Tag Archives: transit

Albemarle Transportation Policy – Multimodal or Anti-Automobile?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing. 

Today – Chapter 10 Transportation

The Transportation chapter of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan continues the county’s (and to a lesser extent the Commonwealth’s) increased emphasis on multimodality often at the cost of automobile spending.  What is multimodalism?  According to Monique Wahba AKA The Multimodalist:

Multimodalism is about leveling the playing field so a transportation system can safely accommodate many modes or forms of transportation rather than have one dominate. To me, it’s about putting people first. When the question is “how can we move people from place to place?” rather than “how can we move cars?” the transportation solutions abound. We can have people move on their own – walk or bicycle or use some other self-powered mode of transportation. Or we can put them in some kind of vehicle – e.g. a car, a bus, a train, a plane. And when challenges in transportation arise, we can become more creative. Towns in the US and abroad are using funiculars to connect downtowns with outlying hilltop areas rather than limit themselves to roadway solutions, saving travel time and sparing their environments.

It is clear that the Comprehensive Plan is leaning toward pushing people out of single occupant vehicles and into other modes of transportation.  From page 10:13:

Albemarle County strives to promote transit-friendly, walkable, mixed-use communities that are served by multiple transportation modes. A connected, mixed-used community can reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and, thereby, improve citizens’ health by reducing vehicle emissions. A reduction in VMT improves air quality by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles. Interconnected streets and alternatives to vehicular travel, like mass transit, walking or biking also have the potential to improve or mitigate air quality problems by reducing VMT.

Multimodalism provides for:
Cost-Efficient Use of Public Dollars which benefits travelers by moving people (not cars) while expending the same amount of money and optimizing the use of existing facilities instead of building new ones.
Energy Conservation by reducing emissions through fewer and shorter vehicle trips.
More Transportation Choices by providing alternate modes, times, locations, and route choices for travel.
Mobility and Opportunity Equity by meeting transportation needs of low income, disabled, and other minority populations and providing more opportunities for getting to work, making connections, and career advancement.
Public Health by creating a safer environment for walkers and cyclists, with fewer crashes and lower fatality rates, supporting active lifestyles through more opportunities for walking, and providing more access to a wider range of goods and services.
Economic Vitality by providing greater accessibility for existing and future workforces, attracting businesses through more multimodal transportation choices for employees, and increasing property values by making places more accessible. Reducing time in commutes time equals money
Reduced Congestion by giving more modal choices reducing overall congestion and providing greater redundancy in network choices through other modes.
Quality of Life by designing streets as places to spur social interaction, promoting pride in neighborhoods, spurring more “eyes on the street” for crime reduction, and facilitating a greater sense of community through more accessible places and corridors.

When the conversation is focused on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and not mobility, the Free Enterprise Forum sees the government engaging in social engineering.  Unfortunately, there is unsettled economic theory regarding the net benefits of multimodality (in this case transit) vs. auto dependency.  According to a 2010  Heritage Foundation paper by Wendell Cox:

The loss of productivity from relying on transit can be even greater than longer travel times for the employed. Unlike commuting by cars, it may be impossible to commute in a metropolitan area by transit. For example, a Federal Transit Administration study found that few low-income central-city residents in Boston could reach high-growth suburban employment areas within one hour by transit, a fact that reduces regional productivity.[47] University of California research indi­cates far smaller unemployment rates among African–American households where there is an automobile avail­able.[48] This is because cars shorten commute times and broaden access to jobs throughout the metropolitan area, not just to the limited areas with adequate transit service.

Other research by the Progressive Policy Institute has shown that access to cars improves minority and low-income employment and productivity, noting that “[i]n most cases, the shortest distance between a poor person and a job is along a line driven in a car.”[49] Additionally, a Brookings Institution report concluded that, “[g]iven the strong connection between cars and employment outcomes, auto ownership programs may be one of the more promising options and one worthy of expansion.”[50] This research demonstrates that in the modern urban area, transit cannot substitute for cars for a large share of trips.

This connection between employment and automobile ownership led the Clinton Administration to ease wel­fare-program restrictions to make it easier for recipients to own a car. In announcing the new policy, the White House stated that:

“Even in metropolitan areas with extensive transit systems, studies have shown that less than half the entry level jobs are accessible by transit. One national study found that twice as many welfare recipients with cars were working than those without cars, and 25 percent more low-income fam­ilies with cars were working than those without cars.[51]

Much of the multimodalistic theology revolves around the fact that more people would be engaged in different modes of transportation if only the infrastructure existed for them to utilize.  While one admires the passionate zeal the proponents have, the reality is the “Vanishing Automobile” isn’t.  As of 2007,  Virginia ranks #22 in automobile per capita in the United States.

Joel Schwartz of The American Enterprise Institute has calculated the various portions of market share of the multimodality.  In his 2006 report to UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies Seminar he found:

market share

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the transportation chapter of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan should spend less time trying to get people out of their cars and more time making their automobile trips more efficient.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

NEXT: Dr. Strangelove and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Want to Increase Walkability? Get Rid of the Cars

By. Neil Williamson

The lead of the January 9th Washington Post article was enough to give anyone pause:

Fairfax County residents will have a harder time finding a free parking space in some neighborhoods, if transportation planners get their way.

No parking The article outlines a proposal to create a maximum limit for number of spaces in new commercial and residential developments near Metro stations.  The rationale given is these generally high density Transit-Oriented-Developments (TOD) don’t need  parking – everyone should take the train. Therefore the local government, not the market,  is seeking to severely restrict the number of parking spaces a developer may choose to provide for a project.

Under the current ordinances a new town home must have at least 2.75 parking spaces per dwelling.  Under the draft recommendations, parking would be limited to 1.75 spaces per dwelling unit. [emphasis added – nw]

By means of background, Fairfax County has a population of about a million people and covers roughly 400 square miles.

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth is quoted in the article:

We often like to say that too much parking can be a traffic magnet.  If we’re going to address traffic and make a walkable community in Fairfax, its important to get the parking right.”

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that the new planning goal is to limit transportation choices for citizens.  parking ticket By forcing developers to limit parking options, the planners behind this proposal believe they are funneling people into mass transit; they’re wrong.  The lack of parking will lead to an increase in illegal parking (often on the skinny roads favored by New Urbanism) creating a safety issue and therefore a new citizen demand for parking enforcement. 

To be deemed a success, this new parking proposal will limit consumer transportation choices thus increasing walkability and transit use.  Such logic reminds me of the philosophy of comedian Stephen Wright who famously said:

“Anywhere is walking distance, if you’ve got the time.”

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

VA Secretary of Transportation to Speak at Chamber Free Enterprise Forum Luncheon

from Staff Reports

The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and Free Enterprise Forum today announced that Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, will be the featured speaker at 10rel27a (connaughton pix) the upcoming 2010 Chamber Free Enterprise Forum Luncheonunderwritten by University of Virginia Community Credit Union. The Luncheon gathers and begins at 11:30 AM, Tuesday, September 21st, at the Holiday Inn – University Area, on Emmet Street in Charlottesville.  Each year upwards of 200 business persons and civic leaders or more are expected to attend this engaging event.

Each year the Chamber Free Enterprise Forum Luncheon strives to feature a topical public policy issue of general and direct concern to area business and civic leaders. Transportation, of course, is always an engaging topic and Secretary Connaughton has a broad charge from his boss, Governor Robert McDonnell.

“We are honored to have Secretary Connaughton share his perspective and plans to improve Virginia’s transportation network,” said W. Rod Gentry, Regional Retail Executive for Union Market Bank who serves as the 2010 Chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors. “And I’m sure we’ll also have some ideas for him.”

In appointing Secretary Connaughton, the Governor said, “He agrees with me we must be much faster and more efficient in transportation planning and decision making. And his overall background in transportation law and policy give him a broad perspective on this multi-faceted issue, the kind of perspective that is invaluable in a diverse state such as Virginia.” Secretary Connaughton oversees seven state agencies with more than 9,700 employees and combined annual budgets of $4 billion. He and his staff are compiling a list of ideas to make Virginia’s transportation laws and programs more efficient and effective. This growing list is being developed from a wide variety of sources and focus on four general categories: state code initiatives, federal initiatives, administrative initiatives and funding.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “I am proud to have the Secretary join us in the heart of the US29 Corridor to discuss the McDonnell Administration’s vision for transportation in the 21st Century.”

More than 200 business and community leaders are expected to attend the 2010 Luncheon. Cost to attend is $40 per Chamber and Free Enterprise Forum members or guests. For more information contact the Chamber at: 434.295.3141 or programs@cvillechamber.com.

The Siren Song of Light Rail

By. Neil Williamson, President

Once again a local official has called for an investigatihouston-light-railon into light rail as a solution to our region’s traffic issues.  In last week’s meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Duane Snow R-Samuel Miller District called for a study of light rail to connect Crozet, Charlottesville and the regional airport.

Charlottesville Tomorrow has the story and podcast:

It seems like there’s money in the federal budget to explore something like this right now,” Snow said …I think that a light rail system in conjunction with the rails that are already there can be installed a lot cheaper than bridges or an extra lane of traffic.”

It is easy to see why light rail seems to be a solution.  In addition to the “sexiness” of a train, there is a perception that more people will ride a train than a bus and the idea that the money would come from the federal government is also attractive.

We wrote of this siren song impacting Charlottesville City Council  in our 2008 post “A Desire Named Streetcar”

By means of background, The Free Enterprise Forum (in conjunction with The American Dream Coalition)has traveled the country looking at light rail systems.  We have visited Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, Houston, and Minneapolis.  In each city, the light rail was under utilized the majority of the day.  On average, it has been calculated each light rail trip carries just 24 people. 

Mr. Snow is mistaken regarding the costs associated with light rail.  Robert Poole of The Reason Foundation recently wrote:

At today’s construction costs,  a four-lane freeway can cost $40 to $60 million to build…  In a news release in early 2005, the Federal Transit Administration provided figures on nine light rail projects for which it had approved “full funding grant agreements.” The cost per mile ranged from a low of $44.5 million (Charlotte) to a high of $254 million (Pittsburgh). The average of these—and these are costs as of five years ago—was $124 million per mile. That’s five times what Oberstar claimed.  And the highly touted Central Link light rail that opened just the other day in Seattle weighs in at $171 million per mile, four to five times more than a mile of freeway.

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole has written extensivelyotoole  about light rail.  Here are a few of his observations:

San Jose’s light rail has turned out to be an even more spectacular failure than the ones in Sacramento, Portland, and Los Angeles. Yet regions all over the country, including Houston, Seattle, and Orange County, suffer from light-rail envy and are eagerly planning new rail systems.

Does light rail improve transit? No, most cities that built light rail experienced a decline in transit’s share of travel. This is partly because the expense of light rail forced transit agencies to increase fares, as Minneapolis is about to do.

Is light rail faster and more attractive to transit riders than buses? No, transit riders are sensitive to frequencies and speed, and buses can easily run on schedules more frequent and faster than light rail. Where most light rail lines average just 20 miles per hour, many express bus routes average better than 30 miles per hour.

Does light rail reduce congestion? No, it increases congestion whenever the rail lines occupy former street space and also because it is such an ineffective form of transit. Traffic growth on the freeways paralleling Portland’s light-rail lines accelerated after the light rail replaced faster express bus routes.

Is light rail cost effective? No. The average light-rail line planned or under construction will cost more per mile than a four-lane freeway. Yet no light-rail system in the nation carries as many people (in passenger miles per route mile) as a single lane mile of typical urban freeway.

Nor is light rail cost-effective when compared with bus transit. One dollar spent on bus transit can provide the same benefits as $10 to $100 spent on light rail. Light rail is so expensive that most cities that have built it lacked the funds to make needed bus improvements.”

Light rail does seem to work in Europe and Asia, places with significantly higher population density than Central Virginia. 

Many years ago, when the Free Enterprise Forum was advocating (successfully) to have light rail removed from Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan, Planning Commissioner Pete Craddock said, “I hope I am six feet under ground before Albemarle has the population density to support light rail”.  In addition to its low relative population density, Chbuss rapid transitarlottesville and Albemarle’s jobs and homes are widely dispersed. 

Based on all of the above, light rail does not fit in Charlottesville/Albemarle.   In addition to increasing lane miles, we believe examining Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Park and Ride lots and incentivizing Employer van pools is a better use of limited transit dollars.  Regardless of the origin of the funds, it is all our money and we should use the funds to achieve the most effective /transit system possible.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

City Council Chooses Not to Act on Potential Onesty Aquatic Center Parking Shortage

By: Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern 

Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Meade Park are concerned the opening of the new Onesty Family Aquatic Center, slated for later this month, will result in overflow parking that will crowd their neighborhood streets. Their concerns stem from a real shortage in parking for the facility. The approved plan includes just 38 parking spaces for the 62,000 square foot facility, 66 spots short of the 104 required for a structure with its amount of usable recreational area. This shortage was permitted by a September 2009 Planning Commission decision to grant Onesty a waiver for its parking requirement.

During the Monday June 15th Charlottesville City Council meeting, City staff presented Council with a solution that came from a June 4th meeting between staff and residents from the area. The proposed solution would create a trial permit parking zone in the following areas; Chesapeake Street from Meade Avenue to Fairway Avenue, Meade Avenue from Market Street to Fairway Avenue/Stewart Street, East Jefferson Street from 12th Street to Meade Avenue, 13th Street between East Jefferson and Little High Street, Little High Street from 13th Street to Meade Avenue, and 400-433 Fairway Avenue.

This potential permit parking zone would have lasted from June 20th to September 8th, effective seven days a week from 10 am to 8 pm. Despite staff recommendations and resident concerns the majority of Council was quite hesitant to take any proactive measures to handle the apparent parking dilemma. Councilor David Brown was perhaps the most vocal in his opposition to creating the permit parking zone now. Brown cited concerns over whether or not parking will truly be an issue at the facility as his reason for hesitation, essentially saying that preemptively dealing with the problem would unnecessarily restrict parking in the area without cause. Mayor Dave Norris was the only Council member that sided with the Meade area residents, saying his “preference is to be proactive”.

In the end Norris was the only dissenting vote as Councilor Brown’s motion to defer the issue until mid-July carried by a 3-1 vote. The intent behind the vote is that Councilors will follow the issue closely until their second meeting in July when they will have had a few weeks to observe the parking habits of the Aquatic Center patrons, giving them a factual basis for deciding if the temporary permit parking zone is necessary.

City Bus Fare Packages to Become More Rider Friendly

For most riders of the CTS bus system fares will be simpler, more rider friendly, and most importantly less expensive according to the Transit Manager for CTS Bill Watterson. In a presentation before Council, resulting in the 4-0 passing of the proposed new fare structure, Watterson detailed his plan. The one way, single ride fare will remain 75 cents and 35 cents for those who qualify for a reduced fare, but the multi-ride packages that CTS offers will soon receive an overhaul.

When the changes take effect the daily fare will drop from $2 to $1.50 and a reduced fare option of 75 cents will be added. In addition, the 10 and 40 ride packages that were $6 and $21 respectively will be replaced by a $20 monthly pass, which will also for the first time have a reduced fare option at $10.

 The fare structure changes came as the result of a rider survey conducted by CTS and are designed to be more rider friendly than the old options. “This is about finding ways to structure our fares to increase ridership” Watterson commented, also adding that these changes should be close to expense and revenue neutral. The changes are aimed at increasing ridership on the system which has already seen a 50% increase in riders over the last 5 years.

Rezoning of 814 Hinton Stricken From Agenda at Last Second

Upon arriving at Monday’s meeting some attendees may have noticed one hot button issue removed from the agenda. Sometime after the agendas were printed and the rezoning of 814 Hinton Avenue was placed on the consent agenda to be presumably fast tracked to passage, Council decided to defer the item to a later date.

The issue, which has been one of much contention for residents of the Belmont neighborhood seemed to be on its way to passing last meeting (June 1st) after all four present Councilors spoke out in favor of rezoning the current structure at 814 from R-1, a residential zoning, to Neighborhood Commercial Corridor in order to allow for the property owners to open a restaurant on the site.

Many within the neighborhood have significant concerns over the perceived increase in traffic and noise that expanding the commercial section of Belmont would have on the surrounding neighborhood. It was this argument that led to the Planning Commission’s denial of the rezoning attempt by a 4-2 vote last month. On the other hand, proponents of the rezoning contend that because of its location the property naturally belongs in Belmont’s burgeoning commercial center.

There was no word at the meeting on what caused the issue to be deferred, when exactly, or in what form it will appear on the agenda next.

Transportation Tomorrow – No Cars?

Transportation Tomorrow Logo

Transportation Tomorrow Logo

In the alphabet soup that is regional transportation planning, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization(MPO) has been working with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) and a consultant to conduct a transit survey. The survey has now been launched but it is titled as a  regional transportation survey. The Free Enterprise Forum encourages you to answer the survey by clicking here.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a logo that captures a product’s meaning and essence is priceless.  A study of the logo to the right reveals a great deal from what’s not in the picture.   The logo (which may have been appropriate for a transit survey) suggests Transportation Tomorrow will be only walking, bicycling, by bus, or by train.  This is the kind of subtle agenda bias The Free Enterprise Forum continually finds throughout the TJPDC’s work in the region. 

Tell me where your brain would be as you click on a button marked Transportation Tomorrow and it did not include a car?

While the online survey data will be interesting, I will also be interested in the results of the transit rider survey (conducted in coordination with CTS/JAUNT) and the other mechanisms the MPO is utilizing to collect this data.  All the data collected must be examined carefully as the sample selection is not random and will likely over represent the “transit” oriented cohort in the community.

The results of the survey will be presented on May 21st at 7:00 pm in the Albemarle County Office Building.  Note – there is a bus stop near the building.

The Bottom Ten — Dredging Albemarle’s Survey

By. Neil Williamson

Earlier this month, Albemarle County released their  Biennial Citizen Survey (300+ page PDF) conducted by the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research. Understandably, when the survey was released Albemarle County focused on the many positive aspects of the report.

The Free Enterprise Forum has studied the survey results and finds many positives.  One measure the survey attempts to track is the importance of particular service items.  Table III-1 ranks 38 service items by importance. 

While the top end information is interesting, I was fascinated by what I call “The Bottom Ten”  These are the ten lowest ranking service items based on the 2008 survey data:

28.  Promote the development of affordable housing

29.  Support affordable child-care

30.  Provide support for people in financial need

31.  Make it easy to get around by bus or van

32.  Preserve historic buildings

33.  Make it easy to get around by public transportation

34.  Provide learning opportunities for adults

35.  Preserve historic buildings not protected by private groups

36.  Support cultural and entertainment opportunities

37.  Regulate outdoor lighting to reduce light pollution and glare

38.  Promote tourism in our area

It is understandable that politicians generally focus on those areas where citizens want additional funding but it should be of at least equal if not greater value those services that they do not rank as very important.  This may or may not indicate a lack of interest in the issue merely a lack of interest in government support of the issue. 

Number 31 and 33 reflect the generally low priority for public transportation as local officials were seeking the power to impose a sales tax to pay for an expanded transit system (and other transportation projects).

Even as the citizens place low priority on historic preservation of buildings, Albemarle County has a historic preservation ordinance in the Community Development work plan.

As one who spent the time reading the expansive cross tabulated survey results, it is of critical importance that Albemarle County officials read and understand the Top Ten and the Bottom Ten.

If information is power and the opinions of the people matter, one might expect a reduction in government expenditures (and staff time) in those areas ranked low in importance. 

Unfortunately, the cynic in me thinks not.

Transportation – A Lack of Funding Requires New Thinking

The Commonwealth of Virginia yesterday (10/15/08) announced budget cuts for the Virginia Department of Transportation that will total 1.38 billion dollars over the next five years.  Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer announced that state and federal transportation revenues are projected to decrease between $2.1 and $2.6 billion over the next six years.

According to a VDOT Media Release:

During the meeting, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner David S. Ekern presented a high-level plan outlining how VDOT will respond to the six year revenue forecast and position itself to address long-term economic changes to transportation revenues.

“In the future, VDOT will be a smaller agency. We cannot afford to administer and deliver our services, programs and projects the same way we have in the past,” said Ekern. “Safety, emergency response and maintenance of existing roadways will be our top priorities, but we will have to make some difficult decisions to live within our means.”

VDOT’s plan includes reducing service and staffing levels throughout the commonwealth, particularly through reductions in residency offices, senior management and repair shops.

VDOT will also evaluate services provided throughout the commonwealth including roadside maintenance, lighting, mowing, signage and other activities.

The six-year program will be revised by the CTB by January to account for the state and federal revenue reductions. These reductions will greatly impact state and local highway construction throughout the commonwealth.

Reading between the lines, most if not all future road construction projects will be eliminated as VDOT priorities (or at least moved to the back burner).

Rachana Dixit of The Daily Progress has the story from the Charlottesville area perspective.  This news comes at a time local officials are attempting to drum up political support for a new transit authority and a local sales tax option for transportation (see Regional Transit Two Step). 

The Daily Progress article quotes Supervisor David Slutsky:

“You know if they tell you to expect it you’re not going to get more,” Slutzky said, referring to the General Assembly.

‘Derelict of duty’

“The current General Assembly is totally derelict of duty,” he added. “It’s shameful.”

It is imperative that we consider the statewide impact of a lack of funding for new roads.  Too often, this region considers itself an island without contemplating the impacts for even more populous (more gridlocked) regions such as Tidewater or Northern Virginia.  The definitions of gridlock differ widely throughout the state.  Some in NOVA and Tidewater that are spending 1 1/2 hrs each way on their commute may look fondly at North US 29 at 5:15 pm.  Using this wide lens may assist in appreciating the true scope of this policy shift. 

If we accept the State Government is not willing to fund Transportation projects, how do we, as citizens of the commonwealth, seek to address this imperative need?

  1. Change the State’s position by augmenting funds with a broadbased state tax (ie. a dedicated state sales tax) where all funds generated return in form of transportation projects that serve the localities.
  2. Change the State’s spending priorities by changing the butts in the seats
  3. Develop local funds for transportation with a local tax (ie. a dedicated sales tax)
  4. If no new roads will be built, increase road capacity by other means (transit, flex-time, telecommuting)
  5. Recognize that this is the fiscal reality and accept it.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes transportation funding requires citizens to look beyond their desire to have a Berkmar Bridge (or a new bus route, bike lane, etc) and focus on the fundamental governmental shift the local sales tax option would represent.  In the past the “deal” between the state and localities has been locals handle the schools and the state would take care of the roads.  The state’s is clearly no longer committed to this ideal.

Intuitively, The Free Enterprise Forum believes state funding of transportation prevents the balkanization of transportation projects between localities within a region. Further, of the four alternatives posted above #1 seems unlikely in the current political environment, #2 has been historically impossible (power of incumbency) this leaves the do nothing option, the local tax option and increase capacity by other means. 

Based on the current transit trends in like sized localities, it could be imagined that transit may increase its market share but it will only be at the margins.  Significant capacity may be added through the increased use of telecommuting and flex time.  These low cost employer driven solutions should be investigated and, if found to be sound, promoted throughout the region.

The do nothing option may be fine for a twenty four month strategy but if played out for 6 years, negative economic impacts would be seen from Cape Henry to Winchester as product transport times continue to increase across the Old Dominion.

Finally, the Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned about the local sales tax option that is not regionally based.  Retail sales are already fleeing the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County (down significantly this year).  The introduction of a new sales tax will push even more sales to Augusta, Greene, Louisa and Henrico Counties. 

Given all of the above, and the current economic climate, I am doubtful the General Assembly would allow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and The Charlottesville City Council the ability to enact a local sales tax option.  If put to a voter referendum in the next election cycle, I do not see it passing in both the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Therefore, given VDOT’s focus on maintenance and safety and a lack of other revenue sources, the Metropolitan Planning Organization must look for low cost, market driven innovations to increase the capacity of our current road network.

A Desire Named Streetcar

On Monday, Charlottesville City Council will receive a report from the Mayor’s Streetcar Task Force that discusses the viability of a street car line on West Main Street.  An initial review of this report indicates the task force is favorably inclined to the vision of a streetcar on West Main. They were unable to come to this conclusion in the report rather their conclusion is that the concept requires more study. 

In summary, the Mayor’s Streetcar Task Force feels that the proposed streetcar system is an excellent opportunity to improve transit and accomplish the city’s stated development goals along the West Main Corridor. While the Task Force can not recommend the implementation of such a system at this time, the Task Force enthusiastically recommends further practical study of this proposal as outlined in the attached work plan. Two especially important elements of this work plan will be the cost and development analysis tasks. Together, these tasks will determine the costs and benefits of a potential streetcar system. As an immediate step, the City should hire the necessary consultants to study the base cost to build and operate a streetcar system as proposed in this report, and to forecast the development effects of the proposed streetcar. {Emphasis in original}

What I perceive written throughout the document is a vision of the West Main Corridor without cars whereby citizens are forced onto fixed rail public transit without a reasonable alternative.  Before anyone suggests my paranoia has gotten the better of me, please read the following excerpt from the report:

We also need to decide if cars will continue to be a major part of this corridor, both as transportation, and as a land use [car service shops, etc.].

 This anti-mobility position may play well with our current high gas prices, but gasoline will need to increase significantly to outweigh a fixed rail system with a capital cost exceeding $17.1 Million dollars a mile. 

 

The report to council also envisions business booming along the streetcar line.  A few years back The Free Enterprise Forum conducted limited research on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and the viability of mixed use businesses included in TODs.  One of the owners we spoke with made it very clear the only reason his operation was viable was due to heavy federal tax subsides.  As such subsidies are going away (and perhaps should have never been introduced in the first place), I anticipate the report to be overly optimistic regarding such business growth.

The report attempts to tie the decision of a fixed track streetcar system over a bus system without speaking of the inherent flexibility of bus systems to continuously adjust for changes in settlement and business patterns. 

The report indicates:

The idea of a streetcar system fits well with the goals of environmental sustainability that the Charlottesville community and city government have already clearly established. A streetcar’s electric power has much greater energy efficiency than a comparable bus line, has no point-source pollution, and reduces demand for petroleum fuel. More importantly though, a streetcar will encourage dense, mixed-use development, absorbing new residents within the city core instead of pushing new development outside of the city where an automobile dependent lifestyle is the only available option. {emphasis added}

The sustainability of huge new capital expenses on the shoulders of the citizens rather than those benefiting from the program is of significant concern as well.  As one who has ridden on the streetcars in Portland and Minneapolis and found their ridership wanting, I believe this idea is on the  wrong track.

Reason Economist Randal O’Toole penned a paper some time ago outlining the many ways localities have failed regarding rail transit.  In his Rail Disasters 2005 he cites:

Rail transit is promoted as a way to reduce congestion and air pollution. But it cannot do these things if rail construction causes or is accompanied by declines in overall transit ridership, or if it slows the growth in transit ridership to less than it was with a bus-only transit system.

The desire named streetcar has visited many towns.  Based on our highly successful trolly program, I do not believe City Council should climb aboard this untenable transit option. 

Are High Gas Prices the End of America’s Automobile “Addiction”?

In recent weeks, the main stream media has been touting the many lifestyle and commuting changes Americans are making now that we are faced with the very real prospect of $4.00 a gallon gasoline. 

NBC Nightly News this past week profiled a young man who has hung up the keys of his spanky new BMW for the city bus (except on dates). 

A recent BusinessWeek article “Suddenly its Cool to take the Bus” cited the private bus service Microsoft provides [roomy coaches with wifi access] to employees has become so popular their software engineers hacked into the bus service reservation system and filed it up one bus before the route was even announced.

In the same May 6, 2008 BusinessWeek, one headline announced “Gas May Finally Cost Too Much“.  The article highlights many statistics how Americans are handling the change in energy costs: down-sizing vehicles, combining trips, carpooling and increased transit usage.  The article also mentions the important demographic shifts that may also be driving down gasoline consumption.  Baby boomers are now exiting their prime driving years.

Increased fuel costs are changing consumer patterns far beyond just gasoline.  Local REALTOR and Blogger Jim Duncan highlighted the increased attention buyers are placing on their commute as a factor in their home buying decision.  He goes further to suggest in his headline that the solution to sprawl is high gasoline prices.

Depending on Jim’s definition of sprawl, this may or may not be the case in the long term.  What we are seeing are increasing economic pressures on those workers who choose to live further from their place of business.  The commuting cost (on the pocketbook, on family life, quality of life) is one factor of consideration.  This economic factor may tip the scales for some on the fence families but just as better transit operations will only capture a larger portion of the choice riders (those who have a choice), higher gas prices will only impact one cohort of the home buying population. 

The public is increasingly aware, and building business is consistantly responding to, environmental and energy efficency concerns.  The increase in energy costs positively changes the dynamics of the payback model of some of the higher cost enery efficenicies that can be built into new buildings.  Clearly this, too, will enter into buying decisions.

Randal O’Toole highlights another concern regarding the benefits of autoownership (or gasoline dependency):      

“Those who fervently wish for car-free cities should take a closer look at New Orleans. The tragedy of New Orleans isn’t primarily due to racism or government incompetence, though both played a role. The real cause is automobility — or more precisely to the lack of it.”The white people got out,” declared the New York Times today. But, as the article in the Times makes clear, the people who got out were those with automobiles (http://tinyurl.com/adgjx). Those who stayed, regardless of color, were those who lacked autos.

What made New Orleans more vulnerable to catastrophe than most U.S. cities is its low rate of auto ownership. According to the 2000 Census, nearly a third of New Orleans households do not own an automobile. This compares to less than 10 percent nationwide. There are significant differences by race: 35 percent of black households but only 15 percent of white households do not own an auto (see http://tinyurl.com/bpw4z).But in the end, it was auto ownership, not race, that made the difference between safety and disaster.”The evacuation plan was really based on people driving out,” an LSU professor told the Times. On Saturday and Sunday, August 27 and 28, when it appeared likely that Hurricane Katrina would strike New Orleans, those people who could simply got in their cars and drove away. The people who didn’t have cars were left behind.Critics of autos love the term “auto dependent.” But Katrina proved that the automobile is a liberator. It is those who don’t own autos who are dependent — dependent on the competence of government officials, dependent on charity, dependent on complex and sometimes uncaring institutions.”

The question that remains is, Are Americans rethinking their auto addition?  Or phrased a different way, Is America’s Automobile love affair over?

The automobile represents freedom and mobility to Americans.  Even those riding the Microsoft Bus have free access to a ZipCar for running errends while at work.  Just because Americans are rethinking their energy use, America’s love affair with the automobile is not about to end.  The standard garage will continue to hold at least two cars.