Purpose

To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse

http://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/?mbid=social_twitter

By Adam Mann, June 17, 2014


 traffic-jam-getty



I grew up in Los Angeles, the city by the freeway by the sea. And if there’s one thing I’ve known ever since I could sit up in my car seat, it’s that you should expect to run into traffic at any point of the day. Yes, commute hours are the worst, but I’ve run into dead-stop bumper-to-bumper cars on the 405 at 2 a.m.

As a kid, I used to ask my parents why they couldn’t just build more lanes on the freeway. Maybe transform them all into double-decker highways with cars zooming on the upper and lower levels. Except, as it turns out, that wouldn’t work. Because if there’s anything that traffic engineers have discovered in the last few decades it’s that you can’t build your way out of congestion. It’s the roads themselves that cause traffic.
The concept is called induced demand, which is economist-speak for when increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more. Though some traffic engineers made note of this phenomenon at least as early as the 1960s, it is only in recent years that social scientists have collected enough data to show how this happens pretty much every time we build new roads. These findings imply that the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless, and that we’d all be spending a lot less time in traffic if we could just be a little more rational. 

But before we get to the solutions, we have to take a closer look at the problem. In 2009, two economists—Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania—decided to compare the amount of new roads and highways built in different U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000, and the total number of miles driven in those cities over the same period.

“We found that there’s this perfect one-to-one relationship,” said Turner.

If a city had increased its road capacity by 10 percent between 1980 and 1990, then the amount of driving in that city went up by 10 percent. If the amount of roads in the same city then went up by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000, the total number of miles driven also went up by 11 percent. It’s like the two figures were moving in perfect lockstep, changing at the same exact rate.

Now, correlation doesn’t mean causation. Maybe traffic engineers in U.S. cities happen to know exactly the right amount of roads to build to satisfy driving demand. But Turner and Duranton think that’s unlikely. The modern interstate network mostly follows the plan originally conceived by the federal government in 1947, and it seems incredibly coincidental that road engineers at the time could have successfully predicted driving demand more than half a century in the future.

A more likely explanation, Turner and Duranton argue, is what they call the fundamental law of road congestion: New roads will create new drivers, resulting in the intensity of traffic staying the same.
Intuitively, I would expect the opposite: that expanding a road network works like replacing a small pipe with a bigger one, allowing the water (or cars) to flow better. Instead, it’s like the larger pipe is drawing more water into itself. The first thing you wonder here is where all these extra drivers are coming from. I mean, are they just popping out of the asphalt as engineers lay down new roads?

The answer has to do with what roads allow people to do: move around. As it turns out, we humans love moving around. And if you expand people’s ability to travel, they will do it more, living farther away from where they work and therefore being forced to drive into town. Making driving easier also means that people take more trips in the car than they otherwise would. Finally, businesses that rely on roads will swoop into cities with many of them, bringing trucking and shipments. The problem is that all these things together erode any extra capacity you’ve built into your street network, meaning traffic levels stay pretty much constant. As long as driving on the roads remains easy and cheap, people have an almost unlimited desire to use them.

You might think that increasing investment in public transit could ease this mess. Many railway and bus projects are sold on this basis, with politicians promising that traffic will decrease once ridership grows. But the data showed that even in cities that expanded public transit, road congestion stayed exactly the same. Add a new subway line and some drivers will switch to transit. But new drivers replace them. It’s the same effect as adding a new lane to the highway: congestion remains constant. (That’s not to say that public transit doesn’t do good, it also allows more people to move around. These projects just shouldn’t be hyped up as traffic decongestants, say Turner and Duranton.)

Interestingly, the effect works in reverse, too. Whenever some city proposes taking lanes away from a road, residents scream that they’re going to create a huge traffic snarl. But the data shows that nothing truly terrible happens. The amount of traffic on the road simply readjusts and overall congestion doesn’t really increase.

For instance, Paris in recent decades has had a persistent policy to dramatically downsize and reduce roadways. “Driving in Paris was bad before,” said Duranton. “It’s just as bad, but it’s not much worse.”

A freeway interchange in Los Angeles.
A freeway interchange in Los Angeles. 

So where did those other drivers go? Many of them switched to public transit, which in Paris has increased by 20 percent in the last two decades. Other trips have simply been avoided, or done on foot. It’s not just Europeans who are eager to get out of their cars. San Francisco removed a highway section, called the Central Freeway, that carried nearly 100,000 cars per day in 1989. The boulevard that replaced it now only carries around 45,000 daily cars and yet they move. (Yes, I’ve been stuck in traffic on Octavia Boulevard, but it’s not like you never get through.) Perhaps the biggest success story has been in Seoul, South Korea, where the city tore down a highway that was considered a vital roadway corridor, carrying 168,000 cars per day. After replacing the cars with a river, parkland, and some smaller roads, traffic didn’t get worse and many other things, including pollution, got better.

Now, there’s a limit to all of this. Turn a 10-lane highway into a 1-lane road and you might bring cars to a standstill. Extend that same 10-lane highway to 100 lanes and you might never see traffic again (or your city). While Turner and Duranton have claimed to find a fundamental rule, it’s not exactly like the universal law of gravity.

“We can only claim that this is a rule within the range of data we can observe,” said Turner.

So what can be done about all this? How could we actually reduce traffic congestion? Turner explained that the way we use roads right now is a bit like the Soviet Union’s method of distributing bread. Under the communist government, goods were given equally to all, with a central authority setting the price for each commodity. Because that price was often far less than what people were willing to pay for that good, comrades would rush to purchase it, forming lines around the block.

The U.S. government is also in the business of providing people with a good they really want: roads. And just like the old Soviets, Uncle Sam is giving this commodity away for next to nothing. Is the solution then to privatize all roads? Not unless you’re living in some libertarian fantasyland. What Turner and Duranton (and many others who’d like to see more rational transportation policy) actually advocate is known as congestion pricing.

This means raising the price of driving on a road when demand is high. During rush hour, drivers would have to pay a fee to use the most congested roads. A few people will balk at the price and say to themselves, “I don’t really need to make this trip right now, I’ll go later.” Roads in your city actually have a great deal of underused capacity. Think about how they sit mostly empty, in the early afternoon, late evening, and at night. If we gave drivers some extra incentive to avoid the most congested hours, we could better utilize the roads’ capacities. The extra cost of driving would also make public transit a more attractive option, leading to more people using it.

Congestion pricing has been tried successfully in places like London, Stockholm, and Singapore. Other cities are starting to look at it as a solution. New York City rejected a plan for congestion pricing in 2008 and San Francisco periodically toys with introducing the idea in downtown. The problem? Voters. Nobody wants to pay for something that was previously free, even if it would be in their best interests to do so.

Duranton said that if congestion pricing is a non-starter, a more rational approach to parking could be a good secondary step in easing congestion. Parking in most cities is far cheaper than it should be, and it’s too often free.

“Because it’s free, people will misuse it and it will be full all the time,” said Duranton. Drivers searching for parking contribute significantly to road congestion. “There are some estimates that say in the central part of cities up to 30 percent of driving is people just cruising around for parking,” Duranton said.

Increasing the price of a parking spot when demand is high would encourage people to leave sooner, letting more drivers occupy the same spot during the day. San Francisco did exactly this starting in 2011 and the results have been a boon to retailers because more customers are able to park in front of their stores. And because prices go down when demand is low, the program has actually saved motorists money. In a move to expand the meters outside of downtown and a few other areas, the city conducted a recent parking census and found that it has more than 440,000 public parking spots, which, if placed end to end, would stretch longer than California’s entire coastline. Try dropping that little factoid during your next cocktail party conversation with city planners and traffic engineers.

So remember, the reason you’re stuck in traffic isn’t all these jerks around you who don’t know how to drive; it’s just the road that you’re all driving on. 


Los Angeles on cusp of becoming 'major' walkable city, study says

http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-fi-mo-los-angeles-on-cusp-of-becoming-major-walkable-city-study-says-20140616-story.html

By Tom Logan, June 17, 2014




Old Town Pasadena
Pedestrians cross Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Walkable neighborhoods in older suburbs of Los Angeles are seeing increasing development, a new study says.

Despite its long love affair with the car, Los Angeles is on the cusp of becoming a “major” walkable urban area. And doing so could do wonders for its real estate market, at least in spots.

That’s the gist of a new report released Tuesday by SmartGrowth America and George Washington University, which measured the number of walkable urban neighborhoods in 30 big metro areas and looked at the potential to develop more.

 Washington, D.C., New York and Boston, respectively, topped the rankings. The L.A. area tied for 16th with the Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City metro areas. Orlando, Fla., ranked last.

Although the L.A. area was in the middle of the pack, the prospects for development around new Metro stations and continued revival of suburban downtowns, including Long Beach and Pasadena, will give more Angelenos the chance for a less auto-centric life in the years to come, the report says.

 “The future — of a walkable, transit-friendly Los Angeles — is being built right now,” the report says. “It will allow people to drive everywhere they want, assuming they can put up with the traffic, and provide the option of walkable urbanism for those who want it.”

 These walkable neighborhoods in Los Angeles and its surrounding cities are already commanding higher rents for office and retail space than their more car-oriented competition, said Chris Leinberger, a former developer and real estate professor at George Washington who led the study, and those rents are going up faster. That’s drawing more developers, and more projects, to this relative handful of places.

“This is a pretty significant change in how we invest, how we build the country,” Leinberger said. “There will be demand for tens of millions of square feet of additional walkable urban development.”

There are challenges, though. Many cities lack the zoning codes and regulatory structures to enable dense, mixed-use projects, which makes approvals far more complicated and expensive than a typical suburban strip mall, Leinberger and developers said. Tweaking those guidelines would help create a more pedestrian-oriented city.

And then there’s the challenge of who can afford to live in these increasingly high-end, concentrated neighborhoods. As prices there climb, many lower and middle-income residents could find themselves pushed out to car-dependent suburbs.

“‘Drive until you qualify’ does not work in a walkable urban development,” Leinberger said.

There are a variety of tools, including density bonuses and tax credits, that cities can use to encourage affordable and middle-income housing in walkable neighborhoods, said Rod Lawrence, a partner with JBG Cos., a developer in Washington, D.C. But it helps to make affordability a priority from the start of the planning process, before developers buy land and sink cash into market-rate projects.

“The city has to be serious about it and come up with a plan,” Lawrence said. “You’ve got to build it in upfront.”

World’s Largest EPB Shield Tunneling Machine – Building underground highway in Seattle

 The World's largest Boring Machine is being used to build the 1.7 mile highway tunnel under Seattle.  This same Boring Machine will be used to build the 4.9 mile 710 tunnel. It is now awaiting repair under ground in Seattle.

 The Hitachi Zosen Sakai Works has completed work on the world’s largest earth pressure balance (EPB) shield tunneling machine, with a diameter of 17.45 meters.The tunneling machine will be delivered by ship to Seattle in March 2013.


The shield tunneling machine will be used to dig a highway tunnel for Seattle State Route 99 (SR99), which is to be relocated underground due to aging bridge Infrastructure. The 2.8 km tunnel, which begins at the southern end of the Alaskan Way, will be built over a period of about sixteen months starting in Summer 2013.”









SR99 Tunnel Project
Client : Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)
Project title : SR99 Tunnel Project
Builder : Seattle Tunnel Partners (joint venture between Dragados USA, Inc. and Tutor Perini Corporation)
Delivery : Summer 2013
Commence work : Summer 2013

Officially Name is Bertha
A naming competition for the world’s largest shield tunneling machine was organized by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The winning name, Bertha, was submitted by a Washington elementary school student.

The naming ceremony was performed at Sakai Works by WSDOT representative Ms. Linea Laird on December 20, in conjunction with the completion ceremony.

EPB shield tunnelingmachine with advanced safety systems
  • The slurry pressure system is designed to work with the variety of different soil types found in Seattle. Safety initiatives include injecting excavated soil with chemicals and using slurry pressure to prevent ground collapse.
  • The new design allows cutter disks to be inspected and replaced from within the cutter head. This eliminates supplementary construction processes and allows the work to be completed safely at atmospheric pressure.
  • Above-ground safety is of paramount importance because the machine will tunnel directly beneath a city. As such, the tunneling machine features a range of safety features.
  • The tunneling machine has been split into sections weighing as close as possible to 900 tons, the maximum allowed under local weight regulations, in order to minimize the number of sections and speed up the assembly process in Seattle.

Hitachi Zosen Sakai Works

Bending the steel plates

Assembling the cutter driveunit

In-factory assembly

Installation in the dry dock

Screw intake

Installation begins

Attaching the screws

Fabricatingthe disk cutters

Final installation, completion 
 

Area cab drivers to protest at Uber’s offices

http://smdp.com/area-cab-drivers-protest-ubers-offices/140341

By David Mark Simpson, June 17, 2014

DOWNTOWN — Cabbies from around the region will gather for a protest Tuesday outside of Uber’s offices on Seventh Street in Santa Monica.

Uber, a ride-sharing company that allows riders to call drivers using a smartphone app, doesn’t face the same regulations faced by cab drivers.

Taxi and limo drivers say that Uber and other ride-sharing companies are cutting in on their profits without being held to the same standards.

I Am A Driver, an organization that works on behalf of cab drivers, is arranging the protest to raise awareness about two proposed state bills, AB 612 and AB 2293, that would ratchet up requirements for ride-sharing companies.

“These drivers don’t have any commercial insurance,” said Ben Lotfi, a protest organizer and driver since 1998. “We want to sit down and talk with them about a partnership.”

Lotfi sent Uber an e-mail last week but has yet to hear back.

“I have four kids,” he said. “They love apps and they’re going to use it one day. I need to know that they are doing background checks on their drivers and that my kids are going to be safe.”

Lotfi expects several hundred drivers to turn up for the protest, which starts at 11 a.m.
They are urging drivers to carpool to the Uber office, but not to honk or yell.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Earlier this year a 6-year-old girl was struck and killed in San Francisco by an Uber-contracted driver. The driver was not transporting an Uber passenger at the time, and Uber officials denied responsibility.

AB 612, which I
AB 612, which I Am A Driver is rallying in support of, would require ride-sharing drivers to carry commercial insurance on their vehicles all the time, just like cabs and limos.

AB 2293 would put the ride-sharing companies on the hook for insurance whenever the driver’s app is on.

Local cab drivers have long complained about the lack of regulation placed on ridesharing drivers.
They further claim that some drivers are in cahoots with hotel doorman, who, cabbies say, accept bribes and in return call ridesharing services, rather than cabbies, for big-ticket rides.

City Council outlawed this practice. Doormen and Code Compliance officials claim it is no longer occurring.
DOWNTOWN — Cabbies from around the region will gather for a protest Tuesday outside of Uber’s offices on Seventh Street in Santa Monica.
Uber, a ride-sharing company that allows riders to call drivers using a smartphone app, doesn’t face the same regulations faced by cab drivers.
Taxi and limo drivers say that Uber and other ride-sharing companies are cutting in on their profits without being held to the same standards.
I Am A Driver, an organization that works on behalf of cab drivers, is arranging the protest to raise awareness about two proposed state bills, AB 612 and AB 2293, that would ratchet up requirements for ride-sharing companies.
“These drivers don’t have any commercial insurance,” said Ben Lotfi, a protest organizer and driver since 1998. “We want to sit down and talk with them about a partnership.”
Lotfi sent Uber an e-mail last week but has yet to hear back.
“I have four kids,” he said. “They love apps and they’re going to use it one day. I need to know that they are doing background checks on their drivers and that my kids are going to be safe.”
Lotfi expects several hundred drivers to turn up for the protest, which starts at 11 a.m.
They are urging drivers to carpool to the Uber office, but not to honk or yell.
Uber did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Earlier this year a 6-year-old girl was struck and killed in San Francisco by an Uber-contracted driver. The driver was not transporting an Uber passenger at the time, and Uber officials denied responsibility.
AB 612, which I Am A Driver is rallying in support of, would require ride-sharing drivers to carry commercial insurance on their vehicles all the time, just like cabs and limos.
AB 2293 would put the ride-sharing companies on the hook for insurance whenever the driver’s app is on.
Local cab drivers have long complained about the lack of regulation placed on ridesharing drivers. They further claim that some drivers are in cahoots with hotel doorman, who, cabbies say, accept bribes and in return call ridesharing services, rather than cabbies, for big-ticket rides.
City Council outlawed this practice. Doormen and Code Compliance officials claim it is no longer occurring.
- See more at: http://smdp.com/area-cab-drivers-protest-ubers-offices/140341#sthash.ejJqbCDT.dpuf

Study: Traffic Forecasts Are Often Inaccurate

http://www.planetizen.com/node/69400

By Nicolai, June 16, 2014

In a recent review of the state-of-the-art, two planning researchers conclude that traffic forecasts often fail to accurately predict that demand for new transportation infrastructure.
 
Traffic forecasts play an important role in the planning and approval of new road and rail projects. They are important for determining both the expected economic and environmental project impacts, and therefore often end up being a highly debated item in the planning process.

In a new article published in Transport Reviews, two researchers from Aalborg University in Denmark show that decision makers should probably take the forecasts with a pinch of salt. After reviewing the largest studies that compare forecasts with actual demand, they conclude that "it is clear that demand forecast inaccuracy is problematic for all project types." The studies included in the review examined projects on all six continents from the 1960s to 2012.

The review confirms earlier results from individual studies that have shown road traffic to be underestimated on average and rail patronage to be overestimated on average. According to the researchers, both tendencies are problematic as planners tend to overestimate the congestion relief from new roads as well as the attraction value of new rail projects. However, even if forecasts were unbiased on average, the article argues that decision makers should be careful with relying too heavily on forecasts. Traffic on two projects could easily be 30% below the forecast for one and 30% above the forecast for another. In such a case there would be no bias, but the general lack of precision makes it problematic to assess individual projects.

The researchers argue that better monitoring is a first step in improving the usefulness of traffic forecasts. "It ought to be a key priority for funding institutions to implement better monitoring of project impacts, develop standardised archival procedures and make the data publically available, in order to facilitate more detailed studies of why travel demand forecasts are still often highly inaccurate."
Full Story: Ex-Post Evaluations of Demand Forecast Accuracy: A Literature Review

Search for Alhambra City Council Candidate

 From Sylvia Plummer, June 17, 2014

DO YOU THINK ALHAMBRA HAS TOO MUCH DEVELOPMENT?


DO YOU WANT TEN YEARS’ DISRUPTIVE CONSTRUCTION for the 710 “TOLLWAY” Tunnel

(NOT “FREEWAY” BECAUSE IT WILL NOT BE FREE)



1.      Are you 18 or older?

2.      Are you a US citizen?

3.      Are you a resident of District 2 in Alhambra  (do you know someone that lives in District 2?  )

We are searching for an interested candidate for City Council to replace Barbara Messina (if you said yes to 1, 2, & 3 above).  During her administration, since 2005,  counting only the mixed use developments there are close to 3000 more cars on Alhambra streets from those dense residences and new jobs (do any of them pay well or are they minimum wage in restaurants?).  Barbara Messina is currently running unopposed.  If interested in running against her, these are the important dates

June 16-June 24  file Declaration of Intention

July 14-August 8 file Nomination Papers

Come March in the 4th of July Parade

From Sylvia Plummer, June 17, 2014

 

 Photo from July 4, 2013, parade.


Friday, July 4th, 2014
Time: 10:00   AM - noon

SOUTH PASADENA FESTIVAL OF BALLOONS PARADE 
 
Come join us to march against the 710 Tunnel.  Show that more than South Pasadena does not want a Freeway or a Tunnel.

The route is less than one mile.

Meet us at 10:00 am at Hope Street and Meridian Ave in South Pasadena. Wear No 710 T-shirts or red.

All props will be provided such as balloon hats, signs, etc.  Bring your family, kids, neighbors, & friends.

No 710 T-shirts are available for $8.   email No710store@gmail.com or call 626-354-4340.

The Triumphant Return of Private U.S. Passenger Rail

Can new train service between Miami and Orlando be a model for the rest of the country?

 http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/06/the-triumphant-return-of-private-us-passenger-rail/372808/

By Henry Grabar, June 17, 2014

Image

 A rendering of All Aboard Florida's rail station in downtown Miami. (All Aboard Florida)



MIAMI—Beginning in 2016, All Aboard Florida will run 32 departures a day between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, with service extending to Orlando soon afterwards. With a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour, the trains will complete the 240-mile journey in less than three hours. In South Florida, around the three initial stations, the company will develop 4.2 million square feet of real estate. In Orlando, the terminus will be located at the airport and connect to a new commuter rail line at a sparkling, state-funded $215 million transportation hub.

It's a big project by any standard, but it looms even larger in historical context. No private intercity passenger rail line has operated in the United States in 30 years — and it has been longer still since a new service was introduced. "You'd have to go back over 100 years to find a significant investment in private intercity rail in the U.S.," says David Levinson, a transportation analyst at the University of Minnesota.

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons All Aboard Florida may be able to revive a transportation model whose decline began during the Hoover administration. The first might be called what is already there: a coastline's worth of right-of-way, half of Florida's population, and tens of millions of travelers on business and vacation. The second might be called what could be there: 21 acres of transit-oriented development in three South Florida downtowns.

Can All Aboard Florida establish a blueprint for how private freight railways, which averted financial ruin by abandoning passenger service, can profit from its revival? "If it can work there, it could work in other markets. The other private rail firms absolutely can be watching this," says Adie Tomer, an associate at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program who studies passenger rail. "This a great test for America."
•       •       •       •       •
Private, inter-city passenger rail in America has been dead since 1983, the year the Rio Grande Zephyr, which ran through the Rockies between Denver and Ogden, Utah, was folded into Amtrak's California Zephyr route. That was the final bow of a long fifth act that began with the ascent of the American automobile six decades earlier. The number of passenger trains in the United States dropped 45 percent between 1929 and 1945, and 85 percent between 1929 and 1965.

Today America's passenger trains are operated publicly by Amtrak. Conceived as a political escape valve to relieve freight companies of the burden of passenger service, Amtrak was never expected to succeed, says Albert Churella, a historian of the Pennsylvania Railroad. "It was made very clear to everybody — wink wink, nudge nudge — that in a few years we're going to shut all this stuff down," he says. Amtrak has survived thanks to its political appeal and popularity, but not because it's good business; it receives more than a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies each year.

A rendering of All Aboard Florida's Miami Station. (All Aboard Florida)
All Aboard Florida, however, has a couple of inherent advantages. The first is in its infrastructure. As a corporate descendent of the Florida East Coast Railway, AAF owns an easement for passenger service on a long, centrally located, well-maintained freight corridor. The second is demographic. On the strength of Disney World, Universal Studios, and other theme parks, Orlando is the most visited city in the United States, with nearly 60 million tourists last year. Miami, with its global cachet and thriving cruise ship port, counted 14 million visitors in 2013. All Aboard says that there are 500 million trips made every year between its destination cities.

So AAF will set a passenger railway in motion. With 32 trips each day and a train capacity of 400 travelers, the service can theoretically carry more daily riders between Miami and Orlando than Amtrak's Acela does between New York and Washington, D.C. Tourists and in-state leisure travelers will account for nearly three-quarters of AAF ridership, with business travelers making up the rest. (It's virtually the inverse of the Acela's business-heavy traveler ratio.)

"Our expectation is that the train will be profitable, in and of itself," says John Guitar, senior vice president of business development at AAF.

It's a daunting goal. The Florida Fun Train, which ran between Fort Lauderdale and Tampa during the late 1990s, vastly overestimated tourist demand in the region and shuttered after less than a year of operation. A Congressional Research Service report estimates that ridership levels needed to justify the cost of high-speed rail start at 6 million annual riders. The maximum number of Miami-Orlando tickets that AAF can sell each year will be 4.7 million.

There is one place in America where passenger rail operates in the black. Amtrak's Acela and Northeast Regional trains, which serve the dense Boston-Washington megalopolis ands its population of 50 million, count 11.5 million annual riders between them. The Acela's operating surplus, the larger of the two, was $237 million in FY 2013.

But Churella is quick to clarify that those figures constitute the "above the rails" profit, and don't account for capital costs like buying trains, laying tracks, and keeping the whole system in good repair. "Doesn't the Northeast Corridor make a profit?" he says. "Only if you assume that the entire physical bed just dropped out of the sky for free."

Mike Reininger, the president and chief development officer of All Aboard Florida, says building and owning infrastructure is not a disadvantage in the long run. "There are a number of these privately operated and profitable businesses in this space," he says, pointing to an Italian high-speed service, Italo, which debuted in 2012. "What's interesting, however, is that while those businesses are profitable, they're profitable even after they have to pay an access fee to utilize the infrastructure they rely on." Instead of paying such a fee, AAF will pay construction costs: building tracks and stations, and upgrading signaling, bridges, and grade crossings.

The cost of the project, says AAF, will be in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion, of which $1.6 billion is expected to come from a RIFF loan from the Federal Railroad Administration. Will All Aboard transport enough people to pay off that loan? Two years ago, in documents submitted to the Florida DOT, AAF cited a preliminary ridership study that estimated it could ultimately book 3.9 million trips each year, with annual fare revenue of $145 million. (Reininger says those figures are conservative, but declined to disclose current projections.)

Under that projection, and assuming a profit margin roughly equivalent to Acela's, AAF would pile up profits approximately equal to annual debt service on the loan. But the passenger rail business seems unlikely to meet what FECI CEO Vincent Signorella told Florida Trends magazine last year was the company's benchmark for investments: doubling its money.
•       •       •       •       •
Henry Flagler, founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, has been called the "man who built Miami." There were hardly a thousand people living on the edge of Biscayne Bay when Flagler's tracks reached South Florida at the turn of the 20th century. But that, writes historian Les Standiford in Last Train to Paradise, was his method: "Build a railroad to a place, erect a destination-worthy resort hotel there, and other development was sure to follow." There are streets named for Flagler in nearly every town on Florida's Atlantic Coast — including the four served by AAF's new route.
"When Henry Flagler did his rail line, real estate was a big component," Jose Gonzalez, executive vice president at FECI, All Aboard's parent company, told attendees at a presentation in May. "And it still is today. He would be very proud of the way we're looking at it."

An undated postcard from Florida East Coast passenger rail days.
Over the past few years, AAF has quietly assembled a total of 21 acres of land in the downtowns of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Half that property is in Miami, where the company still owns the nine acres on which Flagler's rail yards once stood. Today the site is an eight-block parking lot served by two stations of Miami's Metrorail line and two stations of the downtown people mover. To this site AAF has added an additional two acres, purchased from a Miami Community Redevelopment Agency in September 2013 for $2.7 million.

Right now the area is desolate. "Everything on this site by five o'clock is dead. All the county workers leave, and there's no life here," says Gonzalez, who described the company's plans as we drove through the neighborhood. The only residents in this part of downtown Miami are the homeless, encamped along the chain link fence that marks the northern edge of Flager's property.

When passengers begin arriving in downtown Miami on intercity trains, in 2016, All Aboard Florida plans to have transformed this neighborhood. There will be a colossal station complex designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill that includes a half-dozen towers, over a million square feet of office space, 1,111 residential units, a hotel, car rental outlets, parking, and blocks of ground-floor retail facing the street. (One tower, planned for 70 stories, will be among Florida's tallest.) The main station will arise at the northern edge of the property, across from Metrorail's Overtown stop, while the skyscraper anchors the southern edge. Shoppers, residents, workers and travelers will be able to walk from one end of the development to the other along an internal concourse that bridges several downtown cross streets.

Gonzalez says real estate prices have been rising around the site. "The station will not only bring the people; it will bring a mix of uses and it will help be a catalyst for all these real estate opportunities that have been, for the last decade, passed over. You're going to come back in ten years and say: 'How did this not happen sooner?' "

It appears to be a classic study in value capture, a catch-all term for the variety of practices that governments and developers use to profit from rising land prices spurred by changes both physical, such as a new rail line, and legal, such as a new zoning code. In a case like AAF's, intercity rail transforms a lifeless downtown into a hot commodity, right as transit-oriented development enhances the appeal of carless travel. "What we are really doing is building a platform comprised of two businesses," says Reininger, referring to rail and real estate. "They hold hands, exist independent of one another, but each makes the other one better."

All Aboard Florida
Empty storefronts line North Miami Avenue, one block from All Aboard Florida's future station complex (top, rendering). (Henry Grabar)
What's happening in downtown Miami is straight out of the Flagler playbook. People both inside and outside of All Aboard Florida talk about the station development as a "catalyst" for transit-oriented development downtown. On two empty acres to the west of the Miami station site, the developers Baron Channer and Don Peebles are building Overtown Gateway, which will include a 150,000 square-foot hotel, 400 apartments, and a mix of retail designed as an entertainment district. Across the street from the station to the east, a mammoth development called Miami World Center — with a million square feet of retail, a 600,000 square foot convention center, and an 1,800-room Marriott — will break ground later this year.

And yet, the underlying consensus in Miami seems to be, as the Brickell City Center developer Stephen Owens put it, that All Aboard’s development is more complement than catalyst. Downtown Miami is finally filling up. The population has nearly doubled over the past decade, from less than 40,000 at the millennium to more than 75,000 today. In a city where growth is driven by mega-projects, no urban fabric is no problem. This part of the city may look bleak to outsiders, but local developers view its growth as the inevitable next step in the revival of downtown Miami.

The question then becomes: Is the value in downtown Miami being created by transit, or is it merely the fruit of a half-century of land banking? That might seem like water cooler talk for Miami real estate brokers, but the answer will go a long way in determining whether All Aboard Florida is the exception to private U.S. passenger rail or the new rule.
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Florida East Coast Industries has the opportunity to set an example for American freight railroads, says the Brookings scholar Tomer, a Florida native who has been watching the project closely. "For these rail firms — which often also hold parcels in places, more than you'd think — that's an incredible opportunity to re-jump passenger service by being able to collect rents on their land ownership."

Unlike the activity around commuter rail, subways, and other daily-use transit, the financial spillover effect of a high-speed rail station is not clearly established. "The evidence that's looked at the economic development effect of high-speed rail has shown that there's not a whole lot of local effect," says Levinson. "A comparison is to the airport: What frequent business traveler is going to live next to the airport?"

Looking south down NW 1st Avenue, with All Aboard Florida's nine-acre Miami plot at right. (Henry Grabar)
And yet, research has shown that when high-speed rail does produce big gains, it's when the new station is part of a wider regeneration effort in a depressed, post-industrial center city. South Florida's hollow downtowns seem to fit that profile.

More than the flagship development in the hot Miami market, All Aboard Florida's investments in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale may send a clear signal of intercity rail's capacity to revitalize a district. Land values in those downtowns are much lower than in Miami — so the value of AAF's projects there may be easier to quantify.

Expect the rest of the rail world to watch those neighborhoods carefully. In the end, any corporation trying to imitate the financial architecture of the AAF project, with its ambitious, integrated, multi-city approach, would need an understanding of whether downtown rail stations were truly causing real estate surges. Is this a project that can be replicated between Houston and Dallas, or Los Angeles and San Diego?

It's a familiar puzzle for those who study growth and development in the city. There’s no prism to split the white light of a vibrant downtown into its various components, isolating the influence of transit from long-term demographic trends, local politics, and the general revival of urban America.
All Aboard Florida may well be a success. But an example?

This article is part of 'The Future of Transportation,' a CityLab series made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.