Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, January 07, 2022

I-95 stories of being stranded communicate that most Americans are unfamiliar with transit

Cars and trucks are stranded on sections of Interstate 95 Tuesday Jan. 4, 2022, near Quantico, Va. Close to 48 miles of the Interstate was closed due to ice and snow. Steve Helber/AP

There are a couple of interesting stories out of the stranding of dozens of cars for not quite a full day on a snowbound I-95 near Fredericksburg, Virginia because of a winter storm earlier in the week ("I-95 reopens in Virginia after winter storm forced closure that stranded motorists," "Calls grow for examinations of Virginia’s response to hours-long I-95 backup," Washington Post).

The first, a guy from California flew into Dulles and then took an Uber (a taxi), from the airport to Richmond, a distance of over 120 miles ("Uber rider stuck on I-95 hit with $600 bill," WTOP radio, "An Uber rider who got stuck in the Virginia traffic jam ended up with a $600 bill," AP)).

The second, a college student took an Uber from Union Station in Washington to Williamsburg, Virginia, a distance of 150 miles ("DaVante Williams, Uber driver stuck on I-95 in Virginia snow storm, honored for helping passenger get home safely," Washington Post).

Who in their right mind would take a "taxi" on trips of that distance, as such a trip should cost hundreds of dollars?

I guess people for whom money is no object--although the dude at Dulles could have taken a connecting flight to Richmond for another $100--or who have almost zero knowledge of non-automobile based mobility--although I think the woman probably took a train that arrived at Union Station, and if so I don't know why she didn't continue the journey by train to Richmond--would take a "taxi" for such long distances.

The guy flying into Dulles could have taken bus + subway ($11) to Union Station and a train ($26) or bus ($15) ride  to Richmond.

The woman at Union Station could have taken a train or bus to Richmond, and a connecting bus to Williamsburg.  

Granted these trips would have taken longer, but would have cost less than $50, as opposed to $200 or more.

But if you don't have any experience taking local buses, subways/heavy rail, trains, or inter city buses, why would you even think to look at those for options?

Local transit is the "gateway" for understanding transit more generally.  If you can figure out how to get around by transit locally, it's not harder--although the options tend to be paltry--to figure out that you can use trains and inter city buses to get around too, at least to complement airplane travel at a minimum.


At the same time, this indicates gaps in regional transit options and transportation planning, which I will write about in another post.

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At 10:46 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Your points are all valid, but long distance ubers like that are more common than you think. And the numbers might work in their favor. An uber to Chesterfield County from IAD might be cheaper than a uber into DC, a train to richmond, and then another uber to Chesterfield County. If you've got large bags it is not easy to deal with transit.

Here's my side point. Was reading about Bob Crandall, former head of American Airlines. He's made the point the airline industry was better pre-deregulation. The angle he used was interesting -- that smaller cities are being cut off from the air network and international traffic.

We don't think of international airports are big drivers of commerce but for moving people -- which are always more valuable than goods -- its make a huge difference. Northern Virgnia has more international diversity than the Maryland suburbs, and that IAD is located there is a factor.

Cleveland hard a puerto rican community because a a direct flight to San Juan back in the 1970s.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

True about luggage. I've made that point wrt local transit and airports.

And once in Union Station, a family asked me about getting to the Mayflower or some such hotel, and looking at them, their kids and luggage, I said they'd find a taxi to more convenient, rather than lugging luggage between subway stations and their final destination.

But being poorer, ride hailing isn't part of my outlook. When I travel, I look up my local transit options beforehand.

WRT airports, I was just looking up that Pittsburgh stuff you sent awhile back, because of the op ed in the Post suggesting privatization of BWI Airport "to make some money for the state pension fund."

FWIW, airports are the one asset class that government tends to run with a pretty forward market outlook, although there are always some issues with unions, legislators, etc.

While I have written a number of pieces about airports as economic development augurs (aerotropolis) and proximity to airports as a driver of business location,

I hadn't drilled down to the inducement of immigration, which is very interesting.

Eg how you see Anglo-Indians in movies like "Bend it Like Beckham," in communities like Houslow which is close to Heathrow.

Or Queens and JFK. (But is Greater Newark home to a similar kind of diversity because of NIA?)

Anyway, doing a quick Google Scholar search, I couldn't find much. This was the closest, but didn't seem to hone in on airports.

Thinking of my next door neighbors, one from El Salvador and one from Brazil, you still can't fly direct to either country from DC.

They usually fly from DC to NY and then to Brazil, whereas between DC and El Salvador there are direct flights.

It would be very interesting to study the home country airline networks from the US to those countries.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt Crandall's point, I'd say he's not really right, he's focusing on a real small element of the market:

1. larger cities are doing better with deregulation -- defined as more flights to more places and cheaper fares

2. probably a majority of people have much cheaper flights compared to deregulation

3. although cheaper flights are associated with a serious degradation of service in a preponderance or majority of cases

4. but smaller cities in particular, what we might call third or probably more apt fourth tier cities are worse off, except for those third tier cities like the airport in Westchester County(?) or Burbank where the new airline Avelo is flying out of, that use proximity to larger cities/airports to offer lower fares.

5. And some second tier cities like Pittsburgh and St. Louis have lost out as a result of the airline consolidation that has resulted, and the elimination of those cities as major hubs in the service networks of successor airlines.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

AGAIN, your point about airports and immigration of specific groups because of specific flight connections is incredibly interesting.

Theoretically, SLC could have more connections to more international destinations than would be typical of an airport of its size, because of the Mormon Church's expeditionary focus. Etc.

And more Portuguese/Brazilian communities in Greater NY because of the airline networks to the home country.

(Did presence of the UN influence this some, etc.?)

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


4. but smaller cities in particular, what we might call third or probably more apt fourth tier cities are worse off, except for those third tier cities like the airport in Westchester County(?) or Burbank where the new airline Avelo is flying out of, that use proximity to larger cities/airports to offer lower fares.

You could have a profits tax on airlines to help pay for subsidization.

Although as we know, historically, the industry with the exception of Southwest Airlines, hasn't really made money overall.

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd also put Crandall's comments in the context that airlines,like all transit, needs regulation to thrive. The problem within transit isn’t lack of investment or money; it’s that people aren’t living in the places where transit can work.

We've talked about the boom/bust nature of transport investment -- literally the history of capitalism in the US in the case of railroads. And despite Crandall's work (hubs, frequent flyers) post regulation he may realize that the industry isn't delivering the goods.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yes. Regulation provides structure. Somehow you need to balance structure and competition.

But regulation has flaws within it, how it's structured, reflecting various interests. Eg how UPS is covered under railroad rules while FedEx is covered by air line rules, so they have advantage. UPS lobbies for equal treatment while FedEx brings in phalanxes of Republicans who use the battle as an anti regulation opportunity.

Similarly, PATH which is railroad functioning as subway (like Liverpool) says it's much more costly to be regulated by FRA than FTA.

But the flaw I am thinking of is short haul. It should have been banned in key corridors with a shift and focus on rail.

But our transportation focus tends to be somewhat homogeneous, planes for longer trips, cars otherwise + trucks for commerce.

2. Actually transit's problem is money in that we spend far more on roads and cars, but also that our paradigm privileges sprawl and automobility. It's subsidized greatly, and isn't an urban form that works for transit (what Peter Muller calls the Metropolitan City as opposed to the Walking and Transit City eras).

(It's crazy that a trip from Dulles to Richmond is so much easier than transit.)

People argue for much higher excise taxes, to be used for mitigation because of the subsidy and imbalance. (Engwicht mentions this in Reclaiming our cities and towns, which dates to 1993.)

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

My classic anti regulation story is AM stereo. The Reagan Administration said you pick. Too many competing firms, and then the radio station industry was still pretty fragmented. No clear path, the technology died, and AM was supplanted by FM. Although with satellite radio maybe it didn't matter.

Will read cite. Thanks as always.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Cf wrt interest group distortion within regulatory frameworks.

Energy Institute at Haas: California's Misguided Rooftop Solar Debate – Energy Institute Blog.

I've thought about trying to pick up a case book on regulatory law, and plodding through it.

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd suggest Transformation of American law, 1870-1960 (Second Volume) by Horowitz.

He's a big leftie, the first volume is the strong one (basically how the railroads created corporate law as we know it) but I remember the second one does a decent job on the modern administration debate and more importantly what came before it (1910 to 1930). At least from a 20 year memory.

My classic story is payphone; price deregulating them to stop being a quarter meant nobody used them since nobody has 35 cents. And yes, cell phones are better.

And I'd pushback on investment/money. AS we've talked about the problem with car usage is it is the default. What you should be asking for (In DC for instance) is put transport planning into the NCPC.

Regulate zoning and provide water/sewer and you've got a town.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thx for the cite. Dk if the Utah Law library is open to the public. I'll see.

Wrt transportation planning, some COGS and MPOs are really innovative. Not that many, but some. MWCOG and TPB are laggards.

Metrorail/Metrobus was a huge achievement. But it failed to grow. Was and is poorly managed. Maybe the tensions within the compact set that stage, and the three jurisdictions.

Let's face it, there aren't many new systems that operate across state boundaries, just Metrorail, the Metro in St. Louis, and PATCO between Camden County and Philadelphia. Plus PATH, but the system predatess. And recently CT Rail to Springfield Massachusetts. (Metra doesn't serve Indiana.)

Historical systems do but based on pre consolidation patterns and mostly on a contract basis (Metro North for CT, NJ Transit runs two Metro North lines, MBTA in Rhode Island, SEPTA to Delaware and Trenton and MARC to West Virginia). NJ Transit runs into NYC and some into Philadelphia but separately.

Similarly, PATH was the Hudson and Manhattan. It and the Indiana interurban do their thing, but don't really participate in a German style VV.

As you know, I have many posts on WMATA failure, including the need to reconstruct the regional consensus for transit and financing including creating a regional sales tax, which should have been done once the system began opening, when excitement and support was high.

Yes, back in the day if NCPC had been really innovative. But that is asking for a lot. There is a book on Transit in Chicago and the transition from streetcars to cars, and how mostly "regulation" was merely a reactive response to private sector initiatives.

I imagine after the initial creation of transit most regulation was focused on fares, until the abandonments period.

Some regions stepped up and bought transit systems (like Detroit), others started subsidizing equipment purchases. NYC and SF much earlier got involved in owning.


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