Randal O’Toole, the Independence Institute’s Director of Transportation Policy, was finally “that guy” who sharpened his pencil and compiled some real numbers on mass transit states. And, in the course of his research, validated what most casual observers have long suspected: this stuff doesn’t work in America.
In a story published in The Hill titled “Mass transit is collapsing everywhere,” O’Toole covered the decrease in mass transit ridership that occurred across dozens of major cities in the face of steady population growth. Today’s mass transit advocates are little more than later day luddites trying to apply 20th century technology to 21st century problems.
Mass transit worked great a century ago, where job density was centered in downtown areas, but the same technology and thought process around moving people cannot be successfully applied to modern America, where wealth, preferences, and population growth pushed people, companies, and jobs across broad metropolitan areas.
Take Denver, for example. Its largest companies are certainly not downtown, and most are technically headquartered outside the city limits. Dish and Liberty are down off of E-470. Lockheed has multiple campuses employing thousands of workers miles away from the nearest light rail stop. Most of the massive economic engine that is the DTC is not walkable from light rail stops.
Even Western Union, who last year became the second Fortune 500 company within Denver’s city limits when it took over the building at 1 Belleview Station – less than 1/4 mile from a light rail stop – couldn’t impact a typical commuter’s drive to the office. Imagine a middle class office worker in Lakewood or Highlands Ranch who works at Western Union. Would they actually drive to a light rail stop, park their car, pay to park the car and take the light rail, wait for the train, and then walk to the office (one of the closest major buildings to any suburban light rail stop)? And then do the same thing on the way back?
Of course not. This would make their commute twice as expensive and twice as long.
There are very few places in the United States where the population density formula to support viable mass transit actually works – and newsflash – Denver isn’t one of them. It certainly works in Manhattan, and for the people coming into the City on Metro North or the Long Island Railroad.
Just look at the Manhattan subway map. That place is covered north to south and east to west, especially in the business dense areas below Central Park. You can step out of a subway just a few blocks max from any major office building in lower Manhattan. Then, look at Denver. There is no comparison.
Colorado politicians should stop burning cash on unsustainable, unusable, and uneconomical mass transit projects in our state, and focus on our roads. They should focus particularly on I-25 as it is a traffic nightmare and a massive drain on economic productivity for a 20-mile stretch north and south of Mile High Stadium.
The sooner they accept that we are not a Manhattan or Chicago, and we are simply not going to be, we can stop trying to be like them and start making decisions for the working class population that makes this state the great place that it is. Not for the politicians who just want a nice map overlay of a light rail system – and are willing to spend billions of your dollars to do it.