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Charlotte Center City Streetcar Network

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And the great irony is that we spent half a century digging a hole for ourselves in infrastructure and built environment matters, thinking we were making ourselves successful. Now we need so much that the price tag is astronomical, leading to concessions being made around every turn.

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On 5/17/2017 at 2:09 PM, kermit said:

^ completely agree. The great tragedy of American urbanism is that we think about our built environment  being cheap or expensive on a 1-5 year time frame. In reality, rail transit investments have an 80 year lifespan and money thoughtlessly tossed into roads can F stuff up for a half century or more.

We will never get the city we want if we don't make sensible investments.

What's the goal here?  A great urban city with a smart and efficient transportation network or public transportation funded by the public and employing in the public sector?   I think the reason why things are looked at in 1-5 years rather than 80 is due to who is paying for it.  1-5 years syncs up with election cycles rather than growth cycles.  

Isn't it reasonable to consider that these two items, great urbanism and public transportation are at odds with each other?  Isn't it reasonable to consider that building an efficient transportation network that promotes urbanism might be in direct conflict of the goal of moving around the less advantaged as cheaply as possible?

Why can't cities like Charlotte or better put CATS be removed from the process and allow a private company or companies to come in and build/run the network.  My understanding is that all of the great streetcar networks started out as private ventures. No?

Really high level here but why can't the Blue line be sold?  Why can't the Blue line be leased to a company for 50 years in exchange for building the Red and Silver line in less than 10 years and operating each with some minimum requirements?  

 

Background: 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/adammillsap/2016/04/20/privatizing-public-transit-lowers-costs-and-saves-cities-money/#1b3d1ce622e6

https://www.thoughtco.com/public-transit-privatization-pros-and-cons-2798647

 

Edited by cjd5050

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On 5/17/2017 at 0:29 PM, dubone said:

Streetcars are a far better idea than crappy bouncy choppy buses.   The only reason we should look to articulated buses is because our society is cheap and throws only its lowest classes and lowest budgets at transit.     So the only way to change that trend is with better budgets and better planning to draw the middle and potentially higher demographic classes.   

The tram-style streetcar planned for 2020 will do better at pulling in riders and is already fulfilling its other mission of helping drive up real estate values in the west side.  

 

I was a proponent of (or at least I understood the reasons for) using the replica trolleys, but their terrible reliability really hurt the line, and made it useless, with trips taking far longer than necessary, and often walking faster than it. 

 

I think the real problem with the streetcar is the mixed traffic nature.   Just because we are using the same street doesn't mean we ought to use the same lanes.   I'm all for bicycles and cars and pedestrians on the same street, but they really ought to have different lanes and streetlight coordination.     We did the starter line on a shoestring budget, but as we progress to additional phases, we should be removing street parking in favor of dedicate lanes for the streetcar to improve reliability incrementally.  

 

Of course, none of this would be on any of our radar if there were proper transit funding, as separate right of way light rail or subway would be the preference.     But if we are so cheap as a society to only have buses, then I'll be ubering or cycling. 

 

As I have seen in various cities - Without independent ROW, signal priorities, and reliable scheduling, there isn't a big enough sell for consumers to favor streetcars over other transit options. Sure the ride is smoother..sure its more ADA compliant.... but what makes public transit worthwhile for the average person is only the following: Can I get where I want to go quicker and with less hassle than driving at a given time?

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6 hours ago, birky said:

It's a thought, I guess. Although I'm not sure why you argue that a city can't have both great urbanism and an efficient public transportation system that offers access to lower-middle class and working-class individuals.  Your argument, and correct me if I'm wrong, seems to be based on the premise that such a system isn't cheap. I'm just basing that on the fact that both of the articles you link focus on cost.  But is cost necessarily a problem?  Look, I think we all agree that government waste is a concern; we all want government to be run as efficiently as possible. But don't we also want government to be run well? And do we acknowledge that doing something well doesn't necessarily mean doing it cheaply?

In part yes, it's not cheap.  But I also don't think it's possible in many cases.  I don't always see great urbanism being lockstep with the needs of the lower or working class.  It would be great if is was but it simply isn't.  Same for transportation.  Designing the most efficient and productive mass transit network does not always mean solving the transportation needs of the most needed.  

With government running things the needs of people will always be placed over urbanism and transportation needs will always be placed over what's efficient.  It's not just cost.  It's a conflict of interest.

6 hours ago, birky said:

Neither of the articles you supplied actually reference a real-world study of a privatized public transportation system. The first is pure speculation, and the second is based on a working paper which argues that most cost savings of a private transit system would come from the elimination of collective bargaining with public sector unions. Neither of these articles actually suggest that such an option would increase urbanism or in any way better serve the lower-middle or working-class. 

I was asking a question and providing some background reading.  Was not presenting these studies as absolutes.  It's all speculation.

6 hours ago, birky said:

With regards to urbanism, Charlotte continues to face a big problem with its extreme socioeconomic segregation. While I'm obviously in favor of investing in public transportation, the big question facing the city this century is how to address gentrification. We've already seen it in south Charlotte. We're seeing it now in Belmont, Villa Heights, etc. We will see it in Biddleville and other neighborhoods along the Gold Line.  Urbanism relies on more than just connectivity provided by public transportation; it also needs mixed-use and diverse neighborhoods, including socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods.  Unless Charlotte starts to require more affordable housing in new developments in the city core, we won't get the type of urban environment we all want to see.

Who is 'we all'?  I think you meant to say some?  I don't have a problem with gentrification.  I know it's a principle but it's the lowest one for me.  I am more concerned with providing a the best possible return on transportation investments and this requires gentrification.

I am also not a fan of implementing tools that require or try to 'help' keeping housing affordable.  After all, the cities with the most rigid restrictions are also the most expensive to live in.

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19 hours ago, cjd5050 said:

What's the goal here?  A great urban city with a smart and efficient transportation network or public transportation funded by the public and employing in the public sector?   I think the reason why things are looked at in 1-5 years rather than 80 is due to who is paying for it.  1-5 years syncs up with election cycles rather than growth cycles.  

Isn't it reasonable to consider that these two items, great urbanism and public transportation are at odds with each other?  Isn't it reasonable to consider that building an efficient transportation network that promotes urbanism might be in direct conflict of the goal of moving around the less advantaged as cheaply as possible?

Why can't cities like Charlotte or better put CATS be removed from the process and allow a private company or companies to come in and build/run the network.  My understanding is that all of the great streetcar networks started out as private ventures. No?

Really high level here but why can't the Blue line be sold?  Why can't the Blue line be leased to a company for 50 years in exchange for building the Red and Silver line in less than 10 years and operating each with some minimum requirements?  

The goal is to build American cities that will still be healthy, productive and vibrant places generations from now (rather than disposable urbanism). I never suggested anything else. 

I agree that mass transportation does not need to be owned and operated by a government.  But there is more to public transportation than just 'moving the less advantaged.' Perhaps most importantly it has a critical role in improving productivity by facilitating high-density employment. However there are some fiscal roadblocks to privatizing mass transportation.

The biggest obstacle is the subsidies that road transportation receives. As long as drivers are paying for less than half of road costs via fees (not to mention additional subsidies for auto-oriented development, parking and oil extraction) private transit operators would be fighting against a state-owned and financed competitor. To answer your 'really high level' question, most private companies are smart enough to avoid competing in rigged markets.

Edited by kermit

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1 hour ago, kermit said:

To answer your 'really high level question' most private companies are smart enough to avoid competing in rigged markets.

Who says it can't be 'rigged' to make it attractive enough for private companies.  Centra type deal for light rail?  

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To the best of my knowledge, many/most of the transit privatization schemes that have actually worked and yielded real benefits are actually closer to real estate development schemes than anything else. Basically, the transit operator gets the infrastructure and a good deal of surrounding land. They operate transit to make the land near the stations more valuable, and develop that land in order to cover costs. Putting high-intensity uses near the transit stations also increases transit use, which makes the land still more valuable, and so on.

It creates a cycle wherein the incentives are appropriately aligned. It also requires a planning regime that is either very top-down or else extremely hands-off so that NIMBYs and local governments can't get in the way and the private operator can basically build what they want in order to maximize their value.

This is basically how things work in Hong Kong and in Japan. But Even there, however, the capital costs for actually building new transit lines are split by the private operator and governments.

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Charlotte's Original Trolley's were built this way... as land development schemes and with little or no regulation or safety oversight.  I think they eventually turned them over to the city to run, and the city tore them out and replaced them with less expensive to maintain buses.  From what I understand, they were built cheaply and likely nearing the end of their lifespan.

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^  In addition, once the trolly companies sold all the real estate there was no longer enough revenue coming in to justify running the lines from a business perspective.

Hong Kong's very modern and efficient, privately-owned, MTR is financed the same way (but they rent 'their' land rather than sell)

In neither case (US trolly operators or Hong Kong's MTR) were the private operators forced to compete against subsidized auto transport.

Edited by kermit
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On ‎5‎/‎22‎/‎2017 at 10:13 AM, archiham04 said:

Charlotte's Original Trolley's were built this way... as land development schemes

And the blue line effectively works this way too.  The first phase was wildly successful, second phase looks like it might be too.  However the Silver line has the ability to truly change mass transit in the city.  This is because we can actually start funneling people to those lines, by running bus routes between the lines.  This allows the suburban stops to become transit hubs for their surrounding communities.  Live in Mint Hill and need to get to South Park around noon?  No Problem take the neighborhood bus to the silver line, the silver line to Idlewild rd, and the bus from there to South Park.  To do that now you'd have to Catch a bus at 7:45am.  Great urbanism is not at odds with Public transportation, in many ways great public transportation is a requirement for great urbanism.

 

On ‎5‎/‎19‎/‎2017 at 7:49 PM, cjd5050 said:

Who says it can't be 'rigged' to make it attractive enough for private companies.  Centra type deal for light rail?  

Oh it can be, we just need to condemn the properties surrounding the stations and include them in the sale, create regulations and regulatory departments to ensure safety, affordability, proper operations, etc...  Set aside funds for defending lawsuits resulting from the sale, find some way of drastically reducing the risk or appearance of corruption, figure out a few other thing's I'm probably missing...  We do all of this and I'm sure we can get a mildly profitable transit system at the cost of increased fares, and increased rents, with one company having vast political clout in the community.  Yeah there are some things that are better left to the Government...   

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6 hours ago, DEnd said:

Oh it can be, we just need to condemn the properties surrounding the stations and include them in the sale, create regulations and regulatory departments to ensure safety, affordability, proper operations, etc...  Set aside funds for defending lawsuits resulting from the sale, find some way of drastically reducing the risk or appearance of corruption, figure out a few other thing's I'm probably missing...  We do all of this and I'm sure we can get a mildly profitable transit system at the cost of increased fares, and increased rents, with one company having vast political clout in the community.  Yeah there are some things that are better left to the Government...   

That's fine.  My entrance into this was from a comment by kermit that rail should be looked at as an 80 year investment rather than a short term.  My counter to that was short term planning was a byproduct of it being left to the Government...which does almost everything now around election cycles.  

I was just asking questions....

That said, I don't agree with your notion that properties surrounding the stations would need to be taken rather than purchased.  When Vanderbilt wanted to build Grand Central he sent a team of agents into what was  'midtown' then with stacks of cash and the freedom to purchase property.  Was done without any of the issues you suggest.  My take is everyone has a price.  The last person cashing out will make more than the first but everyone has a price. Stations are located where land can be acquired rather than where efforts to social engineer decide to focus.  

If rail is an 80 year investment as Kermit suggests and I agree...the economics support this.  Yes, someone in this play needs to be Vanderbilt and I think allowing that is the real problem for some.  

Many things are not better left for Government unless you're trying to avoid envy.....

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2 hours ago, cjd5050 said:

That's fine.  My entrance into this was from a comment by kermit that rail should be looked at as an 80 year investment rather than a short term.  My counter to that was short term planning was a byproduct of it being left to the Government...which does almost everything now around election cycles.  

I was just asking questions....

That said, I don't agree with your notion that properties surrounding the stations would need to be taken rather than purchased.  When Vanderbilt wanted to build Grand Central he sent a team of agents into what was  'midtown' then with stacks of cash and the freedom to purchase property.  Was done without any of the issues you suggest.  My take is everyone has a price.  The last person cashing out will make more than the first but everyone has a price. Stations are located where land can be acquired rather than where efforts to social engineer decide to focus.  

If rail is an 80 year investment as Kermit suggests and I agree...the economics support this.  Yes, someone in this play needs to be Vanderbilt and I think allowing that is the real problem for some.  

Many things are not better left for Government unless you're trying to avoid envy.....

Is anything better left for government ?  *braces for fire department rejoinder*

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2 hours ago, Dale said:

Is anything better left for government ?  *braces for fire department rejoinder*

Given that many of the indirect benefits of transit (increased densities, improved public health, higher property values, increased productivity and reduced municipal servicing costs per unit) are diffuse a government is the only entity which can capture all of them. This means that, with a wholistic accounting perspective, governments will generate a much higher ROI on transit investments than businesses could. .

Similar arguments can be made about education....

Edited by kermit

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Just now, kermit said:

Given that many of the indirect benefits of transit (increased densities, higher property values, increased productivity and and reduced municipal servicing costs per unit) are diffuse benefits a government is the only entity which can capture all of them. Since private companies are unable to capture all of the benefits of any transportation system it may make more fiscal sense for governments to operate them.

Similar arguments can be made about education....

Analogies could also be made. Ex: cramming a sandwich down your throat and expecting you to pay for it.

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19 minutes ago, Dale said:

Analogies could also be made. Ex: cramming a sandwich down your throat and expecting you to pay for it.

huh?

I am having a bit of trouble seeing how force-feeding sandwiches is a public good. Can you elaborate?

Edited by kermit

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The issue is that it's difficult to sell long-game, long-term benefits to many taxpayers. In this case, creating more efficient, appropriate tax base use of dense core areas vs. ex-urb areas, in order to make an insolvent city (today's reality) into a solvent entity (the goal). All many see is something expensive that doesn't directly serve a huge swath of the population.

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4 hours ago, kermit said:

huh?

I am having a bit of trouble seeing how force-feeding sandwiches is a public good. Can you elaborate?

Depends on the sandwich

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5 hours ago, kermit said:

huh?

I am having a bit of trouble seeing how force-feeding sandwiches is a public good. Can you elaborate?

If a sandwich is something I don't need you to make for me, why would you cram it down my throat and then expect me to pay for it ?

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48 minutes ago, Dale said:

If a sandwich is something I don't need you to make for me, why would you cram it down my throat and then expect me to pay for it ?

I can dig it but you can't pick and choose which sammich.  The airlines, Amtrak, etc all receive subsidies and other perks to stay afloat and stabilize cost for the average Joe/Jane. If you don't fly, afraid of flying or can't afford to fly is a big F U sammich.  I guess you get the greyhound sammich?  That's why the government exist to make sure everybody gets a taste whether they like it not because ultimately, one way or the other, the general public benefits in some form or fashion.

 

 

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9 minutes ago, Durhamite said:

I can dig it but you can't pick and choose which sammich.  The airlines, Amtrak, etc all receive subsidies and other perks to stay afloat and stabilize cost for the average Joe/Jane. If you don't fly, afraid of flying or can't afford to fly is a big F U sammich.  I guess you get the greyhound sammich?  That's why the government exist to make sure everybody gets a taste whether they like it not because ultimately, one way or the other, the general public benefits in some form or fashion.

 

 

I see what you're doing here. Aside from conflating private enterprise and government, you said "sammich" several times.

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1 hour ago, Dale said:

If a sandwich is something I don't need you to make for me, why would you cram it down my throat and then expect me to pay for it ?

do you benefit from the people who live around you having an education?

do you benefit from the people who live around you being able to get to work?

How much opportunity do you have to earn if society refuses to contribute to these things?

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1 minute ago, kermit said:

do you benefit from the people who live around you having an education?

do you benefit from the people who live around you being able to get to work?

How much opportunity do you have to earn if society refuses to contribute to these things?

do you need government to get people educated ?

do you need government to get people to work ?

do I need to pay for my neighbor's sammich ?

 

 

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6 minutes ago, Dale said:

do you need government to get people educated ?

You do if you want more than just the wealthy to participate in the market and the labor force.

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