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Updated: Transit expert bashes streetcars

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One of the country’s smartest and most honest analysts on transit and light rail is Randal O’Toole.  Mr. O’Toole’s been associated with the Cato Institute for almost 20 years and per his Wikipedia bio focuses “on private land rights, particularly against public land use regulations and light rail.”  His research and writing illustrates the folly and terribly bad decision that the OCTA and city of Anaheim have made in approving a $319 million streetcar system to connect their Convention Center, a station near (but not at or in) Disneyland to the new $184 million ARTIC train station — totally, a $503 million unjustifiable RISK to connect Disney patrons and conventioneers to the California High-Speed Rail system that’s simply not coming to Anaheim.

From O’Toole’s Blog, The Antiplanner, he writes today in Streetcars as an Intelligence Test (emphasis added is ours):

…My report showed that streetcars are just plain inferior to buses in every possible way. They are slower; can’t carry as many people per hour; prone to system failure (if one is disabled, every car on the line has to stop); can’t easily respond to changes in travel habits; and are far more expensive than buses…

Streetcar advocates seem immune to these facts. Instead, their notions are all based on the nostalgic fantasy of taking a railcar somewhere. “San Antonio is the largest city that doesn’t have streetcars,” said one advocate–as if they have to be just as foolish as everyone else.

In response to the “rail advantage” argument, the Antiplanner pointed out that even if people were so snobbish as to ride streetcars when they won’t ride buses, there is no reason why taxpayers should subsidize snobs.

O’Toole’s penultimate work on streetcars was published earlier this year: The Great Streetcar Conspiracy.  He neatly summarizes the orgasmic desire for this ancient technology as simply greed:

The real push for streetcars comes from engineering firms that stand to earn millions of dollars planning, designing, and building streetcar lines. These companies and other streetcar advocates make two major arguments in favor of streetcar construction.

The first argument is that streetcars promote economic development. This claim is largely based on the experience of Portland, Oregon, where installation of a $103-million, 4-mile streetcar line supposedly resulted in $3.5 billion worth of new construction. What streetcar advocates rarely if ever mention is that the city also gave developers hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives to build in the streetcar corridor. Almost no new development took place on portions of the streetcar route where developers received no additional subsidies.

The second argument is that streetcars are “quality transit,” superior to buses in terms of capacities, potential to attract riders, operating costs, and environmental quality. In fact, a typical bus has more seats than a streetcar, and a bus route can move up to five times as many people per hour, in greater comfort, than a streetcar line. Numerous private bus operators provide successful upscale bus service in both urban and intercity settings. Streetcars cost roughly twice as much to operate, per vehicle mile, as buses. They also cost far more to build and maintain. Streetcars are no more energy efficient than buses and, at least in regions that get most electricity from burning fossil fuels, the electricity powering streetcars produces as much or more greenhouse gases and other air emissions as buses.  Based on 19th-century…

Let’s leave it to the greedbag Masters of the Universe to identify their friends who are the “engineering firms” that will bring the streetcars to Anaheim — but we already know of one, and ALREADY there’s an issue with one of the Masters’ lackeys, Steve Albert Chavez Lodge who most recently ran for and lost an Anaheim Council seat but instead stands to score nearly a $100k commission by bringing the initial $9.6 million streetcar design project to Hill International.  Hill’s local office is in Irvine.

Did OCTA NOT learn any lessons from the unfortunate, useless CenterLine project of just a few years ago?  After spending $67 million to promote this system that would have run from only Santa Ana, down Bristol Street to (but not at or in) South Coast Plaza, the OCTA Board finally killed the project as reported in one of the best pieces of writing we’ve ever seen from the OC Weekly: LiteRail.

Tacoma “modern” streetcar

Just the basics makes Anaheim’s CenterLine II a really bad idea — streetcars:

  • Are inflexible — their routes are set in steel
  • Add to traffic congestion as lanes are shared with automobiles
  • Conflict with traffic — we didn’t choose the pictures on top this post for their artfulness — and often cause their users to cross through it to board and deboard
  • Use obtrusive overhead “catenary” electrical cabling
  • Per O’Toole, cost twice FOUR times as much as buses (Mr. O’Toole kindly corrected us)
  • Are considerably slower than buses
  • Offer less capacity than buses
  • Once built, can’t adapt to changing usage patterns
  • DUPLICATE existing bus routes (in this case, both the OCTA’s and Anaheim Resort Transit), siphoning ridership from them
  • Will not enhance development in an already developed area
  • Require their own depot and maintenance facility (never shown on their maps)
  • Environmentally are no friendlier than the low-emissions buses now used by OCTA
  • In this case, will see no cost contribution from the Disney Company they ultimately benefit

This hoax will cost the County dearly.  It’s a clear waste, probably fraudulent and needs another look by the new OCTA Board that’s being installed over the next two months.  Curt Pringle and his cronies can’t get away with this HALF BILLION DOLLAR BOONDOGGLE.


Update, 02/11/13:  We’re extremely pleased that this debacle is finally getting some traction.  The union-funded Voice of OC published a major story today which discusses three powerful local politicians who’ve taken an interest in this MESS.  Quoting Adam Elmahrek in OCTA Directors Will Scrutinize Anaheim Streetcar Project:

After Orange County Transportation Authority directors at the Jan. 28 board meeting raised a number of questions about the project — including the nearly $100-million per mile cost and whether a much cheaper enhanced bus service is a better idea — they decided to have an ad hoc committee in the coming weeks review the details.  There was also talk of having the board’s transit committee meeting on Feb. 14 explore issues surrounding the streetcar.  And if those meetings aren’t enough, Supervisor and OCTA Director Todd Spitzer has requested a public workshop this month to answer a host of questions after Voice of OC published an email chain that has Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and others at City Hall questioning whether local officials planned to misrepresent information about the project to a federal agency.

It needs emphasis that the proposed streetcar route and the stops it would make generally are or could be REDUNDANT to both the ordinary OCTA bus system AND the Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) system.  We can’t fathom why this THIRD system is logical or necessary when the proposed streetcar routing can be duplicated now by the OCTA — and in fact, ART ALREADY operates a shuttle bus between the current, perfectly adequate, not-overrun Anaheim Metrolink/Amtrak train station at the north end of Angel’s Stadium (this station is only the third most utilized in the OC, behind Fullerton and Irvine).  We suspect that ridership of the ART route is so minimal that Anaheim city government is embarrassed to publish it, even tho they own a piece of the ART system along with Disney and a number of hotels.  The passenger numbers quoted for high-speed rail “boardings” are 22 years, a generation, into the future and can’t possibly be reliable or believable (especially considering the good odds that high-speed rail will never be built for both a lack of funding and the vicious court challenges it faces):

19,000 daily boardings by 2035 and increase to 50,000 daily boardings with the completion of the state’s high-speed rail line, according to a city report.

Elmahrek continues:

…employment and residential population is projected to significantly increase in the area served by the streetcar, according to the report.

This is crap.  The route primarily travels along Katella Ave. which is already full populated with hotels and retail (including the lonely Garden Walk) — ordinary folk don’t live here, and would have no use for the streetcar anyway.  ART can serve any “employment” traffic IF they were to come in by train.  It’s also important to note that Disney will NOT allow the streetcar on its own property — the east terminus of the short, 3.2 mile, presumed two-track route is across Harbor Blvd. from the Disney Maingate.  This is not insignificant — crossing Harbor Blvd., especially with the baby strollers that many many Disney visitors use, and then walking to the turnstiles is a unnecessary trek, but UNLIKE THE ART SHUTTLE which enters and off/onloads at the Maingate, the streetcar won’t terminate on Disney’s property (note the black “Destination” dot, upper left, on the map below on the east side of Harbor Blvd.) as apparently Disney won’t allow it or assume any liability:

Credit: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/million-377705-project-city.html?graphics

We welcome Supervisor Spitzer’s suggestion to hold “public workshop” on this waste of money and time.  There are plenty of folks who’d like more than just three minutes of a public commentary period to lay out the facts on this tragedy.  Supervisor Moorlach can lend his financial expertise to it, and as well, his six years as an OCTA Director — this wouldn’t be the first boondoggle he’s seen as he’ll remember the CenterLine.  Irvine Councilman Lalloway’s concern is certainly welcome too, but he and his city haven’t the best of records in fiscal prudence considering their recent approval of the iShuttle to Nowhere: When it’s Other People’s Money, Irvine’s happy to spend it.  As well, we’d encourage Mr. Spitzer to ALSO have a look at an equally expensive and unnecessary streetcar project that’s underway in Santa Ana.  Both these projects are embarrassments, 19th century technological dinosaurs and complete wastes of Measure M tax money that’s collected County-wide.

And finally, BIG KUDOS to Mr. Spitzer as well for needed reference to the OC’s last light-rail debacle AND a subtler reference to the LACK of investment (i.e. $0) the Walt Disney Company is making in this streetcar system that purely benefits its (two and eventually three) Anaheim theme parks, no matter how few guests it won’t bring to its ticket takers (emphasis ours):

Spitzer said the project would conjure memories of a light-rail plan called Centerline that was scrapped earlier this century because of community opposition. And he questioned whether Anaheim’s elite business community, which is expected to heavily benefit, would help offset the cost.  “We have a right to know what the business community is going to put on the table,” Spitzer said.


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4 Responses

  1. [...] be railroaded through the Council.  Murray pulled a similar trick when she rushed the $319 million Streetcar vote through the Council last [...]

  2. [...] he’ll still embrace the ludicrous, unjustifiable, traffic-congesting $319 million Streetcar project between the Convention Center, not quite Disneyland (which won’t contribute a dime to it and [...]

  3. [...] legacy includes bus service reductions followed by a massive bus fare increase, an unneeded $184 million train station (on top of another unnecessary one his predecessor built in [...]

  4. [...] Human Resources, the unposted crony appointments and some plain old corruption.  Have a look at a half-billion dollars of unjustified transportation projects supported by Measure M funds in Anaheim since Mr. Spitzer will be an OCTA Director.  And [...]