Local Elected Representation is Bad

I am in awe of Marco Chitti’s depth of knowledge and quality of analysis on matters of public transportation; what he’s written about coordinated planning on his blog, not to mention his Italian construction costs case study, is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in improving public transportation at any scale. So it’s against this background that I feel compelled to point out, regrettably, that he’s wrong when he calls for local representation on public transit planning boards. Specifically, he promotes a model in which a transport association’s decisions flow from a board that represents the mayors of the municipalities in the region. And this is a model that exists (he gives the example of provincial France) and just plain does not work. EU-level observers see this every time we are reminded that the Council of Ministers exists.

To the contrary, any path forward on public transportation requires the steady disempowerment of local electeds, including mayors of small municipalities or neighborhood-level representation in a larger city. The EU-level observation that the Council of Ministers is the epitome of the democratic deficit is true at all lower levels as well, down to a single city.

Local representation does not work in France

Marco puts a parenthetical in his tweet: “or the region president for IDF-mobilités.” This makes the entire difference. In Ile-de-France, the transport association is governed at the level of the entire region, which has a single elected regional government with competitive partisan elections and high-profile campaigns; the current president of the region, Valérie Pécresse, was the national presidential candidate of Les Républicains last election. The dominant players within Ile-de-France Mobilités, RATP and SNCF, are both owned by the French state, and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was the politically-appointed head of RATP in the Hollande era, which was her stepping stone from a string of advisor positions to a ministry under Macron. This is not at all a situation with much localism.

Where there is localism in the Paris region, it promotes pettiness and NIMBYism. The increase in the rate of housing production in the region starting in the mid-2010s was promoted by the state and by the region, over the objections of suburban mayors, who were livid at the idea of more housing in their enclaves, especially social housing. The state never so coerced the city, where housing growth remains anemic, but Anne Hidalgo has likewise built social housing in rich arrondissements over the objections of their local mayors.

In fact, the model in which there is a single metropolitan government that is responsible at once for multiple services, is being implemented in Lyon. The traditional department it’s part of, Rhône, isn’t really coterminous with the metropolitan area, while some suburbs spill over to neighboring departments; for planning purposes, France set up the intergovernmental Urban Community of Lyon in 1969, comprising Lyon and its inner suburbs (equivalent not to Ile-de-France but to the combination of Paris and the Petite Couronne), but then in 2015 it replaced it with the Lyon Metropolis, with direct elections of a single government.

Elsewhere in France, inter-municipal relations remain more intergovernmental, and local mayors are in the loop on many decisions. But provincial France is hardly an example of success in transit governance. The modal splits in regions like Marseille, Nice, Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Strasbourg are all in the mid teens. They have little to recommend them as models over similar-size cities in the German-speaking and Nordic worlds.

This is something that’s recognized in France too – hence the formation of the Lyon Metropolis. France has excessive fractionalization of municipalities – it has around 35,000 communes, where Italy and Spain have 8,000 each and Germany has 11,000. It’s had little municipal consolidation since the Revolution; this way, Paris has fewer people than Berlin or Madrid, while possessing a metro area about the size of Berlin’s and Madrid’s combined. Local traditions make it hard to do further consolidation, often for petty reasons (Paris is wealthier than most of its suburbs and in the postwar era the poorer suburbs voted for communists); instead, where it cares that things should work, France sets up direct institutions with enough heft that people can vote for one government and expect that it should have the last say on big political questions.

Local representation does not work in the United States

The United States does not quite use the provincial French system of direct representation of mayors on transit boards. However, it has analogs, with extensive local empowerment. And those analogs do not work.

For example, in and around Springfield, Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) is governed on the basis of representation of each municipality within the region. These are not the directly-elected mayors of those municipalities but it doesn’t matter – the problems do not stem from how they are elected but from which interests they answer to. The problem starts with the fact that nearly all PVTA ridership is in the urban core – Springfield itself and a small handful of working-class suburbs like Holyoke – but the representation structure gives snob suburbs veto power, which they use to block any consolidation plan focusing service on where people ride.

Worse, the suburbs of PVTA have a combination of two political attitudes that explodes any possibility of good governance. They are snobs and NIMBYs, opposing any attempt to make buses useful for poor urbanites trying to access service jobs in their jurisdictions. But they also have left-wing identity politics and want to be seen as progressive places where there are alternatives to the car. Therefore, they demand that PVTA serve every municipality in the region, but often just peripherally, so that they can say “we have buses”; those buses have practically no ridership, and serve to trigger Massachusetts’ accessibility requirement, in which paratransit must be provided on demand not just within 0.75 miles of a bus or urban rail stop as in the federal ADA but also within the entire town’s jurisdiction.

Marco says that the solution to bad politics is good politics. But the problem with PVTA and similar intergovernmental agencies is not that local representation is based on local appointment or recommendation rather than the direct mandate of the mayor. The mayor wouldn’t be any better than what is currently available, because at the end of the day, when a small enclave in a wider region gets to self-govern, the people it represents will be selected for pettiness (since the great majority of people who socialize outside the municipality are effectively disenfranchised) and snobbery (since the enclaves safeguard their insulation from poorer people). In some places, the worst NIMBYism may even be spearheaded by a county executive, if the county is itself an enclave, which Westchester County, New York is.

Transportation and Localism

In New York City, 92% of workers commute out of their community board. Representation at such level has a democratic deficit that exceeds that of the EU; the ministers who comprise the Council were after all elected in their respective countries, in democratic elections in which the important portfolios are doled out to acceptable parties and politicians. Fractional suburbs like those of France or the parts of the United States that have public transit are little different from city neighborhoods in this way. To continue with the example of PVTA, the two largest suburbs of Springfield by population are Chicopee and Westfield. Chicopee has 24,431 employed residents and 18,228 jobs, but only 4,131 of those live and work in the city, or 17%; Springfield has 17,656 employed residents, 14,863 jobs, and 3,820 people working and living in the city, or 22%. In effect, the mayors of both cities are elected in enclaves in which the most empowered people are not at all representative of the jurisdictions.

This situation is especially bad when it comes to transportation. There, the interests of those 17-22% of the Springfield suburbs who work locally, not to mention the 8% of New Yorkers who work in-community board, diverge the most from the general interest. People who live and work in an outlying local area do not really ride public transportation; people who commute to a city center do. This is not just a feature of transit cities – the transit modal split for people working in Downtown Los Angeles is not awful (I remember reading it was 50% in the 2000s-10s), they’re just swamped by people who work in places that don’t even rise to the category of a secondary center.

Even when the time comes to build a transit network that works for people who don’t work in city centers, it still is intended for the majority, which doesn’t work locally. PVTA and other non-Boston Massachusetts agencies (called RTAs) struggle with span of service – buses stop running anytime between 6 and 8 pm to shopping malls that close at 10. Regional representation could catch those riders, who would have a single point of contact to vote for; local representation cannot, because they are formally disenfranchised where they work and in practice disempowered where they live.

Americans – not Marco, but some of the people who responded to him on Twitter – are paranoid that regional representation in an auto-oriented area would lead to the defunding of transit.

But we can concretely compare what happens when auto-oriented suburbs have local representation (as in most of the US) and what happens when they’re incorporated into a larger whole and can then vote there (as in Ile-de-France, or Berlin, or Toronto). Kai Wegner became mayor of Berlin after an explicitly pro-car campaign; what this means in practice is a halt on some road diet projects, the latter pushed by Green voters who work close to where they live and care about bikes more than about public transit. The far more populist, far more pro-car Rob Ford became mayor of Toronto powered by resentment of David Miller’s Transit City concept, which had the same failings as the agenda of the Berlin Greens; Ford’s election caused far more damage in its politicization of transit, leading to repeated changes in the Eglinton rail plan just so that Ford could prove that he existed, than at the basic level of defunding transit or closing the streetcars (which Ford promised to do and then didn’t).

We can even see the interplay between local and regional in Ile-de-France. The pro-car suburban mayors tried to sue Paris to stop its road diets, alleging that they are discriminatory against them, and one might expect that those suburbs, if given a seat at the table, would favor pro-car policy. But in practice, the same voters who vote for these mayors at the local level also vote for Pécresse at the regional level, and Pécresse hasn’t compelled Paris to remotorize and is a lot YIMBYer than any of those suburban mayors. The issue is less that people in those places are pro-car and more that local representation consistently returns people who drive more than the average and who represent a minority that drives more than the average, and in the absence of such local representation, even someone like Rob Ford can’t do much damage through his transportation policy. (Doug Ford, in contrast, has done considerably more damage in micromanaging the megaprojects to the point that Toronto is careening past the $1 billion/km mark.)

The need for professionalism in democracy

Professional civil service arises in part from the fact that it’s not possible to have meaningful local representation in an urban area. A city the scale of Berlin can have a democratic election, since people generally live and work in the city, and not many commute in from or out to elsewhere. The same is true of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or even New York City, which has less than half the population of its metro area and yet this is enough that the populations of disempowered in- and out-commuters are limited. It’s true of Lyon Metropolis. It’s true of the combination of Paris and the Petite Couronne, which France occasionally considers amalgamating into a single Grand Paris and mostly doesn’t because the elected layer of Ile-de-France is so far sufficient and there is a lot of identity politics involved in the formal separation of the city from the suburbs.

And at this scale, it’s impossible for a single government to control everything. Berlin, New York, and so on have the populations of small countries. Such countries can elect a government, but the span of control of the elected ministers comprises an order of magnitude of 100 people across all ministries combined.

Thus, the need for a professional civil service. This is why the role of politicians in a healthy political environment is to macro- and not micromanage. They can make big yes-or-no decisions, and that’s it – decisions on alignments should be left to professionals, who are hired and promoted based on apolitical criteria. A Wegner or Ford can choose to fund roads more and transit less and halt or even reverse road diets, but the details have to come from experts, because the span of control of the Wegner cabinet is far too small for there to be any real democratic check on the sort of advisors who in the United States are politically appointed.

What’s more, even when they do make decisions, the tendency of politicians to do things just to prove that they exist is, always, bad for governance. In some cases, including what we’ve seen in Boston when we wrote the Green Line Extension report, megaprojects even act as siphons for bad ideas, while contemporary small projects beneath the notice of politicians are done more smoothly and efficiently. The danger is that the practices developed for the megaprojects then later poison the local infrastructure ecosystem, as when some of the decisions made for Grand Paris Express are now leading to overdesign for shorter Métro extensions.

The ideal role for elected leaders is to set overall funding levels and then just let the professionals work. If the professionals are failing, it’s fine to replace them with other professionals, chosen based on past successes in the same field (in the US, this has to mean foreigners), rather than chums who the politicians are comfortable with, like the repulsive political appointees I’ve seen in New York and Boston.

In the same way that most people writing about EU governance understand that Parliament has democratic legitimacy and the Council is the opposite, it’s critical to understand that localism subtracts from civilian democratic control of the state, through its elevation of petty voices. And if subdividing territory into local fiefs doesn’t work, the alternative is to subdivide it thematically and let subject-matter experts handle planning. Marco, and I think other people who are much more uncomfortable with top-down unitary civil services than he is (after all, Italy is governed by such civil service and builds infrastructure very well), errs in portraying this depoliticization as antithetical to democracy; it’s to the contrary the tool with which democracy governs anything bigger than an isolated village.


  1. Eric2

    Would you say Robert Moses was a good example of independent non-political civil service? What is the difference between that and what you want, except that one pushes roads and the other transit?

    • Alon Levy

      No? Moses was notably not an urban planner, nor did he respect urban planners. He was a political appointee who was essentially the fall guy for a string of governors, and in that sense he’s far more like Janno Lieber than like any of the professionals I keep plugging here.

      • Eric2

        It’s true, Moses was an administrator, not a planner. But he oversaw planners who, as far as I know, did a competent job of building roads. The problem was not their competence, but the fact that it was road not transit being built (and other touches like his racism and his willingness to displace people for trivial reasons).

        And since when does anyone say he was a “fall guy”? Isn’t it pretty accepted that he was able to build pretty much whatever he wanted for much of his career, due to the independent funding stream from the toll roads he controlled, and that for decades he generally dictated to politicians rather than reverse?

        • Alon Levy

          The standard story is that he was insulated from politics, yes. But this standard story is not quite right – when he was no longer useful to the state government, the state government formed the MTA and stripped him of his power. Jane Jacobs, who on this matter I would trust as a source, was adamant that it was not fallout from LoMEX but that the Rockefeller clan stopped seeing him as useful. Of note, Moses was an opponent of the 1961 zoning code and did successfully delay its passage in the 1950s, but couldn’t ultimately stop it; where his views conflicted with those of middle-class NIMBYs, he lost (on LoMEX to Jacobs where he was wrong, on zoning to SFR NIMBYs where he was right).

          The way I think of Moses is dialectical (sorry): the thesis developed around 1940 was egalitarian regional planning with revenue sharing and coordinated cars-and-trains urbanism and urban renewal, the antithesis was that the snob suburbs didn’t want to share or coordinate and insisted on inegalitarian localism, and the synthesis was having a political appointee like Moses personally see to it that regionalism would be inegalitarian.

          In no way is this technocracy. There was a literal technocracy movement at the time and it was part of the thesis, not the synthesis, which was borne of proto-New Right paranoia that anything that reeked of equality or an overt role for the state was just like communism. Again, there are literal technocrats that I keep plugging and they’re not an overclass that says things like “I’m not a planner, I’m a doer.”

  2. Paul Dyson



    div>You are absolutely right and I have been preaching this for years. Counties take care of counties, cities take care of cities, regions are left hanging. It’s even worse when regional funding decisions are devolved to boards made up of county reps. Counties are black holes, money goes

  3. Krist van Besien

    Local representation does appear to work very well in Switzerland though. And I would argue is an important factor in the quality of public transport here.

    • Alon Levy

      There are canton-wide referendums for the big yes/no questions, like the rejection of the U-Bahn in 1973 on anti-growth grounds and the subsequent approval of the S-Bahn tunnels.

  4. Matthew Hutton

    Bus services are bad in general because they aren’t used by the upper middle class. Trains are better because they are used by the upper middle class

    And in general only the upper and upper middle classes complain about service issues.

    • Alon Levy

      To an extent, yes. But there are some classes of exceptions:

      1. Commuter buses working rather like US-style commuter rail get a surprisingly middle-class clientele (who will never be caught dead on any other bus).
      2. In rail-oriented transit cities, buses can still be good enough for middle-class use, as in Vancouver on the West Side and for UBC access.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Ok but those buses are probably decent.

        Its like the buses in london are good and are a good price.

        • Eric2

          Yeah, if you’re an average middle class person living 10 miles from a US downtown, there’s no chance you’re going to commute on a city bus chugging along the city streets and stopping every corner. Of the ~3 hours with your spouse and kids between getting home and bedtime, you’re not going to throw away 1 of them chugging along in that bus just to save a few dollars. But you might take a commuter bus which zooms down the freeway at the same speed as private cars.

      • michaelj

        1. Commuter buses working rather like US-style commuter rail get a surprisingly middle-class clientele (who will never be caught dead on any other bus).

        I can confirm that is true for good BRT systems like the one in Brisbane. That includes myself who hates buses for all the usual reasons. It runs (mostly) in its own ROW so operates like commuter rail and so is quite efficient even in this typically sprawled Australian city. In the previous expansion (about a decade ago) the BRT extension to far-suburbia involving tunnels and overpasses etc was built simultaneously alongside new freeways–which is quite a radical step in Australia (it hasn’t happened in Sydney or Melbourne). In fact, as I have described previously on PO, it became a bit of a victim of its own success, in becoming so popular that it resulted in bus congestion at peak times. Then ridership began declining. However it has had a perhaps unexpected effect of conditioning both commuters and politicians that more serious transit is worth spending serious money on, and a grand project (called CrossRiverRail) is nearing completion.

        Incidentally, unlike Melbourne or Sydney, Brisbane city council encompasses the whole city making it the largest in Australia. Sydney and Melbourne city councils are more like Paris with the eponymous councils only ruling a relatively small inner city zone. And like Paris, the inner city is progressive/liberal while the outer councils are more conservative setting up the usual conflicts which are worse when the state government (needed for any sizeable city-wide project) is conservative. The last time a conservative state government came to power in NSW, the minister of transport immediately closed down some major bike lanes in inner Sydney, to give the road space back to cars. Neanderthal shit.

        • Alon Levy

          My understanding is that Australian states are so dominated by their capital regions that the governments for Sydney and Melbourne are respectively NSW and Victoria? Or is there an additional intergovernmental layer for all the suburbs (in the Australian sense of suburb, not the UK/US one)?

          • michaelj

            As I said, that’s more or less true for everywhere except Brisbane and Queensland which is the only state that has more people outside than inside its capital city. It is the most decentralised state (hence its tricky politics with so many rural voters) and is the second biggest state (4.8 times the size of Germany). With the recent losses of fed + state government elections by the conservatives (confusingly called Liberals) the biggest Liberal government left in the country is Brisbane City Council (bigger than the only non-Labor state government, Tasmania).

  5. Matthew Hutton

    I think you’re also not realising how bad bus services can be.

    Im on the Amalfi coast right now and the first bus yesterday drove past the stop at Sorrento train station. And the second bus on the way back you couldn’t buy tickets on the bus by card or cash or app – you had to buy from a (closed) Tabac shop. And of course this was all completely unsigned.

    And this is a tourist area so in general you’ll probably have some upper middle class people on the bus. And I could (when we were in the EU) complain to my MEP – and I am going to have a go at complaining to the Italian tourism board – lets see!

  6. Diego

    In Brussels local mayors love derailing regional transport projects, anything from bike lanes to metro lines.

    However, even the Brussels region isn’t that big, the RER project goes way beyond its boundaries. In this case, regional politicians also act as unhelpful micro-managers, for example demanding that every station in the city be served by a train, no matter how stupid/infrequent the resulting service is. The radial lines in the network are strong, but the self-intersecting and the U-turning line are really weak. It’s a typical case of “supporting transit” in the abstract, even for trains which few people are riding.

  7. Carl

    My pet theory is that Montesquieu’s “Legislative, Executive, Judicial” triad is wrong and the triad is “Legislative, Executive, Bureaucracy”. The job of the executive is to provide democratic oversight to the bureaucracy, but for the most part the bureaucracy should be allowed to self-direct, since it is composed of subject matter experts. A lot of mischief comes from trying to elect bureaucrats.

    • Alon Levy

      Montesquieu’s triad was already in collapse in the 18th century – governance in the United States polarized into Federalists and Anti-Federalists (later Democratic-Republicans, later Democrats) while Washington was still president.

  8. Basil Marte

    My impression is that on the EU/members level, the general issue of cosmopolitanism (and more EU integration) vs. localism/nationalism (up to actual Brexit) has been a first-line political issue for more than a decade (to the extent that some national two-party systems are basically built on this line). Isn’t this mirrored on this level? The narrowly localpatriotic minority can vote for petty localist politicians, while the more regionally minded majority can vote for regionalist politicians, thus reasonably there shouldn’t be a problem. To me, the source of the problem appears to be that the constituent-subregion-representatives have something analogous to a liberum veto, that the few disintegrationists have disproportionate power exactly on their pet issue.

    • Borners

      Cosmopolitanism vs Nationalism debates misses some key issues. The biggest obstacle to joining the EU is if your polity has supranational aspirations that challenge the EU’s position as the only sovereign supra-national entity in Europe. The UK was the first the country to apply to join the ECC and the joint first with Ireland to join. It left because the unitary British nation state that appeared so strong in 1973 has since collapsed (the 1975 referendum happens just after the SNP and Plaid make their first electoral breakthroughs and the troubles start in NI).

      That extends to pretty much all the other European nations to have yet to join the EU, Serbia (Kosovo), Turkey (Cyprus and Kurdistan), Bosnia, Switzerland (its not a conventional nation state but a federation of city states), Georgia (Abkhazia and S. Ossetia) and Armenia (NK). And of course Moldova/Belarus/Ukraine have their sovereignty screwed by Russian Imperialism (and Russia itself is the ultimate example). Norway and Iceland are obssessed with legacy fishing industry, are super-rich and sufficiently small that the loss of power from not having votes on the European council isn’t crippling. Norway will join the moment the oil money runs out.

      The EU works as a confederation of nation states, it works on the logic that the European nation state is too small to function successfully on its own now that other Imperial projects have all failed (Brexit ends the moment England is free from Celtic Imperialism).

      • Alon Levy

        The reasons the richer countries aren’t in the EU boil down to revenue sharing plus a fuckton of localism (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, the first one also intellectually influenced by UK europhobia). The reasons the poorer ones aren’t boil down to pettiness by the existing EU about admitting them. Serbia is the one readiest to join, and there, the problem is geopolitical, but it’s not exactly about Kosovo – it’s that Serbia first has Hungarian levels of democratic backsliding and second openly worships Russia without even the Hungarian wink-wink.

        I want to say Brexit ends the moment Keith realizes he has a working majority, but I can see him stick with it as Blairite vice-signaling. Oh well, he’d still be the best prime minister in around 50 years.

        • Borners

          Starmer is more than Vice signaling at this stage. Its prioritising the British Imperial state over everything else. They just had English local elections where their materials didn’t mention the word England at all (compare to the Scottish/Welsh Labour party where every material talks about why Great Britain shows they are superior racial state to fallen Tory England). Labour is committed to a ethnonational caste state where in the English explicitly 2nd class citizens who have no rights or legitimate cultural or political recognition. To justify that kind of system you an outside force to push against. Labour (like the Tories) will burn England to the ground before admitting its national conversion therapy ideology is wrong. English transphobia is displacement of national dysphoria. As is Europhobia.

          Also Serbian and Hungarian democratic decay is very much related to their territorial disputes and ethnic revanchism. Vuvic and Orban are personally cynical on the matter but they milk it because there is milk to be had. What unifies Hungary, Serbia and Poland is that they are ex-empires which then went through communism. All the other ex-communist states lack the former experience.

          Also I said the money thing implicitly.

          Macedonia and Albania are genuinely about the EU screwing the pooch. Bosnia in a different way (you have to dismantle and replace the Dayton accord settlement before membership).

          • Alon Levy

            > English transphobia

            But the person most responsible for reviving it as a mass movement is a pro-Remain Scot!

          • Borners

            Who is very committed to keeping England inside Britain where it belongs as most Britano-Scots are. Scottish unionists are as poisonously anti-English as the Separatists. I was turned English radical nationalist by reading Scottish and Welsh unionist party materials. The common point is that letting those people be who they are is not only corrupt but injurious to others. Which is how Scots about the English no matter their constitutional position. If you raise with any Scot the West Lothian question or Barnett formula they quite quickly accuse you of being a mad nationalist banderit-I mean “Tory”. Which given how dependent Scotland is on extracting resources from England via taxation, infrastructure and housing plus De Bois style psychological wage.

            And the Harry Potter books are very much products of a Scot who deeply believes the British ideology, Scotland and Ireland exist as entities but England does not except as the not-Scottish bits of “Britain” and “the country”.

          • Alon Levy

            It’s been a while since I read them – and I only read the first four – but my recollection is that everyone there is portrayed in horrifically stereotyped manner (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, ugh, and also the goblins), it’s not some nefarious Scot looking down especially on England.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            Labour is committed to a ethnonational caste state where in the English explicitly 2nd class citizens who have no rights or legitimate cultural or political recognition.

            Dude, give it a break. You contribute this “insight” (alongside a couple other similarly “interesting” repeated viewpoints) into pretty much every comment thread about every post on every subject. We’ve seen it! We get it!

          • Tiercelet

            Crediting Serbia’s imperial past–a regional power for 25 years in the early 1300s–seems like a bit of a stretch; surely there’s *some* more proximate cause for the states you mention to have large diasporic communities within their neighbors’ borders? It’s also not immediately obvious to me that they’re unique in this regard.

            As for the UK–do you have some examples of what you mean about Labour’s ethnonationalist pitch?? I’d have assumed their main struggle outside England would be that their natural constituency would rather just vote to dissolve Great Britain, but I’m in the wrong part of the world to understand this first-hand.

          • Borners

            Serbia’s Imperial past is more about its modern history than the brief “Serbian Empire”, the modern Serb state was a very expansionist polity as any study of their relations with Albania, Hungary, Macedonia, Bulgaria and what would become Kosovo. This wasn’t unusual at the time, but its not an accident that 1914 starts with Serbia. Tito would manage to contain it but only really with his personal ascendency, once he was dead Serbian expansionism rapidly destroyed the system.

            PS: This Imperialism was small beer compared to most other ones we’ve seen over the last few centuries.

            Labour is committed to a number of discriminatory measures (as are the Tories these measures a team effort).
            West Lothian Question/Sewell Convention which gives Celtic MP rights to intervene on all English only legislation but denies it in reverse. This is the most important one. It includes Celtic MPs making sure England continues to be imprisoned in a British NIMBY planning system that they have already separated from.
            Barnett Formula which gives Scotland 2000 pounds extra per capita more than England regardless of need, Welsh 1500, NI 2000.
            Gerrymandering, the average Scottish constituency has 90,000 voters while in England its 110,000.
            Procurement, Scottish infrastructure decisions are protected from annual random Treasury cuts, this allows rolling programs for wind farms, environmental reserves and railway electrification.
            No English cultural autonomy or recognition, all “English” institutions are “national” or “British” e.g. Great British Railways, the “National Highways”. No BBC England. Oh and forms including the most recent census are written that the English have to write some form of “British” unlike Wales and Scotland. Its made especially difficult for England’s large visible minority population. Scotland gets a Parliament, England is allowed to play their rustic folk ball game which they mysteriously suck at.
            No England only referendums or elections. England is the only part of the UK that has never had an election or referendum on its own. Hence Brexit as weird sub-conscious attempt to secede from the UK (appeals to the Union made Brexiters more keen on leaving).

            This isn’t Uighurs or even Volga Tatars levels of oppression here. But if you didn’t know that the English are former Imperial master nation this would sound disturbingly anti-democratic and discriminatory.

          • Alon Levy

            This isn’t Uighurs

            No shit, there’s even no plan by the Scots and Welsh to send the English to the gas chambers and turn London into a Celtic Lebensraum.

          • Borners

            So I should shut up and accept being a 2nd class citizen of a decaying Empire forever? Just because its small beer compared to other’s sufferings? How does that compute.

            Its England, disasters that happen to us are humiliations and disappointments not atrocities. That’s why English TV comedy is all about cringe.

          • michaelj

            The only halfway sensible plan I have heard that could be a partial solution to their democracy deficit, and partially the England (London)-versus-the-rest issue, is to create 20 roughly equal sized population ‘states’ who would elect members (senators?) via PR to an upper house that would replace the Lords (which would be abolished). I think Scotland, NI and Wales are one state each.

            The only way there will ever be a real opportunity for meaningful change is if Labour is elected as a minority government. Interestingly, after refusing to comment, Starmer just last week said that coalition with the LibDems would not be out of the question. Then one has to hope the LibDems use their power appropriately this time.

            On the Scotland dependency on England stuff, I am of the opinion that if it had been an independent state Scotland would not have pissed away the North Sea oil revenue the way Thatcher did. Instead almost certainly it would have been like Norway with a massive sovereign wealth fund. Some Brexit propaganda was that the UK would be like Hong Kong or Singapore; well, Hong Kong is a product of Scottish trading houses and banks and governance; the biggest moderniser and longest serving governor (1971 to 1982) was Glasgow-born Murray MacLehose (MTR, housing, compulsory education, aged-care, disability care, Labour Ordinance, Labor Tribunals, paid holidays, new towns, Country Parks, sports, arts, dozens of other changes).

          • Borners

            You remind me of Third World pro-Russia voices telling Ukrainians they should just accept Russian has a right to exis- stop them joining NATO.

            Solving an absence of democratic legitimacy by partitioning a nationality is classic Imperialism (see Russia in its “near abroad”). Every time they have tried partitioning England into regions the result is furious backlash. Oh the irony!
            The tell is that nobody ever proposes partitioning Scotland and Wales even though their regional divisions are way more pronounced than England (no linguistic divides for one).

            I’m amazed you’re so committed to the Imperial ideal of the UK. You studiously evade using the E-word while talking lots about Britain. How very British Imperialist of you.

            . Thatcher is the product of this system, she didn’t ruin it so much as embody it. Labour 1945-51 is what gets you Thatcherism because UK 1945-1979. Pre-Thatcher Britain pissed away its advanced manufacturing sectors as blithely as Thatcher did oil revenues. And this was peak Scottish Toryism and Labourism before the SNP and Liberals move in the 1970’s (Labour domination of Scotland is a bit of an FTPT mirage).

            I surprised you are so against the end of Britain, surely you hate it so much you want it to disappear and turn England into big Romania or something?
            (N/B this attitude is very common among the Celtic fringe https://fraserofallander.org/who-pays-the-state-pension-in-an-independent-scotland/ Britain must continue to exist after its destroyed).

          • michaelj

            I think your OTT response says a lot more about you and Little Englanders than about the (not my) idea I described. Perhaps it is unfair to say this–because you may have far superior ideas on solving the UK’s political governance problems–but all I hear is yet more obstructive status quo-ism*.
            The idea caught my eye because it ‘solved’ several of the problems, most importantly the removal of the House of Lords (and hopefully removal of the toxic honours system, hereditary and non-hereditary; alas not likely but perhaps it would lead to its influence fading over time, alas also unlikely because you do love your feudal elitism*). As I understand it, it is also a solution to the problem of English lack of representation in various arguments on national policy; ie. while the other 3 have their devolved governments the English don’t, even though of course they more or less dominate Westminster by sheer numbers.

            Another critical function it would introduce is a true and functional house of review, and one that reached to a regional level that currently doesn’t exist. Today it mostly seems to be a London-centric view versus Scotland, NI & Wales; England outside London complains it doesn’t have a voice too much of the time–hence the various sops like Northern Powerhouse.

            Finally, for me another big advantage is that it would introduce PR into elections in the UK. (Not sure but I believe only EU elections used PR, and now even that is gone.) FWIW, I’d suggest the Australian Hare-Clark version of MMP; with 5 (or 7) members per electorate. Voters would habituate to it and discover its virtues (I know, asking a lot of people who even rejected ‘ranked choice’ in a referendum.) It looks like one feasible path to reforming the Westminster electoral system that is about broken as it is possible to be (and interestingly is shared with that other great dysfunctional ‘democracy’, the USA). The rosiest view is that this new system would be seen to be so much fairer and properly representative, not only of different polities (outside Cons/Lab) but also regions, and could accrue more validity and thus power than dysfunctional Westminster. Of course this is hopelessly optimistic because even if such a system was set up, it would be hobbled by the existing powers for exactly this reason. In the UK (and USA) it seems so exceptionally difficult to bring change*.

            Re “nobody ever proposes partitioning Scotland and Wales” is because if anything they are too small to be a region by themselves and technically should be part of a bigger region to obtain equi-distribution of population. But I don’t think people would be so upset at this imbalance; it’s nothing as extreme as the US senate as adirondacker explains. To me, to describe this scheme as “partitioning” England is pretty weird. Do you not consider existing counties as partitions? Actually England is already partitioned into London + Home Counties versus the rest. Proposers of this scheme consider it as empowering the regions. Probably my deficiency because I simply can’t understand this mindset (though again I perceive it to be simple reactionaryism*).
            *always keep a-hold of Nurse,
            for fear of finding something worse
            -Hillaire Belloc (interestingly a French-Englishman).

          • Diego

            Having a devolved Parliament for all of England within the UK is a terrible idea precisely because England is such a large proportion of the total population of the country (something like 80%?). Might as well grant unilateral independence to Wales, Scotland and NI.

            Having such lopsided devolution rarely leads to good outcomes, reminds me of the frequent clashes between NY governor and NY mayor, or RJ governor and RJ mayor. Belgium’s government is also famously dysfunctional, formally regional laws aren’t even subordinate to federal laws (the regional and federal parliaments each have their own exclusive policy areas where they can legislate).

          • michaelj

            Not sure who you are reply to, but the concept is not of a devolved government for England, but instead a senate system for the UK to replace the House of Lords.

          • Aaron Moser

            Honestly Borners with everything England has been through you should go more extreme. For expediencies sake and legal reasons keep the name of the state the same but change its mission. First pass a nation state law declaring that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the nation-state of the English people. Then get rid of the devolved governments and fully incorporate the fringe “nations”(I have never understood why a unitary state had different codes of law for separate parts of the country. Sure maybe initially to make things go smoothly but it doesn’t take three hundred years to make one criminal and commercial code for the whole country). Get rid of the extra MPs and subsidies and change the law to “solve” the West Lothian question. Yes this will cause a lot of reeeeing but that’s a benefit. Most laws don’t have positive externalities.

          • michaelj

            it doesn’t take three hundred years to make one criminal and commercial code for the whole country

            If they were going to do that they would adopt more Scottish law. But the greasy spivs that run the England/UK don’t want that as it would interfere with their neo-feudal spivdom–same as they found EU practice & law to be intolerable. Just this past week Westminster has failed to change the toxic leasehold system. This was attempted when I first lived there 4 decades ago. I am guessing they still have property gzumping in England (not in Scotland).

            Plans to abolish ‘feudal’ leasehold system in England and Wales dropped
            Row between Michael Gove and No 10 results in end of promise to scrap leaseholds
            Kiran Stacey,
            11 May 2023

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, and this is why last EU election had a surge in turnout – there was finally a mass politics issue to vote on, as opposed to behind-the-scenes backroom deals between EPP and S&D where both sides make maximum effort to obfuscate why it matters. In national elections, they don’t do this – CDU would like you to know that it’s totally different from SPD and if anything exaggerates the difference in idpol.

      The liberum veto issue is one of the ways intergovernmental representation fails, yes. Even when there’s no formal veto point, there are strong informal ones, because of issues of collegiality that arise whenever a body of legislators is not chosen by mass political parties; David Schleicher points out that in the US, single-party city councils always end up adopting a feudal system of member deference, in which members defer on local matters (say, housing approvals) to the council representative in whose district they are, and so even single legislatures like New York City Council resemble intergovernmentalism with its failures.

  9. Borners

    So Alon which country is closest to the best on this? I’m guessing the Nordics? There does seem to be a tendency there towards 1 tier local government*.

    *I believe that England should reject Tory districts and Labour regions for just accepting the traditional counties plus the Metropolitan counties.

    • Patrick Jensen

      Finland at least cannot be a poster child, because this country runs regional services either in an extremely decentralized manner as (con)federations of municipalities, or in an extremely centralized manner as branches of the central government.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, in the case of England, devolution to the Met counties would be really good, ideally also amalgamating them to be unitary authorities, not two-tier ones.

      Nordic governance on this is pretty weird. Top-down government isn’t really a Northern European feature – it’s a Southern European or French one, and Nordic governance while formally unitary has Canadian levels of devolution. In Sweden there are US-style competitive grants and negotiations between the state, county, and local governments (though not really intergovernmentalism in the provincial French or EU or metropolitan American sense). The big difference with the US is that the state does things rather than just nudges others to do them, so the state regulator you’re negotiating with will likely have worked hands-on on building a state rail project before and may move to the Stockholm County government in the future to build Nya Tunnelbanan.

      • Matthew Hutton

        One thing thats really annoying about the two tier local authorities is that they argue about who is responsible for what which can be extremely irritating.

        That said having some ultra local power in general still feels useful to me. Having the village/area elite formally organised and at least with some token non elite members feels better than them being informally organised but still just as powerful and without any non elite presence at all.

        And those elites are useful as they demand the service level is high.

        • Alon Levy

          The non-elite members in these setups are always chosen based on who can be coopted. It’s like having informal leaders among line workers who are chosen by management, as opposed to having union governance.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I think honestly the primary criteria are working in the community and being personable.

            Obviously the lower status people will find breaking the collegiate stuff harder but I also don’t think its as rigidly class bound as you think. Certainly not in the south east.

        • Borners

          The reason the two tiers exist is to decontaminate rotten boroughs for Labour and rotten shires for the Tories. There are no other reasons given that the districts are painfully ahistorical and lack strong identities (boroughs less so) other than “keep them urban poors and coloureds away from me and my taxes”.
          The unitaries are pointedly all either Safe Tory or Tory-Lib Dem. This is really obvious in the East Midlands counties like Leicestershire (Leicester is the most racially polarised place in England).

          • Matthew Hutton

            Buckinghamshire is now the only Conservative council in the Thames Valley – so its not quite that bad 😀. But I largely agree – certainly when they were setup.

          • Borners

            The electoral geography has changed enough, and the legitimacy of the British state has degraded enough that we do seem to be moving towards unitary county governance. But the real challenge is when Slough gets to be part of Berkshire again.

  10. Matt

    Local “democracy” in the US is mostly performative. It’s a show. Democracy is strongest at the national level, ironically, in the US.

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not at all ironic – none of this would have surprised even 18th-century backers of democracy except the ones whose idea of freedom was “the government can’t free my slaves.” Localism in Revolution-era Europe meant empowerment of literal barons; the commoners expressed their will through the centralized state.

    • adirondacker12800

      Except for the Senate and the Electoral College. Gerrymandered House districts. Gerrymandered state legislatures, which then enact gerrymandered House districts.

      • Matt

        Those are undemocratic forms, not functions. Government isn’t a set of procedures, it’s a set of actions. What’s undemocratic about the Senate? It may be the most democratically legitimate governmental institution in the US.

        • adirondacker12800

          In very round numbers there are 288,000 Wyomingians per Senator and 20,000,000 Californians. For every 324,000 people in Vermont for every 15,000,000 in Texas. 367,000 Alaskans for every 11,000,000 Floridians. Each of them gets one Senator. Doesn’t sound very democratic to me.

          • Matt

            ….and the Senate is still the most democratically legitimate institution in the US. All the others are less democratic. gerrymandered house seats don’t sound very democratic to me. Municipalities formed for the sole purpose of excluded certain groups of people don’t sound very democratic to me.

          • adirondacker12800

            Not all House seats are gerrymandered. Everything other than the Senate is one person one vote.

          • Matt

            No senate seats are gerrymandered. Your view of democracy is shallow and performative.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s a pity you don’t understand that 288,000 is a lot less than 20,000,000.

          • Alon Levy

            To give a bit more context to Richard’s comment: the Senate is in fact gerrymandered – the Republicans admitted Dakota as two states rather than one because Northern farmers were their base and they figured they would rather have four rather than two Senate seats from there. (This is something that apparently was taught in North Dakota public schools or maybe still is – it’s not some obscure history.)

            The Puerto Rico issue is similar. The issue there is that on the Island, the Republican affiliate is the statehood party, while the Democratic affiliate is the status quo party, since there is a loud minority of independence dead-enders on the left (like AOC) and statehood would close the book on their accelerationist hopes. So the Democrats don’t admit it as a state when they have full control and instead insist on repeated referendums, and the national Republicans don’t admit it as a state because once they do it’ll vote for Democrats.

          • Eric2

            It’s not actually clear at all that Puerto Rico would vote for Democrats. Hispanics are moving rightwards (as would be expected from the history of other peripheral-white populations like the Irish and Italians) and Puerto Rico has a socially conservative culture to begin with.

          • Alon Levy

            “Hispanics are moving rightward” in this context means going from voting D+38 in 2016 to voting something like D+29 in 2020, and something like 20% of that difference was Cubans coming home after being scared by Trump’s pro-Putin 2016 campaign (might he accommodate Latin American communists?) and reassured by his governing behavior (okay, he’s even stepping up the cold war on Cuba and Venezuela and meanwhile the Democrats are hugging a socialist).

          • Matt

            It’s a pity that you don’t understand how American politics actually works. If more Americans understand how power is actually exercised in the US, more Americans might be able to exercise political power.

          • Matt

            None of which changes my view that the Senate is often the most democratically accountable governmental institution in the US.

          • adirondacker12800

            So you are okay with the 21 smallest states, with a combined population isn’t quite as large as California’s getting 42 Senaors and California getting two?

          • Matt

            None of this is about what I’m ok with. I’m describing what I see, not what I would like to exist.

  11. Fbfree

    Some old links from Vancouver around 2015 where governance was a big debate.

    In the end, the governance structure wasn’t changed, with board members chosen by a local independant council, and a separate mayor’s council that approves the long-term plans and compensation levels, and provincial involvment in budgeting. It’s pretty close to your ideal ‘set overall funding levels then just let the professionals work’ structure, but it still partially broke down when the individual actors were attacking each other.

    • Alon Levy

      Vancouver governance looks to me, in broad outline, Parisian/Lyonnais: no formal amalgamation (unlike Toronto), but a lot of regionalization within Metro Vancouver, under the supervision of the provincial government. But there is still local politicization, as when Richmond stopped voting yes on transit referendums after it got the Canada Line, or when Surrey demanded and got a plan to extend SkyTrain outward delaying the more important UBC subway.

      • Brendan

        Metro Vancouver is run by a board of municipally selected city councilors. There only ever was one transit referendum, and Surrey never really delayed the UBC subway and was an ally with Vancouver in securing the service.

  12. yaitz331

    In Israel, there’s a big difference in this regard between the two largest metropolitan areas, Jerusalem and Gush Dan. Jerusalem is mostly a united municipality, with relatively few satellite towns outside the municipal boundaries (Mevasseret Zion, Giv’at Ze’ev, the Mateh Binyamin settlements, and maybe also Gush Etzion if you push it). Gush Dan, by contrast, is a hodge-podge of municipalities; Tel Aviv is the largest and by far the most central, but Rishon LeZion, Petah Tikva, Bnei Brak, Holon, Ramat Gan, Rehovot, Bat Yam, Herzliya, and more aren’t massively smaller in population, and together massively outnumber TLV proper.

    The differences you talk about do show in this difference; over the past couple of years, Jerusalem’s transit plans have been going much better then Gush Dan’s plans. Busses in Jerusalem are an order of magnitude better (at least in my experience) thanks to numerous recently-added bus lanes, and they actually managed to open their light rail; JLM is expanding the first line and actively building two more before Gush Dan has finished their first. On the other hand though, there are disadvantages to the one-giant-municipality approach as well. Even ignoring the political anomaly of East Jerusalem for a moment and how weird it is, many people over the past couple of years in Jerusalem have been severely upset at just how little public input there is sometimes. Currently, there are two major controversies in particular over construction plans in open park areas that are very popular in the city; Mitzpeh Tel (on the border between Armon HaNetziv and Jabal Mukaber, and popular with both the former’s Jews and the latter’s Arabs) and Reches Lavan (an open area near the Jerusalem Zoo where the Jerusalem District Court recently ordered a halt to construction plans over failure to conduct an environmental impact study).

    A larger municipality renders the municipal government less accountable to individual citizens or small groups thereof. This has benefits – it massively weakens NIMBYism and allows for more coordinated planning – but also drawbacks – genuinely bad plans are harder to stop. In the immortal words of Thomas Sowell, “There are no solutions. There are only tradeoffs.”

  13. Nathan Landau

    In the United States, there is about zero chance today of establishing regional transit authorities without elected local representatives. This just wouldn’t be politically acceptable. The only possible mechanism for this would be a state legislatures, which are usually dominated by suburban and rural representatives.

    It’s also not clear to me that creating larger cities would lead to better outcomes for transit, though they may have better outcomes for other issues. Nashville and Jacksonville are two cities that added a lot of territory, neither are beacons for transit. In Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio, the city government controls a large proportion of the metropolitan territory. Again, not exactly the shining lights for transit. Development patterns and political ideology drive decision making.

    There’s an argument for transit controlled by central cities that are small parts of their region. In the Bay Area, SFMTA in San Francisco provides a much higher level of local transit service than anywhere else in the region. This is also true in Chicago, a large city surrounded by the aptly named collar counties. Seattle does not have a city transit agency, but it has a transit tax to increase service in the city (the tax measure failed in the suburbs).

    • Alon Levy

      In the United States, there is about zero chance today of establishing regional transit authorities without elected local representatives.

      Then you will not have public transit. It’s that simple. Intergovernmentalism exists to extract surplus, and when there is no surplus, it will destroy its host, same way a viral infection, which ordinarily just wants you to sneeze it on other people and then recover, might kill you.

      It’s also not clear to me that creating larger cities would lead to better outcomes for transit, though they may have better outcomes for other issues. Nashville and Jacksonville are two cities that added a lot of territory, neither are beacons for transit. In Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio, the city government controls a large proportion of the metropolitan territory.

      These are all Sunbelt cities; you should compare them with Sunbelt cities that are more intergovernmental. For example, Atlanta and Miami have had little annexation by Sunbelt standards and are much smaller than Dallas and Houston even with similar metro area populations. Atlanta does have better transit thanks to MARTA, but it’s also stagnating thanks to suburban racist hate for the city – ironically, same suburban hate that also leads to an underbuilt freeway network in Atlanta by Houston or Dallas standards.

      San Diego, for what it’s worth, has high levels of annexation and healthy-by-Sunbelt-standards public transit (i.e. it doesn’t really have transit, but I can see a world in which its light rail system is better). There are real issues there of suburban domination, forcing a lot of leakage in ballot props – a tax hike has to get a supermajority thanks to Prop 13, so the packages have to include a lot of road construction and operating subsidies to buses, same as in Los Angeles. But I’d rather have the problems of San Diego than the problems of (say) Cleveland or Rochester or Springfield.

      There’s an argument for transit controlled by central cities that are small parts of their region. In the Bay Area, SFMTA in San Francisco provides a much higher level of local transit service than anywhere else in the region.

      Yes, and this is fine. San Francisco is not Westfield, MA. It has 713,107 jobs, 427,744 employed residents, and 261,279 people living and working in SF. It’s not great geography for this, but at least a majority of San Franciscans are employed in the city, which is false for suburbs (or for small hollowed out city cores – Springfield, MA has 80,220 jobs, 62,788 employed residents, and an overlap of 25,131, so fewer than half of the city’s population works in-city). San Francisco even has something approaching ideological citywide elections and city political factions. Muni’s existence is not intergovernmentalism.

  14. adirondacker12800

    Springfield…. consolidation plan focusing service on where people ride.

    There aren’t many people riding them. There never will be many people riding them. There is no traffic congestion and there is plenty of parking. People who have a car will drive.

    There are never going to be people riding them in places without congestion. No matter how often you run the bus.

    • Alon Levy

      Springfield’s workhorse buses do fill – they get people to city center jobs (there’s just about no crosstown service) and a lot of them are poor enough that not needing to buy a car is a real benefit. Same is true in other secondary New England cities – the R line in Providence and Dixwell in New Haven do have decent ridership.

      • adirondacker12800

        Not on bus lines that run every 20 minutes during rush hour. Both of them? I’m not going to go look at all the schedules again. Why should the government be subsidizing employers? It’s a subsidy to employers.

  15. AJ

    Alon, how do you define “petty”? I enjoy reading your technical commentary (i.e. when you are in the role of the unelected bureaucrat), but when you write about politics, you seem to assume that political position in opposition to your are necessarily illegitimate. The words “petty” and “snob” are doing a lot of work here, in the article and in the comments, but if I did a Find/Replace for those words with “people who disagree with me” that article reads the same to me.

    I get your points about election mandates, lack of media attention on local elections, misaligned incentives, and other criticisms, but I honestly can figure out what you mean by ‘petty’ aside from ‘values different than my values’

    • Tiercelet

      “petty” = local elites, especially older, who dominate local governance by virtue of having more free time/money/other resources, and whose political interests are to preserve the status quo at all costs and deny anything which might benefit the larger region and younger/future residents of the specific polity they dominate. More concretely, empowered NIMBY political actors. Even more concretely, the people who prevent construction of wind farms because “they’ll block my views”, of housing because “but the traffic!”, etc., and exercise a minority veto on popular initiatives that would benefit the large majority of their fellow citizens–including those who work in the community but are disenfranchised by virtue of not residing in the place where they spend the majority of their waking hours.

      “snob” = as “petty” above, but who live in rich/racially privileged enclaves and recognize that any change would mean coming into contact with poorer/less racially privileged people, so their self-interested vetos of positive changes are motivated by class & racial animus. The people who opposed BART expansion because it might let Those People come in from Oakland and then there’d be Crime.

        • Tiercelet

          It’s a matter of emphasis.

          You can have a beachfront vacation home and object to a resort hotel being built nearby–this would make you a rich NIMBY, but not really a snob per se, because you’re obstructing over your desire to monopolize the resource, not because of the specific people you’d be asked to share it with–unlikely that lots of poor people will stay at the beachfront resort hotel after all.

          It’s harder to come up with an example of a non-petty NIMBY, because of the MBY part, but it’s still useful to underline a particular aspect of the psychology.

          • Alon Levy

            A pro-AfD ecofascist organization in Bavaria launched a nuisance lawsuit against the Gigafactory in Brandenburg for racist reasons (the workforce is heavily Polish) – it’s the other side of the country, but German law empowers registered environmental organizations to sue anywhere. And a colleague in Coventry told me once of a BNP mailer that NIMBYed a mosque, citing made-up traffic concerns where really the objection is to having mosques in Britain.

            More interestingly, the geography professor Stentor Danielson once cited an example of this from where they’d postdoced in Casa Grande, Arizona. Traditionally, Stentor pointed out, NIMBYs took great pains to disguise their pettiness by appealing to broad concerns about auto domination or even growth in general, in effect saying “we’re not NIMBY, we’re BANANA.” However, in Casa Grande, anti-environmental NIMBYs, opposing solar panels if I remember correctly, played the opposite game, saying that they don’t object to solar panels in general (they are enormously popular) but just don’t think it’s the right choice for Casa Grande: “we’re not climate deniers, we’re NIMBY,” parallel to the two European examples above of “we’re not racist, we’re NIMBY.”

      • Alon Levy

        The groups I most associate with anti-wind NIMBYism are anti-environmental interests who aren’t petty but masquerade as such to sway local opinion: in the US it’s the Cape Cod NIMBYs who are in fact led by a lesser-known brother of the Kochs, and here it’s the government of Bavaria with its belief that solar and wind power are inherently immoral because they’re clean.

        But yeah, bullshit about “muh views” is a good prototype of genuinely petty NIMBYism; touch grass at the public city park rather than the empty lot you’re using as if it’s yours.

        • Matthew Hutton

          The flaw with this thinking is that while some people – especially individuals – are that petty – most local elected politicians in my experience are more reasonable.

          Now I do accept that that is probably at least in part because I live in a wealthy and dynamic region. But still.

          • Alon Levy

            The mailers I get from the Greens in Berlin are working hard at persuading me to vote for SPD instead. It’s those elected officials and advisors who, after the repeat election, cried harder over Tempelhofer Feld redevelopment and U-Bahn construction than over CDU’s homophobia or road construction. One of them, an advisor to a Bundestag member, even theorized that the real reason for Tempelhofer Feld redevelopment is that nefarious interests want to deny the residents of Kreuzberg and Neukölln their parkland (of note, both neighborhoods have ample actually-wooded parkland nearby).

          • Matthew Hutton

            On the other hand Templehof is a popular enough local park that I’ve heard of it. Never head of the others. I don’t think this is a good example of unreasonable NIMBY opposition.

            A better example of pure NIMBYs would be the Campaign for Rural England opposing https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-58910154. Its unremarkable countryside, not good for walking, it is not in an AONB, i believe the flood risk is low and it can have trains if the Wycombe railway is reopened as far as Cowley.

            Note that the CPRE also oppose Clarkson’s farm restaurant.

          • Alon Levy

            You’ve heard of it specifically because it’s the former airfield; as an actual park, it’s a lot less useful than the wooded ones nearby, and it’s even farther from the centers of Neukölln and Kreuzberg (and closer to Tempelhof, except Tempelhof isn’t full of gentrifiers-against-gentrification the way Kreuzberg is). I harp on the tree issue because the parade with its paved runways is sweltering in the summer and there’s no shade.

          • Matthew Hutton

            But they could plant some trees in Templehof park and it would be better – that seems sensible 😊.

            That said to win elections the politicians need to keep the soft NIMBYs who oppose private development in Templehof park – but they should steamroller hard NIMBYs such as the campaign for rural england.

          • michaelj

            Parties that support redevelopment of the park have a majority coalition right now.

            Is it still in contention? I thought a referendum had frozen the whole zone as a green zone, ie. the NIMBYs had won and it was BANANA. Or is it just Templehof Feld (230Ha)? Or is the remaining part (≈150Ha) being developed for housing etc? Paradoxically that is the only real green part, since the Feld part is bleak open space around the masses of concrete runways and aprons.

          • Alon Levy

            The referendum wasn’t binding and polling shifted dramatically in subsequent years as housing prices rose.

          • michaelj

            Interesting.(Pity the Brits didn’t treat the Brexit referendum in the same way.) Not much info on the English interwebs. Can’t see any development plans other than for the giant old terminal building. I suppose the plans for Tegel are promising, of 5 floor residential around courtyards & plazas etc, and in car-free zones in the Schumacher Quartier. However, it’s all architect/designer’s photoshop pretty visions so far. I find their estimates of 10,000 residents a bit disappointing: if the residential component of the total site (446ha) is 165Ha (220Ha & 80Ha reserved for commercial & academic) that gives only 6,000 residents/km2. They don’t give the area of Schumacher so maybe it is just a first phase? Without going to hi-rise they should be aiming for higher density.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Maybe the templehof project sits on the other side of the line 🤷🏼‍♂️

    • Alon Levy

      “Petty” just straightforwardly means having very narrow concerns. Kai Wegner is not petty – he is just anti-environment. Neither is Die Linke – it’s an accelerationist party with a clear broad agenda of helping Putin. But the people whose biggest passion is blocking development on Tempelhofer Feld because they use its oversize parade for recreation are being petty.

      The issue of NIMBYism is that it only really wins on pettiness. There are people who are being NIMBY for non-petty reasons – for example, the Greens here are also anti-subway and pro-tram for reasons that are stupid but boil down to broad interests of people living near city center vs. farther away. But it matters that neighborhood-scale voting empowers people whose life doesn’t extend much outside the neighborhood and who view politics as an extension of village gossip and don’t really think much about actual issues like jobs or education or infrastructure (if anything, because they so rarely work for someone else, they are more comfortable with high unemployment than with low unemployment).

  16. Aaron Moser

    You think you have it bad. Look at the land of Jacksonian democracy that I live in, southern Brazoria county Texas. We just had local elections and I shit you not, the Port Freeport bord of directors is popularly elected. What madness is this?

  17. neutrino78x

    Transit makes the most sense in the densest areas. Springfield, Massachusetts is a not a dense area. No one would expect it to have a subway or a stupid HSR.

    So it’s not “local government doesn’t work” but simply “this is not an area where one would expect public transit to be extensive”.

    It’s good to have the buses, but the limit to “reasonable spending” on public transit in a town like Springfield is quite a bit lower than a place like New York City.

    I understand you are from Israel? I strongly support Israel, for secular reasons. (I’m not religious at all, don’t pray or go to any church…I do think there’s a God out there, though, in one form or another. It’s called Deism.)

    But your statement about local government is like saying “local government in Tiberias sucks because they haven’t built a subway.”

    Uh…no….it’s just because there’s no need. The density in Tiberias is 4,400/km^2, as opposed to 8,057.7/km^2 in Tel Aviv.

    That of Springfield is far less, at 846.1/km^2.

    btw, there’s no train service from Tel Aviv to Tiberias; you have to take a bus from Haifa.

    • Alon Levy

      Springfield is on a legacy rail line to New Haven that gets decent ridership for how bad the service is, and is on another line to Boston. Tiberias isn’t; a better Israeli comparison, in terms of regional population, is either Beer Sheva or Acre and Nahariya.

      • adirondacker12800

        The line between Albany and Boston is slower than the bus, it might as well not be there.

        Click to access MASSACHUSETTS19.pdf

        Someday, far in the future, Springfield will be on the way to Montreal, Toronto and Cleveland. Detroit, via Ontario, would be attractive. It even has a decent ROW east of downtown.

        • Alon Levy

          The slower-than-a-bus part of the line is west of Springfield; the plans for East-West Rail in Massachusetts are faster than that.

          • adirondacker12800

            I’m sure they’ve had plans for faster than a bus since the bus became faster than a train in the 1950s. when they actually do something is a good question.

        • neutrino78x

          “The line between Albany and Boston is slower than the bus, it might as well not be there. ”

          I’m not surprised, Boston has five times the density of Albany. Right now its 1639 for me which means its 1939 in Albany, NY and the highway between there and Boston is green on the traffic map. So, no density, no traffic, short distance, no need for HSR.

          You can drive there in less than three hours, there’s really no demand for anything much faster than that. I’m sure you could charter a helicopter if you really wanted to.

          “I’m sure they’ve had plans for faster than a bus since the bus became faster than a train in the 1950s.”

          Something else became faster than a train, too: a car. Electric cars are already widely available, and in less than 13 years, most of us will be driving one.

          By the time there was enough density in Albany to expect HSR from Boston to Albany, the private sector will have long since been flying eVTOL aircraft between the two. The private sector, Greyhound, already provides a bus service that takes about 3.5 hours.

          The Joby S4 goes 200 mph — average, not top speed like HSR, but average 200 mph — and would get you there in less than an hour, and it runs on batteries, so no emissions. Its range is 155 miles (plus some extra emergency range required by law) so it can make this trip. It takes off and lands vertically, and there’s no TSA security checks involved. Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL). Joby intends to start air taxi service in Los Angeles next year.

          • Alon Levy

            On nearly all major German city pairs, the train is faster than the car – and this goes back to the InterCity, it’s not even about high-speed rail.

          • adirondacker12800

            There are places beyond Albany. The trains passing through can stop in Albany. Just like the buses, cars, airplanes and canal barges can do.
            They have been splattering VTOLports all over the place since the 60s. So you can get to the SSTport was the usually fantasy.
            You don’t need density at either end. At one end can induce demand.

          • neutrino78x

            Alon Levy wrote,

            “On nearly all major German city pairs, the train is faster than the car”

            So? What’s your point? Most towns in Germany are denser than most in the USA, Canada and Australia.

            This is only 169 miles, and Albany has 1/5th the population density of Boston (which is already low density by European standards).

            There’s probably very little demand for transportation between Boston and Albany, certainly not for something faster than a car. If there were demand, there would be direct flights.

            Again, you guys are thinking up problems that don’t exist, and you complain that hundreds of millions or billions are not spent on these problems that don’t exist.

          • Alon Levy

            The internal density is irrelevant when we’re talking about intercity rail. To first-order approximation, intercity rail demand between metro areas depends on their populations and distance, and not their densities.

            And Adi is right – direct flights aren’t for the Boston-Albany distance, what the hell?

          • neutrino78x

            alon levy wrote,

            “The internal density is irrelevant when we’re talking about intercity rail.”

            No it’s not. You have to have enough people living close to your rail station to generate demand to go to another place where things are.

            So if one city in the middle of nowhere has 100/km^2 density and the other is 500 miles away (804 km) and has 50/km^2 density, it should be obvious that you’re wasting money to build a train, especially if it’s HSR, which is extremely expensive for a train.

            HSR needs two things really: high density (as in, Paris or Tokyo type of density) and low distance. Which is why we don’t use it in North America and Australia.

            I don’t know what else to say. The expectation of HSR between Boston and Albany is simply not reasonable. Same for a train that’s faster than a car when one end of the train simply doesn’t have any density. The expectation of an extensive bus system in a city that doesn’t have much density is also simply not reasonable.

            “direct flights aren’t for the Boston-Albany distance, what the hell?”

            That’s what I’m saying, it’s only 169 miles so “what the hell”, in terms of, why would we expect a direct flight. Now if both places were really dense, maybe. But you can drive 169 miles in less than three hours. That’s not a long distance in North America. In Israel it might be, but not out here, sorry. That’s something that eVTOL will help with a lot more than trains could.

          • adirondacker12800

            The internal density is irrelevant
            …just like it is for airports. Or the million people who got on and off Amtrak trains in metro Albany in 2019.

            Flights come, flights go. At the moment Wikipedia says there are non-stops from Albany to LGA/LaGuardia which is 136 miles and EWR/Newark which is 143. I suspect that is to change planes because both are major hubs. If your destination is in metro New York, the slow train is faster. JFK doesn’t which is odd.

            The tunnels and viaducts across the Berkshires will serve the rest of New England too. And places beyond. It’s a lot of people passing through Albany.

            … VTOL…
            We’ve been taking the VTOL to the SSTport since the 60s. Maybe they can put a Hyperloop station at the SSTport.

          • Alon Levy

            Don’t look at Paris and Tokyo – look at what they connect with. Sendai and Hiroshima are not high-density cities – they’ve done a lot of annexation of low-density suburbs, resulting in a central-city density of 1,300-1,400/km^2, same as Houston. Aomori is even less dense, in fact less dense than Springfield + Chicopee + Holyoke, with marginally higher total population, and has an awkwardly located train station to boot. I train my high-speed rail ridership model on the connections from these cities to Tokyo, and then see how it applies elsewhere – and Osaka doesn’t actually overperform them relative to metro area size despite its higher density. So when I tell you this model predicts ridership from Boston to Albany and beyond can fill something like a train every 15 minutes all day if the trains are fast and charge sane fares (i.e. not Acela fares), take this seriously and don’t obsess about Israel.

          • neutrino78x

            adirondacker12800 wrote,
            ” Or the million people who got on and off Amtrak trains in metro Albany in 2019. ”

            1) that was before the pandemic, people ride transit a lot less now

            2) how many were going to boston?

            You keep going off topic. We are talking about Albany to Boston. Not internally in Albany, not internally in Boston. Not Boston to DC. Not Boston to NYC. Not Albany to Paris, France. Not Albany to London, UK.

            Albany to Boston. Not anything else. Thanks.

          • neutrino78x

            Alon Levy wrote,

            “Don’t look at Paris and Tokyo”

            Uh, I’m going to look at Paris and Tokyo to demonstrate what’s needed to justify HSR.

            Again, you guys are making up problems that don’t exist.

            No one needs extensive bus coverage in Springfield, MA where the population density is less than 200/km^2.

            No one needs HSR from Boston, MA to Alabany, NY.

            That these things don’t exist is not some kind of failure of the United States of America.

            It’s simply lack of density. There’s no density, there’s no traffic, there’s no need to spend hundreds of millions, or even hundreds of BILLIONS, on transit nobody’s going to use.

            Transit is not a political statement. I am on the left. I don’t need to waste billions to prove I am on the left. Doing transit for that reason is a complete waste of money.

            In principle, is it good to have public transit? Of course.

            But, is it justified to spend umpteen billions on it? Nope.

            Am I trump supporter? Absolutely not. Biden 2024.

            Take Caltrain SF to the the saleforce transit center. Close competition between it and CAHSR for biggest waste of money in transit projects in California. In theory, would it be nice to have a single seat ride for that last 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Caltrain SF to Salesforce? Sure. Is it worth SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS????

            No, it is not. Before the pandemic, Caltrain had a HUGE amount of traffic. Obviously people got from Caltrain to the financial district somehow. There are two 90 degree turns in the proposed tunnel. You can probably walk there faster than Caltrain or CAHSR would get there.It’s a 25 minute walk, and there’s light rail literally in the median to your right when you step out of SF Caltrain that gets you to Salesforce in 20 minutes total, including a five minute walk. So, seven billion dollars to build a redundant heavy rail tunnel that nobody needs. Though I live in Silicon Valley, that’s one of the JPB counties, so hopefully I will get to vote on this spending, and my vote will be “NO”. (there ought to be some kind of vote. AFAIK there has not been, so far.)

            Think of how much we could do to help out the homeless in SF for that kind of money, for example. It’s just ridiculous Alon. In this day and age. Even when Caltrain had a huge amount of traffic I would still say it’s a waste, but it’s even harder to justify now, when Caltrain ridership is STILL much lower than it was pre-pandemic.

          • Alon Levy

            The population density in Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke is not 200 but more like 1,000 – and then there are the buses connecting the college towns. I’m specifically complaining PVTA is underserving this core and overserving sub-200 suburbs, because the governance structure gives the latter too much power.

            Boston-Albany plus all the other city pairs that would use such a line – Boston-Syracuse, Boston-Rochester, Boston-Buffalo, Boston-Toronto, Hartford/Springfield-Toronto, etc. – is actually pretty strong. Paris to a single city is not very interesting – even Lyon is borderline – but then the LGV Sud-Est gets from Paris to many places at once (Dijon, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Grenoble, Valence, Aix, Chambéry, Marseille, Toulon…) and all combined make for high rail traffic. There are parts of my model where I’m uncertain, but Boston to cities within 1,000 km is where I don’t have a lot of doubt; Boston is a very strongly-centered city region, like pre-corona San Francisco, and destinations are likely to be near South Station.

            The DTX tunnel in San Francisco is a problem of high construction costs. That’s all. $7 billion is ridiculous for this; the Bavarian government would build this for probably $2 billion with the usual level of CSU cronyism, governments in more normal parts of Germany would do this for $1-1.5 billion, and the Stockholm of the 2000s and early 10s, before it decided to privatize the government, would do this for $900 million. At $900 million, it’s a great value proposition even with the permanent decrease in in-office CBD work (much of which comes from commute pain anyway). The problem is that like the rest of the United States, San Francisco can’t build, and this cascades down to ridiculous plans like Better Market costing like a subway or the Valencia bike lanes going in the wrong place.

          • adirondacker12800

            Almost none to Boston because the service sucks. People in Albany didn’t pay attention to your trollery and get on trains going to places where the service doesn’t suck.

        • neutrino78x

          meh. I stand corrected, Albany to Boston is 169 miles so the current Joby S4 can’t quite make it. Might want to use a Beta Alia, which will have a range of 288 miles at 170 mph. They have an Air Force flight certificate already and and expect to get FAA permission to do commercial operations in 2025. They’ve done many test flights as well, including with Air Force officers as pilots.

          Still faster than any train we can reasonably expect to be built from Albany to Boston any time soon. 170 mph will get you there in an hour.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s 145 from BOS to ALB. Neither of them is particularly convenient. Which probably has something to do with why there are no non-stops.

          • neutrino78x

            adirondacker12800 it won’t let me reply to you, but the reason there are no non-stop flights is because it’s only 169 miles. You can drive in less than three hours and there’s no traffic on the road.

            So reasons why there is no HSR:
            -no density
            -no traffic

            The distance is short, so that’s a point in favor….but with no density, and no traffic currently, there’s no need. You want hundreds of millions or possibly billions to be spent, for no reason.

            HSR needs two things,
            -high density (like, high as in Europe and Asia)
            -short distance (under 200 miles)
            -in most cases, lots of ground traffic between A and B (so you have some ground traffic to capture), although if you have the density and the short distance there should be traffic.

          • adirondacker12800

            I want to know which Boston you think has “no traffic”. Lack of density doesn’t stop people from using airports.
            800,000 people used Albany/Rennsalear in 2019. And another 237,000 in Hudson which is part of the metro area. That’s Japanese levels of intercity train use. I suspect most of it is to New York City and beyond. They would be equally unafraid to use it to Boston.

          • neutrino78x

            adirondacker12800 wrote,

            “I want to know which Boston you think has “no traffic”.”

            Did I misunderstand?

            We are talking about Boston to Albany, correct?

            There’s no traffic between those two places.

            ” Lack of density doesn’t stop people from using airports.”

            No, but it usually means you’re not going to have a direct flight for 169 mile distance.

            “That’s Japanese levels of intercity train use. ”

            Bro you’re smoking something. That’s nowhere near Japanese population density.

          • neutrino78x

            (trying again, I think it ate my post)
            adirondacker12800 wrote,

            “That’s Japanese levels of intercity train use.”

            Dude. It’s nowhere near Japanese population density. There’s just no comparison. Boston doesn’t even have Japanese density, and Albany has 1/5th the density.

            And you do need density to get demand for a direct flight of only 169 miles.

          • neutrino78x

            adirondacker12800 wrote,

            “I have this Boston in mind.”

            You still don’t seem to understand my point.

            I expect Boston to have internal transit, and they do.

            But I thought we were talking about transit FROM Boston to Albany, New York. There’s no density in Albany, there’s no traffic FROM BOSTON TO ALBANY.

            Do you understand? Not internally in Boston. Albany, NY is not part of Boston, MA.

            FROM Boston. TO Albany.

          • neutrino78x

            I think it ate my comment again. I beg your pardon, hopefully you can understand my frustration.

            I’m replying to adirondacker12800’s comment,

            “I have this Boston in mind.”

            ok, you still don’t understand my point.

            I’m not saying Boston should not have internal public transit. They should, and they do.

            I’m talking about going from Boston to Albany. This is in response to someone claiming that we should expect rail service from Boston to Albany that’s faster than driving.

            As far as I can tell, there’s no significant traffic from Boston to Albany. Albany has 1/5th the population density of Albany.

            Hence it would be a huge waste of money to introduce passenger train service between these two places that averages higher than 70 mph. The existing passenger train probably is struggling with ridership these days, when a lot of people are still working from home.

          • adirondacker12800

            If there’s no demand for Boston to Albany what are all those people on I-90 doing?

          • neutrino78x

            Let’s see if it eats my post again.

            ok, adirondacker12800 wrote:

            “If there’s no demand for Boston to Albany what are all those people on I-90 doing?”

            What about them? Looks green on the traffic map to me.

            Let me help you out…..

            There is not sufficient demand to justify hundreds of millions or billions in spending. Especially given the huge decline in traffic Amtrak has experienced, especially outside of the NEC (this is outside of the NEC).

            Are we on the same page now?

      • neutrino78x

        The bottom line is that Springfield is SPARSELY POPULATED…..no one would expect extensive transit there. Tiberias has far more density, and does not have extensive public transit. Therefore logic would suggest that a far LESS dense city would not have it. It’s not incompetence (unless you want to call your fellow Israelis incompetent; I would not agree with such a statement), it’s just lack of density.

        Probably the vast majority of residents in Springfield, Massachusetts, own a car and use it to get to around. Hence why would they waste millions of dollars building transit that nobody is going to use. That’s probably true in Tiberias, Israel, as well.

        You’re trying to solve problems that don’t exist, things that people who actually live there do not consider to be problems.

        • Alon Levy

          Most Israelis think their government is incompetent and this includes people who voted for the current coalition; Israelis think little of the quality of public transit in Israel, regardless of density (e.g. Tel Aviv is the largest non-US first world metro area without a subway or subway-like commuter rail system). The ones I talk to are surprised when I tell them the Red Line in Tel Aviv is not unusually expensive per km.

          Tiberias specifically is small. It’s 50,000 people, not embedded in any larger metro area; if you want things embedded in larger metro area, go to the Krayot or to Acre or random places within 30 km of Tel Aviv. But even that is going to be weird – Israeli urbanism doesn’t work at all like American urbanism in some basic ways, e.g. Israeli cities are small and surrounded by open space, and don’t generally form contiguous built-up areas as in the US even when they’re clearly economically linked.

          • neutrino78x

            “Most Israelis think their government is incompetent and this includes people who voted for the current coalition”

            Yes, but your logic is that the PEOPLE are incompetent, if there is no subway in a given city, which is stupid. I’m sorry, but if most people are getting around in cars, they’re not going to vote to spend billions on a subway internally in their town.

            It’s not incompetence, it’s not Americans being stupid, it’s not “poor urban planning”. Nothing like that.

            It’s just lack of density and lack of need for a subway.

            That you can’t concede that you are wrong here detracts from your credibility on public transit.

            “Tiberias specifically is small. It’s 50,000 people”

            Agree, but it is far denser than Springfield. I would not expect a place with a density of 846.1/km2 to have lots of transit. I have no idea why you would. It makes no sense.

          • Alon Levy

            I’m not complaining Springfield has no subway – I’m complaining Springfield has an unusable bus system, even though there’s a fair amount of dense poverty in the area as well as a lot of college students, both of whom are demographics that do ride buses.

          • neutrino78x

            Alon Levy wrote,

            “I’m complaining Springfield has an unusable bus system,”

            Well, again, why would you expect it? There’s no density. It’s a suburban town in the middle of nowhere. I went to their transit system web site, they appear to have some buses to major points of interest. I don’t see a problem.

            846.1/km2. Most people are probably getting around on cars.

            Now if you can demonstrate to me that most residents don’t own a car, and have difficulty getting around….I don’t foresee that, though. If you buy a house or rent somewhere in Springfield, unless it’s where the bus goes, you probably own a car.

            btw this isn’t “the town was designed for driving”. The town was founded in 1636. No such thing as a car at that time. But there’s no density there, hence, no particular need for extensive transit. It probably didn’t even have massive growth until after WWII, the era that saw rapid expansion of car ownership here in the USA (and Canada).

            Again, you’re making up problems in your head where none exist.

            You remind me of a guy on YouTube who claimed there’s “no pedestrian infrastructure” in San Francisco to get from the Caltrain station to the Metreon movie theater. But I walk there from Caltrain on a regular basis, to see movies in the IMAX theater. You’re on a sidwalk the whole time. Lots of crosswalks, no difficulty in walking that route whatsoever. lmao. San Francisco in fact has the highest score on WalkScore, and is considered to be one of the most walkable cities in the world.

  18. Pingback: Open Thread: Priorities – Seattle Transit Blog

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