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666Re: [NewMobilityCafe] A word on Randall O'Toole expert

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  • Richard Layman
    Oct 8, 2006
      Hmm.  Just some of those statements are pretty amazing.
      LR and congestion and Portland.  All "congestion" can't be cured, because it's a function of a land use paradigm that stresses driving.  Since the avg. suburban household in the U.S. makes about 15 trips per day, many SOV, I am not sure you can even calculate maximum requirements of road need.
      But LR in Portland has been essential to the repopulation of the City of Portland (unlike most U.S. cities, its population has grown since 1960, and this in the face of the deindustrialization trends that have impacted the regional economy there, comparable to what has happened in the rust belt in the U.S. midwest, or in the deindustrialization of East Coast center cities) and the success of its downtown.  And LR is constrained even in Portland because politics hasn't allowed Tri-Met to extend to Vancouver, Washington, which they would like to do, in part to provide service to people driving on I-5 from points north.
      Furthermore, great stuff about LR and trashy development.  I don't know much about all LR, but you have to say that LR and heavy rail need to be looked at in concert.  In other words, you can't constrain your view by only looking at LR.  Even if you do look at LR only, Dallas and Minneapolis would be good counter examples (not that I know any good examples of LR attracting trashy development--why is it that land and improvements on land are valued more highly in transit-rich environments compared to equal land/improvements without transit connections?).  Of course, with heavy rail, well, what about the boroughs of NYC, or Arlington County, Virginia, which has the lowest property tax burden in the state of Virginia because of their TOD focus.  Or DC.  I don't know enough about LR to know where there might be good examples of "trashy" development.
      I will agree that badly placed LR or HR is not likely to reduce congestion or improve the economic development capacity of a district such as a downtown (e.g., Baltimore).  But he didn't even make that claim based on your rendition.
      I do think that satisficing and bad line and station placement is an important issue.  It's one of the reasons that transit contributes greatly to ED and congestion reduction in the DC region, and not in Baltimore.  To be fair to Baltimore, we have the employment engine of the federal government, they don't.
      Even so, with the success of the WMATA system, we are bearing an assault by the O'Toole acolytes in the face of a possible federal earmark to the system, which Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation and others liken to "the largest earmark in history."  I wonder what they would say if there were 250,000 more cars on the region's road in the face of a nonexistent subway system.  I will say that they keep changing their arguments in the face of analytical criticism.  (My favorite is that this would hurt "the poor" when the poor in the region, especially without cars, are big users of the system.  Also, the chimera of how WMATA should be outsourcing.  Initially they provided no examples.  Now they are starting to, but they aren't great examples, i.e.  Boston and their railroad...?
      And about crime and transit, by definition, any center of activity has more crime than a place without people.   And places with more people tend to have more crime than places with fewer people.  And center cities tend to have more crime still.  But this isn't a function of a greater likelihood of possessing LR or HR, but of the fact that center cities tend to have much a much greater proportion of a region's lowest income population.  Sure some crime is enabled by transit, just like crime is enabled by access to cars.  The term "getaway car" wasn't invented out of a vacuum.
      Anyway, the only way to solve congestion is to mode shift away from Single Occupancy Vehicle trips.  I am not a traffic engineer, or even a great mathematician, but I can observe.
      Think of this city example.  A block that is 300' long can accommodate about 20 cars (vehicles might avg. about 15 feet including space between cars).  Assuming a cycle time of 3 minutes, and not considering the accordian effect, you can move 400 cars/hour/lane.  It's a lot more like 330.  If thousands of cars attempt to move down this street, and if there are two lanes (this example is L Street NW between 17th St. and Connecticut Ave.), you can see that there are real constraints. 
      The only way around it is to tear down buildings, which of course, makes no sense economically.  A building pays property taxes, a street doesn't.
      Oh, and as far as bus + rail goes, if you design it to work together, the entire system benefits.  I call this "transit-shed" or "mobility-shed" planning, and while I don't know much about TravelSmart, it appears to use the concept sort of...  I am preparing a presentation about this in the context of Montgomery County Maryland, for a talk Tues. night before the county advocacy group, Action Committee for Transit.
      See today's comic strip, Baby Blues to get a sense of the issue in the suburbs.  In cities, we combine trips.
      Richard Layman
      Citizens Planning Coalition
      Washington, DC

      Eric Britton <eric.britton@...> wrote:
      I personally love this guy (please don’t stop reading yet!).
      o              First because he gives us in one convenient place the entire litany of reasons, logic and tone which are indeed true enemies of our cities and environment. I find him handy for that.  A rogues’ gallery of unreason and irresponsibility.  It’s nice to know where to go.
      o              Shoddy as he is, and others of that same cloth, I nonetheless try to check him out from time to time run down his points one by one and make sure that my own logic and work is O’Toole-proof.
      o              Moreover, there is inevitably a bit of truth in some of the points he makes, and these pose good tests of our own ability to deal with the inevitable contradictions that the real world sets for us.
      o              And because he is so very bad – even if superficially attractive to a certain train of thought and legitimate citizen concern – that it’s not very hard to deliver a knock out punch. The important thing is not to get excited, keep grinning, and take him on point by point. It also helps in cases like this to keep giving him plenty of rope; he will inventively put it to the use it’s best for.
      o              And finally, because if we can’t deal with the O’Toole’s of this world, then we are in real trouble.
      I will copy this to the Idea Factory of the New Mobility Agenda (http://www.newmobil ity.org) and we will see what kind of reaction it will get there. I invite you to pop into the forum which is open to any and everyone to see what kind of further response this may get
      With all good wishes
      Eric Britton
      -----Original Message-----
      From: DBurden@aol. com [mailto:DBurden@ aol.com]
      Sunday, October 08, 2006 12:20 AM
      To: BettyDrake@aol. com
      Subject: Re: Help -- need anti-Randall O'Toole expert
      Betty ... Randall O'Toole???? 
      Never thought I would hear that name again.  Randall is the somewhat eloquent stuck in the mud nemesis of walking, bicycling, Smart Growth, Active Living, traffic calming and Transit Oriented Communities, light rail and anything "lite-auto" focused kinda guy.   Michael Ronkin has heard him speak, and provided me good background about this Portland area fanatic when I was invited to debate him on my home turf.
      Freedom and land use isolation is everything to him, responsible community development means nothing to him. Although I have never met him I am told that Randall has the appearance of a rational person, but the logic of an idiot .... and he is extremely good at  bad fact making. Almost everything appearing below in his diatribe is silly, and not worthy of challenging with fact. Yet it must.
      Walter Kulash and I were contracted by the City of Gainesville, Florida to conduct a debate with O'Toole.  As fate would have it the Great God Tlalock and his son and daughter gods in charge of major storms and fury sent one of the biggest storms of record during the winter of '04 to the Portland, Oregon airport to keep O'Toole at the airport on the ground all day.  The end result, a very boring, but insistent, city commissioner read O'Toole's rambly essay.  Walter and I presented the counter point, sans O'Toole. 
      I am sure that many on this reading list will be able to tell their own O'Toole stories and suggest an anti-venom to his dark, smelly underbelly poison. 
      I could also suggest that a combination that includes the wit and wisdom of Ian Lockwood and Troy Russ, and perhaps a real economist of Todd Littman could allow a community to focus on reality, pragmatism and a more optimistic future of city making and transportation performance.
      In a message dated 10/7/2006 1:35:32 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, BettyDrake writes:
      Any ideas??

      ------------ -----
      Forwarded Message:
      Help -- need anti-Randall O'Toole expert 
      10/7/2006 12:54:22 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
      Had lunch yesterday from an "economist" from Oregon name o' Randall O'Toole  who's been brought to town with great fanfare to counter a groundswell of sentiment in favor of light rail. 
      Re: Light Rail, he says that::
      1.  Llight rail will fail...it has never worked ANYWHERE to reduce congestion.
      2.  Light rail increases crime.  Postland Police Department cites light rail as a key factor in increased crime in neighborhoods around stations.
      3.  Light rail will not be used...in Portland, opening was accompanied by a spike in ridership and then greatly reduced usage.  Intel bought 10,000 (?) transit passes for its employees to encourage non-driving and only 400 are used.  Nobody wants it.  People will always drive.
      4.  Light rail means that the bus system will fail.  The types of people who HAVE TO use transit would rather take the bus.  If funds are shifted to light rail the bus routes will be cut, frequency diminished and "those types of people" left without transportation.
      5.  People who can afford to drive will never use rail or other transit.
      6.  The only people who benefit are the pork-loving politicians.
      7.  Light rail has never worked anywhere in the world.
      8.  Maintenance costs run in the billions.  At least every 30 years, everythying has to be replaced.
      7.  Light rail has the poorest safety record of any mode on the planet.  Prepare to die.
      8.  Light rail just increases congestion due to the low-cost trashy development (including Section 8 housing) that typically grows around rail stations.  If we want the entire character of our city to change for the worse, go with light rail.
      On other transportation topics:
      1.  Claims to be an expert in bicycle transportation but didn't know Mike Ronkin or Pete Lagerwey.("Never heard of 'em")
      2.  Calls traffic-calming, "congestion manufacture"...says that it does nothing to improve safety or quality of life, it just slows down the traffic and is a safety hazard.  I cited studies documenting the opposite, he just blew right by these.
      3.  Says that the only way to "solve" the congestion problem is to build toll lanes on freeways and to increase street capacity in general (more, wider lanes, various technological traffic management devices).
      4.  Says that, really, the whole congestion problem will solve itself in a few years with hi-tek vehicles that run themselves -- cruise control that also controls distances between vehicles will in and of itself keep freeways from backing up at rush hour.
      5.  The automobile is responsible for our nation's economic well-being and high standard of living.  Anything that says otherwise is just itchi' for a fight.
      6.  In downtown areas it's silly to think that residents will walk, bike or take transit to get around.  They will ALWAYS prefer driving.  By building up density in central city areas, we're just asking for trouble.
      He went on and on and on.  He seems to take things way out of context, spout highly dubious statistics non-stop and talk and talk.  The citizens who brought him in to lecture and the folks listening to him are not equipped to counter these arguments.  It just makes me sick.  They don't know any better and if you haven't got a clue, he can sound credible.
      Is there anyone out there you could suggest that could help counter this guy???  HDR is doing a citywide Transportation Master Plan, which is what triggered the light rail discussion.  Charlie Hales seems to be a reasonable person and doing a good idea at laying out and evaluating all options.
      Suggestions, information, ammunition appreciated.
      Betty Drake

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