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PruneTracy last won the day on May 30 2015

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  1. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    I'm trying to avoid working on Sunday which is why I'm writing like I get paid by the word. It's important to note that I am not anti-transit. Indeed I often get paid to tell clients that are transit agencies (including Nashville MTA) where and how to direct their resources, and also to tout to their customers and the general public the benefits of a new line or system. Obviously there are benefits, including those that warrant public subsidy of the system. So while the answer to 1) is yes, the real question is whether this particular plan for Nashville is the most economical use of our funds. I don't believe it is. BRT could be substituted for the light rail and provide exactly the same service at a fraction of the cost. As you noted, a greater utilization of cross-town routes (which MTA has resisted since the opening of Music City Central) would obviate much of the worry about transferring between downtown transit hubs (and by extension the tunnel). Those two items alone are three-quarters of the cost of this plan and the only functional difference between it and BRT plus cross-town routes is that a rider would transfer downtown instead of, say, along Briley Parkway somewhere. And again there is not a functional difference between BRT and light rail. Both run in dedicated lanes with built-up stations that include pre-paid fares. The light rail in Nashville's plan is the on-street variety, like trams or streetcars, that will need operators to run the throttle and open the doors until the robots take over. For 2) we have to ask a hard question about what it is we want. Throwing money at transit in hopes of luring residents to urban areas is a half-measure, and a speculative one at that. No one built freeways or automobiles with the explicit goal of moving people out to the suburbs; on the other hand the number of apartments and condos going up in the CBD while projects like the Amp get canned suggests the decision is not wholly dependent on transit. In any case, if we are going to spend billions on transit with this goal in mind then we should be prepared to defend that investment on the development front. That means urban growth boundaries, restrictive zoning and master plans, telling builders to pound sand when they try to do their own thing. Outlined here: That's the hard question. Is this what we want? Are we willing to turn away residents and employers in pursuit of it? Are we confident this resolve will last through generations of residents and various economic cycles? I'm not saying the answer is yes or no but we can't have our cake and eat it too. The roundabout answer to 3) is that we can't insulate ourselves from the real costs of a service. Public transit (and public roads, for that matter) is more like a utility, like water or electricity. It serves the public good, everyone needs it, but it also has very high startup and operating costs that can be tied to discrete uses of the system. The best way to handle it is the best way to handle other utilities: link capital to utilization. The actual cost to users is a separate matter. Maybe the housing agency passes out transit vouchers to residents of public housing or other low-income groups, maybe the planners get developers to offer vouchers or discounts in a certain district, maybe employers get transit passes as an incentive, or buy them on their own. There's a million ways to handle that but the point is to make the transit agency cover its costs through fares, to make the cost of a ride the cost of providing that ride. That's the only way we can be sure that transit agencies are going to act to maximize the utility of their service, instead of according to their current incentives, which in my experience is a combination of a) what the political climate allows and b) how much money they can get from the federal government.
  2. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    I totally question it, and have before on this thread: It really doesn't matter what the mode of transportation is, the name of the game is sustainability. We can't afford to build and maintain heavy infrastructure unless we know we're going to extract the full benefit from it. As someone who makes money off planning, designing, and building infrastructure, that's painful to say, but you can't change math.
  3. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    The question is whether we should be paying for trains at all. That's $3 billion of this plan for 26 corridor-miles of track, or roughly $115 million per corridor-mile (which puts it above the average LRT startup as a per-mile cost). By contrast, the projected cost of the Amp was $25 million per corridor-mile. The "rapid bus" (BRT-lite) system in Let's Move Nashville are projected to cost $9 million per corridor-mile. The first-world/third-world comparison is precisely the problem. There is no functional difference between BRT and LRT. Both run in dedicated ROW with the same number of stops per mile and same average travel speeds. The only difference is that one runs on asphalt on rubber wheels and costs on average a fifth as much as the one with steel wheels on rails. So why pay five times as much for the same service? Because some potential riders, emphasis on potential, can't be seen riding a bus? We had this same issue with the alternatives analysis for the Amp. The PR firm would send along the results of one survey showing that users along the corridor favored light rail over bus rapid transit, but when they asked people how often they would use one or the other, the numbers would be virtually the same. What was the disconnect? They liked the optics of the trams/streetcars running down West End Avenue, but in the end they wanted other people to use it, not them. So again, why should the city spend $3 billion on a high-capacity transit system that provides identical service to a $650 million system? To try to attract additional ridership from people who don't want to slum it up on the bus but aren't guaranteed to actually use light rail anyway once it's built? I would posit that if there are people out there who simply have to have trains in order to maybe think about using transit, then maybe they should pay for trains themselves instead of expecting Metro taxpayers to pick up the tab for their hang-ups about maintaining a first-world image. At the risk of getting too political I'd argue the only difference between us and the Jakartas and Bogotas of the world is our ability to float enough debt to maintain the trappings of our civilization. For now, anyway. New York's MTA spends something like $1.5 billion per year on its subway tunnels and rail lines, and they allegedly have a maintenance backlog ten times that. Transport for London's overall operating cost for the Underground is £2.2 billion, not sure how much of that goes to maintenance on fixed assets. Point is, you aren't done spending money once the ribbon gets cut. The day the tunnel in downtown Nashville opens, it represents an increase in MTA's maintenance budget that must be spent each year just to keep it open. Same goes for rails embedded in streets. It's prudent to ask how confident we are that we can maintain those levels of spending indefinitely and how much benefit we are going to derive from it. It inconveniences the people paying the money to build, maintain, and operate the tunnel. Commuting through downtown by car doesn't make sense either, like transit, it's a testament to the need for bypassing options around the CBD. Again, the question is whether there is another option that passes the cost/benefit test.
  4. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    That's the point, though. How many people are making transfers between hub-and-spoke routes versus leaving the system at downtown destinations? Does this number warrant the construction of a billion-dollar tunnel between Music City Central and a proposed second hub in SoBro? Are there better ways to serve this subset of riders, in particular a way to prevent riders traveling from one non-CBD location to another non-CBD location from traveling into the CBD? Two issues that have been often discussed here and elsewhere are: 1) the inadequacy of the hub-and-spoke model in MTA's system; and 2) the poor siting of Music City Central relative to downtown destinations. A SoBro hub (particularly one that effectively acts as a sub-station to Music City Central) does little to fix the first issue, and a tunnel with three stops does little to fix the second.
  5. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    The proposed tunnel route would make a lot more sense if it ran on the surface and stopped every block, rather than only three times underground. I assume the planners intended to focus on the transfer between Music City Central and the proposed SoBro transit hub, but the line is going to function as a collection/distribution route just as much as a pure transfer, if not more so. There's also something to be said for the surface line in this context. Obviously the proposed tunnel isn't going to be a deep bore hundreds of feet down, as some newer subway lines have been, but even a cut-and-cover tunnel still requires some rider transit time between boarding/alighting and the pedestrian network (i.e., sidewalks on the surface). Same can be said for elevated systems. You're having to pass through turnstiles, use stairs, escalators, or elevators, etc., none of which are getting you any closer to your destination. By contrast, with a line running on the surface you can step off the transit vehicle and potentially be right at the front door of where you're going. Using Fifth Avenue as a pedestrian/transit mall looks better and better compared to the proposed tunnel. It would be substantially cheaper, more flexible, and more convenient for riders. The street itself has relatively low vehicular traffic and is within optimal walking distance for the CBD. It has plenty of alternate routes and, looking at Google Street View, there are only a few garage entrances that might be cut off if it were closed. Obviously I don't have as much access to all the information as the people who put together this plan but it's surprising that the tunnel would be considered a more viable option than this.
  6. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    TDOT provides quite a bit of assistance to public transit, it just tends to be the unsexy stuff like paratransit and rural access. You may also recall that they gave MTA a lot of leeway in proposing changes to West End Avenue (a state route and a US Numbered Highway to boot) for the Amp. The problem TDOT has with funding transit programs is the same they have with funding road construction. It's very difficult politically for the state agency to allocate a large share of their resources towards Tennessee's urban areas, regardless of where the citizens are or where the revenue comes from. They have to make the state reps happy.
  7. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    Frankly, it seems a misapplication of $5.2 billion. For that amount, Nashville could have several true BRT lines with dedicated ROW that would attract more riders from more areas. As it stands, the proposal leaves several areas of Metro hanging for the sake of constructing vanity services—namely, light rail—that provide service for a minority of residents. Look at how many Metro taxpayers are spending $5.2 billion for "improved local routes" in their neighborhoods. And there is no way the downtown tunnel passes a cost/benefit analysis. I understand the need but that's a lot of money to drop for what amounts to a two-mile transfer line. Let's be real, it's a subway, and as much positive growth as we've seen in Nashville, it has a long way to go before it is a subway town. Lots of new density downtown but not nearly enough to warrant a transit mode that can cost up to $2 billion per mile just to build. I've said this a million times on here, but Nashville and its peer cities would do themselves a great favor if they would stop trying to cater to vanity riders, who like the idea of using mass transit more than the reality, and focus on moving people around. It doesn't make sense to blow your political capital, then to blow your real capital, on transit lines that serve only a few people who just can't be seen riding a bus, only for them to decide after the money gets spent they don't want to ride a shiny new train, tram, or streetcar either. If Metro as a whole is going to pay for this, improve service for Metro as a whole.
  8. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    The cost of that proposed tunnel could pay for dedicated lanes on all of the routes. Not to mention the cost of light rail versus BRT.
  9. I've never been inside but I would bet the design of the garage has a lot to do with it. Looks like it's all ramp under the building footprint.
  10. Margaritaville Hotel,12 stories, 145 ft., 215 rooms

    Hmmm, now does that brand slot between the Grand and the flagship Regency?
  11. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    Roadways are a lot closer to being self-sustaining than transit programs. In Tennessee for the upcoming fiscal year, $871 million of TDOT's state funding of $1.037 billion comes directly from the state gas tax. TDOT also gets $995 million from the feds, primarily from the Highway Trust Fund which comes from the federal gas tax. This is compared to, for example, Nashville MTA, which has a farebox recovery ratio of 25%. Bottom line, if you told the average highway agency tomorrow they could only fund themselves with user fees, they would get by fairly well. If you did the same for the average transit agency they wouldn't be able to cover their operating costs, much less maintenance or capital improvements. The underlying issue with these types of funding proposals for mass transit is that it takes away a prime incentive for agencies to spend wisely. If you force transit agencies to fund themselves through user fees then they are going to focus their efforts on making sustainable improvements in service that will generate the greatest returns on investment through increased ridership. On the other hand, if you fund them through sources that are independent of their performance, be it income taxes, sales taxes, or whatever, then they are just as likely, if not more so, to blow it on vanity services that may or may not attract any new customers. This is the type of behavior we're seeing around the country where cities are spending several billion a pop on light rail lines that attract only a few thousand riders per day, if that.
  12. The Transportation and Mass Transit Megathread

    This still runs into the same problem, though. If the goal is to encourage the use of mass transit, then relying on a funding source that decreases when more people use mass transit is counterproductive. Call me crazy but it's starting to sound like the best way to fund mass transit is to charge users of mass transit the actual costs of providing the service.
  13. The Gulch Projects

    C'mon, dudes. This is a four-lane roadway that is projected to get 14,000 to 16,000 vehicles per day. I get that the bridge provides the opportunity for pedestrians to take in some nice views but user safety takes precedence over that. Engineers get charged with protecting the welfare of the public and not getting splattered is higher on the welfare totem pole than being able to see the skyline. In any case I will grant you guys that it's just as likely this was an oversight as it was an intentional design choice, sort of the Hanlon's razor of the built environment.