Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I Have A Cunning Plan

by Tom Bozzo

Urban planning junkies can take a look at the City of Madison's recently released draft comprehensive plan. I've just stared looking through the materials, which are voluminous, but a few interesting maps (warning: 1-2 MB PDFs) include:
Some of the redevelopment areas should amuse locals, for instance the intersection of Glenway St. and Mineral Point Road, which has a 9-hole city golf course on one corner (not to be redeveloped), and a few small offices, shops, an auto repair shop, a gas station, and the Village Bar on or adjacent to the other three corners. It's not upscale — especially the board the auto shop posts to shame check-kiters — but is far from blighted. Of greater concern is a potential zone encompassing a row of apartments on our stretch of Monroe St.

Also, while I'm a transport agnostic compared to the right side of the Madison blogosphere, my impression of the full-up Transport 2020 plan is that it will do comparatively little at great expense, particularly the proposed commuter rail line. It would seem foolish to throw a lot of money at rail, particularly for a city of our size and relatively low density, while the existing Metro bus system is perpetually cash-strapped. Plus, a cleaner bus fleet operating at higher frequencies would seem to advance much of the would-be environmental goals of the more capital-intensive alternatives.

Addendum: Phil Lewis on commuter rail, via Rob Zaleski in TCT. One nitpick: a 1998 rail feasibility study concluded that the full rail system would have an initial capital cost of $220-280 million ($1998), as compared to a $42 million figure quoted in the Zaleski column. The difference reflects significant track improvements to permit workable train frequencies and speeds.
that's so Baldric of you...
That's the argument used in Charlotte as well: effectively, the bus line is perfectly adequate, and no one uses it anyway.

Which is why their average driving-commute time is the same as those going to NYC.

I'm not fond of rail's disadvantages compared to buses (primarily, rail's fixed location v. buses's stop-where-needed for marginal incremental cost)--using rail, I go from Penn Station to Times Square to Grand Central Station every day, twice a day; the bus options are simpler but longer--but its advantages to a local government should be clear. Most especially, the ability to leverage the rail station itself into an attractive area for travelers.

You can't make a bus station an attractive area for development wihtout A LOT of traffic (both senses).
In our case, part of what is stupid about underfunding the bus system is that it actually is heavily used -- it doesn't hurt Metro that the UW campus has roughly 0.2 parking space per member of the campus community.

The commuter rail plan is hamstrung by the need to use existing freight rights-of-way to keep the system's IC (est. at about $100M for the base system in 1998) in the atmosphere. Though insofar as the Overture Center (downtown concert hall and other arts facilities) will have cost twice that, maybe I'm being too price-sensitive.

Central densities are kinder to the would-be trolley. There are some nits to pick with the proposed routing (e.g., no trolley, even in the full future system, to the new Trader Joe's, which happens to be located exactly at the SW terminus of the old trolley line), but it better passes the laugh test.
if they knock down the village bar, that's the last straw. I'm running for city council :).
Bryan, the redevelopment map actually takes some pains to indicate that nothing is firm about any of the prospective zones. But if it came to that, perhaps the bar could take a page from Jeff Stanley's book and put up a sign outside like "19th [or 10th?] Hole Forever."
Poor Dotty's. I haven't been to the new one yet.

Say you owned a business located in one of the 'prospective zones.' I don't know much about the city's plan, but should you bail now?
The new one has table service and a quite stylish bar, and the burgers are as before.

The redevelopment zones probably say, if anything, how much the city will be open to grander re-uses of properties nearing the end of their useful lives. So there probably isn't too much implication for existing business owners, unless there already are developers poking around the area with cash burning holes in their pockets.
I particularly like this quotation from P. J. O'Rourke about mass transit, and I'm sure I'll be chastised appropriately for posting it:

"The Heritage Foundation says, "There isn't a single light rail transit system in America in which fares paid by the passengers cover the cost of their own rides." Heritage cites the Minneapolis "Hiawatha" light rail line, soon to be completed with $107 million from the transportation bill. Heritage estimates that the total expense for each ride on the Hiawatha will be $19. Commuting to work will cost $8,550 a year. If the commuter is earning minimum wage, this leaves about $1,000 a year for food, shelter and clothing. Or, if the city picks up the tab, it could have leased a BMW X-5 SUV for the commuter at about the same price."
The $19 figure comes from this document, not the fine number manglers at Heritage. This item in the Strib notes that the subsidy per ride is expected to be $2.34 this year.

The $19 is an "incremental cost per incremental passenger," methodology described here, and it seems like the denominator is supposed to be incremental ridership for Metro Transit (it would be useful to know for sure), which the same Strib piece suggests is about 40% of LRT ridership. So it doesn't look like the $19 is an IC per trip.

As for the BMW option, a stripper X5 3.0i driven on 120 trips per month, according to the BMW NA payment calculator, costs just over $5 per trip. I'll leave it to you to decide if unheated leatherette seats are humane in the Minneapolis winter. Driven only to work and back, (~42 trips/month), it would be just under $15/trip. Add the costs of insurance, parking, fuel, any highway costs not funded by fuel taxes, military expenditures in the Persian Gulf region, etc., to get the IC.
You're on the ball.

Though $19 was calculated in terms of riders in the year 2020, yet in 1999 money.

The public subsidy is $2.50 per trip? There are almost 500,000 rides per month. Just a mere 1.25 million per month, or a bit over 14 million per year. I can only imagine what these figure will be in Madison.

With the Beemer, you can go from door to door, while blanketing the planet with plant food.
For this cost effectiveness measure, the agency requesting federal funds is supposed to make an estimate based on 20-year-out (annualized) costs and ridership, expressed in forecast-year dollars. Hence 1999 and 2020, given when the Hiawatha Line got its go-ahead.

The Transport 2020 report implied that the Madison commuter rail unit cost would be about twice the Minneapolis LRT's -- the combination of about half the capital and operating cost and about a quarter the ridership.

As for the 'plant food' crack, you want to send some of that ExxonMobil money this way ;-)?
The VRWC is beyond comprehension in both its scope and its resources. All are welcome.
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