Thursday, August 05, 2010

Streetcar planning (or not), the Texas way

Charlotte as a model of planning? When it comes to its new federal streetcar grant, if you compare the Queen City to Fort Worth, Texas, the QC looks positively Swiss in its efficiency.

Fort Worth was another of the cities to win a $25 million federal grant for a streetcar project, reports Yonah Freemark in his piece in The Transport Politic, "Fort Worth Wins Grant for Streetcar, But Whether It’s Ready Is Another Question." But Fort Worth doesn't even have a route chosen for its streetcar from among six it's studying. The city hasn't yet decided on how its share would be funded. And without a route chosen, the exact costs are difficult to project.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (disclosure, a fellow McClatchy Co. newspaper) editorialized that the city should leave the grant on the table. A local pro-transit blogger, Forthworthology, takes the editorial board to task for what it says are inaccuracies, such as saying the city's cost would be $26.8 million, when no reliable cost estimate can be made until a route is chosen.

In the Transport Politic piece Freemark writes, "Unlike the streetcar lines proposed for Charlotte and Cincinnati, which are basically ready for construction, Fort Worth’s line is under-planned. The fact that the city has yet to settle on a final alignment is problematic since it means that Washington is agreeing to finance a project that has yet to be fully defined. Is that sound policy?"

It's a good question. Many U.S. cities (including Winston-Salem and Columbia) are looking at launching streetcar projects. But until the Obama administration, streetcar projects were all but frozen out of any federal funding. That's one reason the Federal Transit Administration took unspent transit money and created the pool of streetcar. With so many cities that could use the money, why give a grant to one that doesn't seem ready?

An aside - I noticed reading the Star-Telegram editorial that the "Regional Transportation Council" has given money to the streetcar effort. Yet another metro region with a sane planning structure: The regional council of governments (known as a COG to planning technies), which does regionwide planning, is the same organization as the metropolitan planning organization (MPO), which does regional transportation planning. Well, duh.

Of course, in Charlotte we have four to six MPOs in our metro region, and they're all separate from the COGs. So our transportation planning is both fractured and disconnected from land use planning.

Insanity. It's one thing that helped give us a state-designed outerbelt in southern Mecklenburg designed with the state-held delusion that nearby land would remain rural.


Dale Johnson said...

Fort Worth is underplanned. Charlotte and Cincinnati don't really have the money for a streetcar. Citizens in both cities are two to one against the projects. Readers of The Charlotte Post are even more than two to one against the streetcar project.

Yet the streetcar projects get federal funding and local GOVCOs charge ahead. God help us.

Jason said...

This is a perfect example of how stupidly this money is being spent. I really thought it was bad they granted any streetcar money to Charlotte. Can I please have back whatever share of my tax dollars went to all streetcar project? That's a slippery slope though...lots of crap they spend money on I don't approve of.

wiley coyote said...

Mary, Mary quite contrary...

With so many cities that could use the money, why give a grant to one that doesn't seem ready?

Do you really think Charlotte is ready?

$1.5+ million per year to run the thing yet it has been stated we don't know where the money will come from to fund the whopping 1.5 mile stretch.

And Mary? Why haven't you reported how much Charlotte WASTED on the last trolley?

In case those who aren't aware, this from The Citizen Servatius in July 2010:

...It's perhaps the most obscene waste of cash the city of Charlotte has ever seen. Yet it merited just three lines in The Charlotte Observer two weeks ago. The other media outlets in town appear to have bypassed the story completely.

Around here, that's how you know something really important happened -- as in, more than $40 million right down the crapper.

On July 1, the Charlotte Trolley stopped running and everyone pretended not to notice. That could be because the timing was a bit, shall we say, awkward. The trolley went kaput the same week the city announced it received a federal grant to go forward with a new $40 million ... streetcar. (So far, the feds are on the hook for $25 million while we pay at least $12 million. The total cost of the line is supposed to be upward of $500 million when fully built out.)

That means the city paid $40 million for a trolley that ran its full route for just two years.

"I am stunned," Maarten Pennink told the Observer in 2006, "by the willingness to be extravagant."

He was reacting to the sight of the ripped up trolley line scattered along the new light rail tracks four years ago, with nearly brand-new trolley stations on their sides, shoved aside to make way for rail.

Larry said...

If you want to see how these experts go from one to the other feeding off of each other then go to and see how they first estimate, then get the money, then start, then go over the estimate, then get more money, and then go over the operating cost, and have lower ridership than anticipated.

Only a couple of these projects have ever come close in the history of these projects and these were... well you will see.

You can also find the Cato Institute by going to our site

Michael said...

Charlotte's streetcar...hissss..tic...tic




You're sounding like a broken record.

Larry said...

I guess we are tired of getting the runaround and not getting anywhere.

Garth Vader said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The Obama administration, like many other Democrats, still suffers from Bush Derangement Syndrome - the disease that started with the controversial 2000 election, with the Democrats being so certain that the election was stolen from them, that they opposed any and every word and action from Bush to the point that they developed real hatred for him - personal, passionate hatred. Even when he was re-elected without much controversy, the hatred continued to grow. It grew so much that they became deranged. With Obama elected and Bush faded away into history, the derangement continues in the form of "whatever Bush did, we won't do, and whatever Bush didn't do, we will now do" as the basis for decision-making. Exhibit A - mass transit funding. Streetcars, recognized by the Bush administration as offering absolutely no congestion relief, little evidence of high ridership and being cost-prohibitive, were excluded from federal funding. Now, with the Obama administration allowing the Bush Derangement Syndrome to make decisions rather than facts and logic, freely offer streetcar funding, just because it's the opposite of what Bush did.

Now, federal dollars have been alloted for 6 streetcar project, including one that hasn't been planned (Fort Worth) and 2 that are overwhelmingly opposed by the citizens (Cincinnati, Charlotte).

In related news, The Naked City blog commenter "Consultant" issues a statement blaming the thunderstorm he recently got caught in on Republicans.

Dale Johnson said...

On top of the all, Myric wrote a letter of support for the streetcar grant! When asked about it she said it was SOP to do so, even if she didn't support the streetcar.

Again--God, please help us!!

Bob said...

Dale if you really want to use online newspaper polls to make policy then get on board with high speed rail in NC: (more than 3 to 1 for HS rail)

cfhtest1: Give it a rest, the article that Mary cited was in an established conservate rag. Mary was pointing out their perspective on transit (based on the article) The burden of validation falls on them.

consultant said...

-The Naked City blog has attracted the total number of people in metro Charlotte who HATE mass transit: 12 people.

-Why the hate? Wiley and J are a couple, so I guess they follow that old saying, a couple that hates together stays together. Go figure. The rest of the haters, I can't figure out.

-I want to dispel the notion that I blame Republicans for everything. I never said that. I blame Republicans for ALMOST everything. If you want to put a number on that, I blame them for 99.997% of everything BAD that has happened over the last 40 years, including Wiley and J hooking up.

-"REQUEST #6" In the DSM-IV, they would classify this as adjustment disorder unspecified

-Come on folks, let's build the Streetcar. Once it's here, you'll ride on it and like it. Let's move on to the next issue. Which is (the Sarah Palin familiy), will Levi Johnston marry his baby's momma (Bristol), or, will he hook up with Bristol's best friend who he got pregnant. Do they have fun in Alaska or what! All of this is going to cost the taxpayers way more than the Charlotte streetcar.

StanP said...

Sorry to turn this into a semi-political rant but...I dont get it. Obama says Americans are too fat and obesity is a problem but wants to spend money on streetcars so we wont have to walk all of 5 blocks up and down Elizabeth. Can someone smarter than me tell me what is going on??

consultant said...

H StanP,

I'm smarter than you, so I'll give it a shot.

You have to walk "to" the streetcar. Then you have walk "from" the streetcar to your destination.

So you do quite a bit of walking to and from and therefore get quite a bit of exercise. Which by the way, many, many people in metro Charlotte need.

Wouldn't you agree StanP?

StanP said...

Thanks consultant. Now, when I walk out of The Custom Shop and streetcar it up two blocks to the Elizabeth Creamery ice cream shop (which is outstanding), I'll know the calories are a'burnin.

Dale Johnson said...

"... if you really want to use online newspaper polls to make policy..."
They can be informative if viewed carefully. In a liberal city, a liberal newspaper, The Charlotte Observer, posts a poll where 62%, 2,401 folks express their opinion, NO, on the streetcar. The Charlotte Post, "the voice of the black community" posts a poll even a greater percentage more against the streetcar. For these publications and their readers to be 2 to 1 against the streetcar is noteworthy. If these polls where on Meck Deck or Pundit House, you'd think they represent the conservative readership. The Cincinnati poll was a legitimate scientific poll, not an on line poll, that showed the citizens against the current streetcar project by 2 to 1. Ignore public opinion at your risk.

Bob said...

"The Cincinnati poll was a legitimate scientific poll"

The two you cite are not.

"Ignore public opinion at your risk."

I agree completely. Just be aware that assuming these polls reflect public opinion logically suggests that you will support high speed rail in NC (based on the 3 to 1 support for it in the business journal poll). Somehow I don't think that is consistent with your posistion.

Display Name said...

A street car acts as a fixed bus line without the stigma of a 'bus'. Businesses can depend on the line to always be in the same place and developers can depend on it to get residents of their apartment complex to the places they work.

If the city has a dependable way of getting around without a car, more people are willing to live in the city and forgo a car; the people walk more; the people are more physically fit. People go where the investment is. If you invest in high capacity, high speed, highways, people will go where the highways are. It's the same concept but with a focus on usability without end.

Also, most of the maintenance cost is for the vehicles themselves and not the line. So, the shorter the line is, the more expensive it is to maintain. $1.5 million per year is expensive for a mile long line, but maintenance costs will remain stable in relation as the line increases drastically in length and increased ridership helps pay more and more of the costs.

Mary Newsom said...

I couldn't resist weighing in (get it?) on StanP's 5:36 PM query about obesity. Check this study, done in Charlotte, from a U of Penn researcher, who found people who regularly used the Lynx lost body mass index, i.e., got thinner.

Course, that study didn't take into account the potential side effects of the fabulous Elizabeth Creamery, which is an outstanding reason to visit Elizabeth Avenue, regardless of how you get there.

wiley coyote said...

consultant said...
-The Naked City blog has attracted the total number of people in metro Charlotte who HATE mass transit: 12 people.

As usual consultant, you have it wrong. You can look at it another way and say besides Mary, you're the only person here FOR this debacle.

I am not against mass transit. What I AM against is stupidity.

Read my other post above from Creative Loafing where Charlotte spent $40 million on the last, now defunct trolley.

We should put our money in the light rail lines and not this joke of a project Mayor Fixx wants to ride on and play Choo-choo.

Bob said...

Mary, try and at least pretend you are not so liberal wannabe journalist please? Why dont you compare FT Worth’s light rail system to Charlottes? Why dont you compare anything in TX as far as transportation to this backwards state you call home? They have better and more modern roads and are what, 4 to 6 times larger than NC? Compared to anything Charlotte or NC does, TX and Fort Worth are a model of efficiency. Charlotte could only hope to obtain a status of world class when compared to FT Worth, Dallas, Houston, Austin ETC. This town is nothing more than a two bit overpriced and over ego driven wannabe player.

Larry said...


When are you going to go to work for the Observer?

I mean you are such an asset for them and CATS.

Here we are a bunch of backward people who want to stop any progress and you have thee master plan. Even when I was on the Citizen Advisory Committee I never ran into anyone so supportive of spending so much money so fast as you.

Thank you for helping us understand the mind of someone who thinks spending around 20 subsidized tax dollars per plus fare instead of the bus which would be about 3.75 subsidized tax dollars plus fare.

Dale Johnson said...

"Just be aware that assuming these polls reflect public opinion logically suggests that you will support high speed rail in NC (based on the 3 to 1 support for it in the business journal poll). Somehow I don't think that is consistent with your posistion."
Quite disturbing just how often we see the pro-transit crowd misrepresent information on these blogs. The bizjournal didn't ask if you support a high speed rail project for NC--it asked if you would use one. Completely different question. Shame on you to try to equate them. I might use one if it existed between App State and Charlotte, as I have a daughter going there this fall--but I'd never support taxpayers paying for one.

And if you want to use the bizjournal poll to support high speed rail, then you have to use them to stop the streetcar, as their poll on that attracted twice as many votes cast and was also almost 2 to 1 AGAINST the streetcar.

And I have no feel for the demographics of the readership of the bizjournal........

Would you use high-speed rail within the Carolinas?

69% YES to 19% NO

380 Vote Cast

Do you agree with Charlotte's decision to accept a $25 million grant to start building a streetcar line?

59% NO to 34% YES

843 Votes Cast

consultant said...

Larry interviews the Consultant:

Larry: "When are you going to go to work for the Observer?"

Consultant: Mary's doing a fine job. I'm not a journalist.

Larry:"I mean you are such an asset for them and CATS."

Consultant: Thank you. I consider myself an asset for the citizens of metro Charlotte. I speak only the truth. Only the truth Larry.

Larry: "Here we are a bunch of backward people who want to stop any progress.."

Consultant: Larry, don't be so hard on yourself. Remember, you can always look down on people more backward than you-South Carolinians.

Larry: " have thee master plan."

Consultant: Yes I do.

Larry: "..I never ran into anyone so supportive of spending so much money so fast as you."

Consultant: Larry, compared to the Bush Administration, I'm a drunk in a dry county. But, if you want to see how fast I can spend some money, email me the name of your bank and your pin number and I'll show you how fast I am.

Larry: "Thank you for helping us understand the mind of.."

Consultant: The 12 people who HATE mass transit. Well Larry, thank you for listening.

Larry said...

Great to see that Consultant has as much a grip on reality as I do.

Be afraid, very afraid people.