Confronting Words from U.S. Transit Administrator

As usual, the Transport Politic has a good survey of the confronting speech by US Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.  People who are in this business because they love trains will find it especially disturbing.  Read the whole thing.

Rogoff’s gist is:  We need to slow down on constructing new rail transit, so that we can focus more on our massive deficits in operations and maintenance.

As someone who values abundant access, and who views technologies as tools rather than goals, I obviously have some sympathy with this view, though I prefer to be a little more nuanced than Rogoff is: Continue Reading →

Streetcars and Spontaneity

The comments on Is Speed Obsolete? — my post on Professor Patrick Condon’s thesis that slow streetcars are better than rapid transit — are a gold mine of perspectives and insights.  I could spin a month of posts out of them.

Let’s start with this one, from Adrian, in response to my claim that slow transit competes more with walking and cycling, while fast
transit competes more with cars.
  Continue Reading →

San Francisco: “The Fuse Has Been Lit”

Updated Jan 16

The next round of San Francisco service cuts have been announced, or as commenter Ted King puts it, “the fuse has been lit.”  For local coverage see the SF Chronicle and Streetsblog SF.

Here are some of the most interesting points from the budget summary (via Streetsblog, not the Chronicle):

Although the budget hole to be closed is $16.9m, the service cuts are only $4.8m.  That’s impressive.  They achieve so much non-service savings by a whole pile of cuts to other things, designed to have wide but manageable impacts.  Labor takes a ping: not just 0.7m in “concessions,” but also charges for parking at the workplace.  (Since a huge share of the drivers report to work around 4:30 in the morning, many don’t have good transit options.) Continue Reading →

Portland: A Challenging Chart

Portland is supposed to be one of the US’s great transit success stories.  Is it still?  Do we know what it’s achieving?  Do we know how to measure it?

A couple of months ago, Portland reader Adrian Lawson pointed me to an Oregon Catalyst article ridiculing the Portland Metro goal of tripling non-auto mode share by 2035.  The author, John Charles, Jr., is the CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, a conservative Oregon think tank that opposes Oregon’s land use planning system and generally favors roads over transit, so this is not a surprising view. Continue Reading →

Streetcars: An Inconvenient Truth


It’s a big day for streetcars.  Portland has released its draft Streetcar System Concept Plan, an ambitious vision for extending the city’s popular downtown streetcar all over the city.  There are similar plans underway in Seattle, Minneapolis, and many other cities.

I love riding streetcars, and I don’t want to shock anyone, so let’s start with a warning: This article contains an observation about streetcars that is not entirely effusive.  It may provoke hostile reactions from some streetcar enthusiasts.  It would probably be better for my transit planning career if I didn’t make this observation, but unfortunately it seems to be true, and very important, and not widely acknowledged or understood.  So I’m going to say it.

Continue Reading →