Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rail or Die!

Would anyone support a road that cost $2.5B with a forecasted, estimated ridership of 24,000 per day?


Would anyone support a rail that cost $2.5B with a forecasted, estimated ridership of 24,000 per day, such as is proposed for Greenlight Pinellas?

Yes.  Why do you ask? Just look at SunRail in Orlando.  It cost $1.2B, now has less than 4,000 riders per day. Orlando's future is now so bright!  We must catch up!

Mention rail, magic will happen when its built. Disaster awaits if it is not built.

Robert Trigaux of the Times is the latest to bump his head on something hard as he jumped with both feet into the rail bandwagon today.
On the surface, these maps of Tampa Bay, Denver and Pittsburgh — all metro markets of similar job size — display the relative challenge of getting to a job via public transit.
But what these three maps really indicate is economic mobility. If you're looking to get ahead, to start or advance a career, where would you rather live?
In Denver, where 20,467 jobs are reachable, on average, within a 30-minute commute by foot and transit leaving between 7 and 9 a.m.?
Tampa Bay only has 6,865 transit accessible jobs.  But he does not define the boundaries of Tampa Bay, which is either a body of water, or 2 - 7 counties depending on... whatever you want Tampa Bay to mean.

He states "These are not academic exercises", then cites a University of Minnesota academic exercise which the basis of the story.  

Trigaux turns pessimist about jobs, the "Young adults with talent and ambition will absorb the message of these maps " which may be kind of hard, since the maps posted on the web version of the article are totally unreadable. The young adults may seek brighter prospects in more transit accessible locales such as Denver and Pittsburgh. He also suggests that companies will prefer locations with transit for accessibility to workers.

Here's one of the maps the Times attempted to reference

Number of jobs with 30 minutes of walk and transit
in Pinellas County
Click here to view the full map.

Here are some observations Trigaux downplays or could not be bothered with:

The biggest factor in employment accessibility is population density, especially larger downtowns with much higher employment density, that make it easier for transit to transport workers to fewer locations.  Hillsborough and Pinellas do not have the single highly dense work centers or downtown or density to support levels he's cited. Tampa Bay ranks pretty high on the dispersion and sprawl indices.  At least he does admit that some cities such as Atlanta have "ample mass transit" and scores worse than Tampa Bay on jobs accessible with transit, so there's something else at work here.

Pinellas population density
Click here to see the full map and play with the data.

An eyeball comparison of the population density and distribution and the jobs accessible by transit suggests at least a strong correlation.  That is, the reason there are fewer jobs in the area near transit stops could be that the jobs are relatively dispersed in the overall area.

How about we check our assertion above that "larger downtown" business districts with higher employment density affect this type of study.
Tampa-St. Petersburg Downtown Employment:  30,450, about 2.5% of the metropolitan workforce
 Pittsburgh Downtown Employment: 92,010, about 8.4% of the metropolitan workforce
Denver Downtown Employment: 119,565, about 9.5% of the metropolitan workforce 
Interesting data that supports our assertion cited from here (PDF).

Transit commuters make up a very small percent of the workforce, averages are around 2% such as in Hillsborough and Pinellas, exclusive of the largest cities, of which Tampa Bay is not. Exactly what do 2% of commuters have to do with the rest of the real world workers? 

How many of those workers with 30 minute transit accessible jobs actually take transit to work? 

How many more jobs are within a 30 minute commute by car?  Isn't that a relevant comparison, since most people have made that choice?  How many more jobs are workers be able to chose from in a 30 minute commute by car?  We're all about choice, and choice for more and better jobs, right?  It's a point we've made before.

Even the numbers Triguax cites in the piece illustrate there is NO correlation between employment and transit accessibility.  
When compared to all 46 metro markets, Tampa Bay ranked 21st in total employment but fell to 33rd in accessibility. In contrast, Denver ranked 20th in employment while soaring to ninth in accessibility — reinforcing the multitude of reasons that city is a magnet to a less car-obsessed generation of millennials. Pittsburgh ranked 22nd in total employment and also 22nd in accessibility.
In other words, Tampa Bay's employment is about the same as Denver and Pittsburgh, despite the other cities transit accessibility.

What, exactly, is his point?

When Greenlight rail proponents can't defend building a $2.5B (likely over $3.3B with interest payments) light rail for 24,000 daily riders, they paint a picture of pending disaster.

Trigaux concludes:
But the conclusion remains unchanged. Lacking an efficient mass transit system, this metro area runs a serious risk ahead of getting shunned as a place of thinning economic opportunity.
This is the same argument made over and over again, as it was in Hillsborough in 2010. This argmument made some of our otherwise bright and reasonable business and political leaders talk as if Hillsborough County was at the gates of hell, and would sink right in if we did not pass the rail ballot initiative.  Now they're doing it again.

Rail thinking has damaged their ability to reason.

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