City Wants High-Tech Traffic Control

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 28 - 2010

The City of Columbus wants to invest $36.8 million to purchase a high-tech system that would give traffic controllers direct access to coordinate traffic lights across the city. When traffic backs up because of an accident, congestion, or re-routing, traffic controllers could change lights with a flick of a switch to get cars moving more quickly through intersections.

COTA Offices Move Downtown

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 28 - 2010

The Central Ohio Transit Authority moved its headquarters downtown recently into the newly remodeled building at 33 North High Street. The $13.6 million renovation of the 10-story downtown building includes a new customer-service counter where passengers can purchase tickets and extensive green features such as energy-saving lighting. COTA is in the process of applying for LEED Certification for the renovation. COTA will utilize seven of the 10 stories and will rent the other three out. Notably, the building does not include parking as COTA employees are expected to utilize the bus.

YPCOTA Kicks Off

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 17 - 2010

Young Professionals Columbus and COTA have teamed up to encourage 'social transit' through a month-long initiative combining transit with social networking.

New Parking Meter Rates Coming

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 17 - 2010

Crews are changing the parking meter prices and times on meters in the downtown and Short North area, as well as adding 400 new parking meters to previously free spaces. The changes come after a long debate about how best to up rates to help pay for the construction of a new convention center hotel. The original rate change, pulled from the funding plan for the shelved Columbus Streetcar initiative, upset business owners in the up-and-coming Gay Street area and downtown. A commission revised the plan which was approved and is now being implemented.

The Case for Mass Transit, Part 2

Posted by Columbus Transit On 6:40 PM
Recently, I heard one member of the Columbus community question where we want the downtown to be in ten years? He postulated that, while currently we have 100,000 jobs downtown, we could reach 150,000 jobs in the decades to come. He also hoped that we could reclaim our urban core by building up our downtown building stock and population, perhaps getting back to the peak population of 30,000. He went on to say that none of that will be possible without extreme improvements in transit, so I did some digging.

Let's imagine that scenario: 150,000 downtown workers. If 30,000 of those workers live downtown, that means 120,000 commuters. Let's say every car that comes downtown carries two workers as opposed to one, that's 60,000 cars that need to park downtown. But without the massive surface parking lots (this scenario envisions a lot of residential and retail development), where will all those parking spots be?

Now let's turn to the recent parking garage built on Front Street. That garage has 773 spaces on 8 levels and takes up about a fourth of the room all of the Statehouse grounds do. So imagine we need 60,000 parking spaces. That is roughly 77 Front Street parking garages. For this scenario, Columbus would need 77 parking garages. 77. What is this equivalent to?

-19 Statehouse grounds of parking garages
-An entire Arena District of parking garages
-An entire Short North of parking garages
-Front Street Parking garages lining all of high street from the Hyatt Regency to I-70

Then comes the question of who would build all those parking garages? Development cannot happen without better transit. Period.

14 Response to "The Case for Mass Transit, Part 2"

  1. John Said,

    Well put...and those assumptions were of course overly-optimistic.
    1. There's no way all 30,000 people living downtown would be workers.
    2. There's no way they would all work downtown.
    3. There's very little chance of getting vehicle occupancy up to 2.0 people per car from where it is today.

    Transit - and possibly biking - are the only things that can allow a city to be a city instead of a parking lot.


  2. you are ABSOLUTELY correct, but if I low-balled even the most conservative estimates, I figured some posters couldn't find objections!


  3. John Said,

    In addition to the inability to provide that much parking for that many commuters, I think it's worth mentioning that it would be very difficult/expensive to add enough highway capacity to accommodate all those extra commuters in cars. It would be expensive to add a high capacity transit system too, but it's the only option.


  4. Bart Said,

    As long as we are imagining, why not imagine MArtians coming down in their space ships to visit downtown Columbus...thousands of them, possible hundreds of thousands.

    Okay, a little fecicous, but I would recommend imagining how you would pay for all this public transit. REsidents are taxed out, schools want more money, the feds will be raising taxes, the State, libraries, etc.

    Companies will locate will the educated work force is, and where land and rent is cheap. That will be the suburbs, and that will be for a long, long, time.

    It costs nearly $400 an hor to operate passenger rail in Cleveland. Columbus simply doesn't need another massivly subsidized, little used program like this.

    I like in theory the idea of rail, but it is a path to bankruptcy for any city that makes the investment in today's economy.


  5. Bart, didn't you just call me crazy for making outlandish comments? lol, you're so funny with your martians :-)

    As to the expense of the program? A streetcar costs in the low hundreds of millions of dollars. Compare that to your highways. A stretch of 5 or 6 miles at the 70-71 interchange will cost around a billion dollars.

    It is very clear tho Bart that you do not care about an active or vibrant downtown. You do not understand that a good region must be focused a on good core. What I think you do not see is the impending crisis as oil reserves dwindle. Suddenly you will have to be 'taking money out of your pockets' to pay for gas because there will be no other alternative. Good luck Bart, I'll be walking to the grocer.

    Can't wait to hear your next comment :-)


  6. John Said,

    Bart, your figure for Cleveland is inaccurate. According to 2007 National Transit Database info, the operating expense per vehicle revenue hour for Cleveland's heavy rail (Red Line) costs $310.31. The operating expense per vehicle revenue hour for the light rail lines (Green and Blue) is $227.42.

    But those costs miss the entire point of transit. The cost per hour isn't important since the cost is split among many passengers per vehicle. The operating cost per passenger mile for the Red Line was just $0.46 and $0.67 for the light rail. The 2007 IRS rate for automobile travel was 48.5 cents per mile, which is actually higher than the heavy rail in Cleveland. Incidentally, the bus in Cleveland costs less per hour ($104.21), but more per passenger ($0.96), illustrating the cost benefit of grouping lots of people into fewer high capacity vehicles. So really, you have helped to make the point that rail could lower COTA's operating costs compared to a bus only system.

    Of course, Cleveland may not be the best example to use anyway. It's not exactly comparable to Columbus in urban design. I would look at a place like Charlotte, which is also a sprawl-burg like Columbus, but recently built its first light rail line. NTD data aren't available yet for Charlotte's light rail. Minneapolis would also be worth a look, since it's a Midwestern city with a similar economy to Columbus - although much larger - and a newer light rail line. It's light rail costs are only $0.42 per passenger mile. That beats Cleveland and private automobiles.


  7. One flaw in the argument: Columbus' downtown actually lost 16% of its workforce in the five years before the recession even started:

    Downtown Columbus is losing, not gaining in employment. Don't feel bad, that's true of effectively every similar sized city.

    I'm not saying don't build transit, but you first need the econdev program to get you to 150K jobs.


  8. Anonymous Said,

    I always love the argument about how rail costs money, but highways are magically free. :P

    Anyway, this is a great short-but-sweet look at what it's going to take to get people back Downtown. Transit alternatives are key. A $100 million investment in rail transit can easily yield billions in development. Which leads to an increased tax base which leads to a more prosperous city.


  9. Walker Evans Said,

    Urbanophile - Haven't there been several well-executed urban rail transit plans that have spurred economic development? Couldn't it very easily be argued that rail transit could be the stimulus that Columbus needs to bring new jobs Downtown?


  10. "Economic development" almost always means "real estate development" in these cases. As we've seen Columbus has no shortage of downtown real estate development. And don't be fooled, if there were streetcars on High Street, all of the development in the Arena District/Short North would be counted as "streetcar induced economic development".

    I believe transit can provide economic benefits, especially when used in conjunction with the appropriate land use and other public policy levers (land along the Charlotte LRT is simply zoned "TOD", for example). But while I'm sure it could help spur much more development, I'm not sure it will create any large number of jobs other than potentially retail jobs.

    How many employees does Chase have out at Polaris? Even if 100% of them moved downtown, that wouldn't get you to anywhere near 150,000 jobs.

    This is a hard problem to solve and I don't know any small cities that have really cracked it.


  11. Anonymous Said,

    I just stumbled on this website. Keep up the good work guys, I would love to see a real transit system here. If there is anyway we can help let us know.


  12. John Said,

    Do you happen to have a few hundred million dollars to spare? That would really help.

    This is another reason why I didn't like the idea of spending $30 Million on two parking garages to serve 1,455 cars ($20,618 per parking space). Couldn't we have brought more people downtown with a similar investment in mass transit?


  13. Bart Said,

    The more you folks want to talk about the costs and money, the more public transit is exposed as a fraud.

    John - while NTD data isn't available yet for Charlotte, the cost to build the first rail line is. Projected to cost only $250 million, it was completed for well over $500 million - not even close to projections. And, like rail and tranist in every single American city - they are running out of money to operate the system, again, taxing the 90% of the people who don't ever use it to pay for it.

    Walker - regarding roads, do you really want to start comparing which gets used more, roads or transit? Doesn't it make sense when 90+% of taxpayers want to and do drive, you invest in roads?

    John (again) -Thanks for providing Cleveland's cost per hour. This number is important, and a requirement of the NTD. Your figures are from 2007. Now I ask you, do you think since this time costs have gone up or down? They have gone up tremendously, and the cost per hour is approaching $400. Btw, have you seen or read about the complete mess Cleveland's RTA is in ? How about Chicago's CTA, right i nJohn's backyard. Quit trying to push this onto Columbus.

    One key problem with transit is unions. They kill transit. Let's look at our biggest system, New York:

    Are you kidding me? Is this how you envisioned "stimulus" money being spent?

    Constant threats of strikes, over paid workers, all lead to problems - problems that every single transit agency in America is saddled by.

    And streetcars spurring economic development? What, are you guys afraid to say Portland now? Everyone knows that TIFS and other tax exemptions spurred the economic development in Portland - it would have happened with or without streetcars. Also, Portland's transit agency is in a complete financial mess as well.

    My good friend Cbus: You wrote:

    "What I think you do not see is the impending crisis as oil reserves dwindle. Suddenly you will have to be 'taking money out of your pockets' to pay for gas because there will be no other alternativecore."

    Oh yes, the sky is falling - run for cover! Give me a break. What rubbish. Just last week the Chevy Volt was projected to get nearly 300 miles per gallon.

    There are so many options cheaper than rail. Rail is the worst option. It sounds nice, it's fun to visit a city for a week and do your little trolley trip, but the fact is that it is incredibly expensive, bogged down by unions, and used little by the public.


  14. Bart Said,

    Oh yeah - forgot to mention:

    Columbus Transit spoke about the I-71/70 reconstruction project. Do you really think this is just for 4 or 5 miles of new road? This is a massive project involving two major interstates and a major state route (SR-315). The project includes many new bridges, revamping and building many new stretts and feeder streets, pedestrian sidewalks, etc.

    This stretch of roadway will be used by millions more than anything public transit will ever see, not to mention greatly enhance freight transportation, and improve safety.


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