"What about Rail?" tonight

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Tonight, Thursday, April 24, from 6 to 8, INCOG is presenting an open house on the topic of rail transportation. TulsaNow is providing snacks before hand; the presentation begins at 6, followed by questions at 7. Presenters will include:

Sonya Lopez - Principal Planner, Austin

Cal Marsella - General Manager of the Regional Transportation District, Denver

Andrew Howard - Kimley-Horn, consulting firm studying the integration of land-use and transit for the City of Tulsa Comprehensive Plan

Dwayne Weeks Federal Transit Administration, New Starts and Small Starts project review team).

The event will be held, appropriately enough, at our Art Deco Union Depot (officially the Jazz Hall of Fame at Union Station), and it's free and open to the public. Union Station is between Boston and Cincinnati, on the north side of 1st Street.

Although the rail talk has mostly been about commuter rail between downtown Tulsa and Broken Arrow, Brian Ervin has interview in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly with urban planner Jack Crowley, who is studying the idea of a light rail line connecting two potential transit-oriented development sites: The city maintenance yards at 23rd and Jackson and the Evans Electric / Fintube site north of Archer east of US 75.

[Crowley] explained that the city owns about 50 acres at 23rd St. and Jackson Ave., which is south of downtown, and about 22 acres just north of downtown, at the Evans-Fintube site just north of Archer St. between Highway 75 and OSU-Tulsa.

Also, there's already a railroad track connecting the two sites, which runs through downtown, past the new BOK Arena.

There is currently a best-use study underway for the two sites, among other city-owned plots, but Crowley supposes that three or four-story walk-up apartments would be a wise use of the sites if the city invests in a light rail system along the existing tracks.

"If you had a train station there where you could walk out of wherever you live and get on the train and go to work in the morning, or go to the OSU campus to study, how much value could you get there at that site?" Crowley asked rhetorically.

Having a permanent public transportation route would also attract retail and restaurant developers wanting to capitalize on the availability of potential customers at the rail system's various stops.

If the city leased those two plots of land on each end of the tracks to developers, it could soon make back the $50-70 million he estimates it would cost to build the rail system, and passengers wouldn't need to pay a fare.

Crowley acknowledged an argument Bates made in his piece--that there isn't currently enough population density in downtown and the surrounding areas to justify a light rail system. However, he said, the light rail system would easily attract that density after a lag time of about five or six years after it's built.

He said there is typically a 10-15 year lag time for big cities after they adopt a transit-oriented design.

Also in this week's issue, Paul Tay makes some good points in a letter calling for privatization of public transit:

Tulsa Transit is a failure as a bus system. As long as the City owns and operates the system, there's every reason to expect Tulsa Transit will be a failure as a rail operator. Tulsa Transit and its brothers all over America have NO profit motive to meet the many needs, to include utilitarian and emotional, of the traveling public. If Tulsa Transit's employee parking lot is any indication, even Mr. Boatwright, the general manager, and his employees, the bus drivers, don't ride the bus for their basic transportation needs.

If Tulsa Transit can't even make transit work for its own employees, shouldn't we look for another business model for transit? Getting government out of the business of meeting the needs of the traveling public worked great for the airlines.

Jet Blue would not be possible without airline deregulation. Stylish, 5.4 MHz cordless telephones would not be possible without deregulation either. We would still be leasing black, rotary dial phones from the old AT&T, before its break-up. Divest Tulsa Transit to private operators. Auction the curb rights, similar to the FCC's frequency sales and TV and radio licensing. Deregulate transit.

Tay closes with a reference to a Brookings Institution study: Daniel B. Klein, Adrian T. Moore, Binyam Reja, Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, Brookings Institution Press (1997). (That link leads to a paper summarizing the argument of the book; you can preview Curb Rights on Google Books.)

MORE: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Walter Moore questions the wisdom of spending $640 million for an 8.6 mile light rail extension in that city, enough to pay for "one bus every 100 yards along the 8.6 mile route, and have over $590 million left over."

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 24, 2008 8:09 AM.

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