Apex Rich | Indy Week

Apex Rich 
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Re: “Light or commuter rail?

OK, this is probably far too long, but here goes.

Thanks for the info. You are probably right that it is an under-served market, but even then, having done research and marketing in the past years, if 15% of people say it would be their first pick in theory, it will be smashing success if 10% actually follow through with their checkbooks. Of that 10%, how many will ride the rails and how many will, as you indicate, walk where they need to go?

There is no doubt that a higher density urban model will provide a much higher rail ridership rate than the current low density suburban pattern, but I am afraid that there are many factors that conspire against reaching the level many assume. Even with a well planned community, there will still be places that residents will need to go that are very difficult or impossible to reach by rail. We have how many decades of development that happened without thinking about transportation in any way other than ensuring space was left in the plans for the occasional two lane stretch blacktop? While rail may work for some people living in those communities, there could well be a spouse for whom it doesn't.

One of the major challenges for the Triangle is RTP. It was designed to be low density and given the number of people who work there it is an important factor in any regional transit plans. Add in that other parts of the area have tried to follow the RTP model of low density employment parks and we have a major impediment to commuter rail success, which we all recognize does best with density.

I know I am sounding anti-rail, but I am really not. What I am against is going to the general public with a plan that doesn't have the highest chance of success. 10% of people moving into communities that don't exist today with a decent chance that those people will skip rail by choice (walk, bike etc.) or because of current structural impediments (RTP as the prime example) make for long odds. Add in the general reluctance of people to fund something they think they will never use, and I see this as something has too high a chance of failure given the backlash risk.

Thanks for the links. I recognize that the arguments for higher density living are becoming not only more compelling but understood by a larger number of people, yet in many ways, that creates as many problems as it solves. Discounting the psychological angle covered by Jackson, we have many obstacles to overcome.

As you indicated, we have a glut of suburban housing; even if we see a stupendous upsurge in demand for high density living, what are we going to do with all those places? How do people move when they cannot sell their house? We can learn from the past and find the problems associated with a large scale change in living patterns. Look at what rapid suburbanization did to our urban centers. Who (as usual) ended up getting the short end of the stick? Yup, those who had the least to lose. I know you aren't looking to gentrify urban areas, but is there sufficient public will to make sure that doesn't happen? Or will we end up like many of the DC suburbs where places that are walking distance from a Metro stop start at $400K? Political realities being what they are, what do you think the end result will be?

This is a great discussion, and I really appreciate the informed responses. Just so I don't come off as someone who puts things down without anything positive, and with apology for repetition, here is what I believe we should do. We need to focus on high speed intercity rail. Charlotte is major airline hub. Taking the short flight from RDU to a CLT connection, given check in time, boarding, connection and so on is often a 3+ hour ordeal. Get a high speed rail connection that includes an airport check in procedure that can beat that time and you have an instant client base.

I know some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking I am a free-market fundie, and while I admit that financial viability is important, it isn't for dogmatic reasons. Like it or not, the perception of transit is that of a sucking hole for public money and we need to change that. A service that while perhaps not entirely self sustaining start to finish but at least able to sustain operational costs is a good way to do this.

From this base, we leverage other operations. Trips to Charlotte for events and excursions with bus service at both ends. A second train with more stops than the airport express model that will take people to points between here and there. Then we add other destinations in the state. This may sound like Amtrak, but read this article, written by avid rail supporter, and there is no way anyone can think that Amtrak will deliver this.

Now, once we have this high-speed service working, rail will have demonstrated its value. People will see it as a real transportation option, so light and commuter rail lines that today have very limited appeal will at least be something they can relate to. It boils down to this. How many people in the Triangle have ridden a train in the last year? A pretty small number, right? If we start with a more limited scope project such as the one I describe, in ten years, that number will be higher and perceptions will have changed. And that will mean a much greater chance of success in going after the large scope issue of commuter transit which, as mentioned, must also address living and working patterns.

I hate to say it, but this needs to be done like a business would. Start small in the area where you think have the highest chance of success then build from that foundation. If we keep reaching for the top from the bottom rung of the ladder, we won't get anywhere.

Posted by Apex Rich on 07/07/2011 at 1:47 PM

Re: “Light or commuter rail?

"the corridor between Cary and Durham is a veritable cornucopia of old industrial properties that could be redeveloped. I see a junkyard, a flea market, a scrap- yard, and that doesn't even scratch the dirt."

Come on Bob, you are better than that. While they may not fit in the ideal concept of our world, junkyards, flea markets and scrap-yards are vital parts of our community, especially for those living on the margins. If you see those things as nothing more that targets for redevelopment, you push those people further out.

I didn't expect you to be a champion of urban gentrification, and while I doubt that was your intent, it is, nonetheless, a very dark side of these sorts of urban planning discussions that we should not ignore.

As I have said before, the case you make for light rail is based on some suspect assumptions. You say that light rail "is designed to spark inner-city development as an alternative to commuting." I say that most people who live in the suburbs do so because they want to, that suburbs have expanded faster than anywhere else because that is what the largest number of people want and if light rail success is dependent on changing living patterns for a significant number of people, it will fail.

I suggest you read Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth Jackson. It is an insightful view of suburbanization and the American psyche. I absolutely want rail to succeed, but we'll have better luck doing so if we aren't fighting against one of the most pervasive ideals of American culture.

Posted by Apex Rich on 07/07/2011 at 9:40 AM

Re: “In Tata we trust? Thoughts on a Friday re: Blue vs. Green

Bob, a great piece. Well done. While you clearly have your opinions, you remain willing to work towards a reasonable compromise, something that is becoming increasingly rare in this discussion.

A couple of points:

"That is, the number of students in each node who are eligible, because of low family income, for a free or reduced lunch is an exact, known figure."

I am 99% sure that this is no longer true. I believe that WCPSS was recently notified by whichever state/federal agency does school lunches that they cannot use that data for assignment purposes. Furthermore, I am not sure that it ever was true. I have worked with the actual assignment database, and when I was given a copy I was told that the by node F&R numbers used are estimates, not exact like the ones used in computing the by school figures or the demographic breakouts for achievement. I don't believe that the loop was completed between the two data sets. I believe that the it was functionally adequate for the purpose, but I don't think it was an exact figure and I almost certain that it cannot be that way now.

"I think, instead, we need to find a middle ground that protects the system while also honoring as much as possible the wishes of suburban parents"

Thank you! I am so relieved that someone is willing to say "middle ground". The prior Board's unwillingness to find a middle ground is what caused the results of the last election. I would also add that whatever assignment plan we have, it must remain logical and reasonable at a glance. For example, right now, some kids living on Wilmington St. in Raleigh are assigned to a school west of NC 55 in Cary. There are four or five cases where there is a school physically located in a node, but that node is not assigned to it. And there are cases where nodes are assigned to an elementary school but not the middle school which shares the same campus. No matter what percent of actual assignments these examples and others like them actually represent (and I have no doubt they are small) if the unreasonable cases are not eliminated, it send the message that the system doesn't care about individual kids and sees only nodes and percentages. Regardless of motivation, that is something the system must avoid.

How the Blue plan, wherein a single node could have 4 elementary base assignments plus multiple magnet options will maintain this, I don't know. Having half-a-dozen or more buses running to one neighborhood for just K-5 won't pass the reasonableness test in my eyes.

Posted by Apex Rich on 06/13/2011 at 9:41 AM

Re: “The issues behind the color-coded Wake County schools plans

Raleigh - "America is a white dominated society and thinks nothing of making it clear the difference between South Asia, Central America and Eastern Europe, African-Americans."

Actually, the reason I noted those differences is because they contradict one of the premises of the article. My response was structured in the same way as this article - whites and non-whites. I only mentioned whites because there is no homogeneity in that group either.

"Whether conscientiously intended or not the word white in this context is code for, well you know."

Actually, I don't know. The point I am making is that the idea that there would be no diversity in Wake County schools based on residence is untrue where I live. The idea put forth by this article that assignment based on proximity is motivated by a desire for racial isolation is not correct because there are many of us do not live in racial isolation.

Your comment is yet another case of drawing inaccurate conclusions based on assumptions that should not be made, then applying derogatory labels, even if just by inference, that do nothing but reduce the chances of a reasonable outcome that embodies compromise rather than appeals to dogma.

I'd say that most of the people I know are in the middle on this issue. Only a few are on the extremes that get reported as though they are the only beliefs. The problem is, the number of people in the middle, those who want some sort of compromise and are willing to listen, is shrinking fast. What good does it do to push everyone to those extremes? Do you really think that with each election a massive pendulum swing from one side to the other is going to be beneficial?

Posted by Apex Rich on 06/10/2011 at 12:07 PM

Re: “The issues behind the color-coded Wake County schools plans

"Wake's neighborhoods were—and still are—racially segregated."

I would challenge this statement. While true in far too many cases, it is not universally true as this implies. I live in a small development and on my cul-de-sac of just 8 homes, in the past 10 years our neighbors have been immigrants from South Asia, Central America and Eastern Europe, African-Americans, whites from the west cost, Midwest, lifetime North Carolinians, people with no kids, a family with six kids, and more that I am sure I have forgotten.

Across the street from our subdivision are homes that sold for over a half million dollars. Behind us is an old trailer park. We don't need busing to have diversity, unless the only diversity you care about is a diversity of zip codes.

The idea that the suburbs of Wake County have become a way to recreate segregation is the opposite of my experience. A lot of the people I speak with are pretty angry about be characterized as racists try to turn back the clock when so many of them live in neighborhoods like my own. Many of them, like me, are also appalled at being lumped in with the anti sex-ed gay bashing neanderthals. But all of them are tired of being told that the school they go to will change every two or three years, that no magnet schools will ever be within a reasonable distance and that they should just be glad that we have no "bad schools" in the county while simultaneously watching at-risk student achievement decline.

This points out the fundamental issue - there is no such thing as Wake County other than as an artificial administrative unit. As a result, no single plan will ever be able address what needs to be done because there are too many variables. All we will get is more squabbling.

I don't agree with everything that the new board is doing, nor disagree with all the policies of what came before. What I do know is that the division that you and others are drawing are inaccurate and causing an increasing radicalization of positions; an outcome that causes the real issue of individual student success to be forgotten.

Posted by Apex Rich on 06/09/2011 at 9:35 AM

Re: “Transit plans moving again, but Wake commissioners an obstacle

Bob, that is indeed a dream. I don't see how you will ever get support for a rail system based on the idea that it will change development patterns when most people see no problem with the way things are done now.

That is why I advocate high speed intercity rail first. It works with existing development patterns and therefore gives the highest chance of success for demonstrating the viability of rail travel. For many people in the Triangle, rail travel is a foreign concept. They aren't going to care unless there is something that works for them.

Just my opinion, and I could be wrong. I really see no evidence that there is much support for a character changing regional vision like the one you outlined. I think people moved into areas of suburban sprawl because that is what they want, not because they think in a few decades it will morph into a high density area. Getting people from one cluster to another through intercity rail is going to be an easier sell. My main point is that rail and transit advocates need to be more unified and have more reasonable goals. Find one thing and make that a priority. Keep the long term stuff on the shelf, get a good solid victory and grow from there.

Posted by Apex Rich on 03/24/2011 at 12:33 PM

Re: “Transit plans moving again, but Wake commissioners an obstacle

I like rail travel. I grew up in England riding the train, then moved to the NYC area and took rail everywhere from Washington DC to New Haven, CT and all points between. But NC needs to decide what it wants from rail. Does it want:
A - a high-speed intercity rail service
B - regional commuter rail service

The two are not the same thing and one does not always happily work in concert with the other. While it would be nice to be like Jane and say "BOTH" quite bold and plain, that isn't going to happen. It will be hard enough to muster the support for one; diluting support over two projects just ensures that neither will get done.

Me, I say high-speed intercity rail. We have clusters of density that make intercity rail a viable service, but within those clusters, we don't have the residential or employment structure for commuter rail to work. The designers of RTP never thought about rail, that is for sure.

Posted by Apex Rich on 03/24/2011 at 11:08 AM

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