government isn’t providing it for you, it’s just this great big secret conspiracy or something:

“You know it’s almost like this masonic ritual,” Rodenbeck says.  “If you’ve got the key, this whole other city layer unlocks itself to you. And that’s the kind of urban puzzle we like to solve.”

I mean, serious.

So what we have are private companies shelling out their own money to transport people from where they live to where they work.  All this to reduce traffic, reduce emissions, pollution and dependence on oil and other fossil fuels and it STILL isn’t good enough:

Rodenbeck says he thinks the locations are secret because the companies are “sensitive to this idea that they are funding a change in the infrastructure in San Francisco without it being regulated.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is in the midst of studying what’s essentially emerging as a private mass-transportation system, says Jerry Robbins, a transportation planner for the agency.

“The increase in employer buses has sparked some reaction from residents,” Robbins says.

He says that since tech companies contract out the work to private bus companies, which are regulated by the state, the city has little say in what they do.

But Robbins says the agency has fielded complaints that the the private shuttle buses, which often stop at public bus stops, are causing delays and traffic.

Again, private companies are providing transportation, almost exactly like that being provided by the government, but residents don’t like it because it’s not regulated.

But how many folks does this private system haul everyday?

When the map was finished, Stamen counted busses from Apple, eBay, Electronic Arts, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, and they found the buses ran through almost every neighborhood in San Francisco. Stamen estimates that about 14,000 people ride the private shuttle buses every day.

Fourteen Thousand.  People.  Everyday.  In government speak that is 28,000 trips. Everyday.  For free.  And how does the private sector seduce such riders?

“It’s pretty sweet,” Birch said. “They let us choose the type of seats and decor inside. And it’s got dim lighting with the Google colors.”

There’s also free Wi-Fi on the shuttles, and Birch said it’s basically another hour of work.

The tech world is driven by young, educated largely urban workers. But companies like Facebook, Google and Apple are located in the suburbs of Silicon Valley, which is about an hour south of the San Francisco.

“I think a lot of young people who work at the tech companies they want the city life they want something that’s fun and entertaining, and you don’t get that in the suburbs,” Birch said.

Yeah.  By offering what people want.

Look, I like buses more than I like cars.  And I like trains more than I like buses.  And I like lite rail more than I like trains.  But more than any of that I like solutions that actually work.  So maybe the public sector should take some clues from the private sector and begin to work to loosen the grip of public transportation and let it move into the private space.

You might just get free WiFi.


Put Bicycle Riders In Their Place

I live outside of the city of Raleigh.  The roads of Wake County are two things:

  1. Beautiful
  2. Narrow

Really, driving through the county on those little county roads is a good way to spend a couple hours.  When the kids were very young I’d get them to nap by driving through the roads near my home.  However, those roads offer little to nothing in the way of a shoulder.  Even the picture above has very little shoulder support, and the roads near my house offer even less.

Which is why I advocate that bikes should not be on these roads.  Fifty or seventy years ago these roads were lazy country affairs.  Today, with the population growth, these roads are legit thoroughfares that move 1000’s of people to and from work every day.  Complete with the hustle and bustle of such.  Drivers are hitting speeds of 50-60 MPH and that just doesn’t work when you have a cyclist, or 5, moving at 20 with no way to get out of the way.

While I don’t think that bikes have a place on these roads, I DO like this idea:

Every day, one-third of the people of Copenhagen ride their bikes to work or school. Collectively, they cycle more than 750,000 miles daily, enough to make it to the moon and back. And city officials want even more people to commute, and over longer distances.

So a network of 26 new bike routes, dubbed “the cycling superhighway,” is being built to link the surrounding suburbs to Copenhagen.

Lars Gaardhoj, an official with the Copenhagen capital region, says the routes will be straight and direct.

“It will be very fast for people who use their bike,” he says. “This is new because traditionally cycle paths have been placed where there is space for them and the cars didn’t run. So now the bike is going to challenge the car.”

The first highway, to the busy suburb of Albertslund some 10 miles outside the city, was completed in April.

Each mile of bike highway will cost about $1 million. The project is to be financed by the city of Copenhagen and 21 local governments. And in a country where both right- and left-leaning politicians regularly ride bikes to work, it has bilateral support.

Even as I object to cyclists on our roads I preach that we should build a “bike-way” through the county.  Start with a small map and add 5 feet to one side or the other of our roads; a place where only bikes can go.  But creating a highway might even be better.

Certainly government has a role in transportation.  And we can pay for it by implementing a use tax.  You can tax bicycles, something I had to pay every year growing up in Minnesota, or pay a toll as you ride the highway.

Ride on!

California’s Bullet Train Folley

The California senate voted on Friday to begin work on a bullet train:

 (Reuters) – California lawmakers gave a nod of approval to a high-speed rail plan on Friday in a make-or-break vote for $8 billion in funding to start construction on a 130-mile section of track through the state’s central agricultural heartland.

I have to admit that I’m thoroughly perplexed by the fascination with mass transit in general and high speed rail in particular.  I don’t understand the whole religion surrounding this thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Railroads, in their time, helped to build this country.  They greatly reduced the time it took to get from one place to another and brought prosperity where ever they were built.  My little town in Minnesota was a railroad town.  Further, I love trains.  I love watching ’em, I love pictures of ’em and I love going to see train museums.

However, I don’t think that this is a love of trains that’s driving this.  I think it’s a combination of a couple of things:

  1. The “Green Movement”
  2. A desire to get people around more efficiently

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love efficiency.  I would be very much in favor of supporting an infrastructure that was able to move more people in less time for less money.  And if we can do that, I think that we should.  Additionally, I resonate with the “efficiency” claims of the “Green Movement.”

In short, if we are, really, able to create a transportation model that gets people from here to there better than what we have now, and that includes cost, you have my vote.

So here’s the question:

How expensive would a train system have to be in order for the most liberal supporter say, “It’s just not worth it.”

Would it be $5.00 a ticket?  Maybe $15?  If the ticket were to cost, say $60, would you still support high speed rail?

North Carolina Tolling: Update

As I’ve mentioned in the past, North Carolina is experimenting with toll roads.  As I’ve stated, I’m in favor of this type of taxation.  It more correctly taxes usage than does a generic gasoline tax.  Monies generated from a particular road have a better shot at being spent on the upkeep of that road.  And, the money generated can help build a maintain future infrastructure.

Additionally the tolling can be used to create a market and maximize traffic flow.  By raising rates during peak hours, lowering them during off peak hours, we’ll better be able to move more cars and trucks through than we other wise would.  Sort of a “Tragedy of the Commons” modern style.

But is it working?

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North Carolina Toll Road: Winning

Earlier this year North Carolina introduced it’s first toll road; a small little connection between147 and 540.  The first segment planned in the loop.  I’ve been in favor of toll roads because I enjoy two aspects:

  1. I like the payment of thing to be given to the user of a thing.
  2. I like that we can impact traffic flow by raising rates during peaks times.

Taxing the use of a road is a much more efficient way of paying for the road than taxing a kid who mows lawns by taxing gasoline.

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Capitalists Discover Capitalism

Friday I mocked the Liberals who dominate Broadway theater for their embracing market pricing for their tickets.  I was correctly mocked back in the comments for not calling out traditional conservative bastions for equal failure.

Well, critics all here is your reward.

Greedy corporate pig airlines discover capitalism:

Fliers can still choose between window and aisle seats on Delta Air Lines, but they’ll have to pay extra if those spots are near the front of the plane.

Economy passengers can now pay $9 or $29 for these prime seats, depending on the length of the flight. They were previously only available to frequent fliers in the airline’s Medallion program.

Other airlines such as US Airways, Sun Country and American Airlines already charge for window and aisle seats. The fee for premier seating is the latest in a string of surcharges by airlines. The fees have generated billions of dollars in extra revenue and have helped offset rising fuel costs.

I’ve long lamented the lack of markets in airline seating.  As airlines are continually being squeezed for revenues by the competition, they are looking to gain efficiencies wherever they can.  And part of that is scheduling flights as tightly as possible.  Often I find myself looking at a connecting flight with only 20-40 minutes to catch it.  I NEED to sit in the aisle and up front.  At other times I’ve scheduled my flight the day before and am in a position where I can sit in the back without a problem.

There has to be a better way than randomly assigning seats or even setting up an “e-bay’esque” type of event like Southwest does.  And for a long time I’ve told my poor suffering wife that “the market would set them free”.  Now, of course, I’ve always wanted them to set up a market where I could sell my seat position with the airline taking a cut.  But I guess this was inevitable.

In short, the market will allow people who need to be up front to be there while giving the folks who don’t need to be there the ability to well, not be.

California HIgh Speed Rail Costs Lots Of Money

I know this is gonna shock a TON of people.

Environmental reports released Tuesday show the first segment of the line in the Central Valley will cost between $10 billion and $13.9 billion, far more than the 2009 estimate of $7.1 billion.

I know I’m surprised.  I had expected California to come in under budget; ’cause all such projects do, really, come in under budget.

The thing about the Liberati when it comes to central planning projects like this is that they never consider the cost.  Would it be cool if I could take a train that ran on the coffee grounds I brew each morning?  Ride a train that took me to a station a meager few blocks from my office?


Would it still be cool if the state had to pay $8,542 per round-trip ticket?

Still think it’s a good idea?

Me either.

Light Rail: Seattle, WA

Light-rail and high-speed trains have long been the darling of the Left.  If some local or state government can come up with a plan to build trains, the Left is only TOO anxious to deliver the money.

Rail corridor between Raleigh and DC? Done!

Charlotte and Atlanta?  Done!

Roanoke and Durham. Done!

I admit that I’m flummoxed by this fixation.  But let’s take a look:

The idea is based on two angles:

  1. If we can move more people from here to there on a train, we’ll decrease the amount of fossil fuel burned.
  2. It creates jobs.

How much of this is true?  And to the extent that it IS true, what price are people willing to pay?

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The Cost of Flying Just Went Up – Thank Government

Thanks to the United States Government, the cost of flying from here to there is about to go up.



Just as sure as you can’t change the laws of physics, you are unable to change the laws of economics.

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