Transportation headlines, Thursday, January 8

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Snow in New York City. Photo: Instagram @blackbirdjeans

Snow in New York City. Photo: Instagram @blackbirdjeans

Private sector backs downtown streetcars (L.A. Daily News)

Over a half dozen private firms expressed their interest in working with the city of Los Angeles on the downtown streetcar project. That’s not very surprising as the streetcar would be a plum construction contract for the winning private firm. The $274-million project has other hurdles to get through first, including the big one: locking down the funding to build it.

The real reason U.S. gas is so cheap is American’s don’t pay the true cost of driving (CityLab)

Gas prices continue to drop around the country to the delight of drivers at pumps everywhere. Media coverage seems to focus on the effect on consumer’s wallets, but in my opinion what’s missing in the dialogue is a discussion of the real costs of gas. This article by Eric Jaffe looks at those costs when factoring in “externalities” such as health issues due to pollution, lost productivity because of traffic and car crash injuries.

Since the U.S. already has one of the lowest gas taxes in the developed world — a tax that no longer even covers basic road maintenance — it shouldn’t be surprising that the current gas prices aren’t even close to the actual costs. An example based on one economists estimation for the actual social cost of gas in Germany showed a range from $4.36 to $7.62 a gallon — a number that doesn’t include the actual market cost. Ouch. 

Though the calculations would need to be altered considerably for the U.S. context, the work strongly suggests that any gas tax that fully corrected for the social costs of car reliance would upend life as Americans know it.

Jaffe contends this could be a good thing that will ultimately benefit everyone:

But in the long-run Americans would see some very real benefits from a price of gas that most closely reflected the true cost of driving. Fewer loved ones killed in car crashes. Healthier pregnancies and babies. More time spent with family and friends. Better access to jobs, and perhaps as productivity increased, higher wages. More livable developments and, with them, slimmer waistlines. Cleaner and quieter air. The sorts of things we can’t fit in our purses or wallets, but which cost us dearly just the same.

The Feds quietly acknowledge the driving boom is over (Streetsblog USA)

A trend that was gaining acceptance on a state level appears has finally reached the national level. Future driving projections — using vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as the key metric — have been consistently aggressive, despite evidence suggesting people are driving less than past projections. For example, actual vehicle miles traveled has not increased more than one percent since 2004, but the 2013 forecast projected increases between 1.36 to 1.85 percent.

Now, in the federal government’s most recent report, the predicted vehicle miles  have been cut from from 24 to 44 percent in the next 20 years, and the 30-year forecast anticipates only .75 percent annual growth. Why it’s better to have forecasts that are more realistic:

The new vision of the future suggests that driving per capita will essentially remain flat in the future. The benchmark is important because excessively high estimates of future driving volume get used to justify wasteful spending on new and wider highways. In the face of scarce transportation funds, overestimates of future driving translate into too little attention paid to repairing the roads we already have and too little investment in other modes of travel.

Just how many more car crashes are there when it rains? (Curbed L.A.)

A nice little infographic that confirms what we already know: there are more car crashes in L.A. when it rains. What makes the chart interesting is the hourly comparison of crashes on dry and wet days. According to the article, there’s no data to compare this chart to as no other city has yet done such a breakdown, mostly because in L.A. we take our traffic and rain very, very seriously.

3 replies

  1. The argument “cars cause pollution” will be a non-issue in the near future.

    From 2015 CES, Toyota has opened up all 5,680 patents relating to non-polluting hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and fuel cell stations, whose only exhaust will be water vapor:

  2. Earth to James Lampert: Cars haven’t been noisy or smelly for years and years. Much more comfy than a bus or train. Plus, no low life folks sitting next to us. I don’t care if you want to sit soaking wet at a bus stop as I comfortably pass by in my sweet smelling, nice riding vehicle. Why does it bother you so to watch me do it?

  3. What difference does it make whether driving is on the decline, and who cares if rail is cleaner and greener, so long as the wealthy, powerful, interstate trucking industry, the wealthy, powerful, Teamsters Union, and the wealthy, powerful, automobile industry are conspiring to dictate pro-highway, anti-transit policy?

    And driving would be on the decline a lot faster, if said automobile industry didn’t have decades of practice convincing people to equate cooping themselves up in a noisy, smelly, ambulatory hunk of tin, unable to get up and walk around, as often as not stuck in traffic, with “freedom.”