The Great Shift Away From Driving Isn’t Driven By Unemployment

Aug 29th, 2013 | Posted by

One of the most common ripostes to the great shift away from driving is that because the decline in vehicle miles traveled has been taking place at the same time as the Great Recession and a weak recovery, it’s not really evidence of a lasting change in American transportation habits.

But evidence is mounting that in fact the shift isn’t about unemployment but about a genuine and permanent change in how we get around. USPIRG has published a new study, Moving Off the Road, that shows the decline in VMT began before the recession started, is continuing after the recession ended, and isn’t correlated at all to unemployment:

This study finds that declining rates of driving do not correspond with how badly states suffered economically in recent years. On the contrary:

• Among the 23 states in which driving miles per person declined faster than the national average, only six saw unemployment increase faster than the nation as a whole.

• Among the 10 states with the largest declines in driving per person, only two rank among the ten with largest increases in unemployment.

• Among the 23 states where driving declined faster than the national average, only 11 saw faster-than-average declines in the employed share of their working-age population.

• Among the 10 states with the greatest reductions in the employed share of population, only two were also among the ten states with the largest reductions of driving (Georgia and the District of Columbia).

The report also shows that the decline in driving isn’t being fueled by telecommuting and it doesn’t appear to be driven by urbanization either:

The more important population shifts are not between rural and non-rural areas but between suburbs and more densely populated cities.

In other words, these are changes taking place within the existing metropolis, and the locus of the change is in the suburbs. More people are leaving the suburbs for the city, and more of those who remain in the suburbs are finding other ways to get around their communities. Less rural land is being converted to exurbs than prior to 2005, but that rate of conversion has not resumed even with the end of the recession.

Americans young and old are participating in the shift. The Millennial preference for cities is well known. But Baby Boomers are moving to the city too as they retire, preferring to be close to amenities and active surroundings as they no longer are raising families or commuting to jobs in the suburban office parks.

The story appears to be the end of the great suburban boom, one that lasted for nearly 90 years. Starting in the 1920s the mass production of the automobile began fueling urban sprawl and suburbanization. The Depression cut off this nascent trend, but New Deal programs laid the groundwork for the big wave of suburbanization that took place in the years following World War II. Americans were taught this was the pinnacle of human civilization – Richard Nixon stood in a mockup of a suburban home in the famous Kitchen Debate with Nikita Khrushchev in 1959 – and despite the energy challenges of the 1970s many Americans refused to let go of their suburban mindsets even as the economic logic began to fade. The 1980s and 1990s saw a last hurrah of the suburban model, but by the 2000s rising oil prices began to cut the legs out from under it.

The decline in VMT began around 2005, which is the year that the gas price rise began in earnest. Gas prices broke the $3/gallon barrier in California in the spring of 2006 and have never looked back. The housing bubble popped later that year as the rising cost of gas overstretched family budgets and began to set off a wave of foreclosures in the exurbs.

Gas prices remain well above $3/gal in California, hovering close to $4/gal since the 2008 spike receded. Gas prices are unlikely to ever recede below $3/gal again, at least not for anything more than a temporary blip. And that is what will generate continued demand for alternatives to driving, especially in the suburbs.

We often think of the suburbs as a place characterized by sprawl, by separation, even isolation. Those things are real, although my own memories of growing up in Orange County suburbia are full of community and connections rather than atomization. It seems to me that what really characterizes “the suburbs” in America, at least as we knew them from 1920 to 2010, is cheap oil and driving.

That is coming to an end. Not that people will stop driving, far from it. But American suburbs will become characterized by something else. California’s suburbs, especially those in the great Southern California plain, are very well positioned to show what that will look like.

Many Southern California suburbs began their lives as farming towns oriented around railroads. A trip on the Pacific Surfliner, or most Metrolink lines, or even the Bay Area’s Caltrain, will provide a fantastic tour of the visual evidence. It’s obvious in cities such as Santa Ana, Orange, Palo Alto, and Ventura. Even cities whose old towns are not centered on the main lines, like my hometown of Tustin, were connected by freight spurs and streetcars that did serve the main rail hubs. Starting in the 1920s these towns became reoriented around the automobile, a process put on pause by the Depression and World War II, and the 1950s finished the job.

But the basic layout is still there. Many of these suburbs can be connected to the major regional centers with passenger rail, with other forms of transit connecting the rail stations to suburban neighborhoods. Taking suburbs whose streets have been laid out to prioritize vehicles over pedestrians and cyclists isn’t easy, but every time I go back and visit OC I am amazed at how much more infrastructure there is for bikes and peds – and how many more people are using it.

The demand is there. Tea Party politicians on the right are trying to squelch it, partly in service to their oil company paymasters and partly in service to their voting base which refuses to accept that the driving-dependent suburb is now obsolete. But the great shift away from driving is going to continue even in spite of efforts to deny it.

  1. Neil Shea
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 00:18

    Great post Robert. I grew up in Phoenix, a quintessential auto city. But their light rail has been much more successful than most there expected, already connecting the airport, downtown, Tempe & Mesa. They are expanding that and actively investigating suburban rail and rail to Tucson, with many folks also open to an HSR connection to LA. Although blocks are large, there are corridors of concentrated use along Central, East Camelback, and Scottsdale Road as well as downtown Tempe and Phx. If even our most auto dependent cities can find ways forward then we can turn this corner overall. Now we just have to stop building “highways to nowhere” like CA-180

    Engineering Student Reply:

    I second this, I visited Phoenix this summer (despite timing, I think it was during a little dip in daytime temperatures so not all that bad) for a conference and I was pretty amazed at how well Valley Metro works. Pass activation is a breeze and low floor height makes entry/exit a snap.

    Frankly, I’m kinda envious of your guys’ system.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    The other auto-dependent western cities are facing the same challenge of having a layout and land use that is incompatible with economics and population preferences going forward not too many years. Portland, San Diego, Sacramento and Salt Lake – as examples – all have good starts on replacing the trams that virtually all cities used to rely on. So going forward we will likely see density and land values follow the corridors with good transit, and lower density with lower land values in the ‘hinterland’ defined as being further than say the 1/3 mile that people can comfortably walk. Even in households with an auto, this will apply to elderly, children and adults when the car is in use by others.

    rtaylor352 Reply:

    I know Fresno County pretty well from living there in the past and I have no idea why they feel the need to expand CA-180 further east. It makes no sense to me other than allow locals and tourists to get to the National Parks 5 minutes quicker.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Coverage of this from Seattle, with some rather caustic comments, including at least one that says the road system hasn’t been expanded properly. Knowing some cities, I would like to know where the extra road capacity would go without destroying the city and not leaving any reason for anyone to go there except to park their car.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    More on the shift from DC Sreetsblog:

    Earlier story on toll roads, and how they no longer are the cash cows they once were–something a credit rating agency would look at:

    From NPR via the Streetsblog link–and check the comments from young people who may like cars, but don’t want to pay for duplicating all their gizmos in the car, check out the car they say they really want. Detroit, Wolfsburg, and other places ought to listen:

    And from NBC. I don’t think I would want to be in the car business, at least not as a mass-production builder:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Other things on the subject, some from interesting sources:

    Whooee, check out the toxic comments from Michigan! Of course, that includes Detroit, so maybe some people there feel threatened.

    One of the things that stands out about all these stories is how everyone is so “mystified” as to why this is happening. Good grief, read what’s here, read the comments from the NPR story in the collection of links above, heck, read what I’ve had to say. Think about what driving looks like now compared with how it was in the past. Sheesh!

    How do we wind up with leadership that’s so clueless?

  2. Alon Levy
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 01:21

    The argument, at least in the forms I’ve made it and in some of the forms I’ve read it, isn’t that the shift is driven by unemployment, but that it’s driven by lower wages. In this formulation, the reason for the great decline in youth driving especially comes from the fact that Millennials have been hit the hardest by lower wages. This trend predates the recession – real income per household in the US peaked in 2000 and didn’t fully recover by 2007, and GDP per capita growth in the 2000-7 business cycle was far below historic averages. This trend is consistent across developed countries except for newly industrialized ones – German and French Millennials are as hard hit as American ones (Spanish ones are hit by unemployment, but as a trend it only started in the recession, whereas in Germany and France it goes back to 1990 and eurosclerosis).

    The evidence for this story is that the divergence between US motorization and economic growth goes back to the 1990s, when growth in driving fell far behind wage growth, even though it was still positive. The same divergence continued last decade, except that wage growth was much lower, pushing driving growth below 0.

    TomW Reply:

    So basically people are switching from car to transit because it’s cheaper? Now there’s a (great) simple economic argument! (Also, cheaper transport helps economic growth.)

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    The problem is that HSR isn’t cheaper than car. All these young people who can’t afford cars won’t be able to afford HSR tickets either.

    TomA Reply:

    Yeah – because a $200 ticket once in a while is the same as $2-500 a month in payments, upkeep, and insurance.

    Jon Reply:

    That’s it exactly. You need to compare the cost of running a car to the cost of a transit pass for the city or county you live in, not the cost of a HSR ticket. A HSR ticket is an occasional, optional, one-time expense in addition to your baseline expenses. You can also book well in advance and take advantage of the lower fare buckets if you’re on a lower income.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Even with advance booking, a HSR ticket is still very expensive relative to cheaper options like car rental or megabus. It is unlikely that low-income travelers would opt for the expensive travel choice.

    Joe Reply:

    Credit card lien and insurance with rental fees and taxes.
    Oh a valid license is necessary.
    At least it’s fun to drive to and from LA and SF.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Cheaper to drive at what cost gas, $4?
    How about $6 or $7, which you know is coming sooner or later?
    Drop-off charges, insurance costs, taxes?

    And “fun to drive to and from LA and SF”? Up I-5 with traffic, which often takes 8-10 hours, arriving exhausted, wasting most of a day, really?

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Even at $7 per gallon, unless you are driving an SUV. Especially if traveling as a family.

    Joe Reply:

    Because a large family can more readily afford to buy a more expensive to maintain minivan.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You can also book well in advance and take advantage of the lower fare buckets

    Only if the HSR operator goes for airline-style yield management.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    !! I live in the UK; everyone knows that you can a lot of ££ by booking early.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    save a lot of £

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not every railroad pricing system works like National Rail.

    Jon Reply:

    True, but if the HSR operator has to be for-profit as required by prop 1a, won’t they naturally choose yield management as a way to maximize revenue?

    Seeing as you mention National Rail, something like their ticking/pricing system would be best for California when HSR starts blended operations. You have fixed price commuter and regional rail lines in the same system as yield based long distance lines, and you can buy one ticket for a journey that covers several different pricing structures. It would be better if British Rail had never been privatized in the first place of course, but given that it has been National Rail does a good job of tying together all the different rail systems, which is the point where California is starting from.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    True, but if the HSR operator has to be for-profit as required by prop 1a, won’t they naturally choose yield management as a way to maximize revenue?

    Not necessarily. If the HSR operator is run by and or dictated to by Americans, of course they will. But because “that’s how we do things”, not necessarily in order to maximize revenue or maximize overall system return on investment.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    HSR operator has to be for-profit as required by prop 1a

    Doesn’t require a subsidy. Implied is “no subsidy from the state”. That means it can break even. Or the counties could get together and subsidize it. Or the Federal government. Or private corporations, ever hear of a loss leader?

    Joey Reply:

    It’s no federal, state, or local subsidy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The state can’t tell the Federal government where it’s going to spend it’s money. Or private corporations. If Really Stupid Airlines wants to sell tickets from Fresno to SFO for a buck they can.

    Joey Reply:

    Okay, well the CHSRA can’t plan for any service which would rely on federal subsidies. Once it’s actually built all bets are off. Not that I see any reason to believe that a federally subsidized service would be needed.

    Alai Reply:

    $200-500? According to the AAA, the average cost of car ownership is over $9000 a year, or $750 a month. And that’s national– I’d expect California’s number to be higher.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes… but transit needs to be better rather than just cheaper. It’s cheaper than driving in India, too, and yet India is rapidly motorizing.

    joe Reply:

    Kids used to work on their cars. Schools had auto shop class. Cars were part of the culture and they needed to be maintained and tuned.

    Kids go online more too. What do you Alon think you’re life would be like if you were born in 1960. Take away your internet and how would you be interacting and meeting like minded people in 1978? You’d be driving a beater car to SIGs Clubs and hobby/electronics stores to meet people.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re talking about a specific segment of American culture in 1960. The shift isn’t just American, nor is it just among the Grease set.

    joe Reply:

    It’s not really a USA specific question.
    How would you meet and interact with like minded people as a young adult circa 1978? or 88? Even 98? Something to think about if you didn’t have a car. You’d go places where like minded people hung out and those might be far and few between.

    A 2004 GHS grad describe the profound, to her, social differences between way back in 2004, and now due to smart phones.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    By living in a walkable city, and if necessary talking to friends on the phone (how I interacted with friends outside school in the dial-up era). The proportion of people who lived in walkable cities in the US then was about the same as the proportion today.

    There are profound social differences between 2004 and 2013 because of smartphones, but the effect on urbanism is pretty limited. The proposed mechanisms for the change don’t match up with the time frame of when motorization and income started to diverge (roughly early 90s) or with where in the world the trend is taking place (e.g. newly-industrialized countries like Singapore and Israel are rapidly motorizing now, smartphones and all).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    In the US, dropping crime rates have a lot to do with it. In 1985 nobody, including the people living there at the time, wanted to live in Bushwick. Or the Mission. The smaller cities are safer too. So the people who are setting up their first household in the trolley burbs can live very comfortable lives with one car for two adults instead of one car for each adult. And some of those households give up the car when Zipcar or a competitor arrives. There was no Zipcar in 1985…

    TomA Reply:

    I’m not getting the connection.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    Alon Levy Reply:

    The connection is that in New York people used to be more afraid of the subway than they are. Subway crime went sharply down from 1990 to 1994, and subsequently subway ridership went up 50%.

    That said, New York may have been unique in that its subway ridership was suppressed by fears of crime. Boston had a similar crime drop, but did not have the same subway ridership growth.

    Joe Reply:

    My brother and sister in law just moved to South LA, near the Expo center and the new expo line, a few blocks from USC. They are part of a wave of millenial gentrification that is going to happen there. The main reason people don’t want to live in Downtown LA and, especially, South LA is crime and the blight of neglect from suburbanization. The weather is nice, the public transit just improved significantly, there is a short commute, you are near civic centers like the Staples Center, LA Live, Exposition Center, the Coliseum are near by (a few stops on transit). I’m actually jealous of their apartment, even though it is on a very run-down block. You take away crime, investment and an end to blight will follow, and it will be *way* better than living in a suburb.

    Eric Reply:

    “real income per household in the US peaked in 2000 and didn’t fully recover by 2007,”

    If you’re arguing that people bought fewer cars or less gas because that was all they could afford – you should know that car prices have declined in real dollars since 2000, and as late as 2004 (well after the decline in driving started) gas prices were still extremely low by historical standard.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m arguing that people started to drive less because they couldn’t afford it, yes. This is different from an argument about rising prices. It’s not that driving became more expensive, it’s that people became poorer.

    Eric Reply:

    People became somewhat richer in the 1990s and slightly poorer in the 2000s. Not enough of a drop to justify the change in driving patterns.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why not? There was a sharp divergence between income and motorization in the 1990s. Motorization increased a lot less than incomes then.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    So there’s a simpler way to understand Alon’s argument, the thrust of which is accurate:

    From the 1980s on, as Baby Boomers got older their average income would increase until about age 50, after which earnings declined because of death, retirement, or lower productivity due to age. This pattern continued until 2006, when the majority of Boomers became older than 50 and thus saw decreased income, and less money to spend on housing, cars, and gasoline.

    The question naturally arises why wouldn’t Generation X’ers and Millenials replace the Boomer’s income and this is the one that Robert and Alon sometimes don’t say as forcefully as they could.

    Simply put, more liberal immigration laws, higher levels of educational debt, environmental restrictions on domestic energy production, increasing levels of automation and technology, and even the demise of homesteading and the end of the gold standard…yes…all of this… put the segment of America born post 1965 behind the eight ball and continues to keep us there.

    And even if none of these policies had been enacted, the fact that the birth rate has fallen in the US since 1957 means that it would have been very difficult to not have some sort of “soft landing” occur.

    The “bubble” that burst in 2007 wasn’t a housing bubble or a credit bubble… it was the Baby Boom bubble.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The US went off the gold standard in 1933, liberalized immigration laws in 1965, and had little homesteading left in the 1940s (decades before, in the richer parts). Get off the ZOMG WER NO LNGOER AN AMERCIA OF WHITE HUMAN FAMRERS FAIT MNOEY IS CMOMUNISM WAEK UP SHEEPLE conspiracies.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Now that’s a little ridiculous.

    I realize it’s an inconvenient statement for liberals that many of their cherished policies undermined the nearly insurmountable position American workers had after World War II. But seriously, all the policies I mentioned devalued labor in relationship to capital. And thus, for most younger workers, they have to contend with this new economic reality.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    what is with the love of the gold standard….i don’t get it. Gold has no inherent value. It is no more restrictive or liberal than “full faith and credit”

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    It’s an old viewpoint, gold is something “real,” and is considered to be of value as a precious metal. For a long time, this country and others ran on a “gold standard,” but we have been off of that for some time now. One of its big advantages was that you had almost no inflation with it, because the money supply couldn’t expand beyond the amount of gold or gold reserve that was available. On the other hand, you couldn’t expand the money supply when you needed to do that, either. (also Modern Monetary Theory–which claims a government can never run out of money, an argument you read about here on occasion. I understand the idea–the government can make all the money it needs, either by printing press or electronic means–but I do wonder what it has for backing besides faith).

    The national debt is an interesting subject, too, once you get into it and once you get over the idea that the national debt isn’t quite like your personal debt. For one example, a chunk of the national debt is owned by the Social Security Administration, which from the beginning has been restricted to investing in US Treasuries. What this means is that one arm of the government owes money to another. It basically means we must remember to pay ourselves at the end of the day.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    gold is something “real,” and is considered to be of value as a precious metal.

    The goldbugs, the ones who want actual gold in their possession, want it for when the currency collapses and we are reduced to bartering. If it’s so bad that we are reduced to bartering….. go eat your gold. If I’m sitting on a pile of food with my guns and well stored stock of ammunition… eat your gold. I’ll just wait until you starve to death. Then appropriate your gold. It’s easy to melt and makes good bullets. There are other ones who hold gold certificates and expect when the troubles start to happen they’ll just have it shipped to them. Like whoever is sitting on the gold, if it actually exists, is going to ship it to them. And if it’s so bad that we are reduced to bartering UPS or FedEx don’t have much to barter with for fuel. Assuming the people who run UPS or FedEx are still showing up for work.

    One of its big advantages was that you had almost no inflation with it,

    And, in theory, no deflation. Go to an inflation calculator for the US dollar, which was backed with gold until 1933 and see how much inflation was during the Great War and immediately afterwards. And what deflation was after the stock market crash.

    Eric Reply:

    “makes good bullets”

    Apparently not true.
    “This bullet can not be made to fire since it is solid gold all the way through.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    One of its big advantages was that you had almost no inflation with it

    Sure, if by “almost no inflation” you mean “huge inflation every time the economy was growing or the country was at war, and sharp deflation in recession years.” The long-term inflation was zero, but there was no price stability. See GDP deflator trend here.

    Eric Reply:

    So you’re saying it’s a distribution of income thing.
    Boomers are rich, but once they retire they don’t have the desire to drive much.
    Young people are poor, and would drive but can’t afford to.
    That would make more sense.

  3. Max Wyss
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 06:28

    Could it also be that households switched from three to two, or from two to one car, and instead did some more planning to get along with fewer vehicles?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    That could be part of it, along with easy rentals like Zipcar. Effect remains the same, though–fewer vehicles, less driving, less money going to the car industry and the related business, such as car insurance.

  4. trentbridge
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 07:55

    My explanation is ultra simple – smartphones. The decline in driving mirrors the arrival of smartphones. In my teenage years, we spent hours driving around, looking for friends, looking for parties, and basically trying to find where people were and what the crowd wanted to do. “American Grafitti?” Our shopping was all bricks and mortar – going from place to play to find what we wanted.

    Nowadays, people know where they are going – where their friends are, and what they are doing – by smartphone. Plus they get accurate directions so they don’t waste gas getting lost or cruising. Finally they transact banking, bill paying, ticket buying, shopping online and so don’t consume gas to perform these chores.

    In the age of smartphones and the internet – the need to drive to places to do basic things has declined – if we can do it online – that’s what we do.

    TomA Reply:

    Thats certainly part of it, although I would guess that teenage cruising and even adult non-grocery shopping trips are a relatively small part of driving (how often do you go shopping even before the internet – compared to say going to school and or work – two drives a day versus maybe once or twice a month).

    trentbridge Reply:

    I’m saying that the technology makes driving more efficient. The reason I mentioned young people – is because they were the early adopters of smart phones and most likely to change their habits as a result. Over time even people as old as me have adopted smart phones and using onboard navigation devices, paying bills online/banking online, and even shopping online has reduced my driving mileage. I’m not buying the theory that the suburbs are losing out to the urban areas as a reason or the rapid adoption of public transportation.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    I think you’ve hit a significant part of it – cars were essential to connecting with others

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The divergence between motorization and incomes began 15 years before smartphones.

    By the way, I think it’s interesting that in the US people attribute things to smartphones and not to texting or regular cellphones…

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Peak driving 2006, iPhone announced Jan. 9th 2007.
    And yes texting and mobile phones themselves make it more efficient to meet up
    And online shopping since the late 90’s reduces the need to drive to each store.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Good thinking, Neil.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Correlation, causality, coincidences, whatever. But as an American teen I spent a lot of time driving around ‘looking for the party’ and a lot of time fixing up my old beater car. (When babies wudnt sleep parents wud even drive them around to lull them to sleep. )

    Old Man: “In my day cars were lucky to get 9 MPG — and WE LIKED IT!”

  5. morris brown
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 10:08

    As the Governor and Legislature have started in a small way to deal with Pension Reform, here is the response from Labor Unions, backed by the Federal Government.


    The Strong Arm of California Labor Unions
    Bob WIlliams
    By Bob WIlliams
    President, State Budget Solutions
    Friday, August 30th, 2013

    If you thought California’s labor unions couldn’t get any stronger, you would be wrong. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the U.S. Secretary of Labor in your corner.

    In a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, Secretary Tom Perez said that the Department of Labor can withhold up to $1.6 billion in federal mass transportation grants if the state does not come to an agreement with transit labor unions to reverse pension reforms that passed the legislature and were signed by Brown last year. Perez is pulling on strings attached to the federal money because he believes the reforms violate the collective bargaining protections in the federal law providing for mass transit grants.

    The 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act was a federal funding bill meant to support the development of public transportation in the states. At the time, Congress was also convinced, thanks to lobbying from organized labor, that employees working at private firms need job protection as the new projects received federal funding. Collective bargaining was not widely applied to public service thenPresident John Kennedy, by executive order, allowed collective bargaining by federal employees in 1962.

    Times have changed. The vast majority of mass transit is “public” transit, and collective bargaining is commonplace. Public sector collective bargaining is now regulated by the states, not the federal government. As is often the case with labor, the law has not kept up, and the federal government is in no rush to lose this control over states that accept transit funding.

    To make matters worse, Perez and the DOL are stretching the bad law to attack much-needed pension reform.

    Perez wrote in his letter to Brown that the pension reform law “diminishes both the substantive rights of transit employees under current collective bargaining agreements and narrows the future scope of collective bargaining over pensions.” California’s pension reforms did not diminish the rights of transit employees, nor did it even affect pension benefits of current employees. The benefit reforms apply only to future hires that have no vested rights in current collective bargaining.

    The California pension reforms give retirees a chance to collect their pensions when the time comes, rather than permit the pension funds to go completely broke and leave retirees with nothing. Don’t think it can happen? Just ask the public employees in Washington Park, Illinois and Pritchard, Alabama, whose checks stopped coming when the fund dried up.

    Meanwhile, Moody’s is considering downgrading the 15 California transit agencies that would lose funding if Perez pulls the trigger. Moody’s says that because the federal grants are such a large part of the agencies’ operating revenue and capital funding, an average of 13 percent and 40 percent, respectively, even a small delay in funding will put incredible financial strain on the agencies.

    Rather than working with states to improve public transportation, as the original law intended, the federal government is ready to obliterate California’s mass transit system.

    Thanks to years of pension fund mismanagement, California has backed itself into a corner. The state must now make a choice of losing federal grant money, leaving an immediate, huge funding gap, or carving out a transit worker exception to its pension reforms. If California yields to the federal government, and exempts transit workers, the transit workers will likely face more layoffs and other cuts.

    The reforms in California will not solve all of the Golden State’s pension problems there is a long way to go, but reforms are progress and the federal government should not stand in the way of the states attempting to be fiscally responsible.

    joe Reply:

    Whether his opponents like it or not, Menlo Park fire district board candidate Peter Carpenter is already making labor a key election issue.

    Carpenter is daring them to reject endorsements and other kinds of support from organized labor. And if they refuse, Carpenter said he will press them to promise they’ll abstain from voting on any new contract with firefighters if elected, according to an email he sent out Sunday.

    “I am not anti-union,” Carpenter told The Daily News on Monday. “But people who are elected to public office are elected to serve the people; they can’t serve two masters.”

    Carpenter previously served on the fire board from 2001 to 2009 and was later appointed to fill a mid-term vacancy in 2010. …
    Nelson, who has received labor’s endorsement in the past, said candidates who get such backing are not legally prohibited from voting on union matters, including contracts.

    “A good board member should be able to do his or her research and take input from labor, the fire district and residents … and make an intelligent, fair, impartial decision,” Nelson said Monday.


    The district’s firefighters have been working without a contract since July 2008 and union representatives are currently in mediation with fire district officials. Base salaries for the firefighters, most of whom are also trained as paramedics or emergency medical technicians, range from $96,037 to $125,692, according to the district salary information from 2012.

    The argument goes, if a Union endorses a candidate for the fire district, and if elected, official cannot vote on union related matters. The MP Union is so powerful yet they haven’t had the power to negotiate a contract and have been without one since 2008, 5 years.

    One of the most wealthy areas in the US and World for that matter. And they want to squeeze labor.

    morris brown Reply:

    With those kind of salaries (plus overtime often), do they need a contract? I understand there are about 200 applicants for every opening in the Menlo Park district.

    joe Reply:

    Contracts are commitments. You don’t want to make a commitment to people that commit themselves to public safety.

    instead you imply MP can easily replace disgruntled workers with lower cost Scabs.

    With the “high” salaries Most MP workers cannot afford to live in MP.

    There’s no financial issue here – it’s just greed by upper class residents wanting to cut workers salaries.

    BTW, MP just approval the Stanford/El Camino Development, a multi story structure 4-5 tall. That tall development is going to make it very hard to argue that a HSR aerial impacts the city skyline.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Kudos to Carpenter. It is nothing to do with being pro or anti labor and everything to do with ethics. No elected official should take contributions from bodies with which they must negotiate on behalf of the electorate. It;s simply not ethical.

    joe Reply:

    If you’re endorsed then you can’t vote. It’s not ethical. If you’re openly against and endorsed by opponents, you can vote.

    If you give money to oppose, it’s protected speech. If you speak for the union, it’s unethical to act.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    what has this to do with rail?

  6. morris brown
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 14:58

    Judge Kenny’s ruling against the CHSRA now has a briefing schedule and court hearing date (Nov 8, 2013, 9:00AM). (Tos et. al. vs. CHSRA — case # 34-2011-00113919)

    The schedule can be viewed at:

    or at the Court’s website.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    It is not a ruling against CHSRA, It is a ruling on Tos et. al. vs. CHSRA.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that a judge’s ruling that California’s $68 billion high-speed rail plan has not followed the terms approved by voters will not stop construction of the project, which is among his top priorities.

    The ruling raises some questions about the plan, but “it did not stop anything,” the Democratic governor told reporters during a Lake Tahoe summit.

    “There’s a lot of room for interpretation, and I think the outcome will be positive,” Brown said of the ruling late Friday by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny.

    The ruling came just hours after the California High-Speed Rail Authority signed a nearly $1 billion contract authorizing a consortium led by Tutor Perini to design and build the first 30 miles of track from Madera to Fresno, rail authority board Chairman Dan Richard said

    synonymouse Reply:

    Translation: John Friendly, aka Jerry, is going to lean on the Judge.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    San Mateo Daily Journal

    synonymouse Reply:

    Brown has been losing come legal challenges recently, and mostly emanating from the left. Add to that the Judge’s curious doubts about Prop 1A compliance and the collapse of LV Rail there does seem to be at least the appearance of some loss of momentum.

    Like the stock market, the California state budget exhibits a sort of quantum uncertainty. For a layman it is a mystery as to whether revenues go up or down in a sketchy economy. Meanwhile added expenses keep popping up, like the $300 million or so for more prison capacity or the unquantified monies they will have to launder to major Amalgamated raises at BART and AC, maybe others. Plus the unions’ case against assumed savings from pension cutbacks at transit agencies.

    My guess is that money will be tighter than ever and any contemplated surpluses will quickly disappear. There won’t be much legislative appetite for bankrolling CHSRA.

    The real eye-opener will be the true cost of the mountain crossing. Value engineering did not take because the supposed advantages of the route were fictitious and the natives have turned out to be restless not suppliant.

    No real railroad people nor investors will have anything to do with 27 miles of tunnel going off in the wrong direction. Palmdale is strictly a regional LA basin-Metrolink issue.

  7. synonymouse
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 17:41

    Time to migrate the mountain crossing to base tunnel:!D54791FC-7D82-4FAA-B636-C234F0564D77

    When the WSJ is waxing excited about base tunnels you know real private at risk investment can be forthcoming.

    With a base tunnel you can create your own mountain pass where you wish and cut off maybe 40 miles off the route. Major savings in construction, maintenance and operation costs.

    Anybody ever come across a proposed base tunnel route in the various studies over the years? I assume CHSRA perfunctorily rejected base tunnel early on with the usual seismic bs but I wonder if they guesstimated a cost figure?

    Clearly they DogLeg is not responsive to value engineering – the route is just too screwed. Someone with media presence needs to expose its prohibitive costs. The problem with the Quantm golf course alignment is that its refinement and the fine points of its manifest superiority over the Dogleg are lost upon the non-foaming voter, too much for the attention span and level of interest. What is needed is a comparison, a contrast that is both quick and powerful. Ergo base tunnel vs. nowhere-to-nowhere-thru-nowhere.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Richmond to Martinez would be a good place to have a rail tunnel

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Capital Corridor
    SB 1029 provides $47 million to help construct a series of track improvements to permit an increase in service frequency between Oakland and San Jose from the current 7 weekday round trips to 11 weekday round trips. The state investment in SB 1029 brings the total investment to $248 million, with other matching funds.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Change that to a rail tunnel from Richmond to Port Costa and a new bridge to Benicia
    Thanks to Gordon Osmundson

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    Mike Reply:

    @S’mouse, what would a base tunnel route look like? I’m looking at Clem’s elevation profile of Tejon … from mile 50 to 85 is “mostly” tunnels; would one aim to just bore straight through here with a 35 mile long tunnel (tying Gotthard for world’s longest)? Not sure where the San Andreas fault is on the elevation profile; that needs to be crossed on the surface, right?

    Clem Reply:

    The summary profile here shows all the information in one place. It was made after the blog post and slides, but with the same information.

    I don’t think a base tunnel is a feasible idea through all these active fault zones, especially when it is relatively straightforward to cross at Tejon as I described.

    It would be even easier with steeper grades. I took the limit to be 3.5%, but there have been studies sanctioned by French and Japanese experts considering grades as steep as 5%. The amount of tunneling is fairly sensitive to this parameter, so it could be reduced to less than 17 miles.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    CHSR is going thru the Tehachapi Mountains

    Clem Reply:

    Yes, and the Tehachapis are only half a mountain crossing. They are going through the Tehachapi AND the San Gabriel mountains.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Tejon proposal is clearly the best value but is being pointedly ignored by Brown and Richards. I am suggesting something much more unconventional but which would highlight the stupidity of the Tehachapi detour. Granted the base tunnel would have to contend with galleries to accommodate two major faults but, I believe it could be done for about the exorbitant price of the DogLeg. And 21st century not 19th century thinking. Major route mile savings, fabulous travel times and lesser gradients than on any other route.

    Since Bako is the objective I would concentrate on seeking an altogether new alignment east of Tejon, far from the Ranch’s holiest of holies golf course.

    In any event it it is going to take something radical to spur a rethink of the mountain crossing. Value engineering is out so clearly price is no object – it is somebody else’s money.

    VBobier Reply:

    Simply delusional Syno, Tejon is DEAD, nothing will change that, Palmdale already settled that and I think it involved an Injunction, so drop it.

    Clem Reply:

    It’ll be undead once it finally sinks in that money doesn’t grow on trees. Memo to all interested parties: there is no money to cross the mountains.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I wish I could take the more composed, long range view of the issue, but I guess at almost 69 I get a little more impatient and concerned about the future than heretofore. You are supposed to become wiser with age but Jerry Brown is giving all us geezers a rep for foolishness. That grates me and worries about the “inevitable”.

    You are possibly underestimating the power and the resolve of the Calif. Demo Party machine. Theirs is an expensive overall agenda and they will need to raise existing taxes and add new ones to pay for it all. On their side they have thorough control of the means of propaganda(aka the “liberal” media); on the the negative side in re hsr the Feds are likely to favor the NEC as a better investment and hsr dry run. I suggest the Federal funds will be hard to come by.

    I cannot predict exactly how Jerry & Co. are going to deal with the phenomenally high costs of Tehachapi and the raw fact that value engineering could not apply to such a retrograde alignment.. This is their weak spot. The base tunnel could have to be just a ruse, a trojan horse, to push the reset button. A giveaway, a ploy, like PB-CHSRA study of combining hsr with freight operations someway.

    Here’s a crazy thought just for the fun of it. How about an angled base tunnel between the San Andreas and Garlock faults that accomplishes quite a bit of west-east movement as well as south-north? After all if one has ruled against I-5 in the Valley then you have to deflect to the east, except of course for the DogLeg.

    synonymouse Reply:

    What I meant to say was that “finally sinks in” does not work on the insulated, the walled-off, the cloistered.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Interesting compendium of LA basin earthquakes over the years:

    “The cities of Wrightwood, Palmdale, Frazier Park and Taft (among others) would have suffered greatly since all of them lie upon or near the 1857 rupture area.”

    joe Reply:

    We are a rich nation. There’s ample money. The task to refocus our bloated industrial complex on profiteering in the US rather than warmongering abroad.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’ll be undead

    Nothing a stake can’t fix.

    Clem Reply:

    And all the garlic in Gilroy (although that needs to be set aside to stave off the Altamont vampire)

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Joe

    “We are a rich nation.” Tell that to Detroit. We are a nation with some very rich people and some very rich areas.

    Get used to increased military spending no matter what because the other interests are acting weird and unstable. I used to think China had a thumb on No. Korea but the newest whack-job in power there represents exactly the unhinged, aloof, decadent image of the communist party leadership that Beijing is trying to avoid. But they seem to either incapable or unwilling to stage a quiet coup to set up a more modern and reliable government.

    In some respects recent events suggest 1914 or 1939. I can see some parallel between gassing civilians in Syria and Guernica. Outside powers are playing proxy and there is a clear pattern of escalation. If Assad wins and remains in power the bitter losers will react by arming up. Ultimately you will end up with nukes in places like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Too dangerous a prospective and too much worse for the US to not intervene. Get used to more military spending.

  8. Useless
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 18:26

    There is a KTX crash being reported in the City of Daegu, where a TGV-K(Alstorm) in full stop was impacted by a local passenger train, causing 9 out of 20 cars to be derailed. One passenger was injured when he tried to break through the window to escape and fell onto the track, no other serious injuries being reported.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Do you know how fast the local passenger train was going when it hit the KTX?

    Useless Reply:

    The local train hit the overtaking KTX train from the side by leaving the platform too early, so both derailed.
    The derailed KTX train was then hit by another KTX train coming in from the opposite direction in a manner similar to the recent Metro North crash at Connecticut. Luckly, most passengers were not injured in all three trains, a few minor injuries, and the most serious one being the escapee who fell onto the track while trying to climb through the window.

    Useless Reply:

    Some corrections.

    1. The accident happened at the legacy corridor, where some KTX trains detour to cover more legacy corridor stations.

    2. The KTX train was supposed to pass the station non-stop to overtake the local train and the local train was supposed to wait, but the local train driver misled the signal and moved forward, impacting the overtaking KTX train on the side.

    3. Both KTX and local train derailed, and the derailed KTX train was impacted by another KTX train from the opposite direction in a head-on collision.

    4. Amazingly, no serious injuries reported in this triple collision carnage, save for one passenger who fell to track in an escape attempt after the accident and was taken to hospital.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Glad this worked out with as little damage and injury as it did, but after that rear-end collision on the bridge a year or two ago you have to wonder how good Chinese operations are.

    Is there any word on what sort of traffic control system was in use here? Is this a section of railroad with some form of cab signal or automatic train stop, or does this legacy line have visual signals only?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Daegu is on the Gyeongbu Line, which is the primary north/south trunk line linking the two largest cities in S. Korea. The line is equipped with ATP (positive train control) with Eurobalises. AFAIK all S. Korean main lines are equipped with ptc-type signaling, be it cab signaling or lineside signals w/ATS.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    How fast was the KTX train going in the opposite direction going when it hit the derailed train?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Until more reports come in, this video, of a KTX service departing East Daegu Sta. and passing through Daegu Sta., will perhaps give an idea of the speeds of passing trains within the Daegu Sta. limits:

    Useless Reply:

    The KTX in opposite direction was travelling at 110 km/hr, slowed down to 40 km/hr at the moment of impact, and turns out it was the derailed KTX coach car that was hit by the incoming KTX train. The first KTX train’s structure took the impacts very well, basically the Volvo of trains, and the outcome was just two minor injuries out of some 1,100 passengers seating across three trains. The lesson learned is that the KTX-II which has 50~80% increased buff strength over KTX-I will do very well in the mixed-traffic of CAHSR and Northeast Corridor condition, but the question arises concerning the HEMU-430X(Will be named KTX-III), which reduced buff strength to 200 ton and instead relies on impact energe absorbers in order to reach the 13 tons/axle load needed for 370 km/hr service speed.

    Useless Reply:

    SEOUL, August 31, 2013 (AFP) – A collision between a bullet train and a local passenger train on Saturday paralysed a key South Korean rail artery, transport officials said, but there were no serious injuries.

    The high-speed train was rammed on its side by the local train as it was travelling through Daegu railway station, the transport ministry said in a statement.

    Eleven passenger coaches, including 10 from the high speed train, were derailed in the accident, which paralysed the crucial route between Seoul and the southern city of Busan for nearly three hours.

    All passengers — 870 on both trains — were safely evacuated and taken by bus or taxi to nearby East Daegu station.

    Yonhap news agency said a few passengers suffered minor cuts as they attempted to escape through the windows.

    The cause of the collision is being investigated, the ministry said.

  9. StevieB
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 19:40

    Governor signs AB 481 to streamline land management for High Speed Rail Authority

    Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 481 by Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) into law on Aug. 26, streamlining property-management practices for the landmark high-speed rail project, according to Lowenthal’s office…

    For almost all of California’s state agencies, the Department of General Services is responsible for property management…

    Under the bill, the Authority will have the ability to negotiate directly with impacted landowners, exchange or lease property, mitigate impacts and sell excess property no longer required for the project.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Well done Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach)

    joe Reply:

    Her X who is in Congress continues to be concerned Troll.

    The report also addresses issues regarding the railway’s funding, a concern echoed by Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach.

    “The vast majority of the money we have will be spent on building the route in the Central Valley,” Lowenthal said. “But right now, we have no money to connect the center to the extremes, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

    “I really want it to be successful,” Lowenthal said. “But I’m worried.”

    VBobier Reply:

    What can He do there against HSR? Not much outside of vote with the Repubs/baggers… He’s a sideshow and not too important in My opinion.

    joe Reply:

    He’s not on the transportation committee for a reason. I read he was interested. He would have worked to re-purpose HSR funds to his district. Pelosi would not consent.

    Pelosi gave him foreign affairs. Hahn is on the HSR relevant subcommittee. So is Grace. Both SoCal Reps.

    VBobier Reply:

    Sounds good, that Her X is in Foreign Affairs, where He can act all Republican(He may as well be one)…

    synonymouse Reply:

    If he wanted it to be successful he would be asking the same questions as Kopp.

  10. D. P. Lubic
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 20:21

    Off topic again, but of interest for the distribution that shows up–that “red,” pro-Republican (supposedly conservative) states have more highway deaths per capita and per mile than “blue,” pro-Democrat (liberal) states, and the differences don’t seem to be tied to anything, except maybe dumber drivers in some states. . .interesting.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And in Syracuse, N.Y., it looks like an interstate highway may be coming down.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And this may tie in, too–a Millennial Trains Project:

    Seems one of the experiences that fascinated these Millennials was a ride in a dome car!

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I posted this at Railway Preservation News, too, and got an interesting set of responses from another poster from the Pacific Northwest who uses the name “Rainier Rails” (last page of thread):

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Also from Railway Preservation News, a thread on the Niles Canyon Railway, which looks like a most interesting and ambitious heritage road, one I wish I could visit:

    How many of us recall that German diesel-hydraulics ran on the Southern Pacific–and Niles Canyon has the last one:

    Eric Reply:

    Looks to me like it’s a function of density.

  11. Alon Levy
    Aug 30th, 2013 at 22:05

    Off-topic: via the link D. P. gave above, here is a study about air pollution deaths in the US that finds a much higher figure than I’ve seen in previous US studies, and is in line with the per-unit-of-driving rates found in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It claims 58,000 excess US deaths a year from air pollution emitted by cars, which at insurance value of human life is $290 billion a year, or about $2 per gallon of fuel.

  12. Joe
    Aug 31st, 2013 at 12:34

    It’s primarily the price of gas, and the best thing we can do to continue the adoption of mass and electric transit is raise taxes on gasoline and airfare. My question, though, is will urbanization take root strongly enough to survive the upcoming wave of electric automobiles? Mileage will once again be cheap, and in a decade electric cars will be superior to ICE cars in every way. Personally, even if my car was zero emissions I would only want one and will still want to walk and bike to work. However, if the new homebuyer could have a house that was twice as nice for half as much money (which is what sprawl offers), and commute for the equivalent of cheap gasoline, that might be an incentive too powerful to overcome. While smog and carbon emissions, the worst of sprawl, is solved through electric cars, you still have the water and land usage issues that are quite vicious.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    As gas tax revenues fall and congestion increases, who expands and maintains your roads?

    StevieB Reply:

    Parking fees. There is no reason private property should be allowed to sit blocking a public road without paying for the privilege. Metered parking in lots and in commercial zones. Parking permits in residential zones. Free parking is a subsidy to private automobiles we can no longer afford.

    Joe Reply:

    Neil, as Steve indicates there are other ways to generate taxes that encourage transit use and discourage driving (or at the very least, make sure solo drivers pay for the externalities of their actions). Parking fees are one ways, and tolls are another very effective way to generate revenue. LA just launched a “Fast Trak” lane on the 110 that charges you differently based on number of people in the car, the emissions of the car and the time of day. This is a relatively easy and effective way to encourage carpooling and the adoption of Zero Emissions Vehicles, as well as rack up a ton of funding for infrastructure. I would LOVE to have the problem of diversifying a tax revenue stream because gas consumption falls so low that it damages revenues. That would be a dream, and the ultimate goal of a gasoline tax.

    Joe Reply:

    Hey in joe too.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Gas prices are a factor, but again, this trend started before the really severe runup in gas prices, so this may not be the absolute cause that some would suggest it to be.

    In my opinion, the causes are multiple–the increased use of electronic devices to connect instead of actual face time, along with actually ordering be electronics (both of which have made what driving remains “more efficient” as noted elsewhere), more restrictive licensing for young people, the poor employment opportunities for everybody (with young people having the worst of it), the low wages factor Alon brings up, the cost of insurance (a bug for me, before the gas price runup this was actually higher than the gas bill, and in my opinion is still too high), and finally, one thing that ISN’T mentioned–that driving just isn’t fun anymore. Too much traffic, too many incompetent drivers, too many distracted drivers, too many feeble (mostly older) drivers, too many trucks–bah, who likes to drive anymore outside of the hard-core car enthusiasts?

    That will put the crimp on electric cars like it does on the gas jobs.

    I have a brother who is a big muscle-car fan, has restored at least two cars (one a Dodge Dart, ca. 1970, with–if my memory serves me–a 440 “wedge,” the other is a hot Corvette), and while he likes driving these cars on weekends, he hates–HATES–his driving on the job and his commute to work. I’ll add that he has a job similar to mine in that he spends a lot of his time visiting the assisted living centers and hospitals he inspects–in other words, like me as an auditor, he is rarely in his home office, but is on the road to check things out. He is bored with just droning along on routes that happen to include a lot of Interstate mileage.

    I probably enjoy my driving more than he does; besides my territory being smaller (although it still sometimes requires up to 4 hours per day of driving), most of my travel is on secondary two-lane routes to small towns. Those are the roads he and I prefer for a fun factor. Partially by avoiding a minimal Interstate segment used to get to another route, and partially because of the nature of my territory, I was actually able to go for three years or so without getting on an Interstate or other 4-lane road at all for any work-related travel. He doesn’t get to do that, at least not without a huge time penalty.

  13. Joe
    Aug 31st, 2013 at 15:03

    I pay taxes and maintenance on the space on front of my home as part of the assessment of land value. It is a public which means the dude with leaf blower can park there right now and do my neighbors lawn.

    When a bozo builds a drive way they ARE taking public space. I cannot block the driveway and it is thier private access to the street.

    So large fees for driveways. Public spaces in front of my home are not my parking right. I get impacted by that parking.

    StevieB Reply:

    My street was built wider than necessary to allow for curb parking. I do not have a car so I am paying extra so that others can park on the street. Automobile drivers should pay the costs of building and maintenance of streets that allow parking for their vehicles through fees for the privilege of leaving their private property sitting on public thoroughfares.

    VBobier Reply:

    I’d say having street parking is a plus, I mean unless you don’t like having a more valuable piece of property cause of the street parking, just cause you don’t use it, doesn’t mean someone else can’t use it, like a plumber or someone else, so someone will be able to use that parking. Anything else is just short sighted and very limited.

    Joe Reply:

    Public parking is actually residential parking for the people living on the street and their guests.

    Where I have lived, narrow streets are not desirable because you have less distance between traffic and sidewalks. Parking space for parallel parking is a buffer between cars and pedestrians and homes.

    Lobby to have the city turn that space into a bike lane which is another freeloader. pedestrian freeload too on public sidewalks. I have to shell out money to repair the tree damaged sidewalk for public use. Also have to rake leaves from city owned trees.

    So many things to get cranky about when you think about it. Parking is just one for those without cars.

    StevieB Reply:

    Cars park in front of my house day and night. I see a decrease in value due to less curbside appeal and denial of access to fire engines in case of fire.

    joe Reply:


    Narrow streets lower property value. Wide streets are more desirable and it’s part of appraisal formula for a home. Esthetics vary by person but the market values wide streets.

    I had similar issues with parking in SF including living near a church and across from a Park/field which drew cars/traffic/parking but it’s part of where I choose to live. I see no reason to tax me for that space I rarely got use or my complaining about the system in place that I knowingly picked to live.

    FWIW, fire risk is a red herring. It is illegal to park in front of a fire hydrant. Fire trucks are allowed to double park and police block the street.

    StevieB Reply:

    Street parking can lower property values depending on the area. Planned communities often prohibit on-street parking through Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. Developers of these communities have determined the parking restrictions increase property values.

    joe Reply:

    Narrow streets don’t increase property values – not in any appraisal formula I’ve seen. As for pakred cars. High value places like SF and NYC don’t have restricted parking. They have constant parked cars and traffic.

    Yes, planned communities do have restrictions. You PAY and agree to these conditions. You can find places that ban kids too. And they also can charge for upkeep, dictate external appearances and issue fines for non compliance. Your mileage may vary on the value of these places and added fees/taxes. It is typically to establish a community type – like a retirement community or some esthetic on conformity. That adds value for those wanting that and decreases value for other tastes.

    Public cities can restrict parking overnight on public streets. Western Springs IL, a suburb of Chicago where I lived has this restriction. It’s also a dry community which I suppose increases the value too or just establishes a community standard.

    Get your town to jack up property values by establishing your tastes and values as standards. I’m sure you’ll find it’s not so cut and dry.

    StevieB Reply:

    Wide streets with wider sidewalks and parkways with trees may increase property values. Cars parked constantly at the curb in front of a house do not. If the car owners want to park their private property on a public street they should pay a fee to compensate for the extra value they are deriving from the street that others are not.

    Joe Reply:

    Why are cars parked in front if your residence 24×7?

    What’s going on?

    Joe Reply:

    Put it another way.

    My neighbors park in front if thier homes.

    When homes are split or multi resident then the streets fill up but the degraded value is associated with the multifamily residences and associated noise and social changes.

    StevieB Reply:

    Why is private property allowed to be left on public land? Why is the automobile owner not paying for the privilege of parking on property they do not own?

    Joe Reply:

    Why not? It there some federalist paper on parking?

    We set aside parking on streets. We decided to do it. Some cities restrict it

    You want to change it- go ahead and try. It’s allowed Just make your case.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Cheap real estate. Narrow streets, bad!

    Expensive real estate. Wide streets, good!

    The GilroyLogic(tm) is irrefutable.

    joe Reply:

    What is your point?
    China Modesto. Can’t stay on the same Continent.

    You found a new development in Girloy –

    Here’s my run down neighborhood.

    Wider streets, established trees with alleys. These neighborhoods are not being built anymore. I think you helped to make that point. Wider streets enhance property value. You have to go to China and Modesto to make a point — there’s a problem.

    SF noe valley area with wide street.

    SF noe valley area with narrow street.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    .ch is not China.

    Alai Reply:

    joe: Are we supposed to assume that the houses in Noe Valley on the wide street are more expensive than the ones on the narrow street? They’re not. There are areas of San Francisco with uniformly wide streets– the Sunset, for example. They are not known for particularly high prices.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Narrow streets lower property value.

    Is that why nobody wants to live in London or in Tokyo?

    joe Reply:

    Good one. Zing. Nobody wants to live there. yep. That’s logic in action.

    My experience, residences on wider streets are appraised higher than narrow streets. No, not a 4 lane wide street or highway but a residential street. Wide residential street. Like my neighborhood. With room for street trees too. That also enhances the value – in the US.

    So narrowing streets to eliminate on street parking IMHO, doesn’t increase home values. I don’t see how. Do you?

    I’m not an expert on Tokyo or London – possibly wider residential streets are better valued than narrow streets. I don’t know. Maybe narrow, streets are highly prized. “Damn too much room on the street – need something narrower and without any parking at all. “

    swing hanger Reply:

    In Tokyo, an old city (though not as old as London maybe), the desirable neighborhoods have long been established, narrow streets or not. Real estate values are more influenced by distance from the nearest railway station.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The way Tokyo works requires narrow streets. More specifically, housing there is mostly single-family, with very few residential high-rises because of the earthquakes. To have affordable single-family housing, blocks have to be very short. Because the blocks are short, the only way to have high population density is to have very narrow streets, to avoid wasting space on streets that can go to houses. Parking is all off-street, and you’re not allowed to own a car unless you have an off-street space for it; car ownership is low by first-world standards.

    Basically, in a world with a premium for single-family housing, a premium for wide streets, and a premium for higher density (perhaps not per housing unit, but certainly per unit of land area), something has to give; you can’t have all three at once. Most cities resolve this with multi-family housing, suburbs universally resolve this with low density and the resulting sprawl, Tokyo resolves this with very narrow streets. In a dense city, having on-street parking doesn’t increase your property value more than being able to build more housing in the same space, so on-street parking either doesn’t exist or is inadequate to provide every resident with a parking spot.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Market effects, exactly. The land in Tokyo is too expensive to waste on an inefficient (in terms of space) transportation system, at least in terms of wide use.

    I understand that in Japan, at least years ago, that a gas station typically was also much smaller than its American counterpart, and that you usually had to back in or out of it; property was too valuable to allow the driveways and the like to let you drive through.

  14. D. P. Lubic
    Sep 1st, 2013 at 11:11

    Commentary on a design at Tappan Zee in New York–and maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I have to agree with the author, we don’t design good looking bridges any more:

    Paul Druce Reply:

    The problem is that architects, like many other modern artists, have forgotten about form and function and instead it has descended into nothing more than a narcissistic circle-jerk intended to appeal only to other architects.

  15. Keith Saggers
    Sep 1st, 2013 at 15:37
  16. D. P. Lubic
    Sep 1st, 2013 at 18:39

    Higher speed rail in Ohio may be coming sooner than some of us thought:

    synonymouse Reply:

    Columbus does not even have streetcars.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Hrrrmph, Columbus doesn’t even have a decent railroad station. It got torn down in the 1970s, although one might question whether is was a good railroad station in the first place.,_Ohio)

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Rail service in Ohio, like Wisconsin and Florida, has suffered from having a Republican governor who is pro-highway and anti-rail (and some other things, too). He actually appointed a former asphalt lobbyist as the head of the state transportation department. What does that tell you?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    While on Ohio, let’s take a look at the Union Station in Cincinnati, a colorful bit of high Art Deco design, even if it unfortunately got cut back for double-stack train clearance.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    What would my historical perspectives be without recalling steam?

    This operation has unfortunately ended, at least partially due to the cost of insurance, but the owner, in retirement, made enough money in freight railroading to build a new roundhouse to keep his locomotives in.

    The Nickel Plate was a legend for Ohio rail enthusiasts, and NKP 765, based out of Fort Wayne, Ind., helps keep the flame alive, and here is in Ohio on the Cuyahoga Valley.

    Though actually shot in Michigan, we have a glimpse of NKP freight operations in Ohio in the classic era, courtesy of a rail photo charter.

    And people wonder why some of us are strongly smitten with steam. . .those whistles are the voice of old America.

  17. Keith Saggers
    Sep 2nd, 2013 at 14:28

    Useless Reply:

    Totally irrelevant in this discussion, because the US can’t afford to pay $1 billion per km of maglev tracks. And if you thought expanding to four tracks in the Caltrain corridor was bad enough, wait until the peninsula town residents are told that the maglev requires an entirely new corridor through their neighborhood.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Expanding Caltrain to 4 tracks is a good idea

    Joey Reply:

    100% full tracking is not necessary or desirable for HSR. In the long run it will probably be mostly four tracked, but there are pinch points which don’t need to be expanded for the foreseeable future.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Useless

    What if CAHSR reaches maglev costs?

    Your per km figure seems a bit high. 200 miles for $52bil?

    Joey Reply:

    The Chuo Maglev project is projected to cost less than $200m/km, and that’s mostly tunneled.

  18. Brian_FL
    Sep 2nd, 2013 at 19:02

    O/T Seems like xpress west is trying to develop a plan for “buy American” demands made by the FRA. Here is a link to another forum discussion on this:

    I hope they can make their buy american plan work as well as prove the financial numbers for the project work out so they can continue forward.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    Here is the link to the xpress west webpage.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Buy American: the Special Needs way to “prove the financial numbers for the project work out” … while simultaneously increasing costs, lengthening project delivery schedules, completely blowing up budget and delivery risk, and delivering (maybe delivering…) a less reliable, less functional, more expensive, less useful project many years late.

    It’s a win-win-win-win synergy! Sign me up!


    joe Reply:

    It’s USA money so it’s USA terms. Perhaps this condition is not unique the USA.

    I don’t know what stops the German government or Swiss (hallowed by thy rail) from loaning money or building this private system.

    Surely it’s my fault and PBQD = Ax^2 + Bx + C.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s USA money so it’s USA terms. Perhaps this condition is not unique the USA.

    Except that the Swiss government spends money on rail even without requiring the operators to locate rolling stock plants in Switzerland or to buy Stadler equipment.

    And the same is true of Spanish investment, Dutch investment, Belgian investment, German investment, Italian investment, etc. France’s attempts to use ostensibly neutral rules about track usage fees to favor Alstom over Siemens got slapped hard by the EU.

    Eric Reply:

    And California can’t preference Californian companies over Texan ones. Is Europe equally welcoming to Asian manufacturers?

    joe Reply:

    What the man’s missing is this is NOT a rail purchase.

    The USA is ONLY offering a LOAN to a private business with buy USA conditions. It is not a purchase. The US government is NOT spending money on rail. It is loaning money.

    Any bank, county or rail company can invest in this rail project. Maybe they want a hand out for the USA?

    And if these private or foreign interests did invest and lock into their product – our rail experts would be pleased.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And California can’t preference Californian companies over Texan ones.

    It can, in ostensibly neutral ways. The US has weaker internal free trade laws than Europe; “local development money” is completely normal in American cities, and some states specialize in giving companies tax breaks to move in from neighboring states.

    Is Europe equally welcoming to Asian manufacturers?

    I don’t know about equally, but it has imported trains made in Japan.

    jonathan Reply:

    France’s attempts to use ostensibly neutral rules about track usage fees to favor Alstom over Siemens got slapped hard by the EU.

    Citation? Which attempt are you referring to? Freight or passenger? (SNCF Fret’s fines?) AFAIK the French government seems to be quite successful at avoiding competition with SNCF’s TGV services, by shifting most of the profits to RFF, via track usage fees.

    Is Europe equally welcoming to Asian manufacturers?

    I don’t know about equally, but it has imported trains made in Japan.

    The UK Javelin? Oh my, is the UK part of Europe? What a loaded question ;).

    Useless Reply:

    This is pretty strange, because Bombardier was the supposed rolling stock provider of the DesertXpress until last year and Bombardier has a US assembly plant.

    I smell that the DesertXpress is trying to bring in Chinese rolling stocks in exchange for a Chinese investment, and this is where the problem lies.

    Useless Reply:

    Yup, seems like the DesertXpress has switched to CSR as train supplier in its plan. In the artist rendering of the DesertXpress’s train, you can see Chinese text on the train. This is the reason why the DesertXpress’s current plan runs afoul of “Buy America” rule, because this wouldn’t be an issue with the Bombardier which could assemble the train sets in its existing US plants with parts from its existing US suppliers. “Buy America” only becomes the problem when the supposed train set supplier has no existing US assembly operations, like CSR. The proposed train model appears to be the CRH6, which is non-FRA compliant but that would be OK because it would run on its exclusive isolated corridor.

    swing hanger Reply:

    I don’t see Chinese text anywhere on any artist’s conception. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong place. But I do notice there is a Chinese version of the website, which is more significant…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Siemens, Alstom, Kawasaki, Rotem and a few others have plants in the US too.

    Useless Reply:

    Bombardier was the supposed rolling stock provider of the DesertXpress project until last year.

Comments are closed.