Monday, May 15, 2006

Cities in mind

Fester picks up on my latest discussion of Pittsburgh's Downtown bus routes, and Sam hosts a healthy debate on the merits of planned redevelopment over at AntiRust.

Meanwhile, at the Trib, Ralph Reiland cites a couple of sources to expose the myth of the Philadelphia miracle:

In terms of "image," there was new glitz in downtown Philly -- i.e., "futuristic office towers and classy new hotels and restaurants," plus a reinvigorated Center City with more arts attractions and an expanded selection of upscale watering holes.

But the "reality" of the city after Ed Rendell's eight years as mayor, reported Siegel and Hymowitz, wasn't as stylish or flourishing as the trendy new French bistros: "Philadelphia remains a crime- and tax-ridden city of collapsing schools and continued middle-class flight, still suffering from economic decline. Much of the last decade's new urban thinking that has put the bloom back on cities from coast to coast has yet to reach the City of Brotherly Love."

Rendell proved to be "an old-style big-city mayor who has fought welfare reform, despite its successes in so many other cities, and he has looked to Washington subsidies to solve local problems instead of fixing his own faltering economy," concluded Siegel and Hymowitz. "Philadelphia has lost almost 150,000 people since 1990 --- more than any other city."

...In addition, the total number of jobs in Philadelphia, despite the many millions of tax dollars spent in public-subsidy deals to expand employment, was smaller after Rendell's eight years as mayor than when he took office in 1992.

Cities are nothing unless people want--and can afford--to live and work in them. All the convention centers and Cheesecake Factories in the world won't change that.


Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

you know, i think i can solve the bus route problem ...and it's a solution you'll love...cut off county, federal and state subsidies to PAT. Let it run the way you say Downtown should progress...according to what it can sustain on its own...within a year, the number of buses would drop to about a dozen a day...or about one an hour between 6 a.m and 6 p.m. only fat cats from the east end, mt. lebo, and the north hills could afford the $10 a day fares.

and you could watch more businesses shift their HQs to cranberry, south pointe, harmar, and other RIDC parks outside the city and county. where their employees would have plenty of freeparing and could drive to applebee's and wal-mart during lunch.

and by the way, downtown would die too. finally!

12:34 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

ralph rieland is a crank. but he's right about the taxes in philadelphia. i love the place, but a few years ago when i interviewed for a job in the city of brotherly love, the prospective employer did a tax break down for me...and it made my decision to stay here an easy one. as did the real estate prices. honestly, that family of four RR mentions living on $50,000 in philadelphia would have to resort to crime to lead a decent life.

1:03 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I'm not a true libertarian, not even close, even though I agree with many libertarian positions. I am perfectly comfortable with subsidies for public transportation because I see transportation as infrastructure, and I'm fairly confident--though not 100 percent sure--that spending on highways and interstates exceeds money collected in gasoline taxes.

9:14 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

I think that it's stretching the definition of infrastructure (whatever it is to begin with) to include transit systems. sure, the government might be the best entity to take on road building, but it shouldn't be responsible for providing the wheels to ride on streets and highways. If you really believe that, then tell me what you think of Amtrak.

9:53 AM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

Total Federal gas tax collected for 2004 were $24.2B. State taxes totaled $34.2B.

TEA-21 Surface Transportation Extension Act for FY 2005 (oct '04 to oct '05) spent $22.7B. This includes funding for recreation, safety (MAD and seat beats) and other non-construction stuff. Interstate Maintenance/ was $3.9B, National Highway System was $4.8B.

It is pretty much one big nasty hairball of legislation. So, I am not 100% sure about how things line up, but what I have always heard is that there was much more money collected in gas tax, and in the "highway trust fund" than was was being spent.

11:15 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

You can make an excellent case againt federal subsidies for local public transit, and of course it is an easy case to make in Pittsbugh when you consider the boondoggles that the Port Authority convinces the feds to fund. (North Shore connector, I'm looking at you.)

As for local and state subsidies, well, the question becomes, can moderate to large-sized cities function without public transportation? If the answer is no, I'm not sure how you can say that is not infrastructure, even if it doesn't fit a traditional definition.

I have mixed feelings about Amtrak. The fact that it has failed to become self-sustaining may be an indication that there is not a huge market for passenger rail travel, or an argument that Amtrak itself is incompetent. Nonetheless, the return on investment, in terms of passengers carried, seems to be higher for rail for shorter, commuter routes, like Philly to Washington, than similar investments in interstate highways within the same corridors.

My point about highway funding is that in theory, it is supported by user fees in the form of fuel taxes. In reality, I suspect expenditures exceed revenues, which means that every trip taken by a private automobile is subsidized, even if indirectly.

11:19 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Amos, I wrote my comment before I read your post. I say fair enough regarding federal funds for local mass transit--cutting off that money would certainly force transit authorities to fund projects that are actually needed. Or at least that's my naive little wish.

11:22 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

hey, just so you know. i think the north shore connector is a total waste. and i've never understood why the subway didn't run to oakland.

i do think public transit is necessary. i just wish there was some way to encourage PAT to employ it more wisely and convince more people to ride it. i also realize that it's the only way some people can get to their jobs or school. then again, is that something government should be concerned with.

a few years ago, i talked to whoever was the chairman at the time about putting mini-kiosks/newsstands at park and ride and some south hills t-stops. he looked at me as if i were completely insane. heaven forbid that PAT should do something to make the ride more pleasant than painting goofy ass graphics on the sides of buses.

high concept ideas seem to matter more the issue at PAT than realistic solutions.

11:37 AM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

JP, I think you confused Sean's post about mass transit with mine about the tax, and spending numbers.

BTW, according to the anti-Bush OMB Watch, the spending caps for FY '05 are $32.1B for Highways, and $7.2B for Mass Transit.

Cato Inst did a policy analysis of urban mass transit in '91. A couple of points.

Over the past quarter century, U.S. taxpayers have pumped more than $100 billion in subsidies into the nation's urban mass transit systems. ... Incredibly, mass transit ridership is lower today--not only as a percentage of commuter trips taken but also in absolute numbers of riders-- than it was in the early 1960s.


* Public transit is not energy efficient. The average public transit vehicle in the United States operates with more than 80 percent of its seats empty.(4) Because of the low average number of passengers per bus, energy consumption per passenger mile for public transit buses now is greater than that for private automobiles and far exceeds that for car and van pools.(5)

* Urban transit does not benefit the poor. Ridership studies show that the poor are not heavy users of federally subsidized transit systems. Transit provided only 7 percent of trips made by low-income people.(7)


The average compensation for all transit employees exceeds the average salary for U.S. employees with college degrees by more than 30 percent.(34) Public transit fringe benefits average 50 percent of employee pay--nearly double the fringe benefits of the average private-sector worker.(35)

1:25 PM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

Oh, the heuristic that I heard, years ago, was that 1/3 of the operating cost of mass transit was cover by commuter fares, with nearly 2/3 coming from taxes.

1:38 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

as i said, the best way to reduce bus congestion around the new condos for the privileged few downtown is to cut the subsidies for mass transit...and use them to build more government funded luxury condos for the richest 4 percent of our country's citizens.

9:40 PM


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