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Fixing the Subways

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1-subway-secrets_650

The big subway systems of New York, Washington, and Boston are just getting worse and worse. Cities and states are struggling to keep up the maintenance. Commuters are getting frustrated. But the problem simply won’t be fixed without major federal investments in them. If federal transportation funding remains flat, as it surely will at best under congressional Republicans, it’s going to be a losing game for all three cities. This of course relates to the larger infrastructure disaster in the United States poisoning people in Flint and allowing bridges to collapse. But, far more important to make sure the rich pay low taxes!

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  • LeeEsq

    America’s car bug and low tax cult is fatal here. One of the most bone-headed public policy decisions in modern America was to have a transportation and infrastructure policy that favors cars and planes over everything else.

    • OK, but this is simplistic. There have been times, and in the not so distant past, when there was real investment in those subways systems. The DC system isn’t even that old. You can have major investment in those subway systems and still have a car-centric transportation system in other areas.

      • gorillagogo

        Yes but there’s real resentment by rural or suburban area voters about funding public transit that they personally never use. Nevermind that their commute is made easier because fewer cars are on the road or that inner city voters help subsidize their suburban roads. People think I don’t use public transit so I shouldn’t have to pay for it

        • Hogan

          See also public schools, homeless shelters, food stamps, habitable prisons, etc. etc. in saecula saeculorum.

          • efgoldman

            Yes but there’s real resentment by rural or suburban area voters about funding public transit that they personally never use.

            See also public schools, homeless shelters, food stamps, habitable prisons, etc. etc. in saecula saeculorum.

            Bing-fucking-o X 2!

        • CP

          On that topic, given that all of us also pay for roads and that a car without a road is basically like a boat without water, I’m getting extremely tired of the popular notion that driving a car is ruggedly individualistic and that the phrase “public transportation” doesn’t apply just as much to those who do that, in its own way.

        • LeeEsq

          Except most people don’t work in downtown areas anymore, they tend to live in suburban office parks that aren’t particular concentrated.

          • so-in-so

            Which means the cost per user mile for the roads they drive on may well exceed the costs for public transit on the city,

            • LeeEsq

              It also means that the congestion relief justification for transit isn’t particular applicable anymore.

        • Richard Gadsden

          What I don’t get is why there isn’t resentment by urban area voters about funding roads that we personally never use. I know I resent it.

      • We’re still living in the world of transportation created by Robert Moses. It will take a lot of resources to walk back from that.

        • No question. But I’m just saying that you can have both, if that’s what a society wants.

        • Murc

          I respect Moses for his bridge-building, which was necessary, and I am often in awe of his ability to actually get money for massive infrastructure projects, which was impressive even for a time period when there was a broad political consensus in favor of such things, but his ideas for driving massive expressways through the hearts of major cities were just… insane.

          Thank god the Mid-Manhattan expressway never got built.

          • Thom

            And the Embarcadero freeway in SF was stunted (then torn down after 1989).

      • Dilan Esper

        DC is a special case. Republicans in Congress have a self interest in funding certain amenities in DC.

        • efgoldman

          Republicans in Congress have a self interest in funding certain amenities in DC.

          You’d think so, but they certainly aren’t supporting Metro.
          It has lots of maintenance, safety, and labor issues, but it’s also under-engineered and poorly designed.

    • Murc

      This isn’t necessarily a uniquely American problem. Even in the People’s Republic of Canada cities often have a lot of trouble prying money out of the government for transit upgrades. One Canadian in six lives in the GTA (in terms of proportion imagine if NYC had fifty million people living in it) but getting cash out of Ottawa for transit can be a bloody, vicious battle. Hell, getting cash out of the province can be problematic.

      • rewenzo

        My understanding is that Toronto is undergoing a transit renaissance and the government stars have aligned in that the provincial and federal governments are committing huge sums of money to rapid transit in the GTA. Also, now the city is not run by a moron who literally could not grasp the concept of “light rail vehicles,” which also helps.

        Off the top of my head, Toronto is currently constructing (1) a 6-stop extension of Line 1, to open in 2017; (2) the Eglinton Crosstown Line, an underground light rail line, to be open in 2021; (3) the downtown relief line; (4) an extension of the other end of Line 1; (5) an electrified regional express rail service, and a bunch of other light rail projects under consideration.

        Is this enough? Probably not. But Toronto is clearly getting better transit investment than any other US city, outside of maybe what LA is doing. Vancouver is also generally better and essentially opened two new subway lines in the last 15 years.

        Meanwhile, NY, the city with the most transportation funding in the US, recently opened a $4 billion shopping mall in downtown manhattan on top of a train station and opened its first new subway station in 30 years which is already broken.

        • Murc

          My understanding is that Toronto is undergoing a transit renaissance and the government stars have aligned in that the provincial and federal governments are committing huge sums of money to rapid transit in the GTA.

          This is true, but the stars really had to align for that to happen. It’s like… suddenly being sensible about these things doesn’t erase the very long periods of time in which they weren’t sensible and the very, very real difficulties in getting there. They spent something like, what, a quarter-century with no transit investments?

          Their current uplift plan is pretty decent, bordering on very impressive, but very very patchwork; it eschews what the city really needs, at least in my opinion, which is new subway lines, not just expanding line one. Although the light rail expansions will be pretty awesome if they manage to bring them in on time and with the promised level of service.

          • rewenzo

            Honestly, the biggest impediment was Rob Ford. Transit City was funded and construction had already begun when that idiot cancelled it. John Tory, just by being a person of average intelligence, is just an improvement of infinite measurement.

            I think Toronto is building new subway lines, or new subway line equivalents. The Eglinton Crosstown, or Line 5, is mostly underground and completely grade separated. The Downtown Relief Line would also a new subway line. I don’t know what the hell they’re doing to Scarborough but that’s a new line. SmartTrack, to the extent that I understand it’s supposed to be subway like frequency on existing rail trackage sounds like a new subway in the same sense that Triboro RX would also be a new line.

            Not to mention that I think the light rail lines, which should be grade separated and will feed to the subway lines are like subway-lite as opposed to streetcars, which are awful.

            • Murc

              If the light rail lines are like, say, the existing Spadina line only better (and the Spadina streetcar line is already the best streetcar line in the city) I’d consider them subway-equivalent, yes. My main concern is that everything seems very… patchworky. I’d like to see things much more integrated than they are, with transfers mostly of the “get off one subway and get on another one” nature, like in NYC.

              Still, that’s sort of wishing for an ideal world.

              • rewenzo

                The light rail lines are supposed to all be better than even Spadina – larger vehicles, completely grade separated and orders of magnitude better than the rest of the streetcar network.

                I see the patchwork issue, but it is what it is. Line 5 will connect to Line 1 at 2 places. The point of DRL is to connect Line 2 and Line 1 outside of the core. The Scarborough RT is being replaced (I think) with an extension of Line 2. The Line 1 extensions help close some patches.

            • Dilan Esper

              I can’t believe Mayor Ford cancelled transit city. What was he, smoking crack or something?

              • rewenzo

                People focus on the crack-smoking, and the drug-dealing, and the hanging out with murderers, and the public urination, and the public drunkenness (pauses for breath) and the assaulting members of city council, and the dangerous driving, and the threatening of citizens, and the frequent use of racial epithets, and only showing up to work at noon, and the lying to the press (pauses for second breath) and the misappropriation of city resources, but even if Rob Ford did none of those things, he would have done 99% of the same damage to the city by being an incorrigible idiot who had really really bad ideas.

                • Dilan Esper

                  In fairness, focusing on Ford’s personal conduct is irresistible.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Why are street cars awful?

              • MaxUtility

                Not all are. But many of the new streetcar projects are expensive, slow (often slower than walking), serve small areas already served by buses, have no signal preemption or dedicated lanes, don’t connect in with the transit system in important ways, and typically sold as tools to boost development and so are giveaways to developers and tourism boosters.

                • TribalistMeathead

                  They’re also sold as “cheaper than heavy rail,” without anyone stopping to consider whether they’ll also end up less useful than heavy rail.

              • rewenzo

                Toronto has an extensive streetcar network which operates mostly downtown. Problem is they function more like buses that can’t change lanes. So they get stuck in traffic and they bunch. A lot of the vehicles are also very old and get disconnected from the power lines and are delayed until they are manually re-attached. So they are not really rapid transit.

                Some of the streetcar lines, like Spadina, are partially grade separated and are better than buses.

                Toronto is currently in the process of replacing their vehicles with new longer, articulated streetcar vehicles and is trying to grade separate more of the streetcar lines but it is a slow and sporadic process.

                The light rail lines are closer to subways in that they are almost entirely grade separated (e.g. underground) (and where they are not they have signal priority) and hold more people.

              • Murc

                If a streetcar line isn’t grade-separated, doesn’t have a dedicated lane, and can’t pre-empt traffic signals, what you’ve done is purchase is a very expensive, much shittier bus.

                • sonamib

                  Wait, those are not the real differences between buses and streetcars. I’ll grant you grade separation, it’s not worth doing for buses (in a developed country). But buses can have their own lanes and traffic-signal preemption. It’s often worth doing!

                  The actual difference between buses and streetcars is capacity. Depending on the models, streetcars can be up to 2-2.5 times the capacity of buses, so that’s a plus in a crowded corridor, even if they don’t have their own lane.

                • bender

                  Most buses burn fossil fuel. Street cars run on electricity, which can be from other sources. Street cars hardly ever run over pedestrians, whereas Muni buses knock down and kill people several times a year.

                  The older models of streetcars in San Francisco get detached from their overhead lines pretty often and hold up traffic. SF is beginning to move in the direction of dedicated lanes for streetcars.

                  I wonder if there is a city in the world that has more different modes of public transportation than San Francisco. SF has buses, streetcars, semi-grade separated light rail (Muni Metro), grade separated quasi-light rail (BART), and cable cars. It lacks heavy rail, a funicular, a cog railroad and a monorail.

                • TribalistMeathead

                  With the exception of the Coliseum–Oakland International Airport line, BART is heavy rail, not quasi-light rail.

        • Colin Day

          Also, now the city is not run by a moron who literally could not grasp the concept of “light rail vehicles,”

          FTFY

      • ThrottleJockey

        To be perfectly honest I don’t see it Federal role in subsidizing municipal Transit. Why should Chicagoans pay for New York City’s subways? Or why should Denver, who lacks commuter rail, pay for New York City to have commuter rail?

        If New York City wants a well-functioning subway system then New York City needs to ante up for it. If they’re unwilling to then that tells me they don’t really need it.

        • Denverite

          Or why should Denver, who lacks commuter rail, pay for New York City to have commuter rail?

          This isn’t correct. The A Line opened up a few months ago with service between Union Station and DIA (about 30 miles). It’s properly considered commuter rail. There are also commuter lines between Union Station and Wheat Ridge and Westminster opening up in the next few months. Also commuter rail.

          This also ignores the fact that the original light rail lines went all the way to Littleton, and the Golden line has been open for several years now. They’re not technically “commuter rail” because the trains are too light, but it’s a distinction without a difference — they’re trains designed to get people from the intermediate suburbs into downtown.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Sorry it’s been too many years since I visited your neck of the woods. I was unaware. Substitute Kansas City for Denver.

            • CrunchyFrog

              KC unfortunately had a great passenger rail transit system but dug it up to make sure that THOSE PEOPLE would have a more difficult time getting to the Whiteburbs.

            • jmauro

              Uhh… you might want to pick a different city. href=”http://www.kcata.org/light_rail_max/kansas_ctiy_streetcar”>Kansas City has joined in with a street car of it’s own.

          • CrunchyFrog

            There was some real visionary thinking that took place in Denver a quarter of a century ago in order to make all of those projects happen. The I-225 line extension through Aurora is also opening later this year (and unlike a lot of passenger rail that’s built along expressways, that one actually diverts away from the freeway to go where the pedestrians are) and the RTA web site has a host of follow-up projects on tap.

            I have no idea how the Denver metro managed to avoid the “keep the passenger rail away from us we don’t want the ni-CLANGs coming to our Whiteburb” that affected other areas like, say, Santa Clara county opting out of BART. But I’m glad it did.

            • Denverite

              I think a lot of it is that Denver has a relatively small African-American population, and it’s largely concentrated in a pocket outside of the central city (how “non-central” Four Corners and Parkhill are is admittedly debatable).

            • MyNameIsZweig

              Santa Clara county opting out of BART

              I thought it was San Mateo County.

              • It was indeed San Mateo County.

                • bender

                  And Marin County. San Mateo County eventually thought better of it, and paid to get connected.

          • Colin Day

            This also ignores the fact that the original light rail lines went all the way to Littleton,

            The E and F (second line) actually go to Lone Tree, which is farther south.

        • MaxUtility

          If nothing else, because we fund a LOT of big projects that way, including the never ending freeway construction that no one seems to think is unfair. If Dallas wants to expand an intracity freeway to 16 lanes, why are my CA tax dollars paying for that?

          • ThrottleJockey

            Good question. Let Texans pay for it! They loooove things which boost oil and gas consumption!!

          • Denverite

            If Dallas wants to expand an intracity freeway to 16 lanes,

            Ah, I see you’re familiar with Central Expressway.

            • ThrottleJockey

              LMAO I’d forgotten all about that bad boy! Talk about klusterfuk! What did they spend like 30 years trying to build that sucker?

              Texas actually has a pretty good FM system. It also makes effective use of toll roads. This tells me that in general states can get this done without Federal help.

              • Denverite

                I don’t know about 30 years but it was at least 15. I will say that they did a pretty good job on it. I have family who lives more-or-less off of it, and it’s a clean shot into downtown, at least during non-rush-hour times.

        • rewenzo

          1) Why should New York pay for an air force base in Colorado? A well-functioning system in NY contributes to the national economy and welfare.

          2) Many US cities, especially New York, are effectively interstate operations. Many of the hurdles NY faces are finding ways to bring in commuters from NJ and CT. Some interstate arrangement is necessary.

          3) Much of the proposed infrastructure would also be used by Amtrak.

          • It’s kind of distressing that you have to explain this to commenters on this blog, not to mention Americans in general.

            • rewenzo

              This argument is also used intrastate as well, of course. In the great progressive state of New York there must be “parity” between downstate and upstate because “why should upstate pay for subways and trains downstate”? So any hypothetical dollar spent on the MTA must also be spent on highway construction in Syracuse.

              Among the many reasons this is ridiculous is because (1) upstate doesn’t need more highways; (2) building more highways is in general a bad idea; (3) vastly more people live downstate than upstate; (4) infrastructure downstate costs much more than upstate infrastructure; and (5) downstate revenues eclipse upstate revenues.

            • muddy

              I don’t believe any commenters really need this to be explained. It’s just that some commenters must say something contrary, regardless of sense. It’s pretty effective as far as getting replies apparently, personally I find it tiresome and a time waster.

            • TribalistMeathead

              But unsurprising that you should have to explain it to someone who also doesn’t think their tax dollars should pay for social welfare of any kind.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Are you seriously asking for why we should have the federal government pay for it’s very own military bases???

            There are many cities that are interstate operations, for instance Washington DC and Kansas City come to mind. Those States can draw up Regional compacts to fund their transportation needs. No Feds needed!

            (To be perfectly honest this would help New York City afford the subways since New York City is a net exporter of tax revenue.)

            • wjts

              Are you seriously asking for why we should have the federal government pay for it’s very own military bases???

              Sure, let’s ask that question. By your own lights, we should devolve military command to the states, like transportation. I mean, why should a land-locked state like Oklahoma pay for a naval base in Connecticut that it’s never going to use?

          • bender

            #1, come on. Providing for the common defense is in the preamble to the Constitution.

            I’m a tax and spend liberal, and I _worked_ for a public transit system for nearly thirty years, and I’m a conservationist. Nevertheless, I think this is a reasonable question that deserves a better answer than attacking the motivations of the person who asks it.

            AFAIK, all the cities that built light rail systems between the Civil War and WWII either started with privately owned systems that were paid for entirely from the farebox (like the original IRT) or were financed by local taxes.

            The days when a privately owned system could make money are long gone, but why can’t the residents of the regions where the riders live finance their own transportation systems? Why should people who don’t live there and may never visit there and get no direct or indirect benefit have to subsidize it? If the mode of transport is not primarily for interstate commerce, let the taxpayers of the city, region or state pay for the capital and operating costs.

            • Richard Gadsden

              So PATH subways should get federal funding and MTA ones shouldn’t?

              The problem is that political boundaries don’t line up well with geoeconomic ones. Take the Basel metro system, where the city is built on an international tripoint.

        • Hogan

          It isn’t just NYC taxpayers who use the NYC subway system.

          • ThrottleJockey

            An issue which can be addressed through ticket pricing.

            • Hogan

              At which point no one would use the subway system, because it would be too expensive.

              • ThrottleJockey

                No, you can have New York City taxpayers get a different ticket then out of state or out of City passengers. You can perform Miracles with a ID and computer. It’s like the Six Million Dollar Man we have the technology to do this!

                • Hogan

                  I’m sure an ID requirement will work for mass transit exactly as well as it works for voting.

                • N__B

                  I’m sure an ID requirement will work for mass transit exactly as well as it works for voting.

                  Retina scanners at every turnstile!

                • MyNameIsZweig

                  No, you can have New York City taxpayers get a different ticket then out of state or out of City passengers

                  … and then someone has to pay for that too.

                • bender

                  To a degree you can do this with discount fare passes for multiple trips or good for a month’s travel. The people who live in the area and use the system frequently will buy those. Short term visitors will not.

                  If you are a tourist in San Francisco and want to ride a cable car, you’ll pay an exorbitant price for your ticket, but I’m fairly sure that a Muni Fast Pass covers cable cars at the same price as a bus ride.

        • efgoldman

          To be perfectly honest I don’t see it Federal role in subsidizing municipal Transit.

          Oh for Fuck’s sake, TJ. There’s this thing called the commons, and another thing called public goods. Why should federal taxes subsidize bridges? The I-35 bridge only crosses the river in the Twin Cities. Why should federal taxes pay for airports? How about subsidizing all kinds of research? Clean air? Clean water?
          Have you been hiding an idiot glibertarian underneath that reactionary exterior?

          • I just don’t understand why we didn’t let Mississippi handle its own race relations. What should I as a Rhode Islander care about what happens down there….

            • ThrottleJockey

              You’ve hit the nail head. Civil rights are universal rights. Subways and roads aren’t universal rights. It’s really a primarily state issue. There is virtually zero reason (except national defense) for Fed involvement in roads and bridges. Have you visited Texas they have an extensive, exceptional system of state highways (FM/RM) and toll road system. When it comes to highways let Kansas pay for Kansas and New Yorkers for New York. NY might be able to afford it’s subways without sending money to Kansas.

              • TribalistMeathead

                Civil rights are universal rights. Subways and roads aren’t universal rights.

                God, is this ever some Calvinball shit right here.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Ask Newcastle on Tyne about the battle to replace the Metrocars with LRVs that aren’t 40 years old and break down all the time. Getting cash out of London is no easy feat.

  • Karen24

    And with the side benefit to Republicans of punishing people for living in big liberal cities.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I don’t really think it’s a matter of punishment but I can’t really see a rationale for why the rest of the country should pay for New York City’s Subway. It’s New York City, if any municipality can fund a well-functioning Subway system it’s them. Seriously if voters in the New York City metro area don’t think that Subways are a high priority then no one does. And sometimes voters get the choices they want.

      • DrS

        Who do you think is paying for roads in rural areas?

        • Denverite

          Or military bases, or inefficient post offices, or Title I funding for poor schools, etc. etc. etc.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Are you really asking why we should have Federal funding for federal military bases?

            As far as post offices are concerned you can make the argument on constitutional grounds since the Postal Service has a monopoly on first class mail but I’m even willing to get rid of a lot of these inefficient post offices in far-flung places served by seaplane and pack mule (we really have those).

            Title 1 funding for schools it’s just part of General programming for Americans and the role of the feds in helping the poor is well understood.

        • ThrottleJockey

          The argument works both ways. Why should New Yorkers pay for roads in Wyoming?

          Except for the interstate highway system (maybe) Transportation budgeting should be done at the state or local level.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            you’d really like that as a semi-driver trying to get cross country in decent time without wrecking your truck

            • ThrottleJockey

              Perhaps existing interstates should be maintained through federal dollars ( a form of grandfathering ) and new highways should be funded entirely at the state level.

              • Bill Murray

                there are many places with considerable interstate commerce that are not on the interstate system

                • efgoldman

                  TJ is glibertarian-curious. He’s always been a contrary asshole; maybe he’s getting ready to move to a walled, self-sustaining survivalist compound in Idaho.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Lol I like the terminology but it hardly fits. I’m just not enthralled by socialism! There are well supported reasona for a Federal role in certain sectors (national security, welfare) but roads and highwaya ain’t one.

          • MaxUtility

            Why should Americans have to pay for roads in America? Why are particular municipal boundaries magical lines that matter a lot when we talk about some things but not about others?

          • LeeEsq

            Because the people of Wyoming have the political means to make us pay because of the Constitution.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Like blue States senators cant filibuster red state senators.

              • Aexia

                Rural red states have a *vastly* disproportionate voice in the Senate.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Which is why the Senate invented the filibuster.

                • Aexia

                  The filibuster gives those rural red states an even *larger* voice.

              • efgoldman

                TJ, you shouldn’t drink during the day; it makes you even less coherent than usual.

          • so-in-so

            Let’s see; why should the guy two streets over pay tax money to repair the road in front of your house if he never drives there?

            Go one step further into absurdity, why should the guy who lives at the beginning of your road pay for anything beyond his house if he never goes in that direction?

            • ThrottleJockey

              You’re right, you’re deep into the Absurd.

              • Bill Murray

                but it’s the natural place all those type arguments lead

              • so-in-so

                It’s just a matter of scale, the argument is the same.

          • Colin Day

            How does that square with the Constitutional authority of the federal government to build post roads?

        • bender

          Local roads are paid for out of local property taxes and if the local people don’t vote for high taxes, they have roads that are graveled instead of paved and get graded once in a blue moon.

      • Aexia

        New York City (or any other big city) would be able to pay for a well-functioning public transit system on its own…. if it didn’t have to support the suburbs and rural areas.

        The question is really what’s the rationale for why cities should pay for everyone else’s roads, schools, infrastructure? I mean, there are a lot of good answers and I think it’s worth paying.

        But it’d be nice if these areas would show some gratitude or even just acknowledge who is in fact paying for who.

        • NewishLawyer

          The answer from the rural populations always seems to be “There would be no cities if it were not for our farms and food!!!”

          • Aexia

            Which we pay for.

            And then pay for again with crop subsidies to not grow food.

            And then pay for again by subsidizing their crop insurance.

            And then pay for again with tax breaks.

            And then pay for again with etc etc etc etc.

            Without city money, most farmers would be one bad year away from financial ruin. That’d be bad for them but we’d be okay because some huge farming company would buy their farm up for pennies on the dollar and the food supply would continue just fine.

            • efgoldman

              Without city money, most farmers would be one bad year away from financial ruin.

              TJ: Let ’em starve.

              • ThrottleJockey

                I think it would be fairer for all to let the market take care of this. I certainly don’t see why we subsidize crop insurance. I have no kinship with the idea of the family farm. Farm policy needs an overhaul. We probably need larger, corporate farms (who would be better capitalized to withstand downturns) and drastically less subsidization.

  • Indeed. Looks like it really isn’t that important to pay for civilized society. After all, the rich would prefer to only pay for infrastructure that directly affects them (such as helicopter pads, segregated airport gates, etc) and leave the rubes to pave their own roads, fund their own schools, fight their own wars, and so on.

    • jmauro

      I would be fine with that if they then didn’t block the rubes from raising money to do those things.

  • Mike Furlan
  • A random thought (inspired in part by seeing what the view from the West Side Highway looks like nowadays): as late as the 1980s it was possible to look around and see a lot of infrastructure and buildings that dated back decades and were really beautiful, and to feel grateful for that and not really inclined to consider that they might need drastic rework, or that we might have to tear some of that down and try to replicate something similar in our own way. It seems surprising that we should have been surprised that these things need maintenance.

    • I believe the new robot cars won’t have any windows at all, so problem solved!

      • I believe the new robot cars won’t have any windows at all, so problem solved!

        LCD screens all around, with whatever you like on them! (Well, and ads. But, hey, that’s the price of progress. Meet Miss Google. Buy Miss Google. F u cn rd ths u cn gt out hr.)

        • You two are proving my point!

          Seriously, though, a lot of those old buildings are probably chockful of asbestos and other toxic hazards.

  • Brett

    If they do federal funding, they need to tie it in hard with requirements for maintenance. It’s always tempting for local politicians to stiff stuff like this on the maintenance costs, because it’s not as sexy as opening a new thing.

    • That is one of my pet peeves. In Madison WI, we had a couple local plutocrats fund the total reconstruction of our civic center into the brand new bigger and shinier Overture center, and while they gave plenty of money for bricks and mortar, they didn’t give very much if any for actually running the place. The same thing happens on the university campus. Deep pocketed alumni give millions for new buildings, but don’t open their checkbooks to pay the bills for keeping them from falling down, or keeping the lights on.

  • Derelict

    “Let the word go forth from this day: We are prepared to pay any price, and support any burden, in pursuit of lower taxes on those who have the most money.”

  • D.N. Nation

    Went to Boston for a weekend in May and was wholly unimpressed with the subway system…and I live in Atlanta.

    • The idea of holding the Olympics in Boston and relying on that subway system was utterly laughable.

      • D.N. Nation

        I laughed out loud when my Green Line train arrived and then I felt like a dick.

        • BigHank53

          Thirty-five years ago the T was a scrappy little transit system, in the sense that it punched above its weight class. Now it’s a scrappy little transit system in the sense that most of it needs to be scrapped. Particularly the Green Line.

          • wjts

            I don’t think I’ve used the T in 15-20 years. Has it really gotten that much worse?

      • TribalistMeathead

        The idea of holding the Olympics in Chicago and relying on the L is only slightly less laughable.

  • It seems to me that at one time infrastructure benefited rural populations more than cities. Folks on farms needed roads and canals and later on railroads in order to get their goods to market, or themselves to Sears to buy a suit or a gingham dress. NYC’s subways were originally privately owned. What we have now is a government in which places like Wyoming have disproportionate representation in the budget department and are not interested in explaining to the folks back home why net exporters of tax dollars should have nice things. This may have made some sort of sense back when the majority of the population was rural. It seems crazy now.

    • ThrottleJockey

      So how does transportation money get apportioned amongst the states? The argument you’re making Maybe is that there should be no federal role and transportation budgeting. Why not let both Wyoming and New York pay for the transportation they want?

      • MaxUtility

        Given that large cities are generally net payers of taxes while more rural areas are net takers, why only focus on public transit spending? If Wyoming wants power lines, interstates, and Medicare, why don’t they cough up for it? I guess they don’t really need it.

        • Michael Cain

          Ever looked at the traffic on I-80 going east and west across Wyoming? A large majority of it is freight with both origin and destination outside the state (eg, most electronics purchased in any eastern urban area was offloaded from a container ship in California, then trucked across the country). By far the biggest power lines in Wyoming carry electricity to neighboring states for consumption there. Putting Medicare here makes no sense, since that’s tied to individuals, but for Medicaid, Wyoming is one of the twelve states that gets the minimum 50% federal reimbursement.

      • jmauro

        Some of it is per capita, some of it per “how powerful my congressperson is”.

        Actually it’s most of the latter one.

      • MyNameIsZweig

        Why should states matter at all in this equation? Why not some other arbitrary administrative boundary?

        I’ve often thought that the concept of states as distinct entities has probably outlived its usefulness, but I could potentially be convinced otherwise I guess.

    • bender

      The folks on the farm ordered out of the Sears catalogue and the postman delivered it to them at home. That was the whole Sears Roebuck business model. Still requires a road and a railroad to transport the goods.

  • Joe_JP

    I’m sure there are various concerns with the NYC subways, but as a regular rider, continue overall to be pretty impressed with them.

    There have been some improvements in recent years — e.g., we now have information regarding the exact time the next train will come (something expected now that not too long ago would be seen as pretty amazing to a commuter) and the 7 was extended to 34th St.

    For the amount of trains, people and all the rest, it does a good job basically imho. Granting room for improvement. As to repairs, it is a continual effort as weekend service changes as they do repairs show.

    • lunaticllama

      Also, a ton of MTA maintenance money was redirected to rebuilding after Sandy, which devastated certain subway lines (e.g., the G line). I’m family friends with a former higher-up at the MTA (now running Citibike) who led the Sandy recovery effort and the amount of destroyed equipment and damage to various train lines was jaw-dropping. Yet, the trains are still running on time although significant work remains (e.g., repairing the L line tunnel which was flooded and took serious damage during Sandy).

    • Dilan Esper

      In my lifetime the NYC subways have improved. They used to be filled with graffiti and a lot less safe.

      • ThrottleJockey

        And then Giuliani came along with his band of blue huh?

    • rewenzo

      The MTA is indeed a marvel, but it was also a marvel 50 years ago, and it’s largely stagnated since then. Since 1940, the MTA has opened like 5 new stations in Manhattan and 4 in Queens and I think all but one of those was in 1988-89. The signal system on B division is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago. A marvel, to be sure, but also laughably archaic, like a steampunk helicopter.

      The countdown clocks are ridiculous to me in the sense that it’s insane that in 2016 only some of the lines have them when this is a ubiquitous feature in modern metros. It’s also ridiculous to me that the MTA thinks that bringing them to the rest of the system should take decades and billions of dollars because it conflates countdown clocks with CBTC when countdown clocks are actually comparatively trivial to jerry rig.

      We’ve been passed by systems just as old as ours and new ones almost as extensive or more have sprung up seemingly overnight. The MTA has been neglected.

      • Joe_JP

        From my vantage point, subways did not just “stagnate” since fifty years ago. I am not a traveler really so don’t know, especially for a system this large, how ubiquitous the clocks are. Guess I’m too impressed. Or, I’m just one of those “A” division elite people.

        I can debate details but noted there is room for improvement, so it’s a limited thing anyway. Part of the thing here is that if it remains a “marvel” as ridership sizeablely increases, that alone is notable.

        Apparently, “marvelous” is “blah” at this point. Aim high.

        • rewenzo

          A bear riding a unicycle is also a “marvel.” It’s also not a reliable transportation system.

      • BoredJD

        It is an absolute mess (I ride it every single day), before you even get to the Second Avenue [between 96th and 57th street] subway boondoggle. I moved here 6 years ago and the delays have gotten measurably worse even since then. The fact they don’t have countdown clocks in Times Square or Penn on the lettered lines is also absurd.

        • rewenzo

          Yeah they haven’t really done anything but tweak over the last 50 years.

          They don’t have countdown clocks because they do not know where the lettered trains are. The archaic signalling system can only tell them the approximate location of a large cylindrical tube but not what line it is or how fast it is moving.

          The MTA’s proposed solution to this is to install a completely different signalling system, CBTC, which will allow them to install countdown clocks. (In the 90s, the MTA switched over the number lines to a different signalling system, ATS, which does tell the MTA where each train is and how fast it is going.)

          While CBTC is a very good idea and should definitely happen, at the MTA’s current pace, it will take them decades and billions of dollars to do. And it’s not necessary for the countdown clocks. You should be able to jerry rig a system of transponders that tell you where every train is and how fast it is going and run it through a computer and an app for a few million dollars.

          • Richard Gadsden

            The reason the MTA ties the countdown clocks to CBTC is that it gives a tangible benefit from CBTC to the commuter who pays for it – making it easier to justify spending that money.

            The problem is that they aren’t confident in their ability to justify CBTC in its own right.

  • rewenzo

    I’m not even sure federal funding is the issue, so much, although that would indeed be a huge help. There is something bizarre about transportation infrastructure costs in the United States, where everything costs multiple times of what it costs in other wealthy developed countries.

    It costs NY between 1.5 and 2 billion per kilometer when it costs other cities (dense, old, expensive, wealthy cities like Paris, Madrid, Tokyo, Barcelona, Naples, Stockholm) in the hundreds of millions.

    Even London makes us look ridiculous.

    We need more funding but we also have to figure out why it costs us so much to build.

    • lunaticllama

      Also, we have state Republicans dive-bombing huge projects that take years and years to plan for. I will never forgive Christie for cancelling the new Hudson tunnel as we desperately need another train tunnel for northern NJ commuters and for Amtrak service into and out of NYC. The federal funding was there and he cancelled the project, because union jobs are bad or something.

      • rewenzo

        Yes, a thousand times. Now of course, a new Hudson tunnel project is in the works which will cost 5 times as much and take 20 more years to happen. God, I hate that man.

      • The federal funding was there and he cancelled the project, because
        he is a colossal dick (™ Chas. Pierce).

      • Philip

        As an ex-Jerseyite, let me hasten to to note that Chris Christie is a human shitsmear, and watching him humiliated on stage with Trump was one of my happiest moments this election cycle.

      • bender

        The SF Bay Area got some of the federal money Christie turned down and we really enjoyed spending it.

    • Michael Cain

      How much of it is government ownership of the rail system? Denver’s light rail, for example, would have been enormously cheaper to build if the government could simply grant use of the existing rail right of way rather than having to lease/buy access. Extending the system to Boulder is delayed for decades because the Burlington Northern wants a staggering amount of money to lease the right of way.

      • jmauro

        Burlington Northern doesn’t want to deal with transit trains on it’s tracks since it interrupts the cargo runs which make them a lot of money.

        The staggering amount of money they are asking for is likely close to what they’d lose if they had to turn slots over to the transit agencies for use instead of running cargo trains on those tracks.

        • Michael Cain

          For the most part, light rail uses right of way, not the same tracks. The new line opening in my suburb this year shares right of way, but runs on its own tracks, and doesn’t interfere with the freight movement at all. BNSF’s position seems to be “Maybe a miracle will happen and there will be enough new traffic we’ll want to double track some of that.” More likely is that traffic will decline, as the biggest use for that stretch is to deliver coal to a power plant whose coal-burning units will be retired next year.

          Some years out I expect a compromise will be reached, when the communities involved say, “You know, that right of way must be a whole lot more valuable than we thought, so we need to tax it accordingly.”

        • Amtrak has the same problem in California with Union Pacific. At least Caltrain owns their own tracks now.

    • jmauro

      From what I’ve read it’s the instance of US transit agencies to insist on firm-fixed price contracts for construction in an effort to push the risk onto the construction company and to “save the taxpayer money”, but what happens in the end is that anything changes at all from the initial build (soil density doesn’t match, need to re-enforce a building foundation, slight change in the route, etc) the whole thing stops and the parties litigate a change order and a new price running up labor costs and interest in the mean time.

      Other countries just do cost contracts, so any change is just executed without delay.

  • L2P

    The answer is to make transit more of a state issue. For instance, Boston needs $7 Billion to fix its subways, and has an economy of $360 Billion. A .1% tax over 30 years would just about solve it. But no one will even try.

    IMHO, viewing transit as a Federal issue just plays into the Republican party’s strategy. For a couple decades they have focused on winning boring, pointless local elections, winning control over taxing agencies, election committees, and so on, while also passing a bunch of anti-tax measures at the local level. We liberals have largely ignored this and focused on federal elections, where even if we win the rules protecting the minority party make it impossible to get much done.

    We need to focus on these boring, local issues. We need to make this important to the average Democrat. One way to do that is fixing the damn roads…

    • geep9

      Half of that 7B is for the regional rail. It serves the same people who voted to revoke the inflation part of the 3 cent (!) gas tax increase.

    • sam

      Part of the issue in NY is that it *is* a state issue. In that New York State controls the purse strings for the MTA and the NYC subway, while New York City, which has zero control over the system, gets all of the blame when something goes wrong.

      And the state has systematically raided and robbed the MTA capital budget for years in order to balance the state’s budget, so that infrastructure improvements that were theoretically budgeted and paid for with prior allocations and metrocard fees suddenly have no actual money to pay for them, and then Cuomo makes demands that the city all of a sudden pick up 50% of the cost of new expenditures, with no new representation on the board, with zero guarantee that those funds won’t get raided either, otherwise we’ll get no budget.

      And all of this explains why de Blasio wants to build that ridiculous Brooklyn-Queens streetcar connector. Because that (and ferries) are the only type of transit that he can build that can be controlled entirely by the city.

      • rewenzo

        And the extremely capital intensive investments that Cuomo wants to make (e.g. iconic new Penn Station!; Air Train from Citi Field to LGA!; new LGA!) are all prestige investments that do little to help commuters in MTA but exist to make NY look cool to business travellers from outside the city.

        • sam

          Well, as a NYC resident who sometimes needs to actually go places that are not NYC, I’m actually in favor of those projects, as I consider Penn Station and LGA to be the 8th and 9th circles of hell.

          No one uses those resources more than people who live in and around NY. And the fact that we don’t have decent public transit to/from our airports is a joke.

          And at least 1/4 of the people I work with in my Park Avenue office each day have to drag themselves through Penn Station to get here, since anyone who commutes from NJ or Long Island has to go through there (or the port authority, if you’re a true masochist).

        • Richard Gadsden

          Yeah, if you’re insisting on big projects rather than just shoving a few billion at fixing MTA, the ones to go for are for LIRR, NJT and MetroNorth to be interconnected there, so trains can run through New York. If trains aren’t trying to terminate (and turn around) at Penn Station, you can run four times as many per platform (actually, you can’t, because you just move the bottleneck somewhere else, but still). Then you can do the new Hudson River Tunnels too, and you now have a really good outer-ring commuter system.

          If you can face down those bureaucracies, then you can face-down merging MTA and PATH as well.

          If Basel can have a regional authority that encompasses three countries – and no, they’re not all in the EU – then New York can manage two states!

  • Sebastian_h

    I couldn’t find a good history to reference, but my impression had always been that NYC and Boston and Chicago subway and city rail projects were mostly funded locally or through the state? Was that impression wrong?

    The cost issue is serious though. Much more expensive than anywhere else in the world–including London, Paris, Tokyo, and Berlin so we aren’t comparing small cheap cities.

    • Rob in CT

      Has anybody ever written up the definitive investigation into why the hell our costs are so, so much higher?

      • Denverite

        Just a guess, but I’d guess that a lot of it has to do with insurance requirements.

        • That may be part of it. In Europe a lot of risk-spreading takes place outside of the insurance market

      • gorillagogo

        I usually assume graft

        • rewenzo

          It’s probably not graft, or even mostly graft. Italy is more corrupt and their costs are much lower.

      • TribalistMeathead

        I don’t know that costs are actually dramatically higher, I think there’s just a difference in the amount of political will in favor of similar projects in those cities.

        • rewenzo

          The costs are dramatically higher in New York than anywhere else in the world, and the costs in the US are dramatically higher than anywhere outside of the US.

        • Sebastian_h

          No. Costs are dramatically higher in the US and even more so in NYC than the rest of the US.

          The East Side Access was $4 Billion per km.
          2nd Avenue Phase 1 $1.7 Billion per km.

          In London the Crossrail extension, which was a huge overall of a system about 3 times more complex than NYC, $1 Billion per km. And that is the only one even close.

          London Jubilee line $450 million per km.

          Amsterdam N/S line. 2x overbudget and still $410 million per km.

          Tokyo Metro Line $280 million per km. Cost on future lines estimated at $500 million per km.

          Copenhagen $260 million per km.

          Seoul a rather densely populated city, $110 million per km.

          Paris $230 million per km.

          So the very easiest, cheapest project in NYC is somewhat more expensive than the most complex infill project in the world in London. It is also 2x-4x more expensive than more complex projects in all the other major metro cities in the world. The more expensive NYC projects are almost 15x as expensive as the Paris/Amsterdam/Tokyo projects and still about 8x as expensive as a more typical London project.

          • Joe_JP

            will it be less when America is great again under Trump? These figures encourages a bit more modesty about our country than some have.

          • N__B

            East Side Access is a bad data point. It’s an insanely complicated project for various inescapable reasons: for example, shitty fill (thanks, Pennsy!) underneath the Sunnyside yard and working below a double-level station yard at GCT, It’s also relatively short. So you end up with a really high $/mile figure that’s really just indicative of how difficult the logistics are.

    • efgoldman

      my impression had always been that NYC and Boston and Chicago subway and city rail projects were mostly funded locally or through the state?

      I don’t know about Chicago, but the original NYC and Boston systems were built and operated by private companies. They were taken over by public entities mostly during the depression, although the last of the Boston private companies (Middlesex & Boston Street Railway, originally a trolley system, but by then all buses) lasted into the 1950s.
      In NYC, the three main companies (BMT, IRT, IND) retained their names and line designations, sort of. In Boston, the original Boston Elevated Railway Company became the MTA (now MBTA) and as it absorbed other lines they lost their identity.

  • NewishLawyer

    The issue is that even in New York, public transportation funding seems to be an urban v. suburban war. Even the inner-ring suburbanites that take Metro North and LIRR to NYC for work and then need a subway to get to their office, don’t seem to want to pay for improvements.

    BART in the Bay Area recently had a twitter meltdown and said that the system was originally designed to handle 100,000 people a week but is now handling nearly 450,000 commuters a day. Meanwhile, Bay Area traffic is insane. People get up really early to commute from Sonoma and Solano (and possibly farther) to get to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. By 2 or 3 PM, the traffic is really bad going out of the city.

    This doesn’t seem like it is going to get better anytime soon.

    I think the big issue is that the Reagan revolution against big government spending is still going strong. This is not only public transit but also road and bridge maintenance for cars. Most locations in the U.S. don’t have the ability to maintain their own infrastructure it seems and many are unwilling/unable to raise the taxes to do so.

    • Philip

      If you ever feel too positive and hopeful about the future of bay area transit, reading up on Caltrain’s funding is “fun.” tldr: Caltrain has no dedicated source of funding at all, so they have to beg money off the state, BART, SFMTA, SamTrans, and VTA. Fortunately, they’re getting a ton of money from the state to do modernization to be part of the CA high speed rail, but long term they still don’t have a stable source of funding.

      • NewishLawyer

        I’ve never had a need to take CalTrain. Most of my traveling around the Bay Area has been East or North of SF. If I go South, I drive.

        How did Marin and Sonoma get money for their SMART train? Why did they decide to build one?

        • bender

          IIRC, sales tax increase approved by the voters, plus some federal matching funds. I think matching funds for locally raised tax money is more defensible than expecting the feds to pay the lion’s share.

          SMART at this point is a very minimal system. Most of it will be running on an existing right of way and the northern portion shares track with a privately owned freight railroad. It’s using diesel locomotives, though of a fairly modern type, with a fairly up to date signaling system. It is going to run on weekdays during commute hours only, with one token mid day round trip.

          The backers for reviving passenger rail in Marin and Sonoma had to fight for about ten years to get voter approval for this much to get built, there isn’t enough money to build the ends of the line or provide more than bare bones ugly stations, and plenty of people are still grousing that they would rather have the money spent on another freeway lane.

          Why? 1. Traffic is awful, especially during commute hours. 2. Public transportation in these counties consists of a few bus lines. 3. There is some political support for spending on environmental protection. Marin has a very high per capita carbon footprint despite having no industry to speak of, partly because it is suburban and car dependent.

  • NewishLawyer

    Another issue is that fixing and building more infrastructure seemingly can’t be done without massive inconvenience.

    In Brooklyn, the MTA is talking about shutting down the MTA for at least a year in order to fix all the damage from Sandy. The L-train covers some of the most heavily populated areas of Brooklyn. There is not really an alternative route that can cover the hundreds of thousands of people that need the L to get to their jobs.

    SF has been building a subway to connect the CalTrain station to Chinatown and it takes years. Imagine how long it would take to build a subway down Geary.

    • Aexia

      It’s the same issue in DC. Increased demand and load on the system makes it impossible to keep up with necessary maintenance. Now it’s hit a breaking point.

      • efgoldman

        Increased demand and load on the system makes it impossible to keep up with necessary maintenance.

        Yeah, now, because they haven’t done any goddamned maintenance for 40 years. The more you put it off, ignore it, or don’t fund it, the more expensive it gets, always, always, always, until you have a crisis.
        WMATA also has beyond-serious safety and training problems. A standard black-humor joke in DC is “hey, I took the Metro today and it didn’t catch fire and nobody died.”
        The system is also badly under-engineered and poorly/under designed. I mean, really, not planning for the possibility that rails might warp from the heat, on outdoor portions of a DC system in the summer?

    • TribalistMeathead

      There is not really an alternative route that can cover the hundreds of thousands of people that need the L to get to their jobs.

      Sure there is. The G train.

      *rimshot*

  • NewishLawyer

    A semi-related thought. There seems to be something in the American DNA that makes people hate anything that is a “should” or “recommendation”. On another blog, people are screaming bloody tyranny, murder, and down with snobby urban liberals because the FDA released new recommendations for salt/sodium inclusion in foods. Even a recommendation is the end of liberty for these people. I can’t imagine it is easier to say we “should” build more transit because of benefits X,Y, and Z.

    • so-in-so

      It is that evil nanny state big government. Plus, they should only be commended on the quality of their tastes and habits, never criticized. We could hope they respond by unscrewing the top on the salt shaker at each meal and pouring it on.

      Transit will be way worse, since that takes actual tax money in much larger amounts than the study that lead to the recommendation.

    • Sebastian_h

      The problem with the sodium recommendations is that the science doesn’t support the recommendation. Basically the safe zone extends to about twice what Americans normally consume and almost three times the FDA recommendation. Further, there is some indication that low sodium diets are less safe than middle ones so actually getting the science right looks important. See here And note that Kevin Drum is pretty much the opposite of a science denialist.

      • Denverite

        Yes, this. I have hereditary high blood pressure, and when I was diagnosed, my doctor said cutting sodium is pointless in like 90% of the population. Basically, if you’re African-American, there’s a decent chance that a low sodium diet will really help (because they’re more prone to be salt sensitive), but for everyone else it’s a waste of time.

        • Joe_JP

          Drum’s piece is entitled “Go Ahead. Have a Potato Chip.”

          Not thinking a chip is a problem. The problem would be those who consume a LOT of salt & unless you pour the stuff on, the only way that might be true is if you eat a lot of processed foods. A McDonalds meal of a hamburger, fries etc., e.g., has a lot of the stuff. Probably best not to OD on that sort of thing anyways.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Damn black people always get hosed.

          • Denverite

            It’s really interesting. Black people worldwide have similar high blood pressure rates to white people in the U.S. (about 1 in 4). It’s just African-Americans who have higher rates, even when you control for things like income and obesity rates. My understanding is that the scientific community is split on whether it’s solely environmental (lord knows that African-Americans have more stressful lives than white people), or whether the American diet is especially salt-heavy, and people of African descent are more sensitive to that.

            In any event, with me, it’s purely genetic. I presented with 150/100, and a month of a low-sodium diet and no drinking (pure hell — this is me we’re talking about) got me all the way down to 143/93 or whatnot. Fortunately my meds don’t have any noticeable side effects.

  • AMK

    Nothing is more damaging to the idea of investment in public transit than bungled public transit projects. Here in DC, the lemon is the H-Street Trolley line—a $250 million joke that makes less sense the more you think about it, which is more than anyone involved in the project did. The first time I rode it, there were fast food workers bitching like Heritage Foundation fellows about how they wanted their wasted tax money back, because walking makes more sense…and this was during the honeymoon period when the rides were free. Total fail.

    I give the Metro some slack because they spent all their money on the new Silver Line, which put them in a huge fiscal hole for the moment but is an absolutely worthwhile large-scale project that created jobs and will pay dividends in the future.

    • TribalistMeathead

      Responsibility for the DC Streetcar rests with the DC Department of Transportation, not Metro.

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