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Annals of Motordom – 32

June 22, 2011

An occasional update on items from Motordom – the world of auto dominance.




From The Guardian:

Cost-benefit analysis is systematically rigged in favour of business. Take, for example, the decision-making process for transport infrastructure. The last government developed an appraisal method which almost guaranteed that new roads, railways and runways would be built, regardless of the damage they might do or the paltry benefits they might deliver.

The method costs people’s time according to how much they earn, and uses this cost to create a value for the development. So, for example, it says the market price of an hour spent travelling in a taxi is £45, but the price of an hour spent travelling by bicycle is just £17, because cyclists tend to be poorer than taxi passengers.

Its assumptions are utterly illogical. For example, commuters are deemed to use all the time saved by a new high-speed rail link to get to work earlier, rather than to live further away. Rich rail passengers are expected to do no useful work on trains, but to twiddle their thumbs and stare vacantly out of the window throughout the journey.

This costing system explains why successive governments want to invest in high-speed rail rather than cycle lanes, and why multibillion pound road schemes which cut two minutes off your journey are deemed to offer value for money.

This is the machine into which nature must now be fed. The national ecosystem assessment hands the biosphere on a plate to the construction industry.




Looks like Chicago’s new transportation chief, Gabe Klein, is prepared to do a Vancouver on the Windy City:

From the Chicago Tribune:

Klein was transportation director in D.C. for two years,  and in that short time created the nation’s largest bicycle-sharing program, launched D.C.’s circulator bus service and started building a streetcar system….

Klein said he is not anti-automobile, but he makes it clear that cars are not the solution to Chicago’s transportation problems. As a former executive of the Zipcar for-profit car-sharing company and the creator of Washington’s successful bicycle-sharing program, Klein, who formerly worked for a major bicycle manufacturer, is adamant there is no need for people to own their own automobiles. In fact, city life is better if they don’t, he said.

Here are Klein’s thoughts on a few major transportation issues:

Innovation: “A lot of the things that I want to do are cheap, or cheaper. Bus rapid transit, bike-sharing, reallocating space for more bike lanes, safety, slowing traffic down, pedestrian upgrades. When you compare those to every other type of road project, it is couch money, right? I feel my job is to produce high returns for very little investment.”

Downtown traffic congestion: “It’s about cost and hassle. If you make it hard enough and expensive enough to drive, you’ll drive behavior in another way. The more people we can get biking, walking and taking local transit, the less we will clog the arteries with cars that don’t need to be there. Things will have to change.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2011 8:21 am

    It is not that Cost Benefit Analysis of itself is wrong, simply that it is so easy to make it produce the answers you want. Monbiot is criticizing the way it is now done in the UK – and he has a point.

    Perhaps the greatest error is in using CBA as a pass/fail test for an individual project. It does seem that assigning arbitrary values to things that are unmarketable is suspect. But as long as the analyst uses the same values for a whole list of possible projects and then uses the results as a way of selecting the better performing projects, then CBA is at least objective. It is also much clearer than some other alternate methods such as multiple account evaluations – which are even easier to skew.

    In the final analysis, the decision is always political, and is driven by the mindset of those we elect. They may call in aid all kinds of professional advice, but it is the politicians who are held responsible for the outcomes. Which is as it should be.

  2. Penny permalink
    June 22, 2011 11:50 am

    I wrote to Chicago Tourism last week when I found out about Rahm’s new separated bike paths. I was intending to return to Chicago at some point (it’s just so damn easy and cheap to get there on Amtrak from here), but this just shunted it up to the top of the vacation revisit list with NYC and Minneapolis – which of course you can also do (with a bike) on Amtrak.

    I heard that Rahm had challenged other cities to follow his lead by creating 20 miles of new protected bikelanes every year…………….. Hope we take up the challenge!

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