Saturday, September 26, 2015

METRO DYSFUNCTION

BRT in twenty years -- or maybe ten if we get funds from DC.

Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) across the USA propose LRT or BRT for long-term infrastructure development. Heavy rail is too expensive and fits only in exceptional places like Manhattan and Honolulu. Elsewhere in areas of more modest size and easier geography -- Albany, Northwest Arkansas, Austin to start and all the way through Zanesville -- BRT/LRT plans are out there in irrelevant isolation.
MPOs are searching for relief in all the wrong places.

“It just won’t do it as an answer,” argues Fred Payne of Greenville SC. He seeks relief from growing highway congestion -- with all the accidents, pollution, noise and avoidable health problems of who seldom walk.  We need to encourage pedestrian and cycling, but better mobility options are needed.

Why don’t MPOs produce creative solutions? Well, truth is that MPOs across the US should be really called MCOs. They aren’t set up to produce creative plans for the future. Their primary function is to coordinate the needs and desires of dozens of governments into a coherent whole. They really are metropolitan coordinating organizations.

A Norfolk Nightmare

The stupidity of MPO dysfunction is coming into focus in southeast Virginia - the Hampton region that includes Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach sprawled around waterfronts with historic military importance. Norfolk spent about $300 million on a 12km (7mi) LRT dubbed The Tide that opened in 2011. An abandoned railroad now owned by Virginia Beach runs straight and level some 25km through a sparsely developed corridor that ends in the dense coastal stretch of beach hotels and resort properties that is Virginia Beach.

Does a fast, reliable transit connection make sense? Do VB residents and visitors want to mix with Norfolk types? Do they want to go to Norfolk? Do people in Norfolk want easier access to VB? One option is an extension of Norfolk’s LRT. This had gelled into a plan to extend it some 5km (3.1mi) to a growing development hub known as Town Center. Cost is estimated about $250 million.

At-grade LRT can run into accidents.
Why don’t they let PRT promisers come in to establish a PPP to build a whole self-financing network in return for long-term income streams from fares, ads and development around stations?

For now, two VB City Councilors recently voted against spending Virginia DOT funds to buy LRT vehicles (somehow jointly with Minneapolis: details are not clear). The price for four is reportedly $17.2 million! How gilded can a $4.3 million vehicle be? Former VB Treasurer John Atkinson ran ads against these LRT absurdities and has set up a fund to fight them.


What does the MPO say? What might a MCO recommend?

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