Monday, March 30, 2009

The 21st Century Limited

A week or so ago, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendall pitched the idea of a national high-speed rail network to be funded in the next Obama stimulus package (This was the subject of last week's blogpost). So I decided to research it, with an eye toward finding an interesting visual. I stumbled on the blog/advocacy site, which has an article that advocates for a multibillion-dollar (just like the Interstate Highway Act 53 years ago) and THIS is what I found, besides the statistic that China is currently undertaking new rail construction that's as big as our current Amtrak.

The above visual displays the routes approved by the government in the stimulus package (with Amtrak in black), and the below visual displays the ones favored by the transport politic, with additional Amtrak lines thrown in . I would like to point out that both lines are somewhat politically correct, and i would add that service between Sacramento and San Francisco or the Dallas-San Antonio-Houston triangle or a direct route from the Midwest's two biggest cities (none completely on transitpolitic's list) are vastly more important than an Amtrak line across South Dakota. Also, I think that a major investment needs to be having 4 tracks in most Amtrak corridors, and 2-3 tracks everywhere else. Cornelius Vanderbilt did this in the New York-Albany corridor over 100 years ago when the population of the US wasn't a quarter of what it is now. This would help prevent the Coast Starlight waiting forever at sidings and me getting into my grandma's in Portland 9 hours late (Of course, so would giving right-of-way to the passenger trains, which I also favor).

The Transport Politic divided the network into corridors, then scored them through some algorythm, which I view as somewhat suspect--among other things, it gives the Detriot-Toledo Corridor a higher score than any corridor originating from Los Angeles, and refuses to acknowledge that several cities a few hundred miles apart have traditional ties, even without having much between them. In my opinion, here are the most important corridors, in order:
  1. Boston-New-York-Philadelphia-Washington
  2. San Diego-Los Angeles-San Francisco.
  3. Chicago-Detroit
  4. Miami-Tampa-Orlando
  5. San Francisco-Sacramento
  6. Los Angeles-Las Vegas
This is the map according to THEIR priorities. Note the difference between them and me.

Who would be helped most by this? In my opinion, it would be people living in high-density gentrifying areas. You probably already knew that Manhattan has already gentrified, and portions of Los Angeles (Silverlake and the Arts District) are doing it as well. People who live in many city centers often live an hour or more away from the international airport (for example, residents of Washington, Houston, or Denver) and being able to connect with a city less than 500 miles away by HSR running at ~200 mph would be more efficient than going to an airport, provided there is not as much of a security hassle for HSL.

Who would be hurt? exurbanites...since, with the exception of the politically-correct California High Speed Rail Network, most connections have a sole stop in the urban center, one would have to travel a ways into town. This is the flip side of the airport argument. And that's today's blogpost

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Has Become of the Stimulus Money and Why We Want More

As you know, the stimulus bill was passed months ago with very little bipartisan support. Billions of dollars of the bill came in the form of block grants to states, who now have to decide what to do with it. I went to the site to find out where the money went, and then picked which state I wanted to find out where the spending was to go. I chose California to investigate for several reasons.

  • It has received considerably more money than any other states

  • It has both a higher foreclosure rate and a higher unemployment rate than the country as a whole

  • Its state constitution makes it hard on constituents in times of recession

  • It has a Republican Governor (albeit one who supports the stimulus), but a Democratic legislature

  • I live there

Sadly, I could not find an exact accounting of the 700-odd projects that Governor Schwarzennegger was hyping up and had been mentioned in the Los Angeles Times, nor could I find an exact dollar amount for any one project (probably because that information doesn't need to be posted until May). What I did find was a general outline of a couple dozen big projects, including:

  • "NewStart" Mass transit projects for major cities

  • Discretionary highway spending

  • Upgrades to airports

  • Funding for transit agencies to buy green vehicles

  • Funding for tribal projects

I see no real problem with any of the projects, but I do think that too much money is delegated to patching patches and not enough has been dedicated to major long-haul projects such as high-speed rail and mass transit (This is probably due to political expiediency...the people who use mass transit, on the whole, don't vote nearly as much as those who use cars). Anyway, Here's why I'm interested in how the states are spending their money--because they want more money. Last Sunday, Schwarzenegger, PA Governor Ed Rendell, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, appeared on Meet the Press in the above clip. They were talking about the same thing I mentioned earlier in this post...they thought that there wasn't enough funding for big, new, necessary projects, citing a national high-speed rail network as an example. To remedy this, Schwarzenegger advocated additional federal, an avocation that would apall his fellow Republican Governors, Mssrs. Sanford and Jindal. And this got me thinking about a Saturday Night Live cold opener that aired during the stimulus debate and was rebroadcast on Saturday. (I know it's not REAL news, but it has been proven that those who watch political satire are more politically efficant). In it, Jason Sudeikis (as Joe Biden) proclaims that the $815 stimulus package "is going to get us to April. Tops." As fate would have it, Sudeikis might be right. More on the possible new stimulus bill in subsequent posts.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who Really Needs a Bailout

You've heard of the auto bailout, the bank bailout, the second auto bailout, the second bank bailout, the third auto bailout...bailout has now become a joke. Yet I want to talk about a group that really needs a bailout.

Local governments and transportation agencies

Recently, PBS did a special entitled Blueprint for America. The special points out that ridership for many major transit agencies is at levels not seen since the 1950s, when many big-city streetcar systems were in place. Even though ridership has increased, it is still not enough to keep agencies from being reliant on subsidy money, especially for new construction. Subsidies are largely based on gas and sales tax revenues, which have been down due to the recession and falling oil prices, and overall government spending, which has been cut in states that have balanced budget amendments (stupid) and 2/3 majorities (stupider). The federal government should swoop down and pick up most of the tab, probably now somewhere in the billions of dollars, to stop the rate cuts and fare increases and allow them to build much-need light rail and subway expansions. And I know that Republicans will kick and scream, but this is necessary for the good of the country...the bailouts for the bank industry and the auto industry benefited primarily shareholders and executives, who generally are more wealthy than the average American. A transportation bailout would benefit all Americans by continuing service to people without. So stop worrying about AIG and Wachovia and start worrying about the transit problems faced by ordinary, downtrodden working-class Americans. Plus, according to Gavin Newsome in the interview, a strong transit system. And I agree with him, citing what the Gold Line has done to Pasadena and what's gone down in Charlotte. And that's this week's blogpost.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Analyzing "Parade"

Sunday morning, there was an article about infrastructure in the major infotainment magazine Parade, which comes in the Sunday LA Times and other papers and is read by millions of people weekly. It noted that our system of roads in this country is outdated and broken, with many highly-trafficked roads being at least 50 years old. As evidence, it cited an I-95 closure due to a cracked pylon, a large sinkhole in Colorado, and testimonials from Tennessee truckers. It hinted at ways to raise revenue. However, I would like to raise two issues about the framing of this article.

• The article operates on the assumption that Americans will always be driving cars and trucks. It notes that the United States “does 96% of its traveling on land by car or light truck,” a statistic which is both unfortunate and misleading, as it fails to give a criteria for “traveling” and leaves out freight, much of which is shipped by rail. In one of the political circles I frequent, my family is often talking about a new generation of plug-in cars. In the circle I frequent at Oxy, one of the frequent topics of discussion is Los Angeles mass transit, and building a plethora of new lines to create a new network, one that resembles the transit of similar-sized cities like Paris (More about this in subsequent blogposts). The article made no mention of how mass transit could take the strain off overcrowded freeways, cut the nation’s carbon footprint (which was brought up in church by our Oxy-educated pastor Sunday), and make our aging bridges and byways last a little longer.

• The article expects that we can get something for nothing. In order to fund the trillions we need for infrastructure spending, the article proposes mostly gimmicks, including “congestion pricing”. It also cites the example of Missouri, which cut corners in its highway system wherever possible. We can’t afford to cut corners here. The U.S. needs to raise considerably more revenue, and perhaps we can use a gas tax and cap-and-trade to fund infrastructure, but that won’t be enough. We should also stick to tried-and-true ways to raise revenue, like my favorite, the capital gains tax, which is now at half of what it was when my parents where married 35 years ago.

And that’s my piece. By the way, I’m back in Whittier for Spring Break, and so the heckling begins.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Dose of Promethean Policy, Part 2, or, California-Nevada Interstate Maglev

It's been a relatively slow week for infrastructure pretty much peetered out after Obama's budget. So I'm going to dust off something that's been in the news for the past few weeks--the California-Nevada Interstate Maglev. Last week, in his reply to the State of the Union, Gov. Parcell, er, Jindal, attacked the proposed project as wasteful pork. The project apparently is the chief whipping boy (along with the NEA) of the GOP: A Los Angeles Times article from a while back notes Boehner's assault on high-speed rail. Republicans have chastisted Senator Harry Reid of Searchlight, Nevada (an hour's drive from Vegas or the California line) for slipping the funding in as pork. Republicans forgot that the $8 billion has not been appropriated for any specific project as of yet. The maglev project would need $12-14 billion to be fully built, less than half of the projected price tag of the California High-Speed Rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Here's some more facts and analysis about the high-speed rail project. The maglev would use German techology to travel over dedicated tracks (no freight interference) at up to 300 miles an hour. The train would stop in Las Vegas, at the Ivanpah Valley Airport in Primm, NV; in Barstow, Ontario, and Anaheim in CA, in addition to possible stops at in Victorville, CA, and at LA's Union Station. Now, you've probably heard of most of those, except for Primm--right now an unicorporated community of about 500. Why would they , apart from connections to an airport that won't be built for nearly a decade. I'll tell you why--TO SPUR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT.

Now, I'm not always in favor of development, especially when historic preservation is an issue, but sensible devolpment (meaning built-to-last and environmentally-friendly) is what we need to get us out of this recession. This project would create much-needed jobs in two of the worse-off of these United States--It was recently reported that California's unemployment is at 10.1%, and Nevada continues to have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. And infrastructure investmest spurs that kind of the devolpment--look at what's been done on Del Mar Blvd and the Paseo Colorado in Pasadena thanks to the Gold Line, and look at what's happening in the Arts District lofts by the Gold Line extension. The same thing could happen in Primm, in Anaheim, or even in Barstow.

Oh, and one more thing:

RIP LA Times California section

A Dose of Promethean Policy, Part 2, or, California-Nevada Interstate Maglev