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  • Busting the Downtown Transit Myth

    A lot of cities are spending a lot of money trying to revive their downtowns.  To the extent public officials should want all places in a city to experience economic prosperity, it’s good to root for downtown revivals.  For Smart Growthers and central planners, however, the primary motivation in revitalizing central business districts (CBDs) is to service transit.  Where once we viewed public transportation as a means to an end (mobility for those without private automobiles), we now see transit as the end itself.

    A new report from Florida State University should help squash this myth of the importance of CBDs to transit ridership.  The study looked at all 82 U.S. metropolitan areas with at least half a million people” and found that there was “no relationship between the strength of the CBD and transit ridership.”  What matters more is 1) service frequency, 2) service coverage, 3) car ownership, and 4) unemployment.

    Eric Jaffe, writing in Atlantic Cities, sees a bus half full: “some ridership factors will always fall outside a transit agency’s control, but the ones that fall squarely inside it are powerful too.”

    Yes, it is within the ability to control for transit agencies to reallocate monies to improving service frequency headways and re-orienting routes to dispersed job centers.  But to get there, transit boosters will first need to challenge their assumptions that city cores are the key to success and expensive gaudy rail systems will “lure” commuters out of their cars.

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  • Maryland’s Transportation Plans Go Off the Tracks

    The Washington Post editorializes about getting Maryland moving again.  It seems that northern Virginia has become an attractive destination for Marylanders who can no longer take the high cost of living in the high tax state.  So perhaps improving its transportation system will make things better.  This would be true if the State Assembly spent revenues on transportation projects that work, namely roads and bridges.

    Instead, the Post exhorts Smart Growth Governor Martin O’Malley to “take the lead” on an initiative to increase the tax on gas an additional 15 cents per gallon, and the scheme would divert money increasingly to transit projects: “the Red Line in Baltimore” … “the Purple Line connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s counties” … “the Corridor Cities Transitway.”  Sure, some money will also trickle down to roads and bridges.

    Transportation policy in this Smart Growth State has already been heading in the wrong direction, and Gov. O’Malley’s “leadership” only makes matters worse.  The Post earlier reported on Montgomery County’s plan “to give more of the road to buses,” which simply doubles down on the earlier idea to push “car-free living.”

    The reason why so many people have become anti-tax over the year is only partially explained by the high tax burden many people face.  It’s also due to the distrust with politicians on how they spend tax money.  A scheme like this only deepens that skepticism.

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  • Challenging the Anti-Car Consensus

    When Smart Growthers say “Less is More,” they are usually talking about reducing capacity on major roadways. This fad has developed it’s on catchphrases and buzzwords like Road Diets and Complete Streets. In my town of Gainesville, the political establishment has long championed the effort to reduce lanes on two major arterials cutting through the heart of downtown.

    Last week, the editorial editor commented on this with the typical Either/Or Fallacy. This week, the paper published my response.

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  • Congestion Costs in the UK

    The Daily Mail reports that gridlock on Britain’s roads is costing families £500 a year in wasted time and fuel.  $800 U.S. dollars.  This represents a more comprehensive way to assessing costs than from previous studies, for it includes indirect costs from businesses passing along the costs to end-users.  From the INRIX summary: “These costs are a result of the direct impact of traffic on drivers in terms of wasted time and fuel as well as indirect costs to U.K. households resulting from businesses passing these same costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”

    Sounds like the Brits need to abandon their sprawling car-centric ways and adopt Smart Growth, right?  Well, as ADC friend Phil Hayward says: “The UK under its Town and Country Planning system, after 60 years, has attained several targets that urban planning fads aim for. It has the highest urban densities of any western nations. It has the most compact urban form. It has very high petrol taxes and massive subsidies of commuter rail and subway systems.”

    In other words, it exemplifies Smart Growth.  Consequently, Great Britain also has the West’s “least affordable housing, in spite of the lowest land consumption per person; the west’s greatest social exclusion, particularly from home ownership, the west’s worst traffic congestion delays, the west’s longest trip-to-work times, and the west’s worst local air pollution.”  (By contrast, the U.S. with much lower densities has the most affordable housing and much shorter trip-to-work times.

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  • Faster, Please

    Your Smartphone Will Replace Your Car Keys by 2015, according to Wired magazine.

    “According to the Korean automaker [Hyundai], the driver can swipe their phone across an embedded NFC chip to unlock the car, and once inside, the place the phone in the center console, allowing the car to start, while an inductive charging plate keeps the juice flowing without needing to plug in.”

    Once in the console, your Smartphone will link to a 7-inch touchscreen mounted in the dash and be able to automatically import contacts, navigation destinations, streaming audio and other apps.  The future of mobility looks very bright.

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  • What’s Going On On New York Subways?

    Yesterday brought us news of a second fatal shoving incident in front of an oncoming New York subway in less than a month.  On December 3, another innocent bystander was shoved onto the tracks as a subway came speeding in.

    Of course, there have been many tragedies over the years of people accidentally falling onto tracks and being crushed by rail cars, and this method of demise has also been picked up by people committing suicide.  But this ghastly behavior of shoving seems to be a new development.  Was this a copycat killing?  The report says the woman was mentally ill.  If so, why was she unsupervised?

    More importantly, what action should New York take to prevent further tragedies.  They cannot ban subways (to borrow the logic of the gun control crowd).  Can the move the waiting area, say, eight feet back from the edge of the platform?  I’m not sure, but I’m afraid to say I don’t believe we’re seeing the last of these “murder by transit” episodes.

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  • Vibrant Urbanism – Christmas Edition

    Just the other day, I was telling someone that it is noticeable that you see far more lawn ornaments in the lower density, suburban ring around cities than you do in the central city.  This is due, in part, to the migration of families to the suburbs.  Not many moms and dads want to raise kids in a tiny apartment above a Starbucks.

    It’s also due to urban crime.  The person I spoke to responded that she had once lived near Gainesville’s downtown and remembers having her Christmas decorations stolen.  She has since moved to the rural outskirts of town.  In St. Louis, police are warning homeowners that the presence of Christmas lawn ornaments makes them a target for crime.

    In Chicago, thugs are choosing a different way to get into the holiday spirit.  On Chicago’s rail transit Blue Line, a woman was assaulted by a man who had a stocking filled with … goodies … er, no, … coal … er, no, … how about poop?  Yes, feces.  A man attacked a woman with a sock full of feces.

    “It was like the biggest degradation I’ve ever [experienced]. I wish he had just hit me,” the victim said.

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  • The EV Market is a Tough Sell

    PJ Media says it best: Plug-In Cars Don’t Resell – Because They Don’t Sell

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  • New New Urbanist Trend

    Turning churches into condos.  When you combine the general decline of organized religious participation with the New Urbanist doctrine that implicitly appeals to young urban singles who tend to be more secular in orientation, this is to be expected … for better or worse.

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  • Vibrant Urbanism, Part VXIXX

    Man brutally shot in head in broad daylight in Midtown – New York Post

    Man and woman found bound and gagged on San Francisco street – NBC News

    Suspect Attacked, Robbed 85-Year-Old Woman In Elevator – CBS New York

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