Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Triumph of the Perverse

There's a funny thing about transit: ideas seem to gain traction inversely to their practicality.

The LA City Council has just formed a new commission to build a MagLev from Long Beach to Ontario via downtown LA.

The scheme assumes no public outlay, and so will probably come to nothing, but consider:

  • San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose are all set on building new subways, all three the brainchildren of mayors, and all three projects in states of financial uncertainty. Meanwhile, easily-implemented transportation ideas like improvements to commuter rail get scant attention and less funding.
  • We have a state high speed rail authority, formed to incubate a dream of bullet trains zipping from one end of the state to the other, but meanwhile our regional trains are fragmented, stuck behind freight trains, and get scant attention from politicians, the public, and the press--even their successes, such as booming ridership of the Capitol Corridor, are practically secret for all anyone hears about them.
  • The cheapest and most quickly implemented of all possible transportation improvements, Bus Rapid Transit, elicits nothing but contempt. We hear firestorms of protest for merchants terrified of loosing parking places, and an incredible amount of incoherent ranting from NIMBY nutjobs simply opposed to change on principle. The benefits of transit riders, as usual, don't seem to merit much attention, and the lesson for public agencies is clear: trying to be thrifty and practical will get you no love--dreaming big is better than actually getting things done.
Although I am loath to link to the Reason Foundation, this article makes interesting points about the inherent failures of politically driven infrastructure investments.

For somewhat more balanced reading on the same point, I recommend the Transit Sleuth.

2 comments:

Fritz said...

I saw that news also about MagLev to (mostly) transport cargo from LA into Ontario. And yeah, the stuff that works gets no press, while the sexy new and unproven gets the attention. Among ridiculous schemes, my favorite has got to be personal rapid transit.

295bus said...

Tell me about it!

I'm thinking of forming a shell corporation to enter into public/private partnerships to provide Star Trek style transporter beams as a solution to urban transit.

It'll cost $100 billion. It'll all be paid for by private capital (just like the LA MagLev!)--I just need 1% down for initial design work.