Get Smart

21 12 2009

We here at The Placemaking Institute have been researching transit improvements that are happening in Rhode Island which, after Michigan and New York, has been most affected long-term by our recent recession. And yet they are still deeming it integral as part of their rebirth that they invest heavily in multi-modality. Their arguments for proceeding are quite compelling and could very well be applied to the rest of the country. Although Texas in general and Austin in particular have fared relatively well the past couplathree years, our Most Senior Fellow argues that it’s better to learn from past mistakes and act sooner rather than later when it comes to forestalling socio-economic illth.

David N. Cicillini (Mayor of Providence): “As this report details, future economic growth requires reversing the congestion that increasingly clogs our roads and highways. We have to go beyond short-term, stopgap measures like adding new lanes to highways. The real solution lies in creating a great transit system that attracts new passengers, including those who today choose to drive, while continuing to serve riders of the current system. The economic development imperative for transit is made more urgent today by the interrelated challenges of rising energy prices, risky dependence on foreign oil supplies, dwindling global fossil fuel reserves, and the environmental toll of oil consumption including poor air quality, loss of open space, and climate change. It is my hope this report helps to advance the goal of building a stronger transit system by increasing public understanding of the value and benefits of transit, and by identifying transit options deserving further study.”

Growing Smart with Transit: “Rhode Island needs to make an investment to develop and maintain a seamless, integrated, high quality transit service that builds on and complements the existing system. An investment in transit will yield numerous benefits: decreased congestion on our roadways; increased economic development potential Statewide; improved environmental quality, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions that threaten significant climate change; a better position for the City and State in competition with metropolitan areas making significant transit investments; preservation of the quality of life that distinguishes Rhode Island by supporting smart growth and preserving open spaces; an opportunity to meet the needs of the State’s changing demographics characterized by an aging population, growing urban communities, and new citizens who expect and rely on robust transit.”

Daniel Barbarisi: “While the study’s larger ideas may be far off, the report does address some quick-fix options for improving transit in Providence. It suggests “branding” bus routes, as Boston does with its red line or silver line designations, or labeling certain routes for their significant uses, like a “meds and eds” route for hospitals and colleges, or an “arts and entertainment” route… the system plans to roll out a number of high-tech improvements in the near future, including computerized signs providing real-time bus arrival estimates, electronic-fare buses, flexible passes, and new security features on its buses… (RIPTA) is looking at moving from its hub-and-spoke model to one of multiple bus “nodes” around the city…(The report) envisions streetcars running on rails on several corridors through the city (and) also mentions exploring light rail in and around Providence, but light rail is expensive — roughly $30 million for a mile of track, depending on conditions. But streetcars can accomplish much the same thing, for anywhere from $3 million to $10 million a mile..The report also recommends creating disincentives for the use of the automobile, advocating legislation that pressures large public companies to reduce their employees’ reliance on cars.”

R.I. Department of Transportation: “Gross economic impacts to the State of Rhode Island as a result of construction and on-going operations of the proposed project are significant. State-wide gross impacts due to in-state station construction and vehicle assembly expenditures would range from $36 to $51 million in total output or economic activity, generating anywhere from 450 to 610 person-year jobs with earnings from $11 to $16 million…The gross multiplied effects of expenditures on O&M result in $8 to $11 million in additional output or economic activity, generating from 75 to 100 person-year jobs with earnings in the range of $2.5 to $3.2 million…

“In order to help evaluate the project’s economic feasibility from a benefit-cost perspective, the user and related economic benefits of travel time savings, accident reduction benefits, vehicle operating cost savings and emissions reductions attributable to the SCCRS were quantified. These were then compared to capital and ongoing O&M costs to calculate benefit-cost ratios, net present values, and economic rates of return for each of the operating alternatives. These economic evaluation measures indicate that none of the proposed operating alternatives would be economically feasible strictly on the merits of those benefits which were quantified. However, the proposed project may offer many non-quantifiable benefits that are not easily captured by the analyses summarized above. These benefits include the provision of an additional transportation mode choice, support of regional land use goals, economic development opportunities, generation of positive economic activity, and more efficient utilization of existing transportation infrastructure.”

Elizabeth Warren: “Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street. Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed…The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense. Consumer banking — selling debt to middle class families — has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts. And when various forms of this creative banking triggered economic crisis, the banks went to Washington for a handout.”

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