Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Train robbery in L.A.

by the Antiplanner

In 2008, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised voters that extending the city’s Red Line subway would relieve congestion. Voters believed him and supported a sales tax increase to build the line. Now the environmental impact report finds that the subway line will increase rush-hour traffic speeds on parallel streets by, at most, 0.3 mph (p. 3-34). Not surprisingly, some voters — or at least writers at the LA Weekly — feel ripped off.

LA Metro’s response quibbles about the cost of the project. LA Weekly says “Metro plans to use up to $9 billion in sales taxes” on the project, while Metro says the construction cost will be only $4.0 to $4.4 billion. Metro is being disingenuous as both statements can be correct if (as is likely) Metro borrows enough money to incur $4.5 billion or so in interest and finance charges. (Half of the overall payments on a 30-year loan at 5.3 percent turn out to be interest.)

Meanwhile, Metro says nothing about the impacts on traffic. LA Weekly urges that the $9 billion be spent on “county road-capacity projects put off for decades, extensive bus lines to bring the region into the 21st century, and scores of less glitzy projects.” These would be far more cost-effective at reducing congestion.

Still, rail nuts are still claiming that the project is “key to solving traffic problems.” The new EIR proves this wrong. New rail transit lines never relieve congestion because they simply do not attract enough people out of their cars to make a difference. Yet voters often support them because they foolishly believe politicians who lie to them about the benefits of rail. Los Angeles voters should demand that their money be spent more effectively than on a 9.3-mile train tunnel.


At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Philip said...

You should read Paul Mees recently published book Transport for Suburbia

If the new subway will not provide the benefits promised the difficulties lie not so much in the inadequacy of the subway alone, but in the poor network integration with other services.

Without good integration the subway's utility is disastrously diminished. The subway itself shouldn't be maligned. It's the way it is managed as part of the entire public transport solution that is the problem.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The problem with this subway---and SF's Central Subway and high speed rail---is the huge price tag. If you assume we only have so much money to invest in transit, we could get a much better return by investing in buses.

At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Philip said...

It may well be true that greater cost benefit could be achieved with less grandiose schemes. But it's wrong to say that "new rail transit lines never relieve congestion because they simply do not attract enough people out of their cars to make a difference."

If the rail network is not attracting people out of their cars it is a problem of network integration and not an inherent attribute of that transport mode.

At 3:38 AM, Blogger Alexei said...

If rush hour traffic was lousy on the parallel streets before the subway was built, it would be lousy after as well. It would also be lousy if they added lanes to the streets. Lots of great cities have great subway systems... and lousy traffic.

What the subway offers is the chance to get where you're going without having to deal with that lousiness-- a chance lots of people are happy to take.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The point is that money available for transportation is finite and that the subway is taking away money that would be better spent on a bus system.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Is this a truism? If so, then we should use our time machine and go back in time and stop BART.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Alexei said...

How do you build a bus system, though, without ending up with something like the 38, IE slow as hell? The buses will never go any faster than general traffic (slower, in fact) and so there would be no reason for anyone to not take their car, even if you have a well-connected bus system, unless there was no parking at the end or you instituted some sort of tolling. Or they can't afford to drive. But there are already buses for those purposes, and improving service will only go so far.

Put another way, imagine if you replaced BART with buses going across the bridge. Do you think that would've been better?

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The advantage that Muni, AC Transit, and Golden Gate Transit, for example, all have over a train system is that they aren't restricted to a rail track traveling along a few main arteries. Muni criss-crosses the whole city with its various lines, whereas a system like BART---which performs a useful, even essential function, in the Bay Area---can at best link you up to a parking lot or another system to take you to exactly where you want to go.

The EIR on a possible Geary bus rapid transit (BRT) system is now addressing the problems with the #38 line, which is primarily about all the stoplights and stop signs at every cross street in the avenues. Once the inbound #38 gets to Masonic Ave. on the way downtown, it moves well until it gets to Van Ness, where it then begins to travel through another densely-populated part of the city, the Tenderloin.

Just providing the #38 with its own traffic lane in a BRT system doesn't solve the problem, which is mostly due to the fact that it has to travel between downtown and some of the most densely-populated parts of the city. I often ride the #38 out into the avenues or down to the Union Square area, and it works well for me, but then I catch it at Divisadero and Geary, not out in the deep avenues, where every intersection has a stoplight and/or a stop sign to deal with all the cross-traffic.

This is just the reality of living in a very densely-populated city in a relatively compact geographical area. If you're in a big hurry, drive or take a taxi, and if you can't afford either of those alternatives, you have to learn to live with it.

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Noario said...

Who cares if it relieves congestion? The point is it gives people an alternative. The Red Line in LA is a wonderful system that DESPERATELY needs to reach Santa Monica.

I agree that the China town subway is crap, however.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Alexei said...

You learn to live with it, or you build a subway.

BART takes you to a lot of places apart from parking lots. The downtowns of both Oakland and SF, UC Berkeley, CCSF, The Mission (which is a pain to get to from the Richmond). Sure, buses aren't limited to main arteries, but main arteries are what they are because lots of people want to travel along them. It's not like we might need to change the route of the 38 in a few years--the demand isn't going away.

There's nothing wrong with connecting buses, either. If BART had 4 stations in the Richmond, connecting buses could cover the areas currently served by the 1, 5, etc., and still be much faster (and more reliable!) than taking them all the way from downtown.

Anyway, it's surely a better idea than extending BART to Livermore, or that Oakland Airport Connector.

At 11:11 PM, Blogger Alexei said...

One last thing occurred to me: when you've got tons of people on a route, the costs of running trains is less than buses, mainly because salaries are the biggest expense, and one driver can carry hundreds of passengers on a train, but only a hundred or so on a bus. So even though a BRT system is cheaper now, a rail system that lasts decades (and there are those which have lasted over a century) will likely be cheaper in the long run.


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