Michael Lewyn's blog

Nothing really pays for itself (except maybe toll roads)

Arguments over transportation policy often run as follows:

HIGHWAY SUPPORTER: Highways pay for themselves! Buses/trains don't! So highways good and everything else bad bad bad!

TRANSIT SUPPORTER: But highways create bad externalities like pollution and climate change! So if highways were taxed at their true cost gas would cost a zillion billion cajillion dollars per gallon! (followed by numerous counterarguments and counter-counterarguments that I won't bore you with, except as written below...)

It seems to me that these arguments miss one point: even if the highway system as a whole pays for itself, the system is so chock full of cross-subsidies that each individual road doesn't (except for toll roads).

Transit and seniors

I occasionally have speculated that our aging society would lead to increased transit ridership, as seniors lost the ability to drive. But I recently discovered that seniors are actually less likely to use public transit than the general public. One study by the American Public Transit Association showed that 6.7% of transit riders are over 65 (as opposed to 12.4% of all Americans).(1) The oldest Americans are even more underrepresented on America's buses and trains: only 1.5% of transit riders are over 80, about half their share of the population (2). The only other age group that is underrepresented on public transit is Americans under 18.

Traffic deaths and safety: who's really the safest?

William Lucy of the University of Virginia has written extensively on the question of whether outer suburbs are safer than cities or inner suburbs; he argues, based on traffic fatality data, that outer suburbs are certainly less safe than inner suburbs, and maybe even less safe than cities. (1) 

However, Lucy’s analysis is not particularly fine-grained: it analyzes data county-by-county, rather than town-by-town. What’s wrong with this?  Often, suburban cities within a county are quite diverse: some share the characteristics of inner suburbs (e.g. some public transit) while others look more like exurbs.  So I wondered whether there is any significant 'safety gap" between inner and outer suburbs. 

More logical fallacies in planning policy

A couple of weeks ago, Todd Litman made a blog entry on logical fallacies in planning.*   After looking at the list of possible fallacies at the end of his post, I thought I would show some (hopefully not too common) examples of these fallacies:

Ad hominem (arguing against the person rather than the argument) – “Smart growth is in the U.N's Agenda 21 so we have to fight it to stop the U.N's plan to socialize the world.”  “Concern about urban containment is just another example of Tea Party extremism.”

Anageon (relying on inevitability)- “Sprawl is inevitable, so there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Does density raise prices?

In For A New Liberty, libertarian intellectual Murray Rothbard writes that leftist intellectuals had raised a variety of complaints against capitalism, and that "each of those complaints has been contradictory to one or more of their predecessors.”  In the 1930s, leftists argued that capitalism was prone to ‘eternal stagnation”, while in the 1960s, they argued that capitalist economies had “grown too much” causing “excessive affluence” and exhaustion of the world’s resources.  And so on.

Is Tel Aviv the future?

If you run a google.com search for “The Death of Suburbia” you will find about 24,000 ‘hits.’   Some of the gloating over suburbia’s alleged demise is based on the facts that (some) suburbs have been hit hard by the current economic downturn, and that (some) city neighborhoods have become more expensive per square foot than than suburbs. (1)  But suburbia as a whole continues to gain population.

Density without walkability

I had heard of “dense sprawl” and “density without walkability” in the past, but before spending a week in Jerusalem last month, I had never really lived through these problems.

My parents (who I was staying with) rented a unit in a high-rise condo complex called Holyland Tower.  Although Holyland Tower was the tallest building in the area, there were numerous mid-rise buildings, and lots of two-and three-story apartment and condo buildings.  While walking through the idea, I saw nothing resembling a single-family home.  In sum, this area was a pretty dense neighborhood in a pretty dense city (Jerusalem’s overall density is roughly comparable to that of the city of San Francisco).

What Transit Agencies Should Ask Their Customers About

After reading this story about a transit agency surveying their customers, I thought to myself: do riders really want another survey asking whether they are satisfied or how clean the stations are?  Although clean stations are certainly better than unclean stations, I suspect that these are not transit riders' major priorities.  (And when I say "transit riders" I really of course mean "myself").

Should states have environmental review statutes for rezonings?

After reading an article on the misuse of CEQA in California,* I took a short look at New York law.  In New York, city planners must prepare an environmental assessment when property is rezoned, and must prepare a more detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) if property has a significant effect on the environment.