China’s love affair with multi-modality

30 11 2009

It has been asserted elsewhere that China has a love affair with automobile mobility based upon a China Daily report “that car (light vehicle) sales reached 10.9 million units in the first 10 months of 2009, surpassing sales in the United States by 2.2 million. This was a 38% increase over the same period last year. Part of the increase is attributed to government programs to stimulate automobile sales. China’s leading manufacturer is General Motors (GM), which experienced a 60% increase in sales compared to last year. By contrast, GM’s sales in the United States fell 33% in the first 10 months of the year on an annual basis. GM sold nearly 1.5 million cars in China, somewhat less than its 1.7 million sales over the same period in the United States.”

But when one steps back and takes a gander at the BIGGER PICTURE, the greater point in fact is that China’s exhibiting symptoms of a love affair with Multi-Modality, as evidenced by this:

And thusly: “The Chinese Government’s grand plans to link the entire nation by high-speed electric train are steaming ahead, with 2012 now set as the date when the system will overtake Europe’s as the world largest…At the moment, it costs on average 1,258 yuan (€123) for a one-way economy-class air ticket between Beijing and Shanghai. When the fast-rail line between China’s two major cities opens in 2012, a one-way ticket on that service is expected to cost just 500 yuan (€49). China’s rail service has developed at a remarkable rate over the past few years. In 2007, there were 1,109 kilometers of high-speed rail lines in the country, by 2012 there will be 13,000 kilometers linking most of the country’s major cities, according to figures being trumpeted by China’s railways ministry. In 2007, there were 105 fast-speed trains in service, by 2012 there will be 800, they say…As well as being environmental and economically attractive – to those using the system, not those footing the estimated US$300 billion (€201 billion) construction bill – the high-speed train system is designed to give an attractive option in terms of commuting times between China’s major cities.”[source]

And as they say that, my friends, is the rest of the story.





All the news that’s fit for you (VI)

30 11 2009

A wonderful resource: The H+T Affordability Index: http://htaindex.cnt.org/mapping_tool.php?region=St.%20Louis,%20MO–IL

“In a draft long-range comprehensive transportation plan, VIA unveiled in September a proposal that calls for a mixture of light rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit to crisscross the city, connecting neighborhoods, cultural centers and major employers. The system also would tie into a proposed commuter rail that would connect San Antonio to Austin…Building a rail system is a lengthy process — from identifying funding to conducting environmental studies and actually building the system. Muñoz and others say they hope a starter streetcar system could be built quicker. There’s no firm timeline yet, though Muñoz has said he hopes to break ground in two or three years”: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/traffic/78007602.html

“Seattle has a plan. So do Tampa, San Diego, Portland, Denver, Nashville and Calgary. Vancouver is the exemplar, a city that has used a developer bonus system to encourage density downtown while assuring that the city core doesn’t become a forest of bulky high-rises with a scarcity of parks, public amenities or places for moderate-income people to live. Now it’s Austin’s turn. On Dec. 17, the Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on proposals for a voluntary program under which downtown developers would be rewarded with extra space or height for their projects if they provide certain community benefits, such as affordable housing, child care services or cultural spaces”: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/business/stories/realestate/2009/11/29/1129density.html

“The current economic crisis is not only a national crisis; it is also a metropolitan crisis. And soon the downturn will bring a local government fiscal crisis. Given the normal lag time of 18–24 months between changes in the economic cycle and its impact on city fiscal conditions, local officials anticipate that the next year or two will bring large-scale city government layoffs, deep cuts to local government services, and halted or delayed capital projects. Just as federal stimulus package spending trails off, city fiscal dynamics could well place a serious drag on economic recovery”: http://www.nlctv.org/events/brookings/091119/

“Just this past week leaders in Congress and the president’s own Economic Recovery Advisory Board have called on the federal government to pump billions of dollars into new roads, bridges and rails. Of course, we’ve seen this before. Since the time the Interstates were finished transportation has been more about job growth than the national economy. President George H. W. Bush was widely quoted in 1991 when he said the federal transportation law he signed ‘could be summed up in three words: jobs, jobs, jobs.’ But this approach ignores the real power of infrastructure to generate productive, sustainable and inclusive long-term growth, not short-term jobs… to truly produce real prosperity, federal leadership, as with the interstates in the 1950s, is more necessary than ever and should advance an updated vision identifying strategic, transformative infrastructure investments of critical importance to national economic competitiveness. That vision should include robust plans for freight movement, the electric grid, and water infrastructure across state borders and between metropolitan areas. We also need the federal government to empower our metropolitan areas to use infrastructure and mechanisms like congestion pricing and transit to improve mobility and choice and enhance sustainable patterns of development”: http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2009/1120_infrastructure_katz_puentes.aspx

“As cities grow, aging sewer systems are having trouble keeping up with increasing amounts of waste. Often, the result is sewer system overflows that end up directly in waterways…many sewer systems are still frequently overwhelmed, according to a New York Times analysis of environmental data. As a result, sewage is spilling into waterways. In the last three years alone, more than 9,400 of the nation’s 25,000 sewage systems — including those in major cities — have reported violating the law by dumping untreated or partly treated human waste, chemicals and other hazardous materials into rivers and lakes and elsewhere, according to data from state environmental agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency. Not even one-fifth of those systems were ever handed fines for their violation of the Clean Water Act”: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/23/us/23sewer.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&hpw=&adxnnlx=1259003472-2JHGB0fSR2GVjGwW+3P9+A

“Even after a global housing crash, the Bank still shockingly supports expanding the securitized mortgage markets that were responsible.  On this issue it at least deserves applause for consistency. Publishing when housing stock in rich countries was still ludicrously overvalued, its economists informed us that conditions were ‘quite optimistic on the likely trajectory for growth in housing finance.’ The ‘genie’ of deregulated housing finance, they argued, ‘is out of the bottle, and if prudently managed, can be expected to confer enormous benefits.’ Post crash, we still find the Bank’s ideological guns blazing. Its landmark 2009 development report…calls on emerging countries to ‘expand the securitization of mortgages.’  The latest urban strategy more chastely advises countries to pursue profitable secondary mortgage markets ‘as a source of long term capital for financial institutions.’ How well has that approach to real estate finance worked lately?”: http://americancity.org/columns/entry/1882/

“Despite gains in the 1990s, the last decade has seen jumps in poverty in rural areas, where rates continue to exceed the national average…The increase in the number of poor Americans was heavily weighted in rural communities. Rural counties were home to just over 16% of the nation’s population in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But 33% of the increase in the number of poor Americans from ’03 to ‘08 — more than one million people — was found in rural counties. As a result, the gap between the poverty rates in urban and rural America widened, doubling between 2003 and 2008″: http://www.dailyyonder.com/poverty-rate-jumps-rural-america/2009/11/23/2466

“To thrive, suburbs might become more urban”: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/11/20/to-thrive-suburbs-might-become-more-urban/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campa

“Walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods do more than just lower greenhouse gas emissions of their residents – they save them money ($31 million) too, states a new report, “Windfall for All”, from the Bay Area’s TransForm, a coalition of over 100 non-profits…(which found that people in Sacramento, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego who live near public transportation on average emit fewer carbon emissions and spend billions less on transportation compared to people who live in areas where public transit is scarce”: http://sacramento.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2009/11/16/daily60.html

“Just as websites have attracted millions of users by offering services for free and public schools have long waived tuitions in favor of the ability to offer guaranteed universal education, some contend that by opening up turnstiles and getting rid of the farebox, transit agencies could serve legions of new riders for whom the typical fare presents just enough of a financial or psychic barrier to keep them in their cars…Proponents argue that free transit’s ability to remove cars from the road and therefore decrease congestion, curb pollution and foster more livable cities would more than justify the added burden on public coffers. It would even reduce insurance claims, since cars that stay in garages don’t get into accidents. Olsen also argues that fare-free transit would save money because it would eliminate what he considers an unacceptably costly infrastructure to collect fares”: http://www.intransitionmag.org/Fall_2009/Fare-Free-Transit.htm





All the news that’s fit for you(V)

23 11 2009

Will Austin vote for urban rail in November 2010?: http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/column?oid=oid%3A888128

“The incomplete roadway ramps on MoPac just south of Hwy. 290 will no longer lead to nowhere…The design for the project is mostly complete, with construction set to begin in fiscal year 2011. The completed project should be open to traffic during FY 2012. Cost of the project is estimated to total approximately $13 million. The City of Austin will finance the entire project upfront, with TxDOT paying the city 80 percent of the project’s cost back over a 10 to 15 year period”: http://impactnews.com/southwest-austin/258-recent-news/6369-mopac-hwy290-interchange-gets-funding

“In 1949, President Harry Truman convinced Congress to break with the past and inject the federal government into process of developing cities and financing housing. The 1949 Housing Act expanded the availability of federal insurance for home mortgages, igniting the growth of new suburbs farther and farther from the centers of our cities. Together with federal highway funds that came a few years later, the 1949 law started what we now describe as ‘suburban sprawl.’ The two initiatives put Americans on the path of long commutes, heavy traffic, air pollution, water shortages, and a long-term increase in carbon dioxide emissions, which fuel global warming…The time has come to declare that the ‘General Motors model’ of urban planning is officially bankrupt. We must reinvest in existing urban centers, because reusing the infrastructure and restoring underutilized real estate is far more environmentally efficient than new construction, no matter how green that construction is. It’s also time to change local land use laws to promote more compact development around transit and the availability of affordable housing close to jobs and services. A reversal of the ill effects of sprawl will take committed local officials who are willing to change land use policy and zoning even in the face of resistance. Architects, real estate developers, bankers, and city planners must collaborate to create vibrant urban spaces that meet consumers’ needs”: http://open.salon.com/blog/psc/2009/11/11/rethinking_sixty_years_of_sprawl

“We’re trundling along in the infrastructure equivalent of a jalopy, with bridges rotting and falling down, while other nations, our competitors in the global economy, are building efficient, high-speed, high-performance infrastructure platforms to power their 21st-century economies.  We used to be so much smarter about this stuff. A recent publication from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution reminds us that: ‘Since the beginning of our republic, transportation and infrastructure have played a central role in advancing the American economy — from the canals of upstate New York to the railroads that linked the heartland to industrial centers and finally the interstate highway system that ultimately connected all regions of the nation. In each of those periods, there was a sharp focus on how infrastructure investments could be used as catalysts for economic expansion and evolution.’ Policy makers all but gave up on that kind of thinking years ago. America’s infrastructure, once the finest in the world, has been neglected for decades, and it shows. Felix Rohatyn’s book on the subject, ‘Bold Endeavors,’ opens with: ‘The nation is falling apart — literally'”: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/opinion/17herbert.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1259006898-CzuYhcnuGLY+qE8Na0+UQQ

“The recession and housing collapse have halted four decades of double-digit growth for nearly half of the nation’s biggest rapidly expanding suburbs.Twenty-four of the 53 cities of 100,000 or more that grew by at least 10% every decade since 1970 lost population in the last two years. Fifteen are likely to end the decade with less than a 10% gain in population, largely because of recent losses…Bedroom communities now must rethink their future and become ‘a little less sprawly, a little more village-like with clustered development, denser housing,’ Lang says. ‘The irony is that if they want to keep growing, they must grow as cities, which is diametrically opposite of how they got so big in the first place’…The 2010 Census will reveal whether new bedroom communities are emerging at the far edges of metropolitan areas or if growth will occur in older boomburbs that transform into more urbanized centers”: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-11-19-suburbs_N.htm

Zombie subdivisions: http://www.planetizen.com/node/41011

“Commercial real estate loans are typically provided on terms of five to seven years. That means that in the next two years a billions of dollars worth investments in construction will need to be repaid just as the current value for those properties has plummeted. About $500 billion will come due in 2010 alone and an equal amount every year through at least 2012, according to the Federal Reserve. Many banks…are facing huge numbers of possible defaults by builders who erected thousands of office towers, condominiums and shopping centers with the easy credit available five years ago. With few tenants, those developments are turning into what industry insiders call zombie buildings. Next year ‘looks like an unavoidable bloodbath for a multitude of ‘zombie’ borrowers, investors and lenders”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/20/zombie-buildings-are-they_n_365400.html

“The strategy outlook at JP Morgan is little changed over the last week despite some sobering news out of the labor department last Friday. The bad news on jobs is no longer a surprise to investors and history has shown that past jobless recoveries were dealt with fine by most major asset classes. Although the jobless recovery creates some greater headwinds than most recoveries it is not an immediate headwind as JP Morgan analysts continue to see a flight into equities as portfolio managers chase performance in to year-end. While many investors (including your truly) have expressed their dislike for the Fed’s liquidity induced ‘recovery’ JP Morgan sees no issues with it. In fact, they see it as a normalization of the allocation of capital in the markets”: http://pragcap.com/jp-morgan-the-jobless-recovery-wont-be-so-bad (except of course for those who are jobless)





Commonsense? Re-fenestrated! (III)

19 11 2009

Welcome back.

Sorry for such a long interval between postings but much has disrupted our Most Senior Fellow’s schedule – and you can be sure he does not like his schedule being disrupted, even by the former Grand Poo-bah of the Texas House of Representatives Transportation Committee.  Because by now we should all be aware of how last week Mike Krusee said that “No road pays for itself.”[i]  As those of you who have already read “Commonsense? Re-fenestrated! (I)”  and especially “Commonsense? Re-fenestrated! (II)” know, this is the (ahem) road we here at The Placemaking Institute have been heading down.  If not, here’s a quick summary: Central Texas is in big f’in’ TROUBLE when it comes to providing sufficient transportation.

So this Most Senior Fellow, his thunder stolen, has decided it’s time to roll up his sleeves and eschew his wholehearted belief that “the study of economic growth is too serious to be left to the economists”[ii] by, well, getting serious.[iii]  Much comment has already been made about Krusee’s words, which we feel are best buttressed by Chris Baker at Austin Contrarian:

Krusee’s assessment matches TxDOT’s own internal assessment.  (This actually should be no surprise since Krusee’s committee relied on TxDOT for data.)   TxDOT, for example, concluded that the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes — just 16% of the total cost.  Some of us get swept up in the rhetoric sometimes, but roads aren’t unmitigated evils.   Obviously, we need roads.  Just as obviously, I think, we will continue to need new roads.   But new roads should be built only where drivers are willing to pay for the new capacity.   And the only way to gauge that demand is to price existing roads properly; the revenue they generate will tell us when it is time to add to add that capacity.

With that concise assessment of the current state of affairs out of the way, it should be duly noted that Krusee is the former representative of suburban Williamson County as well as the main author of HB3588, which laid the foundation upon which Central Texas’ road tolling plan is built – by selling bonds.  Here’s where we stand as of today in this regard:

Let’s take a look at the one that, after Toll 45 SW, seems most impending: The Manor Expressway, a 6.2-mile limited-access toll road with three lanes in each direction that will be constructed in an expanded median of US 290 and will extend from US 183 to Parmer Lane (while the existing US 290 will be widened and remain non-tolled) that is expected to break ground in 2012.  It has an estimated cost of $623.5 million (for much more detail click this) and it is only one of five projects (the others being tolls 183, 45 SW, 290 W, 71 W, 71 E) with a total price of $1.5 billion approved by CAMPO in October 2007.  They are being handled by TxDOT and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), an agency created in 2002 to expedite mobility projects in Williamson and Travis counties.  TxDOT will build the road, but CTRMA, which also manages Toll 183A, may run it.

Toll roads are financed over several years and, after they are, in theory, paid off, TxDOT and CTRMA are authorized to improve or build other facilities with that money.  CTRMA spokesman Steve Pustelnyk: “In principle, when a toll road generates money above and beyond what’s necessary to operate, we (have) the authority to take that surplus to use it to expand the transportation network in the region.”[iv]  If this does indeed occur, it will have a tremendous amount of implications, especially regarding the further subsidization of sprawl throughout the Central Texas Region, no?

Also, toll roads may switch from tolled to free after the project’s debt has been paid back.  But TxDOT spokesman Marcus Cooper says it would be difficult to predict a road changing over now: “The main issue is maintenance.  Maintenance costs, much like construction costs, are increasing every year.  We’re coming to a point where there is a continuous need to build the roads and funding is still an issue.”[v]  Is this a potential window into Central Texas’ future?: “Credit ratings are critically important to the agency, which is preparing to raise tolls to maintain debt coverage levels while cutting costs to accommodate declining revenue. The NTTA is not planning to insure the debt and has not arranged for a letter of credit…The authority’s finance and audit committee, made up of board members, last week took the big step of imposing a 32% toll hike on the Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike. Tolls will rise from the current 11 cents per mile to 14.5 cents, growing further to 15.3 cents in 2011 and rising annually at a compounded rate of 2.75% through 2017, when they would hit 18.01 cents per mile…The higher tolls come as revenues are falling due to less traffic.”[vi]

Yes, apparently it is, in fact.

Even more perniciously, officials are expecting to use excess toll revenues as collateral for leveraging funding for new toll roads – as evidenced by the plan CAMPO recently approved to use the excess toll revenues from 183A, which has bond insurance, as a substitute for bond default insurance on 290E because bond insurance has now become unaffordable as a result of the credit crisis.  This is a financial tactic that Minsky might very well term “Ponzi Borrowing.”[vii]  Furthermore, “Standard & Poor’s experience indicates that optimism bias is a consistent trend in toll-road traffic forecasting.  Bondholders and lenders should, therefore, view these forecasts with some degree of caution as they attempt to identify the inherent risks that these forecasts pose for credit quality.”[viii]  And so it comes down to these questions:

  • Has TxDOT and/or CAMPO and/or CTRMA been cooking their traffic count books?[viv]
  • What happens if TxDOT defaults on its bond for 183A?[x]
  • What happens if toll roads, which are now so called Public-Private Partnerships, are fully privatized?[xi]

Mayor (Denton) Pro Tem Pete Kamp, who serves on the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Regional Transportation Council (regarding “The Texas Local Option Transportation Act, Senate Bill 855,” which would have let Texas counties call elections to increase gasoline taxes or certain fees to pay for local transportation projects): “TxDOT is not being shy about the fact that they will not have any money for new construction projects after the first quarter of 2012.  They will only be able to barely keep up with the current M&O [maintenance and operations] costs of their facilities. So unless we decide to quit growing as a state, then we probably are going to have to continue to have this debate.”[xii]

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee: “TxDOT needs to come up with a real plan that actually pays for these projects we know we need — and the legislative leadership needs to support it.  And that plan, as we’ve seen, cannot be based around short-sighted deals that sell our infrastructure to private corporations.  We know Texans won’t support such a plan — nor should they.”[xiii]

This just in (2:39pm): “I-35/Ben White flyover project delayed

“Phew!” exclaims this Most Senior Fellow, who is worn out, enervated by all this seriousness, and he has decided that what he needs right now is a good healthy dose of Molly Ivins.


[ii] E.J. Mishan

[iii] (Plus, he’s a very, very, very busy man who doesn’t have any time to be funny right now.)

[vii] Which occurs when an entity is unable to pay either the principal or the interest, which in turn is pretty much the root cause of the recent housing market crash.





a modest proposal

18 11 2009

for what Congress Avenue should become: PortlandMallGreatStreets 110707

And here’s where one should go in order to see the City of Austin’s public stance: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/greatstreets/

As mentioned in our comment to the DAB blog, the Placemaking Institute can go on and on about this.  Our intent is that this post will elicit much dialogue from the Downtown Austin community.





All the news that’s fit for you (IV)

17 11 2009

“Planners and transit buffs routinely make the case that Bay Area residents can reap benefits by living close to their jobs and the errands of the day.  Now comes a study that translates the payoff into dollars and cents – such as how the average San Francisco household spends roughly $500 less on transportation each month than households in such suburban outposts as Antioch or Livermore…Much of the text restates a case made many times before: that there’s a disconnect in the region between where people work and where people live, resulting in a squeeze on working-class families who must either endure long commutes or endure exorbitant housing prices”: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/04/BASA1AD8BR.DTL

How Exurban Development helped bring down the US Economy; New research about the recession has also bolstered one of transit’s central premises — that highway-driven sprawl is bad for a city’s economic health. Recent studies at the University of Utah, for example, concluded that foreclosure rates in the Washington area were much lower in counties served by the Metro rail system, compared with the next ring of counties farther out, and that home prices in Phoenix had also fallen in direct proportion to the distance from downtown”: http://www.commoncurrent.com/notes/2009/11/death-of-sprawl-part-2-mcmansi.html plus http://www.commoncurrent.com/pubs/article-EmptyHouses-Karlenzig-Oct09draft.pdf

“If we are going to spend billions rehabbing the highways, shouldn’t we, at the same time, invest in adjacent rail lines like the 800-mile high-speed rail system voters approved last year in California.  The corridors are also perfectly suited for the transportation of energy. Power generated from rural wind farms and solar plants could run through lines buried under the highways to big cities where electricity is needed. The plug-in hybrid vehicles that will someday use the highways could charge up from this grid. And when left idling, these cars would also be able to supply power back to the grid at times of peak demand, while their owners work or shop by the roadside”: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/opinion/11jacobs.html?_r=1

“Americans that have visited Europe or Asia have likely experienced modern high speed rail systems…Will our system look anything like these? The answer, as transportation wonks already know, is no. Even the $8 billion appropriated by the stimulus is a small portion of the funds required to implement even a portion of Obama’s plan. This became painfully obvious at a briefing sponsored by the Rappaport Institute I attended recently, where Federal Railway Administration Administrator Karen Rae described how they viewed the $8 billion a modest sum to invest strategically in the rail network, sometimes for trains running well below Obama’s 100 mph goal”: http://www.planetizen.com/node/41658

“In Norwood Ohio, locals refer to the day the last Camaro rolled off the assembly line of the General Motors plant as Black Wednesday. It was 1987, and 4,000 people in the city of 22,000 lost their jobs, while the 3 million sq. ft. plant that had pumped life into the city since 1923 lapsed into vacancy and neglect…On the brink of economic disaster, city leaders were desperate for solutions…“In the long run — best thing that ever happened,” says Mayor Williams of the plant closure…Belvedere’s $100 million Central Parke project launched a metamorphosis of the city, from a blue-collar, factory-driven locale to a town with elegant workspaces”: http://nreionline.com/brokernews/greenbuildingnews/1009_real_estate_rust_diamonds/

“One thing this massive failure has made possible is ability to come up with radical ideas for the city, and potentially to even implement some of them. Places like Flint and Youngstown might be attracting new ideas and moving forward, but it is big cities that inspire the big, audacious dreams. And that is Detroit. Its size, scale, and powerful brand image are attracting not just the region’s but the world’s attention. It may just be that some of the most important urban innovations in 21st century America end up coming not from Portland or New York, but places like Youngstown and, yes, Detroit”: http://www.newgeography.com/content/001171-detroit-urban-laboratory-and-new-american-frontier

“Chrysler has disbanded the engineering team that was trying to bring three electric models to market as a rush job, Automotive News reports today. Chrysler cited its devotion to electric vehicles as one of the key reasons why the Obama administration and Congress needed to give it $12.5 billion in bailout money, the News points out”: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2009/11/620001133/1

“For the first time in four decades in the luxury-home business, executives at John Wieland builders are thinking the unthinkable: Maybe houses in the South don’t really need a fireplace. They’re also wondering whether new homes require 4,700 square feet of living space. Or private theaters with 100-inch screens. Or super-size-me foyers…”You have to keep taking things out until you hit a critical point where people reject your product,” said Jeff Kingsfield, senior vice president of sales at Smyrna-based John Wieland Homes & Neighborhoods.  It’s an experiment brought on by necessity”: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125807017854346243.html





All the news that’s fit for you (III)

12 11 2009

The following is from the foreword of Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service by James McCommons:Rebuilding the nation’s passenger railroad has got to be put at the top of our priority list. We had a system not so long ago that was the envy of the world; now we have service that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. The tracks are still lying out there rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed. The job doesn’t require the reinvention of anything — we already know how to do it. Rebuilding the system would put scores of thousands of people to work at meaningful jobs at all levels. The fact that we’re barely talking about it shows what an unserious people we have become. Rebuilding the American passenger-railroad system has an additional urgent objective: We need a doable project that can build our confidence and sense of collective purpose in facing all the other extraordinary challenges posed by the long emergency — especially rebuilding local networks of commerce and relocalizing agriculture”

“What does Buffett’s purchase (of Burlington Northern Santa Fe) mean for the nation’s energy future? (He said) his decision was “a bet on the country” as well as a bet on the viability of cleaner transportation…Buffett’s interest in the transport sector could be a harbinger of greater private-sector involvement to come — thus bolstering Democratic lawmakers as they make the case for more transit, bridge, and road repair money to hasten the nation’s economic recovery”: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/010721.html

“If Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has his way, Los Angeles County is about to embark on a commuter rail building boom the likes of which the region has never seen. On Friday, the mayor will unveil an ambitious but politically risky transportation plan that fast-tracks several high-profile rail projects to be completed within the next decade… “Yes this is a stretch-goal, yes this is going to be tough, but I think by now folks shouldn’t count me out,” Villaraigosa (said.) “The fact is that this is the most important thing that we can do to alleviate congestion and gridlock, to improve the quality of our air and to really vindicate the people’s will for the need to address transportation.” The mayor scored a big victory last year when voters approved a sales tax measure to help fund the projects, which include a subway to the Westside, the extension of the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley, the extension of the Expo Line to Santa Monica and new rail lines down Crenshaw Boulevard and through downtown LA”: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/10/villaraigosa-has-bullish-plan-for-la-rail-transit-projects.html

“This research suggests that creating a more diverse and efficient transport system may be among the most cost-effective ways to improve public health, and improving public health is one of the largest benefits of improving alternative modes (walking, cycling and public transit), encouraging more efficient travel patterns, and creating more accessible, multi-modal communities… The US has the highest per capita traffic fatality rate among peer countries… data indicate that obesity rates are inversely related to use of alternative modes…Public transit reduces pollution emissions per passenger-mile, and transit-oriented development provides additional emission reductions by reducing per capita vehicle travel”: http://www.planetizen.com/node/41490

“Health Impact Assessment (HIA) measures potential health effects that a project or policy—such as a housing development or traffic ordinance—might have on a population. Ideally, such assessments, which can vary widely in scope from quick to extensive, are performed before a project is built or a policy is implemented, allowing decision makers to incorporate recommendations that would minimize negative health effects”: http://www.sustainableindustries.com/greenbuilding/68569307.html?viewAll=y

Major real estate report: shift to urban living is “fundamental,” outer suburbs may “lack staying power”: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/major_real_estate_report_shift.html








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