American city planners tend to obsess over trains. Though not nearly as economical as buses, light rail trains are regarded as the gold standard in public transportation.
But ten years after Portland established its westside line, just how bad an investment light rail can be is becoming clear. So argues John A. Charles, Jr., president of the Cascade Policy Institute.
The area’s light rail system is called MAX. The westside line put up in 1998 maxed out at $963 million. Taxpayers nationwide footed nearly three-quarters of the bill, which went through over the protests of the Federal Transit Authority.
The FTA didn’t like the route, because it was run through a lot of empty area. Why? Because planners hoped that developers would build high-density housing along the line, thus justifying the route as time went on. It was a grand experiment in metropolitan planning.
Metro planners then cajoled and forced various city governments to redo their zoning laws to make the high-density developments more train-dependent. They specified an extremely scarce supply of parking.
And the developers? They stayed away in droves. As a landowner put it, “it’s never been developed” because of that very “mandated lack of parking.”
Government geniuses might think they can force people into the types of communities that people don’t want, like people were lab rats. Peculiar thing is, folks just naively thinking they are free, tend not to jump aboard that train . . . so to speak.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.