A Pre-Keynesian Tale of Two Cities
By EV World
If you live in a community that is debating the construction of a light rail commuter service, you'll appreciate how divisive and rancorous the dialog can be. Few systems have been built without also generating a fair amount of anger, not to mention their share of cost over-runs.
The key issue generally revolves around the proposed systems economic impact. It's not unusual for homes and businesses to be displaced and communities to find themselves deeply in debt as costs run $25-35 million a mile. Concerned citizens question the value of a system that may or may not get other drivers out of their cars, freeing up congested roadways.
This compares with estimates for a new 6 lane urban freeway at $8.8 million per mile. However, a recent estimate to repair existing freeways in southern California's Orange County put the cost at more than $17 million a mile.
An alternative to light rail has found success in some Latin American metropolises, starting with Curitiba. Two of those communities are highlighted in the MP3 audios below: Mexico City's Metro Bus and Bogata's Transmilenio.
It should also be noted that BRT hasn't been a universal success as noted by at least one organization promoting light rail transit systems. They point out that most of the systems like that in Mexico City and Bogata utilize diesel-fueled buses. Light rail systems are almost exclusively electrically-driven, which lessens a community's dependence on petroleum and is obviously cleaner at the point of use. Light Rail Now also challenges the myth that LRT Costs Too Much, Does Too Little.
Mexico City: Nancy KateMexico City is the second largest city on the planet and is home to an estimated 25 million inhabitants. Because of it location in a 1,200km2 valley at some 7,000 feet (2,240m) that is bordered on the east and west by mountains that rise another 1,000m, air pollution has become a serious menace to the health of its citizenry and traffic congestion a drag on their productivity.
The city does not want for public or private transit. Its subway opened in 1968. But urban sprawl has expanded beyond its limited reach. Both public and private transit buses, as well as some 32,000 mini-buses (Rutas) carry tens of thousands of Mexico City residents every day, while also contributing to the air pollution generated by the estimated (2005) 3.8 million other motor vehicles vying to space on the cities streets and freeways.
This is why the World Resources Institute's EMBARQ program, led by Nancy Kate, decided to work with the city to help develop a Bus Rapid Transit system.
Operating along 20km of the 36km-long central corridor of the Avenue Insurgentes, 78 Volvo buses run at peak times just two minutes apart. Besides the 34 platforms along the route, it also connects to seven Metro subway stations. It cost $30 million in infrastructure investment by the city and carries some 8,000 passengers a hour or about a quarter million a day at speeds just under 19 km/hr.
You can listen to Ms. Kate's entire presentation using either of the two MP3 players below or by downloading the file to your computer for transfer to you favorite MP3 device.
CLICK TO PLAY MP3 AUDIO
Bogata: Aaron GolubWhere Mexico City's Metro Bus system is a relatively new phenomenon, Bogota, Columbia's TransMilenio system has been in planning for 15 years, with phases one and two now complete, resulting in a 50 mile-long system of dedicated, two-lane trunk lines served solely by 1,000 articulated buses. The average speed is 17 mph, about double what it was when the buses had to share the road with cars and trucks. This speed and convenience translates into 1.3 million passenger boardings a day. The system is a complex mix of both express and local services that is both efficient and cheap.
The total cost of both phase one and two amounts to roughly $750 million, fraction of what the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) light rail system cost, which was an estimated $15 billion.
In Bogota the result is non-motorized travel has increased, including walking and biking, while automobile usage has decreased. Also as a consequence, pedestrian space has increased with wider sidewalks and narrower streets, or streets that have been entirely blocked to automobile. There is a 17 mile-long dedicated pedestrian "highway" that terminates out in undeveloped areas.
With the money the city saved not building an underground subway system, it has had the resources to refurbish its parks, as well as building a 300km-long, segregated regional bikeway. That has caused the number of bicycle-based trips to increase from 1% to closer to 5% because cyclist no longer have to compete with motorists.
The city has also implemented private car use disincentives including a rotating ban on travel based on license plate numbers.
"On any given day of the week, 40% of the license plates are banned," Golub noted.
Every Sunday morning 100 km of city streets are banned to motorcar use and reserved exclusively to pedestrians. In addition, about the same time TransMilenio became operational, the government deregulated energy prices, resulting in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel doubling or even tripling, Golub estimated.
From his dicussion of TranMilenio, Golub transitions to a discussion of the politics of urban design from what he calls the "pre-Keynesan" cities of the late 1800's where streets were, in effect, "linear parks" with mixed use from pedestrians, horse-trolleys and eventually automobiles.
With the Great Depression, Keynesan's economics began to transform our cities in order to stimulate economic growth and put people back to work, resulting in the sprawl we now find is our legacy. Golub sees the need to return to "market fundamentals" or what is often referred to as the "neo-liberal" approach of "lean and mean" economics. The focus needs to be on efficiency and public/private partnerships akin to those that make possible TransMilenio in Bogota and the public/private enterprise behind Metro Bus in Mexico City.
Continued population growth and the sprawl that follows it militates against the implementation of these necessary economic efficiencies, he admits. However, the "lean and mean" approach also encourages a refocus on inner-urban densification and in-fill development, though it also raises issues like neighborhood gentrification and the increased inflow of more cars, not fewer.
For a more thorough appreciation of the opportunities offered and challenges posed by both BRT and a return to pre-Keynesan economic development, we encourage you to listen to Mr. Golub's full presentation using either of the two MP3 players below or by downloading the file to your computer for transfer to you favorite MP3 device.
CLICK TO PLAY MP3 AUDIO
EV World extends its thanks to Urban Age for inviting us to cover the Meeting of the Minds conference and for being able to share this material with our readers/listeners/viewers.
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