Thursday, August 23, 2007

Forbes Says Rail Helps Residents' Budgets, Cities' Economies

Comparing Dallas, Houston and other cities, finds that rail transit helps reduce homeowners' commuting costs and household budgets, while also adding to cities' economic growth, too.

Economic experts in Texas say they haven't missed the point.

But anti-rail policymakers, talk radio hosts and some business leaders in Milwaukee and Wisconsin can't make the same enlightened claim; interestingly, coincidentally rabid rail phobic Mark Belling had an existential moment Wednesday afternoon railing, shall we say, against commuter rail.

From the piece:

"Traffic in Texas

"Dallas is investing $4.86 billion to expand its commuter rail system, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), which services area suburbs and neighboring Fort Worth.

"The job is expected to be completed in 2013, and local economists say the city should reap $8.1 billion in increased economic activity over the life of the project.

"Houston, on the other hand, mainly has focused on road construction and expansion, which isn't expected to pay off as well.

"To say DART Rail's impact has been substantial for the Dallas region's economy would be an understatement," says Bernard Weinstein, an economist at the University of North Texas Center for Economic Development.

"It's a trend that's impossible to miss; the local business community certainly hasn't."


Jim Bouman said...

Fast rail, rapid transit, whatever you call it, consider the possibility you'll really like it when it arrives....

I grew up in a city that opened a light rail system in 1955. I was twelve years old and instantly mobile, able to travel to all parts of the city of Cleveland, including the suburbs which had seemed remote and unapproachable to a kid from the near west side (the equivalent of, perhaps, KK and Oklahoma in Milwaukee).

I could be out at night during high school, certain I could get home using a reliable transit system that ran a train every half hour until midnight.

Over the past three years, I have spent a total of about five months (in one and 2-week chunks) in Boston. The "T"--that transit system in the mythic folk song on which "the man who never returned" rode the rails--was pure pleasure. I had to get all over town and was continually amazed at the interesting variety of people with whom I would share the T on those trips. Students--both high school and younger, professionals, professors reading student papers as they rode, families, people in work clothes, people headed downtown to entertainment and restaurants, people with enough to drink in them that they'd be dangerous on the highway, but on the T were just sleepy people getting home legally and safely.

Getting from my sister's house in Brookline to Logan was $22 dollar anguish in a taxi, but a snap for a buck and a quarter on the T, even (especially) at rush hour.

Many riders carried a book or newspaper they were reading. Women often carried their dressy shoes and wore the kind that allowed them to walk eight or ten blocks to a stop/station. There was always lots of conversation--not all in a familiar language.

I once sat next to a woman who got to the end of a book, closed it and sighed contentedly. I couldn't resist: "So, what was it about that you liked?" She just handed me the ragged paperback and said: "Here, you'll see".

Call me out-of-step for not liking the tedium of driving to Milwaukee alone in my car. I'd like to go there oftener if I didn't have to put up with the isolation, the tension of dealing with lane-changing, tailgating and bird-flipping fellow happy motorists. All followed by parking meters, after cruising to find one that's available.

You have to experience fast rail, probably should have experienced it from an early age to appreciate its most civilized aspects.

We will have it, but not on reasonable terms. Once the easy and cheap availability of energy/oil arrives and happy motoring becomes impossibly costly for most people, we'll build it. But we won't grow into it. Many will see it as a comedown. Most will grind their teeth over all the money we threw away on mostly fragile and useless freeways, as we pay again to get a system that will work.

Anonymous said...

My commute has gone from 28mins to 45-55mins. We need some public transportation in Dallas. Houston is much worse...

Anonymous said...

Jim, I've spent all of my life in Milwaukee but remember "heavy rail" here, when I could train downtown from Tosa. Wish we had that back for my trips to Waukesha and Madison now.

And I have experienced light rail in other cities and am with you -- it's wonderful for many reasons, including the mix of passengers. And some of it was in allegedly high-crime cities, but that's not what I saw on their rail systems.

And I'm even more for a real mix of transportation systems. I recently visited Denver and saw how their trolley loop downtown works so well. The area was hopping with people of all ages, hometowners and tourists alike.

We must back Mayor Barrett on all of this and get the too-typical Milwaukee slugs to get out of the conversation. The plans are good.