Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Reed Ewing intervened before the poor questioner was washed out of the room in a tsunami of cynicism. His statement was to the effect that he expects changes to come extremely quickly and unexpectedly in our land-use and transportation practices. In his view, the growing evidence of climate change because of increased greenhouse gases that is perceived by the average person coupled with fears about the future if GHGs are not held in check will prompt rapid change.
I wonder if the historians among us agree with Ewing that changes in our land-use and transportation practices will be swift and far-reaching when this country becomes fully aware of the impact of global warming and the need to reduce GHG emissions. Is the transition from the horse and buggy to the private auto a model of such sudden and drastic change? If we do see a quick transformation, is it likely to be in the direction of pedestrian friendly urban villages nearly everywhere, as Ewing prescribes, or will people (and their developer/local government enablers) work together to use new technologies to extend sprawl-like development patterns, as seems to be the case over the past several decades? Is Ewing a prophet or just another planning/transit guru hoping for the birth of the planner's version of utopia?
In his talk Ewing made relatively scant mention of transit, focusing instead on development patterns that will reduce VMT through shorter trips between destinations and more opportunities to walk/bike. It is quite possible that Ewing believes that building communities with greater population densities and more mixed uses is more likely to rein in VMTs than attempting to increase public transit service in exurban areas (e.g., STAR Line).
So, one more set of questions: If you had $1 billion to spend and wanted to reduce congestion and air pollution in Northeastern Illinois most effectively would you spend the money expanding the public transit system or building "in-fill" mixed use developments around existing transit assets? Is it possible that land-use measures that reduce average trip lengths and promote walking/biking will do more for the region in terms of slowing the growth of GHG emissions than an expansion of the public transit system?
Friday, December 7, 2007
Do we think Representative Hamos is going to get her wish of a transit bill before 2007 ends or is she getting a lump of coal in her stocking this holiday season?
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DECEMBER TRANSIT UPDATE
The General Assembly and Governor still have not resolved the upcoming transit funding crisis, and the clock is again ticking toward a doomsday scenario that is likely to be worse in 2008 than this year.
On November 28, we were called into special session by the Governor to consider transit funding. During the previous week both Republican Leader Cross and Governor Blagojevich had endorsed a different funding mechanism for transit than the funding that had been contained in my comprehensive bill, SB 572.
The transit funding in the Cross-Blagojevich plan was incorporated in House Amendment #2 to SB 307, and called for a vote. This funding would be a diversion of the gasoline sales tax collected in our region – about $385 million (combined with ADA paratransit funding from the state for a $440 million total). In addition, downstate transit would receive a higher reimbursement rate.
In this approach the combined $440 million for regional transit would be paid directly from the state budget. That's because gasoline sales taxes currently are deposited into the state treasury and used for state needs. Legislators expressed concern that there was no replacement for the lost revenues, and defeated the bill by a vote of 57-53-4 (71 votes were needed). Although Republican Leader Cross had proposed the plan, only 3 Republicans voted for it!
I sponsored House Amendment #2 to SB 307 as an act of compromise. It had not been my idea to shift responsibility for regional transit to the state budget, but I agreed to a new funding source in order to put an end to the months of anxiety the legislative infighting had placed on transit riders and workers. In fact, SB 572 that I have sponsored all spring, summer and fall would be a regional solution to a regional need -- with a modest increase in the regional sales tax along with a Chicago-based real estate transfer tax. This would produce $530 million of new revenues for transit operations, as well as to pay for the CTA pension reform plan.
Here's the real story. Throughout the excruciating debate on the House floor it became quite clear that the real issue is not with the funding. The House Republicans continue to hold transit hostage to another agenda: a capital infrastructure program that would also fund roads, bridges and school construction throughout the state. The leaders are discussing an expansion in casinos to pay for that. Since transit also needs capital dollars for new buses, rail and station improvements, I support a capital bill – although transit funding is a real emergency and should be resolved immediately.
Once again the clock truly is ticking toward doomsday. The RTA must adopt an austere budget on December 14th – over $400 million in budget deficits will have to be made up with fare hikes and massive service reductions. The one-time loan by the Governor last September has reduced next year's revenues even further. The pension and retiree healthcare reforms negotiated with the unions expire on December 31st. Over 2,000 CTA workers have been given layoff notices, just before the holidays.
I've come to the conclusion that the leaders and the Governor should be pressed to finalize details on the capital bill. Once that happens, our version of a comprehensive transit bill will be passed. Please write or call the legislative leaders and the Governor to tell them that we must take action now!
. . .
Julie Hamos State Representative,
Ewing's presentation, like the book, was very informative. He started by demonstrating the link between increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and an increase in world temperature. Ewing had some Chicago-specific data showing that the average temperature in Chicago has gone up significantly in the past 25 years.
After establishing the heavy contribution of the transportation sector to CO2 emissions, Ewing then focused on three factors that establish the level of those emissions: (1) vehicle fuel efficiency; (2) carbon content of the fuel used to power those vehicles; and (3) the miles covered by those vehicles. Ewing pointed out, like the authors of a study recently summarized here, that vehicle miles traveled have increased much faster than population growth. This VMT growth offsets the improvements in vehicle efficiency and the use of less carbon rich fuels, which leaves the transportation sector responsible for an unacceptably large and growing share of carbon emissions.
Ewing outlined how the Chicago area is sprawling and how that exurban growth is driving a VMT growth rate four times the rate of population growth. He said that the Chicago area has not done a good job of building up regional centers (e.g., Joliet, Waukegan) as relatively dense communities. He also said that his research shows that the Chicago area does not score well on measures of mixed use. In other words, the region is not generating the kind of walkable/bikeable communities where many of life's destinations (e.g., school, work, shopping) are a relatively short distance away from each other.
Ewing's central point is that the only way to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from the transportation sector is to replace sprawl with compact development. By replacing the current dominant form of suburban/urban development with more compact, mixed use communities we can cut down driving and hence carbon emissions significantly. Perhaps most provocatively, Ewing argues that the housing market is increasingly inclined in favor of higher density housing. If his charts are to be believed, then the value of the McMansions on the large lots is likely to stagnate at best in the years ahead while real estate in more compact areas should appreciate in value at a more robust rate.
Ewing believes, however, that one can't bet the future of the earth's environment on consumer preferences and real estate market trends. He stopped for questions before he could go through all of his federal, state and local policy recommendations. They are easily accessible in Growing Cooler.
During the Q&A session he did discuss two policy recommendations. The first is a carbon impact fee that would be imposed on developments that will generate high levels of CO2 emissions because of the VMTs required to utilize them. The second is a system for the regional transfer of development rights. This is a system designed to allow owners of farmland to collect some of the value in their land because of its development potential by transferring development rights to developers who could use the rights to build at a higher density elsewhere in the region, preserving the open space.
The seminar included short speeches by Sadhu Johnston, Chief Environmental Officer of the City of Chicago, and Randy Blankenhorn, Executive Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Johnston was a fount of relevant information, including:
- Per capita carbon emissions in Chicago is about 12 tons annually, compared to 7 tons in New York and 6 tons in London.
- Buildings account for 61 percent of carbon emissions in Chicago and transportation 20 percent. Transportation accounts for 32 percent of carbon emissions in the suburbs.
- The areas surrounding many Chicago Transit Authority and Metra stations in Chicago lack the kind of density associated with transit oriented development. The City is focusing on TOD around such rail stations.
- City residents save over $2 billion annually because they generate fewer VMTs on average.
- Some of the communities in the region are banding together in a Green Region Compact to address climate change issues.
Maybe Blankenhorn was having a bad day. Maybe he was keeping CMAP's sustainability agenda under wraps until next Tuesday's CMAP-sponsored Innovation + Integration Summit on "Creating a Regional Agenda to Address Climate Change." Let's sure hope so.
Two other notes from the MPC roundtable. First, the State of Illinois (e.g., Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois EPA) did not appear to have any representation at the roundtable, which is disappointing given the importance of the topic and the role State investment in infrastructure plays in creating or confounding compact development. The organizers also stated that MPC had organized a reception for legislators to meet Ewing that morning and only one legislator showed up. (Let's hope the MPC didn't make the mistake of inviting the legislators to a "special session" with Ewing!)
Second, the crowd was overwhelmingly white. How is it that this region is so diverse and the transportation professional sector is so unrepresentative of that diversity?
Note, however, that rather than just abolishing the parking space tax, the tax now will be extended to all property owners. Thus, the action may not adversely affect the amount of revenue generated for transit and other uses. Indeed, it may be a good thing that property owners in a metropolitan region, whose property values are presumably increased by the presence of a public transit system, share in the cost of that system.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Metropolitan Planning Council have booked partially overlapping seminars this Thursday. It is a shame, because both seminars look interesting and likely appeal to similar crowds. Here's the information:
Planning Transit Routes that Meet Your Community’s Goals
Join us for a Webinar on December 6.
Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
STPP and CNT are hosting the second "From the Margins to the Mainstream" webinar. This session will discuss integrating transit service planning with community planning and design in understandable terms for the non-technical person. Audience interaction will be a key part of this webinar. Please plan to join us on Dec. 6 at noon Eastern.
The webinar will feature leading transportation experts, including officials from transit agencies, local land-use/planning agencies, and the developer community.
STPP and CNT's goal is to give you the tools to participate more effectively in your community's transportation planning and decision making processes. This webinar is the second in a series of webinars CNT and STPP are hosting in order to improve public involvement in transportation decision-making. As part of the same project CNT and STPP will also be hosting two workshops and on-site pilot projects in 2008. Funding for this program is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, the Oak Foundation,and AARP.
Title: Planning Transit Routes that Meet Your Community's Goals
Date: Thursday, October 6, 2007
Time: 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM EDT
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MPC ROUNDTABLE LUNCHEON
The Heat is On: Why hybrid vehicles won't save the planet
12:00 pm–1:30 pm
Mayer Brown, 71 S. Wacker Drive, 33rd Floor
Cost for MPC donors: $15.00
Cost for non-donors: $30.00
MPC 2007 Winter Roundtable Series. Reid Ewing comes to speak about his new, highly acclaimed study, which concludes that energy-efficient cars and low-carbon fuel technologies alone are not enough to reverse the damaging effects of climate change. Along with a panel of local experts, Ewing will discuss how we need to change the land-use patterns which create our auto dependency.
Locally, nothing but silence despite this region's loss of such a grant. Those who fail to learn from history. . . .
Monday, December 3, 2007
The article first documents that the United States is making significant gains in energy efficiency. Energy use per unit of U.S. GDP, for example, has fallen by almost 50 percent since 1975. The transportation and residential sectors of the U.S. economy have led the energy efficiency charge. Energy efficiency in those sectors has improved 50% faster than the pace in the rest of the economy.
Yet, paradoxically, the overall energy consumed by these same transportation and residential sectors has increased more rapidly than in other sectors. In the transportation sector, greater fuel efficiency has prompted people to drive more and bigger vehicles greater distances. In the housing sector, the energy efficiency gains are more than offset by larger houses filled with more gadgets powered by electricity. The size of the average house, for example, has increased from 1,000 square feet in 1950 to 2,500 square feet today.
It appears that we have a situation where the energy efficiency gains in the transportation and housing sectors over the past three decades have been handed over to developers and consumers in the form of McMansions and sprawling exurban development. There are credible views that this is a good thing, a happy expression of democracy, capitalism and consumer preferences. University of Illinois-Chicago Professor Robert Bruegmann, author of the book "Sprawl: A Compact History," is a leading proponent of this view.
If, however, one views reduced energy consumption as the key to averting future environmental problems from rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and/or are concerned about the environmental implications of paving over more land, then giving up the efficiency gains in this manner represents a colossal missed opportunity. Had consumption of road travel, land and houses held steady at 1975 levels, then the efficiency gains since then would have yielded significant reductions in per capita energy consumption. The average's person's environmental footprint would have been significantly smaller than it is today.
In light of the Rubin/Tal analysis, environmentalists and transit advocates might think twice before celebrati recent news of a compromise in the U.S. House that opens way for a new federal law that will increase auto fuel efficiency standards by 40 percent by the year 2020. If Rubin and Tal are correct, these efficiency gains will just prompt people to drive more miles in ever more souped-up vehicles. In other words, the cost of living in auto-centric areas will go down as a result of the efficiency gains, making the exurbs even more attractive. At the same time, transit's advantage over the private auto when it comes to per passenger energy consumption and pollution will continue to shrink. (Here and here.)
One way to deal with the energy efficiency paradox that Rubin/Tal discuss is to treat energy efficiency gains as a public good. After all, such gains are often prompted by political action such as laws increasing car mileage standards or mandating tougher limits on pollution. These energy efficiency gains would be protected through taxes (e.g., tax on carbon) and/or user fees (e.g., highway tolls) designed to tamp down demand for use of these efficiency gains in ways that increase energy consumption.
So, for example, had the improvements in energy efficiency in the past 30 years been matched by a gas tax increase or much more extensive use of highway tolling, we might not have seen the efficiency gains be eaten up to the same extent by sprawl-like development with its greater per-capita vehicle mileage rates. Imagine how much money might have been generated for the Illinois Department of Transportation and transit agencies like the Chicago Transit Authority if the public sector had kept even a small percentage of the energy efficiency gains over the past 30 years through such measures.
Until we address the energy efficiency paradox in some some fashion, transit's comparative disadvantages in the transportation market will continue to increase as cars get more efficient. Likewise, urban regions will continue to sprawl because energy efficiency gains in transportation and housing make detached houses on relatively sizable lots all the more attractive.
Those who think that more money for transit and hectoring local officials to embrace transit-oriented development will be enough to tame sprawl may be fooling themselves. Until energy efficiency gains are preserved through use of taxes and/or user fees or some other mechanism, we will all be watching the energy efficiency paradox play out as our built environment and transportation network continue to sprawl.
Maybe Professor Bruegmann will then write a "Sprawling History Of The Demise Of Compact Urban Areas In America."
Saturday, December 1, 2007
The article is Coulson's historical perspective on the current transit funding situation in the RTA's service area in northeastern Illinois. In the piece he portrays the RTA and the service boards--Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace--as innocent victims of bitter political infighting by politicians unable to put together a deal.
This kind of revisionist history is disappointing from an RTA board member who has signaled at least a bit of an independent streak. It also suggests that the RTA continues to be unwilling to acknowledge its role in causing the current transit funding crisis. The RTA's unwillingness to acknowledge partial responsibility for this crisis no doubt makes it a less sympathetic candidate for additional public funding.
Coulson begins by stating that "the RTA and the service boards have been warning Illinois political leaders for years that the system was seriously underfunded and heading for a serious breakdown." Actually, until the Moving Beyond Congestion effort by the current RTA administration the RTA resisted efforts to bring transit funding challenges to the attention of the Governor and the General Assembly. There was significant inter-agency discord when the CTA attempted to do so on its own.
Coulson thus ignores two major RTA failures. First, the RTA's equivocation about whether there was a transit funding problem and its resistance to going to Springfield for a fix meant that the General Assembly and the Governor now are stuck with a major "crisis" to fix. Second, despite statutory requirements that the RTA only approve service board budgets that are balanced and reasonable, the Auditor General found that the RTA had allowed the service boards to expand their service levels beyond what they could afford for at least the past five years.
A year ago, the service boards thus faced major operating deficits going into 2007. Rather than press them to make the service cuts, increase fares and/or extract labor concession at that time, as it was required to do, the RTA made a third major mistake. It approved service board budgets that were balanced only by using a plug number for substantial hoped-for additional state funding. Here is Coulson's take on that decision:
Thus, there is no dispute that the financial crisis is real and that there is a long-term plan to significantly improve the system. Enter Illinois’ unique brand of politics.
The RTA is financed largely through fares, a sales tax imposed in the six counties and a state match of 25 percent of the sales taxes raised. So optimistic was the RTA board in December of 2006 that the 2007 budgets included as projected revenue more than $200 million in what was called “New Transit Funding.”
Coulson was not on the RTA board in December 2006 and neither was I. Nonetheless, if the RTA had had some reasonable basis back then for its optimism it has yet to reveal what it was. No bill increasing transit funding had been introduced at that point. The Auditor General had not yet released its audit report. No prominent political figure had publicly expressed support for a tax increase necessary to provide the RTA with more money. The RTA was like the kid hoping for an allowance increase based on a parental statement that "we will take care of that later."
While I'm not an expert in GAAP accounting, I very much doubt that optimism over increased revenue from the timely passage of a bill increasing taxes that has yet to be introduced in the legislature or be publicly supported by any significant political figure has the necessary certainty to count as revenue. Yet, that is what the RTA did when it approved the 2007 service board budgets.
After glossing over these compounding errors, which will mean that doomsday if it ever comes will be even tougher on transit users, Coulson goes on to summarize the back and forth over the various transit bailout bills and the rancor that exists among the political leaders. He ends his piece with a bit of bravado:
What to make of it all? I have tremendous respect for the elected public officials who face the daunting task of balancing the state budget in the face of competing demands from constituents. They will have to decide ultimately how important mass transit is to the well-being and economic vitality of Illinois. And the people — who elect them — will have the final word on all this.
As an appointed board member of the RTA, I share the responsibility to provide the best transit to the people of the six-county region that the allotted financial resources will responsibly permit. If our elected leaders want a second-rate system, that is what they will get.
What is missing from Coulson's piece is any acknowledgement that in recent years the RTA failed its "responsibility to provide the best transit to the people of the six-county region that the alloted financial resources will responsibly permit." The RTA let the service boards expand service beyond their financial means and then plopped the resulting crisis into the lap of the General Assembly and Governor.
How refreshing it would have been if Coulson had said something like "the RTA made serious errors, but we have learned from those errors and with the money and increased authority you give us we will provide the best system within the financial means you provide." RTA acceptance of its share of the responsibility for the current crisis certainly would go down better than yet another threat about a "second-rate system" from an key member of a financial oversight agency that failed to do its job.
In the good news department, the Illinois State Police recently won an award from the Roadway Safety Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration for the ISP's Tazewell County Teen Initiative. (Press release; article) The Tazewell program was as follows:
The Tazewell County Teen Initiative was developed to address the number of teenage drivers that died between March 2005 and July 2006 on Tazewell County roadways. During that time, 15 teenagers lost their lives, sparking a cry for action. The Illinois State Police District 8, along with the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Tazewell County Sheriff and the Tazewell County Coroner, teamed up to form the multifaceted public awareness campaign targeted to schools, hospitals, emergency response teams, media and the private sector. Since the program was launched there have been no teen traffic fatalities in Tazewell County.
The ISP, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois Secretary of State, in conjunction with other public agencies and the Ford Motor Company, are expanding the program statewide. (Press release) The program is called Operation Teen Safe Driving
and is being funded by a $150,000 IDOT grant.
Teen drivers account for a disproportionate share of auto accidents and fatalities. In addition to Operation Teen Safe Driving, the State has enacted new laws directed at teenage drivers. SB 172 (P.A. 95-310) extends the time for a learners permit from three months to nine months, extends curfews for teen drivers and doubles from six to 12 months the time during which a driver under 18 with a graduated drivers license may carry only one unrelated passenger under the age of 20, excluding siblings. HB 518 (P.A. 95-201) authorizes the Secretary of State of establish a website so parents can check the driving records of their children.
This expanded program appears to be a nice example of a public-private partnership for a good end. It is disturbing that a single downed jetliner with the loss of a couple hundred lives gets front page coverage while the over 40,000 annual fatalities on our highways are treated as some sort of inexorable fact of nature. It is great to see IDOT and the ISP attacking the auto accident problem and the complacency that surrounds that problem.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
- I was in D.C. recently and met with a senior person in the Department of Transportation. In the course of our conversation this person said that the toughest part of the DOT's job is convincing people that the United State's transportation network no longer is the best in the world. This person said that the United States no longer is a center of innovation in the planning, delivery and operation of transportation systems. This person said the complacency and cowardliness of the transportation professionals and politicians this person has encountered while working for DOT has been quite discouraging.
- While other cities are implementing or considering the implementation of pricing measures (i.e., tolls) as a way to manage heavily congested highway systems, there is little or no indication that Illinois is considering tolling as a traffic management tool or revenue raising measure (or both). We'd rather have people stand in line for "free" roads than use tolling to spread demand more effectively. And just how is the State's refusal to use an effective tool of highway management going to make it more competitive in the world economy?
- With the completion of the I-355 extension, it appears that the Illinois Toll Highway has nothing new or interesting on its plate despite its inherent ability to fund new transportation projects through relatively modest toll increases and its evident ability to deliver projects in a timely way.
- IDOT can't get a bridge built over the Mississippi River in St. Louis. The hangup appears to be this State's refusal to consider tolling. Apparently, we would rather slow the flow of people and commerce in southern Illinois than charge people a couple of bucks to travel over a major, costly and presumably useful new bridge.
- When IDOT is presented with projects like the Elgin/O'Hare Expressway--O'Hare By-Pass that will generate substantial economic and mobility benefits, it temporizes by using years of studies and analysis in a futile attempt to placate relatively few local opponents. Meanwhile, the benefits from the expansion of O'Hare are diminished for lack of a highway/transit infrastructure that will serve the expansion.
- The Regional Transportation Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace face yet another doomsday with the recent defeat of a transit funding bill, this time featuring a diversion of the sales tax on gas sold in the six-county RTA region from the GRF to transit. The service boards brought on the current financial crisis by overextending their service levels beyond their financial means. Under the bailout plans so far, the very financial oversight agency that stood by while they did so, and then approved an unbalanced FY 2007 budget using a plug number for hoped-for new State funds, gets even more authority. Huh?
- Metra's STAR Line, whose western leg would be on a rail line designed to avoid population centers and whose eastern leg would run down an expensive interstate highway ROW, can't seem to get out of the station. While Metra undoubtedly will someday produce studies showing robust projected ridership levels, few people will believe them, and certainly not the federal government, which has been burned by overly optimistic ridership projections on other new start rail projects.
- The proposed State capital plan--Illinois Works--allocates a much smaller percentage of new capital money to transit than past State capital bills. This presumably means continued deterioration in the CTA system. Metra will finally join the CTA in being starved for capital, which is no consolation at all.
- The Chicago area continues to sprawl, which presumably means greater dependence on foreign oil and thus an larger outflow of dollars from the region. The auto-centric suburbs suck people out of the center area of the region, where population densities are high enough to support transit. There appears to be no way to brake this sprawl and no real interest is doing so. Before you know it Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins outlets will be sprouting along the Prairie Parkway. Just what we need.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The answer is a familiar one. People get more house and lawn for their money. They get something new rather than a tired building decades old. They get to be part of a growing and dynamic community with lots of new faces and energy. The downsides, including long commutes on a highway system choking on they and their exurban compatriots, are not enough for most folks to opt for a smaller, more expensive house in a denser, transit-oriented urban area.
The article builds on the work of Loyola University-Chicago professor Kenneth Johnson. Professor Johnson in his paper entitled "Demographic Trends in Metropolitan Chicago at Mid-Decade" found that Chicago and suburban Cook County lost population (62,000 (-2.1%) and 27,000 (-1.1%) respectively) during the 2000-06 period, while the population on the suburban fringe (stretching from Northwest Indiana to southeast Wisconsin) increased by 500,000 (12.7%).
Johnson suggests that the population increases experienced by Chicago and suburban Cook County in the 1990s may have been a temporary pause in the decades-long migration of the region's population to the exurbs. Even in the 1990s, however, the growth rates of Chicago (4.0%) and suburban Cook County (6.9%) paled beside the growth rate in the suburban fringe (20.6%).
The current difficulties in securing an increase in operating subsidies for the Regional Transportation Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace may be in part attributed to a reluctance to increase the public investment in a transportation system whose market base appears to be weakening. This despite service board efforts to attract more riders by rolling out more service than they could afford, as the Auditor General found.
Another indication of public transit's relatively weak market position is found in the Illinois Policy Institute's recent analysis of the CTA, summarized in yesterday's post. This analysis found that the CTA is generating fewer riders per employee and per dollar of public subsidy than it has in the past. It is understandable why some public officials might be reluctant to increase public investment in a system that is not performing well.
As for the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Tribune article has the following:
"There's a joke in my profession that Rockford will be the next suburb," said John LaMotte, a land-use planner whose clients include developers and municipalities. "Now look at how close the edge is getting to Rockford. It's already out to Marengo."
Scott Goldstein, housing expert for the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council, said he believes Rockford won't be the last stop. "I absolutely think it's going to expand for many, many more miles," he said. "It certainly goes to Indiana and Wisconsin. Are we going to approach the Iowa state line?"
If the Metropolitan Planning Council, that paragon of good planning, public transit and compact, transit-oriented development, has given up on taming sprawl then maybe it should just shut its doors and stop using its newsletters and seminars to prick the consciences of those who still believe that paving over paradise is not such a good thing.
Monday, November 26, 2007
We have recently compared the CTA's bus system's performance to the performance of Pace's bus system and found that Pace's system appeared to be more cost effective on every measure examined except public subsidy per passenger. The IPI analysis compares the CTA's performance today to its past performance. Here are some of the key findings:
- Rail ridership is up 25%, from 152 million to 190 million since 1979.
- Bus ridership has plummeted by 45%, from 552 million to 304 million since 1979 and overall ridership is down 23% since 1969/70. Bus operations are a key area ripe for improvement.
- The average CTA employee today is less productive than the average CTA employee in 1969 or even 1979. This is illustrated in a number of ways. Spending (cost) per rider is up 41% from $1.55 to $2.19 since 1969/70 and up 31% (from $1.67) since 1979. Correspondingly, riders per employee are down, from 56,299 per employee to 45,292 since 1979. The bottom line is that today’s CTA spends more to deliver a rider and each employee delivers fewer per year on average. This is a root cause of the CTA financial crisis and most of it rests within the bus operations.
- By achieving the 1979 spending benchmark alone ($1.67 per rider), the CTA would save $257 million and more than close the funding gap without having to ask the taxpayers for more.
- By achieving the 1969/70 spending benchmark ($1.55 per rider), the CTA would save $316 million per year.
- The CTA is earning more system (non-subsidized) revenue per rider today than it was in 1979, $1.13 versus $.88, an increase of 28% and certainly a step in the right direction.
- Advertising and concession revenue are up 478%, from $4.3 million to $25 million.
- The public subsidy per rider is up 35% since 1979, from $.79 to $1.07. The taxpayers are more than doing their part in subsidizing the CTA’s operation.
- This 35% increase in the public subsidy on a per rider basis illustrates the fallacy of the CTA public relations and budget document claims that the CTA’s pubic subsidy has not kept pace with inflation. While that fact is true in total dollars, it is a misleading fact since the key data point is the subsidy per rider. In fact, one could make the case that the subsidy is excessive by $138 million ([$1.07 - $.79] x 494 million riders for 2007).
- Bus operations are a key area for improvement. While ridership is down 45% since 1979, total miles driven per year is only down 14%, from 83.5 million to 71.9 million. Further, the total route miles covered (the aggregate miles of the route map) has more than doubled, from 1,042 route miles to 2,529 route miles in 2007. This is unsustainable and the underlying reasons for this must be addressed.
- Today the CTA runs 154 bus routes versus 134 in 1979, an increase in routes and corresponding expense of 15% while ridership fell 45%.
- The bus operations data indicate that in 1979 the CTA operated a tightly focused, more market sensitive route map with more traffic per bus per route operated and bus run made. Today, with the route miles up 143%, it appears the CTA is running too many route miles for too few riders, making the bus system inefficient.
IPI's short and cogent analysis is well worth a read. It challenges the conventional wisdom that a series of unfortunate events has overwhelmed the CTA, Metra and Pace, necessitating greater public subsidies. Instead, the analysis suggests that the bailouts past and present have allowed the CTA to avoid taking the steps necessary to prudently manage its business.
The slightly revised version of HB 4161 that they will put forth will retain--as does HB 4161--the "reform components of Senate Bill 572, which include substantial pension and benefit concessions from transit unions and other requirements to protect the best interests of taxpayers and transit riders."
The fact sheet attached to the letter states that SB 572 would have raised $530 million of new money. HB 4161 and the Madigan/Hamos alternative plan will raise $440 million in new money. It is unclear if the difference is to be made up by a fare increase, which some support, or is money not absolutely needed by the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace in the first place to maintain current fares and service levels.
It is way too soon for transit supporters to break out the champagne, however. Representatives from both parties, primarily from Downstate, have held up action on a transit funding package because they want a capital program for highways and schools. If the Madigan/Hamos bill comes up for a vote on Wednesday, as scheduled, and there is no such capital program in place, then it is quite possible that the successor of SB 572 could be voted down, just as was SB 572 in early September.
I bet those grunts in the Department of Revenue and elsewhere who are responsible for protecting the State's fisc are tearing their hair out at this development. Under SB 572 the State would be putting up $150 million in new money. Under the HB 4161 approach the State will have to come up with $385 million in new money for transit.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
The report lays out why traffic congestion levels have increased across the country over the past 25 years. Here are the relevant percentage increases during the 1982-2006 period:
Vehicle Miles Traveled: 94.5%
New Lanes Miles: 6.6%
Hours of Delay: 171.4%
Not surprisingly, when you almost double VMT while increasing road capacity only 6.6 percent increased delays are inevitable. (The fact that congestion is not worse may even suggest that the nation had excess road capacity in the 1970s and 1980s.) The report states that over the next 30 years the U.S. population is expected to grow by 100 million and highway traffic will double again. If road capacity does not increase at a faster rate, then by 2035 "Americans can expect to spend 160 hours--four work weeks--each year in traffic congestion."
The ARTBA report states that the United States is falling behind Europe, China and India in terms of adding highway infrastructure. The projected new miles of interstate quality highways to be constructed between 2000 and 2020 are as follows:
Freight tonnage shipped on roadways by truck in the U.S. is projected to double by 2035, putting even more pressure on the road system.
If that is not enough, the federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money. Highway crashes in the U.S. alone kill 43,000 people and injure three million annually at a cost of $230 billion, which is more than two percent of the nation's GDP.
In response, among other things, the report recommends a $0.10 increase in the federal gas tax and indexing the tax thereafter at the rate of inflation. The successor bill to SAFETEA-LU should begin the transition from the flat motor fuels tax to a fee-based system based on the amount of miles traveled by vehicle. It argues that road tolling should be encouraged and expanded, as should the use of public-private partnerships to roll out new transportation investments. Further, the current 80:20 ratio of highway to transit investment should be maintained.
The report recommends that states be held more accountable when it comes to capital investment in transportation infrastructure. Among other things, earmarked funds would have to be expended during the life of the successor bill to SAFETEA-LU and increased federal funding would be contingent on states maintaining a minimum level of capital investment necessary to preserve its existing transportation infrastructure.
Finally, the report recommends that the federal government enact a "Critical Commerce Corridors" program to help ensure the safe and efficient transport of freight across the country. The 3C components would include trade corridors, international gateways, access routes to ports and airports, projects to eliminate freight congestion points, and the like. The report recommends that the 3C program be financed through user fees, and lays out a menu of such fees.
This is not a complete summary of the ARTBA report. The report is worth a look to see how a major industry group is staking out its position in what is sure to be a long, and protracted battle over the reauthorization of the federal transportation bill relatively early in the next presidential administration.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
"Smart Growth Safety Benefits" looks at the safety consequences of the increased vehicular traffic in less densely populated areas dependent almost entirely on the private auto for transportation. His thesis is that "traffic safety is one of the most important benefits of smart growth and smart growth is one of the most effective ways to reduce traffic risk."
Litman first compares the traffic fatality rates in ten densely populated area with the rates in ten counties that he characterizes as "dumb growth" counties. He finds that accident rates are much (5x to 10x) higher in dumb growth areas, where per capita vehicle mileage is high.
Litman then establishes that traffic safety tends to increase significantly the more a community relies on non-auto forms of transport such as bicycles and transit. He notes in passing the health and environmental benefits associated with smart growth policies that complement the traffic safety benefits of such development.
Finally, Litman points out a flaw in our method of measuring traffic safety. According to Litman, while accidents per mile driven have dropped, the benefits have been almost entirely offset by the increase in the per capita vehicle miles traveled as a result of the dumb growth policies in place throughout most of North America. Consequently, the per capita accident rate has dropped only slightly over the past 40 years.
None of these conclusions are novel. In his typical fashion, however, Litman lays out his points crisply and in a nice commonsense manner. He doesn't scare anyone with his rhetoric and his writing doesn't drip with elitism.
I talked to him recently about his proposal for taxing parking spaces, which has been implemented successfully elsewhere, but was shot down without a fair hearing in this area. Litman was remarkably equanimous. Rather than making some caustic remarks about the Brezhnevian nature of our region's approach to transportation, he just said that good ideas take awhile to get established and aren't for all regions.
It would be great if Litman were a fixture here, rather than stuck in rainy Victoria coming up with good ideas. UIC's Urban Transportation Center or DePaul's Chaddick Institute could use a shot of fresh thinking that Litman would bring.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The best description of HB 4161 I've seen is this letter to the editor in today's edition of the Lake County News-Sun from Representative Sandy Cole, reprinted in full below in the interest of giving a full hearing to an alternative to SB 572:
Equitable funding for mass transit
November 23, 2007
As a chief co-sponsor of House Bill 4161 (Regional Transportation Support Fund), I would like to take this opportunity to clarify an erroneous assumption made by your Nov. 20 editorial about the proposed redirection of the state sales tax on gasoline to mass transit ("Political dallying").
New construction for Lake County roads would not be impacted, as was concluded. There is a gross misconception by both the media and the public that the gasoline sales tax and the motor fuel tax are one and the same. They are not. As with all appropriation legislation, the devil is in the details.
In Illinois, gasoline and diesel are subject to a sales tax at a rate of 6.25 percent. The state retains 5 percent of the collected revenues and the remaining 1.25 percent is disbursed to local governments. The state's portion of sales tax revenue is generally deposited into the General Revenue Fund and used toward general government expenses.
HB4161 would redirect the state's portion (5 percent) of the tax revenues to a proposed Regional Transportation Support Fund. According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, that portion will be approximately $385 million in 2008. The difference left in the General Revenue Fund by this redirection of funds would be bolstered by other new revenue sources, such as additional gaming positions at existing casinos or closing corporate loopholes.
In addition, the state imposes a Motor Fuel Tax (19 cents per gallon of gasoline, 21.5 cents per gallon of diesel). This is a tax for state roads and the proceeds go toward road building projects, including those in Lake County.
In 2006, the state collected about $1.4 billion in Motor Fuel Tax revenues. All Motor Fuel Tax revenue is deposited in the Motor Fuel Tax Fund and is distributed per a formula set in state statute.
Combined with modest fare increases, the provisions of HB4161 offer the same level of funding as Senate Bill 572 without tax increases. HB4161 has proposed fare increases (10 percent in 2008 to generate $73 million and another 5 percent in 2009 to generate $50 million) that are both minimal and reasonable.
Between 2001 and 2006, the price of gasoline has increased 68 percent, but CTA cash fares have only increased 15 percent. It is fair to expect riders to pay for increased fares, just like motorists have to pay more for gasoline.
SB572 did not include a fare increase because it relied on tax increases. HB4161 is based on the premise that those who use the service should help pay for it. Of course, they cannot be expected to pay all of the costs of maintaining the mass transit system, but transit riders should pay a fair share.
Without a doubt, I support increased mass transit funding and believe that the gas sales tax proposal is a more responsible alternative for resolving the mass transit funding crisis than raising taxes on families and seniors. Raising taxes should always be our last priority, not our first.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
1. Indexed Fare Increases. Index fares to some reasonable measure such as the Consumer Price Index, perhaps capping increases at 4% annually to avoid sudden spikes. This provision will address the concerns of certain parties that a fare increase be part of a funding solution and allow the service boards--Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, Pace--to avoid the counter-productive cycles of putting off fare increases too long and then raising them too sharply. Indexing public transit fares provides a nice precedent for using a similar index to periodically increase the state gas tax to help protect its yield in real dollars.
2. Direct State Role In RTA . Take a board member from each of the three RTA subregions--City of Chicago, suburban Cook County and the collar counties--and make them gubernatorial appointments subject to Senate approval. Make the RTA Chairman a gubernatorial appointment. This State role is commensurate to the State's financial contribution to the public transit system in northeastern Illinois and the important role of that system in the State's transportation system.
3. Hold RTA Accountable. Currently, the RTA can reject service board budgets that do not meet the statutory requirements. The service board then suffers a financial penalty, namely, loss of their share of Public Transportation Fund monies from the State. The RTA, however, suffers no financial penalty if it is derlict in its duties by, for example, allowing service levels to grow faster than revenues over an extended period (as the Auditor General found) or approving unbalanced budgets with plug numbers for hoped-for contributions from the State to cover major deficits (as the RTA did in FY 2007). Some portion of the RTA's funding for its own administration should be subject to being withdrawn if the RTA fails to perform. This provision would apply only if the RTA remained as just a financial oversight agency. (See #5 below.)
4. Tie Transit To Land Use. Explicitly tie transit investments to land use. Write in the RTA Act a requirement that the RTA prioritize transit investment and service to regions and communities that support transit oriented development. (This is not necessarily a gimme for Chicago. Its embrace of big box retailing and minimum parking space requirements for new residential construction, for example, might put it below some suburban communities that are trying to build TOD developments around Metra stations.)
5. Restructure The RTA And The Service Boards. Combine CTA bus operations and Pace mainline bus operations into one operating unit. Pace's paratransit, vanpool and demand response service becomes another unit. CTA rail and Metra become their own units. These become purely operating units tucked into the RTA. This means that the separate boards of directors of the service boards would be abolished. Rather, the RTA and its board would have ultimate operating responsibility for public transit in the region.
Find a funding source, pass these provisions and be done with it. There certainly are more creative ideas--e.g., emergency oversight agency; combining RTA, IDOT District 1 and the Tollway; and heavy investment in alternative automobile technology (e.g., plug in hybrids)--but these provisions with the exception of #5 could be tucked into SB 572 or its successor pretty easily.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
This extensively researched article by Stacy Warden in Chi-Town Daily News outlines how the CTA's high pension costs and wages contribute to its overall high cost structure and the series of events that resulted in the CTA's unmanageable pension costs. This article briefly outlines the five year labor agreement that is embedded in SB 572 and attempts to address pension costs.
There is another side to the Pace story, however, and that is the relative cost effectiveness of its bus service. According to the Federal Transit Administration's National Transit Database 2006 reports for Pace and the CTA the "service efficiency" figures covering Pace and CTA bus service are as follows:
Operating Expense Per Vehicle Revenue Mile
CTA 96.2% higher
Operating Expense Per Vehicle Revenue Hour
CTA 40% higher
Operating Expenses Per Passenger Mile
CTA 91.4% higher
Operating Expenses Per Unlinked Passenger Trip
Pace 39.7% higher
Unlinked Passenger Trips Per Vehicle Revenue Mile
CTA 173.3% higher
Unlinked Passenger Trips Per Vehicle Revenue Hour
CTA 92.4% higher
Ignoring for a moment the costs associated with putting a bus on the street, CTA bus service is more effective than Pace's bus service because CTA buses carry more passengers per hour of operation and mile traveled. The greater number of CTA bus passengers per vehicle hour and per bus trip means that the CTA's operating expense per passenger ($2.77) is less than Pace's operating expense per passenger ($3.87).
Pace, however, is much more cost effective than the CTA in putting buses on the street. Its operating expense per vehicle mile and per passenger mile are only slightly more than half of the CTA's operating expense according to these measures. The CTA's operating expense per vehicle revenue hour is 40 percent higher than Pace's.
These results might be skewed in Pace's favor for at least two reasons. First, Pace's operating environment--suburban streets and highways--and lighter passenger loads result in fewer stops and starts that eat up fuel and equipment. Second, the CTA's bus fleet is older than Pace's bus fleet, so the CTA incurs higher repair costs because of the greater frequency of mechanical breakdowns.
So let's assume that Pace's bus service is 19.1 percent more cost effective than the CTA's bus service in terms of putting buses on the street. This 19.1 percent figure is conservative, representing less than half the lowest cost-effectiveness advantage that the FTA data shows that Pace has over the CTA.
Now apply this 19.1 percent cost savings figure to the 2006 operating expense for CTA bus service that the CTA reported to the FTA ($828,100,714). That yields $158.2 million, the very amount of the CTA's projected FY 2008 unfunded operating deficit that is behind the push to pass SB 572 and the many months of machinations connected therewith. In other words, if the CTA's bus service were as cost effective as Pace's bus service it appears there would be no unfunded CTA operating deficit.
Those opposing SB 572 might focus on finding a way to apply Pace's cost structure for its bus operations to the CTA's bus operations. Those supporting SB 572 might reflect on how the relative cost ineffectiveness of CTA bus operations compared to another public transit agency providing bus service in same metropolitan area dampens the appetite for a sales tax increase, and modify their legislative strategy accordingly.
Pace has already taken on ADA paratransit operations for the six-county region that makes up the Regional Transportation Authority's service area. Is there a way for that to happen for mainline bus service while preserving Pace's lower cost structure?
The Illinois Policy Institute, a think tank whose slogan is "free enterprise and limited government for a better Illinois," apparently has been engaged in a grass-roots effort against SB 572. According to a blog post in the Chicago Daily Observer entitled "Kiss that CTA Bailout Goodbye...For Now," the Institute did the following:
The Institute targeted state representatives who were being pressured to vote for the tax increase and called more than 30,000 voters in their districts to urge them to contact their legislators.
* We spread the word to leaders of Americans for Tax Reform, who contacted key members of the Transportation Committee to oppose the tax hike.
* We also notified our friends at the National Taxpayers Union, who subsequently sent out 16,000 emails to their Illinois membership urging their members to oppose this tax increase.
* Our team drafted and placed two op-eds explaining the impending tax hike and its implications.
* We informed both the State Republican Party and House Minority Leader Tom Cross on our strategies to educate policymakers, the public and the press on the threat this tax posed.
* Finally, we hit the airwaves on one of Chicago’s most popular talk radio stations, WLS. Both CEO John Tillman (you can hear his interview here) and President Greg Blankenship went on the air to flesh out the real issues behind the tax hike and to expose its inconsistencies and flaws.
* * *
What other interest groups, if any, have joined the Institute in fighting against the SB 572 and a "bailout" of public transit in northeastern Illinois?
At the same time, the Wisconsin legislature recently killed a rental car tax increase that would have funded a Kenosha/Racine/Milwaukee commuter rail line (dated website here) that would be linked to Metra's North Line. That project would cost about $250 million to build according to news reports (e.g., here). Metra's financial troubles are well known.
This commentator questions whether it makes sense for Wisconsin (and by extension Illinois) to be pumping public investment capital into highways--with their adverse environmental effects--while neglecting alternatives such as commuter rail. This commentator takes the position that the transportation networks and economies of northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin need to be better integrated and urges that both the highway and rail projects go forth.
Is there a ready-made solution: Toll the entire I-94 corridor from Chicago to Milwaukee and use a portion of the proceeds to upgrade both direct rail service (Amtrak) and commuter rail service (KRM and Metra)? With the heavy daily traffic volumes it would not be hard to generate plenty of revenue to fund such alternatives.
The final version of Metra's 2008 is not yet available on Metra's website. An earlier draft, however, is available (here) and allows us to complete the analysis of the deficits of the three service boards, the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace and Metra.
Not surprisingly, the data (see below) show that Metra's deficit is less severe than the CTA and Pace deficits when measured as a percentage of revenue and operating expense. Metra's per trip unfunded deficit ($0.49) is between the CTA's per trip unfunded deficit ($0.32) and Pace's per trip unfunded deficit ($0.85). Note that the service board ridership data appear to define "trip" as an unlinked trip (e.g., getting on and off a bus/train) rather than the full journey, including transfers, between the customer's origin and destination. Metra's customers probably are more likely to take one ride to their destinations than Pace and, especially, CTA customers. Thus, if "trip" is defined as the travel necessary for a customer to get from their origin to their destination the Pace and CTA per trip unfunded deficit figures would likely rise more than the Metra unfunded per trip deficit figure.
Unfunded 2008 Deficit: $158,000,000
2007 Expenses $1,079,052,000
2007 Revenue: $541,800,000
2007 Ridership: 493,600,000
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of expenses: 14.6%
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of revenue: 29.2%
Per trip unfunded deficit: $0.32
Unfunded 2008 Deficit: $40,000,000
2007 Expenses $553,980,000
2007 Revenue: $285,060,000
2007 Ridership: 82,000,000
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of expenses: 7.2%
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of revenue: 14.0%
Per trip unfunded deficit: $0.49
Unfunded 2008 Deficit: $32,900,000
2007 Expenses: $164,757,000
2007 Revenue: $56,435,000
2007 Ridership: 38,900,000
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of expenses: 20.0%
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of revenue: 58.3%
Per trip unfunded deficit: $0.85
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wyatt went on to say: "'People in the suburbs, in my opinion, need to know that Pace is not the problem. Metra is not the problem. The problem's in the city of Chicago,'" Wyatt, an Aurora Republican, said at Tuesday's Kane County Board meeting."
Wyatt's assessment that "Pace is not the problem" doesn't bear scrutiny. By any measure except raw dollars, Pace is in a much deeper in the financial hole than the CTA:
Unfunded 2008 Deficit: $158,000,000
2007 Expenses $1,079,052,000
2007 Revenue: $541,800,000
2007 Ridership: 493,600,000
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of expenses: 14.6%
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of revenue: 29.2%
Per trip unfunded deficit: $0.32
Unfunded 2008 Deficit: $32,900,000
2007 Expenses: $164,757,000
2007 Revenue: $56,435,000
2007 Ridership: 38,900,000
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of expenses: 20.0%
Unfunded deficit as a percentage of revenue: 58.3%
Per trip unfunded deficit: $0.85
In other words, Pace's unfunded 2008 deficit is much larger than the CTA's unfunded deficit when measured as a percentage of operating expense or revenue or on a per trip basis.
By way of comparison, if the CTA's unfunded deficit percentages were the same as Pace's unfunded deficit percentages then the CTA's unfunded operating deficit would range from $215,474,000 (% of revenue measure) to $417,466,000 (unfunded deficit per ride measure.)
Note that Pace's funded operating deficit is higher on a percentage basis than the CTA's funded operating deficit as well. Pace is only required to generate about 40 percent of its revenue from its operations while the CTA (like Metra) has to generate over 50 percent of its revenue from operations. In other words, big brother CTA and little sibling Metra are subsidizing Pace even in the best of times.
Wyatt's comments came at a Kane County Board meeting attended by Metra and Pace representatives, but apparently not the CTA. There is no indication from the report that the Metra or Pace representatives stood up for their CTA "sibling" in the face of Wyatt's verbal onslaught.
Wyatt's apparently unchallenged statements are yet another reason why the RTA (but not CMAP) should be scaled back to possibly two counties (Cook, DuPage) and no more than four counties (add Lake and Will) that have the interest and political will to support a regional transportation system. Once cut loose from the RTA, Kane, McHenry and perhaps other counties could contract with the RTA for service (e.g., Metra service to Elburn) and/or put together self-made and self-funded transit systems on their own. In a time of financial distress, why shouldn't the RTA be scaled back to its core service area, sparing it the potshots and endless yawping from knuckleheads in Kane and McHenry Counties.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This article indicates that the congressional districts represented by Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Rahm Emanuel are among the ten districts in the nation with the fastest shirking populations in the 2000-05 period. Schakowsky's district lost 51,906 (7.9%) of its population during that period, the third greatest decrease in the nation. Emanuel's district lost 33,260 (5.1%) of its population during that period, the eighth largest decrease in the nation.
The national map (here) based on Almanac of American Politics (site) data showing population changes indicates that the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 7th congressional districts also lost population during the 2000-05 period. All of these districts cover the City of Chicago and nearby suburbs.
These congressional districts have the highest population and employment density in the region. For the most part they embody the kind of transit-oriented development so prized these days as an antidote to everything from obesity to global warming. The current level of transit investment and infrastructure in these districts is higher than in the congressional districts farther out from Chicago.
The shift in population away from these high-density, transit-friendly areas to the urban fringe does not bode well for public transit (or the environment) in this region. The loss of population in the urban core cuts away at the sales tax funding base for the Chicago Transit Authority. Transit is harder and more expensive to provide in sprawling exurbs. It also is harder to make the business case for heavy new capital investment in transit when the ridership base of the CTA, which still carries about 80% of the region's transit customers, is shrinking.
Could the current difficulties in finding increased capital and operating funding for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace be driven in part by an almost unconscious recognition that the demographic trends in this region are pointing us in the direction of becoming a sprawling, auto-centric region like Detroit (but with a more vibrant downtown) instead of a city like London or Paris with a strong public transit system?
Speaking of which, are there any provisions in SB 572, the long-stalled bill to provide more operating funding for the service boards and "reform" the Regional Transportation Authority, that will help counteract the centrifugal forces that are pulling this region into a development pattern largely inhospitable to transit?
Monday, November 12, 2007
As previously reported, Metra has designs on part of the EJ&E line for the western branch of its much-anticipated STAR Line. Metra will find it much harder and certainly more expensive to acquire this right of way if CN proceeds with transforming it into a key link in the nation's rail transportation network. It will be interesting to see if Metra gives aid and comfort to the suburban NIMBY group (meant only to be descriptive in this case). According to the article, the opponents of the CN move are unlikely to be able to block CN's acquisition of the EJ&E line.
The juxtaposition of a group of suburban municipalities with low density/auto-centric development patterns opposing the expansion of a rail line that will free up space for higher density, more transit-friendly development elsewhere in the region is instructive. It does not appear that there is any public body--be it the RTA or the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning--whose job it is to weigh the cost and benefits of the CN takeover from a regional perspective. In terms of CO2 emission reduction, for example, which will do more--build the STAR Line in areas that are mostly sprawling and auto-centric or build walkable, transit friendly development is an area already comparatively well served by transit (at least until the 1/20/08 Doomsday).
Even if the STAR Line wins that contest, is it time for Metra to put the STAR Line to rest anyway? Metra seems to be having a hard time developing believable projected ridership numbers that would support such a major new capital investment. The fact that the proposed State capital plan has a 10:1 highway/transit funding ratio (compared to a 2:1 ratio in the last capital bill) certainly does not indicate strong support for the STAR Line specifically and public transit generally. Metra can't pay its bills now without raiding its capital funds. Adding a new line that will surely operate at a substantial operating loss would only make its financial position worse.
Put these all together--a weak business case, lack of public/political support for the STAR Line in the State capital bill, Metra's operating funding challenges, and arguably other transit investments that will do more to reduce congestion and auto travel than the STAR Line--and maybe it is time for the STAR Line to be mothballed.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
From all accounts, Will County residents are generally in favor of the South Extension. A Sierra Club lawsuit stopped construction in the mid-1990s, but no environmental group filed such a challenge this time. (Timeline here.)
Should we view the South Extension as a welcome addition to the region's transportation system or is it an investment in auto transportation that is a reckless gamble when oil prices are continuing their climb to $100/barrel and beyond? Is the increase in convenience for Will County residents outweighed by the environmental costs associated with ramming an expressway through a rural area and the sprawl-type development that will inevitably result? Why did the Sierra Club (and other such groups) take a pass on challenging the South Extension this time around?
Final question: The South Extension cost about $750 million. Is the region better off with this investment or would the money have been better used on fixing the region's public transportation system?