Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The "density" lobby serves the affluent

by Joel Kotkin

...Ultimately the choice to invest in new subways and light rail as opposed to buses reflects both a class bias and the agenda of what may best be described as the "density lobby." The people who will ride the eight-mile long Second Avenue subway, now under construction for what New York magazine reports may be a total cost of over $17 billion, are largely a very affluent group. The new subway line will also provide opportunity for big developers to build high-density residential towers along the route. In contrast, the bus-riders, as the left-of-center City Limits points out, tend to be working- and middle-class residents from more unfashionable, lower-density districts in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The proposals for High Speed Rail---a favorite boondoggle of the Obama administration and some state administrators---reveals some of the same misplaced fiscal priorities. California's State Treasurer, Democrat Bill Lockyer, has lambasted the proposed HSR line between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, suggesting the state may not be able to sell private investors on between $10 billion and $12 billion in bonds without additional public subsidies.

Other prominent Democrats as well as the State Auditor's office have challenged the promoters' claims about the viability of the system and its potential drain on more reasonable priced transit projects.

This issue funding priorities was raised recently by the current administrator of the Federal Transportation Authority, Peter Rogoff, who questioned the wisdom of expanding expensive rail and other transit projects when many districts "can't afford to operate" their own systems. He noted that already almost 30% of all existing "transit assets" are in "poor or marginal condition."

Ultimately we need to ask what constitutes transit's primary mission: to carry more people to work or to reshape our metropolitan areas for ever denser development. As opposed to buses, which largely serve those without access to cars, light rail lines are often aimed at middle-class residents who would also be potential buyers of high-density luxury housing. In this sense, light rail constitutes a critical element in an expanded effort to reshape the metropolis in a way preferred by many new urbanists, planners and urban land speculators...(emphasis added)

Read the complete article at newgeography.

Thanks to the AntiPlanner for tip on the Kotkin article.

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