Chicago’s O’Hare set to become world’s busiest airport again?

Officials suggested O’Hare Airport is on pace this year to become the world’s busiest airport:

O’Hare International Airport is on pace to again be the world’s busiest airport, a designation it lost a decade ago, Chicago city officials noted Wednesday.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport wrestled the top honor away from O’Hare in 2005 and has held onto it since, according to the official flight count by the Federal Aviation Administration. Before that, O’Hare had bragging rights to the title since the dawn of the Jet Age, when it surpassed the number of flights at Midway Airport, which had been the leader.

From January to August of this year, more than 580,000 flights departed or landed at O’Hare, according to the FAA. City officials say part of the growth is due to international passenger volume, which through the first half of the year rose 8 percent at O’Hare, to 5.2 million passengers, and rose 15 percent at Midway, to 289,300 passengers. In the last 18 months, O’Hare and Midway International Airports welcomed six new international airlines and added dozens of new destinations.

“O’Hare isn’t just the busiest airport in the world, it’s an asset for the City of Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “These new gains will help us attract new businesses and solidify our place as the best connected city in the U.S. and around the world.”

A distressing lack of data here as we get some numbers about the flights at O’Hare but no data about Hartsfield. But, if true, this would give something Chicago to brag about again (reinforces Chicago’s position as a transportation hub which is part geography in the middle of the country and located near the southern end of one of the Great Lakes as well as the construction of transportation infrastructure) though I suspect frequent fliers will be less thrilled.

Additionally, is there any correlation with this data and the recent rise in complaints about noise from O’Hare?

Forgotten infrastructure of the day: locks

Business and transportation in the United States would be a lot more difficult with locks to even out heights between different bodies of water. Here is a 50 second time lapse video of the first ship of the spring passing through the locks of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Water traffic within the United States might not garner much attention compared to rail and truck traffic (perhaps except during seasons of drought) but it still accounts for a lot of goods and has a historic role in opening up the interior of the United States. For example, the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River through a canal and several rivers was critical in leading to the growth of Chicago.

Data suggests urban residents in some cities leaning toward bicycles and away from “war on cars”?

Some recent data from Seattle, New York, and Toronto leads one writer to suggest the “war on cars” is over:

Here are some of the poll’s findings:

  • 73 percent of the 400 Seattle voters surveyed supported the idea of building protected bike lanes.
  • 59 percent go further and support “replacing roads and some on-street parking to make protected bicycle lanes.”
  • 79 percent have favorable feelings about cyclists.
  • Only 31 percent agree with the idea that Seattle is “waging a war on cars.”

The “war on cars” trope has long been a favored talking point for anti-bicycle and anti-transit types. But this survey and others seem to indicate that it might, at last, be wearing a bit thin, no matter how much the auto warriors try to whip up their troops.

Last year, a Quinnipiac poll of New York City residents showed that 59 percent support bike lanes, up from 54 only a few months earlier. Quinnipiac also found that 74 percent support the city’s sadly delayed bike-share plan. A New York City Department of Transportation poll about the Prospect Park Bike Lane – supposedly a bloody battleground of the war on cars that the New York Post insists the DOT is waging – found 70 percent of respondents liked the lane.

Toronto has also been a major front in this fight. The city’s embattled mayor, Rob Ford, famously declared that his election would mean an end to the city’s supposed war on cars. (He also said that when a cyclist is killed by a driver, “it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”) On Ford’s watch, Toronto removed some downtown bike lanes last fall, prompting protests and even an arrest for mischief and obstructing a police officer.

But the aftermath has been more constructive than martial. Tomislav Svoboda, the physician who was arrested for his act of civil disobedience, was recently joined by 34 of his medical colleagues in a call for faster construction of new bike infrastructure, asking the city council to “change lanes and save lives.” Even Ford seems to be feeling less combative. He came out the other day talking about a 2013 budget that will include 80 kilometers of new on-street bike lanes, 100 kilometers of off-street bike trails, and 8,000 new bike parking spaces.

Based on the data presented here, it sounds like these urban residents are moving toward a position where both cars and bikes can coexist in cities. This relationship is notoriously hostile as people have made zero-sum arguments: more bikes means less room for cars and vice versa.

But we could also look at why people have these opinions. Here are a few options:

1. Are bike advocates getting better at marketing or framing their cause (this is the suggestion at the end of this article)?

2. Are people generally less interested in cars (and this could be for a variety of reasons including cost and environmental impact)?

3. Are residents tired of paying for road improvements without little change in congestion (those new lanes just don’t help)?

4. Is there a genuine interest in shifting away from cars in cities and toward other forms of transportation (bicycling, more walkable neighborhoods, etc.)?

The “world’s longest fast train line” for the day after Christmas: Beijing to Guangzhou in eight hours

While high speed rail continues to inch along in the United States, China continues to build. A new line opened yesterday connecting Beijing and Guangzhou:

The opening of the 2,298 kilometer (1,428 mile)-line was commemorated by the 9 a.m. departure of a train from Beijing for Guangzhou. Another train left Guangzhou for Beijing an hour later…

Trains on the latest high-speed line will initially run at 300 kph (186 mph) with a total travel time of about eight hours. Before, the fastest time between the two cities by train was more than 20 hours…

More than 150 pairs of high-speed trains will run on the new line every day, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Ministry of Railways.

Railway is an essential part in China’s transportation system, and the government plans to build a grid of high-speed railways with four east-west lines and four north-south lines by 2020.

When I see stories like this about infrastructure in China, I’m struck by three things:

1. The ability to construct these large infrastructure projects is remarkable. I wonder what China will do next. Faster trains? An even bigger rail network?

2. The contrast with transportation options in the United States is interesting. Our equivalent to high-speed trains is an extensive interstate network that connects all major cities. The interstate option plays on several American traits: it was built in the prosperous era after World War II, it allows more freedom for driving (which requires certain incomes and interest in driving), and it allows for more diffuse living patterns (meaning: suburbs).

3. I wish these stories were accompanied by ridership figures. Over 150 pairs of trains a day is impressive and these are two major population centers: Beijing has over 19 million people and Guangzhou has over 12 million people (and perhaps around 40 million in the Pearl River Delta). So are these trains going to be full? How much does it cost? Can the average Chinese resident ride these trains?

Correlation found between less decline in sustainable city transportation and wealth, required state planning

A new study suggests sustainable city transportation declined less in the last three decades in cities based on two factors: wealthier populations as well as cities located in states that require certain planning measures.

Overall, transportation has become less sustainable across the country over this period, but some communities have slowed the decline more effectively than others.
Among the best at slowing that decline were Seattle, Las Vegas and even Los Angeles, which owes its success to fewer-than-average solo commuters and relatively high public transit use, the research suggests. In contrast, transportation sustainability declined more quickly than average over those years in such cities as Pittsburgh and New Orleans…
“The findings suggest that planning efforts are worthwhile, and that higher real per-capita income enhances the benefits of community planning, possibly through better implementation,” said McCreery, also a lecturer in sociology at Ohio State.

Could be an interesting story but I wonder if this isn’t simply masking the bigger picture: transportation sustainability is down across the board. Here is the reason why:

“Almost every city has declined in transportation ecoefficiency because we have become more automobile dependent and more spread out so people tend to have to drive farther,” said McCreery, author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in Ohio State’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies.

People can talk about becoming gas independent to help deal with issues like high gas prices but focusing on sustainable transportation might lead in another direction: planning in such a way that people don’t have to drive as much to start with. Even though rising gas prices may lead to less driving, we still have a lot of communities that require certain amounts of driving. But, this is probably a harder sell or issue to deal with given the American love of cars, space, and local government…

Can buses attract wealthier, more educated residents?

Amanda Hess discusses ways in which bus lines could attract wealthier, more educated riders:

Can a city build a less stigmatized bus? After all, the racial and class bias attached to city buses has little to do with the vehicle itself and everything to do with the riders on it. Garrett and Taylor note that though “bus ridership declines with rising income, the use of streetcars, subways, and commuter railroads tends to increase with higher income.” As the blog Seattlest put it in 2006: “If the actual goal is to get people out of their cars and onto transit by choice, no one’s going to give up the hybrid for a damn bus.” But it was not always this way. When public buses were first introduced in Washington, D.C. in the early 1900s, many riders viewed them as a more comfortable, “modern” alternative to the existing streetcar system. By the 1960s, the city’s streetcar lines were abandoned and dismantled. In 2009, D.C. began laying track for a new line of (exorbitantly expensive) streetcars, including along some “blighted” corridors of the city, all of them already served by city buses. The plan was targeted less at getting commuters where they needed to go and more at coaxing them to move in this “new,” exciting way—maybe even to parts of town they previously avoided.

Choice commuters want a transit solution that seems modern, even if it’s actually old school. Really, they want a transportation choice that feels made for people just like them. And there’s no reason—as Salon’s Will Doig has argued—that buses can’t achieve a similar reversal as the revitalized streetcar. In major cities from Colombia to China, Doig says, the bus has risen to become “a form of what people see as upper-class transit.” In Mexico City, “the [Bus Rapid Transit] system has come to be seen as the upper-class form of transit because it’s perceived as safer and cleaner” than the subway. As Doig notes, making buses that beat the subway often means making them act more like trains—streamlining routes and limiting stops; making bus and train routes appear more equivalent on transit maps; renaming bus lines after colors instead of numbers; cordoning off dedicated bus lanes to avoid traffic congestion.

While some of these improvements are practical, overcoming the stigma is also a matter of gimmickry that doesn’t help anyone get to work any faster. In the United States, the DOT has noted that bus rapid transit systems can benefit from “an articulated brand identity” that helps improve “the image that choice riders have of transit.” Newer bus lines targeted at choice commuters are often painted in bright, contrasting colors with the city’s existing buses. These new bells and whistles don’t come cheap, and discretionary commuters aren’t eager to finance the cost—remember, they don’t have to be there. Meanwhile, existing bus commuters are left with no choice but to accept fare increases, even if their buses aren’t getting any better—actually, even if they’re getting worse.

What is the point of public transportation? Is it a social service to help those most in need? Or is it an environmental initiative to get drivers out of their cars? And can it ever be both? “Unlike any other public transit around town,” reads the advertising copy for the DC Circulator, a fleet of cherry-red buses that run on five limited routes, arrive every ten minutes, cost a buck a ride, and have successfully courted the most elusive bus demographic—60 percent of Circulator riders hold college or graduate degrees, and 18 percent bring in over $80,000 a year. But it appears to have attracted these new riders without losing sight of the city’s captive riders. Thirty-four percent of Circulator riders are black, and 44 percent make under $40,000 a year. After several years of operation, the Circulator finally cut some lines around the Smithsonian and Convention Center and expanded its service to some predominantly black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. A train could not be so easily diverted.

Interesting discussion. It reminds me of some of the efforts to introduce buses into the Chicago suburbs through PACE and other organizations since at least the early 1970s. Even when introduced to heavily trafficked routes, such as shuttling commuters from train stations to other parking areas or large workplaces, the buses have had difficulty attracting riders. I suspect even when the buses are free and ultra convenient, suburbanites would tend to turn them down. Why? Two reasons, one of which Hess discusses. First, there is some sort of stigma attached to buses. Second, certain people would rather (and can) pay more for the freedom and alleged convenience that driving offers. Of course, these two issues can be intertwined. But I think this is tied to the American love of the automobile and the cultural emphasis we place on not being tied down by transportation options that seem more out of our individual control.

I do wonder where a public discussion of mass transit as a social service would go…

“A region’s workforce is not defined by its immediate suburbs”

The Chicago Tribune has a story about “super-commuterswho make the trip between Chicago and St. Louis. While the story seems more intent on putting a face on this growing phenomenon (although the numbers are still relatively low), there is a very interesting quote from a researcher about how we should view jobs and regional economies:

Regardless, said Mitchell Moss, the NYU professor who authored the study, the trend speaks to both the increased flexibility of modern-day workers — “the office” can be almost anyplace — and the challenges facing two-income families in a weak job market: Why uproot your family when your spouse can’t get a job in the new city?

The trend illustrates how the economies of places like St. Louis are increasingly hitched to their neighbors.

“It tells you that there is an inter-regional economic relationship, which is growing between places like St. Louis and Chicago,” Moss said. “A region’s workforce is not defined by its immediate suburbs.”

I’ve written several times about the need for more regional cooperation in the Chicago region between city and suburbs (see this post regarding Mayor Daley and this post about Mayor Emanuel). With limited cooperation, communities can end up fighting over corporations and jobs, whether tax money from a particular municipality should be spent elsewhere, and how best to address regional-level issues like transportation or affordable housing.

What exactly would it mean for Chicago and St. Louis to cooperate? One area could be transportation: I assume both Chicago and St. Louis were on-board for plans to construct a high-speed rail line between the cities. Environmental issues could be another area. For example, both cities rely on interconnected water sources and shipping so common issues could arise (but remember there is a regional fight about Asian carp). But what about business issues? Could they set aside their separate issues to encourage economic development that might benefit both cities? Are there really economic opportunities they could both benefit from in spite of the distance between them?

Some housing not so cheap when you factor in transportation costs

Plenty of people may move to where the cheaper housing is located but this could come with higher transportation costs:

In Chicago’s transit-rich Ravenswood neighborhood, where there is an average of one automobile per household and 42 percent of commuters use transit, monthly transportation costs averaged $751 in the five-year period studied, the center determined.

Households in Marengo in McHenry County incur an average of $1,324 in transportation costs each month, the study found. Each household in Marengo, where transit ridership is less than 1 percent, also logs an average of 24,438 miles per year in their cars, versus 12,150 miles annually in Ravenswood.

When people are looking for a place to live, taking into account housing and transportation costs changes the affordability outlook significantly, said Scott Bernstein, the center’s president…

[From the print edition:] Some 69 percent of neighborhoods in the Chicago area are considered affordable under the traditional definition of housing affordability: rent or mortgage payments consuming no more than 30 percent of household income, the study said. But only 42 percent of the neighborhoods are considered affordable when housing and transportation costs are measured, it said…

The study also found that it is more difficult for a typical household in the U.S. to find an affordable place to live compared to a decade ago because incomes increased about half as much as transportation and housing costs since 2000.

This provides some data to back up Joel’s claim from earlier this week: life is cheaper (and perhaps better?) without a car.

What I find fascinating about this is that this report ties transportation costs to the idea of affordable housing. Typically, we only think about the cost of the housing itself but if you built affordable housing in the middle of a corn field 90 miles west of Chicago, those housing units won’t really help anyone.

At the same time, this is a trade-off many Americans seem willing to make: you pay less for your house and then pay more for transportation costs over time. Perhaps because the house is a significantly larger “one-time purchase” (you have repeated payments but they are somewhat fixed and you have already psychologically taken possession of the house even though you don’t own it) people can justify then paying more for transportation over time because the money trickles out and the costs are more variable. Plus, if you think of the home as one of the key pieces of the American Dream and Americans should love to drive anyway, this all could make some sense.

This is also a reminder that the cost for entry to the suburbs is not just about finding somewhere to live which often requires a sizable down payment and a mortgage. In order to get anywhere, whether it is a job or store or recreation area or church, one needs a car in the suburbs and one needs to have extra money on hand to deal with this. Without being able to pay for insurance, gas, maintenance, and somewhere to park (which is factored into a parking space or the driveway/garage that is factored into the mortgage), there is plenty of extra cost involved with having a car. This reminds me of a story I read recently about an affordable car program in Wisconsin where the state or some agency was providing cheap but reliable cars to people to help cover these growing and important transportation costs.

More “super-commuters” in America

A new report says the number of “super-commuters” increased across the United States from 2002 to 2009:

New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation reports from 2002 to 2009 the number of super-commuters grew in eight of the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. They grew in the Philadelphia area by more than 50 percent during that period.

The growth of super-commuters has occurred not just on the East Coast, but in cities such as Seattle and Houston, which had the greatest increase. The typical super-commuter is under 29 and more likely to be in the middle class.

The super-commuter is defined as someone who works in the central county of a given metropolitan area, but lives beyond the boundaries of that metropolitan area…

Many super-commuters are willing to take a plane to get to work or drive long distances because they can’t sell homes that have lost value and move. They often travel to another city on Monday, then return to their homes and families at the end of the work week.

Americans tend to go to where the jobs are. Here are several thoughts about this:

1. It would be nice to have an overall number of super-commuters in the United States. The full report gives figures by city and some of these are interesting: 59,000 for Manhattan, 233,000 for Los Angeles, 99,000 in Chicago, 251,000 in Houston, and 175,700 in Houston. On the whole, it doesn’t look like we are talking about a large number of Americans though the rise in this practice is noteworthy.

2. Is this more of a function of the size of the actual metropolitan area (New York has a broader metro region) or about the ease of transportation into a city or a mismatch between the number of jobs and affordable/reasonable housing?

3. This definition of a super-commuter is limited. For example, if a worker from Champaign, Illinois commuted to a job in Oak Brook, located in DuPage County, it wouldn’t count as a super-commute. This seems problematic since the job distribution in metropolitan regions is quite more diffuse today than in the past. If this definition was expanded to include all long trips from one metropolitan region to another, the numbers would be even more noteworthy.

4. One of the maps (Figure 7) from the full report reminded me of the idea of the megalopolis:

This is a reminder that urban and transportation planning needs to be broader in scale.

5. Are these “super-commuting corridors” long-term realities? If the economy improved, would these numbers drop or because of technology plus the realities of the globalized, post-industrial economy, are these corridors only going to continue to grow?

Fuel efficiency = bankrupt highways?

Brian hit the issue almost a year ago, but Jordan Weissmann at the Atlantic recently re-focused attention on the problem of funding U.S. highways with fuel taxes:

Since back in the Eisenhower era, the federal government has maintained a Highway Trust Fund, paid for mostly by taxes on fuel, that helps cover the repair and construction of our country’s roads, bridges, and mass transit. The idea was that drivers themselves should bear some of the cost the roads they used. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax since 1993. Since then, inflation has eaten away at least a third of its value…[and] two new challenges [have] emerged. First, Americans started caring about the fuel efficiency again, as skyrocketing oil prices ended the era of gas-guzzling SUVs. Then the recession struck, and penny-pinching drivers logged fewer miles to save on gas.

The upshot, of course, is that

less money is flowing into the Highway Trust Fund, which is now facing potential insolvency in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

I guess it’s good that fuel efficiency gains are having an impact?  (Ah, unintended consequences.)  Looks like we’re headed into a world where cars will have to start paying by the mile–or the highways are going to get a lot worse.