Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why Not a Streetcar?

It appears that the two most popular arguments for not supporting this project are a) the city never gave the people an option, and b) it won't make money. First of all, I can't argue with the first except to say that we all knew it was coming when we re-elected the mayor, but it also doesn't mean that it is a bad idea. The second argument, well, that is why it is a public investment and not a privatized industry. If it made money, investors would come to together to build them and make money from the users. But the fact remains, cities do not build them to make money, they build them to increase connectibility to create that which drives our city: commerce! How many times has someone complained "but there is not parking downtown", or "our streets are so overcrowded", etc. This is why you build these things, to continue the movement goods and ideas.

I've decided I'm going to state all my pros and cons.

- connectivity: between the streetcar and RailRunner, we'll have connected approximately 30% of the metro areas jobs including two major job centers, downtown and north I-25.

- Transit options: The ability to leave your car at home. A person in far reaches of the metro can hop a train and get to work, the airport, a movie, food, a conference, etc.

- Pollution: The streetcar runs on electricity, saving our air quality over our densist population center. Rapid Ride and the 66 bus routes serve something like 7,000 people daily on this route. That's a lot of diesel. The perception that our bus system is always empty does not apply along Central Avenue.

- Sustainability: People who live in inner-city housing use significantly less natural resources than those living in new suburbs do to their ability to drive less, not requiring utility and street extensions, etc. Encouraging such is to everyone's advantage.

- Redevelopment potential: A city cannot continue to acquire revenue only by extending its boundaries and sprawling. Reinvestment is the key to any healthy city. The Streetcar is a catalyst for renewal, proven in every city it has been done in.

- Economic development: Who wants to live in a large city that only contains one type of development? The key is variety. Albuquerque cannot continue to only provide strip malls and single family housing units. Nearly 33% of citizens would prefer to live in apartments, lofts, condos, flats, etc. And those 33% make up a great deal of the metro areas productivity. See studies.

- Lower and middle class assistance: The ability to not spend thousands of dollars a year on vehicle expenses becomes an option when mass transportation exists.

- A new beginning: This project becomes the backbone for a more city-wide approach to transportation for the future as we surpass a million citizens and become a traffic mess like Austin, Nashville, Raleigh, etc.

Plan now!!

Vote Yes!!

The cons: The city will pay for it, just as they pay for bus service, museums, the zoo, schools, and most importantly, roads: roads in every quadrant of our city.

We're all in this together. Just because we don't use something does not mean it does not serve a purpose. Expand your horizon people.

Mood: frustrated >:-|

10 comments:

Mario said...

Tim,

Again and again you continue to make valid points for the progression of our great city. It is unfortunate that you and I seem to be the minority in issues such as these. People continue to say $28 million a mile is not worth it. But if they could only imagine the shopping and redevelopment that would take place along Central, they would realize this is a small investment for our city. I would be willing to bet that many of the nay-sayers would ultimately use the streetcar to shop and dine up and down Central Avenue. Come on Albuquerque, we are so close to a million people metro wide, it is time we give up that small town mentality. Like Tim said, many other cities have grown before acting on transportation issues and look where they are now. ABQ needs to be even more proactive than the cities he mentions because of our limited river crossings.

For those of you who were upset because you would not be able to vote, not to worry you'll get your wish. There will be a special ballot to extend the transportation tax to pay for the streetcar. So think long and hard about this vote, as this is a chance for ABQ to take a GIANT step forward. I for one would have been more than happy to let the council and mayor decide so that the NIMBY's out there would not have their say!!!!

Mario

John said...

The ballot is on Feb. 6th. Perhaps we should start an "Albuquerque Residents for Streetcar" group. Right now people seem to have the impression that only the city and businesses support this, so independent citizens supporting the streetcar would be a boost for it, I think.

Garth said...

I am in favor but must point out that when you say the con is that the city will pay for it you really mean that taxpayers will pay for it....

And one must question whether this is the best use of the public funds: over say schools or assistance for the poor, or some other purpose.

Just making points

philly said...

@ garth:
Spending the money towards schools would be great if APS wasn't completely incompetent in balancing those funds.

Transportation is extremely important for the future of ABQ which expects 1 million witihin the next 20 years. It's smart to plan ahead.

Those who opppose it don't understand the all the positives and things it effexts indirectly, economically, and socially.

Anonymous said...

I don't live in ABQ, but if I did I would join the "Albuquerque Residents for Streetcar" group. I think that more pepole in ABQ need to be informed and educated about the benefits of good public transportation.

Occasionally friends and acquintances planning a trip to ABQ/Santa Fe ask me about the public transportation in ABQ. I tell them it's a work in progress. Now it seems that this work in progress will take a major setback if the modern streetcar doesn't happen.

This is truly frustrating - especially that most of the people who want to put this to a vote are likely suburbanites with a 2 car average per household. I really hope that these people wake up - haven't they learned that suburban sprawl is more detrimental to the environment than high density and mass transit. This should especially be important to an environmentally conscience area like the ABQ metro.

This would be an investment that the entire city will benefit from in the form of new higher density developement, economic enhancement of underdeveloped and developing areas of the inner city, and efficient transportation for all citizens including those who may not be able to afford cars.

Most cities who have light rail systems in no way regret making the decision to build them, because they are realizing the above listed benefits.

Living in a larger city, I can tell you that most people I know take the light rail system to work, even if they own a car. They take it to major sports and other events so they don't have to deal with traffic and parking, and they take it to clubs and parties so that they are not driving after having a few.

All I can say is that ABQ will only benefit if the modern streetcar is built and probably regret it if is not!!!! I wish you all GOOD LUCK on this!!!!!

John said...

Tim, this is off-topic, but could I get your email address?

bryan said...

The one thing I hope for and haven't heard with the Streetcar is making it alone a way of getting downtown w/o the Railrunner. This could be done with cheap (or free like Tacoma's new modern streetcar) parking garages on either end of the line. This was my biggest concern when I heard they were stopping it in Nob Hill instead of extending to Uptown (where there is already parking) like the original discussion.

casden said...

OK - I have to comment on this one!

The following quotes are from the Rio Grande Foundation website at
http://www.riograndefoundation.org/new/articles/?EC=ReadArticle&ArticleID=106

"Low income and minority advocates in both Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have sued transit agencies or transit planners for building expensive rail service to wealthy suburbs while they let bus service to low-income neighborhoods stagnate or decline.[7] If we spend hundreds-of-millions of dollars on this “modern streetcar” project, our bus system is likely to suffer from lack of resources as well."


My comments:
I can't speak for Los Angeles, but I lived in San Francisco and I know that BART (rail system)and MUNI (the light rail/streetcar system) went into low income and minority neighborhoods like the Mission District and Balboa Park. The wealthy suburbs like Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Pacifica, Palo Alto had less light rail availability than the lower income parts of the city, and in some cases had no rail at all.


Also on this website Paul Gessing states:

"The high cost of rail transit threatens the rest of our transit system. High construction costs and cost overruns often force transit agencies to cut back on bus service and/or raise fares, thus depressing transit ridership. Los Angeles lost 25 percent of its transit riders when it built its rail transit system between 1985 and 1995."


My comments:
It doesn't make sense that ridership dwindles with more mass transit availability, the costs would not rise to a point that people would stop using the system alltogether. I'd like to see the actual cost per ride changes before and after the light rail system was built in the above mentioned claim.

The Rio Grande Foundation is a huge advocate at stopping the modern streetcar in ABQ and spending more money on paving roads, buying busses and creating HOV lanes. While those are all workable solutions they are not really long-term solutions and the transit and traffic problems will continue to plague the Rio Grande Valley. Then more, wider roads will be built, and more busses will be bought, and new routes will be created to the farthest suburbs where huge highways will be paved, perpetuating our dependance on oil and resulting in a hazy silvery, metallic-colored haze of pollution sitting over the inner parts of the city where most of the lower income people who might decide not to ride public transportation anymore happen to live. Not that this has'nt already happened in most fast growing ciries in the western US. The cities whose mistakes ABQ could learn from.

It's my understanding that the state wants to become a "green" state and initiate the use of alternative forms of energy and that the city of Albuquerque is an environmentally conscience city. If this is the case, then I understand why (besides obvious economic reasons) the Railrunner is being built and why the modern streetcar is being considered.

These are things that I would have liked to have written on the Rio Grande Foundations website, but they have no option for submitting comments. They just seem to write general statements with no numbers, specifics, references, stats to back their claims - at least none that happened to see.


The author also wrote another article that was published today which calls the Railrunner "one of New Mexico's rail boondoggles":

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YjBhNWFjMGUwZGRjYmZmZDI5MjEyOWNhMDc1M2ZkMjA=

He does offer more numbers in this article, but he fails to mention that ABQ has natural and geographic boundaries that may not allow expanded 6 lane freeways and other major arterial roads to be paved to Belen, and to Santa Fe. With the Amer-indian reservation on the north and south this is not even a feasible solution. Not that he suggests this be done, but besides rail what other alternative would there be. It is, however, more feasible to allow the Railrunner to use existing tracks to transport a fast growing population across those boundaries to the outlying suburbs and nearby towns.

ABQ is at a pivitol point in it's transit planning and if advocates against higher (up to 3 standard busses could equal a "modern streetcar") occupancy transit convince the citizens of ABQ and New Mexico that rail is not needed the beautiful blue skies that New Mexico citizens and visitors enjoy would be available only after leaving what could become the dingy, polluted Rio Grande Valley.

Anonymous said...

FYI - Here's a great article from the ABQ Journal advocating the Modern Streetcar in ABQ. It's from Wednesday Nov. 15, 2006:

http://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/guest_columns/512256opinion11-15-06.htm


Gives me hope that the critics of this project will not stop the Modern Streetcar from becoming a reality in ABQ.

Tim said...

I'm happy to see so many comments on this one! I think this sets a record on UrbanABQ.

Thanks for pointing out the article in the Journal, mr/s anonymous. I somehow missed that one. It's nice to see the Journal provide somewhat of a balance.

Casden, great points. I'm afraid to look at The Rio Grande Foundation's website for fear of the anger I think it'll bring me. I'm curious to know what this Paul Gessing guy does and what makes him an authority on this subject.

And to anonymous who doesn't live here, I think it's time you moved on down and join us :)