It’s a rite of passage for a blogger to encounter his first populist attack-link. The widely-read Portland blogger Jack Bogdanski had this to say about my post wondering if all-day parking in downtown Portland might be too cheap:
Let’s kill off downtown Portland once and for all
Jack up the cost of parking down there even higher. Jarrett, old buddy — a lot of us ain’t gonna ride your goofy streetcar, no matter how much you charge for a parking space.
Longtime Human Transit readers will find that streetcar reference pretty funny, considering this.
Bojack’s an interesting character, in case you’re not familiar with him. He’s a law professor and highly intelligent, and does his homework–he’s not a random idiot with a blog. Unfortunately, he comes across in his blog as bitter, cynical, and acerbic, and his writing is full of cheap shots, which makes him difficult to take seriously sometimes. His politics are a bit tricky to characterize, and resemble another well-known Portlander, author Jim Goad (who wrote The Redneck Manifesto some years back). I’d call him a “law and order, left libertarian” if nothing else.
Bojack is fond of “good government”, limited in scope, and tends to view public-private cooperation as corruption. He has no use for the GOP, its social agenda, its embrace of supply-side economics and other forms of big-business rent-seeking. He also has no use for establishment liberals, which Portland is full of (and who dominate city government); in particular, he’s quite suspicious of “wealthy urban elites” (and the urbanist agenda in general), which he sees as trying to build a mini Manhattan or Paris in downtown, at the expense of the greater public weal. Given that Portland’s poor DON’T live in the inner city (they live in Rockwood, or outer SE, with a small pocket in Aloha), this line of attack has some juice in Portland. Transit isn’t bojack’s only beef, but its a big one; and a big part of his beef is that he thinks the Streetcar (in particular) is little more than a plaything for yuppies and a reward to favored developers for political patronage; and that its mobility benefits are nil. To Bojack, transit oriented development (or anything like it) is corruption, pure and simple.
Most of his readership isn’t anywhere near as smart or sophisticated–and most of them are bigoted tea-party right-wingers; it would be a mistake to judge bojack by the loons who respond to him.
If Bojack doesn’t like an idea it is usually a sign that the idea is a good one. He is living in the 1950s. He is a bitter, petty man who spends all his time criticizing from the safety of his office and little time working to make his community a better one.
@EngineerScotty: it would be a mistake to judge bojack by the loons who respond to him.
I dunno. On the principle that like attracts like, I think a blogger’s followers are a fairly good barometer of the blogger.
In the case of bojack, there’s a difference. He actually shut down his blog for a while a few years back, because of the tone of the comments; though obviously he’s back in business.
Bojack frequently annoys me; and the snide tone of his writing makes it hard for me to participate there. It’s like listening to talk radio. But he is a different political animal than many of his commenters–it’s just
that most of his dire is directed at the local establishment, and in Portland that establishment is liberal rather than conservative.
(And since this is an international blog; I should note that the political labels used are relative to the US political center…)
My first experience with his blog was highly negative and I was banned from posting there.
Once I understood the dynamics of the blog and where Jack was coming I became a big fan of his!
I find that I agree with him on many topics, and I have gotten to really enjoy his writing style and sarcasm.
Reading Jack Bog is much better than reading the local newspaper.
The guy is good, REAL GOOD!
It seems to be a big day for “I can type, too” kinds of arguments, doesn’t it?
There is a warning to all progressive transit advocates in Bogdanski’s retort. Notice that the target of his invective is the “goofy streetcar”.
Transit advocates in the U.S. who jump on the streetcar bandwagon are unwittingly digging their own graves. I include the Obama administration among them.
When streetcars appear nationwide, people will see them for what they really are: an urban vanity item. A pretty little trinket for yuppies fortunate enough to live in the exclusive neighborhood of town. Streetcars will become a national joke and an easy target for conservative opponents of transit. They will use streetcars as a red herring to argue against ALL transit investment. They will even argue that transit is elitist and effete, a waste of the common man’s taxpayer dollars.
If I were an opponent of transit, I would want there to be as many streetcars as possible. They represent an extraordinary opportunity for mockery and derision, and clearly that Bogdanski has figured that out. The rest will follow.
A pretty little trinket for yuppies fortunate enough to live in the exclusive neighborhood of town.
There is a kernel of truth in the statement, imo.
On while we are on the subject, you should read THIS.
Pantheon: what you say seems to largely be true of the Portland streetcar (and its imitators in Seattle and elsewhere). It’s not true of streetcars in general, which can provide higher capacity and higher quality transit compared to buses, with more flexibility in terms of where they can run (median ROW, tunnels, etc), but obviously less flexibility in terms of changing the route after it’s built. Many european cities have a downtown shopping street with only pedestrians and streetcars on it, and this arrangement seems to work fairly well.
If a streetcar system is well designed, it doesn’t need this rule change to acquire federal funding. One that operates in a ROW or tunnels is similar to a BRT system, and thus meets the requirements of shortening commute times and reducing congestion under the old rule. As CroMagnon pointed out, streetcars in mixed traffic may even INCREASE congestion.
If you need to rely on the amorphous concept of “livability”, it means you are deliberately crafting the rule to allow federal funding for Portland-style streetcars that were ineligible under the old rule.
I’m all for European-style streetcar systems. I wish that’s what U.S. cities were planning on building. Sadly, they’re not.
Streetcars work well in small to medium size, compact, moderately dense cities. These are common in Europe, but rare in the US today. Streetcars are also common is much larger cities, but usually as a secondary system to high-grade LRT or HRT (e.g. Toronto, SF, Philly, Boston, numerous Euro).
Believe me, I really don’t want another streetcar worthiness type debate. But I contend that there simply isn’t any quantifiable reason why streetcar should be chosen as a mode in 95+% of cases where the reason isn’t choice-rider attraction and some type of subsidized development scheme. If one is going to invest in rail with its high construction and high fixed oeprating costs, do it to improve mobility. That way the dependent riders get an “improvment”, too. If you built a streetcar in my hometown that ran through a dependent area and the thing was slower than the bus (and some homeowners tax to fund it), there would be a protest and a riot at City Hall.
A suggestion for Jarrett: Do a blog entry about the proposed Portland-LO streetcar line (project page is here). For the uninitiated, this is a proposal to extend the existing Portland Streetcar line (which connects Portland’s Nob Hill neighborhood, the Pearl District, the western edge of downtown, PSU, and the South Waterfront development) down an abandoned rail ROW about six miles (10km) to the suburb of Lake Oswego.
The project is highly controversial in Portland (in large part because the Streetcar would likely replace existing limited-stop busses between LO and downtown; and require commuters beyond Lake Oswego to transfer), and many who don’t object to the current Streetcar or the under-construction Loop (both of which are circulator services being mostly financed by the City and the relevant neighborhoods) are a bit dubious of the LO project.
Myself, for instance.
One of the interesting things about the project is that there is this existing rail line, whose easement apparently prohibits conversion to trails or any other use besides trains. (Right now a tourist train runs up and down the tracks to keep the easement active). The line passes through some of Portland’s wealthier neighborhoods, the residents of which generally want the line abandoned (and a few of which have threatened to tie the whole project up in court should it advance–these folks can afford lawyers to do this). The ROW is fairly old, predating much of the upscale development. The line, which is mostly single-tracked (with a siding or two) and contains a tunnel, has been judged technically unsuitable for LRT. A LRT connection to Lake Oswego is on the long-range drawing board, but it would involve a Willamette River crossing and a connection to the Milwaukie MAX line, which starts construction next year.
In response to Engineer Scotty’s comment:
Most of his readership isn’t anywhere near as smart or sophisticated–and most of them are bigoted tea-party right-wingers
I wonder if he has met any of the readers??? Gone to their convention or house parties??? And calling them “bigoted tea-party right-wingers” sounds like a pretty big brush stroke. As a minority, libertarian, tea party supporter, I take big offense to that statement. Sounds like one of those typical liberal remarks throwing non-liberals all under one big racist, KKK, right-wing tent.
As for parking downtown, it seems that high parking rates in Manhattan sure as heck destroyed Manhattan and forced all them businesses to the boroughs huh. And that London congestion charge, making business in central London more expensive, that moved what a million businesses out of central London??? Keep dreaming.
And as for streetcars, which cost a boatload and suck funds away from buses serving the poor to focus on yuppies downtown, perhaps Portland needs to create a Bus Rider’s Union like they did in LA. On the other hand, sad to say, the powerful, wealthy people in charge could care less about buses for the poor, and if they ride a cool streetcar to work and decide supporting transit with more funding is relevant to their lifestyle, then good for all of us, including poor bus riders.
Maybe “most” is too strong a word, but a lot of ’em do seem to fit the description. And Portland already has a Portland Transit Riders Union (their we presence appears to be temporarily down) which is critical of quite a few aspects of TriMet’s operation. They aren’t overtly anti-rail (though I suspect many of them don’t care for the Streetcar)–but Los Angeles has some nasty racial politics that don’t really apply in Portland. (And MAX certainly isn’t only built out to the rich parts of town, unless you think Rockwood and Felony Flats are full of rich people).
TriMet, for the most part, seems to be meh on the Streetcar. They’ll fund its operation up to the cost of a bus, and will happily drive ’em around for the City of Portland–but the Streetcar is fundamentally a City thing, not a TriMet thing.