It doesn't matter; my role in a free society is to advise on tech aspects not influence urban form
My role is to help shape the built environment, but I can't really stop people wanting suburbs
Planners should actively discourage sprawl and encourage denser forms
Low-density suburbs are a plague upon the earth; in a perfect world they would be banned entirely
- Beijing-Tianjin-Bohai Rim
- Shanghai-Jiangsu-Yangze Delta
- the Pearl River Delta (probably the biggest continuous city region in the world with 188 million people!)
- eventually, some day, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai corridor
Systems may also function, probably at a loss in other very large urban regions - say 25-50 million size markets encompassing large geographic areas:
- Greater Chicago-Heartland
- Greater Paris
- Southeast Britain
- the Red River Delta
- Chengyu Megalopolis
- Taiwan (at the low end)
- debateably Greater Sao Paulo-Santos (and eventually extending all the way to Rio, perhaps)
- debateably Greater Mexico City-Guadalajara
- debateably Greater Wuhan
- debateably Greater Istanbul
- debateably Greater Delhi
- maybe eventually the other major metros in India (actually as many as 11 regions in India), 4 or 5 in Southeast Asia, Greater Gauteng in South Africa, and one or two others in Latin America once they get wealthier ... they currently don't have any megapolises per say, just vast cities at points, since they lack the infrastructure or the economic activity to join them into coherent megalopolitan regions.
The tier below that one - 10-25 million, might support some limited regional rail, operating at a loss: So-Flo, the mid-Atlantic-Atlanta region, Cascadia, and Dallas-Houston-San Antonio Triangle, maybe the Gulf Coast on a good day, in the US.
My point is that there likely aren't that many places on earth that support things like regional interurban rail, much less high speed rail. And I agree with DetroitPlanner - selling rail to the public as potentially profitable - like CAHSR is now doing in Cali - when it has no chance of being so is deceptive and wrong.
Last edited by Cismontane; 19 Jul 2011 at 1:18 PM.
Personally, I think the idea of pooling collective resources (ie. taxes) to pay for amenities like this that benefit most everyone over an extended (multi-generational) period of time is more than easy to justify. But I must be missing something or we would have far more passenger rail than we do today. I read an article yesterday about how narcissisn is on the rise - I wonder to what degree that factors into discussions like these. More people are concerned primarily or even exclusively with their own personal interests and decreasingly with the common good. Its not just about not sharing your toys - its about not wanting to pay taxes, or raise taxes in times of need, or wanting the taxes you do pay to go toward things that don't personally benefit you (like property taxes paying for education - some childless people feel that is unfair).
It all makes rallying the public for large scale public action to benefit society in general and over time very challenging.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
On my list of candidate city regions, I probably should promote Chicago-Heartland to the first group before I offend somebody. I looked it up: there is a continuous corridor of development from Minneapolis to Chicago to Detroit to Pittsburgh (through the big Ohio cities) with 50 million people in it. If you join that up with Ontario-Erie north of the border, that's 75 million people. I just don't know whether it's economically integrated enough to comprise a single megapolis, like the NEC is.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
Well, the situation is much different now, and the proof just isn't there that rail can have anything like the economic development impact that railroads had in the 19th century. It would also be a much easier decision if it could be shown that middle class Americans would give up driving their cars to take rail mass transit in really significant numbers, but that hasn't been shown to happen either.
Rail advocates spinning fantasies about how rail is going to create huge amounts of economic growth and increased ridership simply flies in the face of what's been observed from previous US rail projects. It makes many people, especially the people who have to decide where to allocate scarce public resources, only skeptical of rail in general.
Rail has its place but it's very limited, especially in the US.
Goods - especially natural resources then, and now completed goods from global supply chains - need to move around long distances more frequently much more than people do. This means that the CSXs and Norfolk Southerns of the world essentially pay for themselves. Many of the 19th century transcontinental rail links either failed - went bankrupt - within 5 years or their paid out their investments in 5 years.. to the immense fortune of the entrepreneurs which build and financed them. To this day, freight in the US largely pays for itself with very handsome return profiles, including capital.
Unfortunately, passenger rail is another question altogether. Goods need to move around a lot more than people do. You fly or train or drive to another city in your region on business or to visit friends and family or just to go on holiday several times a year, on average, per person. Goods need to move every single day and at least once in their typically short life cycle... and they pay more per pound doing it.
But in the broader sense, I think there is a fundamental frame of mind that one has to shift to consider some large infrastruture's value and it can't just be about whether it can pay for itself discreetly. The value of many public works projects lies in the conditions it creates for other areas of economic growth.
Does the Grand Cooley Dam create revenue? The Philadelphia Museum of Art? The Mississippi Delta levee system? We can argue that these public investments create ancillary wealth (ensuring water supply to new developments, that the river will be navigable and adjacent lands safe from flooding, that people will come to your city to spend money and maybe relocate their business headquarters there) but the same could be said of rail. Does the NY Subway system cover its costs? No, the MTA barely takes in half the costs needed to run and maintain the system. But New York City could not exist in its current form without a healthy mass transit system, which supports the density and urban life that attract global businesses and a skilled workforce.
Even highways don't make a profit, afterall. If we stopped using tax dollars to fund their improvement and expansion and made them all toll roads, they still might not (private toll roads make money, but they don't have to cover the costs of original construction or ongoing repair - they pass on some profits to the state that matches that with tax dollars to make repairs and improvements). Is that a reason to stop funding roads?
So, I think the value of this kind of infrastructure needs to be examined in a much more general and less discreet manner than whether it can pay for itself, by itself. Both in terms of the costs over the life of the system and in the conditions for growth and economic activity it creates.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
Americans, according to her, have an aversion to trains. Bear in mind that she is the same person running around these forums repeatedly saying that we are a monolithic group who, at a genetic level, are predetermined to live in a tract house in a suburb with 2.4 children and a gas guzzler.
Who, again, is spinning fantasies?
The biggest waste of taxpayer funds is endlessly widening freeways. For goodness' sake, we've known about the phenomenon of induced demand since the 1950's! And, yet, we are still pouring our treasury into this stuff? And,.... for what?
Retail leakage.... ? Jobs-housing imbalances with a lack of affordable housing and a lack of high-paying jobs.... ? Air pollution.... ? Traffic congestion and lost productivity.... ? Urban disinvestment.... ? Dependence on hostile sources of non-renewable energy... ? Loss of agricultural land and wilderness.... ? Loss of heritage buildings.... ? Socioeconomic segregation.... ? Global climate change.... ? The health effects that come from increasingly sedentary lifestyles... ? An urban form that inhibits economic growth.... ? Or, are we doing all this to keep certain interests happy by ensuring that, no matter the price, Americans will continue to keep paying for oil?
Most of the country's problems originate from decades of decisions to waste public money on infrastructure that we know wreaks all this havoc.
As to your long list of alleged "costs" of not having rail, please try putting some numbers to all that and defend them. I'm happy to consider your arguments, but you haven't actually made any, apart from your blatently incorrect argument that below that there are multiple instances of profitable interurban rail (or any urban passenger rail) in the US.
Last edited by Cismontane; 19 Jul 2011 at 5:14 PM.
btw, back to the original topic of this thread, concerning the future of sprawl. Some interesting numbers today.
Housing starts for June were a healthier 629,000 units, but what was amazing was the product mix. Multi-unit completions were the highest proportion ever documented on record: 29%. And preliminary indications are that of the 451,000 single family product, attached product may be as high as a third. Unit size numbers aren't out yet, but suggestions are that it may have fallen by a double-digit percentage, year-on-year, again. This follows the pattern that's been seen since 2007 but it's the most marked spread yet.
What's more, Multi-unit permits increased by 6.9%, with buildings with more than five units (the densest tracked) went up by 8.2%. Single family detached permits were completely static at 0.2%. This is virtually unprecedented although follows the general trend of the last 3 years.
All-in-all, pretty interesting, and suggesting that sprawl is in serious trouble, since nobody can afford it anymore.
oh, and PI, before you jump on your NU bandwagon, there is ZERO indication that all this denser, smaller product is being built according to NU rules. With price/sq ft still plumetting by 5 or 10% per month, I would highly doubt that more expensive psf NU product is being deployed in lieu of cheaper alternatives. The new mantra is cheap, cheap, cheap. Thank goodness.
Second, numbers are not a requirement for making an "argument," so you may want to investigate the definition of that word, too.
Third, you might want to check the spelling of one of your own adverbs.
Fourth, you should probably read a little more carefully before hubris overcomes you since you blatantly misrepresented my comment:
Now, let's return to the topic. I assume you concede that some negative externalities are associated with freeways. Some are easier to quantify than others. And, I do assert that a fair-minded and dispassionate cost-benefit analysis would lead the U.S. to make the patently-obvious decision to reinvest in the existing rail system, especially when that alternative is compared to sinking more money into highways.There isn't much privately-operated passenger rail in the United States, for obvious reasons. So, if you are looking for an entire system that is revenue-positive, you're never going to find it here because government isn't a profit-maximizing enterprise. I can point to individual services, like the aformentioned Metrolink, that do have profitable lines that subsidize the unprofitable ones, though. So, why would you discount the former's ability to operate revenue-positive?
As to your claim that you never argued what I said you argued, I have to call you on it.
That was the statement to which I was referring, and it is categorically wrong.These transportation systems, at the very least, are revenue-neutral.
Last edited by Cismontane; 19 Jul 2011 at 6:53 PM.
Cismontane: I was thinking in terms of passenger rail not freight. I agree that freight is a viable transport option.
Wahday: I totally agree with the necessity of looking beyond short-term payback for infrastructure improvements. I also didn't get into the non-economic benefits of certain infrastructure improvements because those aren't measurable. What I object to are claims that a particular very expensive infrastructure improvement X will produce Y numbers of jobs and Z amount of economic growth, which are measurable. This happened sometimes in the past but not always. The Erie Canal was wildly successful but numerous other canals were much less so. Nineteenth century railroads generally spread economic development but some failed, and after the initial railroad boom, a lot of people, especially in the West, became dissatisfied with the power of railroads.
PI: If I happen to be on the side of the RW conservative think tanks on HSR, that's just coincidence. Most people who know me personally would ROTFLing at that association as, on most issues, I'm probably much further to the left than most Americans.
Not thinking that that passenger rail is feasible in much of the US because of population densities and distances doesn't define somebody as being on the Right of the political spectrum.
One of the common misconceptions about planning is that planning can be done scientifically and can somehow be based entirely on rational and complete data. This misconception is one of the reasons why engineers, architects and landscape architects usually fail as planners. Sometimes even planners fall into this trap. It’s also why planners have such a hard time “selling” ideas to the public, because the public often wants hard data to back up any decisions.
Planning is all about pushing in the unknown and unknowable future in order to maximize the chances for creating a better future environment. That involves making decision using incomplete information and best judgment that is not always backed by concrete evidence. Obviously planners need to use the hard data when it is available, but just using the available data and disregarding the unquantifiable things is doing a disservice to your constituents.There is a risk involved in every decision planners make and sometimes we get it wrong, but more often than not the decisions planners make help society more than they hinder it, and when planners are wrong they admit their mistakes and move on.
While in theory it might be possible to calculate the full cost and benefit of commuter rail vs. an expanded highway network, the number of unknown variables are huge – what is the impact on health costs, the impact on the natural environment and endangered species (some of which may be unknown to us at this time), the impact on farm land which affects food costs, the impact on tourism and so on? If the decision to build roads or rail is simply based on the hard available data commuter rail would probably not be supported, but planners know that there are numerous soft unquantifiable variables that could all add up to outweigh the hard data. Making those decisions is the art of planning.
Planners now must be responsible fudiciaries for scarce public resources, and that requires a different set of tools. We have to learn how to count because every dollar, every tonne of carbon emissions, every acre feet of water, and every megawatt hour of energy matters. What we expend on one project may mean somebody else's livelihood or somebody else's very survival. The moment the future approaches the state of a zero sum game, the very idea of "pushing into the unknown and unknowable future" becomes something of a self-indulgent and selfish luxury.
I did a study in grad school on urban sprawl in the twin cities, MN area. I analyzed, population density, employment density, proximity to retail centers, proximity to parks, diversity of property values and rents, existence of mixed-use buildings, commute times, and use of alternative transportation.
I found that all factors strongly correspond with population density (commute times begin inverse).
Finding the balance that is right for your community is the key. If you base all you plans simply on known variable you aren’t really a planner – you’re a number cruncher. If you base all your plans on bold and somewhat abstract visions of the future then you aren’t really a planner – you’re a visionary. Planners need to be able to understand all the hard data AND all the soft un-measurable variables and make decisions or recommendations based on both.
The new realities our cities and communities now find themselves under - at least in the US - also limits the scope for experimentation and risk appetite. If you have one chance to get it right, then you need to rely more on cost-benefit assessment and other deductive reasoning-based tools to pick what alternatives to present. IMO it is no longer responsible for us to say, "OK client or stakeholders, here's three alternatives. One is reasonable, one is minimal and one is a hail mary shot, but we recommend you consider the hail mary shot 'cause it's really cool." If no US interurban rail system pays for itself and I present my case saying that the one I recommend is going to be the first just because "the time is right," that's a hail mary shot.
To go back to an older line of through in this thread - The following study was released recently regarding the impact of the Greenbelt plan on sprawl in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA): http://www.greenbelt.ca/news/greenbe...ining-ontarios
It is admittedly sponsored by the pro-greenbelt side, but the data shows that the relatively small amount of developable land (know un-offically as the whitebelt) between the existing urban fringe and the southern (shoreside) edge of the Greenbelt is not being filled in as quickly as developers claimed it would, nor has there been massive amounts of development leapfroging the Greenbelt, as predicted.
Even though the GTA is seeing substantial population growth the majority of that growth has been happening in urban infill situations. The reason is urban infill projects became the "low hanging fruit" that were relatively easy to get approved, while the low-density edge developments became very difficult to get approved. A lot of the developers that used to build suburban subdivisions simply switched to building urban infill projects rather than fighting the "power".