China’s high speed rail is hitting some road bumps. I don’t have an ideological problem with high speed rail, but the more I thought about it during this discussion, the more it seemed to me that there is little that rail can do that something else can’t do better, as far as the US is concerned. And high speed rail does not just have to be better than air/bus/car, it has to be sufficiently better to rework our infrastructure.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission screwed up and it forced an innocent company out of business. That’s unfortunate, but it’s actually heartening to see the CPSC take some responsibility rather than whine about how they just want to protect us and all. There are things to be balanced here, and there seems to be some acknowledgement of that.

Adventures in what we still don’t know about successful dieting: Pretty much everything will make you overeat.

Introducing, the Playboy Prison. They can do whatever they want but leave. Maybe they’ll find democracy like Australia. Honestly, as long as they’re out of society’s hair, I don’t really care all that much. Within reason.

This can’t surprise any dog owner, but it’s always helpful to be reminded.

The welfare effects of channel bundling {PDF!} in cable.

Freakonomics: Does Privatizing Retail Alcohol Sales Increase or Decrease Consumption?

When I saw the title “Exposing India’s Blood Farmers“, I was thinking it was like blood diamonds. Meant figuratively. Well, it’s not agriculture, but it’s blood.

Medical school decreases empathy.


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20 Responses to Linkluster XLVII

  1. Mike Hunt says:

    Regarding alcohol sales, I don’t think the question is germane. Prohibition has been over for over 75 years now. Get over it.

    When I saw your link it made me think of PA. Sure enough, that was the focus of the post. PA is even worse than NJ when it comes to alcohol sales. Here, alcohol generally can’t be sold in a supermarket. Therefore, right next door, is generally a liquor store for alcohol sales. These stores are generally owned by Asian Indians. Their trade group, the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance, is powerful enough to keep things from changing. I wish I was making this up.

  2. David Alexander says:

    And high speed rail does not just have to be better than air/bus/car, it has to be sufficiently better to rework our infrastructure.

    For the city pairs that are generally used for best examples of high speed rail, it’s considerably better than all three modes. I like high speed rail because it won’t need the absurd security clearances at the airport, the schedules will provide flexibility for day trips which is great for business and tourism, and I don’t have to travel at slightly above the speed limit for fear of “revenuers” or freak out about having my car crap out on the side of the road. High speed rail doesn’t have to replace all travel in those other modes, but it will certain create a modal shift that will benefit the users of the other modes, especially for airport users, as slots wasted by short-haul flights can go to long-distance and international travel.

    Besides, as I jokingly like the point out, even in Germany with the Autobahn, cars will slow down in the rain and airports will have delays, but the ICE will still travel at full speed in the rain. The Chinese build with “Asian concrete”, and it’s foolish to presume that the same problems that they have or could have are indicative of the failure of high speed rail, especially given that the Europeans have built networks for nearly 30 years with no problems.

  3. trumwill says:

    David, I read an article recently on low-speed rail that I found moderately convincing. I road the west coast train from one Pacific Northwest town to another. That was nice. But made nicer, in my opinion, by the fact that it can make stops along the way to pick people up and drop them off.

    I should add that our ride was delayed for a couple of hours due to weather conditions.

    Also, you don’t seriously think the TSA would keep their hands off high-speed rail, do you? The only reason they don’t care about Amtrak is its irrelevancy. A rail push (at any speed) would get the TSA’s attention.

  4. trumwill says:

    In alcohol-related news, I read a headline that budget constraints are about to make Minnesota go dry. I’m sure the Dakotas are salivating at the prospect.

  5. David Alexander says:

    Also, you don’t seriously think the TSA would keep their hands off high-speed rail, do you?

    Actually, the TSA has tried to involve itself in a few trials, and after once instance at a small station on the Regional service, Amtrak basically shooed the TSA away. Nowhere else in the world has TSA style controls for railways (including networks that have been the victim of actual terrorist attacks), and Amtrak and whatever public-private partnerships that may develop will fight the TSA tooth and nail.

    FWIW, a bomb on a train just doesn’t have the same effect that a bomb on a plane has, and quite frankly, it’s probably easier just to lay a bomb on the tracks and derail the train.

    I should add that our ride was delayed for a couple of hours due to weather conditions.

    FWIW, I would note that your trip from Callie to Colosse is the type of trip that can’t be replaced by high speed rail. OTOH, it’s great for say San Francisco to Los Angeles where one can achieve a 3.5 hour running time from the cores, and even shorter time for those in exurban areas. The airport capacity that’s wasted on those trips can be shifted to relieve airports and reduce delays, prevent the need for very costly and controversial airport expansion plans, and of course, free capacity for flights from Colosse to LA.

    I road the west coast train from one Pacific Northwest town to another.

    Cascades? It’s successful in terms of patronage and even farebox recovery, but it’s slow given that the maximum speed is still 79 mph. There are some upgrades planned to improve capacity and reliability, but ultimately, Amtrak basically runs around the restrictions placed upon it by BNSF and UP, and that line has issues due to frequent mudslides and washouts. To a railfan like myself that’s tasted real high speed rail in Europe, it’s a bit of a joke, but it’s better than nothing given the alternatives.

  6. trumwill says:

    Actually, the TSA has tried to involve itself in a few trials, and after once instance at a small station on the Regional service, Amtrak basically shooed the TSA away. Nowhere else in the world has TSA style controls for railways (including networks that have been the victim of actual terrorist attacks), and Amtrak and whatever public-private partnerships that may develop will fight the TSA tooth and nail.

    You are more optimistic. They were going after bus stops, recently.

    FWIW, a bomb on a train just doesn’t have the same effect that a bomb on a plane has, and quite frankly, it’s probably easier just to lay a bomb on the tracks and derail the train.

    You are applying common sense where it does not apply.

    As to the rest, I guess I am partially reluctant to build something as relatively inflexible as high-speed rail when there are alternatives that can be used for other purposes. Increasing airport capacity (or numbers of airports) can increase flow from anywhere, to anywhere. Roads are necessarily bidirectional, but you can expand according to demand and by researching what people are already doing. With rail, you’re just kind of assuming that people are going to ride them rather than continue to drive or fly.

  7. David Alexander says:

    Increasing airport capacity

    Except that increasing airport capacity costs $$$ and usually requires land acquisition. Not everywhere has the luxury of having an airport in the middle of nowhere with nobody around it. Coincidentally, not everywhere has the luxury of having a town willing to take in an airport. In planning circles in New York, there’s a slow realization that even with three airports, we’re going to need high speed rail to kill off some of the regional flights, especially since LGA can’t expand any further, JFK expansion ends up in protected wetland, and Newark is hemmed in by the seaport and rail yards. Nobody else wants more planes around their homes at the other regional airports like MacArthur in Long Island or Westchester County Airport, and Stewart Airport is too far away.

    Hell, O’hare will undergo a $6B expansion programme, and the neighbouring communities are fighting the expansion.

    Roads are necessarily bidirectional

    Except upgrading an existing highway with more lanes isn’t much cheaper either and it’s no faster in terms of speed. California is looking at choice of spending billions and potentially more than the cost of the high speed rail line to upgrade the airports in the LA region, while upgrading CA 99 for most of it’s length through the San Joaquin Valley. With high speed rail, we get a cleaner form of transportation, we relieve airport capacity, and we get idiot drivers off the road, and we get something that makes traveling to regional cities along the line much easier while also making it easier to plan quick day trips the major cores at the end points. I’d much rather take a 3 hour train ride that comes every hour or so than deal with the inflexible ticketing options of the airlines, or despite being a roadgeek, having to wake up early in the morning and drive tired for 8 hours or so, nor do I have to worry about it crapping out on me* on the road or it being stolen. With high speed rail, I can go to San Francisco and come back to LA on the same day, something that I do now with the higher speed rail that’s offered in the Northeast.

    Hell, high speed rail would certain spank driving from Colosse to it’s neighbouring real world counterparts…

    *I work at a roadside assistance provider, so I get to see the fun effects of when people from far away break down in strange places.

  8. David Alexander says:

    you’re just kind of assuming that people are going to ride them rather than continue to drive or fly

    To a certain extent, that’s true for just about every fixed rail line, but we’ve done relatively recently in terms of passenger estimates. We have engineers and planners too. And FWIW, when Spain opened up the high speed rail link between Barcelona and Madrid, the airlines basically abandoned the route…

  9. trumwill says:

    Except that increasing airport capacity costs $$$ and usually requires land acquisition.

    Ahhh, the advantages of sprawl. I agree that places that are hard-up for land are facing different challenges. Though it does seem to me that the imminent domain issues involving rail are pretty significant, too.

    With regard to Los Angeles, it’s certainly a mess out there. I was reading about Carmageddon just yesterday. In cases like that, I think that you do have to look at other options. Including congestion pricing and rail.

    I guess my views on the subject are colored by two things:

    1) The Colosse experience. It was rail for the sake of rail. I was in favor of it at the outset, but the more of the mentality I saw behind it, the more skeptical of railboosters I became. And it turned out that they had been dishonest the entire time about the effect it would have on bus routes. I used the light rail system in Shaston (the “other” large city in the Pacific Northwest) for two or three days in a row. Very convenient and it boosted my thoughts for urban rail, right up until I considered buses doing the same thing (indeed, due to inclement weather, buses had to take us part of the way anyhow). I’m not saying that Shaston should tear it down, but I’m not sold either way on the virtues of it having been built.

    2) It remains speculative and the potential for sunk costs are immense. You can judge what roads need to be expanded by what people are actually doing. I’ve no doubt that they can come up with estimates for rail, but it’s more guesswork, in my mind, than saying US63 is clogjammed 8 hours of the day. People use US63 regularly. Even traditional rail beats high-speed rail in this regard. They have other uses if ridership falters.

    All that being said, I hope the LA/SF rail is successful. I like rail in theory, if I’m a bit skeptical of it in fact, and would like to be wrong. And, of course, when dealing with investments of that caliber, I hope they pay off as I wish California no ill.

  10. David Alexander says:

    Ahhh, the advantages of sprawl.

    How is that an advantage of sprawl? You end up with an airport that’s even further away from the core.

    And it turned out that they had been dishonest the entire time about the effect it would have on bus routes.

    Yes, god forbid we build fixed transit to spur redevelopment, and increase public transit ridership. Hell, even the Germans can’t get bus rapid transit systems to meet light rail levels of ridership, and they do everything right. If anything, in planning circles, Colosse’s light rail system is hailed as success due to it’s high ridership, and the fact that it doesn’t waste petrodollars on going to suburban area at all costs to chase what some would consider to be marginal ridership. It’s an urban oriented system for all intents and purposes, and with each new section of the network opening up, ridership will increase, and operating costs will come down as maintenance operations can be shared.

    right up until I considered buses doing the same thing

    The problem is that buses can’t do the same thing unless one feels like paying considerably more for the same thing. Ottawa basically went with a busway in the 1970s and now they’re kicking themselves as they’re going to tear it up in order to finally get real capacity increases that only exist with rail based transit.

    (indeed, due to inclement weather, buses had to take us part of the way anyhow)

    What happened? Unless it’s a bad snow storm or flooding, the light rail and subways around here operate without trouble if there’s inclement weather.

    You can judge what roads need to be expanded by what people are actually doing.

    You do realize that we have planners and engineers doing the same thing, and it’s not magical guess work for rail based transport any more than it would be roads or airports.

  11. trumwill says:

    How is that an advantage of sprawl? You end up with an airport that’s even further away from the core.

    With sprawl, not everybody’s heading downtown. Colosse was close to having a third airport, putting one within reasonable proximity to just about everywhere (although the one with proximity to downtown was smallest).

    If anything, in planning circles, Colosse’s light rail system is hailed as success due to it’s high ridership, and the fact that it doesn’t waste petrodollars on going to suburban area at all costs to chase what some would consider to be marginal ridership.

    Yet ridership has fallen significantly in the overall for public transportation. And expenses have risen considerably. By a wider margin if you include rail than if you don’t.

    Then bus routes are cut not only to the areas served by the train, but to the suburbs (and those ugly suburbanites) where demand is sufficient for a third party to step in. And to the part where I used to live, where my roommate had to walk another half-mile to the next stop.

    And any gains in traffic are offset by the delays caused by the train in the first place.

    It’s not worthless, but if this is success, I’d hate to see what failure is.

    The problem is that buses can’t do the same thing unless one feels like paying considerably more for the same thing. Ottawa basically went with a busway in the 1970s and now they’re kicking themselves as they’re going to tear it up in order to finally get real capacity increases that only exist with rail based transit.

    I can’t speak for Ottawa, never having been there.And there are some towns where I could really see it being a worthwhile investment as settlement patterns are still being developed (maybe a place like Boise). But with a lot of rail advocates, it’s really not about where it makes the most sense. It’s about We need rail! World class cities have rail! Then, at least in Colosse, questions about where to put it are answered “We’ll start in this rich part of town, end in this rich part of town.” Followed by treating the bus routes and rail differently (One where it’s okay not to collect fares, to lose money, and to disrupt traffic, and one where these reasons are used to eliminate routes.)

    What happened? Unless it’s a bad snow storm or flooding, the light rail and subways around here operate without trouble if there’s inclement weather.

    Mostly ice.

    You do realize that we have planners and engineers doing the same thing, and it’s not magical guess work for rail based transport any more than it would be roads or airports.

    It’s not a magical guess, but it’s a guess all the same. It’s based on projections. The same is true of bus routes, of course, but it’s easier to change those around than to tear up rail. When planes can’t get a gate, or when cars are backed up six hours a day, the existence of need for increased capacity is not in doubt. And while it’s less uncertain on who is or is not willing to take public transportation, I would expect the guesswork to be better when looking at cars that are already driving down the freeway or planes already backed up at the gate.

    (Some of my views here are that we should respond reactively as much as proactively. Delosa was looking at a significant overhaul of its highway system based on a perceived need. I was more skittish on that. Expanding existing bottlenecks, on the other hand, I was less so. I recognize that I would have been at least somewhat skeptical of the creation of the Interstate Highway System. So I realize that there are some battles I should lose.)

  12. David Alexander says:

    Yet ridership has fallen significantly in the overall for public transportation.

    The problem is that as more and more development takes place outside of the public transportation infrastructure, there’s less and less incentive to ride public transportation. This has been something that’s been a concern for those in the industry, and as planners have noted, public transportation to the urban core increases with these light rail networks, but suburban access has always been problematic. From a planning perspective, the best thing to do would be to build out rail transportation, create zoning regulations to encourage high density, restrict parking, and encourage large businesses and residents to live in the core, while discouraging suburban commercial development.

  13. David Alexander says:

    With sprawl, not everybody’s heading downtown.

    Danger! Heavily concentrated downtowns seems to be an Anglo-Saxon thing, but it’s the form of the development that’s the problem. In other words, an office building surrounded by a sea of parking lots is problem whether it be downtown or in a suburban office park. In contrast, having urban scale design practices in a suburban location isn’t sprawl.

    Mostly ice.

    I suspect that a place as warm as the Pacific Northwest doesn’t invest in de-icing equipment, something that’s used periodically around here. FWIW, I’ve never seen a line shut down around here for icing concerns…

  14. David Alexander says:

    Re: Colosse’s transit agency

    I’ll note that it’s generally de-rigeur to re-organize and alter bus routes when new lines open up as one of the main goals is to shift the network around, build ridership, and redeploy buses elsewhere. So lines in the area are altered or terminated as the riders are within walking distance, while other lines that would go downtown terminate at stations to promote transfers to the new line. From an operating perspective, the idea is that having these riders transfer over saves the agency money than buy having each bus driver continue on the original routing.

    As for the other issues you noted, I’ll refrain from saying too much as I am not a local on the ground, but I will not that building rail transit does not magically mean that the bus network has to be trashed. Mind you, the problem with suburban bus transit is that even if it’s full, it can still bleed cash to the transit agency, so these may be routes that the agency was going to trash regardless unless they were going to receive more subsidies to operate them. I will note that per our friends at the Federal Transit Administration, Colosse’s transit agency has found it to be cheaper to operate the light rail per mile than the bus, and the expense per passenger trip is much less.

    As for delays, it’s routine to close or acquire lanes from automobile traffic when building a light rail line. One would argue that it makes sense to do so as it promotes transit, but also that these spaces downtown shouldn’t be so easily given away to automobile traffic in the first place.

    As for fare collection, sadly, many American systems utilize proof-of-payment only on limited stretches when it should be implemented on all buses as well as the light rail network to speed up boarding. POP does not mean no fare collection, but it reduces the need to have conductors sitting on each run and babysitting the passengers.

  15. trumwill says:

    An office building surrounded by a sea of parking lots is only a bad thing if you’re urban model is one in which having a sea of parking lots is a bad thing.

    A good part of the transportation debate relies on such preferences. Particularly the urban transportation debate. Should we encourage people to live to the design of the planners (and reward those that do with better transportation options), or should we incur the costs of trying to plan around the way that people choose to live. And just how do people choose to live, when none of these choices are made in a vacuum?

    It’s my answer to these more fundamental questions that have me leaning away from rail. And it’s that the same people that boost urban rail also boost high-speed rail that makes me suspicious and lean in the opposing direction.

  16. David Alexander says:

    Should we encourage people to live to the design of the planners

    To a certain extent, we already do that. We design communities in which it’s basically required to drive, and then in turn make walking to anything absurdly difficult, or the use of public transport nearly impossible. Then we act surprised when we have a bunch of people who can’t drive behind the wheel of an automobile. Everywhere else in the first world, those people are using transit, but in the US, they’re clogging up the roads and turning them into eyesores since they can’t get around.

    Hell, the one thing I liked about my cousin’s subdivision in Canada is that her neighbourhood is walkable and there’s a short bus ride to the subway to downtown.

    if you’re urban model is one in which having a sea of parking lots is a bad thing

  17. David Alexander says:

    if you’re urban model is one in which having a sea of parking lots is a bad thing.

    The solution is to restrict parking, or at minimum, force parking garages so the buildings can be closer together so they’re walkable.

  18. trumwill says:

    To a certain extent, we already do that. We design communities in which it’s basically required to drive, and then in turn make walking to anything absurdly difficult, or the use of public transport nearly impossible.

    Which is what I meant by discerning preference. A lot of people believe that but for the subsidies, everyone (or most people) would choose to live in densely populated, more urban areas. I, of course, disagree strongly. I believe that with or without subsidies, big yards, big houses, are our collective preference. And therefore the expansion of the roads and such are an extension of that preference (and increased gas taxes and the like are just as likely to move more businesses to the suburbs than people into the city). It’s impossible to prove either way, though.

    (Incidentally, with our car culture, I do believe it’s our duty to come up with alternatives for those that cannot afford a car. Which is why I support public transit, even when it operates at a loss. Which is another issue with rail in Colosse: it offered public transportation from one wealthy part of town to another. I’d rather that money be used for strengthening public transportation for those that don’t live in the expensive (comparatively speaking) districts the light rail serves.)

    The solution is to restrict parking, or at minimum, force parking garages so the buildings can be closer together so they’re walkable.

    This is a solution that assumes that the lack of walkability is a problem worthy of mandating garages. I actually like garages! But with things spread out, they’re not necessary. And if you can keep housing prices low, more people can afford cars to begin with.

    I do like walkability, to an extent. I hate purely residential neighborhoods where you absolutely have to get in your car to pick up something from a convenience store. But they’re popular for a reason. My preference is outvoted, as often as not.

  19. Brandon Berg says:

    It really isn’t necessary to mandate anything; land in high-density urban areas is valuable, so it generally won’t be used for ground-level parking. If it is, it’s because land in that area isn’t valuable enough to justify the expense of building up instead of building out.

  20. trumwill says:

    It depends, really, on whether or not you support density for the sake of density for walkability or environmental reasons.

    One of the things I didn’t mention about my recent visit to Southern Tech U was the addition of multilayered parking garages on campus. This was something that had been talked about since I was going there, but they finally determined, I guess, that the space was required and the land a cost that they had to build up. Which is good because it allows a parking spot for everybody, allows them to use land that currently allocated for parking lots as far as the eye can see for expansion, and allows people covered parking spots – important in the south.

    It’s interesting how it works. My brother Mitch’s employer is in the suburbs (in a city where land is cheap), so you wouldn’t think that they’d need a parking garage, but they have one. Meanwhile, Sotech, which is in the shadow of downtown, just had concrete as far as the eye could see and no parking garages until recently.

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