Green New Deal

American progressive media is talking about the possibility of a Green New Deal, which involves spending money in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. So far details are scant, and most likely no real plan is likely to emerge for a number of years, since the proposal is pushed by the Democratic base, which is no more supportive of cooperation with President Trump than I am. Because the plan is so early, people are opining about what should go in it. My purpose in this post is to explain what I think the main priorities should be, and to leave to others the politics of how to package them.

The primacy of transportation

The main sources of greenhouse gas emissions are transportation, electricity generation, and industry. In the US this is in descending order, transportation having just overtaken power generation; the reduction in coal burning and the collapse in solar power production costs are such that in the long term, electricity generation should be viewed as a solved problem in the long term. Lingering issues with storage and base load are real, but the speed of progress is such that ordinary taxes on carbon should be enough to fix whatever is left of the problem.

Transportation is the exact opposite. American transportation emissions fell in the 2007-8 oil price spike and ensuing economic crisis but are now increasing again. Newer cars have higher fuel efficiency, but Americans are buying bigger cars and driving more. Electric cars, the favored solution of people who think spending $50,000 on a new car is reasonable, are still a niche luxury market and have trouble scaling up. Scratch an American futurist who looks exclusively at electric cars and denigrates mass transit and you’ll wound a solipsist who looks for excuses to avoid the humiliation of having to support something where other countries lead and the US lags.

The upshot is that the primary (but not the only) focus of any green push has to be expansion of public transportation. This includes ancillary policies for urban redevelopment and livable streets, which have the dual effects of buttressing public transit and reducing residential emissions through higher-density living. Overall, this turns any such program into a large public works project.

Spend money right

It’s paramount to make sure to avoid wasting money. A large infrastructure program would run into an appreciable fraction of federal spending; money is always a constraint, even when the goal is to spend funds on economic stimulus. The first lesson here is to keep construction costs under control. But an equally fundamental lesson is to make sure to spend money on transit expansion and not other things:

Don’t spend money on roads

A large majority of American public spending on transportation is on roads. Adding in subsidies for cars makes the proportion go even higher. It reflects current travel patterns, but if the goal is to reduce the environmental footprint of driving, the government can’t keep pumping money into road infrastructure. Accept that in developed countries the generally useful roads have already been built, and future construction just induces people to suburbanize further and drive longer distances.

Congress spends transportation money in multi-year chunks. The most recent bill passed in 2015 for five years, totaling $300 billion, of which $50 billion went to public transit and $200 billion went to highways. Raiding the road fund should be the primary source of additional transit funding: most of the line workers and engineers can build either, and even the physical act of building a freeway is not too different from that of building a high-speed railway. In contrast, outside of a deep recession, increasing total spending on transportation infrastructure requires hiring more workers, leading to large increases in costs as the program runs up against the limit of the available construction labor in the country.

$60 billion a year on public transit is a decent chunk of money for a long-term program, especially with expected state matches. Over the next decade it would be $600 billion, and around a trillion with state and local matches, if they are forthcoming (which they may not be because of how political incentives are lined up). That is, it’d a decent chunk of money if the federal government understands the following rule:

Fund expansion, not maintenance or operations

The sole legitimate source of regular budgeting for public transit is regular spending at the relevant level of government, which is state or local in the United States. Outside infusions of money like federal spending are bad government, because they incentivize deferring maintenance when the federal government is stingy and then crying poverty when it is generous. Amtrak did just that in the 2000s: faced with pressure from the Bush administration to look profitable for future privatization, Amtrak fired David Gunn, who wouldn’t defer maintenance, and replaced him with the more pliable Joe Boardman; then in the economic crisis and the stimulus, it discovered a multi-billion dollar backlog of deferred maintenance, permitting it to ask for money without having to show any visible results.

If the federal government credibly commits to not funding state of good repair backlogs or normal replacement, and to penalizing agencies that defer maintenance and giving them less money for expansion, it can encourage better behavior. Unlike ongoing maintenance, capital expansion is not necessary for continued operations, and thus if funding dries up and a transit agency stops expanding, there will not be problems with service cancellation, slow zones, frequency-ridership spirals, and other issues familiar to New Yorkers in the 1970s or Washingtonians today.

One potential way to change things is to federally fund expansion without expecting much if any local match, provided the agency commits to spending the required operating funds on running the service in question. This separation of federal and local responsibility also reduces the political incentives to grandstand by rejecting federal money in order to make the president look bad.

Build the rail lines that are appropriate

Each region in the US should be getting transit expansion money in rough proportion to its population. However, the meaning of transit depends on the local and regional geography:

  • In big cities it means rapid transit expansion: new lines for the New York City Subway, the Chicago L, etc. In somewhat smaller cities with light rail-based systems it means light rail expansion, which may also involve upgrading at-grade light rail to full rapid transit: Dallas is considering a downtown tunnel for its light rail network and Los Angeles is already building one, and those could lead to upgrading capacity elsewhere on the system to permit longer trains.
  • In suburbs and some smaller cities with large mainline rail networks, it means commuter rail. It’s especially valuable in the Northeast and secondarily in the Midwest and the odd older Southern city: cities like Milwaukee and Cincinnati don’t really have compelling corridors for greenfield urban rail, but do have interesting S-Bahn corridors.
  • In periurban and rural areas, it means longer-range regional rail, transitioning to intercity rail in lower-density areas. In some smaller metro areas, it means actual intercity rail to bigger cities. Examples include Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, both of which can be connected with Denver, and Hans-Joachim Zierke’s proposed regional rail line for Medford, Oregon.

I focus on rail and not buses for two simple reasons: rail has higher capital and lower operating costs, so it’s more relevant for a capital program, and rail gets higher ridership for reasons including better right-of-way quality and better ride quality.

Transmit knowledge of best practices

The federal government has the ability to assimilate best practices for both limiting construction costs and designing good transit networks. Local governments can learn the same, but for the most part they don’t care. Instead they run their transit systems in manage-the-decline mode, only occasionally hearing about something done in London, hardly the best-run European transit city.

The best practices for network design are especially important given the magnitude of the program. The US is not spending $60 billion nationwide a year on transit expansion. The NTD says annual spending on capital among the top 50 American transit agencies was $14.6 billion as of 2016 (source, PDF-p. 11), and a lot of that (e.g. most of the MTA’s $3.5 billion capital expenditure) is the black holes that are state of good repair and normal replacement. $60 billion a year apportioned by population is on the order of $2 billion for New York City annually, which is $20 billion over 10 years, and the city doesn’t necessarily know how to spend that money even at today’s construction costs, let alone rational construction costs.

At least New York has an internal bank of enthusiasts at the MTA and at shadow agencies like the RPA who have ideas for how to spend this money. Smaller cities for the most part don’t. Does Cleveland have any idea what it would do with $5 billion over ten years for regionwide transit expansion? Does Tampa? The federal government has to play an educational role in giving regions sample zoning codes for TOD, network design guidelines, and procurement guidelines that help reduce costs.

Start planning now

A large infrastructure bill planned for 2021 has to be planned now. Its proponents do not intend for it to be a regular jobs program based on existing local wishlists: they intend for it to represent a shift in national priorities, which means that each item of spending has to be planned in advance, mostly from scratch. It means the political work of aligning various interest groups toward the same goal has to start early, which seems to be what the proponents are doing; even the name Green New Deal evokes progressive nostalgia for olden days before neoliberalism.

But alongside the political work, there must be good technical work. Regional planning agencies have to be aware this may be coming and have to have solid ideas for how they’d like to spend a few billion dollars over the decade. Simultaneously, organs including federal offices like the GAO, transit agencies, shadow agencies, and thinktanks have to learn and transmit a culture of good operating and capital practices. A government that plays a bigger role in the economy or in society has to become more competent; managerial competence is required for any program that allocates money with any precision, and very good cost control is a must to make sure the available budget goes to a green transition and isn’t wasted on red tape.


  1. IAN Mitchell

    “The main sources of greenhouse gas emissions are transportation, electricity generation, and industry.”

    While this is perhaps correct by incomplete measurements, land use (and particularly animal agriculture) has a larger impact on earth’s climate due to methane, albedo effects, and supply-chain resource intensivity, than any other activity.

    • Alon Levy

      That depends on where! In Brazil land use changes dominate, yes, but in temperate countries the albedo of natural vegetation isn’t lower than that of farmland.

      • IAN Mitchell

        Silviculture in Northern Canada produces major albedo changes (where often native grasses or even bare snow would reflect much more radiation), and it’s also the pre-existing biomass decaying and releasing carbon when land is converted into high-intensivity annual agriculture, in all climate zones.

        • Alon Levy

          My Wikipedia-level understanding of its rail ridership is that per capita it’s excellent for its size but still behind bigger cities. VBK serves 1.3 million people, the Stadtbahn has 80 million annual riders, and the Karlsruhe trams another 90 (but then Wikipedia tells me total ridership is 115 million – is that a double-count?).

  2. adirondacker12800

    Electric cars, the favored solution of people who think spending $50,000 on a new car is reasonable,

    They are 40, nicely equipped and the price continues to drop. They are cheaper if you consider total cost of ownership and not what the monthly payment is. Ten years ago the baseline was half of all new cars being electric by 2040. The optimists said that was too conservative. They were predicting 2030. The people who looked at the adoption rates of other technologies pointed out it won’t be in a straight line and there will be a turning point in the late 2020s when electric car’s sticker price will be lower than an internal combustion car. They were being too conservative. It’s gonna be sometime soon and once electric cars have the same monthly payment as an ICE car it’s a matter of building enough plants to make the batteries.
    You then get into smart grid scenarios where the parking space at you employer is covered in PV, the car charges until the mid afternoon peak, sells some electricity to your employer and you cook dinner with the PV. And top up the charge with almost free wind in the dead of night. Most days. Since the car will have a week’s worth of usual driving in it, things can be rescheduled.

    • fbfree

      There’s a whole lot of assumptions you’re spouting about hypothetical marginal benifits of electric cars. On the whole, yes, they are getting cheaper. They may even become cheaper in lifecycle cost than a gas car if the price of fuel is increased. It does not seem plausible that they would become cheaper than gas cars are today in the foreseable future, thus they are very far from forming the whole solution to emissions from transportation.

      • IAN Mitchell

        My employer provides free charging for EVs.
        The average american spends around $250/mo for fuel. A used Nisaan Leaf is under $12,000.
        Four years, not accounting for simpler maintenance (far fewer moving parts in an electric).
        Now, I bike, but the economics for an EV are pretty strong when you buy used and charging is free.

        • Jacob Manaker

          Yes, and the economics for cars of any stripe are very good right now precisely because regulations require every to give away free parking. If everyone at your employer’s starts driving Leafs, their electric bill will skyrocket, and they will regret that charging policy. Relying on a fuel subsidy doth not a sustainable economics make.

      • adirondacker12800

        We are looking at new cars. At our electricity rates electric cars are the cheapest option. But then most people look at the monthly payment not total cost of ownership. We paid attention in fourth grade arithmetic class and can do things like add the monthly payment to the monthly fuel costs and multiply that by 60 for five year costs. It’s the cheapest option today. They won’t be able to build battery plants fast enough, very soon. Nobody is going to want internal combustion cars once the sticker price of an electric is lower. It’s gonna be soon.
        I guesstimate if our boiler leaks in 2022 we have to look hard at PV and a ground sourced heat pump. It will cheaper than $2.50 a gallon heating oil. I haven’t reguesstimated using last years numbers. Or this year’s oil prices.
        All that stuff with charging with PV in the morning, selling it back to grid in the afternoon, cooking dinner with it and charging again with cheap wind in the dead of night, is gravy. Worrying about it all being too expensive may have been true in 2013. It’s not too expensive today and keeps getting cheaper. Faster than the optimists thought it would.

    • Dan Miller

      It’s certainly the case that we don’t have 10 years to wait on cutting carbon emissions. We have to peak total emissions very very soon, and expanded transit has to be part of that picture.

  3. Reedman Bassoon

    You mention Tampa. There is an already-planned “shovel ready” rail link to Orlando that is in limbo. If the ticket price was set to cover operation and maintenance, then $5 billion should cover the cost of constructing the 84 miles. P.S. The former Amtrak station in St. Petersburg is closed and for sale, if an extension over a new/repaired rail bridge was desired. P.P.S. In the old days, the Barnum and Bailey circus would ride-the-rails into Sarasota to spend the winter there.

  4. IAN Mitchell

    “Electric cars, the favored solution of people who think spending $50,000 on a new car is reasonable”
    New Nisaan leaf cost: $29,900
    Used (2016) Nisaan leaf cost: $12,000

    • IAN Mitchell

      Most popular vehicle in USA:
      Ford F150
      New F150 cost: $29,900
      Used (2016) F150 cost: $19,000

      The typical US household can already afford an EV; it may not be the exact one they want.

      • Untangled

        America needs to stop drivers and car marketers from abusing the F150 and similar vehicles as passenger cars.

        • Ian Mitchell

          Absolutely! Perhaps a registered business, advertising services to the public, with commercial insurance, should be the only one allowed to operate vehicles with a curb weight of over 4,000 lbs/1,800 kg on public roadways.

          Sure, there are folks who would register a strawman business and put a single-line ad in an annual publication to do this, but the commercial insurance and overall complexity would make these heavy vehicles playthings for the rich- not a “muh truck!” for middle-class american office workers.

    • Alon Levy

      Is Nissan even still making the Leaf? Because GM canceled the Volt. (And also, the Leaf and Volt both have serious range problems, unlike Tesla.)

      • Benjamin

        It is. And while GM canceled the Volt, it’s still forging ahead with the all-electric Bolt, which is a closer competitor to the Leaf in both size and range.

      • Michael James

        Benjamin is correct. The Volt was an appropriate response to, say, the Prius, ten years ago but the future does not lie in retaining about 500kg+ of ICE plus transmission and differential and axles etc.

        The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official range for the 2018 model year Leaf is 243 km (151 miles) on a full battery charge. The battery can be charged from empty to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes using DC fast charging.

        For the average city commute this is more than enough range, even without re-charging options.

        And with a 24kWh battery (top option is 30kWh) it could feasibly replace a Powerwall-2 which has a mere 13.5kWh, ie. for domestic night power as adirondacker talks about. In places like Australia it could even be recharged in the morning by the time most people use their car (in my part of the world the sunrise is 4.30am).

        • adirondacker12800

          The car isn’t always here and there are days when it’s really cold. There will be battery in the house. If I and the grid can access the car it doesn’t have to be as big. Once every 7 years when the weather aligns with a long trip I’ll eat the cost of some higher priced electricity.

          • IAN Mitchell

            A standard wall outlet charges about 20 miles per hour.
            95% or so of the infrastructure necessary for universal adoption of electric cars already exists.

  5. IAN Mitchell

    “cities like Milwaukee and Cincinnati don’t really have compelling corridors for greenfield urban rail”

    Would you propose this to be an S-bahn tunnel, or urban rail? Or is it just plain useless?

    Dallas’ subway is an exciting development, and a demonstrates a sea change in how North Texans will view transit.

    What are your thoughts toward HOV developments? I personally think there’s so much we can do merely by adding more or less paint to existing roadways; halving or better the CO2 emissions of those travelling on said lanes.Particularly as technology solutions (e.g. Waze carpool) reduce the friction of matching drivers and riders.

        • Alon Levy

          Wait, what? There are toll roads that don’t have special HOV lanes, like the Port Authority bridges, or the idea of congestion pricing (which requires state approval in New York but no federal law).

          • adirondacker12800

            They didn’t take significant amounts of Federal money so they don’t have to follow Federal rules about toll free roads. Without a bunch of Federal incentives the yokels out in the hinterlands wouldn’t want to spend money to keep it from being pounded back into gravel.

  6. Benjamin

    I would suggest subsidizing the purchase of electrified buses as well. First, almost every city of more than a few tens of thousands of people provides at least some bus service, whereas only a few dozen large metro areas (at most) can justify rail transit. (In addition, small transit systems are often run by universities, airports, and school districts [i.e., school buses], all of which are already used to receiving federal funds.) This keeps the Green New Deal programs from being a predominately urban program, and can be used to build a broader base of support. There would also be side benefits regarding air quality, noise pollution, and long-term operational savings, but that would be icing on the cake.

    Second, creating a larger market for battery-powered vehicles will likely lead to improvements in capability and efficiency that should trickle down to passenger cars, which would in turn hasten their adoption. I can further imagine cheap, used bus batteries being used to help moderate power from intermittent renewable sources, but that’d over a decade away.

  7. Jonathan Erdman

    From a political perspective the Green New Deal seems to be gaining momentum and has a lot of potential as a winning political strategy for Dems. There’s an article in the Atlantic that I linked to on my site:

    The rhetoric and policies of the Green New Deal seem more in line with FDR and seem to represent a break with establishment Democrats, although like Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal could bring in a lot of establishment Dems, especially if it becomes a winning political issue.

    • Alon Levy

      The “break from Obama/Clinton centrism” line is so telling… in 2009 people talked about how Obama was a break with Clinton’s centrism because he had charisma and used progressive language and passed economic stimulus.

      The FDR mythology in the name is a nice touch, but none of this involves the armies of unskilled workers that public works involved in the 1930s. There’s a reason I’m proposing a spending-neutral plan: there are better sources of stimulus out there (unemployment benefits + higher marginal income taxes work really well as an automatic stabilizer). Ultimately the number of civil engineers, skilled construction workers, etc. is fixed, and you can’t shunt them between public infrastructure and private-sector buildings thaaaaat easily. Honestly, even concepts like redrawing regional plans requires a big increase in the skill level of the planners involved.

      • Benjamin

        I think you’re overestimating the fraction of the original New Deal that employed unskilled workers (WPA, CCC, NYA), versus the fraction that employed idled skilled workers (PWA, TVA). The Green New Deal, as far as I can tell, is much more like the latter than the former, especially insofar as it’s focused on power generation.

        I also think you shouldn’t make too much of the current division in Democratic Party politics between the moderate and progressive factions. Both are much closer to each other than a decade ago. With the possible exception of banking, there are no serious debates about ends (e.g., fighting climate change, providing access to health care for all), only the means (e.g., carbon tax vs. cap and trade, a public insurance option vs. straight nationalization of health insurance). Virtually no Democratic elected official would say “no thanks” to the idea of spending federal money on renewable energy and related projects.

      • Jonathan Erdman

        But Bernie and like minded progressives are breaking from Obama/Clinton centrism precisely by the fact that they are going to unions and see workers as the pivot of the movement. They are also going to the Midwest. Old Dem centrism was notoriously urban and coastal. As you say, the litmus test is whether or not unskilled labor is central to the movement. I’d say it’s a litmus test, anyway, in terms of breaking from the capitalist hierarchy of weath and power. I think that’s happening, not to the degree I’d like to see, but at the same time we are in a quite incredibly pathetic situation, politically and culturally. Unions and unskilled labor have been negatively stigmatized, and building a worker-based movement will require a bit of time, but you can’t say that Bernie & Co. are not reaching out to unions and/or seeking to change the perception and role of the worker in the economy.

      • adirondacker12800

        Solar panels don’t install themselves. By the time we install lots of solar the old solar panels will need to be replaced.

      • Michael James

        Alon Levy, 2018/12/05 – 17:28
        Ultimately the number of civil engineers, skilled construction workers, etc. is fixed, and you can’t shunt them between public infrastructure and private-sector buildings thaaaaat easily.

        Genuine question. How do the Chinese do it? Before 2006 they didn’t have any HSR but within a decade they had about 12,000 km (IIRC). Did they have a big existing workforce on standard rail that were switched to HSR?
        Also, the timescale of any New Deal means that surely part of it can be training more engineers etc. which has (only) a 3-4 year lag?

        • Alon Levy

          China did pay a premium! Nothing as lolzy as India having to send train drivers to Japan for training, but the construction cost of Chinese HSR is the same as the European average (and higher than the French average, which is a bit below European average) even though wages there are way lower than here. So either they ended up having to pay premium wages or they used more unskilled labor instead of less skilled labor.

          • Jhonny

            Is China not getting ANY economy of scale?

            At least on rolling stick they should be…

  8. Jacob Manaker

    “…cities like Milwaukee and Cincinnati don’t really have compelling corridors for greenfield urban rail”

    Nonsense. Most American cities have had their urban structures redeveloped since the automobile, and density follows *transportation* (not *transit*) access. So most residential and commercial density lies along 4-lane (or wider!) stroads, and is often far from existing rail lines. The best way to serve those regions with high-quality transit light rail in reserved medians (eliminating the stroadiness while one is at it). Examples below.

    This doesn’t mean that some existing rail lines don’t have enough density to be S-Bahns too; the cities you cited lie in that category. The Cincinnati-Hamilton-Dayton corridor is perfect for through-running regional rail, possibly with a spur to High Point. Milwaukee, too, has relatively straightforward 4 branches to the north, a main trunk running through the city, and 4 branches to Kenosha, West Oak Creek, New Berlin, and Waukesha (or Waukesha and Oconomowoc). There are a few more cities that can make it work: natural regional corridor(s) are Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice (to greenfield -Northport-Port Charlotte-Punta Gorda-, maybe?) Fort Myers-Bonita Springs-Naples, and cities Detroit, Newport News, St. Louis, Cleveland-along-the-lakefront, and Tampa-St. Petersburg-encircling-the-bay all have enough density along the tracks.

    But the examples of decent S-Bahns above are exceptions: in Atlanta, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Omaha, Cleveland-except-along-the-lakefront, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Des Moines, Norfolk, and Kansas City, local density either already has rapid transit, or rapidly drops off after the first 2-4 miles. Most existing US commuter rail has poor frequency and uses buses as feeders, because there is no density along their lines (c.f. SunRail, TriRail, NM Road Runner…). New Orleans is investigating “commuter rail” to Baton Rouge, but the 80-mile-long line isn’t like Cheyenne-Fort Collins/Greeley-Denver-Colorado Springs-Pueblo-(La Junta/Trinidad): density only appears at the endpoints. Birmingham has a reasonable downtown loop, but light rail along Rt. 5 from Center Point to Bessemer with a deviation to the airport hits microdestinations better.

    Instead, most places with enough density for S-Bahn service currently provide commuter rail instead (e.g. DC, Minneapolis, Seattle). If the government wants to fund transit, it should invest in transforming those services to S-Bahns, but put light rail in places without existing transit service.

    I’ll conclude with the promised light rail examples:

    In the case of Cincinatti:

    Run one line Norwood-(via Montgomery Road)-Xavier University-(via abandoned freight spur* and median RoW in I-71)-Existing downtown loop. Run another Mariemont-(via Brotherton Road)-Oakley-(via Madison Road)-Rookwood-(via Madison Road)-Walnut Hills-(via Taft Road/McMillan St)-UCincy, with every-other-train at peak running along Gilbert Ave to downtown instead to mitigate the Radial-vs.-Circumferential problem (although UCincy is a relatively large job cluster). If you still have money, run a third line Elmwood Place-(via Vine St)-Zoo/UC Hospital-(tunnel under Mt. Auburn)-Connect to downtown loop and a fourth branching at each end (Linwood-(via Route 561)- and Columbia/Tusculum-(via Delta Ave)-)-Mt. Lookout-(via Shaw Ave)-Rookwood-(via abandoned freight spur)-Xavier University-(via abandoned freight spur*)-UC Hospital-(via MLK)-(-(via Ludlow)-Dunore and -(via MLK)-Camp Washington). Starred sections are shared track, so if Radial-vs.-Circumferential is a problem for the last line too, it too can run every-other-train downtown at peak. Almost all of the above uses reserved RoW or medians; notable exceptions are Delta Ave. and Downtown, each of which are termini, so the schedule irregularity can be soaked up with padding.

    In the case of Milwaukee:

    Run one line Water Tower-(via Rt. 32/Prospect Ave)-Existing HOP tracks-(via Wisconsin Ave)-Concordia-(via Highland Boulevard)-Washington Park-(via Milwaukee Ave)-Wauwatosa. Run a second MLK & Auer-(via MLK)-Schlitz Park-(via Water Street)-HOP tracks currently under construction-(via abandoned freight spur through 3rd ward and across river to River Tl.)-Walker’s Point-(via National Ave.)-Clarke Square-(via Chavez Ave.)-Muskego-(via Muskego Ave)-Forest Home Hills-(via Forest Home Ave)-Layton Park. One the S-Bahn gets running, good feeders are Timmerman Airport-(via Rts. 41 to EE to 154)-Sherman Park-(via Locust St.)-Riverwest and Tosa Heights-(via Lisbon Ave)-Enderis Park-(via Burleight St. to Roosevelt Dr.)-Roosevelt Grove-(via Rt. 57)-Shorewood.

    • smooth indian

      Mid-size cities like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Columbus, Pittsburgh could adopt the tram-train concept like Karlsruhe. Bi-modal (electric + diesel/CNG) articulated light rail trains which also meet FRA regulations can be adopted. This way trains can run on dedicated ROWs or on shared ROWs i.e. a mixed suburban rail + light rail/metro system.
      -Cincy and Indianapolis among others can also leverage their Union Stations as hubs for such light commuter systems.
      -All Metro areas should strive to connect their airports to downtowns/business districts through rail-based transit.
      -Additionally all metro areas with full interstate circle loop (like I-275 in Cincy) should plan for a single line commuter line (double line if necessary) along the interstate loop. Integrating this with radial transit lines and suburban bus routes will make transit a more appealing option for cross-suburban trips

      Large cities like Chicago, LA, Dallas-Fort Worth .e.t.c should expand, speed up and make frequent their commuter railways.
      -Atlanta has no commuter rail and should have decent-sized since it is a large metro area.
      -Almost all commuter lines should be electrified with 25 KV AC as default voltage.

      All Coastal states and inland states in Midwest, Southeast including Texas should plan for adequate regional train systems which connect the major metro areas, city centers in the states and some immediate destinations across their borders. This can be supplemented by rural bus services.

      For Cincinnati- The flagship corridor would be the I-71 corridor- a dedicated ROW from Kings island to CVG airport and Florence via- Montgomery, Kenwood Towne Center, Xavier University, Downtown Cincinnati, Covington and Erlanger. Other lines could be cobbled together from existing railway lines
      -Lawrenceburg-Cincy Riverfront-Milford/Batavia; Cincy Riverfront-St.Bernard-Elmwood place-Springdale-Hamilton-Middletown (branch for Oxford/MiamiUniv)
      -Cincy Riverfront-St-Bernard-Norwood-Kenwood-BlueAsh-Loveland-Lebanon.

      For Bay Area- the different commuter railways such Caltrain, ACE, Capitol Corridor and Sonoma-Marin transit need to better connected with each other, more frequent trains and electrification. BART can be eventually expanded to complete a loop around the bay. Additional tranbay tunnels would help expand BART, Caltrain and Amtrak services from San Francisco.

        • smooth indian

          There is a Riverfront transit Center below 2nd and 3rd Streets in Cincinnati that is close to a lot of things. It can be developed as a small train station for terminating and interchanging trains. However, the Union Station still has platforms an railway facilities and the train services to the riverfront center and north of Cincinnati will still go through the Union station. It also possible that with the new soccer stadium in the vicinity, new commercial development might happen near the Union station.

        • Eric

          That is a joke. In NYC, there are ~25 stations which each handles more passengers than the entire Pittsburgh Light Rail system.

          • adirondacker12800

            PATH, itty bitty obscure PATH that carries icky New Jerseyans, is the country’s sixth largest mass transit system. PATH stations in Jersey City not Journal Square have more passengers than Cleveland’s Red Line. Both marginally pertinent to suggesting that Pittsburgh should consider light rail as an option. People in Pittsburgh agree that light rail is a good idea for Pittsburgh. If you imagine light rail is a good idea in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Columbus, Pittsburgh, examining why people Pittsburgh agree with that assessment might be useful. And and be relevant when considering how well it might work in Columbus. Pittsburgh also has funiculars That probably wouldn’t be pertinent to Indianapolis.
            …………..Looking more closely at how well light rail could work in Pittsburgh might be a good idea…….

        • Alon Levy

          Actually… Pittsburgh is a good example of why cities that size really need better regional rail. The city paved two tracks of a four-track ROW (I think the PRR Main Line?) to build BRT because the idea of running an S-Bahn was unthinkable.

          • adirondacker12800

            You have to look closer. Hard enough to discover that there are three separate-ish ones.The suburban ends have a whole bunch of branches that fan out. Busway may make better sense.

          • Liam

            The thing that is a let-down for the busways here in PGH is that they’re lacking in some of the good features of BRT systems from around the world, not that they’re busways instead of an S-Bahn. The way PGH is oriented means that the busway model that gives room for lots of branches to areas that wouldn’t get rail service, as Adirondacker pointed out, makes a lot of sense.

            Where we should have rail around here is PGH-Youngstown-Cleveland. How that isn’t a regional rail corridor on par with, for example, the Capitols or San Joaquins in California, is really beyond me.

          • adirondacker12800

            Without looking at maps and expressing a suspicion. The Central Valley is realllllly reallllly flat and the tracks are reallllly realllly straight which means they can go moderately fast. As fast as bus? The Alleghenies aren’t flat, the tracks squiggle all over the place and making that faster than a bus would need a lot of money?
            There are enough people in Ohio and western Pennsylvania to consider making it fast because they could use it to get to Philadelphia and New York. And the places in between. Use the tracks from Cleveland to Chicago and the tracks between Cleveland and Philadephia fast, that makes Detroit Pittsburgh look good. Spend the money to make it real fast Detroit-Philadelphia. I”m seeing “in 2143”

          • Liam

            Raising track speeds between Chicago and Cleveland/Pittsburgh/Detroit should be pretty easy; existing alignments are straight enough. PGH to Harrisburg is a different challenge: yes, tracks are curvy, but there some segments where track speeds could probably be raised to 90-100 relatively easy. Electrification (which PRR planned for way back when) would make that easier.

            And on the topic of Pittsburgh, rail extensions that tie in to the underused downtown subway tunnels would be more useful than an S-Bahn on the main line alignments – especially since getting space for passenger trains on the NS tracks will be like pulling teeth.

          • adirondacker12800

            How do you get the mile long coal trains on it to be so agile?

          • Liam

            Electrify the freight as well, and run shorter trains more frequently.
            Also, didn’t the PRR Main line used to be four tracks? Through Pittsburgh we lose two to the East Busway, but the remainder of the ROW has room to reinstate a third or fourth track to separate freight and passenger.

  9. Richard Layman

    Nice piece. Some people argue that transit systems should focus on what they have, not extension. But I agree with you that certain extensions are key and make the whole system more valuable and increase ridership, have economic development benefits, etc. E.g., while we can argue about the streetcar in DC, there was a letter in the Post last week about what a waste it is. But I’ve documented more than $1 billion (conservatively) in development that can be attributed to it and outside of Metrorail corridors and stations, it is the only area in the city with that level of density within new development. (Of course, I’d rather see investments in Metrorail and creating an S-Bahn system across jurisdictions.)

    Anyway, in PublicSource, a nonprofit news website in Pittsburgh, there is an interesting article they did on what does Pittsburgh Green Jobs really mean, how are the jobs attributed, etc., which is worth your checking out. It’s not like your writings about the subway construction costs in NYC, but still a worthy read.

  10. Joseph Brant

    How could the federal government affect land use in a Green New Deal. While it does not directly have zoning powers, what other paths could it take to discourage car-dependent sprawl and encourage infill development?

    • Alon Levy

      Sample zoning codes! The feds did that in the mid-20th century, promulgating use separation, SFH, and plentiful parking minimums.

        • adirondacker12800

          The racial segregation was easy to see. It was much more subtle than that, it was ethnic and religious segregation too. The covenants that got written into deeds tended to be ones that restricted sales to white Protestants .

  11. Eric

    The elephant in the room is zoning. NYC has 1/3 the carbon emissions per capita of the US as a whole due to its higher density (which eliminates many vehicle trips, makes others shorter, and decreases HVAC costs). If developers could build freely on the east and west coasts, millions of people would move to suddenly more affordable coastal cities where carbon emissions are low. This would dwarf the number of people who would switch to transit in Midwestern cities due to massive building projects. It would also require zero government funding (actually, it would return money to the government through higher tax revenues).

    Perhaps the federal government does not have the authority to regulate zoning directly, but it can certainly regulate indirectly, for example, by refusing transportation funding for regions that don’t zone well.

  12. Pingback: Transportation and the Green New Deal « City Block

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