ratpag was catching up on highbrow news when we caught this anti-streetcar article in The Economist. To correct the obvious misinformation in The Economist’s article, we have clarified some of their most misleading statements:
Commuters have long preferred cars and buses. ratpag has ridden buses many times and finds it debatable that anyone, even “commuters,” prefers to ride them. As for cars, 50+ years of land use planning, zoning regulations, and government spending on highways have created an environment suited for cars. Land use plans have separated residential and commercial developments, causing the smallest errand to require a trip too far for walking. Zoning regulations have also required commercial developments to build almost unlimited parking, resulting in sprawling car-oriented designs. Finally, government spending has built a huge network of free roadways for automobiles. Given all this government support for driving, it’s hardly surprising that commuters prefer cars.
Most American cities paved over their streetcar tracks decades ago, deeming the services slow, rickety and inconvenient. The lines were also deemed bad for the automobile interests, who purchased and dismantled them in the 1940s. Our friends at wikipedia have more on this.
[C]apital costs are hefty. Tucson’s project, for example, cost nearly $200m. Anti-infrastructure arguments love to throw around big money values without the context of other projects’ costs. Roads are expensive too! The southern portion of SH-130 in Texas cost over a billion dollars to build. The Springfield Interchange in Fairfax County cost over $600 million and out in Washington state they are planning to spend over $700 million to improve I-5.
Well-designed bus routes can spur development, too, and at far lower cost, says Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. Again, the pro-bus argument. Has the author ever actually ridden a bus?! Developers don’t like buses because there is no fixed route or investment that signifies that the bus service will be long term. (and, buses can be ridiculously expensive too). Examples abound about bus service being cut. Would you invest in a business if you knew that any day, the bus that delivers your customers could be re-routed?
So yes, we were a little harsh on buses – but do you really think people prefer them over smoother, faster, better rail? Don’t prop up a pro-car argument by lumping in buses to balance things out.
Again, we’re not anti-bus. Rail is just our bread and butter.