On Monday I wrote a post regarding the relationship of the size of metropolitan areas in the US to public transit ridership.  The DARTpost called out Houston, Dallas and Phoenix, in particular, for their low ridership numbers.  Today on the Streetsblog network Sarah Goodyear focuses on the state of Dallas transit as a follow-up to my piece.  Goodyear cites articles by Michael Lindenberger in the Dallas Morning News regarding delays and the state of transportation in the city.  Lindenberger vents his frustration at the city citizens who complain about the transit but are unwilling to pay for anything better (the utlimate American thought process).

First, courtesy of the Dallas Transportation Blog at the Dallas Morning News, a report on passenger frustration with delays on the city’s newest light rail route, the DART Green Line. Those delays are causing ripple effects throughout the city’s transit system, and it’s not clear when they will be resolved. Stories in the paper about the delays have gotten a lot of comments from readers angry that the problems were not better anticipated and planned for.But reporter Michael Lindenberger says the city’s voters need to take some responsibility for the way the system is developing:

The general tone of many of the comments has been dismissive, along the lines of, Idiots! How could DART not build a system that could avoid the kinds of problems we’ve encountered this week.…

Some have recalled former City Council member Max Goldblatt’s campaign to build an elevated monorail, rather than at-grade light rail lines.…

But … voters here rejected a plan by DART to borrow $1 billion to fast-track the development of DART.

Maybe an elevated monorail would have made sense — or maybe not. But it would have been a lot more expensive. And who was going to pay for these underground or elevated systems? If you wanna sing the blues, you know it don’t come easy — and transit systems (or highways for that matter) don’t come free.…

You could argue that…DART should have moved faster, and should have built a more innovative system to avoid pesky things like downtown crossings. But you can’t argue that, unless you’re willing to also argue that it should have spent more money.

And that money, friends, is our money. I think that’s worth thinking about. DART is trying to build the best system we can afford.

Americans are always wanting more services for less money and do not want to pay government for anything better (think healthcare).  I recognize that there are many Americans who view transit as some sort of liberal boondoggle and that cars are a holy birthright.  However, roads are just as much a government service as public transit.  We always pay for transit, it’s just a matter of what we pay for, how we pay, and what services we want to receive.  Public always has and always will require significant public investment.  However, the more people use it the more they will demand of it and hopefully the more willing they will be to put their taxes toward its success and reliability.

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commuter rail

Sorry for the short layoff loyal readers.  After a summer working for Boston’s MBTA I am very familiar with the fact that the T provides 1.2 million rides daily.  That’s an impressive sum, but still not the highest in the country.  Here are the most total rides per day (for the first quarter of 2009), according to the American Public Transportation Association.

  1. New York (MTA/Long Island Railroad/Staten Island Railroad): 10,758,600
  2. Chicago: 1,635,700
  3. Los Angeles (MTA/DOT/RRA): 1,608,300
  4. Washington, DC: 1,421,200
  5. Detroit (including Flint): 1,322,100
  6. Boston: 1,217,500
  7. Philadelphia: 1,145,100
  8. San Francisco: 1,060,900
  9. Atlanta: 487,900
  10. Seattle: 449,700
  11. Baltimore: 408,900
  12. Miami: 349,900
  13. Portland: 323,000
  14. Houston: 307,700
  15. Denver: 292,100

It is exciting that there are eight metropolitan areas in the United States transporting over 1,000,000 rides per day.  However, there are several major metropolitan areas that are missing from this list.

The following are the top 17 largest metropolitan areas and their populations according to Wikipedia.  I cut off at 17 as these are all metropolitan areas of 3,000,000 people or more.

  1. New York: 19,006,798
  2. Los Angeles: 12,872,808
  3. Chicago: 9,569,624
  4. Dallas: 6,300,006
  5. Philadelphia: 5,838,471
  6. Houston: 5,728,143
  7. Miami: 5,414,772
  8. Atlanta: 5,376,285 0
  9. Washington, DC: 5,358,130
  10. Boston: 4,522,858
  11. Detroit: 4,425,110 0
  12. Phoenix: 4,281,899
  13. San Francisco: 4,274,531
  14. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario: 4,115,871
  15. Seattle: 3,344,813
  16. Minneapolis:  3,229,878
  17. San Diego: 3,001,072

The cities from the population list that are most conspiculously missing from the ridership list are Phoenix (214,000 rides per day) and Dallas (217,000 rides per day) as well as Houston’s low ridership.  These three cities represent the worst of car culture in America.  They were built around the car and without public transit in mind.  However, there is certainly hope in both Dallas and Houston as they build up their respective public transit systems.

Public transit is a necessary growth item across the country, but if it is to be successful, it should be aimed at the largest metropolitan areas first.  These areas have the best captive audience seeking to get to work and other downtown or central areas.  The country as a whole is in need of more transit options.  However, the culture of transit must occur in our largest cities first.  New York is doing its part as is Chicago and Boston (not that there isn’t room for improvement).  More energy needs to be focused on America’s heartland cities, that do not have the culture and were largely built up in the age of the automobile.

Senatorial Transport Index 09

As per usual, the Transport Politic has provided an innovative insight into the world of transportation.  This week he has developed a Senatorial Transport Index for 2009, measuring how progressive senators are regarding transportation issues.  For further explanation of how these ratings were measured you should click on the link to get the breakdown of what votes were measured.

What is interesting to me is the curious correlation or lack thereof of votes to urban density.  I understand the role of party affiliation and how that affects the votes of various senators, but states with high urban density are most likely to get federal public transit funding, especially regarding high speed rail.  It makes all the sense in the world that the senators from Wyoming do not support such funding, but that the senators from Texas are lukewarm is odd; especially given that the state is home to three of the eight largest cities in the country (Houston, Dallas and San Antonio) and six of the 21 largest.  The truly perplexing state is Arizona, given that 81.4% of it’s population lives in the Phoenix and Tuscon metropolitan areas.  However, Phoenix is built on the American dream of sprawl, roads and now foreclosure.  At the same time, only politics can explain the “good” behavior of the senators from Montana, Vermont and West Virginia.  Although we can all hope that senators truly have the nation’s best interest at heart and realize that what is good for the country may be good for their constituents, even if the money does not flow directly.