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The Train's Left the Station, Get On Board Current-Anchor

The first thing you owe your political opponents is not to scoff.

The reason it's important not to scoff is that the tension between left and right creates better results. I'm a very liberal person, but I've long ago given up any younger-person notion of wanting conservatives to disappear from the political scene. The interests they fight for, if properly applied, are good: being thoughtful about cost versus benefit, avoiding undue centralization of power, consideration of what markets can do versus government. Charter gets a lot wrong about the upcoming train station, but stay tuned through the whole piece for where I think we can find common ground.

What Chartier Gets Wrong
So, with that said, Monique Chartier gets a lot wrong about the Pawtucket-Central Falls train station, but that doesn't mean her insights couldn't be useful if used differently.

Monique Chartier gets a lot wrong about the Pawtucket-Central Falls train station.

First sentence: 
The Wickford Junction is an unmitigated disaster. So, of course, it makes sense (???) to strive to repeat it in Pawtucket.
This is a completely apples-to-oranges comparison. Wickford Junction was a project to extend an already quite long train line deeper into a rural/exurban area. Pawtucket/Central Falls is a project to build an infill station where service already goes, but where the stop was long ago abandoned. Central Falls is the densest place in the state, with a large car-free population, mixed-use development, and a walkable environment. The city is well on its way to adding the state's first protected bike lane. Pawtucket, too, is dense and has the bones of a walkable place (some improvements to crosswalks would help, but those are small potatoes). Pawtucket and Central Fall's respective downtowns are each within walking distance of the station.

Charter attacks the MBTA estimate of 89 net riders as not worth the investment, which taken on face value I can understand. The problem with using this kind of conservative MBTA ridership estimate is that it's a short-term figure. Connecting Central Falls and Pawtucket to Boston will completely change its connection to jobs, and that in turn will change the prospects for who might decide to live there. There are empty mill properties currently housing no one at all that can be filled by people not wanting to pay Boston rents, Parts of downtown Pawtucket, emptied by the decades following the disastrous I-95 build, also could take infill demand. The ridership estimate doesn't try to extrapolate future demand, but just looks at how existing travelers might make decisions about their trips.

We Need Conservative Insight on Transit Projects
The current route of the 72 is trying to accomplish east-west
goals, north-south goals, local goals, and express goals. But
much of what it serves isn't "on the way". It sits in mixed
traffic, and much of its route serves places with large parking
requirements (big government alert!). 

The length of the route, it's being in mixed-traffic, as well as
it's loopy route ensure that it's also infrequent.

Not a good investment.
Transit mis-spending takes many forms, and there's lots of it within RIPTA and the MBTA. Much of the misspending is directed by both liberal and conservative legislators trying their hand at transit planning without knowing all the pertinent details about how transit works. So we need fiscal hawks to look over projects and question how they're designed.

Central Falls has lousy connections to Providence as well, despite being dense, walkable, and poor. I've pointed out before that the 72 bus acts more like an exurban "last resort" bus: it weaves back and forth through a bunch of neighborhoods, at all times sitting in traffic, making it take much longer to get to CF than it otherwise would. This could be changed-- and what a smart conservative might ask right now is why we shouldn't just move the bus route around to connect it more directly to Providence. 

The answer I would give is that using a bus in mixed traffic to connect Providence and Central Falls makes no sense when an existing, operational train with good ridership is already in existence. Adding an infill station means serving a new "transit-shed" the watershed of development, pedestrians, and bicyclists who can easily use the train line, so it makes better use of a sunk cost. The bus capacity should be redirected, but it could be better used as an intersecting line to bring even more people to the station who are outside of that transit-shed.

I started toying around with a map this morning about what could be done with the capacity from the 72. It's not definitive. But the point is that resources from transit can be used and re-used in ways that are more efficient-- as was done in Houston-- while growing ridership on a fixed budget. Boston and Somerville's project to extend the Green Line into one of the densest urban areas in the country has merit, but ran into cost overruns. The response was to cut unnecessary fat from the budget while keeping the things that make transit work.. Many of the changes to the project had directly to do with economizing on station design, so this would be a good first place to start looking This is the kind of thing that a conservative blog could actually be quite helpful with. Help us to make transit work, instead of just being the voice of transit nihilism. :-)

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Urban Highway (Er. . . Gander at This!)
I say this merely as a shot over the bow, but if conservatives want to be taken seriously, they need to apply the same standards to highways as transit. Conservatives like to point out that the apparent failures of capitalism all around us are often cases where a government regulation has perverted capitalism, and sometimes this observation is true. Urban highways are a great case study of this-- government coming in, knocking things down, building highways that cost more than the Eiffel Tower, and then pretending that the dissolution of transit all around those highways was a market outcome of choice, rather than a severe manipulation. A lot of Rhode Island conservatives have shown real maturity on issues like the 6/10 Connector: Rep. Dan Reilly, Minority Leader Brian Newberry, Justin Katz, and Mike Stenhouse-- people I don't necessarily share ideological common ground with in most cases-- have said reasonable things about the 6/10 Connector. Yet Chartier is unconvinced, thinking we should rebuild the highway as-is:

If $20 million is too much to spend for a train station that serves a dense walkable area, on a line that already has train service, why is spending several hundred million dollars acceptable for a route that tangles traffic and devalues neighborhoods? I suspect that a deeper Culture Wars-style politics is at play, instead of cool, calm, collected view of things.

1 comment:

  1. The 89 net new riders (never mind all the existing riders who'd also board) compares favorably with many existing MBTA commuter rail stops (page 68): http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/documents/Bluebook%202010.pdf