Sandy + 1

Tonight marks the one year anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Sandy.

As you may remember, in addition to all the devastation caused by the storm, New Jersey Transit compounded the disaster in the Garden State, when it negligently left a third of its fleet in vulnerable, low-lying storage yards to be flooded. While the damage was proximately caused by wind and wave, we should remember that this was a man-made disaster. The agency’s hurricane plan (with no implementation details) was ignored in its entirety, and the agency’s own prediction of the storm surge was a classic case of “Garbage In, Garbage Out”.

When the storm was past, the damage done, and riders and taxpayers demanded to know why half a billion dollars of their rolling stock was left to drown, NJ Transit obfuscated, deflected, and self-justified their failure.

NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein is still in his position. Neither he nor anyone else at the agency has been held accountable for its failure during Sandy. Weinstein’s boss, Governor Chris Christie, is up for re-election next month, and the latest polling shows him leading by 33 percentage points. Christie has said repeatedly that Weinstein and his team retain his full confidence.


Ted Cruz, you asshole


“NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate and prioritize future investments in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), launched by [the FRA] in February 2012.

…NEC FUTURE will create a framework for the future investments needed to improve passenger rail capacity and service through 2040…”

Public Meetings:

“Open House Meetings, October-November 2013 – Postponed”

“Due to the recent federal government shutdown, the NEC FUTURE public meetings have been postponed until 2014 (or after the holiday season). Please check this website for information on dates and locations for rescheduled open houses. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

The cancelled meetings for this area had been scheduled for November 4th in Wilmington and November 13th in Philadelphia.

The Pennsauken Transit Center is open. Was it worth it?

Yesterday, at 5:39a, the first scheduled passenger service pulled into the new Pennsauken Transit Center, NJT’s newest rail station connecting the River Line and the Atlantic City Line. Festivities, dedications and a general atmosphere of celebration have settled over South Jersey. But was this station really what South Jersey, and the Atlantic City Line in particular, needed? Well the answer to that is a definite maybe. Transit is political, and politics is the art of the possible, which in this case meant landing an ARRA grant to cover the station’s relatively low $40 million pricetag. But if you got passed over in this round, and have a memory long enough to realize that this is the first expansion or serious capital improvement of South Jersey rail transit since the River Line opened in 2004, then you have definite cause to worry. Continue reading The Pennsauken Transit Center is open. Was it worth it?

…and a third group expects a joke about binary numbers

I am extraordinarily well-lubricated tonight, having been to both an author interview with Fortune‘s Leigh Gallagher and the Inquirer‘s Inga Saffron, and then Philly Nerd Nite with presentations by SEPTA and MOTU. I have been up many hours, so I won’t be writing things up tonight, but I did want to leave one thought before passing out:

There are two types of people: those who can read a book like Gallagher’s The End Of The Suburbs, and be either cheered or untroubled by it, and those who react strongly negatively because they see an existential threat to their way of life. I and, there’s a strong assumption here, you, are in the first group, as was virtually everyone in the room. The second group has shut down the Federal Government and is threatening default on its financial obligations.

That is way more political than I would like to be with this blog, but there is a cultural-political gap here, the other side of which is poorly represented in these circles. Something to think about tomorrow, anyway.

Council looking to raise PPA permit fees from negligible to trifling

After three years of never needing one because I lived in Point Breeze, last week I trekked down the Broad Ridge Spur to the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s new Customer Service Center, to apply for a Residential Parking Permit. The lady behind the window was very confused; my block doesn’t actually have permit parking, but Girard Avenue around the corner does, and also has available parking spots nearly 24/7, which my block very much does not. After a few minutes of back and forth, I paid my $35 and came away knowing I’ll never have to park more than a block away from my apartment, at least for the next 12 months.

Shut up and take my money!
I didn’t have to say these exact words to the PPA, but it came close.

In a remarkable coincidence, this week City Council’s Streets Committee took up the issue of raising the cost of parking permits. Today, an RPP costs $35 for the first year, and $20 in every subsequent year. This new bill would raise that cost to a flat $35 for the first car registered at a household. A second car registered to the same unit will be $50, a third car $75, and any additional cars after that would be $100. PPA asked for the hikes because it says the revenue collected from permits now does not cover the cost of administering the permit program.

Now, that may seem like a fairly dramatic hike, but again, those numbers are all annual fees. Even at the $100 level, that works out to $0.27/day, which would not even get you 10 minutes in a typical Center City metered spot. Also, that $100 is for four or more cars at one residence. If you are keeping more than three cars on the streets of your neighborhood, and those cars are not somehow generating revenue (out of which you can pay your pennies for a permit), then You. Are. An. Asshole. And the extra $65/year you pay, over what those of us with only one car pay, is your Asshole Tax, which you are paying to our broke city (and stingy Commonwealth) for the privilege of being an asshole. It sure as heck isn’t a lot of money, either for you individually, or in aggregate for the PPA. It’s sure as heck not market price for the 300 square feet of land your car occupies. It’s rarely a Shoupian market-clearing price for parking; it might be in Francisville, but it’s definitely not in Fishtown. If $35/year, or $100/year is really the difference between your car being financially viable or not, then you are close enough to the edge that you probably shouldn’t be driving in the first place. In any event, please don’t waste my time or yours by asking me to have sympathy for you.

As it happens, not even the limited benefits of $35/year parking are coming to my block anytime soon; too many of the households on my block are Temple students with their cars registered elsewhere, and because of that it’s unlikely that I could get the 51% needed to sign the petition to instate permit parking. Cars registered elsewhere are completely ineligible for permits at any price, a stance which I’m sympathetic to, but seems to create perverse incentives in cases like mine. After all, the owners of those cars unquestionably live on this block, with leases that are legally identical to mine. Also, there are plenty of cars that park here that I suspect are parking here for fast, frequent transit access to Center City. There should be a way to balance the desire to have cars properly registered with the desire to have students buy into expanding the permit regime. But one fight at a time. I’ll take this round of permit hikes, and more beyond that if the city ever so desires.

Weekend Update, October 5-6

Happy weekend! With everybody’s attention riveted to the ongoing Federal Government Shutdown, here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to distract yourself with a day out this weekend.

  • Lansdale/Doylestown is bustituting between Lansdale and Doylestown for catenary work. Shuttle bus schedule here. This is third of seven planned work weekends.
  • Media/Elwyn is once again massively upgescrewed. On Saturday:
    • Trains will be operating on the inbound track only between 49th Street and Secane (inclusive), and will be operating on altered schedules, until 6:00pm. Evening service will be unaffected.
    • Inbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 9 and 14 minutes later. Outbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 21 and 14 minutes earlier. Consult SEPTA’s schedules for exact times.
    • Train #7303, the first outbound departure Saturday morning, is cancelled.

    On Sunday:

    • Due to emergency repairs to the Crum Creek Viaduct, instead of replicating the Saturday changes as planned, Sunday will instead feature bustitution west of Morton Station.
    • Inbound shuttle buses from Elwyn will run bewteen 25 and 13 minutes earlier than normal schedule, and inbound trains will leave Morton 5 minutes early before resuming normal schedules at Secane.
    • Outbound trains will arrive at Morton 5 minutes later than normal, and shuttle buses will leave 5 minutes after that. Outbound shuttle buses will run between 14 and 25 minutes later than scheduled times.
    • The repairs to Crum Creek Viaduct are spot repairs intended to forestall immediate closure of the bridge, and will not affect the scheduled 2015 closure of that bridge in the absence of subsequent major investment.
  • Chestnut Hill East, which runs through with Media/Elwyn on weekends, is getting follow-on disruption. On Saturday, inbound trains will run 21 minutes earlier, and outbound trains will run 14 minutes later, until about 6:30pm.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 2, 5, 23, 26, 27, 32, 37, 38, 43, 47, 47M, 48, 53, 54, 55, 68, 77, G, K, H, and XH all have posted detours. SEPTA’s system alert page was malfunctioning when I tried to pull details of any of those detours.
  • SEPTA Suburban Bus routes 94, 95, 103, 113, 129, and 139 all have posted detours. Again, SEPTA’s system alert page was down and details were unavailable.
  • Trackwork on PATCO is resulting in adjusted schedules, but no closures, on Saturday and Sunday.

You’re out of your element! This Leninist is not the issue.

Good morning, and for those who are observing it, may you have an easy Shutdown. Out-of-town tourists who were really counting on seeing Valley Forge and Independence Hall might want to stop in at attractions that aren’t National Parks, which is most everything that isn’t either on 5th Street or a Revolutionary Battlefield. Since I happen to be blogging hungry, I’ll put in a good word for Reading Terminal Market; all of the attractions along Ben Franklin Parkway should be open today as well.

As State and Local Authorities, transit services will be running normally today. (As of 3:00a, I have already gotten an inbound referral from a search engine user asking “will septa still run now that government is shut down”. It’s not a silly question.) Amtrak is technically a corporation that merely happens to have the Federal government as the owner of all its preferred stock, so it will also be operating normally. At some point in an extended shutdown scenario, the inability of the Federal Government to write checks will become a problem, but by the time it does, I assure you that we will be so far down that rabbit hole, that any reduction in train and bus service will be the least of our worries.

Congress Hall, 6th and Chestnut Streets.  Image by tim eschaton on Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA
Even when Congress met here, it was pretty awful. It does occasionally find novel ways of sucking, though.

In completely non-Shutdown related news, Richard Florida reports in the Atlantic Cities that there is basically no correlation between population growth and economic growth in American metropolitan areas:

Taken together, these top ten leaders in productivity growth averaged population growth of 0.88 percent per year, beneath the metro average of around 1 percent per year. These metros were able to substantially increase their productivity without substantially growing their populations. Boulder, for example, which has been lauded as a center for innovation and start-up companies, was able to substantially increase its productivity while seeing its population decline.

As these maps and tables indicate, population and productivity growth are very different animals. Not a single metro overlaps the two top ten lists. The high population growth metros were mainly in the Sunbelt, while the high productivity growth metros are a combination of knowledge-based regions and energy-belt metros.

Matt Yglesias, blogging at Slate, is alarmed:

Florida’s takeaway from this is basically just that this debunks the notion of “booming” cities in Texas and elsewhere in the Sun Belt. The fast-growing cities aren’t really the cities that are prospering, and “population growth, in fact, creates a troubling fake illusion of prosperity” rather than laying the foundations for real income growth.

I would put my point of emphasis on the other side of it. If you want to understand the long-term prospects for prosperity and growth in the United States, the fact that we aren’t seeing population growth in the cities where we’re seeing productivity growth is a disaster. It’s of course fine for people to move to Memphis, Tenn., or Houston when all things considered they decide they want to move to Memphis or Houston. But one of the main “things considered” that makes Memphis and Houston look more attractive than Boston or Seattle is that houses are much cheaper in Memphis and Houston. If there were nothing Boston and Seattle could do to increase their ability to add population, that would just be one of those things in life. But there’s plenty that Boston and Seattle (recalling, again, that we’re talking metro areas here, so “Boston” includes Somerville and Newton and Wellesley and so forth) could do to reduce the cost of housing—they could upzone. They could let three-deckers be replaced by tall apartment buildings, and they could let single-family detached homes be replaced by rowhouses. Not that the whole metro area would become apartment towers in either case, but somewhat more of both would.

The basic issue is that in the modern economy most people work providing face-to-face services to other people. So access to a prosperous local market is key to economic opportunity. It’s the 21st-century equivalent of getting a piece of fertile land to farm. And right now we’re not giving enough people that opportunity.

This starts as basically a restatement of the Strong Towns manifesto, identifying the traditionally laid-out streets of Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle as generators of value, and the sprawl development of the Sunbelt as a Ponzi Scheme. So much, so familiar.

Of course, here in Philadelphia, we have in relative abundance what these highly productive cities lack: developable land close in to the urban core. We don’t necessarily need to upzone (although in some places, like along Broad Street, I think we should) in order to give many more people access to economic opportunity. Our bloated cost of construction keeps rents and purchase prices high, but we don’t see the runaway unaffordability that’s chasing the middle class out of Manhattan, Brownstone Brooklyn, and San Francisco. The task in Philadelphia has to be maintaining and expanding the zone where new middle-class residents can comfortably build their lives. That means 1) fixing the public schools, 2) building more new housing, and 3) improving transit access to Center City from the neighborhoods.

Zone 1: Girard to Federal, river to river, plus Penn, Drexel, and Temple.  Zone 2: South of Lehigh, east of 52nd.
Philadelphia’s bikeshare map: the new hotness.

While the litany of despair form the schools is rightly demoralizing, I take great hope from the ambitious geographic scope laid out for the 2014-15 rollout of the city’s new bikeshare program, whose map I include above. Bikeshare is by far the cheapest and most cost-effective investment available in mobility today, and can pull a lot of pressure off of crowded buses in Greater Center City. The decision to spread the system all the way north to Lehigh Ave by 2015, an ambitious service territory for a fledgling system, serves two purposes. It makes the system available to current residents of neighborhoods beyond Greater Center City, who are, if anything, even more in need of bikeshare as inexpensive transit. And it lays out a marker for newcomers and the developers who want to build for them, saying “we’re going to do whatever we can to expand the desirable area of this city to be as inclusive, geographically and demographically, as we can”. In a city that’s still, in many ways, struggling for its own soul, that’s a big commitment. We’ll see if, and how, it sticks.

If you are a property owner interested in having the convenience and foot traffic of a bikeshare station at your address, you have until Monday to register your interest with the City.