Thursday, January 31, 2008

Plain Silliness

The Maryland Transit Administration already has a hard enough time running an operating system, and is a complete failure when it comes to keeping passengers safe. But that doesn't stop the Sun from wanting to expand the MTA's role where it does not belong....

See more below the fold....

Simply put, it says that the creation and support of transit-oriented development should be a priority for the Maryland Transit Administration. That's not a new concept, but the O'Malley administration bill marks the first effort to set the goal into law. And while there are numerous such projects in the works, support for them - political and financial - has not always been as strong as it should be.

Transit-oriented development should be a no-brainer. Building projects with retail, offices, residential and parking facilities immediately adjacent to rail or bus service increase ridership and better serve the community....

...But promoting development is quite a departure from the traditional role of the MTA as merely a builder and operator of transit lines. It means, for instance, forging agreements with developers and local government to encourage visionary projects. That may involve promoting tax abatements or zoning exceptions, the standard tools of local government-fostered economic development.
Of course, the MTA has absolutely no business in working on the kind of projects the Sun suggest that they work on. Suddenly though, the Sun seems to think that the MTA is the kind of effective government agency that should use its vast experience in development issues to help plan transit oriented development.

Of course, when you consider that the MTA can't get the easy stuff right, can't protect their customers even after promising solutions, and wants to spend billions upon billions of dollars on 28-year plans, I can see where the Sun would get that idea. I mean, they are such an effective organization and they clearly have no problems with their system. The MTA is surely the organization to lead Maryland into the next 25-years of urban policy.

Sarcasm aside, the Sun's rah-rah support of this is a complete joke, albeit unsurprising given that the bill in question is being pushed by the O'Malley Administration. And check out this nugget from the legislation:
So by definition, we're going to find ourselves with the MTA as a new de facto MEDCO type outfit, creating development projects that are going to be competing directly with the private sector. And those of us in Anne Arundel County know what happens when those projects, as one would suspect they would, go south, though we know that O'Malley and his team never learned those lessons.

The Administration and the Sun both seem to lack the understanding that when an organization is failing to do the job that they were created to perform, it is then probably not a good idea to task that organization with different, completely unrelated responsibilities and expect anything good to happen for our state and certainly the taxpayers.


1 comment:

bruce.godfrey said...

I have a great deal of respect for transit-oriented development, but agree that the MTA does not inspire confidence whatsoever in its ability to run, well, anything. Let me take that back: the MARC lines are fairly well run, through tight coordination with the Northeast Corridor division out of Amtrak's Philadelphia command center. But that fact actually strengthens your argument.

Among the best TOD examples in North America are North Arlington's Orange Line neighborhoods of Clarendon, Ballston and Virginia Square.

The core concept of TOD is to promote high density (i.e. tall) development in a radius around the transit facility while discouraging it outside the radius, promoting economies of scale and positive externalities and enabling a transit destination to be a one-stop neighborhood. The concentration of such facilities around the station promotes more economical and frequent transit service, and vice versa; if the destination is a winner, good frequent service will be more economical and therefore efficient to make plentiful, which will make the destination yet more of a winner, etc.

While free market purists would balk at any zoning, true free market purists would balk at the existence of a transportation department in the first place. At common law, the concept of a traffic jam barely existed; one does not read of a "twelve-horse pile-up" at Charing Cross in London or traffic being "giddyup and whoa" as opposed to "stop and go" on the colonial Boston Post Road. But even at common law, the vast majority of roads were owned and managed by the government, and common law rights of egress and ingress (i.e. a state-sanctioned violation of others to violate your boundaries to get to the King's Highway) filled in the gaps. We have already fried that egg, long ago. But your sense that the MTA cannot be trusted to run a gumball machine properly is sadly well-founded.