Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Saint Paul Streetcar Scam

February 2015 - Streetcars: “pricey economic development tools with debatable results.” Metropolitan Council's streetcar study by Parsons Brinckerhoff practically laughs at cities for installing streetcar train tracks, and Parsons is often the installer.

“Measuring the actual impacts of streetcar investments on the local economy versus other city policies and development incentives is elusive and debatable. [A streetcar] does not typically provide appreciable time savings as compared to local bus service yet costs significantly more.”  - Parsons Brinckerhoff - Streetcar Policy Development

January 29, 2015 - The Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives introduced bills prohibiting streetcars: House File 413 (status) and Senate File 366 (status).

July 10, 2014 - The Saint Paul City Council voted 6-0 to continue to study a
7th Street streetcar. Dan Bostrom walked out before the vote after saying that for $250 million, the city could mill and overlay all 873 miles of paved streets within Saint Paul's borders, excluding interstate highways, with $48 million left over. His comments drew widespread applause, the Pioneer Press reported.

Saint Paul city council members Amy Brendmoen, Kathy Lantry, Russ Stark, Dai Thao, Dave Thune, & Chris Tolbert were in favor of the streetcar fiasco

Joe Landsberger, West Seventh Business Association president, said that while he generally supports public transit, "not one business owner of the total of about 120 attendees (at the February 6th streetcar presentation) spoke in favor of streetcars." 

“Who is in favor of streetcars along West 7th?” No one came forward.
“Who leans toward streetcars along West 7th?” Again no response.
“Who is neutral?” Again no response.
“Who is against?” Nearly all raised their hands.

Tim Herman, East Side Area Business Association director, said that his
members want transit. Who are his members?  They are Saint Paul council member Amy Brendmoen, Saint Paul council president Kathy Lantry, Ramsey County commissioner Jim McDonough, Saint Paul Port Authority, and Visit Saint Paul.    - May 30, 2014 members list

One of the few members of Tim Herman's association actually on the potential streetcar tracks has signed a petition against a train on East 7th. Tim Herman doesn't speak for East 7th Street businesses.

Saint Paul city council wants a streetcar. They want a traffic-blocking, empty-tourist train (streetcar) running on 7th Street from Arcade Street to Randolph Avenue. They are being serious (sort of).*

There are some good authentic Mexican restaurants at 7th East and Arcade. Randolph and 7th West has a uh Subway™ sandwich shop and a pizza place. The streetcar plan was presented by San Francisco trolley people (Nelson Nygaard Consulting). Maybe someone in San Francisco thought there was an actual subway at Randolph and 7th.

But it's only half the route Saint Paul wants. They want a pair of train tracks running down 7th Street from White Bear Avenue to the airport (because whenever anyone is going to the airport, they want the slowest, least baggage-friendly mode of transportation).

The problem is the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grants program, commonly known as “New Starts.” It has rules. In order to get $75 million from the FTA, the transit has to:
► cost less than $250 million (tracks from White Bear Av to the airport would more than double that cost)
► benefit at least 3,000 existing daily transit riders (the 74 bus route has hundreds, not thousands of riders)
► have mobility improvements measured by travel time benefits per passenger mile (streetcars on 7th are not faster or more direct than buses on 7th)
► serve low-income households (usually not going to the airport, not flocking to White Bear Av either)
► has to have employment near stations (the field that was the 3M headquarters & Subway™-eat fresh)
► measured by change in regional pollutant emissions, change in regional energy consumption, and EPA air quality designation (nothing pollutes like the cement industry & street-tracks use tons of cement)
► have operating efficiencies measured by system operating cost per passenger mile (A streetcar has no chance at being more efficient. The only way to be more efficient than the 74 bus route would be to run half-sized buses when ridership doesn't need a full-sized bus.)
► address future patterns (People are moving to the urban core and do not need sprawl-based transit. Saint Paul is a Toledo-sized city that may never regain its 1960 peak population.)

The Saint Paul city council claims the streetcar will cost less than $250 million to get the federal money. That means the project will be only partially built to come in under the dollar cap. Like the Hiawatha light rail, the streetcar project would have to say it's finished and then make additional capital improvements until it's actually complete.

The Saint Paul city council also claims the streetcar will have 3,100 riders, needing to claim at least 3,000 riders for the federal money. Who are they kidding?!? An independent audit of 74 bus weekday riders should prove the 3,100 figure to be an inflated number. Plus, the FTA money must benefit 3,000 riders. Replacing buses with trains does not benefit riders; it's the opposite. Trains cost more, have fewer seats, and do not have the braking and steering abilities of buses. Less safe and more expensive does not benefit riders. Putting trains on roads removes parking, adds overhead wiring, and eliminates truck access to businesses.

Page 6 of the Saint Paul Streetcar Feasibility Study (November 13, 2013) says the streetcars "fills gaps in existing bus services." Here is the 74 bus schedule. What gaps?

The real purpose of the trains has nothing to do with transit. It is to create more condominiums downtown Saint Paul. Everywhere. The old post office? Condos. The old Macy's? Condos.

The other reason the Saint Paul city council wants streetcars is the Minneapolis city council wants streetcars. But according to the Pioneer Press, the Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh sent a letter July 12, 2013 to then Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak saying, "A project pursued primarily for development outcomes should be funded locally and should not compete with other priorities for federal and state transportation funds." The letter was copied to Saint Paul Mayor Coleman. The Pioneer Press took the Met Council letter as meaning there isn't enough money, but that isn't what the letter said.

Ramsey County commissioner Rafael Ortega, vice-chairman of the Gateway Corridor commission, calls trains "investment transit."

Investment transit?!?  Trains for brokers?

Okay. That's it. It's time to get out the Transit planner to English dictionary.

Saint Paul Streetcar sellers & other train track sellers

What They Say: What They Mean:
investment transit real estate turnaround
economic development potential flip low income housing1
balanced funding what Minneapolis gets, St. Paul gets2
construction industry real estate speculators
too late in the process key properties bought or have contracts
fills gaps in existing bus services replaces buses with trains
streetcar, light rail,
tram, trolly, Muni, MAX, TRAX, ...
trains on roads
1  Turnaround cheap property or 3M wants to unload its old headquarters.
2  DNA tests confirm Saint Paul is not a twin of Minneapolis. The cities aren't even related.

The streetcar scam is to bilk federal transit money to sell real estate by putting another train (part of a train) on a street before the reality of the Central Corridor hits. Or to quote the Streetcar study (p.23), spend $246 million in capital costs and $8 million in annual operations to have a potential of $134 million in development.

If you think that's good, give me $246. I may give you $134 back but expect to give me another $8 each year from now onward.

  Putting a pair of train tracks on Seventh Street:

    * removes parking
    * increases dangers (trains don't have the steering or braking abilities of buses)
    * removes seats (trains have more standing room than buses)
    * increases traffic congestion (a train can't move over or get out of the way like buses)
    * adds construction burdens to area businesses and residents
    * adds noise (chimes, the squeal of metal wheels on metal rail, clang-clang-clang...)

Other Voices
Streetcars are overall a less effective means of transportation than buses. That is, centrally-powered steel wheels on steel tracks in the middle of traffic are less efficient across most dimensions than self-powered rubber tires on streets in the middle of traffic.” - David Levinson, University of Minnesota professor of civil engineering  [read more]

Streetcars “isn't really a mobility enhancing technology,” says Marc Scribner, a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. “This is a government subsidy to property developers.” - NPR

The original sin of every bad streetcar program is this: it doesn't have a dedicated lane. Without a dedicated lane, a streetcar can't really run much faster than a bus under ideal conditions. And since, unlike a bus, a streetcar can't shift out of its lane to avoid an obstacle, in real-world circumstances it's likely to move slower than a bus. ...adding a slower-than-a-bus new vehicle to the curb lane of a street... slows the buses down.” - Matthew Yglesias, DC Streetcars - The Worst Transit Project in America

If the streetcars did attract 3,100 riders a day, does that mean that bus ridership would decline by that number?” - columnist Joe Soucheray, Pioneer Press

New rail projects — mostly mixed-traffic streetcars, but that’s not the only way to mess up — are attracting embarrassingly few passengers.”  - Angie Schmitt, Streetsblog.org
   •  Atlanta and Salt Lake City streetcars average under 1,000 riders
   •  Dallas streetcars have 150 to 300 riders a day

You can walk faster than the Portland Streetcar to your destination.Joseph Rose, Oregonian

The Portland 'success story' required hundreds of millions in subsidies, along with the multi-million dollar pricetag of the streetcar itself. Providence doesn’t have the money to buy that kind of success, and even if it did, there are far more cost-effective places to put tax dollars.” - The Providence Streetcar is a Bad Idea by Brian Jencunas, GoLocalProv  also “Trolley Folly” in Providence Journal

An audit of the Portland streetcar system in December found the city had overestimated ridership by 19 percent and falsely claimed a perfect on-time record. In reality, the streetcar was on time only 82 percent of the time.” - Politico

Many streetcar advocates point to Portland’s experience, and then they proceed as if it could be easily replicated elsewhere. But the authors suggest that Portland’s experience, whether in the form of its ridership or its development activity, is the result of a unique combination of external factors (local population and employment patterns, the health of the real estate market) and local decisions (land development policy decisions, financial decisions, other public investments, streetcar alignment location and length, streetcar operations decisions, streetcar fare policy decisions) that may or may not be applicable elsewhere.” - The Purpose, Function, and Performance of Streetcar Transit in the Modern U.S. City: A Multiple-Case-Study Investigation  page 63 (84 of 421)

Even public transit advocates are starting to have their doubts. Jarrett Walker, a transportation consultant in Portland, OR, says while the city's streetcar spurred major investments downtown, it has not lived up to the hype. Portland is widely credited with launching the streetcar revival more than a decade ago. “Streetcar is one of those really problematic words because the real estate industry loves it. But more and more, transit advocates are looking at what's been built in the name of streetcar revival and saying no, this isn't durable, long-term, great public transit,” Walker says. - NPR

Most streetcar projects in the U.S. provide slow, unreliable service that does not serve many people,” said David Bragdon, who ran Portland's Metro Council from 2003 to 2010. “I lived right on the streetcar line... but I rarely rode it because I could walk most places faster.” - Brooklyn Daily

More than half of the BQX's sixteen-mile route is in the floodplain, and nearly a quarter of it is in an area susceptible to more severe flooding due to storm surges. The BQX isn't just a clich├ęd amenity for developers and a waste of the administration's political capital; it also threatens to undermine the city's efforts to plan for the devastating and imminent effects of climate change.” - Village Voice

The last of Portland's red trolleys will be shipped off to St. Louis after over 20 years of service.” - KGW 8, Portland

United Streetcar LLC of Clackamas, Oregon dissolved in February 2015. They promised 300 jobs but only employed 59.

If [streetcars] run in dedicated lanes and with high frequencies as part of a wider network, they can perform quite well. It's the way too many new streetcars are being deployed — as economic engines first and mobility tools second (if at all), even after being constructed with painfully limited transportation funding — that's inspiring much of the criticism.” - Eric JaffeU.S. Streetcars Just Aren't Meeting the Standards of Good Transit, Atlantic CityLab

Charlotte streetcar out-of-control: The Charlotte streetcar by Gomaco Trolleyreached the end of its route at Hawthorne Avenue. Instead of stopping to let passengers off at the platform on Hawthorne, the streetcar began “drifting” on Hawthorne back onto Elizabeth Avenue, where it had just traveled. The streetcar operator tried opening the doors multiple times but they wouldn’t work. He didn’t have control over the trolley car. The trolley was shut off and [was] coasting down the hill on Elizabeth Avenue. [The streetcar] went through one green light [but] the light was red at Kings and Elizabeth, and that's where [the streetcar] hit the SUV. The streetcar traveled for about another 200 feet” after hitting the SUV, before stopping.
 - Deon Roberts, Charlotte Observer July 18, 2015 (4 days after the streetcar opened)
[Update: video 1, video 2. The streetcar operator did not switch the controls from one end (cab) of the streetcar to the other. The operator failed to apply the third brake, activated by turning a black knob. CATS failed to provide adequate reminders through signage and on-the-job training.]

Gomaco Trolley of Ida Grove, Iowa also refurbished streetcars for Memphis, which caught on fire November 4, 2013 and April 7, 2014.

Failed U.S. Streetcar Experiment Goes Out With a Whimper” - Sandy Smith, Next City 4-4-2016

Stop Providence's risky, foolish trolley project” - Providence Journal
Former Providence Mayor Blasts Streetcar Proposal” - GoLocalProv

San Antonio pulls support for streetcar.” - mySA
San Antonio puts streetcars and light rail on ballot. - KSAT-12
San Antonio votes to stop streetcars and light rail. - Ord. No. 2015-05-20-0423, § 3 (Prop. 1), 5-20-15

Riverside “Streetcar A Poor Investment” - Press-Enterprise 2015 editorial

Arlington Streetcar Is Dead.” - Next Cities

The plagued DC streetcar line cost “over $200 million to complete over 10 years, takes roughly 26 minutes to make it between its two destinations. Obstacles may add to that time, including street parking. It reportedly took 19 minutes on a bus, 10 minutes on a bike and seven minutes in an Uber to cover the same distance. A pedestrian walking the same path can complete the trip in just 27 minutes, according to The Washington Post.” - Walking Might Be Faster Than DC’s New Streetcar by Steve Birr, Daily Caller
D.C. streetcar hasn’t made good on boosters’ promise” - Charlotte Post
Not-So-Rapid Transit” - Cato Institute
D.C. Streetcar Delayed...Again” - DCist
D.C. officials radically scale back streetcar plans” - Washington Post
This project over 10 years was developed in an unprofessional and haphazard, contradictory and inconsistent manner.” - D.C. Council oversight director Leif Dormsjo(3-6-2015), Washington Times
►  DC Streetcar hits parked police car (10-1-2015) photo
►  DC Streetcar catches fire, sideswipes car (2-21-2015) photo
►  DC Streetcar rear-ends car at stoplight (1-7-2015) photo
►  DC Streetcar hits car in intersection (1-3-2015) photo
►  FTA identified pedestrian crosswalk without signals (2014-12-11)
►  DC Streetcar fabricates safety document (2014-10)
►  The (ridership) Truth about the DC Streetcar (2015-04-05)

Detroit's trolleys are for sale: “Despite no longer being needed many of these pieces of... equipment can serve private contractors or other municipalities well for years to come.” - Detroit Metro Times

Pennsylvania's abandoned streetcars

Streetcar not desired - efforts to resurrect a classic type of transit have derailed.” - Politico

Feds outline concerns over Atlanta Streetcar in stern letter
►  Streetcar manager never read the safety plan.
►  Poorly developed operating procedures.
►  Lack of technical expertise.
►  Failure to report accidents.
►  Defects in overhead catenary electrical system... - Journal-Constitution
AT&T Georgia Sues Atlanta, MARTA Over Streetcar Costs ($5.7 million restitution for moving cables, wires, and conduits)” - 90.1FM WABE
Atlanta’s over-budget and under-utilized streetcar” - Kyle Wingfield, AJC
Atlanta Streetcar’s Early Ridership Numbers Disappoint” - Angie Schmitt, StreetsBlog
Streetcar operators off the rails following Channel 2 investigation” - WSB-TV2
What Atlanta did was a huge mistake,” said Marc Scribner,  Competitive Enterprise Institute. The money could have been better spent by improving the city’s bus system. - WSJ: Streetcars Bumpy Ride

"Auditor  Raises Concerns About Kansas City streetcar" - KCTV-5 & pdf
Affare restaurant complains about streetcar construction. - Pitch, Kansas City
65-year-old streetcar advocate Tom Trabon died. - Kansas City Biz Journal

Lawsuit brings together wide variety of groups wanting studies before construction of the Rampart Street streetcar. - New Orleans Advocate

St. Clair streetcar Toronto’s deadliest for pedestrians” - Toronto Star
TTC issues with Bombardier streetcars also apply to Metrolinx order” - Toronto Star 

Petitions against a Milwaukee streetcar - Citizens For Responsible Government
Opposition to a Milwaukee streetcar - ATU Local 998 letter
Sobelman's Pub & Grill, owner Dave Sobelman says a Milwaukee streetcar doesn't make sense. Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan says a streetcar plan is idiotic and a waste of money and calls for a “grassroots effort to once and for all put an end to this nonsense.” - WDJT-CBS58 

“As this throwback technology enjoys its unlikely renaissance, it’s raising the question of whether streetcars -- neither the cheapest nor the fastest way of moving people around cities -- are simply a gimmicky fad or actually the transit mode of both past and future.” - Next City: Why Streetcars Aren't About Transit

Others buy into this myth that light rail and trolleys will somehow elevate their cities to the next level of sophistication... The overwhelming evidence shows that these mass transit projects do little to improve our quality of life, in terms of easing congestion and expanding access to jobs and, despite popular perception, have no significant net environmental benefits since they rarely succeed in their express goal of removing cars from the road or decreasing congestion-induced idle times, a frequently cited contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions.”  - from Georgi Boorman, “Public Transit Is Going Extinct, But Toy Trains Still Snooker Cities

“Grant funding was not determined by rigorous application of DOT’s own evaluation: DOT funded almost as many Recommended projects (25) as Highly Recommended projects (26). Meanwhile, only 23% of the 110 projects ranked Highly Recommended were funded. The Review Team offered no official written explanation of its selections. ...projects selected were no better than the projects not selected... 

“A disproportionately large number of projects were funded in Democratic districts. In TIGER I, TIGER II Capital, TIGER II Planning and TIGER III, Democratic districts were awarded a higher percentage of grants than their overall proportional representation. In TIGER III, districts represented by Democrats received 69% of the funding despite Democrats holding only 47% of the total congressional seats.” - Reason.org: Evaluating TIGER Grants

It’s an amusement park ride for yuppies,” former state representative Tom Brinkman said about Cincinnati's streetcar. Other Cincinnati streetcar critics include Bill Sloat and Michael Patton.
► Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley: Streetcar spending shows 'culture of secrecy'

The Tampa Port Authority voted Tuesday to delay paying a six-figure subsidy to the city's struggling trolley until its nonprofit operator, Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., shows the board a new business plan to turn around the streetcar system.

Tampa, Florida has a population of 346,037. Saint Paul, with a population of 294,873, is smaller than Tampa. Tampa's tourist streetcar has 296,700 passengers per year and its annual insurance cost is $400,000. - TECO Line Streetcar System, Wikipedia

Streetcar costs up $53 million from original budget. Construction hasn't started. - Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale

Streetcar project is “biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” Oklahoma City councilmember Pete White said. “That’s the biggest mistake I’ve made as a councilman.” The council will now have to “feed the beast.” - KFOR

On September 3, 1902 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, an electric streetcar crushed the presidential carriage, injuring President Theodore Roosevelt and killing William Craig, the first Secret Service agent killed in the line of duty. Streetcar motorman Euclid Madden plead guilty to manslaughter.
“President Roosevelt was the central figure in a trolley car accident here, in which William Craig, a Secret Service detective, gave up his life in his effort to save the nation’s chief. David J. Pratt, driver of the carriage containing the president, which was smashed by the car, was severely injured. The President was thrown to the ground and cut and bruised about the face and body. George B. Cortelyou, Secretary to the President, was severely bruised. Winthrop Murray Crane, Governor of Massachusetts, and George P. Lawrence, Representative in Congress from the First Massachusetts district, escaped with only a few bruises. All these were in the carriage with Mr. Roosevelt.” - Washington DC Suburban Citizen, September 1902

* Saint Paul City Council Member Dan Bostrom recently called the streetcar plan "obscene."

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